Posts Tagged ‘Baseball’

What does “clutch” really mean in sports?

May 8, 2011

one type of clutch

According to Wikepedia, “a clutch is a mechanical device which provides for the transmission of power (and therefore usually motion) from one component (the driving member) to another (the driven member). The opposite component of the clutch is the brake. So, if we take that literally, does that mean that the Houston Rockets of 1994 went from “Choke City,” putting the brakes on winning by their mistakes on the court, to “Clutch City” by simply coming through at crucial moments to win a series of big games on their merry team way to becoming champions of the NBA?

Is it really that simple? Win and you’re a clutch player or team; lose and you’re just another choke artist.

Baseball has done more than any sport to try to quantify the differences between clutch and choke. Hitters are now judged by their RISP records. That is, how they perform as batters with runners in scoring position. And pitchers, especially relief pitchers, are also judged by how many base runners they allow or keep from scoring.

Is “clutch” really as simple as coming through when it’s the difference between winning and losing? If a golfer sinks a 50-fott putt on the 18th hole of the last day in a tournament to win it all, does that make him or her clutch? Or does it depend on whether the golfer is Tiger Woods or John Doe – and the tournament is The Masters and not the Bear Creek Park Open?

When is a great play the result of the payoff on a player or team’s average positive productivity, when is it simply blind luck, or when is due to some transcendent, hard or impossible to measure quality we like to call “clutch” ability?

After all these years, I am no longer sure that I can even pretend to know or exactly describe what “clutch” really is. I just know that I know it when I see it. And I remember it forever.

Vann Harrington

The 1950-1953 Houston Buffs had a popular outfield-infield utility man named Vann Harrington. Vann batted left, but threw right. He batted .296 for the awful 1950 Buffs club, but only hit .357, .236, and .244 from 1950 through 1953. The thing Vann did best, the thing that made him so popular, however, was his ability to get the key hit in late innings that made the difference between winning and losing. When I think of Vann Harrington to this day, I think of him as a clutch hitter, the go-to guy you wanted to have at the plate when scoring runners late in the game was going to make the difference between winning and losing for the Buffs. He did it so well, in fact, that now I’ve even forgotten every single time he struck out or failed to move the runners under those circumstances. SUch probably is the good fortune of all those who imbed themselves in our minds as clutch performers. We simply “forget” all the times that they actually failed in that same situation.

So, is clutch even real? Or it just another of those comfort stations that the human mind uses on the way to generalizing how favorite players and teams succeed in sports?

What do you think? Is “clutch” real or just another mental convenience? If it is real, what is it based upon? Coming through when the game’s on the line? The probable result of a player’s performance at a fairly predictable percentage of time? Or is just plain luck in disguise?

Let us hear from you as a comment on this column.

Ted Lyons: Master of the Complete Game

May 7, 2011

Ted Lyons

Houston Astros President Tal Smith reminded us of him yesterday in a comment on our “amazing baseball records” topic. “I still marvel at Ted Lyons at the age of 41 completing all his starts (20) in 1942 and leading the A.L. with a 2.10 ERA,” Tal Smith wrote. “For his career Lyons completed 356 of 484 GS (73.6%).”

Tal Smith’s statement is right on the sweet spot of correct.

Ted Lyons possessed a bundle of pitching talent and a whole full measure of resiliency, working his entire 23-year pitching history (1923-1942, 1946) with the Chicago White Sox and, even though he played for the Pale Hose during their long “snowball in hell” stretch as serious pennant challengers, he still managed to pull off three twenty game winner seasons (1925, 1927, 1930) on his way to career record of 260 wins, 230 losses and an ERA of 3.67.

The Lake Charles, Louisiana native (DOB: 12/28/1900) joined the White Sox straight out of Baylor University and he never pitched a day in the minors or worked for any other big league club. Once he finally retired, he returned to his native Louisiana, where he le lived until age 85 before finally passing away at his home in Sulphur, Louisiana on July 25, 1986.

“Crafty” is the word most writers from his era use to describe Ted Lyons – and some of that gear-shifting was prompted by an arm injury he suffered in 1931. Prior to the 1931 incident, Lyon’s weaponry pitches included a “sailer” (better known today as a cut-fastball), a knuckleball, a curve ball, and a change-up. After the 1931 injury, Ted’s pitches included a fastball, a slow curve, knuckleball, and an even slower curve that he used as a change-up.

New York manager Joe McCarthy once paid Ted Lyons his supreme, but honest backhanded compliment. He said that Lyons could have won 400 games, had he played for the Yankees and not the White Sox. And Marse Joe was probably right. As the Yankees were establishing their brand as the “killer corps” of baseball during the 1920s and 1930, Lyons was pitching downstream for the neer-do-well bottom-feeding White Sox and still winning 260 times.

Late in his career, 1939 manager Jimmie Dykes started using the aging Lyons only as his Sunday pitcher. Lyons responded by finishing 16 of his 21 starts for a 14-6 record and a 2.76 ERA. By 1942, Lyons was well prepared for that amazing year that Tal Smith has noted. At age 41, Lyons completed all 20 of his starts for a 14-6 mark and a league-leading 2.10 ERA.

1942 was supposed to Lyons’ last year, but he came back for one more whack in 1946, the first season following the end of WWII. Then age 45, Lyons completed all five of his 1946 starts, finishing 1-4, but still registering a 2.32 ERA to complete his active business as an all big league, all White Sox pitcher.

Lyons stayed with the Sox as a coach through 1948. Then he moved on to Detroit as a coach for the Tigers from 1949 to 1952 and then to the Brooklyn Dodgers for a coaching season in 1954. After the Dodger year, it was to Louisiana and full retirement for the man who came to be known as “Sunday Teddy” for is exclusive use on that one day from 1939 to 1942.

Ted Lyons was inducted nto the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1955. The Chicago White Sox later retired his uniform number 16 in 1987. Ted Lyons will always be remembered as one of the masters of the complete game. Because of the “evolution” that has transpired in baseball toward the use of starter pitch counts and relief inning specialists, it is highly improbable that we shall ever see his likes again.

My Five Most Amazing Baseball Records

May 6, 2011

Baseball records are effected by four major contributing factors: (1) the abilities and health of the individual player; (2) the number of games a fellow plays during his career; (3) the contemporary sub-culture of baseball that dictates the rules, strategies, ballpark conditions, equipment. and player usage preferences during the era a guy plays; and (4) conditions of war and peace in the world that impact player availability.

That being said, here are my five arguably most amazing baseball records. I would expect your list to vary due to the fact that we are all effected differently by the idea of amazement:

Joe DiMaggio

(1) Joe DiMaggio’s 56-Game Hitting Streak. In my book, Joe D’s feat is number one, bar none, when you stop to consider how difficult it is to simply play in 56 straight games, let alone to get hits in each one. Nagging injuries, exhaustion, a pitcher who has a batter’s number, the ongoing and building pressure to keep the streak alive, and dumb luck have too much chance to get in the way and put a stop to anything like DiMaggio did. Add another cultural factor that wasn’t in place on the scale it is today. The media attention from ESPN and the like would be constant and brutal upon any player today who crept past Pete Rose at 44 games and starting honing in on 50 and the record of DiMaggio that lay just beyond. A batter will hit .400 before another player gets a hit in 57 straight or more games.

Cy Young

 (2) Cy Young’s 4 Aces. He held some other high record cards too, but these were his gaudiest. They are amazing in their enormity and not likely to ever be broken. Someone will break DiMaggio’s 56-Game hitting streak before another player compiles carer totals on the level of Cy Young. During a 22-season career (1890-1911), Cy Young set records that still exist for most wins (511); most losses (316); most pitching starts (815); and most complete games pitched (749). He’s been holding those four aces for one hundred years now and it is unlikely that any pitcher working under the current set-up of the game will ever pitch long enough, or hungry enough, to ever come even pennant-race close to reaching the achievements and bi-products of pitching that were both captured and befallen to Cy Young in his era.

Cy Young never even looked like a pitcher by today’s standards of athletic imagery, but he got it done better than anyone else in his day. And by a far measuring stick set of figures.  – Amazing!

Babe Ruth

 (3) Babe Ruth’s 60 Home Runs in 1927. Unlike the “Juice Brothers” of more recent times, Babe Ruth was bashing home runs at a time in which whole teams were not hitting the long ball anywhere close to his level of productivity. When Ruth broke his own record of 59 home runs for a single season by hitting his 60th big one On September 30th against Tom Zachary of the Washington Senators at Yankee Stadium during the next to last game of the 154-game 1927 season.

Ruth’s 60 HR record in 1927 was achieved without the help of any performance enhancing drugs known to mankind at that date, If anything, it was also attained in spite of Ruth’s lifestyle ingestion of alcohol and his dedicated pattern of compulsive debauchery at every Yankees port-of-call in the American League. Ruth was no choir boy, but he could pull himself together for role model public appearance contact with kids at the drop of a hat. The year he broke the single season record for major league homers at 60 Ruth had crunched more home runs alone than all the other American League teams had hit as team totals – and that’s an outcome that is unlikely to be repeated. Ever. – Amazing!

Ty Cobb

(4) Ty Cobb’s 11 Batting Titles. In a 13-year period from 1907 to 1919, Ty Cobb of the Detroit Tigers won 11 American League batting average titles, failing only in 1910 at ,383 and again in 1916 with a .371 mark,  Twice during his streak he won with averages far over .400 and he failed to win a 12th batting title in 1922, even though he hit .401 that year. Chalk that squelch up to the Zeitgeist of Baseball in the early 2oth century and a fellow named George Sisler. Cobb still topped them all for average, finishing with a 24-season (1905-1928) career mark of .366 as the greatest career batting average of all time – and another career mark that probably will last forever.

The 11 Ty Cobb batting title just stand out with me.  Tony Gwynn won 8 National League titles in the late 2oth century, and maybe someone will better Cobb’s 11 mark someday. If they do, however improbable as that now seems, it’s almost a forgone conclusion that they certainly will not hit for anything close to the high average that Cobb achieved with his abilities during his era of work. – Amazing again.

Nolan Ryan

 (5) Nolan Ryan’s 7 No-Hitters.  Nolan Ryan’s handful of pitching masterpieces defies imagination. So many things have to fall into place for even one no-hitter to occur and these include the presence of great fielding on tough plays and blind luck on field positioning for some batted balls especially. Then, of course, you must have a pitcher who is on his game like white on rice, with the skill and luck that goes into keeping the ball away from the sweet spot on the bat for 27 outs – or some great out plays on your few mistakes for the day.

That’s hard enough to do even once, – so hard, in fact, that most great pitchers spend their whole Hall of Fame careers on the mound without even once finding that rabbit in their caps.

Nolan Ryan did it seven times! – That one makes my list of amazing records in easy time.

But how about you? What’s on your list as the 5 most amazing records in baseball history? Please leave a comment here.

Some Great-Named Real Baseball Teams

May 5, 2011

Is any team named the "Mud Cats" doomed to be the bottom-feeder in it's league?

Yesterday I wrote about one of numerous imaginary leagues I concocted as a kid to play my first version of partially self-invented simulation baseball back in the summer of 1949. As an exercise in home relaxation, I still embark along these same diversionary paths at times with the help of the APBA Game Company’s wonderful “Baseball for Windows.”

Part of the fun is coming up with the fresh team nicknames. A fellow named Peter Denman commented on yesterday’s “The Summer of 1949” column to say that he also enjoys simulation baseball and still plays today with manufactured teams with the “Diamond Mind” game. Two of his team names struck me as especially creative and appealing. Denman has teams called the El Paso Stuffed Jalapenos and the Galveston Balinese Dancers. Gotta love it.

When it comes to great team names, however, it’s hard to beat some of those that have existed, or still exist, in minor league history. Here are simply a few of my favorites, starting with the 19th century.

19th Century Clubs: New York Gothams, Wilmington Quicksteps, St. Paul Apostles, Baltimore Monumentals, Oswego Sweegs, Utica Pent Ups, Boston Beaneaters, Hamilton Hams, Jersey City Skeeters, Zanesville Kickapoos, Davenport Onion Weeders, Houston Babies, Cleveland Infants, Manchester Amskoegs, Aurora Hoodoos, Lebanon Pretzel Eaters, Des Moines Prohibitionists, Adrian Reformers, Kalamazoo Celery Eaters, Hartford Cooperatives, Butte Smoke Eaters, and Troy Washerwomen.

20th Century: Clubs: Crookston Crooks, Des Moines Undertakers, Schenectady Frog Alleys, Amsterdam-Johnstown-Gloversville Hyphens, Holyoke Paperweights, Jacksonville Lunatics, Freeport Pretzels, Eau Claire Puffs, Hot Springs Vaporites, Alexandria Hoo Hoos, Racine Malted Milks, Kirksville Osteopaths, Fall River Adopted Sons, Flint Vehicles, Terre Haute Hotentots, Dallas Submarines, Salem Witches, Tampa Smokers, and Lansing Lugnuts.

There so many others, If you have a few favorites that have not been listed here, please share them with us as comments on this column.

Speaking of the Terre Haute Hotentots, we are left to assume an old question trail from “The Wizard of Oz” was the main line of inquiry by their local sportwswriters every spring training season. – “What makes the Hotentots so hot? – What have they got – that we haven’t got?”


The Summer of 1949

May 4, 2011

Grandmother's House, Beeville, Texas, 1949.

The Summer of 1949 was tough. Dad lost his job in Houston in May, about three months before our little sister Margie was due to arrive. I was age 11 and my little brother John was 7 at the time and Houston was going though some kind of little adjustment in its economy. The short of it for here is that Dad and Mom decided to move back to Beeville from Houston, for the summer, at least. He had a shot at some work for an automobile dealer in our old hometown birthplace and his mom, our wonderful grandmother, had plenty of room for us to stay there as long as we needed or wanted.

The problem for me was the total culture shock of leaving all my friends in Pecan Park, abandoning my buddies and teammates on the sandlot club that came to be known later as the Pecan Park Eagles, and my total loss of daily contact with the fate and fortunes of the Houston Buffs through the Knothole Gang at Buff Stadium – or even predictable news print follow-up of the Buffs on a daily basis. This was 1949. Beeville was only 180 miles southwest of Houston, but it was a world away from life here in “the big city.” They had no television in that part of South Texas back then, no radio follow-up of the Houston Buffs, and the Corpus Christi newspapers serving the area were predictably two days late in their meager report of scores from Houston Buff games.

Add to those conditions the facts that we knew no other boys in Beeville beyond one older male cousin. All the rest of our kid kin were girls, with whom we had nothing in common beyond our shared bloodline. It wasn’t their fault. It’s just how it was. For me, I may as well have been sent to Siberia.

Grandfather McCurdy started The Beeville Bee in 1886.

Imagination saved the day. I began to learn more about Beeville and the surrounding area on my own. I didn’t learn enough to teach history, but I learned enough to fire the imaginings of a mythical baseball league that I would stock with fictional players named for local history figures. I even used my own deceased grandfather, W.O. McCurdy, as the shortstop of our local club, one that I named the Beeville Bees. The Bees were a naturally easy selection. My late grandfather had used the singular version of this title as the identity of the town’s first newspaper. There also had been a few town ball seasons that pulled out the Beeville Bees as their moniker every once in a while  too.

1949 was two years shy of APBA Baseball’s birthdate in simulated game history. I had to use a pinball game, plus my own homemade player cards and notebook binder scoring record book to keep track of games played and league standings. We didn’t stay in Beeville. My dad found a good permanent job with Bill Lee Motors in Houston near summer’s end and we moved back to our little house in Pecan Park and what passed for as “normal life.”

But, while we were in Beeville, I played out a mythical season of the South Texas League by my own always-trying-to-be-fair-and-balanced rules for te playing of pinball game baseball. Here’s how the league played out.

There was only one rain out during the season. San Patricio @ Goliad could not be played on August 19, 1949 due to the birth of my sister, so I chalked it up to rain. That one unplayed game settled the pennant and probably should have been made up, but I got too caught up in my excitement about moving back to Houston. I was going to replay it once we got settled back here in Houston, but I got so caught up in the groundswell of happy reunions on the Japonica Street sandlot to ever get around to it.

Fortunately, I still have the final standings from the South Texas League. Wish I could find that games played record book. I know I have it somewhere.

"Hey, San Pat! This is your old pal from Goliad speaking! You don't really want to make up that rained out game with me, do you?"

Here’s a look at the final standing and a few notes on how these teams came into being with the names I used for them:

South Texas League (W-L, W%) GB

Goliad Goliath (89-65, .578) —  As a kid, I imagined the old LaBahia Mission in Goliad as an ancient home for Giants. When it came time to form the league, I also fell into my love affair with alliteration and the “Goliad Giants” sounded pretty good. Goliad played so well, however, that they just morphed over the season into one giant, the really big guy, the Goliad Goliath.

Beeville Bees (88-65, .575) 0.5 A makeup loss by Goliad to San Patricio would have secured a tie for Beeville with Goliath and forced a one-game playoff for the pennant. Oh well. The Bees still buzz to sting another day as a natural pick for any of their athletic endeavors.

Refugio Red Shirts (85-69,  .552) 4 Go back to the Irish settlement there. The red shirts included all those Texian revolutionaries who put their lives on the line in opposition to the dictatorial rule of Santa Ana.

Woodsboro Majors (80-74, .520) 9 This is a real family insider nickname pick. Major Jon Howland Wood was my great-great grandfather. He came to Texas in 1836 to fight in the Texas Revolution. His crew got here in time to bury the dead at Goliad. Wood remained and became a very successful SOuth Texas rancher. They named a town after him, – hence, the Woodsboro Majors.

Indianola Indians (78-76, .507) 11 Indianola, Texas was a real settlement on the Gulf Coast in the area south of Victoria. After it was totally destroyed by a hurricane in the 19th century, it took on almost mythical place in Texas settlement history.

Bayside Bonnies (74-80,  .481) 15 Major Wood celebrated his Scotch ancestry by naming his ranch the “Bonnie View.” The small town of Bayside now nestles on the north side of Copano Bay, where Major Wood built his house for a family that included his wife, Nancy Clark Wood, and their twelve children.

Rockport Pirates (71-83,  .461) 18 Rockport was the favorite place for our few summer vacations while I was growing up. I used to sit by the waters down there and fish and crab as long as I was allowed to stay outside. All the while I’m there, I’m imagining those Pirate sails I  saw against the same kind of billowing white clouds in the old Errol Flynn movies, expecting Captain Blood to show up any minute. He never did, but Pirates was a natural nickname for the Rockport club.

San Patricio Celtics (50-103,  .327) 37.5 My Sullivan ancestors came from Ireland, via a first stopover in New Jersey, to help populate the new Irish colony of San Patricio de Hibernia in the early 1830s. They also joined with their fellow San Patricians in the revolt against Santa Ana in 1836 and they remained in the area to help Texas make the transition from republic to  statehood.

Closing Note: That’s about it. I did have some teams picked out for a minor league circuit that would feed other new talent into the South Texas League, but the move of my family back to Houston in September 1949 short-circuited plans for the Prairie League as other more current ideas and preoccupations, plus school, closed in again on my always searching mind.

The Prairie League would have celebrated even smaller satellite communities near Beeville. It’s mythical teams would have included the Skidmore Skinners, the Papalote Papooses, the Olmos Prospects, the Berclair Blossoms, the Pettus Petunias, the Mineral Miners, the Sinton Sandmen, and the Clareville Loons.

Happy imaginings, everybody. The colors in your day will get brighter, if you do.

Base Ball To Day

May 3, 2011

This "Base Ball To Day" photo was taken by W.O. McCurdy, Publisher and Editor of The Beeville Bee weekly in Beeville, Texas, sometime near the Turn of the 20th Century. (Can you read the street banner?)

Wagons creak and old friends speak,

Bouncing their laughter on the merry oblique,

Down dusty Washington, sheered cheek-to-cheek,

In the land of the bold – and no prize for the meek.

It’s “Base Ball To Day” – ‘gainst the Goliad Goliath!

The Beeville Bees need their very top tryith

To win this big game of bat, ball, and base,

Then to dance into night all over the place!

The game’s played for fun – but the fun is to win,

Anything less – falls a shade into sin,

‘Cause “Base Ball To Day” crawls under the skin,

And it gets you, old friend! – So “Cole Porter” on in!

Night and Day, Baseball – You are the One!

Only you, beneath the moon, and under the sun!

Whether near to me – or far!

Makes no difference where you are – I think of you,

… Base Ball To Day!

The Man Who Named Medwick “Ducky”

May 2, 2011

  Long before Richard Justice and the Houston Chronicle there was another major newspaper in this town known as the Houston Post. A third one was the Houston Press, which perished from print even earlier, but none of the local rags covered sports quite like the Post. The great Mickey Herskowitz carried the sportswriting banner for the Post through their abrupt business-shark-kill death in 1996 and before Mickey was the incomparable Clark Nealon, leaning all the way back to the 1930s with both the Press and the Post. Along the way, writers like Morris Frank, John Hollis and Tom Kennedy made their own marks with the wonderful Dame News Girl, the morning Houston Post, along with others too numerous to mention. Does the names Bruce Layer and Clyde LaMotte ring any bells with any of you back-in-the-day Houston sports readers?

Go back far enough and you will run into one name that stands out as the godfather of all who came after him. That would be the one and only Lloyd Gregory, a native Texan and the first great sports writer in Houston publishing history. Gregory got to Houston in time to take over his duties here shortly after Ross Sterling bought both the original Post and also the Dispatch in 1924 and put them into the administrative hands of William P. Hobby as the new Houston Post-Dispatch. Hobby would eventually acquire the newspaper from Sterling and drop the “Dispatch” part of the identity, but the 1930s were a period for dragging Houston full-bore into the marketplace of early 20th century journalism.

With radio in its infancy during the 1920s, and with no TV, Internet, or low-cost telephone access, Houstonians were like all Americans in their growing dependency upon newspapers for up-to-date news. The 1920s were the era of the “special edition” paper that came out when big news couldn’t wait for tomorrow’s edition and there was money to be made is from a special edition run.

Most of the time, the morning Post-Dispatch and the afternoon Houston Chronicle and Press had the time field covered, but big news breaking after 4:00 PM opened the gate on special edition possibility.

Lloyd Gregory was there for the growth of the Houston Buffs as the face of farm team baseball for Branch Rickey and the S. Louis Cardinals back in the 1920s. Gregory was there to greet Rickey and Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis when the two men came to Houston for the original opening of buff Stadium on April 11, 1928. He covered the arrival of lights and night baseball at Buff Stadium in the early 1930s, and saw Houston Buffs baseball through the Great Depression of that decade and into the 1942 stoppage of the Texas League in 1942 due to World War II.

Somewhere in that World War II and post war period, Lloyd Gregory retired from everyday reporting at about the same time I was awakening to baseball with the 1947 Houston Buffs club as a nine-year old. Eventually, his place at the Post writing mentor table would be taken over by Clark Nealon and the others who followed in both their footsteps.

My memories of Lloyd Gregory are of the man who hosted “The Hot Stove League” weekly half-hour TV program every winter into the spring training season from about 1950 to 1952. Gregory would gather other writers around a prop hot stove to discuss the Buffs chances for the coming year with team President Allen Russell and others. By that time, I was a fully-invested baseball nerd and a devourer of statistical data on our prospects for the coming season. That made for some great anticipation of each new weekly show. If memory serves, Morris Frank, Clark Nealon, and Bruce Layer all worked with Gregory on the show, but all seemed to defer to Lloyd as the leader of the pack. I can still here that calm drawling Texas voice of Lloyd Gregory playing out in my memory. He was a good baseball man, the kind of guy that innately left his audience crying for more.

Ducky Medwick

One time writer Lloyd Gregory left a player crying for less, most probably. The issue came up with Joe Medwick, back when Joe was playing outfield for the great 1931 Houston Buffs. Medwick and the terrific Dizzy Dean, of course, went on from Houston to become hinge-pin players for the 1934 Gashouse Gang World Champion St. Louis Cardinals, with both later making it into the Hall of Fame. While he was in Houston, however, Medwick acquired a nickname he never requested as the result of a female fan letter written to Post-Dispatch writer Lloyd Gregory for his “Lookin’ Em Over” sports column.

A female fan wrote Gregory that she loved Medwick, but added that she felt he walked like a duck. She even admitted to growing into the thought  of her favorite Buff as “Ducky” Medwick whenever she saw him walking around the field at Buff Stadium.

Well, columnists have space to fill on a daily basis. Lloyd Gregory protected the identity of his writer, but he divulged the story in one of his 1931 daily columns, He then started referring to the player as “Ducky” Medwick in his game coverage stories.

“Ducky” stuck. Soon everyone else was calling him “Ducky” too. By the time Medwick moved on up to St. Louis, that “Ducky” nickname needed no special packing. It was stuck all over him.

Somewhere out there, most probably in a Houston cemetery by this late date, is the never identified Houston girl who gave Joe Medwick his famous nickname with the help of sportswriter Lloyd Gregory. Too bad Joe never met or maybe married that girl. Any woman who can lay a nickname like “Ducky” on a guy is bound to have held other gifts of good fortune for the man who once caught the light as the object of her affections.

Thank you, Lloyd Gregory, for all the good and fun things you did for Houston baseball.

World’s Oldest Ex-Big Leaguer Turns 100!

May 1, 2011

Connie Marrero was born April 25, 1911 in Sagua LaGrande, Cuba.

Former major leaguer Connie Marrero, the world’s oldest living former major leaguer, turned 100 years old last Monday, April 25, 2011. He now lives simply in the home of a cousin in Havana, Cuba, but with all the remembered honor that his fellow countrymen and equally fervent Cuban baseball fans can quietly bestow upon him with a look and a smile, here and there, in the shrinking space of his everyday environment.

As the old song goes, Connie “don’t get around much, anymore,” but there was a time when he did, using his considerable pitching stuff to post a 39-40, 3.67 ERA record for the lowly Washington Senators back in a five-season career (1950-1954) during the Golden Era of Big League Ball.

Do the math. The heralded Cuban pitching ace was already near age 39 when he reached the American League to pitch for one of the worst clubs of the game – and back in the halcyon period of young Mantle and the great Yankee post-DiMaggio World Series machine.

Connie Marrero is the sixteenth former big leaguer to reach the century mark in age. The oldest survivor to date was Chester Hoff, who reached 107 years and 4 months at the time of his death in 1998.

Here’s a link to a good SABR article on the living list, plus those who’ve lived to reach age 100 as former big leaguers.

Congratulations, Senor Marrero!  You are what Ernest Hemingway had in mind when he wrote “The Old Man and the Sea. These days you even look the part.

Last of the Buffhicans

April 30, 2011

Houston Buffs: 1961, 1st of 50 team photos hanging at MMP.

Inside the second floor eatery mezzanine at Minute Maid Park, there is a wall that displays all the team photos in Houston’s major league baseball  history to complete date, from their origins in 1962 as the Colt .45s through 2010, the most recent full season version of the Astros.

But they start with one earlier photo. It is a team photo of this city’s last minor league club, the 1961 Houston Buffs. I was able to free hand snap this featured shot of the team photo, but I cropped the names below the photo as unreadable here anyway. Of course, as many of ou already may have imagined, I was delighted to learn that the Astros had taken the time and effort to include the Buffs in this display at the ballpark. I don’t get into this restricted section of MMP that often because it’s mainly for season ticket holders and those who care to purchase admission to this fuller service section of the park’s food service operation and none of that is my everyday ballpark style. Had I not been there with a friend who partakes of these pleasures, a hot dog in the stands would’ve done me fine. What I got out of this trip was the discovery of the Buffs photo.

Thank you, Mike Acosta! I feel certain that the club’s resident historian and expert on game-used collectibles had to be responsible for this fine example of the club acknowledging our community’s longer history with baseball prior to coming of major league baseball in 1962. Acosta is also responsible for numerous other artifact salvation’s from the team’s move downtown from the Astrodome in 2000. Now add this one to his public acknowledgement of a job well done.

For the record, even though mot of these names cannot be tagged to the players in the photo, here is the roster of all who played for the “Last of Buffhicans” as the 1961 Houston Buffs. You can take their names, if you so wish, and look up their professional records through the data banks available at Baseball Reference.Com:

The 1961 Houston Buffs

Philip Borders, Harvey Branch, Pidge Browne, Cal Browning, John Caffery, Jim Campbell, Wayne Connally, Ron Davis, Antonio Diaz, Ed Donnelly, Sammy Drake, Layton Ducote, George Freese, Dave Gerard, Dave Giusti, Bill Griffin, J.C. Hartman, Tom Hughes, Ben Johnson, Al Lary, Boyd Linker, Gordon Massa, Jim McAnany, Jim McKnight, Henry Mitchell, Wallace Mixon, Phil Mudrock, Cholly Naranjo, Lenny Neal, Gerald Nelson, Ray Noble, Aaron Pointer, Jim Proctor, Dave Roberts, Al Schroll, Barney Schultz, Mow Thacker, John (Jack) Waters, Wally Wolf, Mel Wright, and Bud Zipfel.

Among the many, here is a close up of two Buffs: 3rd Baseman George Freese and outfielder jack Waters. This photo is here because I had an e-mail from Waters’ daughter, Vicki, asking for any kind of photo from her father’s playing days here in Houston. Vicki, the following crop shot with “Buffs Brother” Freese is the best I could do.

George Freese, 3B (left) and John (Jack) Waters, OF, 1961 Houston Buffs

 George Freese hit .314 with 6 HR in his 58 games as a 3rd baseman for the Buffs in 1961. It was his only season at Houston, Over 1 17-year career (1948-1964), Freese batted .301 with 195 home runs as a minor leaguer. In three seasons as a big leaguer (1953, 1955, 1961), Freese hit .258 with 3 HR in only 60 games. George Freese, now age 84, is the brother of former big leaguer Gene Freese.

Jack Waters hit .268 with 12 HR in 147 games as an outfielder for the 1961 Buffs. It was also his only season with Houston. Waters played no major league ball, but the now 79-year old former player hit .279 with 80 HR in a 12-season minor league career that ran from 1952 to 1963.

Sometimes we pass a photo hanging on a wall and find a whole column inside of it, if we are ready to see what’s there. This one is simply the kind of experience that reenforces my long-time habit of taking my camera with me everywhere I go, even to those places I think I am most aware of to the nth degree.

You take the camera because – you never know. Isn’t that right, Joaquin Andujar?

Return of Fat Elvis: What I Say?

April 29, 2011

Lance Berkman Hit .571 with 2 Homers and a Double in 3 Days Home.

Berkman awaits the incoming pitch from Figueroa,

What I say? What I say about my nightmares over the return of former Houston Astro Lance “Fat Elvis” Berkman to Minute Maid Park as a member of the rival St. Louis Cardinals? Sometimes dreams come true, whether you want the fragrance or their full blossom or not. The first trip home for dear old Puma, the Rice Owl graduate and fellow Houstonian Berkman was definitively a dream come true.

All those premonitions I wrote about in my first column on this subject came true. They simply happened in greater frequency than even I ever imagined in the pits of my most pessimistic slips on the shores of Gloomsville.

The Cardinals took the series from the Astros, two game to one. Along the way, look at the statistical bling that Berkman ran up on his own personal credit account:

In three games here, April 26-28, Lance Berkman had 8 hits in 14 times at bat for a series batting average of .571.  The hit-fest also bumped his 2010 season batting average as an everyday starter in right field for the Cardinals to .410.

Berkman had no walks in Houston, but he also struck out only twice.

He cracked a double and banged out 2 home runs, giving him 8 long balls on the season. Over the course of three days, he also scored 3 runs and batted in 7 more Cardinal red runs.

Who could ask for anything more?

In spite of the bludgeoning his bat broke down upon the fortunes of our beleaguered Astros, and I was part of the crowd that got to witness that 9-run tumor the redbirds grafted on to our chances in the top of the 6th in Game Three, Houston fans seemed mostly amused to happy for Lance Berkman in his successful return home. The man says he came home simply with the desire to play well gain in front of family and friends – and no one around here, other than broadcaster Milo Hamilton, seems to blame Lance for his absence from the current Astros roster. After 2010, it was simply time for Lance Berkman and the Houston Astros to go in new directions.

Lance is hot, but Cardinal pitching is not.

The new direction of Lance Berkman bodes well for the 2011 Cardinals, if the birds can overcome their holes in pitching and defense. Those areas must improve for the Cards to win big. For now, they show other problems, the kinds you cannot overcome by waiting o the offense to come up with another nine-run-inning explosion.

Still, Lance Berkman is doing his part – way more than his part. And one more time, in the language of the famous Ray Charles lyric, I have to ask:

“What I say? – What I say about that Fat Elvis coming back to Houston?”