Posts Tagged ‘Baseball’

Jerry Witte: Remembering a Best Friend

April 28, 2011

Jerry Witte and the Scouts, Buff Stadium, 1951.

Not that I ever forget him. He was my great childhood baseball hero with the Houston Buffs, my late-in-life best adult friend, my palling around the old Houston East End buddy, my best company in late summer afternoon baseball conversations on Oak Vista Street, the booming loud and smiling patriarch of the seven daughtered Witte family, the sometimes cantankerous partner to Mary Witte in a marriage that stretched  this one man’s  affection over a half century of loving dedication to God, marriage, family and the simplest most powerful connections to life, the biggest hunter  I ever met, but an even bigger collector of raw or slightly used building materials, a gardener with a Kelly green thumb, and a Telephone Road area driveway fly swatting champion of unparalleled success.

All these things were simply the veneer of the deeper soul that was Jerry Witte, one of the best men that God ever put down here to walk the earth as an honest-to-goodness everyday hero. In baseball and in life, Jerry Witte was tough, honest, and dedicated to the goal of giving everything he did his best shot. Whether it was playing the game of baseball, landscaping an entire property as the head of his own post-playing career company, or simply chewing the fat with friends, you could always count on Jerry Witte to give it his most earnest effort.

Today marks the ninth anniversary of Jerry’s departure from the Earth. Depending upon what we know is true (He actually passed away on April 27, 2002, which is how all the Internet baseball stat sites show it.) or when it was recorded (The death record lists his final date of life as April 28, 2002 and that’s how it is marked on both his grave marker and in his autobiography.), Jerry Witte passed away on either April 27th or 28th of 2002.

We will be thinking especially hard of you today, Jerry, and all in the name of our love for the influence you still are in our lives. Years ago, I wrote these feelings in the following way on page 324 of your post-mortem published autobiography. I could not improve today upon anything I said then:

OUR FAREWELL TO JERRY WITTE, on The Day of His Funeral, May 1, 2002.

I’ll never see a summer sky,

And fail to think of you.

For all the love you brought to life,

Each day came shining through.

 Your wife and seven daughters,

Were the center of your world,

But your spirit spread beyond the nest,

To others – it unfurled.

And we are all the richer now,

For the luck of meeting you.

You gave to every life you touched,

A friendship – blood-red true.

You rose from salt that made this world,

A place that honored labor.

You worked for everything you had,

With integrity – as your saber.

You never wasted precious time,

On the stuff that doesn’t matter.

You saw through fame and fortune,

As the path of growing sadder.

Instead, you gave your giving heart,

To those who needed love.

And we were captured on the spot,

Like pop flies in your glove.

And on this day we say farewell,

Our hearts hold this much true,

We’ll always have that special gift,

– The gift of knowing you!


Bill McCurdy, May 1, 2002

A Kid From St. Louis, Pecan Park Eagle Press, 2003.

Jerry Witte was born on July 30, 1915 in St. Louis Missouri. He played professional baseball from 1937 to 1952, finishing his career as the Houston Buff first baseman from June 1950 through the end of the 1952 season. Jerry had two brief exposures to the big leagues with the St, Louis Browns in 1946-47, but mainly played out his game over the years as one the great home run hitters in minor league history, including a 50 homer season for the 1949 Dallas Eagles.

Beautiful 317-page hard-cover copies of Jerry Witte’s autobiography are still available for $25.00, which includes shipping within the USA. If you are interested, please endorse your check to me, “Bill McCurdy,” and send it, along with a clearly typed mailing address, plus any personal signing instructions for me as Jerry’s co-author to: Bill McCurdy, PO BOX 940871, Houston, TX 77094-7871.

If you have any further questions, I am easily reachable through my e-mail address:

Who’s On First?

April 27, 2011

Costello: "Well then who's on first?" Abbott: "Yes!"

The routine never grows old to those of us who love baseball. The Hall of Fame even uses it as a greeting sound to visitors at their Cooperstown museum and exhibit hall. The recorded voices of the late comedians Bud Abbott and Lou Costello go on forever in tandem daffiness there over their perpetual misunderstanding of what each is saying in the vain effort to nail down the name of the player assigned to first base and other positions on the diamond for the legendary, but fictional St. Louis Wolves.

Subtract Bud Abbott as the manager of 1895 St. Louis Wolves and insert Brad Mills of the 2011 Houston Astros and the whole absurd collision of misunderstandings goes away with all the fun too:

Costello: Well, then who’s on first?

Mills: Brett Wallace.

Costello: Thanks, Brad. Now who’s on second?

Ouch! As long as “who” can be anywhere, including first, we’ve got no comedy wedge-point, but thanks to Abbott and Costello and the St. Louis Wolves, baseball rides an ongoing comedy premise that never dies or even ages.

Here it is again in complete script form for your whatever-time-of-day-it-is reading amusement. This time through, if you haven’t done so previously, pay attention to the fact that “the boys” eventually name eight of the nine players at each position in the field. If you use a strong fingers and toes count, you will be able to identify the one position on the field that they never tie to a player’s name in their insane routine.

Sometimes we get to hear or read this comedy classic on a day it does us the most good. Hoping this is one of those thirty times for you too, here it is again in all its unedited glory:

“Who’s On First?” by Bud Abbott and Lou Costello.

Abbott: Well, Costello, I’m going to New York with you. Bucky Harris the Yankee’s manager gave me a job as coach for as long as you’re on the team.

Costello: Look Abbott, if you’re the coach, you must know all the players.

Abbott: I certainly do.

Costello: Well you know I’ve never met the guys. So you’ll have to tell me their names, and then I’ll know who’s playing on the team.

Abbott: Oh, I’ll tell you their names, but you know it seems to me they give these ball players now-a-days very peculiar names.

Costello: You mean funny names?

Abbott: Strange names, pet names…like Dizzy Dean…

Costello: His brother Daffy

Abbott: Daffy Dean…

Costello: And their French cousin.

Abbott: French?

Costello: Goofe’

Abbott: Goofe’ Dean. Well, let’s see, we have on the bags, Who’s on first, What’s on second, I Don’t Know is on third…

Costello: That’s what I want to find out.

Abbott: I say Who’s on first, What’s on second, I Don’t Know’s on third.

Costello: Are you the manager?

Abbott: Yes.

Costello: You gonna be the coach too?

Abbott: Yes.

Costello: And you don’t know the fellows’ names.

Abbott: Well I should.

Costello: Well then who’s on first?

Abbott: Yes.

Costello: I mean the fellow’s name.

Abbott: Who.

Costello: The guy on first.

Abbott: Who.

Costello: The first baseman.

Abbott: Who.

Costello: The guy playing…

Abbott: Who is on first!

Costello: I’m asking you who’s on first.

Abbott: That’s the man’s name.

Costello: That’s who’s name?

Abbott: Yes.

Costello: Well go ahead and tell me.

Abbott: That’s it.

Costello: That’s who?

Abbott: Yes. PAUSE

Costello: Look, you gotta first baseman?

Abbott: Certainly.

Costello: Who’s playing first?

Abbott: That’s right.

Costello: When you pay off the first baseman every month, who gets the money?

Abbott: Every dollar of it.

Costello: All I’m trying to find out is the fellow’s name on first base.

Abbott: Who.

Costello: The guy that gets…

Abbott: That’s it.

Costello: Who gets the money…

Abbott: He does, every dollar of it. Sometimes his wife comes down and collects it.

Costello: Who’s wife?

Abbott: Yes. PAUSE

Abbott: What’s wrong with that?

Costello: I wanna know is when you sign up the first baseman, how does he sign his name?

Abbott: Who.

Costello: The guy.

Abbott: Who.

Costello: How does he sign…

Abbott: That’s how he signs it.

Costello: Who?

Abbott: Yes. PAUSE

Costello: All I’m trying to find out is what’s the guys name on first base.

Abbott: No. What is on second base.

Costello: I’m not asking you who’s on second.

Abbott: Who’s on first.

Costello: One base at a time!

Abbott: Well, don’t change the players around.

Costello: I’m not changing nobody!

Abbott: Take it easy, buddy.

Costello: I’m only asking you, who’s the guy on first base?

Abbott: That’s right.

Costello: OK.

Abbott: Alright. PAUSE

Costello: What’s the guy’s name on first base?

Abbott: No. What is on second.

Costello: I’m not asking you who’s on second.

Abbott: Who’s on first.

Costello: I don’t know.

Abbott: He’s on third, we’re not talking about him.

Costello: Now how did I get on third base?

Abbott: Why you mentioned his name.

Costello: If I mentioned the third baseman’s name, who did I say is playing third?

Abbott: No. Who’s playing first.

Costello: What’s on base?

Abbott: What’s on second.

Costello: I don’t know.

Abbott: He’s on third.

Costello: There I go, back on third again! PAUSE

Costello: Would you just stay on third base and don’t go off it.

Abbott: Alright, what do you want to know?

Costello: Now who’s playing third base?

Abbott: Why do you insist on putting Who on third base?

Costello: What am I putting on third.

Abbott: No. What is on second.

Costello: You don’t want who on second?

Abbott: Who is on first.

Costello: I don’t know. Together: Third base! PAUSE

Costello: Look, you gotta outfield?

Abbott: Sure.

Costello: The left fielder’s name?

Abbott: Why.

Costello: I just thought I’d ask you.

Abbott: Well, I just thought I’d tell ya.

Costello: Then tell me who’s playing left field.

Abbott: Who’s playing first.

Costello: I’m not…stay out of the infield!!! I want to know what’s the guy’s name in left field?

Abbott: No, What is on second.

Costello: I’m not asking you who’s on second.

Abbott: Who’s on first!

Costello: I don’t know. Together: Third base! PAUSE

Costello: The left fielder’s name?

Abbott: Why.

Costello: Because!

Abbott: Oh, he’s center field. PAUSE

Costello: Look, You gotta pitcher on this team?

Abbott: Sure.

Costello: The pitcher’s name?

Abbott: Tomorrow.

Costello: You don’t want to tell me today?

Abbott: I’m telling you now.

Costello: Then go ahead.

Abbott: Tomorrow!

Costello: What time?

Abbott: What time what?

Costello: What time tomorrow are you gonna tell me who’s pitching?

Abbott: Now listen. Who is not pitching.

Costello: I’ll break you’re arm if you say who’s on first!!! I want to know what’s the pitcher’s name?

Abbott: What’s on second.

Costello: I don’t know. Together: Third base! PAUSE

Costello: Gotta a catcher?

Abbott: Certainly.

Costello: The catcher’s name?

Abbott: Today.

Costello: Today, and tomorrow’s pitching.

Abbott: Now you’ve got it.

Costello: All we got is a couple of days on the team. PAUSE

Costello: You know I’m a catcher too.

Abbott: So they tell me.

Costello: I get behind the plate to do some fancy catching, Tomorrow’s pitching on my team and a heavy hitter gets up. Now the heavy hitter bunts the ball. When he bunts the ball, me, being a good catcher, I’m gonna throw the guy out at first. So I pick up the ball and throw it to who?

Abbott: Now that’s the first thing you’ve said right.

Costello: I don’t even know what I’m talking about! PAUSE

Abbott: That’s all you have to do.

Costello: Is to throw the ball to first base.

Abbott: Yes!

Costello: Now who’s got it?

Abbott: Naturally. PAUSE

Costello: Look, if I throw the ball to first base, somebody’s gotta get it. Now who has it?

Abbott: Naturally.

Costello: Who?

Abbott: Naturally.

Costello: Naturally?

Abbott: Naturally.

Costello: So I pick up the ball and I throw it to Naturally.

Abbott: No you don’t you throw the ball to Who.

Costello: Naturally.

Abbott: That’s different.

Costello: That’s what I said.

Abbott: you’re not saying it…

Costello: I throw the ball to Naturally.

Abbott: You throw it to Who.

Costello: Naturally.

Abbott: That’s it.

Costello: That’s what I said!

Abbott: You ask me.

Costello: I throw the ball to who?

Abbott: Naturally.

Costello: Now you ask me.

Abbott: You throw the ball to Who?

Costello: Naturally.

Abbott: That’s it.

Costello: Same as you! Same as YOU!!! I throw the ball to who. Whoever it is drops the ball and the guy runs to second. Who picks up the ball and throws it to What. What throws it to I Don’t Know. I Don’t Know throws it back to Tomorrow, Triple play. Another guy gets up and hits a long fly ball to Because. Why? I don’t know! He’s on third and I don’t give a darn!

Abbott: What?

Costello: I said I don’t give a darn!

Abbott: Oh, that’s our shortstop.

Costello: (makes screaming sound)

Home Runs, Steroids, and The Hall of Fame

April 26, 2011

The HOF has shunned Pete Rose, the all-time hits leader for gambling. Should it do the same to HR-Leader Barry Bonds for steroids and lying?

If there’s a clearer scoreboard on how baseball aims to treat players smeared with the taint of steroids in years to come, the way the game treats its greatest home run leaders after they retire seems brighter as a guidepost than any other for the road-signing we are getting elsewhere. After all, home runs are the big power play in baseball. Steroids cannot give you fast wrists, or make contact between bat and ball, but they sure as hell can can make the balls fly farther that do run into a powerful wooden surface.

So, far, at least, none of the great home run hitters of recent years who’ve even been mentioned in the same breath with steroids have made it into the Hall of Fame, or even come close, after achieving voter eligibility. Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and now Rafael Palmeiro are our main poster boys these days for that  reality.

Will it be this way forever? Who knows, but it is the way it is for now.

Of the twenty-five (25) players with 500 or more home runs in their careers, fifteen (15) are members of the Hall of Fame – and all made it there prior to the explosion of the steroid issue.

Of the ten (10) others, two (2) (Alex Rodriguez and Jim Thome) are still active players.

Of the eight (8) others, three (3) (Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, and Rafael Palmeiro) have been rejected for the HOF by low vote totals, so far.

The remaining five (5) men (Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey, Jr., Manny Ramirez, Frank Thomas, and Gary Sheffield) remain at variable points through their five year periods of eligibility clearance for HOF consideration following retirement.

Among the members on this premier list of home run sluggers who are not in the Hall of Fame, only Ken Griffey, Jr. seems to me like a can’t-miss selection on the first ballot. Maybe Jim Thome will make it too, at some point, but all the others have received the sting of the “S” word interlaced into the narrative of their playing careers.

Hopefully, we will resolve our reactions to this mess someday. For now, the baseball world seems split apart by all the competing forces that have arisen from the “steroid era.”

Baseball people don’t want to reward cheaters so enough HOF voters simply ignore the accomplishments of players they either know or strongly suspect of cheating. On the other hand, a lot of us don’t much care for a Hall of Fame concept that ignores some of the game’s premier statistical  achievements because of either the scandal associated with their accomplishment (Pete Rose) or the unfair ways they achieved their totals (McGwire, Sosa, et al). The net effect is that we are left with a Hall of Fame that suddenly rejects candidates with major character defects as it coincidentally ignores their statistical impacts upon the game. How long can we ignore the issue in the hope that time will simply take all of this unfortunate ugliness away?

I don’t believe in asterisks. When Roger Maris broke Ruth’s single season home run record in 1961 by hitting 61, the record was his. Period. The fact it took him a 162-game schedule to do it wasn’t his fault. Baseball added those extra games, not Roger Maris, and I accepted him as the new home run king in spite of the fact that he broke the previous record of my still all-time greatest hero, Babe Ruth. Tacking a blooming asterisk onto Roger’s 61 HR in 1961 made as much sense as tacking an asterisk on to the 755 career homers of Hank Aaron would have made. After all, Hank did his thing in the era of extended game seasons too, but nobody put any asterisks on his accomplishment.

As baseball, we need to find a better way of recognizing great record accomplishments under one roof. We do not need “juiced” and “non-juiced” versions of the Hall of Fame or asterisks that denote special circumstances attendant to some records and record-holders. A record is either a record or it isn’t. And a certain player either did it or he didn’t.

The Hall of Fame was never a choir boys’ society. Never was. Never will be. The problem is, our game’s public relations wishes always seem to reach out to the great achievers in the hope that they will all will themselves into the greatest role models of all time. Unfortunately, these great achievers cannot, or will not, always come out smelling like roses or Hank Aarons. We’re much more likely to find great things being done by players with certain flaws of character.

If perfect character is the prerequisite for the Hall of Fame, then we may as well shut the place down or rename the Hall of Fame into something like the “St. Abner Doubleday of Cooperstown Baseball Choir Boy Society.”

At any rate, here’s our 500 HR Club list. Look it over and tell us what you think too:

The 25 Members of the 500 HR Club & Their HOF Status

(1) Barry Bonds (L) – 762

(2) Hank Aaron (R) – 755 – HOF

(3) Babe Ruth (L) – 714 – HOF

(4) Willie Mays (R) – 660 – HOF

(5) Ken Griffey, Jr.  (L) – 630

(6) Alex Rodriguez (R) – 618

(7) Sammy Sosa (R) – 609

(8) Jim Thome (L) – 591 

(9) Frank Robinson (R) – 586 – HOF

(10) Mark McGwire (R) – 583

(11) Harmon Killebrew (R) 573 – HOF

(12) Rafel Palmeiro (L) – 569

(13) Reggie Jackson (L) – 563 – HOF

(14) Manny Ramirez (R) – 555

(15) Mike Schmidt (R) – 548 – HOF

(16) Mickey Mantle (B) – 536 – HOF

(17) Jimmie Foxx (R) – 534 – HOF

(18t) Willie McCovey (L) – 521 – HOF

(18t) Frank Thomas (R) – 521

(18t) Ted Williams (L) – 521 – HOF

(21t) Ernie Banks (R) – 512 – HOF

(21t) Eddie Mathews (L) – 512 – HOF

(23) Mel Ott (L) – 511 – HOF

(24) Gary Sheffield (R) – 509

(25) Eddie Murray (B) – 504 – HOF

(Bold-type used above for players who are still active.)

My Favorite Buffs Logo Year: 1947

April 25, 2011

Heart Buff Logo of the 1947 Houston Buffs.

At age nine, the 1947 Houston Buffs were my first team of hometown heroes, with second baseman Solly Hemus standing out as my first baseball hero. We used to call him by the nickname the sportswriters tagged him – “The Little Pepper Pot” fit both the man and his game. Even us brand new cutting-our-teeth on baseball fans could see it – and feel it.  Hemus was the driving spirit of a club that included several fine ball players in Hal Epps, Eddie Knoblauch, Al Papai, Johnny Hernandez, and Jack Creel, just to name a few of the stars that flew across the sky of manager Johnny Keane’s universe.

The 1947 Buffs took a narrow starightway first place finish away from the Fort Worth Cats before going on to capture the Texas League Shaughnessy Playoffs and also the prized Dixie Series championship over the Mobile Bears of the Southern Association.

As old Blues yes, Frank Sinatra used to sing, “it was a very good year!” Naturally, when you start off baseball as a kid following a team that wins everything there is to win, and you are old enough to understand that is exactly just what happened, it spoils you with all those great expectations. I thought the Buffs were supposed to win it all every year. Seasons 1948 through 1950 quickly, if painfully, corrected that wrong idea as the Buffs went into the kind of struggle and fall patterns that came from the parent St. Louis Cardinals sending all their better prospects to play for their AAA clubs in Columbus, Ohio and Rochester, New York.

No doubt about it, however, at least, not in my mind, that the 1947 season also produced the finest Buffalo jersey logo in the local Texas League AA club’s history. The simple circle with the detailed buffalo silhouette inside was always both my first glimpse and forever fetish symbol of Buff celebration. In fact, I never understood why the club did not simply stick with something that worked so well over the years that followed. They also used a deep burgundy red for the color accent on caps and uniform piping and sox that season. The whole look was great, but, like many of the players from year to year, everything in minor league ball, including uniform styles and colors,  has always been about constant annual mass turnover,  makeover, and sometimes, a roll into a disheartening downgrade in local talent. Because the Buffs were a Cardinals farm club, the only predictable carryover feature was the ongoing presence of red as the team’s primary color and, most of the time, the Buff uniforms from 1948 through 1958, the last Cardinal season here, would look pretty much like the parent club St. Louis outfits, without the birds on the bat. (Two buffs on a bat would have bent the stick past its breaking point, I think.)

Speaking of buffaloes, we’ve always assumed that the Buffalos/Buffs nickname tag stuck in Houston because it naturally derived its identity from our our downtown Houston waterway, Buffalo Bayou. That’s probably true, although I’ve never read anything from a deceased primary source that explained it exactly in those terms, or gave anyone credit for the naming. As we get into our SABR (Society for American Baseball Research) project here this summer on the first one hundred years of Houston Baseball: 1861-1961, we will have to look into this naming question even further. We my never learn who came up with “Buffaloes,” but there’s no reason not to dig a little deeper into it anyway to see what turns up.

Ben Steiner models the more Cardinal-like uniform of the 1951 Buffs.

Wish we knew better today what has survived from these earlier times as artifacts of Houston’s sartorial minor league past. The 1947 and 1951 Buff jerseys would have a special place for display at the Houston Sports Museum at Finger Furniture on the Gulf Freeway, if they still existed and could be loaned out to this fine place in the name of public service. Both of those seasons saw the Buffs through to Texas League championships, although the ’51 Buffs lost the Dixie Series to the Birmingham Barons.

Have a great week everybody – and let’s hope we get something wet in Houston today from our 20% rain forecast possibility. The drought is having an awful impact on all living things in our area. When April already feels like a Houston August, and you have lived trough that condition already in a previous year, you have to wonder what this August is going to be like.

California High Schooler Has 4 Straight No-Hitters

April 20, 2011

Steven Perry Goes for His 5th No-No Thursday, April 21.

Incredible. A top California high school shortstop prospect has just boosted even greater interest in him as a pitcher by throwing his fourth straight no-hitter in a row in this 2011 season. The full story of Steven Perry is well enough told by Jonathan Wall of RivalsHigh@Yahho.Com at this link.

My interest is in what this kind of feat actually says about the young man’s ability and how much it says about his physical/mental/emotional development as it speaks for his superior pace and ability ahead of his peer competition. Some kids are simply superior to the others of their age group at a moment in time – and that’s a big factor in their performances beyond the pale of everyday expectation.

David Clyde was 11-15 with the 1978-79 Cleveland Indians.

Remember David Clyde of Westchester High School in Houston back in 1973? Clyde was great enough to be selected as the first pick in the draft that year and taken immediately from his high school graduation to the roster of the Texas Rangers. It was a decision based more on a pure   bloodthirst by Texas for doing something to spike attendance at the gate then it was any sound baseball decision that the kid was ready for the majors and that proved to be true with serious permanent consequences for the baseball future of young Mr. Clyde.

Clyde was 7-18 over three ineffective seasons with the Rangers from 1973-75. He then bounced out of the big leagues for a couple of years before coming for two final years with the Cleveland Indians in 1978-79, finishing his five-season MLB career with a record of 18-33 and an ERA of 4.63. Then he was done. At age 24, baseball was all over for young David Clyde of such bright hope.

You have to hope that nothing like that happens to the young Perry kid.

Highly touted pitcher Stephen Strasburg of the Washington Nationals is still recovering from that torn ulnar collateral ligament that sent him to the DL last year. You hope his injury wasn’t hastened by his early call to the big leagues, although he was already 21 when he was taken by the Washington Nationals as the first pick in the 2009 draft. Strasburg also pitched his way through three minor league clubs in 2010 (7-2, 1.30 ERA) before joining Washington last year in time to go 5-3, 2.92 ERA before his arm injury that continues to sideline him into the 2011 season.

You just never know, but I really do believe that the “too much, too soon” pressure for some people increases the chance of injury, and especially with pitchers. Notwithstanding the fact that some people thrive on excessive pressure from the start, experience and observation of how that works in baseball tells me that, most often, pressure works in a damaging way upon young people. Before they have a chance to develop some wisdom about how to listen to and use their own strengths and weaknesses in the best ways, the naive desire to please takes over and causes many to play themselves into harm’s way.

In the meanwhile, it’s still hard to not wish young Steven Perry good luck when he goes for his fifth consecutive no-hitter tomorrow night.

No pressure there, right?


Every now and then, I’ve decided to add a fairly arcane and mostly obscure question about Houston history at the end of an article. The question may or may not have anything to do with today’s main subject and, as the only real hint I’m leaving today, the question for April 20, 2011 is pretty much totally disconnected from the subject of injury to early baseball phenoms.

If you know the answer to this one (OH Question #!), please record it here in the comment section. Whoever posts correctly first will hit my new “OBSCURIA HOUSTONIA” scoreboard with credit for a right answer. When we get enough right answers going, we may even start running an ongoing scoreboard. OK? OK.

Here’s OBSCURIA HOUSTONIA Question #1:

Who was Hamshire Fannett and what did he do to quietly memorialize himself as a true blue Houstonian?

Longest Professional Game in Baseball History

April 19, 2011

Cal Ripken, Jr.. 3B, Rochester Red Wings

It started thirty years ago on Easter Saturday, April 18, 1981. The longest professional game in baseball history began to play out its tired and weary way to a 33-inning 3-2 conclusion that would ultimately unfold over three dates in time before it pinged to a ragged conclusion June 23, 1981. In the end, the home town Pawtucket Red Sox defeated the visiting Rochester Red Wings on a single in the bottom of the 33rd off the bat of Pawtucket first baseman Dave Koza.

The game began before an International League crowd of 1,740, but it started at 8:25 PM due to a half hour delay caused by trouble with the lights. It was an omen for “late start” playing directly into “late finish” – as in latest finish ever for any International League game. The league had a rule ending or suspended any game from starting a new inning beyond 12:40 AM of the next day, but Dennis Cregg, the umpire who worked home plate for this game in McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket that night, had a rule book copy that contained no reference to the time-top rule. As a result, the game played on in zombie-like speed into the wee small hours. Finally, some time after 3:00 AM, someone called league president Harold Cooper. Mortified by the news, Cooper ordered that the game be stopped at the end of its current 32nd inning, if not ended by a score differential, and rescheduled for continuation later.  The inning finally droned to a halt 4:07 AM with score still tied at 2-2.

What a way to drift into Easter Sunday. Only nineteen fans remained in te stands by this time and all were given season passes for their willingness to stick-it-0ut to the very end. No note is made of what the married ones received from their wives after stumbling home that late in the pre-dawn hours of Easter Sunday morning. I can’t see that going so well in a number of instances.

Another interesting sidebar note is the fact that each club featured future Hall of Famers playing third base. Cal Ripken, Jr. handled those honors for Rochester that night. Wade Boggs played thrid base for Pawtucket. Ripken ended up setting a record with two teammates for most plate appearances in a game with 15. Ripken was 2 for 13 in official trips. Wade Boggs was 4 for 12 with a game-ting RBI in the bottom of the 21st.

Wade Boggs, 3B, Pawtucket Red Sox

Following the suspension, the same clubs were set to play a fresh game at 11:00 AM on Easter Sunday morning. That sounded like a stroke of bad timing anyway, but it was mainly the fear of injury that led the two teams to reschedule the continuation of their unsettled marathon for the next regular trip to town for Rochester. The game would be continued in the top of the 33rd at McCoy Stadium on June 23, 1981.

As so often proves true, the spell, tempo, and mood of the continued game was no longer controlled by the tempo of the original production. After Rochester went down harmlessly in the top of the 33rd, Pawtucket quickly put men on base in the bottom half and won on the Koza hit described earlier. It was a game for the ages, setting numerous records that were only reachable because of its longevity.

The time of the game, 8 hours and 25 minutes, set a record of its own as the longest game ever played by the clock.

For further information, here’s a nice little summary of the whole ordeal.

Fat Elvis Is Coming!

April 18, 2011

…and he won’t be staying at the Heartbreak Hotel.

Fat Elvis is coming in eight days. He’s traveling with the St. Louis Cardinals this season and he’s due to arrive in time for the redbirds’ three-game series with the Houston Astros next week at Minute Maid Park, Tuesday through Thursday, April 26 through 28.

Oh, and if he keeps it up between now and then, he will be coming back to town carrying one of the best batting averages, home run marks, and runs batted in records in the current National League season. At this Monday morning scribble time, Lance Berkman is hitting .308 with 10 runs batted in and 6 home runs on the season as the mostly-everyday right fielder for the now 8-8 St. Louis Cardinals.

As one of his fans from his Rice University and Houston Astro days, I couldn’t be happier for the 35-year-old bright, funny, and talented man from New Braunfels at this late point in his career.  Lance Berkman’s career marks (.296 BA and 333 HR) still hover on the top side of a great career and I would love to see him finish off his remaining time, whatever that turns out to be, as productively as possible, as long as he does it against anyone but our home town Astros.

Somehow I have this image of Lance coming up late in a game at MMP with the Astros leading 2-1 with two birds on base and then watching old “Berkie” either push an opposite field fly into the Crawford Boxes, or else, lashing an uncatchable drive into the gap in right center. I hope it doesn’t happen, but come on now, if you’ve been watching baseball long enough, you’ve also sniffed this script before: Old hero comes back to victimize his former team as a member of their biggest rival club.

We’ll see. Meanwhile, I will try to find a way to ward off my worst fears about the return to Houston of Lance Berkman with this little book I’ve been reading. I’ve sworn not to reveal its title to the haggard little old lady who sold the book to me at the corner of Texas Avenue and Crawford after a game the other night, but I was also led to believe by the old girl that it’s OK for me to ask questions of you that have  arisen from my reading of this work.

That being said, do any of you know where I can find a 16-legged black spider and a three-headed chicken?

Union Station Revisited

April 15, 2011

Opening in 1911 with additional floors added in 1912.

Entering Minute Maid Park from the Union Station “Great Hall” door on Opening Day of the 2011 baseball season, an old friend of deep orange attachment to the ball club’s early history stopped to ask me which way the tracks ran when this historic place lived its life as a train station. He didn’t ask it quite that way, but that is the way I heard his question. I told him the answer, but in so doing, it also told me that it was time again to do a little Pecan Park Eagle spotlight on the history of this hallowed ground.

First, let me say this much. There are numerous article sites on the history of Union Station available over the Internet. Just do a search with the words “Union Station Houston” and watch what happens. The output from there is absolutely delicious.

Union Stationed opened in 1911. A year later, a 1912 continuation of the work added several stories to the structure. The building was designed by architects Warren & Wetmore at a cost of five million dollars. Upon completion, Union Station became the largest passenger rail terminal in the Southwest. In addition to rail connection to all parts of the country, Union Station served for years as Houston’s base for electric interurban rail service to various mass transit points in Houston and to Galveston. In 1928, with the opening of Buff Stadium four miles  east of downtown, Union Station was a primary departure pint for baseball fans heading for games after work from downtown on the Galveston Interurban line that ran by the new venue.

Tracks ran east-west from the Great Hall of Union Station.

From a point of view that basically corresponds to looking at the ballpark today from across the street on Texas Avenue from the Home Plate restaurant of 2011, the street-side tracks coming into Union Station are quite obvious. I can neither remember exactly how many there were, nor can I find the information online quickly, but I think there were about four to six parallel track sets, stretching parallel on the entire north-south width of the building as you see it here, and extending about as deep as the current third base line for the deepest interior set of incoming rails.

All I recall as a little kid was going there to pick up “Papa” (my grandfather) on his trips to Houston for visits from San Antonio – and looking around at what then seemed like an endless run of railroad tracks and trains coming and going from the station. It was a loud, bell-clanging place too.

For those who have never seen it, this 1999 article by Tom Marsh on the rediscovery of Union Station’s Great Hall is worth the read and photo review.

The thought that never leaves me is the juxtaposition of time and space effect generated by the conversion of Union Station from its grave as Houston’s once early 20th century center of transportation into the city’s hub of 21st century major league baseball. Think about it for a moment or two or more. – Forget the time differential for now:

Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Dizzy Dean, Ducky Medwick, Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Lance Berkman, and Roy Oswalt, at first one time and then another, now and then, all traveled this same ground with fairly identical goals in mind – to play baseball in the City of Houston – and that’s to say nothing of the fact that FDR, Judy Garland, and Ronald Reagan also all could have been there too – just to watch the game – were it not for the fact that most were not traveling by the same ticks on the clock.

Enough said. Union Station is hallowed ground in a Houston history that has now been both preserved and extended by the ongoing presence of Minute Maid Park and the Houston Astros. Think about that one the next time you go downtown to see a game. It makes the trip even more fun and worthwhile.

Our Very Own Jekyll and Hyde

April 14, 2011

Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

It’s not a new analogy, but it plugged in again on fatal levels last night at Minute Maid Park. The Chicago Cubs jumped on Astros No. 2 starter Wandy Rodriquez for five runs after two were out in the top of the first inning to start the evening baseball feast by turning the table back on top of their Houston hosts from the very start. Mr. Hyde has made his appearance a one-inning shot at the top.

The Cubs already had scored two runs with two outs when Jeff Baker of the Cubs lashed a two-out, opposite field double to right to score runners from first and second. Catcher Geovanny Soto then walked to bring up left fielder Alfonso Soriano, who was only 2 for 26 in his previous tries against Wandy with no homers.

After whipping his way to an 0-2 count on Soriano, Wandy decided to challenge his man with a fast one and it was quickly bye-bye baseball. A towering home run to left now put the Cubs on top to stay at 5-0.

Wandy then settled into his Dr. Jekyll goodness mode by shutting out the Cubs in innings 2 through 5, but, by then, the damage was done to the then still goose-egged Astros as they flailed away at the hard-to-hit offerings of their Cubs nemesis pitching foe, Carlos Zambrano. Zambrano was aiming for his 14th career win over the Astros in the rubber game of the three-date series in Houston and he would get it before this long and monstrous performance was completed.

Zambrano also advanced his own cause further by blasting his MLB-pitcher best 22nd career home run in the top of the 6th off Astros reliever Fernando Abad to extend the Cubs lead to 6-0. For his sake, it was good he did. In the bottom of the 6th, Zambrano gave up 5 runs to the Astros before he was lifted with one away and spared further damage.

5-6 would be as high as the vine went for the Astros on this monster night. Wilton Lopez came in to defend in the top of the 9th and promptly gave up three more runs, enough to seal a 9-5 Astros victory.

Once again, the Astros lose because of failed pitching. And look, I’m sorry to pile on Wandy so hard. I think we all know he did not want to have that first inning, but we ought to be free to look at what it means beyond “every good pitcher has a bad night once in a while.”

I’m no pitching coach, but I have been watching baseball for a very long time, long enough to see certain trends with some pitchers that may help to say something about why “Mr. Hyde” shows up sometimes – and, maybe, just long enough to cause the loss of  a game.

Wandy seems to be one of those good pitchers who comes close to being confounding to batters and almost impossible to hit when his focus and ability are working together. Unfortunately, he also seems to be one of those good pitchers who momentarily loses his concentration on what he’s doing every now and then. (Maybe all pitchers do, but with less disastrous results.) That 0-2 pitch to Soriano in the 1st is a good example of inattention leading to disaster. Instead of playing with Soriano to go for an unhittable pitch out of the zone, Wandy grooves one and it results in a hole that runs too deep for full recovery, even with nine innings of batting to go for the Astros.

I’d be very interested in your own observations on Wandy’s “letdown” problem. It’s not as though the club has a better choice at this time, but, my gosh, it’s very hard to improve a club’s standing with one or more Mr. Hydes taking the mound every fifth day. These guys don’t have to be bad for a whole game to cause a loss. They just have to have an inning like Wandy’s first in the final game of the now lost Cubs series.



A Buff Stadium Pictorial

April 13, 2011

Houston Sports Museum (on site of old Buff Stadium)

Buffalo/Buff Stadium was located on what is now the site of Finger Furniture Store on the Gulf Freeway at Cullen Boulevard. This ballpark was the home of the minor league Houston Buffs from 1928 through 1961. Technically, it was renamed by Cardinals/Buff owner August Busch in his own family image in 1953, but few of us old-time Buff fans ever made the emotional change to the full acceptance of its new identity as Busch Stadium from 1953 through 1961.

The mural featured above, plus a nice display of memorabilia from the era of the Buffs is on display at the Houston Sports Museum located in the Finger store. In fact, the original site of home plate is commemorated in place on the floor there. Drop inside sometime and take a look at the place and its collection of materials on Houston’s professional sports history.

Buff Stadium Home Plate Site at Houston Sports Museum.

First Opening Day, Buff Stadium, April 11, 1928.

Buff Stadium, 1928: Check out the buffalos on the left field wall.

Game Day, 1930s & 1940s.

Field of Dreams, From Early On.

Night Ball Lighted Buff Stadium through the Great Depression.

Lights Awakened Summer Nights of the 1950s too.

Note the circles above the front entrance to Buff Stadium.

Those eighty 36″ metal circles were medallions that each featured a buffalo silhouette. There were a total of eighty spread along the exterior walls of the ballpark and, when they tore old Buff Stadium down in 1963, they fell like a clanging steel rain upon the concrete surface below. Those that survived were sold for four dollars a piece to the few persons who showed up to watch Houston go through an everyday act of work for that era. It was called “tearing down the past to make room for the future.”

One of the survivors. Close to all my memories. Close to all in my heart.

Houston has changed. We still aren’t perfect and never will be, but we now live a more invested idea of preserving and restoring the past. If we were not that way, many of us would not be so upset today that Houston has been denied the opportunity of keeping one of the space shuttles as an artifact of our deep history with NASA and the space program. Those forces of community outrage weren’t so strong on the day they tore Buff Stadium down and threw out the Buffs as our historic baseball identity.

Sometimes our best energies are spent on researching and discerning the truth about our various local histories, whether its our legacy from baseball or space exploration. Good research and reporting live  at the heart of historic restoration and preservation – and each serves the end of any honest museum and hall of historic commemoration that is ever built on any deserving subject.

That statement will either mean everything to you or it won’t matter at all. Find your category and move on from there.