Posts Tagged ‘New York Yankees’

The Day Few Showed Up for Babe’s Big Moment

September 6, 2012

Only 8,000 saw Babe Ruth hit No. 60.

Have you ever seen the box score from the game in which Babe Ruth hit Home Run  # 60 back in 1927?  Take a good look at the attendance too. This was the next to last game of the season, played at home in the cavernous 70,000 plus seats jewel park of baseball, Yankee Stadium, in only its fifth year of existence. The Yankees had long sewed up the pennant, but here was Ruth, going into the last two games of the year with a chance to break his own record of 59 from 1921, and only 8,000 fans show up to see the action?

Baseball Almanac Box ScoresWashington Senators 2, New York Yankees 4
Game played on Friday, September 30, 1927 at Yankee Stadium I
Washington Senators ab   r   h rbi
Rice rf 3 0 1 0
Harris 2b 3 0 0 0
Ganzel cf 4 0 1 0
Goslin lf 4 1 1 0
Judge 1b 4 0 0 0
Ruel c 2 1 1 1
Bluege 3b 3 0 1 1
Gillis ss 4 0 0 0
Zachary p 2 0 0 0
  Johnson ph 1 0 0 0
Totals 30 2 5 2
New York Yankees ab   r   h rbi
Combs cf 4 0 0 0
Koenig ss 4 1 1 0
Ruth rf 3 3 3 2
Gehrig 1b 4 0 2 0
Meusel lf 3 0 1 2
Lazzeri 2b 3 0 0 0
Dugan 3b 3 0 1 0
Bengough c 3 0 1 0
Pipgras p 2 0 0 0
  Pennock p 1 0 0 0
Totals 30 4 9 4
Washington 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 2 5 0
New York 0 0 0 1 0 1 0 2 x 4 9 1
  Washington Senators IP H R ER BB SO
Zachary  L(8-13) 8.0 9 4 4 1 1
  New York Yankees IP H R ER BB SO
Pipgras 6.0 4 2 2 5 0
  Pennock  W(19-8) 3.0 1 0 0 1 0

E–Gehrig (15).  DP–Washington 2. Harris-Bluege-Judge, Gillis-Harris-Judge.  2B–Washington Rice (33).  3B–New York Koenig (10).  HR–New York Ruth (60,8th inning off Zachary 1 on 1 out).  Team LOB–7.  SH–Meusel (21).  Team–4.  SB–Rice (19); Ruel (9); Bluege (15).  U–Bill Dinneen, Tommy Connolly, Brick Owens.  T–1:38.  A–8,000.

Game played on Friday, September 30, 1927 at Yankee Stadium I
Baseball Almanac Box Score | Printer Friendly Box Scores

And it was a Friday afternoon in New York City during the still halcyon fun and finance times of the Roaring Twenties – and only a relative handful of people showed up to see if the Bambino could do again what no other player through his era seemed capable of doing – break a slugging record set far ahead of the pack by a fellow named George Herman “Babe” Ruth.

And he did it. Off a forever famous fellow because he threw it, Tom Zachary. With one on and one out in the bottom of the 8th. And he did it with no controverted argument that any substance he may have put in his body had helped, but with plenty of awe that he may have accomplished what he did in spite of what he had taken into his physical being just hours and minute prior to his record accomplishment.

8,000 spectators that day represents about 11% of the 72,000 capacity that was Yankee Stadium of those times. Can you imagine how easy it must have been for everyone who was there to hear the echoing crack of Babe’s 60th HR contact moment that day? Did they cheer in scattered unison moment to Ruth’s swing and classic tip-toe trot around the bases? Were the skies still grey from the threat of rain? And was the threat of rain itself one of the big reasons so few people showed up to see one of the big moments in MLB history?

Almost as many will show up tomorrow night to watch the Roger and Koby Clemens father and son team serve as the Friday game battery for the Sugar Land Skeeters at Constellation Field. All that says to me is that the so-called “viral” moments of our current digital era just weren’t happening back in the day of 1927 when we barely had radio.

Perhaps, some of you New York Yankee experts have some better answers to the questions we have posed about the low attendance at “The Stadium” on September 30, 1927. All I know is that I would love to have a time machine and a ticket to that game. And I think I’d want to sit in the right field bleachers too. Well, maybe I’d prefer a seat behind the Yankee dugout. – It would always be possible to amble over to the right field bleachers to watch the rest of the game from the 8th inning til the last out. (more…)

Floyd Bevens: The Legacy of Disappointment

May 26, 2011

World Series Game 4, Oct. 3, 1947, Yankees vs. Dodgers at Brooklyn. Dodgers win, 3-2, on last pitch with their first hit of the game. Lavagetto's double ties Series. Pitcher Floyd Bevens & Joe DiMaggio walk away from heartbreaking loss at Ebbets Field.

Had it not been for a single pitch on a singular afternoon on an Indian Summer day back in Brooklyn in 1947, it’s likely that even fewer people would remember the name of the late Floyd “Bill” Bevens these 63 plus years later. But baseball people remember him – for what he did and didn’t do.

With the Yankees tying into their second World Series competition against their down-from- “snob hill” neighbors, the Brooklyn Dodgers,  the Yankees were leading the Series, 2-1, through three games, but their pitching corps was running thin do a combination cause of injury, tiredness, and a general lack of normal Yankee talent. As a result, Manager Bucky Harris made the call to go with a little known, but not-too-accomplished right hander named Floyd “Bill” Bevens.

Bill Bevens brought a 1947 season record of 7-13 and a 3.82 ERA into Game Four. In his four seasons in the major leagues (1944-1947), all played as a WWII talent shortage Yankee roster guy, Bevens had achieved the unremarkable record of 40-36 and a 3.08 career ERA.

Bevens settled on Game Four to have the best stuff of his life. He had control problems, walking 10 against only 5 strikeouts, but had surrendered no hits in guiding the Yankees into the bottom of the 9th with a 2-1 lead. He also had thrown a ton of pitches, far more than his tired aching arm could handle, but this was 1947 and nobody did pitch counts back then. On top of the cultural value from that era that said “pitchers should finish what they start,” the man had a no-hitter going. No way Harris was going to take him out in favor of ace reliever Joe Page.

Then came the 9th.

With two outs, Bevens walked center fielder Carl Furillo. Dodger Manager Burt Shotton then quickly subbed the speedy Al Gionfriddo as a pinch runner for Furillo. Gionfriddo then quickly took off for 2nd, getting there about the same time a great throw from catcher Yogi Berra to shortstop Phil Rizzuto.

The Yankees thought for sure they had the third out – the win – the first World Series no-hitter in history – and a 3-1 lead in games for the 1947 World Series!

No. No. No. Much to the Yankees’ dismay, Gionfriddo got the safe call.  The game would play on – with the tying run now on 2nd and the dangerous Pete Reiser coming to bat for Brooklyn.

That’s when Yankee manager broke the yolk of baseball wisdom that usually bridled these situations. He made the call to Bevens for an intentional  walk of the once speedy, but now more hobbled Pete Reiser, putting the winning run on 1st with two outs in the bottom of the 9th.

Bevens would face the pesky, but powerless Eddie Stanky with the tying runner on 2nd and the winning run at 1st, needing only that one more out to nail down his place in World Series history.

Hold up again. Dodger mentor Shotton had other ideas. Instead of facing Stanky, Bevens would face the right-handed veteran Cookie Lavagetto as a pinch hitter. Cookie wasn’t a power hitter, but he did possess some pop in his bat that Stanky could only have dreamed about. Shotton’s move provoked no further adjustments by Harris. It would be left up to righty Bevens and righty Lavagetto to write the next big moment in World Series history.

Shotton of Dem Bums had one more move. He inserted the faster Eddie Miksis at 1st as a pinch runner for the intentionally walked Reiser.

The final battle was now joined. Bevens vs. Lavagetto, with young Yankee catcher Yogi Berra relying upon the clubs book that said they could get Cookie with a fastball, high and away. And that’s what Bevens threw. And Lavagetto flailed away and missed for strike one on the very first pitch.

Yogi called for another hard one, high and away on the second pitch to Cookie. Bevens had second thoughts, but he delivered it anyway. This time, Lavagetto reach our and up and got it. A loud crack resounded, inciting a moment of stunned silence, then a roaring wave of euphoria from the home crowd as the ball bounced high off the screen in right field.

Gionfriddo easily scored the tying run. And here came Miksis from first on his teammate’s heels with the winning run. The Dodgers got only their first hit of the game from Lavagetto, but it was enough to produce a 3-2 Dodger win, tying the Series at 2-2 in games, and destroying Bill Bevens’s bid to become the first pitcher in history to throw a no-hitter in a World Series.

Bill Bevens lost more than a no-hitter that day. He pretty much ruined his arm pitching that game. Aside from some brief relief work after Game Four, Bevens would never pitch for the Yankees, or any other big league club again after 1947. The Yankees did win the Series in seven games, of course, and Bevens will always have that association to his credit, but all he would get from the Yankees in 1948 is his unconditional release in spring training.

The stories of Bill Bevens walking off the mound in tears that day at Ebbets Field, as well as those memories of Bevens and Yogi crying together in the clubhouse, all fly in the face of that “no crying in baseball” myth. That loss had to hurt bad. I concede the guy’s right to his expression of pain from that very hurtful experience.

Like no other sport, baseball moves deliberately through a succession of events that eventually determine winning or losing, joy or despair. Can you imagine the nanosecond of joy that must have spawned in the Yankee dugout when they thought they had thrown out Gionfriddo at 2nd for the final out of the game?

Didn’t happen. Keep playing. Keep playing until the cracking sound of Lavagetto’s bat is your final memory of this game, for better or worse.

Floyd “Bill” Bevens kept on playing minor league ball beyond 1947. In fact, in his 14 seasons as a minor leaguer from 1937 to 1953, he compiled a minor league record of 117-118 and a career ERA of 3.76. He could have retired with a winning record in 1952 but he came back in 1953,  just long enough to take it into the negative side with an 0-2 mark at Salem  of the Class A Western International league.

Bevens’s minor league history even included a brief stopover in 1949 with the Houston Buffs. Bevens was a Buff only long enough to give up six hits in four innings and two games with no record before moving on to Seattle of the Pacific Coast League that same season.

In the end, it was the legacy of Floyd “Bill” Bevens to be the man who lost a chance to post the first no-hitter in World Series history with two outs in the 9th inning. Perhaps, the question is: Did Bevens really lose his no-hitter to Lavagetto’s walk-off double – or did he earlier in the 9th lose it to Gionfriddo’s safe call on the steal of 2nd?

Bill Bevens passed away at his home in Salem, Oregon on October 26, 1991 at the age of 75.

A Time Travel Trip to NY 1927

February 20, 2011

On March 2, 1927, Babe Ruth signed a $70,000 contract with the New York Yankees for 1927, making him the highest paid player in baseball history.

It is Tuesday, February 20, 1927, in New York City and, even though these times will come to be remembered as the Roaring Twenties, most of the country still had a lot of catching up to do on how much freedom is OK on weekends. In South Carolina, on this date, some men are arrested and charged with violating the Sabbath by playing golf on Sunday. It’s good to know we will get passed this form of  prohibition by 2011. There aren’t enough jail cells in the nation to lock up all the Sunday golfers these days.

Hornsby Tags Ruth to End '26 Series.

New York City is the late winter of 1926 and early spring of 1927 is still stinging from their seven-game loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1926. The team had come home to Yankees Stadium with a 3-2 lead in games before blowing two straight to the pitching magic of the great Grover Cleveland Alexander, first as a starter in Game Six- and then as a shocking reliever in Game Seven. Game Seven and the famous episode contest in which Alexander gets called in to pitch with either a hangover or migraine  against the dangerous Yankee hitter Tony Lazzeri with the Cardinals leading by a run, 3-2, with two outs and the bases loaded. Alexander strikes out Lazzeri and then shuts down New York the rest of the way. As a final stinger, Babe Ruth reaches first as the potential tying run in the ninth, with Alexander still pitching, two outs, and the Yankees still down a run by the same fated score, but with Bob Meusel (.315) now hitting. Inexplicably, Ruth decides to steal second on the first pitch to Meusel. Meusel tries to cover, but misses, and Ruth is thrown out on a swift and accurate throw from catcher Bob O’Farrell to Cardinal Manager/Hall of Famer Rogers end the Series and send New Yorker dreams of winning a World Series for only the second time into winter hibernation. Makes you wonder. Will the Yankees ever catch up to those five World Series titles won by the Boston Red Sox in the first two decades of the 20th century?

Prohibition against the legal sale of alcohol is still the law of the land in 1927, but smugglers, bootleggers, speakeasys, and home delivery services busily keep America’s thirst for a certain mind-altering substance quenched with great abandonment of moderation. Babe Ruth is one of the earliest supporters of illegal alcohol supply services in the winter of 1927 and he does what he can to keep the movement flowing.

Woolworth Bldg.: At 52 stories, the tallest building in New York, 1913-1930.

The Chrysler (1930) and Empire State (1931) Buildings are still only elegant dream salutes to skyscraping power in 1927. At this time,  the world’s first true scratcher of deep space blue remains the 52-story Woolworth Building, a position is has held as the world’s tallest building since 1913. New Yorkers are getting around town on street cars, subways, elevated trains, shoe leather, and that booming new brain baby of Mr. Henry Ford of Detroit, the Model A spontaneous combustion engine motor car. People smoke cigarettes, cigars, and pipes liked chimneys, and so do the dense belching industrial fire stacks of early 20th century American manufacturing, heating, and waste disposal by incineration. The air is bad, but the money is good, and the people are busy spending time, money, and energy on what makes them feel good – as opposed to exploring questions of what is good for them.

Nobody in New York worries about running out of money, oil, alcohol, nicotine, or good times. These are the 1920s’s, our apparently non-stop celebration of America’s successful venture into the war that ended all wars. The word “rehabilitation” has yet to be invented, but there is some talk of America’s need for moral “reformation.” To that notion, most New York  urbanites are saying, “”23 skidoo to you and the horse you rode in on. – Just take me out to the ballgame, but, since its wintertime, and not yet baseball season, a speakeasy will do.”

On March 1, 1927, a little boy by the name of Harry Belafonte is born in Harlem. Wonder if we shall ever hear from him again?

On March 2, 1927, Babe Ruth becomes the highest paid player in the history of baseball when he signs a 1927 contract with the New York Yankees to play for $70,000 over the course of a mere single season. Wonder again. What can the Bambino possibly do in 1927 to justify that kind of money? Herb Pennock will be the next highest paid Yankee in 1927, and he stands to make only $17,500 on the season.

On March 5, 1927, Notre Dame defeats Creighton, 31-17, to finish the 1926-1927 college basketball season with a record of 19 wins against only one loss. Fourteen years later, the Helms Athletic Foundation will cast a vote that names Notre Dame as the mythical National Champions of College Basketball for the 1926-1927 season.

On March 9, 1927, in Germany, the Bavarian government lifts a two-year ban on public speeches by minor political dissent Adolph Hitler. The matter is so small that it barely finds its way into the footnotes of new German history.

On March 10, 1927, Zenith becomes the first company to obtain an RCA license for the manufacture of home radios. Crosley will follow Zenith by obtaining a competitive license on March 18, 1927. Meanwhile, deep in the labs of radio science, rumor has it that RCA is also working on a newer, even more incredible communications device. If it works, this thing they are calling “television” will be able to bring “radio with pictures” into our homes someday.

On March 11, 1927, Samuel Roxy Rothafel opens the magnificent 5,920-seat capacity Roxy Theatre in Manhattan. The Roxy is the largest, most beautiful, and most comfortable movie palace in the world. With sound coming forth in the form of talking motion pictures, life cannot get much better than this.

It’s 1927. And life is good. And a whole lot of fun.


Photo Note: The Babe Ruth cookie jar used in the column’s pictorial probably avoided paying an MLB licensing fee by not crossing the “NY” on his cap. As far as I know, Babe always wore the famous combined “NY” of Yankee logo fame, even though the earliest days of the New York AL franchise did sport caps with the kind of “NL” that Babe wears here. While attempting to research this uniform question further, I did stumble onto a fact I never knew: Babe Ruth never wore a pinstripe jersey that also contained the famous “NY” logo on the heart-side breast plate. It was on his hat, but nowhere else. The plain pinstripe Yankee jersey with no initials was the Yankee home uniform until after Babe Ruth was out of the game.

Is Andy Pettitte Done?

January 17, 2011

Milo Hamilton Interviews Andy Pettitte, some time during his Astros sidebar days.

Spring training 2011 is coming on like the dawn, but General Manager Brian Cashman of the New York Yankees is once more on hold for a decision from star lefty pitcher Andy Pettitte of Deer Park, Texas. The 6’5″ greatest winning pitcher in Yankees post-season play is again saying he may retire to be closer to his family and, this time, it sounds as though he may actually mean it. It could still turn out to be a way to avoid the monotony of spring training with a late signing, but we shall have to wait and see. Quit now or keep it up, the man has performed pretty darn well through 2010, no matter what happens next.

Over the course of sixteen seasons (1995-2010), Andy Pettitte has fired a regular season career mark of 240 wins against only 138 losses, with an ERA of 3.88 and 2,251 strikeouts. Although he has registered only two 20-win seasons, Andy has been consistently in the high to mid teen range on season wins over the course of things. Over the long playoff haul with numerous winners, even during his three Thomas Wolfe-ian Houston sidebar/sidetrack seasons as an Astros (2004-2007), Pettitte compiled a wonderful record of 19 wins, 10 losses, and an ERA of 3.83. in his (count ’em) eight World Series appearances, Andy Pettitte has registered a winning mark of 5 wins against 44 losses with a 4.08 ERA.

Along the way, Pettitte also has pitched in three All Star Games (1996, 2001, 2010),

Sadly, Andy Pettitte is a Houston area guy who wanted to come home when he signed with the Astros in 2004, after nine seasons in the The Bronx. It almost worked out. Then (and here’s where we only have public information to go by), after three years as an Astro, Andy couldn’t get more than a one-year contract offer from Houston at another of those times he was supposedly thinking about retirement, That changed when his old Yankee club came back to him with a two-year offer at better money to return to New York.

In the four seasons he’s marked into Yankee Career II (2007-2010), Pettitte has chalked up another 54 wins. Do you think the Astros might have been able to use that “54” productivity over the same course in time? Oh well. It wasn’t to be.

My memory of Andy Pettitte as an Astro will always be framed by the belief that he really wanted to be here. That isn’t true of every ballplayer who ends up with your club, nor is it always important, except in the sense that caring makes bonding and long haul commitments easier to generate. Sometimes, opportunity alone is the main attraction to signing with a club. Opportunity and matching performance can get it done in the short run of a brief contract for most players – and the same formula may even work for a few guys, long-term. It’s just undermining to the interests of a player who wants long-term commitment when he feels the club is only interested in him short-term at a cut-rate price.

I cannot help but feel that Andy Pettitte took the Astros’ one-year, low ball salary offer as a sign of disinterest back in 2007 – and that he then took the Yankees’ two-year, bigger bucks offer as a sign of come home to New York, where you are really wanted. – What else are we to think? Andy took the Bronx bucks.

I do think Andy really felt he was home for good during the time he actually played for the Astros. My signature memory of Andy Pettitte as an Astro came about while he sitting in the dugout. I’ll never forget the look on his face when Albert Pujols of the Cardinals hit that infamous bomb off Brad Lidge in Game Five of the 2005 NLCS game at Minute Maid Park. Andy was sitting on the home club bench when it happened – and as the camera zeroed in on his face for a closeup. In the real-time that the Pujols homer was happening, we got to see this unfolding expression on Andy’s face: First, the eyes get really big as the face drops to an open-mouthed, slack-jawed position. Then the lips start moving, ever so slowly, but the un-hearable words they speak are unmistakable: “OH. MY. GOD.”

As in all things over those three years (2004-2006), Andy Pettitte’s Pujols reaction was pure Astro. He had come home to play, but like Nolan Ryan before him, it wouldn’t be possible for Andy to stay forever. And he won’t be back as a player because, as everyone either already knows, or soon enough gets to find out: You can’t go home again.

That’s life.

Post-Season Career Pitching Leaders

October 12, 2010


Andy Pettitte's 19 Post-Season Wins Leads Pack!


The fact that active New York Yankees lead the field in career post-season pitching wins and best earned run average should come as no small surprise. Andy Pettitte’s 19 career wins through today, 10/12/10, is now 4 better than John Smoltz with room to grow as the Yankees wait on the winner of this evening’s game between Tampa Bay and Texas to see who they will be facing in the 2010 ALCS. Either way, Andy is virtually guaranteed a shot at becoming the first “20-game winner” in post-season career total win history.

Except for one contaminating win by Pettitte  as a Houston Astro int 2005 NLDS, Andy’s career win record is all the rest – pure Yankee in its achievement alloy. Some feel that Andy Pettitte may be pitching himself into serious Hall of Fame consideration by his longevity success in the post-season, but it’s hard for me to see how he could get there and pass over several peers and one particular predecessor who built comparable or better records on the season stat career level.

Pettitte has 240 career regular season wins through 2010. Retirees Greg Maddux (355 wins), Roger Clemens (254 ip), Tom Glavine (305 wins), Randy Johnson (303 wins), Tommy John (288 wins), Bert Blyleven (287 wins), Jim Kaat (283 wins), Mike Mussina (270 wins), Jamie Moyer (267 wins), Jim McCormick (265 wins), Gus Weyhing (264 wins), Jack Morris (254 wins), Jack Quinn (247 wins), Dennis Martinez (245 wins), and Jack Powell (245 wins) are the others not currently in the Hall of Fame who have more career regular season wins than Andy Pettitte. (The last time anyone poked him with a stick, Jamie Moyers also remained an active player.)

Making a Hall of Fame case for Andy Pettitte above most of these others would be a long shot in my book. I’m still unhappy that Bert Blyleven has been passed over as long he so far has.

At any rate, the career leaders in post-season wins and lowest post-season ERA are as follows:


1. Andy Pettitte (19 wins in 256.0 ip)

2. John Smoltz (15 wins in 209 ip)

3. Tom Glavine (14 wins in 218.1 ip)

4. Roger Clemens (12 wins in 199.0 ip)

5t. Greg Maddux (11 wins in 198.0 ip)

5t. Curt Schilling (11 wins in 133.1 ip)

7t. Whitey Ford (10 wins in 146.0 ip)

7t. Dave Stewart (10 wins in 133.0 ip)

7t. David Wells (10 wins in 125 ip)

10t. Catfish Hunter (9 wins in 132.1 ip)

10t. Orlando Hernandez (9 wins in 106 ip)


Mariano Rivera's 0.72 ERA may fall lower very soon!



1. Mariano Rivera (0.72 ERA in 136.2 ip)

2. Harry Brecheen (0.83 ERA in 32.2 ip)

3. Babe Ruth (0.87 ERA in 31.0 ip)

4. Sherry Smith (0.89 ERA in 30.1 ip)

5. Sandy Koufax (0.95 ERA in 57.0 ip)

6. Christy Mathewson (0.97 ERA in 101.2 ip)

7. Monte Pearson (1.01 ERA in 35.2 ip)

8. Blue Moon Odom (1.13 ERA in 39.2 ip)

9. Eddie Plank (1.32 ERA in 54.2 ip)

10. Bill Hallahan (1.36 ERA in 39.2 ip)

The fact that post-season leadership in both categories is controlled by active members of the current New York Yankee pitching staff should come as no small surprise. The better you are, no more you win, the more chances you get to even see the post-season. I know it doesn’t always work out that way, but it seems to work that way in The Bronx more often than it does anyplace else – and that winning history goes all the way back to Col. Jacob Ruppert, the early 20th century owner of the New York Yankees who put up the money and attitude that made “The House That Ruth Built” even possible in the first place. One of his legacies is that the record books are now crowded in 2010 with the accomplishments of Yankee players over time.

Like ’em or not, the “Damn Yankees” understand championship totals on a whole other higher level from everyone else. While we hold on to the hope for “one in Houston someday,” the Yankees are looking for another one, possibly as early as November 2010.

So, when we look at the individual accomplishments of both Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera in the post-season, we are forced to remember too that winners produce championships – and championship teams produce record-breakers and holders.

We don’t have to be as big as New York to succeed in Houston, but our vision and our planning needs to be every ounce and inch as large as the state of mind and action that has placed these two active Yankee pitchers on the leader board as mere by-products of their Yankee team success.

Nobody’s Perfect, But …

July 22, 2010

His Error in '21 Series Killed the Yankees.

Fair or not, most people today remember Bill Buckner for the ball that rolled between his legs in the 1986 World Series while he was playing first base for the Boston Red Sox. The error in Game Six allowed the New York Mets to win Game Six and then take the Series in Game Seven after all hope had seen lost. I’d be willing to bet that many people remember the Buckner play incorrectly as the last the play of the Series too, but that’s how the brain rearranges disaster over time.  It always cartoons it to a worse degree.

“My drunk husband not only left me without any money, doctor, but he punched out my cat and ran over my mother as he was backing out of the driveway at fifty miles an hour! – Well, maybe it wasn’t quite all that bad, nor all his fault, but that’s how it still feels to me.”

Bill Buckner wasn’t the first man in baseball to have his whole career tagged with a single disappointing play, nor is he likely to be the last. In fact, life itself plays out that way. It doesn’t matter how much good you’ve done, if you do something outrageously negative or scandalous, and it comes to light, as these things most often do, that is what the world is going to remember about you when your name comes up. Got that one, Mel Gibson?

Early 2oth century shortstop Roger Peckinpaugh had one of those Bucknerian moments in the 1921 World Series as a player for the New York Yankees. It was the first Yankee trip to a World Series and the Babe Ruth-led club had faced off against the more established Giants of feisty manager John McGraw in the first great “Battle of New York” for supremacy in the baseball world.

The best five games won of nine series had been a tough fight. An injury and elbow infection to Babe Ruth had mostly robbed the Yankees of their greatest weapon and the Giants’ superior pitching depth was beginning to turn the tide.

Since both clubs still shared the Polo Grounds as a home field in 1921, all they did each was trade dugouts and home team advantage status on a daily basis – with no off-days for unnecessary travel.

The Yankees started as the visitors, but quickly rocked the Giants by taking the first two game by the identical scores of 3-0. Carl Mays went the distance in Game One, surrendering only five hits, but 22-year old rookie Waite Hoyt matched that dominance of the McGraws in Game Two, giving up on only two hits.

The Yankees led the Series, two games to none.

Games Three saw the Giants explode like a baseball bomb against Yankee hurler Bob Shawkey and his no-relief bullpen buddies as they pounded out 20 hits in a 13-5 romp, following a quick recovery from an early Yankee lead of 4-0. Fred Toney started for the Giants, but yielded early to Jesse Barnes for the coast to victory. As  a Local side note, Franks “Pancho” Snyder went 4 for 5 in this game as the Giants’ catcher, Seven years later, Snyder would manage the 1928 Houston Buffs to the Texas League and Dixie Series championships in the first year of Buff Stadium.

Phil Douglas pitched the Giants even in Game Four, 4-2. Carl Mays started again for the Yankees because manager Miller Huggins had little confidence in his starters beyond Mays and Hoyt. Mays, the same guy who accidentally killed Cleveland shortstop Ray Chapman in 1920 with an inside pitch, had a another good game, but the three runs he gave up in the eighth did him in.

After four game, the Series was tied at two wins each for the Yankees and Giants.

Game Five saw Waite Hoyt come back and take his second victory over the Giants and their starter, Art Nehf. The Giants only run was unearned, giving Hoyt an 18-inning ERA of 0.00 and the Yankees a 3-2 Series lead.

And then the worm turned.

With Babe Ruth now out with a life-threatening elbow infection in those pre-antibiotic “good old days,”  Jesse Barnes relieved starter Fred Toney for the Giants again and pitched the McGraws to an 8-5 win over the Yankees and lefty Harry Harper and Company. The Series again was tied at 3-3.

Carl Mays of the Yankees squared off again against Phil Douglas of the Giants in Game Seven. Both men pitched beautifully, but clumsy thinking in the field and a seventh inning error in the field by Yankee second baseman Aaron Ward gave the Giants an unearned run that stood up as the deciding tally in a 2-1 Giants victory. The Giants now led for the first time in games, 4-3, and needed only one more win to take it all.

Roger Peckinpaugh Made It Back to the Series with Washington in 1924-25.

The “visiting” Giants sent Art Nehf out there in Game Eight to face Waite Hoyt and the “home team” Yankees in Game Eight and, once more, both men pitched beautifully in each going the distance. Nehf gave up six hits; Hoyt only 4. Neither man surrendered an earned run, but Hoyt suffered the loss when a first inning error by Yankee shortstop Roger Peckinpaugh allowed a tally that held up as the only run of the game.

The Giants won the 1921 World Series, 5 games to 3. Pitcher Waite Hoyt tied Christy Mathewson’s 1905 record for a 0.00 ERA over 27 innings pitched, but mistakes in the field kept him from sharing Deep Six’s victory lap.

Hoyt must share the blame, even though much of history prefers to put it all on Peckinpaugh.

Hoyt had started Game Eight by walking Dave Bancroft and Ross Youngs. Then, with two outs,  George Kelly hit a routine grounder to shortstop Peckinpaugh for what should have been an easy third out play. As things work out sometimes, Roger muffed it. The ball deflected through his legs into short left field. Then, according to several media witnesses, Peckinpaugh appeared to nonchalantly track it down for a play at the plate that came far too late to get the speeding Bancroft, who had been running from second.

It was only one run in the top of the first, but it held up as the one score in the game and the deciding blow in the World Series.

Peckinpaugh was inconsolable at game’s end over his mistake, perhaps, making it even easier for the press and Yankee fans to pile it all on his back. Shortly thereafter, the Yankees dealt him away to the Red Sox with others in exchange for shortstop Everett Scott and others. Peckinpaugh later got another shot at the Giants as a member of  the 1924 Washington Nationals and this time he played for the winners of a seven-game series. The following season, Peckinpaugh’s 1925 Nats lost a seven-game series to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

What goes around, comes around. Continuously. Roger Peckinpaugh finally made peace with himself over Game Eight of the ’21 World Series. There’s redemption and peace for Bill Buckner too somewhere down the line – and maybe it’s already happened on some quieter plane that none of us could even know about. I certainly hope it has. I always liked Buckner.

On another plane of its importance to baseball history, and for a most worthwhile read on the times and  significance of the 1921 baseball season, pick up a copy of “1921: The Yankees, The Giants, & The Battle for Baseball Supremacy in New York” by Lyle Spatz and Steve Steinberg.

If you care about history, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

1951: New York Yankees 15 – Houston Buffs 9.

July 15, 2010

Sorry to be getting this story to you so late. It’s actually my third attempt. The first time I wrote it up back in 2003, it became part of the book I did with the late Buff slugging star Jerry Witte, “A Kid rom St. Louis” in slightly different form. Today’s version is pretty much of a reprint on the column I wrote over at ChronCom, the Houston Chronicle website, on July 7, 2008.

What stirred to repeat it here was the news that longtime Yankee Stadium public address announcer Bob Sheppard has died at age 99. Sheppard had worked the Yankee Stadium games from 1951 through 2006, becoming the franchise’s iconic voice over the process of time.

Thanks to my dad, I got to see the Yankee club that started Sheppard’s career in New York – and that 1951 team included Joe DiMaggio in his last season and Mickey Mantle in his first. And I got to see them both together in the same outfield at Buff Stadium, even getting to stand there on that field with them behind the spillover spectator ropes as a kid fan on the first standing room row.

How blessed can a lucky kid from the East End have been, so, in honor of Sheppard, my father, and the memory of a lifetime, here it is again, one more time.

The Houston Post, April 9, 1951

The date was April 8, 1951. It was a typically hot and humid 3:00 PM Sunday afternoon baseball game at Buff Stadium. Because of the very special circumstances, my dad had driven 13 year old me, my 9 year old little brother John, and my 13 year old Pecan Park best friend Billy Sanders to a pre-season exhibition game at the old ballpark.

The New York Yankees were coming through town to play the Houston Buffs in a single game. The great Joe DiMaggio was set to play center field for the Yankees, with 18-year old rookie spring training phenom Mickey Mantle playing right fieldI. Everybody in Houston wanted to see this game. And it would turn out to be a game and afternoon that all of us would remember forever.

Oh my! I only wish that I had been able to take my Kodak Brownie camera with me to that special game on that particular day, but I learned too late that I had no more film and, with Dad springing for the tickets, I knew better than to ask him for extra money as an advance on my allowance – just for film. Dad had his own ideas about what was important and he didn’t suffer well from requests that seemed extravagant. As a result, 57 years later, you will just have to settle here for pictures that still exist vividly in my mind as best I am to develop them for you in words.

We left for the game only about forty-five minutes prior to its scheduled start. That fact alone bothered me. Since we didn’t have tickets, I worried that we might not be able to get into the ballpark due to an almost certain sellout. Anxiety didn’t matter. Dad already had settled into his “don’t worry about it” mode and there was nothing left for me to do but keep my fingers crossed and pray. Yes, I prayed about stuff like this when I was 13.

When we reached the Cullen Boulevard exit going north up the Gulf Freeway from the southeast, our red 1950 Studebaker immediately oozed into bumper-to-bumper traffic and slowed to an inch-by-inch pace over the last 500 feet of street-trekking into the Buff Stadium parking lot.

“Oh, My God!” I muttered from the back seat.

“Don’t get the Lord involved in this one!” Dad affirmed, as he lit another Camel and began to bongo the steering wheel with his right hand.

I didn’t say it, but I thought it: “If we had gotten the Lord involved earlier, we wouldn’t be going through this and left the house earlier, and with my Kodak Brownie camera already loaded with film!”

By the time we reached the ticket gate, we already knew that we would be lucky if the SRO tickets were still available. Buff Stadium held 11,000-seated tickets, but club president Allen Russell was already roping off about twenty feet from the outfield in left and right field. By taking that measure and just making every ball that flew or rolled into the outfield SRO section a ground rule double, Russell would be able to get an extra 2,500 to 3,000 fans into the ballpark for the big game.

Once Dad bought our tickets for the left field crowd, I didn’t mind at all. I knew that we now had a chance to fight for a front-of-the-rope position deep as possible toward center field – and very near the great Joe DiMaggio.

It happened. We did it. We battled for four spots in left center on the front rope line and won. To our left during the game, the great Joe D. was often no more than fifty feet away. Once he even came over and, running toward us, he caught a fly ball directly in front of us. In my mind I whispered, “Nice catch, Joe!”, but the actual words could not escape my lips. I can still hear the sound of his footsteps as his charge came closer and closer. For whatever reason, I wasn’t worried about him crashing into us. And he didn’t.

I could squint into the further distance and see the young Mickey Mantle in right field. He looked so very young because he was. He was only five years older than my friend Billy and me. I remember thinking, “Wow! In five years, I could be either playing pro baseball too or else, serving with the army in Korea.”

Neither happened. I never had the talent of a Mickey Mantle. And they settled the Korean War before I could get there.

Once in a while during the game, when the Yankees were in the field, I would close my right eye to block out the sight of Yankee left fielder Gene Woodling. As I did, it was to help my fantasy that it was I, not Woodling, playing left field for the Yankees. What an outfield that was on April 8, 1951: Mantle in right; DiMaggio in center; and McCurdy in left!

In my dreams, small things never occurred to me.

The game itself did not disappoint, except for the fact that none of my Yankee adulation had removed my first loyalty to the Buffs. The Buffs jumped on the Yankees early, but couldn’t hold them for the full nine innings.

Going into the 9th, the Yankees led, 13-6, paced by Mickey Mantle’s 5th inning, 3-run homer over our heads and over the double-deck fence in left center that rose behind us. 2-run homers earlier by both Russell Rac and Frank Shofner had not been enough to keep the Buffs in contention.

Then something happened in the 9th that may have never occurred before or since. I know the facts of this story from my interviews with former Buffs slugger Jerry Witte, when we were working on his biography “A Kid From St. Louis” a few years ago.

Jerry Witte had been asking Joe DiMaggio all day for a souvenir bat. Nothing happened until the top of the 9th, when Joltin’ Joe crashed a homer of his own to left with one man on base. As the game moved to the bottom of the 9th with the Yankees now leading 15-6, DiMaggio sent his home run bat over by way of a bat boy as his gift to Jerry Witte.

When Jerry Witte came to bat against veteran hurler Max Peterson with two Buffs on base in the bottom of the 9th, he decided on impulse to use the DiMaggio bat for his last time up against the Yankees.

Lo and behold! Deploying the same bat that Joe D. had used to crank a homer in the top half of the 9th, Jerry Witte unloaded a “Fair Maid Bakery” blast to center field in the bottom of the 9th to make the final score in the game New York Yankees 15 – Houston Buffs 9!

As Witte trotted home at the end of his home run pace, he says he stole a look for DiMaggio in the Yankees first base dugout. He said that DiMaggio was falling all over himself with laughter for having supplied Witte with his weapon of last productive resort.

After the game. Jerry Witte got Joe DiMaggio to sign the bat for him. He still owned the bat at the time of his death in 2002. If there was ever another instance in organized baseball of two players from opposite teams both homering in the 9th, or any other inning, of the same game, using the same bat, I’ve never heard of it.

I will always be grateful to my Dad for taking us to the biggest game in my childhood memory. I’m also glad that he didn’t buy our tickets in advance. Had he done so, we would have missed out on our up close and personal experience in the outfield with the great Joe DiMaggio on a hot April day in Houston back in 1951.

Things do have a way of working out for the best. Sometimes.

Book Review: “1921”

June 28, 2010

When I ordered “1921” by Lyle Spatz and Steve Steinberg, my first motives were tied to my curiosity about how the book handled the relationship between New York Giants Manager John McGraw and old-time family friend of my father, Curt Walker. I had always heard that McGraw thought highly of Walker. When I grew old enough, I wondered why McGraw had dealt a talented young guy like Curt Walker away to the Phillies, even if it were for Irish Meusel.

I learned the answer to that one and much more. What a great read this book turned out to be.

“1921” is about a great transitional year in baseball history, one that reflects consciously on those times as a greater symbol of all the change going on in American culture at the same time. It was a battle between the old Giants of John McGraw and the young Yankees of Babe Ruth for the heart of New York; it was a period of struggle for baseball’s credibility with the fans over the harm done by the Chicago Black Sox scandal; and it was a death rattle battle between the old small-ball kings of the dead ball era and the power-game circus that had been awakened by the bat of George Herman “Babe” Ruth.

1921 also was the year following the season that baseball ostensibly introduced a new livelier ball. Some still argue that nothing along those lines actually happened, but that doesn’t alter the fact that the “old apple” was now leaving the yard at a record pace by 1921, and largely off the bat of a former foster kid from St. Mary’s School in Baltimore. Add to the performance changes the fact that, by 1921, baseball and its major league umpires had really clamped down upon trick pitch artists and the use of scuffed baseballs in big league games. In brief, everything was happening on the side of making things better for hitters and worse for pitchers.

The competition between the Giants and Yankees also cranked up higher due to the fact the two clubs used the same Polo Grounds venue for their home field. When the tenant Yankees began to out-draw the landlord Giants, the latter finally gave the former their eviction notice and the race was on for the American Leaguers to build a new home. Using the hope that fed on the new troughs of income that grew from the feats of the Babe, the Yankees acquired some reasonably priced land just across the East River in the Bronx from the Polo Grounds. Then they started working on the place that will always be remembered as “The House That Ruth Built,” the original Yankee Stadium. The new just-across-the-bridge ballpark would be ready for the Yankees’ start of the 1923 season.

It didn’t matter what the Giants did. The Jazz Age light was lit in 1921 and the Prohibition Era Party boys, the power-bound New York Yankees, were leading the way to a new kind of rebellious national fascination with sensory excess and athletic achievement by the talented few. The fact that few of the flapper-era Yankees lived to see a ripe old age is not too surprising to those who study such things in this more health-conscious, actuarial age of the early 21st century. Dr. Oz would have gone nuts as the team physician for the 1921-29 Yankees.

“1921” pays good reference attention to what was going on in America during this great season and the authors do a fine job of giving us a good detail track on how game outcomes, injuries, deals, and personnel changes effected the pennant races. Casey Stengel joined the Giants in a deal with the Pirates, putting him in a position to play against the very club that will years later elevate him to the Hall of Fame as their manager.

I also learned that McGraw acquired the rookie Curt Walker from the same Georgia minor league club that launched Ty Cobb to the majors – and that Curt came with scouting recommendations that placed him ahead of Cobb at the same early stage of development.

Walker came to the Giants late in the 1920 season from Augusta of the Class C Sally League for the purchase price of $7,000. Ty Cobb had been purchased from the same club by the Detroit Tigers in 1905 for $700.

In New York, Walker quickly earned McGraw’s praise as a complete young ballplayer as he did all things well while filling in for the injured future Hall of Fame right fielder, Ross Youngs, who, like Curt Walker, was another native Texas son.

McGraw finally traded Curt Walker and catcher Butch Henline to the Phillies in the early summer of 1921. He sent the boys there, along with $30,000 cash, in exchange for disgruntled Phillies outfield star Irish Meusel. Meusel was at the top of his game in 1921  and he went on to be a key factor in the success of the Giants that season. Curt Walker was a part of the “give something to get something” price that Meusel cost the Giants. That point is clear to me now.

The Giants would go on to defeat the Yankees in the 1921 World Series, but the Yankees would turn it around by taking the 1922 World Series for their first big win of all time. The next year, 1923, the Yankees moved to Yankee Stadium. You don’t need me to tell you what happened from there.

“1921” is a well-researched and well-written book. I give it my full recommendation as an important new work in the chronicles of baseball history.

Rick Cerone: Another Bronx Zoo Tale.

May 13, 2010

Rick Cerone: Another Bronx Zoo Tale.

If you have followed baseball for as long as I have, you will have sooner or later developed an interest in the careers of certain guys that never even come close to playing for your particular team. As an older-than-they-are Colt .45s/Astros fan, catcher Rick Cerone is such a guy in my books. Rick did play briefly for AAA Charleston of the International League in 1977, when that club was a farm team of the Astros, so, you could make the case that Cerone came close to Houston, but just didn’t get here.  I always liked him, anyway,  for his fiery spirit and ability – and for his willingness to stand up for himself. He simply didn’t take these positions of assertion in ways that might  help his job security during the latter stages of the Bronx Zoo era. And that’s putting it mildly.

Besides, standing up for yourself is not about job security. It is about self respect. It’s how you do it and with whom you do it that determines your fate on the job – and Rick was working in the “Bronx Zoo” when his major stands took place, More on that in a moment.

Born May 19, 1954 in Newark, New Jersey, Cerone was a natural cultural and personality fit for the latter-day 20th century New York Yankees, but he entered pro ball as the 7th pick in the 1975 1st round amateur draft out of Seton Hall University. It was the beginning of an 18-season big league career that included stops with the Indians (1975-76), the Blue Jays (1977-79), the Yankees (1st time, 1980-84), the Braves (1985), the Brewers (1986), the Yankees (2nd time, 1987), the Red Sox (1988-89), the Yankees (3rd time, 1990), the Mets (1991), and the Expos (1992).

For his career, Rick Cerone (BR/TR) (5’11”, 192 lbs.) batted .245 as a major leaguer. He slammed 59 career home runs and he fell two hits shy of 1,000 on the career hits list. Defensively, I always felt he called and played a pretty good and aggressive game too. He gunned down 37% of the attempted base stealers he saw and – as i saw it – he seemed able to fire up his pitching battery mates when the chips were on the line.

Unfortunately or not (or that’s just how it was), Rick Cerone had an anger flash point that got him in frequent trouble in the Bronx with people like owner George Steinbrenner and manager Billy Martin. Those guys had flash tempers too – and a lot more power over the answers to “What next?” any time a conflict broke out on the team.

His Mouth Over-Ran His Mind.

It wasn’t hard to do the math on conflict outcomes in the Bronx: (1) Owner Steinbrenner goes on a tirade in the Yankee clubhouse. Player Cerone responds with expletive laced comments on the boss’s weight and lack of playing experience. Cerone gets dealt away from the Yankees. (2) Manager Martin calls out catcher Cerone in his own fit of rage for calling pitches that the other club clobbers for game-winning hits. Cerone curses back and throws his equipment at the manager. Cerone gets dealt away from the Yankees (again).

A 2009 article by Matt Gagne of the New York Daily News detailing Cerone’s current attempts to get back into post-playing career work in baseball with somebody seems to bear out my earlier impressions of the old temper factor. I’m not sure if anything has developed for Rick since last summer, but the article does a pretty fair job of mapping the relationship hill that Cerone needs to climb to get his next chance in the game.

Here’s the link:



Cerone’s current problem finding new employment in baseball probably is best captured in this one statement he made for the Gagne article. About his current search for work in baseball broadcasting, Rick said: “I’ve sent out some resume tapes, but when you don’t get callbacks at all – when people you’ve worked with for years don’t have the decency to to call back, or email, or text – you know what, I don’t beg.”

You know what, Rick? If people fear your temper, they aren’t going to jump to hire you. False pride has to heal before any honest rebuilding can start – and your potential employers in baseball out there have to believe you’re on the right road before some of them maybe, just maybe,  become willing to give you another shot.

This isn’t about begging. It’s about stepping up – and owning up to your own behavior with someone who is willing to (maybe)  give you another opportunity. If I was hiring, Rick,  I would be willing to give you a chance because I think you possess a core passion for the game and a real understanding about the importance of loyalty as a result of these experiences that money alone can never buy. It’s just up to you to get that message across to real potential employers who may find it easier to look for someone who’s background is less passionate, but also less “colorful.”

Heck. If he can handle it. I’d rather hire Rick Cerone any day of the week. If I’m your potential employer, Rick, (again) it’s up to you to show me why I should take the risk of trusting you.

That’s it, except for one more thought: Good Luck!

Lefty Gomez’s Biggest Day!

February 3, 2010

189 Wins, 102 Losses, 3.34 ERA; Inducted into the HOF in 1972.

As a tall and gangly built  left-handed flame-thrower, Lefty Gomez was one of those rarified pitchers who helped the New York Yankees bridge their way from the Babe Ruth to the Joe DiMaggio eras. He toiled for the Yankees from 1930 through 1942 and then wrapped up his career with the 1943 Washington Senators. Over his career, he was selected to the first American League All Star Team and also was named to seven all-star clubs in seven consecutive years from 1933 to 1939. As a Yankee, he got to taste the sweet joy of playing for five World Series Champions in 1932, 1936, 1937, 1938, and 1939.

Lefty was also a true character who loved the company of fellow Yankees who also embraced the gliiter and brew of the night life action and still managed to override the effects of bad habits with their superior talent the next day at the ballpark. Lefty joked that he was “like” the old whiskey soaker who could never quite recall his wife’s final instructions before he left the house for a night on the town with the boys.

“I could never remember if she said ‘have one drink and be home by 12 – or 12 drinks and be home by 1,'” Lefty quipped.

Gomez also had the the same glib sense of humor  for what happened on the field. Once, in a late afternoon game in which Bob Feller of the Cleveland Indians was striking out Yankees left and right. Lefty came to bat against Rapid Robert as the sun was going down. Before Lefty stepped in to hit, he lit a match in the batter’s box and stared out at Feller. The umpire asked if Lefty was hoping the match would help him see where the ball was crossing the plate. “Nope,” Lefty answered, “I’m just hoping the match helps Feller see where  I am!” Then, once the laughter subsided and the match burned out, Gomez stood there in the gathering darkness of the batter’s box and struck out like nearly everyone else before him.

Lefty Gomez says his biggest day in baseball occurred in Game Two of the 1932 World Series at Yankee stadium in which he scattered nine hits to defeat the Chicago Cubs, 5-2, in a complete game victory. Lefty had far better, more artistic wins  over time, but he chose this special-for-the-team game of  September 29, 1932, for what it was – his first first World Series victory at age 23. He got no second chance to pitch in ’32 because the Yankees needed only four games to dispose of the Cubs, That was also the Series in which Babe Ruth supposedly “called his shot” prior to a game-winning homer to center at Wrigley Field.

Lefty Gomez kept his quick wit for the rest of his life. He left us on February 17, 1980 at the age of 80.  Thanks for being one of the bright lights of the game, Lefty Gomez. You will always be one of those guys I wish I’d been privilieged to have watched play in person.