Archive for the ‘culture’ Category

They’re Only Pretty Good to Old Nap

February 18, 2019

Nap Lajoie
Baseball Hall of Famer

 

They’re Only Pretty Good to Old Nap

The other day I ran into this brief space filler story of the sports pages of the 1928 Port Arthur News. It bore the same title as this Eagle column and it was really little more than something we continue to see from some older great players when they are asked to assess the comparative greatness of contemporary front-runners from the leaders of their own eras.

Some late 1920s writer apparently had just sparked the opinion of future Hall of Fame first class inductee Napoleon Lajoie on what he thought of the 1928 New York Yankees as he now watched them play from the grandstand.

Here’s how it went:

NEW YORK.  April 12. ~ The New York Yankees may be the greatest ball club in the world to some people, but to Larry Lajoie, famous second baseman of other days, they are just a pretty good ball club. 

“Of course, you could see a lot of loafing going on,” says Lajoie, but if that club is the greatest of all times, you just know that we had a lot of clubs in my time who were world champions and didn’t know it.”

~ Port Arthur (TX) News, April 12, 1928, Page 26 of 34.

Poor Larry Lajoie. He just couldn’t see that what appeared to him as loafing was really nothing more nor less than the simple luxury that descends upon players who make better money. ~ The 1928 Yankees could afford to pay somebody else to go pick up their pay checks. The 1908 Cleveland Naps ~ in the first of Lajoie’s three-year run at his top annual salary of $12,000 ~ could not ~ and that limitation extended to the mighty Nap himself.

Interesting too though, even with the differences opening up in the salaries of the home run breakout era of the 1920s and the low ball pay of the dead ball era of the first two 20th century decades, that only Ruth had any real performance and persona power to drive his annual take up near the six digit figure range. Only Ruth could pull in 80K a year ~ a figure that today couldn’t buy a club a raw rookie for more than a short-time in spring training ~ if that much.

It is fun ~ and I do write those three words with a smile ~ to play with the best career data we have now, courtesy of Baseball Reference.com ~ and check out the cost of each career home run by ~ let’s say ~ Babe Ruth and Nap Lajoie.

Be advised ~ if necessary ~ that we are playing with rough approximation on the career incomes of any two men who ever played the game of baseball ~ and especially during the early years of the low pay modern 20th century era.

The formula for this overly simple figured data is this: We divide each player’s gross career income totals by the number of home runs each man hit during his career. ~ The answer gives us the raw cost to ownership in total for each man:

Babe Ruth earned $856,850 during an MLB career in which he hit 714 career regular season home runs.

BR HR COST = ($856,850 / 714 HR) = $ 1,200.07 = The per unit cost of each Babe Ruth home run.

Nap Lajoie earned $88,100 during an MLB career in which he hit 82 career regular season home runs.

NL HR COST = ($88,100 / 82 HR) = $ 1,O74.39) = The per unit cost of each Nap Lajoie home run.

OK, before we get carried away with errant conclusion about Nap Lajoie’s relatively comparable HR cost efficiency in his comparison with Babe Ruth, let’s examine one more player to confirm why “money can’t buy you love” ~ when love is measured in home run totals.

Hunter Pence ~ now signed to a minor league contract by the Texas Rangers ~ has spent his 11 seasons in the big leagues (2008-2018) collecting a total of $125,435,000 in salary. During this time, Pence has smashed a career regular season total of 224 HR.

Using our same formula for determining the cost of each home run, Hunter Pence’s cost per HR is $559,977.68.

OUCH! Hunter Pence’s homers better be the very red and very sweet and unsqueezed king brand for that kid of money. All it serves us is to stand as a blink toward serious “cost of the game” research of how the cost of everything today is now driven by the players’ power to drive salaries and benefits through the roof for catches that bring down the ceiling of the business universe with a few incidental planet captures also made by chance and pure good luck on the way down.

Hey! With a gross income from baseball of about $125,435,000 going into our mid to late 30s, most of us could also have settled for a minor league paper with Texas in 2019. ~ And ~ if it didn’t work out, what the heck, it just didn’t work out!

 

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

Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

 

 

 

 

 

What If Astros Added BB Movie Heroes to Roster?

February 16, 2019

“Now listen up, Lanigan! ~ Once we join the Astros, try not to draw everyone’s attention to that hole in the pocket of my glove, OK?” ~ Pitcher King Kelly.

 

What If the Astros Added BB Movie Heroes to Roster? More correctly, what if they had the magical power to add some of the great fictional baseball movie characters to fill their few weaker roster spots on the 2019 “Take It Back” Astros roster that is currently taking shape.

Yeah, we know, the real world doesn’t turn on the presence of movie magic. In MLB today, you have to have General Managers like our Jeff Luhnow and his Army of Analytics to churn out data on what’s needed and who’s available to meet those needs, but this the first Saturday after Valentine’s Day ~ and this 81 year old kid is playing with the idea of how great we could really be in 2019 with just a little magical help with the roster in a few places.

Limiting myself to fictional movie characters only, I drafted seven players from the movies that I felt we could go to Opening Day with right now, if we were given the magical signal that all the changes here had been approved and made real by the baseball gods.

If you know these characters, you will have some idea of why the fellows shown in bold type below could help the Astros “take it back” in the next World Series this autumn.

You may even want to leave your own suggestions for change or additions to this talent infusion in the comment section below. If you do, please stick to fictional baseball movie characters. We’re not looking for the reincarnation of Babe Ruth or Lou Gehrig.

What follows is the 2019 Houston Astros “TAKE IT BACK” Roster, as we see it:

R# POS NAME MLB/MOVIE MOVIE TITLE
1 SP1 Justin Verlander MLB
2 SP2 King Kelly MOVIE It Happens Every Spring
3 SP3 Gerrit Cole MLB
4 SP4 Wade Miley (L) MLB
5 SP5 Nuke LaLoosh MOVIE Bull Durham
6 SP/R Collin McHugh MLB
7 SP/R Brad Peacock MLB
8 R Will Harris MLB
9 R Ryan Pressly MLB
10 R Rey Guduan (L) MLB
11 R Chris Devenski MLB
12 Clr1 Roberto Osuna MLB
13 Clr2 Ricky Vaughn MOVIE Major League
14 C Crash Davis MOVIE Bull Durham
15 C Rob Chirinos MLB
16 C Monk Lanigan MOVIE It Happens Every Spring
17 1B/IF/DH Yuli Gurriel MLB
18 2B Jose Altuve MLB
19 3B Alex Bregman MLB
20 SS Carlos Correa MLB
21 DH/OF/1B Roy Hobbs MOVIE The Natural
22 LF Michael Brantley MLB
23 CF/UTIL Joe Hardy MOVIE Damn Yankees
24 RF George Springer MLB
25 OF/DH Josh Reddick MLB

Here’s just one lineup that could hit the ground running in the second game of the season. In dutiful respect to Justin Verlander, Mike “King” Kelly ~ the guy with the wood repellent stuff that repels all bats trying to hit it once Kelly doctors each baseball prior to each pitch’s delivery from a sponge that rests behind the large hole in his pitcher’s glove pocket:

One Houston Astros Lineup

Springer, RF

Altuve, 2B

Hardy, CF

Hobbs, DH

Bregman, 3B

Correa, SS

Brantley, LF

Gurriel, 1B

Lanigan, C

 

Kelly, P

 

How do you like dem egg rolls, Mr. Goldstone? ~ Could the Astros become the first undefeated baseball team in MLB history with this magical lineup? ~ When you play with magic, even the impossible downshifts to the only highest levels of improbability. 🙂

In the end, any possibility is better than none.

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

Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

 

Greatest Movie Runs at MLB Incredibility

February 15, 2019

Perhaps our column title slightly overstates our case. Almost all baseball movies, whether they deserve the viewing time we give them or not, usually reach for and achieve the incredible on some level. And why not? Baseball is the sport which invites its fans and media to anticipate the improbable great joy, but to also find something magical about it.

For example: Once Upon a Time, the greatest legendary slugger, a fellow named Babe Ruth, not only blasted a home run to center field at Wrigley Field to deaden the spirits of the Chicago Cubs in the 1932 World Series, he apparently also “called his shot” on the way to leading the New York Yankees to another victory in Game Three of a Four Game sweep of the World Series. ~ And there’s never been any argument that he didn’t forecast his actions either. …. Right?

These just happen to be nine of the many baseball movies that effected me deeply as a kid, but most-to-all of them required me to make a little credibility stretch that was vital to me loving them too.

My favorite baseball movies aren’t even on today’s list. In no particular order, my favorites include: The Natural ~ Field of Dreams ~ Bull Durham ~ League of Their Own ~ Eight Men Out and Major League. There were others, but this is more than enough for today.

Let us hear from you if you’ve ever been put off by bad acting, bad script, or the absence of baseball ability by an actor in a key role. I would love to hear from you in the comment section below.

 

9. Gary Cooper
as Lou Gehrig
Pride of the Yankees (1942)

 

Gary Cooper had the physical resemblance and personality for his role as Lou Gehrig and he did a masterful job of acting in both his delivery of Lou’s famous “happiest man” speech at Yankee Stadium and his portrayal of how this horrible disease that killed him takes over the body in the early stages.

Credibility Stretch: Cooper was not a ballplayer. We’ve all read the stories of how they reversed the jersey and allowed him to swing right-handed and run to third from home for film that would later make it appear that he had been hitting left-handed. He was just more at home riding horseback than he was hitting a horsehide ball.

 

 

 

8. Robert Young
as “Larry Evans”
Death on the Diamond (1934)

 

Well named. Ballplayers are dying faster than the guys pulling hamstrings, but this one ends well when the club’s star player, Larry Evans, both helps the club solve the crimes as he also leads his team to the championship in one of those typical fast-moving and fast-talking film adventures of the early tinny sound years of movie history.

Credibility Stretch: It’s a little hard to believe that ballpark security was that poor at the big league level, even if it is “only a movie” and the year was way back in the depression culture 1934. They could have renamed this one as “The Gashouse Gang Gets Gassed”.

 

 

 

7. Dan Dailey
as Dizzy Dean
Pride of St. Louis (1952)

 

I’ve always loved the fact that this movie features Dailey as Dean playing at a stadium that is supposed to be Buff Stadium in Houston (but is not) and that it features Dailey as Dean wearing what appears to be a ’51 Buffs uniform (about 20 years past the 1931 time of Dizzy’s big year in our town.)

Credibility Stretch: Dan Dailey was no Dizzy Dean. Speaking in “twang” is not enough to make an actor credible as this unique and funny personality. And Dailey’s movements on the mound are not enough to convince me that he could have thrown the ball for 60 feet, six inches on every pitch at any speed. The script also sucked.

 

 

6. James Stewart
as Monty Stratton
The Stratton Story (1949)

 

Jimmy Stewart does a good job as the small town Texas boy who sees his MLB pitching career ended by a hunting gunshot injury that costs him the loss of a leg. The movie is the story of the man’s rise from depression and despair to pitch again on a limited basis with the help of a prosthetic leg and a whole lot of heart and help from family and friends. And he does it at kind of semi-pro All Star Game, again, at another venue that is posing as Buff Stadium.

Credibility Stretch: On one leg or two, the Jimmy Stewart version of Monty Stratton just shows up again as proof that great actors are, more often not, pitchers who would not last more than a game or two at the Grade D ball level. Stewart, at least, has the power to convince his audiences to forget their “lying eyes” and to buy into what he’s trying to sell as the powers of the character he’s playing.

 

5. Edward G Robinson
as Hans Lobert
Big Leaguer (1953)

 

As former big leaguer Hans Lobert, “Edward G” conducts a spring training camp for young prospects of the NY Giants, managing to get into all kinds of mentoring ship problems the young 18-22 year olds may be having finding the key to their futures. Lobert weaves his way into becoming the Darth Vader of either their success or vexation paths as serious baseball players. Edward G’s character is cool, calm and deliberate. Very convincing in a soap opera kind of way. They could have titled this one “Days of Our Diamond.”

Credibility Stretch: Remember. This is Edward G. Robinson in the lead role. Whenever one of the rookies reacts by word or action in opposition to leader Lobert, you keep waiting for him to light up a cigar and hit back with that famous, “Oh, a wise guy, huh?” It simply never happens. But neither does the story line. You can’t fix all their aches and pains by helping them find a girl.

 

4. William Bendix
as Babe Ruth
The Babe Ruth Story (1948)

 

We’ve been over this road in mind and print here more often than I care to remember, but this first animated version of my 10-year old lives still contains points that make me cry in sadness, appreciation and longing for Babe Ruth. That closing scene in which Ruth is in the hospital, the kids are singing the baseball anthem outside his window, and they are now wheeling the Bambino out of his room and down the hall for experimental drug treatment ~ and the whole thing ends on scenes from a kids’ sandlot game while an angelic chorus concludes “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” As the film ends, even now, it’s still hard for me to type and also think about that moment too much at the same time.

Credibility Stretch: What stretch? Everything in the movie looked absolutely real to me. And that includes the time a teenage Babe left a round hole in a St. Mary’s School window glass with an errantly thrown baseball and, a few minutes later, throws it back outside through the same hole from 60 feet away inside ~ without shedding even one extra sliver of glass.

 

3. Ronald Reagan as
Grover Cleveland Alexander (1952)

 

One thing can be said for Ronald Reagan for sure. He may not have been able to act like Lawrence Olivier, or worse, even come close to pitching with all the ability of the real Grover Cleveland Alexander, but. like him or not, he was keen enough as a major politician to have gotten himself elected President of the United States and the worldwide leader of the real “Winning Team” ~ The United States of America.

Credibility Stretch: It’s the same one that came with every film we may have watched featuring Ronald Reagan. ~ As a viewer, and if you’re really honest with yourself, you will have to admit that you never really get over the fact that you are watching Ronald Reagan in any movie he makes ~ and not the character he is supposed to be playing. By looks, behavior, or skill, Reagan was no Alexander.

 

2. Ray Milland
as Mike “King” Kelly
It Happens Every Spring (1949)

 

A baseball fan/university research chemist accidentally invents a wood-repellant liquid. He cuts a quarter size hole in the pocket of a baseball glove and loads it up with the “stuff” in a sponge placed strategically behind the glove-pocket-hole and then rushes off to the big leagues with a few bottles of his magic to try to win a World Series for “St. Louis” under an assumed name. Although the movie never clarifies if Mike Kelly’s team is NL or AL, assume it to be the Cardinals. This kind of luck never fell into the hungering laps of the old Browns club.

Credibility Stretch: Not once do the befuddled batters ask for or simply receive any help from the umpires on a requested inspection of Kelly’s glove and that doozy of a pocket hole. For that matter, the St. Louis management or other players ever seem to notice or raise any question about Kelly’s possible use of a foreign substance.

 

9. Anthony Perkins
as Jimmy Piersall
Fear Strikes Out (1957)

 

Jimmy Piersall: “Pop, I hit .346 at Birmingham this year. (1951)

Piersall’s Father: “Well, that’s not Boston, is it, Son?”

That paraphrased exchange between Piersall and his dad was pretty much the dynamo of “Fear Strikes Out.” Piersall keeps trying to please his dad, but never quite makes it. Then finally explodes from his mortal fear of failure and has a full-blown psychotic mental breakdown ~ one that includes running the bases backwards on the heels of a home run and then climbing the screen behind home and yelling all the anger that had been building. Perkins’ ability to act far out runs his inability to play baseball with even a smidgeon of credibility.

Credibility Stretch: Anytime actor Perkins was shown throwing a baseball.

 

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

Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To Montreal With Love

February 13, 2019

Montreal red-hearts-

Tomorrow just happens to be Valentines Day so this little homecoming story fits in fine.

Years ago, while Norma and I were meandering through the Strand Area in downtown Galveston ~ closer to the beginning of their reign in Canada than the end, I ran across this Montreal Expos bobblehead in one of the little loose ends gift shops that still exist to bait the appetites of Sunday afternoon Houston tourist perusers.

It reminded me of two close friends from Montreal that I have known for nearly fifty years ~ and longer than my quite lengthy marriage to Norma. Their names are Serge and Ginette Masse’ ~ and they were my apartment neighbors back in the day that Serge and I were just getting started with our health careers in the Texas Medical Center.

Serge was finishing his residency at MD Anderson. The same Dr. Serge Masse recently retired as one of Canada’s foremost oncologists. Now Serge and Ginette live out the life of grandparents, world travelers and passionate contributors to the arts and needs of their beloved Montreal.

The bobblehead I once found in Galveston, which flew from the USA as “Le Grand Orange,” is now on the ground in Montreal and on his way to his new, but permanent home with my good friends. They know that he’s coming and they’ve seen what he looks like. And I get the satisfaction of assurance that this little special item will avoid any garage sales that my wife and son may plan for my stored things, should I be called upon to make an unexpected trip of my own anytime and eventually in the nearby or far-reaching future.

It is better to give those things that we love ~ to the people we love ~ while we still have the options of conscious decision-making at our disposal.

Here’s the “South of the Border” song parody I wrote that already has reached Serge and Ginette prior to the arrival of “Rusty” via e-mail.

Happy Valentine’s Day, Everybody!

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

With All My Love to Serge and Ginette Masse’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

North of the Border! ~ Up Montreal Way!

That’s Where We Fell in Love ~ ‘Neath the Stars Above,

To Watch the Expos Play!

 

Then We Were Abandoned! ~ Our Team Went Away!

South of the Border! ~ Down Washington Way!

 

Prepare My Homecoming! ~ Our Spirit Still Lives!

I’m Coming Home to You Two! ~ In a Late Passing Through! 

By the FedEx I Flew ~ Just for You ~ Both of You!

 

Look for Me Thursday! ~ Or by Friday for True!

Please Treat me Gently! ~ And I’ll Never Leave You!

 

My Name is now “Rusty” ~ Le Grand Orange One!

And if you find me a shelf! ~ I’ll be a Good Little Elf!

And Your New Shining Sun!

 

I Never Stop Smiling!  ~ Get Used to It Now!

I’m What You Might Call a ~ Bobble~Head~Sacred~Cow!

 

February 14, 2019

Happy Valentine’s Day,

Love and Peace, Forever,

Your Ancient Houston Friend,

Bill McCurdy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

Rest In Peace, Frank Robinson

February 9, 2019

“Frank Robinson (1935-2019): Hall of Fame outfielder who hit 586 home runs in his career (10th all time). The only player to win MVP awards in both the AL and NL. He also won two World Series rings with the Baltimore Orioles. Robinson managed 16 seasons in the majors and was MLB’s first black manager.” ~ Baseball Reference.com

Baseball Reference put it succinctly well ~ as clearly as Frank Robinson’s brain and bat made it obvious in those moments of loss by others to one of his teams what he had done to contribute to that outcome. Frank Robinson went into the Hall of Fame when players still needed rare greatness and measurable achievement in ways that also made it as clear that an inductee was going into the Hall of Fame as one of the best to ever play the game.  The now days of “very good” were not yet upon us as a ticket to the final resting place of honor for people like Cy Young, Babe Ruth, Rogers Hornsby or Willie Mays ~ and Frank Robinson unquestionably ranked among them. Not many did them better ~ and some things he did as a brainy and athletic human being were on a level all his own.

As much as he did as a role model for racial justice and equality in baseball during the still early MLB integration years, Frank was also most admirable for recognizing that he most appreciated the fans who cheered him in their own faith and trust as an individual performer as both a player and a manager.

What a guy we just gave up. ~ We’ll miss you, Frank, but we also know that you’ve given it your best for as long as you could. ~ We’ll all remember you. ~ And those of us who pray will remember you there too!

Rest in Peace, Good Man!

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

Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

A Ball Autographed by the 1931 Houston Buffs

February 7, 2019

A BALL SIGNED BY ALL MEMBERS OF THE 1931 HOUSTON BUFFS.
PHOTO BY TIM HOCK

 

SGNATURE DATE: AUGUST 22, 1931
PHOTO BY TIM HOCK

 

A Dean Anniversary
Married 1931-1974

 “This ball was acquired by a collector through the 2008 Heritage Sports Auction, and I purchased it from him in 2016. It was authenticated by PSA for the auction, and listed in their catalog. It contains signatures of every member of the ’31 Championship Buffs team, including the manager (Joe Schultz). Eddie Hock, 3rd baseman, was my great uncle. He still holds the record for the most career singles in the minors (2,944), and had one of very few unassisted triple plays on the books (1927). On a side note, he dated the woman (Patricia Nash) that Dizzy Dean later married! Additionally, I’m always looking to acquire any memorabilia featuring Eddie or the ’31 team. Thanks, Tim Hock”

The preceding introduction was written by collector Timothy Hock as his introduction to this generous photographic sharing of these items of significance to the history of baseball in Houston.

Put this in perspective, folks. ~ 1931 was the year that the Buffs featured great future members of the St. Louis Cardinals’ Gashouse Gang. Pitcher Dizzy Dean and outfielder Joe “Ducky” Medwick were lighting the flames that would help propel the ’31 Buffs to the Texas League crown again ~ and in only the fourth season of play in the still new Buffalo Stadium in the near east end of downtown Houston, ~ and among these stars was a left-handed throwing and batting third baseman named Ed Hock ~ who just turns out to be the great uncle of Timothy Hock, the contributor fellow this morning who now has us all reved up to the joys of genuine artifact history with the four photos that accompany this little piece.

Hock-Eddie

Ed Hock

The 2,944 minor league career singles we found for Ed Hock’s 21-season years (1921-42) included 493 doubles, 114 triples and 23 home runs for a grand total of 3,474 minor league hits. ~ The totals for singles, based upon this Baseball Reference.com source, of course, is simply derived as the remainder total when all three extra base totals are subtracted from the grand total figure.

We have no confirmation that Hock holds the record for career minor league singles, but 2,944 safeties that only got the same batter one-base hit credit looks to us as most credible and hardly in any danger of ever being broken in today’s game.

Another baseball anomaly factor is at play here. Ed Hock played third base for the 1931 Buffs as a left-handed throwing fielder.

Thank you for your preservationist efforts, Timothy Hock, and please know that we appreciate you sharing these photos with our Pecan Park Eagle readership.

BAT OF ED HOCK
3RD BASE ~ HOUSTON BUFFS
PHOTO BY TIM HOCK

1931 HOUSTON BUFFALOS
TEXAS LEAGUE CHAMPIONS
PHOTO BY TIM HOCK

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

Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

Maxwell Kates With Alan Ashby

February 6, 2019

A FEW MINUTES WITH ALAN ASHBY

By Maxwell Kates
(Virtually Alive)
And Quite Personable

As I wrote in my last Pecan Park Eagle column, on September 29, 2007, the Hanlan’s Point (Toronto) Chapter of SABR welcomed Alan Ashby as a guest speaker at a local meeting. Ashby was completing his first season in the broadcast booth for the Blue Jays after serving the Astros in a similar capacity from 1998 to 2005. Alan Ashby was born in 1951 in Long Beach, California, and was a catcher for the Cleveland Indians as well as the Blue Jays and Astros, 1973 to 1989. What you are about to read is an edited version of the transcript from the question and answer session with Alan Ashby:

Bill Brown and Alan Ashby
Play-By-Play & Color
Houston Astro Days

Question #1

When you played for the Houston Astros, you caught three different pitchers who struck out 300 batters: J. R. Richard, Nolan Ryan, and Mike Scott – who pitched a no-hitter to clinch the pennant in 1986. How would you compare catching those three pitchers?

Nolan Ryan is the greatest power pitcher of all time. He threw the live four seam fastball and it was straight and pure and would generally hop over the bat. He also had the over the top curveball. Late in his career he threw a change-up that was just phenomenal. I had hitters walk up to the plate and say “That isn’t even legal anymore.” That pitch helped him become even more dominant late in his career.

 I caught, by the way, his fifth no-hitter, the record breaker. I was just a skinny kid that had idolized Sandy Koufax. When I grew up in LA, I saw two of Koufax’ no-hitters. To have caught Nolan Ryan’s record-breaking fifth no-hitter over my hero was way too much to believe. Just a great day.

 I wound up catching three no-hitters: Ken Forsch was the first, Nolan the second, and Mike Scott whom you mentioned was the third. He had the great splitter to go along with a mid-90s fastball and for a couple of years, maybe as dominant as anybody in the game.

J.R. Richard might have been the most fear-provoking guy I ever caught. When he was on the mound, hitters were scared to death. Right-handed hitters wanted no part of the action. He was wild enough that you had no idea where it was going to go and hard enough that even if he threw right over you, you expected to have a tough time. There was a unique trio that I had a chance to catch but a lot of fun to be in that position.

Question #2

If you catch a no-hitter, by the fifth inning, do you call the game differently than if you call a normal game?

Yes. Most pitchers, if you get through six innings, you start to think ‘OK now is when we start to act like it’s a no-hitter.’ I’ll get into that in a little bit. A guy like Nolan Ryan or Mike Scott when he was on his game, you could get through four innings and have the realization that ‘today could be the day.’ You might alter things a little bit right there. Let’s say you’ve got a 3 or 4-0 lead. Most of the time when a pitcher falls behind 2-0 you give him a cut fastball. If you look at first pitch batting average for any of the guys around the league, it is going to be higher than any other pitch. Most of the time the hitter goes to the plate looking for a fastball on the first pitch. If he gets it, that’s why he hits for a high average. Once you get a little deeper in the count, especially if the pitcher gets a hit, there’s always the confusion. You have no idea what might be coming and the batting averages dive. If that pitcher falls behind a little bit, you might start throwing the other pitches rather than worrying about the walk.

 Even if a perfect game is in the mix, you’re still going to deal with a no-hitter primarily. Because to me that’s of the larger importance. The perfect game comes along with it and is a great bonus if you can get it. In that regard, you do start changing. You do start thinking in terms of ‘What is the best pitch right now to not give up a hit?” That was always my ploy when I had that opportunity. A 1-0 ballgame, a scoreless ballgame becomes a real challenge because you don’t want to start putting men on base either.

The Joy of Sandy Koufax ~ One Particularly Perfect Day ~
When Alan Ashby Was There as a Witness.

 Question 3

How did you become the starting catcher for the Blue Jays in 1977?

In 1977, Rick Cerone was the starting catcher, and Phil Roof was his backup. All spring long there were rumours that I was going to be traded to the Angels for Ron Jackson. The Blue Jays kind of went about that entire spring that I wasn’t going to be a part of the team. So we got into the first week of the year.

Cerone was still the catcher and I was still supposed to be traded. About a week or nine days into the season, they decided the trade wasn’t going to happen. Cerone got injured and that’s how I got to play.

Questions 4 and 5

There was a guy, Gaylord Perry, reputed to be throwing something for twenty years. The spitball. He acknowledged it after his career with his book.

And Mike Scott, for three or four years he was amazing, with whatever the hell he was throwing.

(Editorial Note: The writers questions (4) & (5) appear to be the same implied question about both Gaylord Perry and Mike Scott. That is, was the catcher helping them? ~ As often is the case, ask an oblique question and then wait five seconds for an oblique answer to come rushing back to you.)

What’s your implication? You’re just beating around the bush. Mike was accused of scuffing baseballs and the only common denominator I can see is the catcher.

Mike Scott was Lights Out for Foes of His 1986 Houston Astros.

Question 6

In the 1980 NLCS, Vern Ruhle of the Houston Astros was pitching against the Philadelphia Phillies. There was a play that was almost a triple play and the umpires took twenty minutes to decide that it was only a double play.

They called it the only play that it couldn’t be. Someone hit a little looper to the mound, just a little four feet in the air, five feet in the air. The looper came down and there were two or three guys on base. When the huddle was all said and done, they decided to call it a double play which was, in reality, the only play they could not rule it to be. They didn’t rule it a triple play and they didn’t rule it one out. There was a question as to whether he had caught the ball and the runners were moving. Umpires were calling the wrong thing and it caused runners to go. But in reality it should have been a triple play but they wound up calling it a double play to appease both sides. Meanwhile we all sat there and said “But that’s the only one you can’t call it.” Next time you see it, consider the possibilities, and that’s the only one you can’t. (Editorial Note: I guess you had to physically be there with the Commissioner, the Chief of MLB Officiating, your best record of the actual runners on base situation, your own copy of the rule book, great far sight vision, and the finest instant replay system available to actually later explain that situation to the baseball world at large in printed form.)

Question 7

1980 NLCS: Joe Morgan returned to Houston in time to team up with shortstop Craig Reynolds for the Astros’ first really close near miss at a World Series appearance.

The 1980 NLCS was the one where Pete Rose said to Craig Reynolds ‘It’s a shame somebody has got to lose this series.’ In the five game series, four went into extra innings. I believe the Astros lost Game 5 by a score of 8-7. What do you recall about that playoff series?

The Astros had a two games to one lead going into Game 4 in the Astrodome, where I believe we won 50-some odd games that year. By the way, the Blue Jays with a win tomorrow have a chance to make it 50 at home. I’d like to take a look at the teams that have won 50 at home this year; it’s very impressive.

We had a 2-1 lead in the series and we had a 2-0 lead in the Vern Ruhle game, in Game 4 that got away. Then Nolan Ryan got the start in the deciding Game 5. We had a lead in the 8th inning in that one and that got away. That was just a devastating loss. The Phillies went on to win it.

In 1986, the Mets beat us after a great comeback in a 16 inning game in the Astrodome in Game 6 before Mike Scott was to pitch Game 7. The Mets went on to win the World Series.

In 1981, we led the Dodgers 2-0 in a best of 5 series and the Dodgers came back to beat us three straight and they won the World Series.

Alan Ashby’s Walk-Off Homer in the 1981 NLDS

Question 8 (Implicit Request)

You had a pretty good game in Game 1 of that 1981 NLDS series.

I had a walk-off home run if I’m not mistaken, yeah, against Dave Stewart, one of your old guys.

Question 9

Of all your opponents you played against over your career, which one would you say made the most use of a limited ability?

That could have been me.

 

Alan Ashby as a Toronto Blue Jay

Question 10

Who was the most talented player you ever saw?

Up until a certain point, I’ll tell you who I think is the most talented player I’ve ever seen. Cesar Cedeno was initially the most talented player I had been around. He had some problems in winter ball that seemed to impede his career. You talk about five tool guys – and five tool can get really over-talked – but he had all the tools. He had them all and he was truly amazing.

The best game breaker player that could do everything that I’ve ever seen – and I’m not talking about Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle and all that sort of thing – but a guy you’ll be surprised to hear the name, Carlos Beltrán. And his name is Beltrán. With the Astros in the postseason I have never seen a talent just take over and dominate the game. He can fly, he can do everything defensively, he can hit home runs, he can hit for average, the guy is a phenomenal talent.

Question 11

When the Astros signed Ryan, and there was all the talk of putting Richard, Joe Niekro, Ryan three in a row and how could anybody adjust game-to-game-to-game facing pitchers like that. Is that accurate and as a catcher, is it difficult to go from the blazing heat to the knuckleball to the blazing heat?

We had the two great arms and then Niekro in between. To me, there was nothing quite like catching Joe Niekro. My broken fingers come from the knuckleball and it practically ruined my catching ability. For some reason, I lost the ability to handle him with one hand. I became very two-handed and it infiltrated the rest of my game defensively for years to follow and that knuckleball just destroyed me. To the basic question, I’m not sure there is any reality to the premise but it sure sounds good. You’ve got two guys who can throw like Ryan and J. R. Richard and then throw the knuckleball in between and as a manager I would probably do the same thing. As a hitter, if I wake up tomorrow after facing Ryan, it’s a brand new day. So I don’t know if there’s anything to it.

Nolan Ryan recorded his 5th MLB no-hitter as an Astros back in 1981.

Question 12

How did you enjoy your return to Toronto? How would you sum up the year in terms of broadcasting with the Jays and the other broadcasters?

I broadcast for eight years with the Astros. My termination there was a complete surprise not only to me but to the fans in Houston and a big disappointment. I loved broadcasting so therefore I’m very grateful for the opportunity once again and I hope to be able to do it for a long time. I’ve had a wonderful time in Toronto. I find the Blue Jays to be a very intriguing team. I thought the original starting staff was doomed but you can’t really play that game on the air. You keep your fingers crossed and your eyes closed a lot of the time and hope that some guys can be successful. I think what really was fortunate for the Jays this year was that when they flamed out early and it gave the young guys a chance to come on early

 POSTSCRIPT

Alan Ashby ended the meeting by recanting an anecdote from Roy Hartsfield, his manager with the Blue Jays. Hartsfield was notorious for calling clubhouse meetings that were rife with expressions and idioms that few players who were not from Georgia would have understood. The meetings would usually finish with, “and it would finish “…’and if you’re not proud to play with this uniform’…one of the uniforms at home said Blue Jays and the one on the road said Toronto and invariably, he would get it wrong every time.”

Alan Ashby remained a Blue Jays broadcaster until 2012. Returning to Houston, he resumed colour commentary on Astros games for another four seasons, from 2013 to 2016. He and his wife Kathryn continue to live in the Houston area. Some time ago, another Astros broadcaster – Greg Lucas – suggested that I write a biography of a player common to “our two cities.” I trust Greg meant Houston was his city and not Kokomo, otherwise I would have written about Tom Underwood. So here it is, the life and times of Alan Ashby, “Catching Rainbows and Calling Stars.”

Former FOX SW Network Astros broadcaster Greg Lucas and our TPPE contributor and doggedly determined and colorful baseball writer, Maxwell Kates, sharing a smile over the thought that the 2019 baseball season is now coming at us faster than a Houston Sky shooting star always once did ~ on a long ago summer night.

 

https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/3db1785c

 

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

Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

Bob Friend’s Curious Waco Start

February 5, 2019
Bob-Friend

Bob Friend Died February 3, 2019.

On one sometimes curiously magical level, life will always be a beautiful connect-the-dots experience. Today, and in honor of the great, but now deceased former Pittsburgh Pirate pitching legend, Bob Friend. we’d like to recall such a link that we don’t think enough people about. ~ It was one that involved him. ~ And who knows how much energy he absorbed and used as only one of the results:

Buddy Hancken
At Age 90

(1) It’s 1950 ~ and 19-year old pitcher Bob Friend is breaking into professional baseball with the Waco Pirates of the Class B Big State League.

(2) One of Friend’s teammates is a 24-year old pitcher named Jack Bumgarner of Norman, Oklahoma.

(3) Jack Bumgarner stays in touch by letter and telephone with a younger brother named Jim Bumgarner.

(4) The younger Bumgarner will move to Hollywood and change his name to “James Garner” as he is breaking into the movies on his way to becoming a major film and television star before the 1950s decade concludes.

James Garner

(5) 35-year old veteran catcher Buddy Hancken is the playing manager of the 1950 Waco Pirates.

(6) Hancken’s entire MLB career consisted of one inning of defensive work behind the plate in a May 14, 1940 game that the Philadelphia Athletics won over the Cleveland Indians by 9-7 ~ but without Buddy ever getting a chance to hit in the game ~ or in any other time from that moment thereafter in the big leagues.

(7) The likeable and sociable Hancken will go on to enjoy a long career as a  minor league player and manager, finishing his career as a coach and  administrative employee of the Houston Astros.

(8) Joe L. Brown, the son of famous film comedian Joe E. Brown. is the General Manager of the Waco Pirates. In 1955, we will take the reins as GM of the Pittsburgh Pirates. In the meanwhile, he and his father’s baseball obsession, along with a connection to good old Buddy Hancken are the reasons for the famous Brown’s extensive trips to Waco. While he is there, he dresses  out in a Waco Pirates uniform ~ and he acts out in the dugout during games as though he were a member of the coaching staff, but one with a broad and loud flair for physical comedy.

 (9) Bob Friend (12-9, 3.08) leads all Waco pitchers in 1950. Jack Bumgarner (11-5, 4.90) and Norman Morton (12-12, 4.50) also so well, but the Pirates still finish with a losing record in 6th place.

(10) Bob Friend is the only man among those three named starters who makes it the big leagues for the major part of his time in the big leagues, mostly with the great rising Bucs of that era and a post-1966 career line of 197 wins, 230 losses and an ERA of 4.58. Friend’s best of 16 MLB seasons (1951-66) was the glorious 1960 Pittsburgh Pirate championship year when he won 18, lost 12 and registered a 3.00 ERA.

(11) How much did any of these connected energy dots have to do, if anything, with helping Bob Friend succeed as quickly and as well as he did. ~ Who know? All I know is that ~ years later ~ I may have picked up a lingering brush with some of them that still lingered, even this late in the game.

The date was August 20, 2004. I had driven to Orange, Texas for the 90th birthday party of Buddy Hancken at this large facility the family had retained to welcome all of us who wanted to be there on this special day for one of baseball’s nicest people.

I had just walked over to speak privately with Buddy at what appeared to be a good time when the phone rang and he answered it directly. ~ You could almost see the energy that poured both ways as they went on for quite a while, exchanging laughs, happy animated speech, and emotional hugs via the phone. I later learned from Buddy that he had just been told to wait there by the phone for someone who had to reach him, but could not make it in person. It had been a surprise call for Buddy too, but one that leaked of love and good will for anyone in the general vicinity.

“Wow!” Buddy exclaimed, as he finally got off the line.

“That was James Garner calling,” Buddy added. “Wasn’t that nice of him to call today!”

“Nice, Buddy?” I asked, as I quickly threw in an extra hug, while adding: “How could he forget you?”

May They All Rest in Peace ….

Joe E. Brown passed away on July 6, 1973 at the age of 80.

Buddy Hancken passed away on February 17, 2007 at the age of 92.

Jack Bumgarner passed away on September 11, 2011 at the age of 84.

James Garner passed away on July 19, 2014 at the age of 86.

Bob Friend passed away on February 3, 2019 at the age of 88.

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

The following is a link to the New York Times Obituary for Bob Friend;

Thank you, Paul Rogers, too for sending this information our way:

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

For those of you with further interest in Joe E. Brown’s baseball movies and Buddy Hancken’s colorful contact with Hollywood types on the west coast, you may also enjoy this column of ours from several years back. Here’s the link:

https://bill37mccurdy.com/2012/05/02/joe-e-brown-was-a-baseball-man/

 

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

Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Be it Ever so Boring, the Pats Bring It Home

February 4, 2019

Bring ‘Em On! ~ Bring ‘Em On! ~ Bring ‘Em On!

 

Twice this 2018-2019 professional sports season, teams from Boston have risen up to smite clubs from Los Angeles for victories in both baseball and football. Yesterday the New England Patriots took the Los Angeles Rams in a most boring Super Bowl football game played in Atlanta by a score of 13-3. Last fall, the New England Red Sox did a similar job on the base-balling California Dodgers in a World Series victory that featured each club playing games by their actual urban identities as Boston and Los Angeles.

Fortunately for LA ~ and all the rest of us who do not nurse our sports addictions on the heels of either city’s success or failure, ~ the prospects for an NBA trifecta this coming June are not too probable that the LA Lakers will rise up to face, let alone defeat, a superior Boston Celtics club this year, but there are long odds on the Bostons running the table if they can get past clubs like the Golden State Warriors.

As for hockey and soccer, and without a Google search, I can’t even speak to whether they still play those two sports in America, let alone run the odds on a five-pro sport Boston slammer on the rest of us anytime this season.

Let’s just move all these oblong brown and grainy-surfaced and under-inflated balls out-of-the-way and bring on the shiny, round and sweet-smelling hard-core whites of another new baseball spring training celebration of dawn.

“Here comes the sun! ~ You pitchers need to limber up for BP! ~ You! ~ Yeah! ~ You nine guys need to grab some bats and get ready to take some cuts! ~ The rest of you need to grab your gloves and hit the field near your normal spots! ~ It’s time to shag some balls! ~ But push that lawn mower out of left field before we get started and one of you mugs breaks your neck running over it! ~ What kind of ground crew have we got here, anyway?”

 

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

 

Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

Dome’s Silver Anniversary Team Comes Together 

February 3, 2019

Larry Dierker

ORIGINAL TITLE: Dome’s Silver Anniversary Team brings generations together 

PUBLICATION: Houston Chronicle 
SECTION: SPORTS

DATE: FEBRUARY 8, 1990 
EDITION: 2 STAR 

SUBMISSION TO THE PECAN PARK EAGLE BY: DARRELL PITTMAN, Classic Newspaper Research, with full credit and appreciation to the original source, The Houston Chronicle, for making these materials available for this kind of historical research and reporting.

By LARRY DIERKER   

I was walking to my car in the Astrodome parking lot after a game last summer when I saw a man hurrying toward me, dragging a little boy by the hand. “Hey, Larry, I used to be your Astros Buddy,” he said. “My dad used to take me out to see you pitch. Now, I bring my sons. Could I get you to sign my hat?’ As I was signing the hat, I got the rest of the story. “My dad is over there,” he said, pointing to the area near the Astrodome loading dock where players sometimes sign autographs after a game.

“He’s got my other boy with him. They’re hoping Glenn Davis and Gerald Young will sign tonight. This one,” he said, nodding at his son, “he likes G-Man, but the little one over there lives and dies with the `Bopper’.’ “Three generations, huh?’ “Yeah, we’re all out here. It’s the one thing we all like to do together.” “Thanks for coming out tonight,” I said, as I got into my car. “Come back and see us.” As I was driving home that night, my mind wandered back through the mists of Astros past – just as it did last night, when I joined 26 of the best ballplayers I have known on the Astrodome’s Silver Anniversary Team.

Three generations of ball fans: the grandfathers, who were young and strong when Bob Aspromonte and the Colt .45s rode into town; their sons, like my friend in the parking lot; and the youngsters of today – Jim Deshaies’ Astros Buddies.

Perhaps it’s the reverence with which baseball treats its ancestors that makes it so special – the way the lore of a team is passed along like an heirloom.

And now, the Astros are old enough to pass along.

Former General Manager Paul Richards was the first of the ancestors to go. He died in his hometown of Waxahachie in 1986. Richards’ eyes were narrow and keen, and he had the spirit of a wildcatter. He made his reputation as a shrewd judge of baseball talent, and he was right here in Houston when he struck the big gusher.

Between 1963 and ’66, Richards brought eight of the 25 players on the Astros’ Silver Anniversary team to the big leagues.

Harry Craft, who managed the Colt .45s to an eighth-place finish (in a 10-team league) in their inaugural year, 1962, is still going strong at age 74. Harry was at the baseball card show last weekend and the dinner last night. And I reckon he’ll be at most of the home games this year.

I know Harry wasn’t dreaming of the World Series in ’62. In fact, he should be mighty proud to have finished ahead of the Cubs that year.

By 1969, things had taken a turn for the better. The Astros hit the .500 mark for the first time and had as many good young players as any team around – Jimmy Wynn, Joe Morgan, myself, Don Wilson, Bob Watson and Doug Rader, to name just a few.

After that, the talent flow trickled to a drip. Among the 25 Astros honored last night, only Cesar Cedeno and J.R. Richard broke into the big leagues in the early 1970s. By 1975, the team had fallen into disrepute and financial distress. Folks stopped coming to the ballpark. I suppose some of them got lost in a generation gap.

Some of them seem to be coming back now. And why not? The decade of the ’80s was a good one for the Astros – the best they’ve had so far. Sixteen of the 25 Silver Stars played on division-winning Astros teams in the ’80s.

Bill Virdon should get some credit here. He led the young, brash Astros to their first championship in 1980. And under Virdon’s stern tutelage, the Astros developed the aggressive, heads-up style that would characterize their play through most of the decade.

Perhaps some of the wayward sons and daughters who drifted off in the frustration of the ’70s have not yet returned to the fold. Maybe Ken Caminiti and Craig Biggio will bring them back again in the ’90s. It could happen. For as long as there is a stream of young talent flowing, there will be the excitement of growth and the possibility of that first dream season.

Until that year comes, there still will be fond memories. Like when (Doug) Rader golfed the first home run into the upper deck. And the day (Don) Wilson struck out Henry Aaron for his 15th strikeout and the last out of his first no-hitter.

I remember Joe Morgan going 6-for-6 in Milwaukee in 1965. And the sight of Cesar Cedeno galloping across center field so hard that if he had kicked up AstroTurf, I wouldn’t have been surprised.

I remember seeing Joe Niekro transformed from a grim veteran to a frolicsome child in the space of one afternoon at Dodger Stadium when he led the Astros to the Western Division title in 1980.

And Cheo Cruz. I can still see him prancing out to left field and hear his name echoing in the Astrodome. I can see him cutting and slashing his way to almost every Astros hitting record. And I still see him sitting alone on the dugout bench, silently weeping after the Mets stole the Astros’ flag away in 1986.

I can recall the craziness of ’86, too. Yogi and the coneheads. Scotty (Mike Scott) toasting the town with a no-hit clincher and then turning the powerful Mets into whining brats.

And (Craig) Reynolds and (Terry) Puhl. Ever present, ever ready and ever together. After two weeks with the team in 1988, Casey Candaele recognized their cohesive quality when he asked Puhl, “If you drink a glass of water, can Craig talk?’ My boy is almost 5 now. He knows the names of the players and is already picking favorites. This will be his first year in T-ball, so he still doesn’t know the way to first base. But somewhere down the line, I suppose, he will have Eric Anthony, Darryl Kile or maybe even Andujar Cedeno (you heard me right) for his Astros Buddy.

Myself, I’m getting a little impatient for a World Series, like most of the folks who have been around these 28 years. But thinking about this Silver Anniversary Astrodome team sure has made me feel good – made me appreciate the times we’ve had. I hope my boy will feel this way when we hit the golden year.

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

1-bb-neal.jpg

Casey McCurdy, St. Cecilia’s, 1992. (Yeah, I know. He needed a better batting coach, but I wouldn’t trade him for anybody else in the world ~ then, now, or, ever.)

EDITORIAL NOTE TO LARRY DIERKER ~

Thank you, Larry Dierker, for providing this beautiful perspective on the Astros Player and Fan perspective from nearly three decades ago. Since 1990, a few more of us have had that walk into the sunset of our own now grown offspring’s childhoods since you wrote these prophetic words. Now I know we share that life-crossing even more closely than I ever knew. ~ In 1990, my son also was 5 until late in the year.

I’m struck to note the time spacing on this re-publication of your column:

1962: Houston breathed its first breath in the NL as the Colt .45s;

1965: The club moved into the Astrodome and became the Houston Astros;

1990: 25 years later, you wrote this column as an homage to the Silver Anniversary of the Astros and to the kind of generational bond that baseball provided to so many of us.

2019: 29 years later, your article is re-printed in The Pecan Park Eagle as a reflection of what has now changed, what is now ironic, what goes on forever, and also, how much the Houston Astros have become even more deeply rooted into the heart of our Houston sports culture.

In 2017, of course, the “dream season” finally came. Houston finally won the World Series, coming out of the first time with the talent, heart, and appetite for more.

In 2019, however, it is ironic that the once revered “Eighth Wonder of the World” struggles for survival in a world filled with those who would just as soon see it paved into additional parking space ~ in spite of all its official historic building designations. In the end, it will be the presence or absence of money that opens the door or breaks the key in the lock on serious plans to preserve and display the site as one of the world’s great contributions to architecture.

From here to eternity ~ and for what goes on forever ~ it is our need to consciously remember that what was important to our generation may not be important to the next. We need to try to show them what we think is important and then let them make their own decisions, based on our best efforts to convey what we think is at stake. ~ If all we show is “use and trash”, our legacy will be a sad and, most unfortunately, a deservedly sad one.

Another irony rings with pleasantness. Houston has long held this reputation for being a “build, trash, and burn” kind of real estate town. Now it’s becoming well known for its presentation of the classic performing and visual arts ~ and for becoming one of the finest museum cities in America. Not surprisingly, that change has come about congruently with the birth and growth and active voice of support for a wide variety of historical places that previously would have simply gone away without protest through most of the 20th century.

Everything that Houston entities do to increase the voice of preservation is, of course, supported by the success of a Houston accomplishment in any area of significant achievement. The 2017 World Series Champion Houston Astros have now rolled that ball into permanent play ~ And they are getting ready with their 2019 Opening of the Houston Astros Hall of Fame to join the list of Houston museums. Several of the people mentioned in Larry Dierker’s 1990 piece, including Mr. Dierker himself, will be going into the Astros Hall of Fame at Minute Maid Park this inaugural year.

The Astros Hall of Fame. ~ It’s got to be first class. ~ It will be first class. ~ This is Houston. ~ And these are the Astros. ~ There is no second class.

~ Bill McCurdy, Editor, The Pecan Park Eagle

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

Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher