Posts Tagged ‘New York Yankees’

THE TOY CANNON: The Life and Baseball Times of Jimmy Wynn.

December 5, 2009

Hello, everybody! It’s good being back here on the blog site after an absence of about a week. The publication deadline took me away for awhile had everything to do with a project very dear to my heart. Allow me to explain.

About two weeks ago, former Houston Astro slugger Jimmy Wynn and I learned that the book he and I had been working on about his baseball and personal life story had been picked up for publication by McFarland Company, the largest publisher of baseball biographies in the country. The good news simply left me with some last minute manuscript editorial barbering and detail work to perform that took priority over all other projects in the short term. That work wrapped up yesterday when I tromped on out through the snow and FedExed all our submisson materials to the publisher. What a great sense of relief that turned out to be.

The working book title is identical to the title of this blog article, but could change between now and our release date. We missed the McFarland dance card for a spring list release, but “The Toy Cannon” will be available for purchase through bookstores and Internet sites like Amazon.Com some time between July and December 2010. We’re hoping for a publication near the 201o All Star Game.

All I can tell you for now is that working with Jimmy Wynn on his life story turned out to be the labor joy of my life. We were already friends, but this project simply drew us closer. The guy was an amazing ballplayer, alright, but he’s an even more incredible human being. Jimmy doesn’t allow an ounce of ego fat to get in the way of any life lesson he’s needed to learn for the sake of his own survival and spiritual growth. And it will all be right there on the approximate 300 pages of this book to soon be.

Jimmy and I did the book with him telling his story in the first person over numerous hours of taped interview sessions. The story begins in the snow of his Cincinnati childhood and it moves all the way through his sometimes misadventurous big league playing days and finally forward to this incredible moment today in his late-in-life second career as an Astros community services representative and blossoming FOX Network baseball television analyst.

Along the way, Jimmy doesn’t play dodgeball with the consequences that arose from certain personal experiences, nor does he miss the wisdom that only comes strongly from enrollment time in the school of hard knocks. Those lessons carried forward as the invisible binding of  this work. To put it in plain and simple terms:  This book is not just about the yearly stats of “The Toy Cannon;” it is eventually and inevitably about the soaring wisdom and soul of a man named Jimmy Wynn.

As we get closer to knowing the actual release date of the book, I will keep you informed. In the very sweet and lovely meanwhile, I have to say that it’s good to be back in the land of The Pecan Park Eagle. I’ll try not to spam you too much, but I won’t make any promises.

Have a nice weekend – and try not to eat too much as you’re watching all the conference championship NCAA college football games that are unfolding before our sports-weary eyes this very cold Saturday!

The Phold of ’64!

November 22, 2009

It’s not a new story. It’s also not one that those us who were around in those days will ever forget. The 1964 Philadelphia Phillies had the world on a string late in the season. With 12 games to go, they held a 6 1/2 game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals and the Cincinnati Reds and they were moving into a seven-game home stand that surely would allow them to finish the job and prepare for the World Series, most probably against the New York Yankees. It was to be the year that the Phillies got back at the Yankees for that four-game sweep in the 1950 World Series.

It was not to be. Something happened to turn destiny on its tail and send it the other way, shooting up the halls of heartache in eastern Pennsylvania and forever altering the course of baseball history.

The easiest, incomplete way to summarize it is simple. Manager Gene Mauch made a fatal decision going into the seven-game home stand to basically go with a two-man rotation the rest of the way. As a result, starters Jim Bunning and Chris Short got the nod to start 7 of the next 10 games, 6 of which resulted in starts on 2 days rest. The Phillies lost all ten games while the Cardinals and Reds both heated up.

The Phillies finally won their last two games of the season, but that only left them tied with Cincinnati for 2nd place. Philly fans had hoped for more. Didn’t happen. The Cardinals won on the last day of 1964, giving them a one-game championship advantage over Philadelphia and Cincinnati.

The “Philadelphia Phold” was complete. The New York Yankees-Philadelphia Phillies World Series Reunion would have to wait until 2009 while the ’64 St. Louis Cardinals renewed their 1926-1928, 1942-1943 World Series rivalry with the Bronx Bombers.

Because of The Phold, the Cardinals had a chance to beat the Yankees in a thrilling seven-game Series in 1964. The Cardinals win cost Yogi Berra his job as manager of the Yankees and handed it to Johnny Keane, the manager of the Miracle Cards, who himself was in line to be fired by St. Louis until his club pulled this incredible comeback and capture of the 1964 World Series Championship.

Who can ever know how far The Phold rippled? Maybe if the Phillies had made it to the 1964 World Series and lost to the Yankees, just maybe it would have been good enough for Mickey Mantle to retire then in contentment, sparing himself and the rest of us  those four extra final seasons (1965-68) that tore his career average down below .300 and exposed him to living decay as a ballplayer in the field.

Maybe this. Maybe that.

And who knows how the absence of The Phold might have affected the future careers of Yogi Berra, Johnny Keane, and Gene Mauch differently? When a team blows a 6 1/2 game lead with 12 games left to play, it simply changes everything for everybody for all time.

What’s impossible to recapture here is how it felt daily to watch this steady slide into ignominy that the Phillies made so desperately. Short of writing a whole book that awakens all the five senses, including special horror movie sound effects on the subject, the best a writer can hope for in this short space is to show you how the Phold Phound Philly over that dark period through a daily look at changes in the standings:

9/20/64: The Phillies (90-60) led the Cardinals (83-66) & the Reds (83-66) by 6.5 games with 12 games to go for the Phillies.

9/21/64: Reds 1 – Phillies 0; Cardinals idle.

Phillies (90-61) led the Reds (84-66)  by 5.5 games & the Cardinals (83-66) by 6 with 11 games to go for the Phillies.

9/22/64: Reds 9 – Phillies 2; Cardinals 2 – Mets 0.

Phillies (90-62) led the Reds (85-66) by 4.5 games & the Cardinals (84-66) by 5 games with 10 games to go for the Phillies.

9/23/64: Reds 6 – Phillies 4; Mets 2 – Cardinals 1.

Phillies (90-63) led the Reds (86-66) by 3.5 games & the Cardinals (84-67) by 5 games with 9 games to go for the Phillies.

9/24/64: Braves 5 – Phillies 3; Cardinals 4-4 – Pirates 2-0; Reds idle.

Phillies (90-64) led the Reds (86-66) by 3 games & the Cardinals (86-67) by 3.5 games with 8 games to go for the Phillies.

9/25/64: Braves 7 – Phillies 5; Reds 3-4 – Mets 0-1; Cardinals 5 – Pirates 3.

Phillies (90-65) led the Reds (88-66) by 1.5 games & the Cardinals (87-67) by 2.5 games with 7 games to go for the Phillies.

9/26/64: Braves 6 – Phillies 4; Reds 6 – Mets 1; Cardinals 6 – Pirates 3.

Phillies (90-66) led the Reds (89-66) by 0.5 games & the Cardinals (88-67) by 1.5 games with 6 games to go for the Phillies.

9/27/64: Braves 14 – Phillies 8; Reds 9-3 – Mets 1-1; Cardinals 5 – Pirates 0.

Reds (91-66) now led the Phillies (90-67) by 1 game & the Cardinals (89-67) by 1.5 games with 5 games to go for the Phillies.

9/28/64: Reds idle; Cardinals 5 – Phillies 1.

Reds (91-66) now led the Cardinals (90-67) by 1 game & the Phillies (90-68) by 1.5 games with 4 games to go for the Phillies.

9/29/64: Pirates 2 – Reds 0; Cardinals 4 – Phillies 2.

Cardinals (91-67) & the Reds (91-67) are now tied for 1st; the Phillies (90-69) now trail by 1.5 games with 3 games to go.

9/30/64: Cardinals 8 – Phillies 5; Pirates 1 – Reds 0.

Cardinals (92-67) now led the Reds (91-68) by 1 game & the Phillies (90-70) by 2.5 games with 2 games to go for the Phillies.

10/01/64: Cardinals & Phillies idle; Reds 5 – Pirates 4.

Cardinals (92-67) now led the Reds (92-68) by 1 game & the Phillies (90-70) by 2.5 games with 2 games to go for the Phillies.

10/02/64: Mets 1 – Cardinals 0; Phillies 4 – Reds 3.

Cardinals (92-68) now led the Reds (92-69) by 0.5 games & the Phillies (91-70) by 1.5 games with 1 game to go for the Phillies.

10/03/64: Mets 15 – Cardinals 5; Reds & Phillies idle.

Cardinals (92-69) now tied with the Reds (92-69) for 1st; the Phillies (91-70) are 1 game back with 1 game to go for all three contending clubs.

10/04/64: Cardinals 11 – Mets 5; Phillies 10 – Reds 0.

Cardinals (93-69) win the NL pennant by 1 game over the Reds (92-70) and Phillies (92-70).

The Phillies came back with a death rattle run in their last two games, but it was far too little and way too late. Forty-five years later, 1964 still hangs in my mind as the most exciting pennant race in personal memory. Some of you will understand exactly what I’m saying here, as will those fans outside Philadelphia who didn’t cut their throats in funereal sympathy for the Phillies.

The Yankees Are the Fast Lane!

November 6, 2009

babe & lou Speaking of the Yankees, the “27th Heaven” version gets their ticker tape parade down Broadway today as the rest of go through baseball withdrawal until spring.

Andy Pettitte, Derek Jeter, and Jorge Posada appeared together on David Letterman’s Show last night, giving the host a chance to lay one in there on Andy for going back to Houston for a while (2004-06). “Andy,” Letterman said, “I believe you left New York for a while to go home and work in a Dairy Queen. Isn’t that right?” Everyone, even Andy,  had a big laugh over that line, but then he answered, still sort of sheepishly: “That’s right, Dave, but at least while I was back there at the Dairy Queen, I got to go to another World Series.”

See there? That’s exactly one of the points I was hoping to make yesterday, all rolled up in a single object lesson: Our Houston Astros’ National League pennant of 2005 may have just been a big night at the Dairy Queen for big celebrities like David Letterman and Andy Pettitte, but it was a pretty big deal to those of us Houston rubes who waited nearly a half century to see it happen here for even once. Now the tally stretches even further through 2009. In 48 seasons of major league play (1962-2009), our Houston Colt .45s/Astros have made it to only one World Series. We’re still looking for our first World Series win – or even a game victory. The White Sox shut us out four games to none in 2005, remember?

The New York Yankees, on the other hand, got to the World Series for the first time in 1921, during their 18th opportunity of the games even being played. They lost that first one to the New York Giants, and again the next year to the same club. Once the Yankees tweeked the Giants, 4-2, in the 1923 World Series for their first  win on the big stage, things started to change. A rosary of rarely broken dynasties was being beaded for the future.

Four Years Later: The 1927 and 1928 Yankees put together back-to-back WS wins on the heels of a 1926 WS loss to the Cardinals. Ruth and Gehrig were the leaders of the pack.

Four Years Later: The 1932 Yankees return to win again as Babe Ruth calls his shot against the Cubs in Chicago.

Four Years Later: Starting in 1936, the first real dynasty begins behind Joe DiMaggio as New York wins four World Series titles in a row (1936-39).

Two Years Later: The Yankees take their first World Series title over the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1941, but then fall in the 1942 classic to the St. Louis Cardinals.

Two Years Later: The Yankees avenge their loss of the previous year, defeating the Cardinals in the 1943 games.

Four Years Later: The 1947 Yankees return to take another Series win over the Dodgers.

Two Years Later: The Stengel Dynasty hits town. The Yankees reel off five World Series titles in a row, from 1949-1953.

Three Years Later: After losing to the Dodgers in 1955, the Yankees return the universe to normal by recapturing the World Series championship from the Dodgers in 1956.

Two Years Later: The Yankees recapture the 1958 World Series from the Milwaukee Braves after losing it to the same club in 1957.

Three Years Later: The 1961 Maris-Mantle club blasts its way past the 1961 Reds after losing in seven to Bill Mazeroski and the Pirates in 1960. The Yankees also win again over the 1962 San Francisco Giants.

Fifteen Years Later: The 1977-78 Yankees pull out of the second  longest dry hole in their modern World Series history, defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers twice in back-to-back fashion. During this period, the Yankees had lost World Series contests in 1963, 1964, and 1976,

Eighteen Years Later: The big gulch finally ends when the 1996 Yankees beat the Atlanta Braves, four games to two. Along this neck of the journey, the Yanks made only one other World Series appearance, losing to the 1981 LA Dodgers in six.

Two Years Later: The Torre Boys return for three straight crowns over the 1998 Padres, the 1999 Braves, and the 2000 Mets.

Nine Years Later: The Yankees take the Phillies in six games as the world returns to normal, and fairly loaded in favor of the studs from New York City. This particular dry spell is marked by Yankee losses in the 2001 World Series to Arizona, and again in 2003 to Florida.

The whole point here again is numbers. Not only have the Yankees been to forty World Series and won twenty-seven, they don’t have to wait as long as most other teams to get another chance.

Wait? Long lines? No way! Once they got there that first time in 1921, 18 years has been tops on the dry spell run for the Yankees. Compare that to the Chicago Cubs. Their wait in line has now reached 102 years!

Why Many Fans Hate the Yankees!

November 5, 2009

The 27th Yankee Champions!

It’s part New York arrogance; part New York power; part listening to Frank Sinatra singing “New York, New York” after every Yankee home win; part watching Rudy Guiliani wearing that “NYFD/PD” cap to all the big games in honor of his own memory; part George Steinbrenner looking down from his suite with his arms folded under a grim quick-to-lash-out face; and frankly, it’s just a big part numbers. The reasons why many fans simply hate the Yankees is a subject we could hang with all day and still have plenty left open to talk about tomorrow.

The numbers side of it is big enough for us today as a toasty subject. Let’s consider a few takes on that side of things:

(1) The Yankees have now won 27 of their 40 World Series appearances.

(2) With 10 World Series wins, the St. Louis Cardinals are the only other club even in double digits.

(3) In the 105 World Series played since 1903. the Yankees have played in .38% of these events, winning .26% of all World Series played.

The numbers just go on from there to a point of total numbness. The Yankees are smart baseball people. They spend the most money on salaries and, possibly also on player development. They have the biggest ancillary system of other revenue streams from regional broadcasting and merchandise sales. They can afford adding any player they really want who becomes eligible to them through free agency. They produce the largest group of players who later become eligible for induction into the Hall of Fame at Cooperstown simply on the force of their sheer numbers with quality,

I don’t see another  franchise ever overcoming the place that the New York Yankees have established for themselves in baseball. And that call is right in there with the prediction that we”l never see  a second moon in the sky. It’s so obvious. Anyone else who wins the World Series has to do it in spite of the Yankees. They will not get there by overcoming the Yankees for very long.

Some things in life aren’t fair. They just are the way they are. The New York Yankees fit that description to a tee. Hate ’em if you choose. Beat ’em only if you try really smart and hard – and also happen to get lucky every once in a while.

Congratulations from Houston, New York. We”ll see you down the road one of these days. And we won’t roll over or run away when you come into sight. You’ll get our best Astros shot!

Murderers’ Row: The ’27 Yankees.

October 15, 2009

Yankees 27 003

Above (Left  to Right): Miller Huggins, Manager; (1) Earle Combs, CF; (2) Mark Koenig, SS; (3) Babe Ruth, RF; (4) Lou Gehrig, 1B;  (5) Bob Meusel, LF; (6) Tony Lazzeri, 2B; (7) Joe Dugan,  3B; (8) Pat Collins, C; Herb Pennock, P.

In my mind, at least, they are the unarguably most legendary, fabled, iconic, colorful, and especially productive baseball team in all of major league history. Whether you like the New York Yankees or not, it’s hard to argue that any team anywhere ever bore more lustre and bluster than the 1927 version of the Bronx Bombers because, simply put, the team dubbed rightly so as Murderers’ Row is the only one that ever featured an out of this world one-of-a-kind slugger in his prime named George Herman “Babe” Ruth.

I’m not suggesting that the Babe Ruth of 1927 would certainly out-produce a guy like Albert Pujols if the former were teleported to 2010 with all of the talent he possessed in 1921 or 1927 intact, but I wouldn’t bet against it either. If the Babe had to adjust to the baseball culture of this early 21st century era, I’m betting he could do it, even if he had to spend these winter months at the Betty Ford Clinic getting ready for 2010, but that’s all speculative and unprovable.

Yankees 27 002 What is demonstrable is the fact that Ruth accomplished things in 1927 that no other hitter, including Prince Albert, could ever hope to top. 1927 was the season that Babe Ruth broke his own season home run record by hitting number 60 on the last day of the season. It was a  record that turned the digit “60” into an iconic number for baseball’s most glamorous power statistic, and, thirty-four years later,  it converted 61* (asterisk included) into the new record for Roger Maris, who needed 162 games to best by one homer what Babe Ruth had done in 154 contests.

There isn’t much that can be added to what’s already been written about Babe Ruth’a recording-breaking,  phenomenal 1927 season. His 60 homers alone were more than any of the other seven clubs in the American Leaguue could muster as whole teams.

Although many of us like to remind that Babe Ruth’s 1921 offesive season was superior overall to his individual 1927 season total output, there’s no argument that the total Yankees result in the latter season was simply the greatest season to come along when it came down to winning with power, winning by a big margin, and winning by a runaway few laps in the final standings. The ’27 Yankees both had it all and did it all.

For the first time in big league history, the ’27 Yankees became the only club through that date to come along with two players that hit over 45 home runs for the same club in the same season. Ruth’s 60 HR were strongly matched and supported by Lou Gehrig’s 47. Tony Lazzeri added 18 HR of his own to the ’27 hitting assault, good enough for third place on the Yankees. And had it not been for teammates Ruth and Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri would have led American League in home runs over the course of the ’27 season.

Yankees 27 001

Babe Ruth hit his 60th HR on September 30, 1927 off Tom Zachary of the Washington Senators Senators before a sparse crowd at old Yankee Stadium, which was then only cpncluding its 5th season of operation. Fas weren’t crazy for records so much in those days. Besides, the Yankees had long since wrapped up the American League pennant by that final day and were simply playing out the string against the lowly Sens. Besdies too, Rut already owned the HR record at 59. By hitting 60, he would just be mocing up he own mark by one digit. It’s no big deal. Right?

Ruth also batted .356 with 164 RBI in 1927, but, hey, after all is said and done, the 1927 Yankees still were not all Ruth, It takes more than one killer to build a Murderers’ Row and the Yankees had such a group. Earle Combs was the leadoff man and a .356 hitter on the year. His 231 hits and 23 triples led the American League in 1927. Mark Koenig batted 2nd, hitting a steady .285 for the year. The came Babe Ruth in the 3rd spot. The following year, this batting order would be used to determine the major numbers that went on the backs of each Yankee player in 1928. Lou Gehrig batted 4th, hitting .373, with league-leading marks in 52 doubles and 175 RBI.  Bob Meusel batted 5th, hitting .337 with 47 doubles and 103 RBI. Then came the number 6 man, Tony Lazzeri, who, in addition to his 18 homers, also batted .309 with 102 RBI. Jumping Joe Dugan batted a steady .269 in the number 7 hole; and catcher Pat Collins batted .275 in the number 8 spot.

The ’27 Yankees also featured a pitching staff that was a Murdererrs’ Row in its own right. Look at these names and number – and give them all the awe they each deserve: Waite Hoyt 22-7, 2.63 was good enough to lead the American Legaue in wins and lowest ERA in ’27; Wilcy Moore, 19-7, 2.28 didn’t have enough innings to qualify for the ERA title, but his 13 saves would have tied him for the league lead in that category with Garland Braxton of Washington had baseball bothered to keep track of that record in 1927; Herb Pennock went 19-8 with a 3.00 ERA; Urban Shocker went 18-6, 2,84; Dutch Ruether was 13-6, 3.38; and George Pipgras went 10-3 with a 4.11 ERA.

The 1927 New York Yankees finished the season with a record of 110 wins and 44 losses for a winning percentage of .714. Thier killer record put them in first place in American League, a full 19 games ahead of the 2nd place Philadelphia Athletics and a blow-away 59 games up on the 8th and last place Boston Red Sox. Then the ’27 Yankees went out and swept the Pittsburgh Pirates, four games to zip, in the World Series. No wonder so much of the world, especially the part that is Boston, hates the Yankees, but that still doesn’t take away the title earned by the ’27 Big Apple club!

Murderers’ Row. – Any questions about the operational definition of that term?