Archive for the ‘History’ 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!

 

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Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

 

 

 

 

 

Nolan Ryan’s Reign as The Million Dollar Man

February 17, 2019

Nolan Ryan and Sandy Koufax
1980

Remember all the hub-bub that fell out into news stories when the Houston Astros signed Nolan Ryan in November 1979 as the first Million-Dollar-Pitcher in MLB history? According to New York Times sources, Ryan’s first year 1980 salary as an Astros tipped the scales at $1,125,000 for that first season.

Unlike today’s more recent contracts, however, it didn’t really ever skyrocket higher from there. At Houston, it remained at $1,125,000 for four straight seasons (1980-83) and then dropped to an even $1,000,000 for 1984. Then it rose in 1985 when the Astros raised it to $1,350,000, before dropping it again to the familiar dip figure of $1,125,000 for each of the next two seasons (1986-87).

The Astros-Ryan-Million-Dollar-Annual-Salary-Dance was heading into its final run in Houston when the team cut his salary again to the $1,000,000 bottom line for 1988. That year would be the last of nine seasons in which it was OK to rise a few dollars above the original $1.25 mil as long as a salary never slipped below $1 mil as some kind of informal unwritten description of ego-bending failure for the man whose talent and home area appeal were the two original ingredients that made it all possible in the first place.

Going into 1989, $1,000,000 a year as a symbol of incredible success was no longer the exclusive province of Nolan Ryan, but it would land with the sting of failure to be asked again to take less than that much money to pitch anywhere in the big leagues for the gentlemanly larger-than-life baseball talent from Alvin, Texas.

And wouldn’t you just guess what happened next? With Nolan Ryan coming off a less than brilliant 1988 year, New Jersey-grounded owner John McMullen asked the famous Texas fireballer to take a pay cut for 1989. Now the number that once had defined Nolan Ryan as baseball’s greatest pitching success by giving him the first one-million dollar annual salary would take it all away with another of those classic reversals of fortune.

Now, for Nolan Ryan alone, over this brief moment in time, pitching a baseball in the big leagues for anything less than a million dollars a year symbolically had become the signature on failure. This latest offer would take Ryan back to a salary that paid out less than $1 million a year.

John McMullen didn’t understand that part of the equation ~ less than a mil represented failure to Ryan ~ and it cost the Astros and all of us fans a lot of bitter pain, loss, and big disappointment.

The other possibility exists that McMullen did understand that an offer to Ryan of less than a million would drive him away ~ and that rejection was exactly the reaction he was hoping to create in the elder pitcher. That outcome would then supposedly show the fans that the Astros had made an attempt to keep Ryan, but that the elder pitcher wasn’t willing to take a justifiably small salary decrease for the sake of the team.

If this second possible motivation was behind McMullen’s Ryan-pay-cut offer plan, it failed miserably. After Ryan’s rejection of McMullen’s downgrade offer, by whatever way in which it was communicated back to McMullen, you probably know the rest of this sad and angry Astro fans story.

That other Texas team, the Texas Rangers, signed the 42-year old Ryan to pitch for them in 1989 at his highest salary in history to this point at $1,800,000. Ryan would pitch five seasons for the Texas Rangers, never falling below the $1.4 mil he received in 1990 ~ and then taking his money through the roof in 1991 at $3.3 mil in 1992, $4.4 mil in 1993, and $3.757 mil in his final season of 1993.

On the field as a Ranger, Nolan Ryan used the time to pitch the 6th and 7th no-hitters of his career while also adding the final 51 of his 324 career MLB wins, and also showing Robin Ventura a new way to part his hair, and then going into the Baseball Hall of Fame with 98.8% of the BBWAA vote in 1999.

Wonder who the idiot was that didn’t vote for Nolan Ryan?

 

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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.

 

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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!

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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

What’s Critical to the Astros Lineup Going In?

February 10, 2019

Hot Stove League Conversation

 

What’s Critical to the Astros Lineup Going In?   Let’s start with the obvious. The Astros can’t afford to again have injuries that take Altuve down ~ and Correa way down ~ from their normally superior levels of performance. Those two guys must be well, again play well, and, hopefully, stay well for the entire season.

Next we have to stop avoiding the fact that we are trying to win without a first-rate, good-hitting catcher. Mike Stassi is a good back up, but he’s little more than a dead spot at the bottom of the batting order as a starter. We need to have no soft spots in our batting order. I don’t where we are going to find him, or at what cost, but we need that kind of leader-hitter catcher in our lineup as soon as possible.

Third, an along those same lines, we need a DH who is a consistent threat to hit ~ not a streaky guy like Evan Gattis, who’s still easy for the smart pitchers to pitch around when he’s hot. I liked the Gattis disposition; I just didn’t like the fact that we couldn’t count on him more often than his talent or style of play allowed.

Fourth, the Astros need to do whatever they can to help Josh Reddick find his offensive groove. Great as he is on defense, and as a terrific team player, he can’t stay in the lineup at age 31 with another .242 season at the plate.

It’s too bad we can’t take Jake Marisnick’s glove and Tony Kemp’s bat into one player and place him out him out there in center as we move Springer to right. That would take care of the outfield. That is, unless someone finds a way to awaken the home run genie that supposedly lives within the heart of young Kyle Tucker. Then we might have to re-think the outfield pattern all over the place.

Fifth, is a wait and see ~ since we’re still waiting to see if Marwin Gonzalez is truly gone for good. Without him, our roster is going to need several guys who can fill the utility position gap that will be created by the loss of that one super valuable utility man.

By The Way: There is no truth to the rumor that a deal that would have sent Marwin Gonzalez to Miami was killed when heavily invested owner Derek Jeter rejected a condition put forth by the player’s agent that the team would need to change their identity to the Miami Marwins as a condition of the transaction being finalized! 🙂

Below are the records of the seven men I’ve penciled in as our starters, even though I came close to dropping Reddick along with Stassi and Gattis. Apparently, the Astros already have cut bait on the latter.

Check out the current Astros roster too. (I don’t know what happened to Evan Gattis. He’s no longer on the roster).

It would be great if some of you would post your own thoughts here on what you think the Astros need to do about their season-starting nine hitters from the talent currently on hand. That link follows the table:

2019 Astros Starters / McCurdy Picks, Minus Two

BATTER AGE B/T POS BA G H R RBI HR SB W SO
C
Y Gurriel 34 R/R 1B .291 136 156 78 85 13 5 23 63
J Altuve 28 R/R 2B .316 137 169 84 61 13 17 55 79
A Bregman 24 R/R 3B .286 157 170 105 103 31 10 96 85
C Correa 24 R/R SS .239 110 96 60 65 15 3 53 111
M Brantley 31 L/L LF .309 143 176 89 76 17 12 48 60
G Springer 29 R/R CF .265 140 144 102 71 22 6 64 122
J Reddick 31 L/R RF .242 134 105 63 47 17 7 49 77
DH

Astros Roster Link

http://m.astros.mlb.com/roster/

 

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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!

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Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

’31 Buffs: Strong Defense, Great Pitching

February 9, 2019

 

In the above photo, Ed Hock is the second from right in the middle kneeling player row, but neither of his arms are visible that might give us evidence of a glove on his right hand and conformation of the recorded fact that he was a left-handed throwing fielder, whether he played or infield. Tis a puzzlement.

On the heels of that wonderful exposition by Timothy Hock of the signed baseball by the 1931 Houston Buffs we ran yesterday here at TPPE in a column, we thought it were a good time to look again at how legendary Houston Post sportswriter Lloyd Gregory reviewed one of the best clubs in minor league history. And, as legendary researcher Cliff Blau raised as a question in a post-column comment, I also am at a loss to explain, even to myself, how a club so dedicated to strong defense could go with a left-handed throwing third baseman like Ed Hock ~ and still be serious in that claim ~ and with no further word from any writer, so far, including Gregory, as to how the use of a left-handed fielder at third would draw so little print from the media, even in 1931?

Could it be that Baseball Reference.com and others are somehow in error about Hock’s throwing arm as an infielder?

At any rate, we hope you enjoy Gregory’s observations. ~ What a pitching staff that ’31 Buffs club had! ~ It’s still hard to see how the Buffs gave up a 3-1 lead in games over Birmingham in the Dixie Series that fall and lost 4-3 to the Barons.

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1931 Houston Buffs: Strong Defense, Great Pitching Hailed

By Lloyd Gregory of The Houston, Texas Post-Dispatch 

For The Sporting News of St. Louis, Missouri

November 1, 1931 Edition, Page 6 

Houston, Tex. ~ Joe Schultz’s Houston, Buffs showed outstanding class to win the championship of the Texas League in 1931, tying with Beaumont for the first half title, whipping that team in a playoff series, and then walking away with honors in the second half by a 14-game margin. Because of their splendid play in the regular season, the Buffs were counted upon by their followers to whip the Birmingham Barons in the Dixie Series, but Clyde (Deerfoot) Milan’s Barons staged a remarkable comeback to beat Houston four games to three.

Birmingham won the first game, and then Houston came back with three consecutive shutouts, apparently to clinch the title. However, the Barons refuse to quit and won the next three games.

The 1931 Houston club was something like the parent club ~ the world’s champion St. Louis Cardinals ~ in that defense was stressed over offense. Great pitching and tight work by the inner defense permitted Houston to win many games on few runs.

Although the league was far from well balanced, the 1931 season was remarkably successful, considering (that these were the days of the economic) depression. President Alvin Gardiner’s circuit played to 768,064 cash customers, an increase of 77,190 over the 1930 total.

Houston proved a life-saver for the circuit, drawing at Buffalo Stadium 229,540 paid admissions, bettering by some 40,000 Houston’s previous record, set in 1928.

Night Games Proved a Real Boon

Night baseball was a boon for the Houston club, and President Fred Ankenman of the Houston club played the nocturnal pastime for all it was worth. Each Monday and Friday night at home was ladies night, with women and children admitted free. On those nights it was not unusual for 15,000 fans to attend, with half of the fans paid customers.

Dizzy Dean, Houston’s erratic young pitcher, was another boon to the league. The big righthander attracted fans wherever he pitched.

Whether Dean the next season will make the grade with the St. Louis Cardinals depends on his ability to buckle down and regard baseball seriously. Despite his remarkable 1931 record, Dean did not seem to have nearly as much stuff on the ball as he did in 1930, when he broke into professional baseball.

The 1931 attendance figures for the several (Texas League) clubs follow: 

1931 TL CLUBS GATE
BEAUMONT 84,070
DALLAS 113,285
FORT WORTH 97,672
GALVESTON 97,163
HOUSTON 229,540
SAN ANTONIO 55,202
SHREVEPORT 57,572
WICHITA FALLS 33,580

A few flowers should be flung in the general direction of the fans who live in the Island City of Galveston. Manager Del Pratt’s Buccaneers on the season standing finished last, 52 games behind Houston; but Galveston partisans supported their club most loyally. Galveston fans contend a first division club would draw around 150,000 in that city of 50,000 population.

Dean Not Alone as Magnet

Dizzy Dean was not the only magnet that enabled Houston to set an attendance record. The veteran George Payne, Tex Carleton, Elmer Hanson and Pete Fowler also turned in great pitching. Carleton won 20 games, although he was out the last month of the campaign with a broken finger. Carleton goes to the Cardinals next spring with every prospect he will make the grade. The lean righthander has a world of ability.

The hard working Hal Funk bore the brunt of the catching for Houston, and won many admirers by his conscientious labor. Funk is the sort of player who is willing to go in every day and bear down.

The colorful Carey Selph and Tom Carey formed a strong keystone combination for Houston. Selph played the best ball of his career, leading the circuit in runs scored with 116, and starring in the field. The aggressive Selph certainly ranks with the greatest second basemen of the league’s history.

Homer Peel and Joe Medwick, outfielders, furnished much of the club’s punch. The veteran Peel, rated by many the best righthanded swatsmith in the loop, clouted .326 and batted in 95 runs. 

The 20-year-old-Medwick, a Carteret, N.J., boy, playing his second year of professional baseball, was nothing less than a sensation. Medwick is a powerful young fellow, with a great pair of legs, and he can hit, run, and throw. At the start, he was a poor judge of a fly ball; but by the end of the season, he was making the hard ones look easy.

Medwick’s performance is led by the fact that he led the league in the following departments: Total bases 308; extra bases 120; home runs 19; runs batted in 126.

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On the same page of TSN’s 11/01/31 edition that displayed Lloyd Gregory’s summary appraisal of the 1931 Houston Buffs, the same Houston Post-Dispatch writers picks for the 14-member Texas League All Star Team glowed from the presence of 8 members who were on board from the league champion Houston Buffalos.

Lloyd Gregory’s 1931 Texas League All Stars: *

POS   BATTERS   TEAM   BA
1B   Buck STANTON   Wichita Falls   .347
2B   Carey SELPH   Houston   .322
SS   Eddie TAYLOR   Beaumont   .300
3B   Ed HOCK   Houston   .299
LF   Homer PEEL   Houston   .326
CF   Joe MEDWICK   Houston   .305
RF   Rip RADCLIFF   Shreveport   .361
C   Hal FUNK   Houston   .254
C   Bernie HUNGLING   Wichita Falls   .329
             
#   PITCHERS   TEAM   W-L
1   Dizzy DEAN   Houston   26-10
2   Dick McCABE   Fort Worth   23-7
3   George PAYNE   Houston   23-13
4   Tex CARLETON   Houston   20-7
5   Whit WYATT   Beaumont   11-3

Gregory picked Dizzy Dean as the 1931 TL MVP.

 

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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

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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

 

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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.

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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:

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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/

 

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Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher