October 2010

Bill Shannon Has Died

No matter what the game was, how long it dragged on or how quickly it passed, how unpleasant the weather or how perfect the setting, it was always better if I got to say hi to Bill Shannon.

He was already a veteran of the press boxes at Shea Stadium and Yankee Stadium and Madison Square Garden long before I got into this business in 1979. He knew virtually everything that had ever happened in baseball and probably just a little bit more about everything that had happened in New York sports reporting.

The topics occupied him, mystified him, energized him, endlessly. Off-and-on for several years, we individually dabbled in trying to unearth such mysteries as who had preceded the legendary Public Address Announcer Bob Sheppard at Yankee Stadium before Sheppard got the job in 1951. Off the top of his head Bill went through the identities, resumes, and secret lives of Sheppard’s counterparts at Ebbets Field and The Polo Grounds, and details of the days when the Yankees refused to install a PA and stuck to having men walk around the field with megaphones, and then after rolling out all this information he said, with no sense of irony, “but let me look a few places.”

We were still engaged in what had become a near-decade-long search for the etymology of the official scoring system by which the shortstop is numbered “6” and the third baseman “5” (as in “6 to 3 if you’re scoring at home”). I had found an 1890’s Giants program with “how to score” instructions that indicated it had been the other way round. “Ah, yes,” Bill bellowed, in an accent I knew from my childhood to be authentic New York City, “At some point it was. What we need to do is find out when it changed.” He then launched into a story he’d been told by a veteran writer with whom he had worked in the ’60s, that was from itself from a veteran writer from the teens, who had heard it from one of the combatants, of a near fist-fight between the two official scorers at an early World Series, one of whom adhered to the Midwest preference of “5” for the shortstop, while the other one came from the Northeast, where he had always been “6.”

These tales, these miniature trips through time, were at Bill’s fingertips. They were instantaneous and generously offered and if they could help you, they were so much more joyful for him.

Bill could do this about any topic. And any crumb of research that might enlighten him on something he didn’t know – or better yet, something he mistakenly thought he knew everything about – was like a gift of a gold nugget to him. He was publishing a brief (and impeccable) guide to official scoring (and he was the senior in the field at both New York ballparks, and I never heard anyone complain about one of his decisions) and asked me if I could help him with identifying the ones at some of the early World Series. I dug up the information fairly easily. He treated it as if I had written half the book for him.

It is impossible, it is personally physically painful, to write here that Bill Shannon died in a fire at his New Jersey home this morning, a fire from which his mother was rescued. He was 69 years old. He had worked for everybody: UPI, AP, the local papers, his own stringing service, Madison Square Garden, at least two soccer leagues, Who’s Who In Baseball.

Loss is a part of everything and everywhere, and I’m confident I did not see Bill once in 31 years outside of one of the Stadiums. But as I write this I literally cannot imagine walking into either of the New York press boxes next year knowing I will not see this lovely man again.

Just Lonnie And Bengie

Thanks to the impeccable Bill Francis at the Baseball Hall of Fame Library, I can now merge my correct memory of the 1984 World Series with the official record, and confirm that until Bengie Molina appears for the Rangers in the first game of the World Series tomorrow, Lonnie Smith of the 1985 Royals will remain the only player in baseball history to play in a Series against a team for whom he also had played in the same season.

Left-handed reliever Sid Monge went from the 1984 NL Champion Padres to the 1984 AL Champion Tigers in midseason and was, as I recall, was in uniform during the introductions before the opener at Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego. Bill’s clip clears all that up:
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The Josh Hamilton-Bengie Molina Series

They could – and did – give the trophies to other guys, but let’s face it, if you’re a fan of the Phillies, or the ’09 Yankees, or the ’10 Giants, you know that the World Series MVP last year was Damaso Marte, and the NLCS MVP this year was Javier Lopez.

Simply put, for whatever degree of offensive incompetence the Phillies didn’t create themselves, Lopez did it for them. He pitched in all six games and faced Chase Utley and Ryan Howard each time. And they were 1-for-12 off him, completely mesmerized by his left-handed sidearming.
Josh Hamilton faced him this year, went 0-for-1. He faced him three times in 2008, went 1-for-3 with a double.
Past performance, as they say, is not a guarantee of future results, but even if Lopez continues his hot streak (and remember his ERA for the Red Sox in ’09 was 9.46), Hamilton just isn’t as easily dominated by lefthanders. If his ALCS home run details don’t tell you that (Game One: Sabathia; Game Three: Pettitte; Game Four: Logan — all LHP, plus a fourth game off Sergio Mitre in garbage time), just check out his 2010 splits:
                                    AB    HR     RBI     AVG    SLG
At Home Vs LHP           82       5       13     .305     .524
On Road Vs LHP           84       3       10     .238     .393
Overall Vs RHP           352      24      77      .401     .716
That last one is thrown in there for the edification of Brian Wilson. Josh Hamilton hit .401 against right-handed pitching this year.
This underscores the Giants’ obvious problem: Hamilton is the only essential lefthanded bat in the Texas line-up. These are not the Phillies. The bats who surround him, particularly Michael Young, Nelson Cruz, and Vladimir Guerrero, are all righties. The other lefties in the Texas lineup are fungible.
In short, unlike the Phillies, the Rangers are not going to whiff themselves out of big innings by virtue of their power being suffocated by a same-side sidearmer. 
The other salient issue of this Series is Bengie Molina. We are in new territory here. Never before did the catcher for one of the World Series teams open the season catching for the other World Series team. Pressed about this in interviews, Molina has been taciturn, almost blank, insisting he doesn’t think it’s much of an advantage. I think Benjie wants us to believe that, but if for no other reason than the Giants have to completely rejigger the pitch signals and any lingering dugout-to-coach or coach-to-hitter signals, he will inconvenience San Francisco mightily.
For my money, the kind of scouting Molina can offer on San Francisco pitching is the kind of information for which teams scramble at this time of year. The Yankees’ National League scouting under the supervision of Stick Michael was so startlingly good that during the ’99 Classic it seemed as if few Yankee fielders had to step more than a foot or two to field or grab a ball, so well did the Yankees know what and where the Braves would hit it. My guess is Molina can provide that – only in real time, on the field – for all of the Giants’ pitchers (and imagine during his own at bats, his familiarity with their pitch qualities, selections and patterns).
The most recent vague comparison to this unique situation would probably be Ted Simmons, who moved from the 1980 Cardinals to the 1981 Brewers, then wound up facing his old team in the ’82 Series. Simmons caught Game One and the Brewers pounded his old St. Louis battery-mate Bob Forsch 10-0 (with Simba hitting a homer). They faced Forsch again in Game Five and beat him up for six runs in five-and-two-thirds. In the other starts they lost to John Stuper (a 1982 rookie Simmons had never caught) and Joaquin Andujar (who joined St. Louis half a year after Simmons was traded). In the other Milwaukee victory, the Brewers were largely stymied by Dave LaPoint (one earned run). He had gone from Milwaukee to St. Louis in the Simmons trade.
For these two reasons alone (we haven’t even mentioned Cliff Lee) I like the Rangers and fast: five or six games.
Just for the record, Molina will join very, very select company when he appears against the Giants in Game One. Only Lonnie Smith, who started 1985 with the Cardinals and then played against them for the Royals in the Classic, has previously pulled off the both-teams stunt. The year before, reliever Sid Monge went from the Padres to the Tigers but did not pitch in the post-season for Detroit. Of all the MLB-issued media guides to all the World Series I’ve covered, the one I cannot find is 1984, so I can’t check my memory that Monge was indeed eligible but just wasn’t used.
If not, he falls into a slightly larger club: playing for both Series teams in one year, but not being eligible for the Classic. Jack Kramer (1951 Giants and Yankees), Johnny Schmitz (1952 Dodgers and Yankees), Jim Bruske (1998 Padres and Yankees), and Chris Ray (2010 Rangers and Giants) are on that list, and if you want to stretch it, so is catcher Eddie Tucker of the 1995 Indians, who wound up the property of the Braves the same year but never playing for them.
So there.

Ten Years After

Forgot completely about this.

October 22, 2010 (now yesterday) was the tenth anniversary of the Clemens-Piazza World Series Game, in which I had three cameo roles. I was the dugout reporter charged with trying to find out what the hell had happened, I was the guy who first interviewed Clemens after the game, and I wound up with the smallest piece of the bat.
For the record, I’ve always actually believed Roger Clemens’ story, though he articulated it so poorly. When Mike Piazza’s bat shattered, at least four projectiles left the area of his hands: three pieces of bat, and one ball. Clemens couldn’t be certain that the blur coming at him was not the ball. In the split second he had, he grabbed it, found it indeed wasn’t the ball, and tossed it. Supporting evidence: What? He tried to break Piazza’s bat in hopes of getting a projectile at him (rather than using the ball again)? And as crazy and hopped up as he was, if he had aimed the bat shard at Piazza, wouldn’t he have hit him?
Hopped up?
Check this scan of a print of a freeze frame from our interview. Ten years after, it still makes me laugh:
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Halladay’s Groin, Bunt, HD Coverage

After the Phillies’ 4-2 victory in the Fifth Game of the NLCS, Charlie Manuel matter-of-factly mentioned that Roy Halladay pitched from the second inning on with a mild groin strain suffered while “humping up” on a pitch to Buster Posey.

That may not explain Halladay’s initial motionless on the bunt in the third inning, but it certainly explains his slight limp as he walked back to the dugout at the end of that bizarre trade. He pitched with a groin strain on a wet mound. Not surprising, just amazing.
Incidentally, I do not want to hear from Giants’ fans complaining that the game was decided by the bad fair/foul call on Halladay’s third-inning bunt. It was, in fact, decided on Pablo Sandoval’s bad footwork on the same play. If he had been able to find third base, that game-changing sacrifice bunt would’ve been a game-changing double-play and there would be no complaining.
One last note to a very specific audience: for ardent fans of MLB Network in HD in New York City, you noticed as I did that the damn thing disappeared off the Time-Warner HD tier some time on Tuesday. Turns out it has simply been relocated to the sports tier, Channel 489. If it happened somewhere else, I suggest you go to the network’s website.

No Tex, Lots Of Texas

The bad news for the Yankees is that Mark Teixeira suffered a Grade 2 strain of the hamstring and will miss the rest of the season.

The good news for the Yankees is that likely means he’s only going to miss one game.
Ron Washington, concurring that to beat this crumbling but still dangerous New York team requires treating them like vampires, did exactly that the last two nights, managing as intensely in the 9th Inning as he did in the 1st. The results are obvious and the Yanks’ best news is probably that ex-Golden Gloves boxer “Grim LeRogue” didn’t get close enough Monday night to try to beat up Alex Rodriguez in some kind of expression of obsession with actress Cameron Diaz.
The Rangers did it for him, and not just to A-Rod. As it proves, should’ve been a sweep. The questions are obvious: why wasn’t Joe Girardi satisfied with five two-run innings from A.J. Burnett? How is Sergio Mitre at the playoffs without a ticket? Just leave the pile of queries in a box for the next manager.
One non-ALCS note: Barry Bonds at the Giants game. Just me or did it look like he lost weight? From his head!
Let’s go to the pretty pictures:
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More than a little fuzzy (sorry). But the gentleman leaning on the seat ahead of him, hands together, upper left, is Nolan Ryan. In the lower right, Mayor Mike Bloomberg. This was taken Monday Night, but each deserves a shout-out. Bloomberg stayed until nearly the final out of each Yankee debacle and despite the vast numbers of empty seats, Ryan politely stayed in his 6th row locale.

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Delighted to find Mgr. Washington is a viewer of the tv show. We had two nice chats pre-game and he did a heckuva job. On the right of course, Martha Stewart, who, so long ago, on Opening Day, took a picture of me and tweeted it to her followers, so tonight I took this picture and tweeted it to both her followers and my own.
Big celeb night, half the cast of Saturday Night Live in the front row (Andy Samberg, Jason Sudeikis, Fred Armisen, Kenan Thompson, Jay Pharoah, producer Lorne Michaels and that could’ve easily been this week’s host Emma Stone). Across the aisle from Martha: Mark Cuban. Upstairs, Michael Jordan and Jay-Z. 
And any of them could’ve pitched better than Sergio Mitre.
One more photo, this is from Monday night – a friend of the blog. That is your Toronto Blue Jays’ rehabbing reliever and author (hard at work at his sequel to the now classic Bullpen Gospels, to say nothing of trying to explain pitching to me) Dirk Hayhurst:
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Bizarre Threat Against Alex Rodriguez

Few recent stories have sounded so comical yet contained such madness and potential threat. In the top of the fifth inning if Monday nights third game of the American League Championship Series, a man bolted from the stands behind third base and scrambled towards the foul line. Police and Yankee Stadium Security caught up to him quickly, but despite their intervention the individual continued to struggle for several minutes before he was finally removed – still kicking and shouting – from the field. Just as Game Four of the Series began tonight, Ben Rogers of the Ben and Skin show on the ESPN radio station in Dallas broke the amazing back story: the man was not just an ordinary drunken spectator but, as one police source phrased it to me, a guy intent on harming Alex Rodriguez because of Cameron Diaz. As Rogers reported from his multiple police sources, the man was identified as 33-year old Grim LeRogue of the Bronx, and he had gotten into the Stadium and on to the field without even a ticket to the game. But he was carrying photographs of Diaz and Rodriguez and what I was told was some kind of threat against Rodriguez. There is no evidence that Rodriguez was aware of the threat, at least as of late in Mondays game as he was chatting and joking with fans near the on-deck circle during the bottom of the 9th. Yankees Media Relations Director Jason Zillo adds he had no indication until the middle of Tuesday nights game of the nature of the on-field incident and did not think Rodriguez did, either. Unless there are two Grim LeRougees in the metropolitan New York area, some of his resistance might be explained by this: a Grim LeRogue fought in the areas Golden Gloves in 2008.

The Beginning Of The End

As 5 PM Eastern nears here in the Bronx, ex-Yankees Bernie Williams and Tom Flash Gordon are here. Bernabe is to throw out the ceremonial first pitch (by itself something of a thaw in his slightly chilly relationship with the club since they dropped him – hes yet to go to an Old Timers Day). I suspect Flash showed up to come in for Burnett in the 2nd. This fourth game has all the feelings of the end of another up cycle for New York, a night reminiscent of the end of the 2003 World Series or the ALCS the next year or – for the elderly – more like the end of the 81 Series or some of the grim regular season finales later in that decade. The Yanks surefire stopper, Andy Pettitte, was vanquished (and before the top of the first inning last night) and having learned the lesson of the Pinstripes Latent Vampirism, Ron Washington played the six-run top of the ninth like he was down by a dozen. And three hours to game time and there isnt a Yankee on the field. It is as quiet as the cliche here – too quiet.

By The Beard Of Hercules; New 113-Year Old Baseball Cards

The most telling observations off Twitter yesterday: The colored-in beard sticking out from Brian Wilson of the Giants makes him look either like Bluto from Popeye or Bill Murray playing Hercules (“That boulder is too large. I could lift a smaller one”) on Saturday Night Live.


Absolutely fitting news from college football. Brian Jordan did color on a telecast of the Memphis-Southern Mississippi game yesterday. He spent the baseball season doing color on the telecasts of the AAA Gwinnett Braves, and a handful of broadcasts for the big league club. The former two-sport player is now a two-sport announcer.

My review of Jane Leavy‘s marvelous Mickey Mantle biography is now online at the Sunday New York Times Book Review. However, if you go to the editors’ notes in the front you will read a story about me, but apparently featuring an illustration meant to look like British Foreign Secretary William Hague if he had glasses and a little hair.
Impressive, no, that in three games of League Championship play we have already seen CC Sabathia, Tim Lincecum, and Roy Halladay, and none of them have been sharp enough to write home to Mother about. Doesn’t exactly set the bar high for Cliff Lee tomorrow night in New York.
Finally, if you want to try to understand some of the joy of antique baseball cards, consider late breaking news from the first comprehensive set ever issued, the 1887-1890 sets put out by Old Judge Cigarettes. 512 players were shown, in well over 2000 different poses (New York Giants outfielder Mike Dorgan had 17 different), with an almost incalculable number of caption and team variations, in transcendent photographs in which baseballs were often hung by string from the ceiling of the photographer’s studio.
And two new variations were discovered yesterday. 

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One of the most-collected parts of the series is a subset of 16 players from the original New York Mets of the then-major league American Association. The cards were put out early in 1887, when the Mets played on Staten Island, more or less exactly where the current ballpark for the Yankees’ affiliate now stands. The fellow who owned the then-private Staten Island Ferry bought the club and put up a ballpark next to his Wild West show and outdoor theater in hopes of drumming up business to Staten Island. It didn’t work and the Mets wound up moving to Kansas City in 1888.
The players are all inexplicably shown wearing the same kind (maybe even just the same one) spotted cravat tie and are thus known as “Spotted Ties.” The card shown here is of Mets’ first baseman Dave Orr, one of the few sluggers of the time and a genuine Hall of Fame candidate despite a career cut short by a stroke after just eight seasons. 
At left is the Orr card depicted in the masterful The Photographic Baseball Cards of Goodwin & Company compiled by Joe Gonsowski, Richard Masson, and my friend Jay Miller, which shows every known pose of every known player (a vendor is referenced here at Rob Lifson’s blog). For all everybody knew, this was the  
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way all Dave Orr Spotted Ties looked. 
Then Jay emailed me yesterday to say that a minor variation had been noticed in the card of Mets’ catcher Charlie Reipschlager (identified on the card and in the box scores of the day as “Ripslager”). It was simply how the name “Ripslager” was lettered across his uniform. It was clear that it had been re-done for some reason, possibly owing to the mechanical process by which the original photographs of the players were re-photographed using the big box cameras of the day, to creete one large photograph from which the sheets of cards were printed.
in any event, Jay suggested I should check the Ripslager card in my collection (and the other “Spotted Ties”) for the variation. I didn’t have the two different versions of the catcher, but lo and behold, there are at least two different versions of Orr. This second card on the left shows a larger, bolder identification, the letters nearly touching the tie, and far more spread out. 
The change may be difficult to see, so a picture of the two cards side-by-side is shown below. Intuition suggests there may be similar lettering variations on all of the Spotted Ties. It’s impossible to say if one kind is more valuable than the others (the most expensive Spotted Tie depicts Steve Behel, an early Jewish player). But the variations should not have come as a surprise. An entirel
y new pose of Jim Tyng (inventor of the catcher’s mask) was discovered just last year, not long after we had all realized that the “only” card of Baltimore manager Billy Barnie was actually two different photos, taken within seconds of each other, and showed only a slight change in where his gaze was directed, and a previously unknown player, Whitey Gibson, was only unearthed in 1980. And thus the charm of collecting: we’re still getting new cards, 113 years after Goodwin & Co. first made them.
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Victims Help Vampires Prevail

After that exhibition of lunkheaded managing by Ron Washington in the top of the 8th of Game One of the ALCS, I believe anyone who predicted a Rangers’ triumph over the Yankees should be given a mulligan.

I say this selfishly, of course.
But, seriously:
1. You used four relievers in the eighth inning and none of them are your flame-throwing closer Neftali Feliz?
2. Having already used two of the four lefties in your bullpen, the 5-0 and 5-1 leads now just memories, southpaw Clay Rapada on the mound with lefty-killer Marcus Thames coming to the plate, you pull Rapada and replace him with another lefty in Derek Holland? Apart from everything else you are now down to one lefthander left in your pen, rookie Michael Kirkman. And of course, oopsie, lefty-killer Thames kills lefty Holland with the game-winning hit.
3. Harold Reynolds made a great point on MLB Network. Up 5-1, with Gardner on and C.J. Wilson tiring, you have Michael Young playing in close at third against Derek Jeter? Fearing he’s going to bunt? When all he still does well is pull lefties? Don’t you want Jeter to bunt? You need six outs and you can give three runs. Idiocy.
4. This is the weakest point but it still needs to be raised. Why did Washington let Wilson start the 8th? I know the set-up men are not lights out, but once again, as with Ron Gardenhire in Game One of the ALDS, you have Sabathia beaten. If you don’t think Darren O’Day (tied for 7th in the AL in Holds) and Oliver and all the rest are good enough to get you three outs, revert back to Question #1.

The Yankees are, as noted here during the Twins series, Vampires. It is not necessary for the opposing manager to walk his virgins across the field and offer up their necks to them on a platter.

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