MY GREATEST DAY IN SABR

 

By Maxwell Kates

 

Maxwell Kates, Baseball Researcher and Writer

Some of you may remember a column in Baseball Digest by famed Chicago sportswriter John Carmichael entitled “My Greatest Day in Baseball.” Well today I’m going to write about “My Greatest Day in SABR.” I joined in 2001 and without a doubt, my greatest day was November 12, 2018. That was the day I was invited by the Larry Dierker Chapter to speak at a meeting at the Spaghetti Western Italian Cafe in Houston. We did a book launch of Time for Expansion Baseball, the SABR book I co-edited with Bill Nowlin. As part of the festivities, we also hosted a Colt .45s panel. Several readers of the Pecan Park Eagle were in attendance. For those of you who did not attend, I will now attempt to recreate the evening’s events to the best of my abilities.

ABOUT THE COVER

Time for Expansion Baseball

The cover image focuses on three illustrations. The first depicts Expos pitcher Bill Stoneman with Montreal mayor Jean Drapeau. Directly below it is an image of Kansas City Royals’ owner Ewing Kauffman watching a baseball game with his wife Muriel and fellow Missouri icon Stan Musial. Finally we see a photograph of Harry Craft, Bobby Shantz, Dick Farrell, Bob Aspromonte and their teammates on the 1962 Houston Colt .45s about to board an airplane in their cowboy uniforms. On the surface, the design is meant represent the symbiotic relationship between players, owners, and politicians as the driving forces behind expansion teams.

The collection of images also represents, to borrow the title of a Bill Brown book, “my baseball journey.” I grew up in Ottawa with the Montreal Expos and later, the Ottawa Lynx as their AAA club. Who could forget the sight of Georgia boy Tom Foley attempt to ice skate on the Rideau Canal as part of the Expos’ winter caravan? The Expos were my introduction to baseball. Meanwhile, Muriel Kauffman (nee McBrien) was born in Toronto into a prominent political family. The Toronto Transit Commission is located in the McBrien Building. Named after Muriel’s uncle, the building is situated across the street from my house. Toronto was my introduction to SABR. As for the third image, the project was completed with the assistance of 21 men and women from Houston. This included representatives of SABR, the Pecan Park Eagle, Tal Smith Enterprises, and the Astros. More on that later.

Brownie Has His Baseball Journey and I Had Mine.

THE COLT .45s PANEL

We were fortunate to have three Colt .45s players and one executive volunteer to appear as part of an expansion panel. When one of the players was unable to attend, a notable fan and historian was able to pinch-hit admirably. Please allow me to introduce the five members of the panel:

 

Bob Aspromonte
On April 10, 1962, among his several firsts, he scored the first run in franchise history as the Houston Colt .45s defeated the Chicago Cubs, 11-2, in their NL debut.

Born in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, New York, this first panelist broke in with the Dodgers in 1956 when he was only 18 years old. Drafted by the Houston Colt .45s in 1962, he became a fan favourite at 3rd base, setting a franchise record with 6 grand slams between 1962 and 1968. He retired in 1971 having returned to his hometown with the New York Mets. He was the Urban Cowboy while John Travolta was still in the third grade. Please welcome, number 14, Bob Aspromonte!

Hey Bob – He’s Wearing Your Uniform! (At least, your number.)
Yes, that’s right! That’s Gil Hodges wearing # 14 for the Mets.

We now travel to the opposite end of the country, to Hollywood, California. That’s where our next panelist is from. While still a teenager, he was signed to an amateur contract by the Houston Colt .45s. How would history have changed if he did not sign with Houston? He never would have struck out Willie Mays on his 18th birthday. He never would have pitched a no-hitter on Foamer Night. And most importantly, he never would have had a SABR chapter named after him. Please welcome, number 49, Larry Dierker!

Larry Dierker, who would later manage the Astros to 4 playoff runs in his 5 seasons as manager (1997-2001). Why not? This was the same guy that struck out Willie Mays in his 18th birthday MLB pitching debut.

Our next panelist comes from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. A graduate of Duke University, he entered the baseball world with the Cincinnati Reds. In 1960, he joined his mentor, Gabe Paul, to establish the new team in Houston. Except for two years in the mid 1970s, when he went to work for the Yankees, he’s been in Houston ever since. He actually built the team twice, the second as a general manager in 1975 when he didn’t even have an owner to speak of. Within five years, the Astros were within one game of a trip to the World Series. He was Major League Executive of the Year in 1980. Please welcome Tal Smith!

Houston GM Tal Smith with Manager Bill Virdon. Both were soft spoken gentlemen whose pursuits of excellence were relentless.

Our final panelist was born in Beeville, Texas. He grew up on the east side of Houston where he played sandlot baseball for the Pecan Park Eagles. A graduate of Tulane University, he has written two baseball biographies, one for Jerry Witte and the other for Jimmy Wynn. On August 25, 2018, he celebrated his surprise retirement party here at the Spaghetti Western. Among his gifts, the club used by his great grandfather, Liam McCurdy, in Ireland to slaughter the mythical sea serpent. Please welcome Bill McCurdy!

“I have only a quote from Clint Eastwood for all the serpents of this world and that’s ~ “Stay Off My Lawn!” ~ Dr. Bill McCurdy

Here is the introduction I had prepared for Jim Wynn. The other 24 may have been the “Say Hey Kid” but this # 24 was the Cincinnati Kid. Born in the Queen City, he was drafted from the Colt .45s by the Reds in 1963. Among the home runs he hit to earn the name ‘the Toy Cannon,’ a blast into Hudepohl Heaven above Crosley Field which landed on the street where he grew up. Three years later, in 1970, he hit another one which landed in the upper deck at the Astrodome. In 1974, he was traded to Los Angeles, where he led the Dodgers to their first National League pennant in eight years. He retired in 1977 as a member of the Milwaukee Brewers. Jim Wynn, ladies and gentlemen!

The Still Great Jimmy Wynn!
~ The Toy Cannon Forever! ~

TRIBUTE TO THE LARRY DIERKER CHAPTER

Many of you know that one of my favourite expressions is “our greatest hopes and our worst fears are seldom realized.” It was with those words that Jim McKay introduced the grim fate of the eleven Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. Since my last visit to Houston in February 2017, the city realized both its worst fears and its greatest hopes, all within a ten week period. One common link between the two events is that both brought out the best in the community and gave Houston an opportunity to shine.

Early GM Paul Richards
“The Wizard of Waxahachie”

This Evening of Monday, November 12, 2018 …

Tonight is about a third event which brought out a much smaller segment within Houston. This book. And I’m thrilled to launch the book right here in Houston because more people from Houston contributed to the book than from any other city. I’d like to take this opportunity to introduce them all.

Mike Acosta, Bob Aspromonte, Bill Brown, Rick Bush, Wayne Chandler, Chris Chestnut, Larry Dierker, Bob Dorrill, Marsha Franty, Mickey Herskowitz, Jim Kreuz, Lori Leatherwood, Greg Lucas, Bill McCurdy, Dena Propis, Wayne Roberts, Tal Smith, Joe Thompson, Mike Vance, Mark Wernick, and Jim Wynn.

To that list I will add Lou DiScioli, Carl Ingram, Mike McCroskey, and Fred Soland for their contributions to the meeting, and Greg Randolph for his thoughtful gift of a 1980 Astros’ World Series press pin.

Mike Acosta and Mike Vance
~ Two of Houston’s most treasured social historians.

In Memoriam

In my ethnoculture, we are taught that even on the most joyous of occasions of weddings, bar mitzvahs, and perhaps book launches, it is important to remember those we have lost. For that reason, I have asked to pay tribute to two members of the Larry Dierker Chapter who have passed away in the last year. We lost Ralph Hackemack in May. While I never had the pleasure to meet the man, I know that he loved SABR and he loved every one of you. Shortly after I completed these slides, we also lost Bill Gilbert. Bill was the founder of the Larry Dierker Chapter and I think we can all agree that he was one of the nicest people we ever met. Ralph and Bill, ladies and gentlemen.

THE THREE STARS

In hockey, there are three stars to every game. Accordingly, I’d like to announce the three stars of the “Time for Expansion Baseball” project. One of the three is in this room tonight.

Colt .45s in the Clubhouse

The first star, of course, is my co-editor, Bill Nowlin. Bill and I first met at the SABR convention in Boston in 2002. I hope everyone here has a chance to work on a project with Bill. He has been an excellent mentor in this, my introduction to the production side of SABR literature. Bill designed the format and presented an opportunity both challenging and encouraging. Bill is an excellent teacher, allowing his “students” to make mistakes on their own while ensuring that they learn and recover.

The second star comes from Detroit and that’s Dwayne Labakas. One of the greatest obstacles to the production of this book was to obtain the rights to photographs from 14 different teams on a budget of $1,000.00. I’ve known Dwayne for 23 years and he stepped forwards to offer us the rights to any of the photos in his catalogue that we needed for the book. A lot of the photos in the book are Dwayne’s, including one of Bob Aspromonte.

Now for the third star and the one who is here tonight. Not only did he write a chapter of the book, provide interviews, and offer photographs, but he also participated in an expansion draft. For this, I’d like to call Tal Smith to the front of the room for a special presentation. Tal, I was in England this summer when I spotted a book at Waitstone’s in London. It’s a Libyan-Romanian fusion cook book from South Africa and when I saw it, I was reminded of you. Why not? It has your name written all over it. That’s right, the author’s name is Tal Smith. Mrs. Smith. Thanks and hope you enjoy the book.

No, Our Baseball Tal Smith does not have a daughter named Talicia, Talotta, or just plain Tal. This pictured Tal Smith is a female South African cookbook author and she is shown here with her husband, Russell. Both may someday hear of baseball for the first time by some random future contact by the always social and curious writer of this column, the one and only Maxwell Kates

“PROUD TO BE AN ASTRO”

The final question of the night was addressed to Larry Dierker and it was asked by the moderator of the panel. He credited Larry for his interest in the Astros, dating back to the time he was home from school sick at the age of 13. The boy’s father suggested that he read a book called “Ball Four.” His mother wasn’t so sure, rebutting with “David, don’t let him read that!” The only trouble is, I had already started to read. One of the funniest passages, in my opinion, was when author Jim Bouton chronicled a song the players were singing on the bus. The song was called “Proud to be an Astro” and it was written by Larry Dierker. I asked Larry to discuss the story behind the hit and suggested he even sing a few bars.

Larry Dierker with John D’Acquisto and Mike Caldwell, 1977.

Larry explained that he wrote a lot of song parodies. This particular one was a satire of “Proud to be a Soldier,” written by Tom Lehrer. In addition to a songsmith, Tom was a professor at MIT. The same way “Soldier” lampooned army life, Larry’s version compared playing for taskmaster Harry Walker to serving under the likes of Sgt. Merwin Toomey of “Biloxi Blues” fame.

What I had not counted on was being tricked by Larry into singing the song myself. Fortunately I had written a clean set of lyrics to avoid further embarrassment.

THE FINAL WORD

November 12, 2018 ~ The one and only Maxwell Kates ~ lifting the spirits of the Larry Dierker Chapter of SABR with his slide and panel presentation on MLB expansion and the Houston Colt .45s.

The state tree of Texas is the pecan.

The state motto of Texas is “friendship”

Thanks y’all.

 

********************

Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle

 

 

 

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2 Responses to “MY GREATEST DAY IN SABR”

  1. Fred Soland Says:

    Thanks Max, the pleasure was truly ours!!

  2. Elena North Says:

    Terrific read, Maxwell. Thank you. I’m happy the trip was such a great experience for you.

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