January 2011

Nostalgic Photo Day

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Nothing better than at this coldest, least baseballish hour of the year, than to let the wayback machine work its magic and show us some classic images.
Two of these are screencaps right off MLB Network and they own them and don’t you dare, etc. To the left is, of course, the nonpareil third baseman of the Orioles Brooks Robinson as he stud- what the heck is he wearing?

This is from 1971, when the Orioles experimented, mercifully only briefly, with orange tops and orange pants. Apart from the glow-in-the-dark quality, it meant that Robby’s enormous teammate Boog Powell got to wear both these beauts and the all-red jobs of the 1975 Cleveland Indians. The latter led to Boog’s immortal self-description: “I look like a big red blood clot.” Frank Robinson wore them both too, without any such quality humor, but then again, by Cleveland, Frank was a manager.
Below is a famous image of a famous home run: Chris Chambliss’s 9th Inning job off Mark Littell to win the 1976 ALCS for the Yankees. I was at that game, sat in the seats for most of it, but was actually sitting next to Dick Schaap in the press room as Chris got his slice of immortality. The chaos that ensued has been well documented, but until this aired on MLB Net the other day I had never noticed one detail. Look closely behind Chambliss as he turns first and heads for second:
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Do you see him? The guy in the light blue sleeves, reaching down? The guy is stealing first base! Chambliss is perhaps ten feet past the bag and all bedlam is breaking loose, but this guy is already making off with the props. Good grief, he has to have planned it!
The next two shots are entirely my own, and of much more recent vintage. This would be the view from our Fox Sports Net booth above the right field roof at Fenway Park at no less an event than the Home Run Derby at the 1999 All-Star Game. So besides the display of model rocketry by Mark McGwire that night, and the impending All-Century Team event and the Ted Williams lovefest the following evening – look at that sunset!
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I said “look at that sunset!”
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Good Luck Retirements?

So now that Gil Meche has quit, does that mean the Kansas City Royals are going to win the World Series this year?

Too laughable for words? How about Milwaukee, because Trevor Hoffman has hung ‘em up while still theoretically still with the Brewers?
If you haven’t clicked away by now, don’t think for a moment that I’m suggesting there’s a predictable correlation between any of these things, but there is a not insubstantial list of occasions in history in which a prominent player – or even star – has retired only to see his last team go on to win the World Series the following fall.
Three of the game’s All-Time greats managed this impossible and dubious trick. Stan Musial was a World Champ in three of his first four seasons in the majors (’42, ’44, ’46 – he spent 1945 in the service) and then slogged it out with some pretty bad Cardinals teams for the next 17 years before retiring after the ’63 campaign. He then watched from the distant front office as the Birds won it all in ’64.
The other two immortals managed to miss out together. Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker had been forced out of their player-manager jobs in Detroit and Cleveland respectively after a gambling scandal hit the American League in the late ’20s, and concluded their careers as teammates with the 1928 Philadelphia A’s. They left (Cobb to true retirement, and Speaker to a pinch hitting/managing gig with Newark of the International League), and the Athletics won the 1929 Series. Speaker had won crowns in Boston and Cleveland, but though he was in the Series in his second, third, and fourth full seasons in the majors in Detroit, the Tigers lost all three of those Classics and for everything else he did, Cobb could never claim he won a Series.
The most touching example of this impeccably bad timing would obviously be Don Mattingly, who arrived just after the Yankees lost the 1981 World Series. Mattingly suffered through the worst of the Steinbrenner years at Yankee Stadium from 1982 to 1993 without once seeing the post-season. Mattingly’s ’94 Yanks, a pretty good team, were snuffed out by the strike, and in ’95, when he finally reached the playoffs after having announced his retirement, they blew a chance at what would’ve been his only Series appearance by coughing up the 2-0 lead to the Mariners. The Yankees, with Tino Martinez in Donnie Baseball’s stead at first base, went on to win the Series in 1996.
Amazingly there are at least two other Yankee first basemen who did the same thing, although neither had as much to complain about as did Mattingly. George McQuinn retired after the 1948 season, just before the Yanks went on their run of five straight Championships. But McQuinn had already gotten his ring with the ’47 Yankees.
McQuinn’s retirement opened up a path for Joe Collins to take over much of the work at first base in the Bronx. Collins was hardly cheated: he only played eight full seasons but was on six World’s Champs. When the Yanks decided to trade him to Philadelphia after they lost the 1957 Classic, Collins retired – and New York rebounded to win the 1958 crown.
Mathematically, with all those titles, it’s not surprising that there are at least four other Yankees on this strange list. They began asking “where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?” in the winter of 1951 when he retired. With nine rings in just thirteen years on the field, the Yankee Clipper did not get shortchanged. Nevertheless, New York won two more in his first two years away from the game. The talented Jerry Coleman, still going strong in the Padres’ booth just 53 years later, quit the Yanks after the ’57 loss to Milwaukee and, like Collins, missed the ’58 crown. His fellow Yankee infield stalwart Gil McDougald retired after the ’60 loss to Pittsburgh and thus missed the ’61 win over Cincinnati and the ’62 victory over San Francisco. And of the most recent vintage, Mike Mussina’s triumphant climax to his great career, his first 20-win season in his swan song of 2008, also meant he missed out on what would’ve been his only ring in 2009.
This list is probably incomplete; I confess to having done it off the top of my head. But Pee Wee Reese is on it, retiring from the 1958 Dodgers and so on their ’59 Series winners only as a coach. If you want a manager, take Earl Weaver. He retired from the Orioles after 1982. They won it under Joe Altobelli in 1983. Making things worse, the Birds soured on Altobelli in ’85 and Weaver un-retired for two unhappy seasons. 
There are a couple of judgement calls, too. Tim McCarver called it quits from the Phillies at the end of 1979 and went into the broadcasting booth, only to be activated in September, 1980 when rosters expanded. But he was back in civvies for the World Series triumph, which would’ve been his first since St. Louis in 1964. There is also the iffy case of Harvey Haddix. The Baltimore Orioles traded the veteran pitcher to Milwaukee in August of 1965, but Haddix told the Braves he was intending to retire in a month and they shouldn’t waste money or players on obtaining him. In fact, his last major league game was on August 28, 1965, so I’ll leave it to you as to whether or not he qualifies on the bad timing roster considering the ’66 edition of the Orioles won the Series.
Lastly, the most frustrating case I can recall would have to be that of Mel Harder, the Cleveland Indians pitcher for whose Hall of Fame candidacy Ted Williams never stopped lobbying. Harder joined the Tribe in 1928, eight years after they’d taken the Series under player-manager Speaker. He won a tidy 223 games before finally giving up after his 20th season in Cleveland, in 1947. The Indians promptly won the 1948 World Series, in no small measure because of their rookie pitching coach – Harder himself. He stayed in that job through 1963 (and obviously the Indians never won the Series after his first year). To expand our terms a little bit, when the Indians let him go, Harder quickly hooked on as pitching coach of the Mets (five years before their Championship). He would move on to the Reds in ’66 and stay through 1968, exiting just before The Big Red Machine rose to prominence.
So if the Royals or Brewers surprise everybody this year, maybe you know why.

A Modest (Moot) Proposal

So Adrian Beltre is going to cost the Texas Rangers $16 million a year for six years, and Derek Jeter is going to cost the New York Yankees $17 million a year for three years (maybe more).

Did the Yankees ever consider the financial madness, or the lack of quality control, that represents? Or, to phrase it more correctly, how many times will they be forced to think about it in the next three years, as Jeter continues his descent from impact player to easily-jammed to liability to living statue?
If it seems asinine to consider asking Alex Rodriguez to move back to shortstop after seven years at third base, it certainly isn’t much more so than is expecting Jeter to suddenly regain the range that deteriorated so noticeably last year, or to do that and be a productive shortstop on his 40th birthday.
All greatness comes to an end, and usually a year or two later, so does all sentimentality. The Yankees released Babe Ruth in 1934. They forced Yogi Berra into the manager’s office in 1963 and fired him in 1964. They dumped Casey Stengel days after his 10th World Series in a dozen years in the uniform. They let Reggie walk. They cut The Scooter on Old Timers’ Day. They marginalized and then released Bernie Williams in 2006. They cashiered Joe Torre.
If you are horrified by the thought of the Yankees simply throwing away Jeter, how horrified are you by the image of seeing him benched for Ramiro Pena or Cesar Izturis or somebody while the 2012 Yankees are chasing Toronto for third place behind the Sox and Rays, and you’re sitting there thinking “they could’ve had Adrian Beltre for a million less?”

History That Never Was: 1951

As promised yesterday, perhaps the real piece of “History That Never Was”: a 1951 Yankees-Dodgers World Series Program. Another fully-printed edition, not just a cover. This is the Yankee Stadium version. To my knowledge, no copies of the Ebbets Field edition are still in existence, though at least the cover must have been printed. 

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The content is fascinating, of course. Mini-biographies of all the Dodgers, including a very unfortunate photograph (under the circumstances) at the lower corner of page 25:
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It wasn’t a precise substitution, but, as you see, in the actual 1951 World Series program, Mr. Thomson replaced Mr. Branca:
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A Little More History That Never Was

After the generous response to the previous post on “History That Wasn’t,” a little more of it:1967twinscards.jpg

It wasn’t until 1975 that MLB began producing the World Series program. Prior to that the individual teams did it themselves, or contracted the jobs out themselves (although, curiously, during the World Series of the late 1880’s, only one scorecard was produced, apparently as a joint venture of the clubs and the leagues, and sold in the many different cities in which the games were played). 
Thus, with the Twins not eliminated until the last day of the ’67 pennant race in Boston, they prepared at least the cover, copies of which are regularly seen even today. Never seen the full insides, however. Interesting that the program presages the Series of exactly twenty years later.
Next time, what happened to a Yankees’ World Series program when the most dramatic of historical moments intervened.

History That Never Was

A little flashback on MLB Network on the late lamented 1964 Pholding Philadelphia Phillies made me think of a couple of items in my collection, the ones that pertain to baseball history that never was. Let’s start with the obvious:

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A lot of these daggers-to-the-heart of older Philly fans (complete with that painful note about refunds for “tickets for unplayed games”) still exist, as do copies of what would have been the cover of the Phils’ 1964 World Series Program. 
Speaking of which: Can you spot anything wrong with this cover?
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That’s right: the Boston Red Sox did not play the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1946 World Series, certainly not at Ebbets Field. The Dodgers finished the season tied for first with the Cardinals, and lost to St. Louis in a best-of-three playoffs. But though they didn’t make it, the Dodgers’ World Series Program did. And not just the cover – the full contents with biographies and advertising and of course, the scorecard:
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Hope you enjoy that triple-header of Perry Como shots there. 
Speaking of the Dodgers and history that never happened:
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World Series Media credentials are one of the real niche items among collectibles, but it’s not because of their attractiveness nor history (the oldest I have dates to the 1911 Series). If teams used to print World Series Programs on the mere hope they would get in, obviously they had to prepare the credentials too. It was the Giants and not the Dodgers who issued the clubhouse passes for the ’54 games, yet there is a Dodger “phantom” World Series credential nonetheless.
And let’s finish it up with more familiar territory. Don’t know if you have any 1977 Topps baseball cards, but I’m willing to bet you don’t have these three:
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These are unissued “proof” cards – the test printings of the planned designs for a set of cards. Today Topps produces these proofs on thin, glossy stock, but well into the ’90s the proofs were printed on the same stock as the regularly-issued cards. Usually they had blank backs, but occasionally the biographies were printed too.
None of these three cards made the ’77 set. Topps pulled the Jerry Grote card when, not long after the ’76 season ended, the Mets’ catcher declared his intention to retire due to a bad back (he changed his mind, but not until the eve of Spring Training, by which time the cards were already being shipped). The Reggie card is probably the most famous “proof”; people forget he spent the 1976 season with Baltimore, then joined the Yankees as a free agent that winter. The “issued” Jackson card shows him in an A’s batting helmet airbrushed to look vaguely like the “NY” logo. The saddest story is of the Danny Thompson card. The long-time Twins’ infielder was traded to Texas in June, 1976. He was already ill with leukemia, and he succumbed to the disease on December 10th.
The proof cards are very rare, but even among them there are relative degrees of scarceness. For instance there are at least eight copies of the Jackson/Orioles card known. But the Grote and the Thompson are unique, and there is some evidence that Topps pulled them so early that they made another proof sheet featuring the players that replaced them.
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