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Sunday, December 21, 2014

Dwight Gooden Goes Back to the Future: The Baseball Historian’s Notes for the Week of December 21, 2014

2014 is nearly in the books. Outside of the mad dash that is the remainder of the holiday season, another year is done for all intents and purposes. It was another great 12 months for baseball, as the game continues to be as popular as ever before. Whatever you celebrate (or don’t), have a relaxing and enjoyable holiday season.
Now, on to the notes for the week…

*Former Los Angeles Angels first-round pick Ryan Bolden was killed in a fight over candy this week. The former outfielder was the 40th overall selection in the 2010 draft. His career ended following the 2013 season due to injuries and a lack of progress in his development. In 112 career minor league games (all at the rookie league level), he hit a combined .164 with three home runs and 26 RBIs. Bolden was 23.

*Another passing to report in 86-year-old Herb Plews. A former infielder who played parts of four seasons with the Washington Senators and Boston Red Sox (1956-59), the right-handed batter hit a combined .262 with four homers and 82 RBIs in 346 games. Originally signed by the New York Yankees in 1950, a military stint interrupted his playing career. Read more about his career and life in this official SABR biography written by Bill Nowlin.

*Sean Lahman of the Democrat & Chronicle has an interesting piece about the 1960 Rochester Red Wings, the last American team to play in Cuba before the U.S. embargo went into place. At the time, tensions were so high that their departure from the country was more like something from a movie plot than a standard short flight back to mainland. More than 50 years later, they retain their place in history, but perhaps not for much longer given the shifting political climate.

*Speaking of baseball and communism, the two have had connections in the past. Historian John Thorne at the MLB Our Game blog does his typical bang-up job in researching how communist party leaders of the past viewed America’s Pastime, including their belief that it was used as a device of distraction by capitalism to divert the attention of workers from their “miserable conditions.”

*Dwight Gooden was simultaneously one of the best and one of the most flawed players in baseball history. He won 194 career games in 16 major league seasons, captured the 1984 National League Rookie of the Year and 1985 National League Cy Young Award. Unfortunately, the incredibly talented right-hander was also troubled with drug, alcohol and other off-field problems that prevented him from putting together a Hall-of-Fame resume. Now in retirement, he has his life in full control and is able to look back on the follies of his youth. He recently penned a letter to a younger version of himself that was published in The Players’ Tribune. His decades of maturation and reflection are visible to all to see, and a good reminder of how well he has become since his days as a nearly untouchable flame thrower for the New York Mets.

*Arm woes have halted or ended the burgeoning careers of many a pitcher. Although the medical advancements of Tommy John surgery have allowed many professionals to come back from previously catastrophic damage, there is still great debate over how hurlers, especially those still in school or college, should be handled when it comes to workload. The Boston Globe’s Obnoxious Sports Fan looks at the efforts being made to treat arms right, and how the reluctance to take these precautions prematurely ended many careers of varying degrees of promise.

*There are many celebrities who claim membership in the fan bases of baseball teams. One of the most well known is comedian Jerry Seinfeld and his beloved Mets. He is as knowledgeable as any fan about the franchise, and much funnier than any other. This clip from him sitting in the broadcast booth during a 2010 game is a little glimpse of how he mixes his humor with love of the game.

*There are also some baseball players who style themselves as comedians. Check out this clip of Hall-of-Famer Reggie Jackson telling one of his favorite jokes on a 1980s television show The Funniest Joke I Ever Heard while he was a member of the California Angels.

*One way baseball has attracted fans has been through the attachment of people to baseball cards. Being able to have the picture, statistics and bright colors of logos and uniforms in the palm of one’s hand has often been more than enough to develop undying allegiance. Joe Pinsker of The Atlantic has written a cultural history of baseball cards and how their popularity has shifted over time in this country. This is an especially interesting read given the recent passing of card pioneer Sy Berger, who is credited with developing the first “modern” baseball card with the Topps Company.

*Looking for any last-minute holiday gift ideas for the baseball fans in your life (or yourself)? Freddie Fitzsimmons: A Baseball Life by Peter J. De Kever may be just what you need. Fitzsimmons, the Hall-of-Fame pitcher, who had a 20-year major league career with the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers, had more than enough interesting stories from his time in baseball to be worthy of a biography.

*Finally, some amazing footage of the batting practice/pre-game warm-ups at the old Polo Grounds in New York for the 1934 MLB All Star Game. With rosters chock-full of future Hall-of-Famers who played before the era of television, actually getting to see them bat and throw is a rare treat.

You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Joe DiMaggio Selling Christmas Coffee Makers: The Baseball Historian's Notes for the Week of December 14, 2014

Although the major league baseball offseason is in full swing, there are plenty of other things keeping the game in the news. That’s one of its best traits, as there is always something of interest or value that fans can discover or rediscover on a regular basis. There is simply no other sport that can engage the senses on so many levels. At least that’s my take…

Now, on to the notes for the week.

*The Baseball Golden Era Ballot voting has come and gone, and there will be no new members of the Baseball Hall of Fame from this body in 2015. Dick Allen and Tony Oliva each came within one vote of being elected, while Jim Kaat, Maury Wills and Minnie Minoso narrowly missed as well.

As usual, there was varying amounts of outrage on the behalf of the ten candidates. The simple fact is that while they were all excellent players and contributors to the game, none of them were slam dunk choices. If they were, most would not have been elected from the writers’ ballot. That being said, this kind of process and debate is good for the game and keeping people interested in its history.

*More regarding the Hall of Fame. There has never been a player inducted with 100 percent of the votes from the writer’s ballot. This even includes the likes of Babe Ruth and Willie Mays. Sports Cheat Sheet’s Eric Schall has compiled a list of the top-10 vote getters by percentage of all members of the Hall of Fame. Hint; they probably aren’t who you think.

*With the holidays nearly upon us, the shopping season produces a vast quantity of advertisements to hawk gift ideas. Check out this 1977 Christmas Mr. Coffee commercial starring Joe DiMaggio. If even a fraction of those who grew up idolizing the “Yankee Clipper” bought one of his coffee machines, the company must have had a very merry holiday season.

*Louisville Slugger bats are synonymous with baseball. An incredible number of players have used them for decades, and they are truly part of the fabric of the game. This video gives a succinct history of the company and how they have evolved over the years.

*Actor and director Penny Marshall (of Laverne and Shirley fame) will be bringing an important baseball story to the silver screen. It was recently announced she will be directing a biopic of Effa Manley appropriately titled Effa. The first woman elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, Manley was a groundbreaking owner in the Negro Leagues who trail blazed not only for herself and women in the game but for her players.

*With 303 wins and 4,875 strikeouts in his career, former left-handed pitcher Randy Johnson was one of the most dominant hurlers in the history of the game. He is on the 2015 writer’s ballot and it will be a major surprise if he is not a shoo-in for induction next summer. That being said, baseball is far from being what defines him. ESPN’s E:60 recently had a great feature showing what the lanky southpaw is up to these days, as he seems to have seamlessly transitioned into the next phase of his life.

*Chuck Connors gained his greatest fame as a Hollywood actor, becoming known for such roles as the Rifleman and as a slave owner in the epic television miniseries Roots. Before that, he was a fine athlete, playing professional basketball and baseball. Here is a photo of him during training with the Brooklyn Dodgers, demonstrating a proper sliding technique.

In 66 games with the Dodgers and Chicago Cubs (1949 & 1951) he hit a combined .238 with two home runs, so he definitely made a wise career choice!

*A huge collection of baseball memorabilia has been discovered at Birmingham’s old Rickwood Field, the oldest active ballpark in the country. This trove of artifacts, autographs and other amazing items (including a pair of Reggie Jackson’s cleats) is being put up for auction, and the public will be able to take away a piece of history that had been tucked away for years.

*The Baseball History Daily has dug up another lost gem of a story. In 1883, Providence Grays outfielder Cliff Carroll decided to water down fan Jimmy Murphy after taking a drink from a hose during a game. The drenched crank was so incensed that he retrieved a gun and took a potshot at the player. You’ll have to read the whole entry to find out what happened in this crazy encounter.

*Outfielder Mark Gilbert had a major league career that lasted all of seven games with the 1985 Chicago White Sox. Although he had six hits and four walks in 26 plate appearances, his playing career was over by the time he was 29. Fortunately, it looks like he has moved on nicely. USA Today reported last fall how the now 58-year-old was nominated by President Barack Obama to be the United States’ ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa. Just recently, that appointment was confirmed by the Senate, making him the first former major leaguer to hold such a post.

*Detroit Tigers Hall-of-Fame outfielder Al Kaline turns 80 later in the week. The Detroit News’ Tom Gage wrote a profile of the legend and looks back on his outstanding career that lasted 22 years as a player and is still going strong with his role as an adviser with the same team that made him a bonus baby signing in 1953. "Al continues to be involved in all of our major meetings and discussions," Tigers' president and general manager Dave Dombrowski said of the legend, who does what he loves and loves what he does. It’s great to see he is still involved, and many warm wishes for that to continue for years to come.

You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

10 Thoughts on Jon Lester Leaving the Boston Red Sox

Red Sox Nation is in full-fledged mourning with the news that longtime team-favorite, pitcher Jon Lester, has elected to join the Chicago Cubs on a lucrative free-agent contract. A lot has already been written and talked about on the matter but here are a few of my thoughts.

1.       The Boston Red Sox clearly have enough money so that they could have signed Lester if they wanted. It looks like it probably came down to the team setting a limit on the years and/or dollars they were willing to go, and tapped out when that was exceeded.

2.       Lester should not receive an iota of flak for his decision. Neither should the Red Sox. Baseball is a business and both parties made the choices they respectively thought best for themselves.

3.       In parts of nine seasons in Boston, Lester won 110 regular season games; was a big part of two World Series-winning squads; was a widely-respected teammate and community member; and kicked cancer’s butt. You can’t beat that resume.

4.       Leaving Boston doesn’t tarnish Lester’s team legacy in any way. He came, he saw, he conquered, he left.

5.       Never understood why so many fans felt Lester would potentially pass up the biggest deal to return to Boston. I am sure he enjoyed his time in the area and the fan support, but at the end of the day he worked incredibly hard to get to the point where he could command a bidding frenzy.

6.       Like any person with a career, Lester had the right and a responsibility to himself to weigh factors like compensation, future goals and opportunity.

7.       Just because the Red Sox weren’t willing to spend whatever it took to sign Lester doesn’t mean they won’t spend as much or more to bring in another ace (Max Scherzer?). Like most teams, they likely have a value assigned to available players, and Lester may not have been tops on that list.

8.       If they can pry him loose, Cole Hamels is a much better deal. The Phillies’ southpaw is due to make $94 million over the next four seasons while Lester will make $155 million over the next six. Even with prospects/players Boston would have to give up to obtain Hamels, the savings would be huge on a pitcher who has traditionally provided similar production.

9.       I bet fans will likely be surprised with how well the Boston starting rotation comes together when it is all said and done. The team has already demonstrated it is working to build a 2015 contender and there are still plenty of good arms out there to be had.

10.   I wish Lester all the best with his new team. He is certainly one of the classier guys to don a Red Sox uniform, and he will be missed.

You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

Monday, December 8, 2014

Rambling On Podcast: Discussing MLB’s Golden Era Hall of Fame Ballot

Check out the current edition of the Rambling On podcast with myself and Ron Juckett as we discuss the MLB Golden Era Hall of Fame Ballot. Who should get in and who shouldn't? ! No players were selected this year, and though we didn't have votes we certainly have opinions. Check out what we would have done.

You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew