I have been a writer all my life and recently started blogging. I have published two books. My latest book is a coming-of-age novel entitled Mickey Mantle's Last Home Run which follows the exploits of a fifteen-year-old playing baseball back in 1968. It is a book about the friendship of a black kid and a white kid trying to navigate teenage life in that tumultuous time when our country seemed to be coming apart.
My first book, Grandpa Gordy’s Greatest World Series Games, is geared to middle-grade readers. In it, Grandpa Gordy, a retired sportswriter, relates his versions of the great games of our national pastime in a hilarious and entertaining fashion.
My love of baseball shows through in my books as I try to convey many of life’s lessons in an enjoyable lighthearted way.
I grew up writing and playing baseball in the New Jersey suburbs of New York City. I majored in English at Montclair State University where I studied Steinbeck, Dylan, and Berra.
Last night Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees became only the sixth major leaguer to hit or surpass 60 home runs in a single season.
Only Babe Ruth, Roger Maris, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds have accomplished that incredible feat.
Babe Ruth had 60 home runs in 1927 with the Yankees.
Roger Maris 61 in 1961 with the Yankees.
Mark McGwire 70 in 1998 and 65 in 1999 with the St. Louis Cardinals.
Sammy Sosa 66 in 1998, 63 in 1999 and 64 in 2001 with the Chicago Cubs.
Barry Bonds has the Major League record with 73 which he hit in 2001 with the San Francisco Giants.
Judge now holds the American League single season record for most home runs by a right-handed batter. Jimmy Foxx hit 58 for the Philadelphia Athletics and Hank Greenberg had 58 in 1938 for the Detroit Tigers.
Although the 60-home run mark has been a milestone for nearly a century those who have achieved it have done so with a certain amount of controversy.
Ruth achieved his feat during an era when some of the greatest baseball players were not allowed to play in the major leagues due to racial segregation.
Maris reached 60 home runs only after the majors extended the season from 154 games to 162. Thus, giving him more games than Ruth.
McGwire, Sosa and Bonds all reached the 60-home run mark during the steroid era. McGwire has admitted that he used steroids to improve his power numbers. Though there is much evidence to the contrary Sosa and Bonds have not admitted steroid use.
To this point Judge’s pursuit of the single season home run record has been met with tremendous excitement and no controversy. We’ll see how far he goes. I for one will be rooting for him.
This incredible photo was taken on September 18, 1965, at Mickey Mantle Day in Yankee Stadium. The Mick is with New York Senator Bobby Kennedy who had come to the Stadium to take part in the event honoring the Yankee legend. The photo was signed by Mantle and given to my friend who had worked on the RFK presidential campaign in 1968. My friend had read my book Mickey Mantle’s Last Home Run and understood the metaphoric connection between Mickey and Bobby. Kennedy had won the New York Senate seat the previous November.
On that September day Mickey Mantle and Bobby Kennedy were probably the two most popular people in New York and the entire country. Though Mantle was on the downside of his playing days he was at the pinnacle of his fame and New Yorkers were coming to appreciate what he meant to the city and to baseball. And Mickey Mantle Day was a time to show it.
Bobby Kennedy was carrying the torch of optimism once held by his deceased brother and was happy to have the opportunity to bask in Mickey’s glory.
In just a few short years Mickey Mantle’s remarkable career would fade away in retirement and Bobby Kennedy’s valiant life of public service would end tragically.
Though their paths would never again cross Mickey and Bobby would forever be etched on the soul of America.
On this day 59 years ago something unique occurred in baseball history. The three Alou brothers: Felipe, Matty, and Jesus, all played together in the same outfield for the Giants. Three brothers in the same outfield had never happened before. In the game, played on September 15, 1963, at Forbes Field, the Giants defeated the Pirates 13-5 in front on 18,916 fans. The game featured Hall-of-Famers Willie Mays, Orlando Cepeda, and Willie McCovey for the Giants; and Roberto Clemente and Bill Mazerowski for the Pirates.
The three Alou’s played together in eight games in 1963. Felipe, then 28, was a regular outfielder for the Giants; Matty, 24, was a defensive replacement and pinch hitter who started only six games; and Jesus, 21, was a September call-up. They played in the same outfield for a few innings in three games in September. Despite some lingering baseball mythology, they never all started a game together.
Jesus made his debut on Sept. 10, and it was unique in its own right. Manager Al Dark had the Alou brothers bat consecutively in the eighth inning, Jesus and Matty as pinch hitters before Felipe came up. The Alou’s went 0 for 3 against the Mets’ Carlton Willey. On Sept. 15, the historic day, Felipe played all three outfield positions, and Matty and Jesus joined him in the outfield as late-inning substitutes. Two days later, Felipe started again and Matty and Jesus moved into the outfield late in the game. On Sept. 22, they played in the outfield together one last time, with Felipe again starting and ultimately playing all three positions before Matty and Jesus flanked him in the late innings. The Alou’s all played in the same game one more time, on Sept. 25, when Felipe started, and his brothers pinch-hit.
The next season Felipe was traded to the Milwaukee Braves. The brothers all played at least 15 seasons in the major leagues, but there were no more all-Alou outfields!
Felipe was the best of the Alou brothers with 2,101 hits from 1958-74. Matty had 1,777 hits from 1960-74 and Jesus had 1,216 from 1963-79. The Alou’s, some of the first ball players to come from the Dominican Republic, played a combined 47 seasons. Matty Alou passed away in 2011.
A lot has been made of Aaron Judge’s remarkable season. He recently blew past the 50-home run mark and all eyes are upon him as he heads towards 60. But what about all those sluggers who made it all the way to 49 home runs and never got to that milestone number 50.
A review of the 49er’s list includes some of baseball’s best hitters.
Lou Gehrig reached 49 twice in 1934 and 1936, as did Harmon Killebrew in 1964 and 1969.
Frank Robinson hit 49 home runs in his 1966 Triple Crown season. Ted Kluszewski blasted 49 in 1954. Larry Walker clubbed 49 round trippers in 1997.
The slugfest year of 2001, when Barry Bonds led the way with his record shattering 73 home runs, also provided 3 members of the 49ers Club; Shawn Green, Todd Helton and Jim Thome.
Eugenio Suarez who is still active hit 49 homers in 2019.
And finally, there is future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols who has belted 40 or more home runs in seven seasons topping out with 49 in 2006.
Quite an extraordinary, though overlooked achievement, by a group of some great Major League sluggers.
August is a great month for baseball. The winter sports have totally petered out. Football is grinding through a sweltering preseason just hoping no major stars will get injured. And with baseball heating up and embracing the steamy, sunny days and warm, sultry nights, I was ready.
First there were softball playoffs. I’m in two leagues, an over age 60’s league and an over 70’s league. In the 60’s league our team lost in the best of three semi-finals. Although we lost, we did our best and had just as much fun playing as we did celebrating the end of another season with a couple cool ones and great conversation later at Rocky’s Bar.
Our 70′ team lost both ends of a Thursday morning double-header—game two of which was shortened to five innings due to the increasing mid-day heat. We were sure we would have won had we gone the full seven though none of us complained as we retired to the shade of a broad oak tree debating what could have been.
Next came a Friday night trip to Yankee Stadium with my daughter, her boyfriend and her boyfriend’s father. It was a belated Father’s Day present and an absolutely wonderful way to spend a warm summer night. As we watched the game, we swapped stories about the many previous games we attended over the years. Although the Yanks were slumping and got shutout, the Big Ballpark in the Bronx never looked better. And along with our stories, the fan cam scenes of our jubilant and uninhibited fellow Yankee aficionados made the evening memorable and entertaining.
I was back at the Stadium on Sunday with two of my buddies as we celebrated our upcoming seventieth birthdays. This day there was more success on the field though some serious trepidation on line prior to the game. My friend Al, who was in charge of the tickets, had trouble locating them on his smartphone. As my other friend, the none-soon-to-be-septuagenarian Jeff, growled about the ravages of technology, I was of absolutely no help futilely fumbling with my phone looking for the e-tickets I was sure I had somewhere in my troves of undeleted emails. Somehow Al eventually found the tickets, we made it inside and we were treated to an exciting game decided by a late inning rocket of a home run by an unlikely source, the light-hitting Andrew Benintendi. All was right with the world has the Bombers’ losing streak came to an end.
Although baseball’s charms can best be experienced in a warm summer breeze, they can also be enjoyed on the couch in front of the TV in some AC. And that’s how I partook of the pleasures of watching women’s softball and the Little League World Series. Both are fast paced and highly entertaining versions of the national pastime featuring plenty of sensational plays and high drama but without the drawn out starts and stops that slow down the major league game. However, the question remains; when watching the Little League World Series, we know we are watching potential major leaguers but why are we not when watching these extremely athletic and talented women softball players?
I continued my August coach potato routine by watching The Captain, the ESPN documentary about Derek Jeter. As a Yankee fan ya gotta love Jeter and the series is highly entertaining. But Jeter’s entire theme is that, in baseball, winning is everything, and he sure did a lot of it leading the Yankees to five World Championships. But as you have been reading in this post and in my blog, baseball is about a lot more than just winning.
Then on Thursday I attended a minor league game with my three high school buddies. We hadn’t all been together for 20 years. If you haven’t been to a minor league baseball game on a warm summer night, do it! Inexpensive, plenty of tasty food, not too crowded, good quality play. Really, you should try it. I’m serious! And go with family and friends. We spent most of the night reminiscing about the bygone days as we sat at a comfortable concession stand table sipping on beer and soft drinks. And yes, there was a ball game going on in the background. A pretty darn good one as a dramatic ninth inning game-tying double sent us into extra inning. But that was not the point. We had seen thousands of games over the years but this time old friends Tony, Bruce, Neil and I were once again together and that was what mattered.
Finally on the last Friday of the month I enjoyed the last of my August baseball charms. My friend Frank arranged a visit at the home of his friend Cal who has an impressive collection of baseball memorabilia. I know Frank through my father-in-law Herb who passed away at the age of 99 a year ago. Herb and Frank became friends because they were, what else? big baseball fans, and Frank wanted to make sure I got to see Cal’s basement baseball museum. We were not disappointed. Cal had every manner of baseball relics from autographed baseballs and photos, to gloves and bats, to programs, yearbooks and vintage baseball cards. But what was best about Cal’s collection was not so such the individual items but the stories behind them. We listened with rapt attention to Cal’s tales, each more enthralling than the previous one. As our visit came to a close the inevitable question was posed to Cal. “How much is all this worth?” He didn’t hesitate to answer. “I don’t think of my collection in those terms. What is important to me is being able to show these items to baseball fans like you and to tell my stories.”
Although he didn’t actually say it, we knew what he meant. To Cal each item in his collection is priceless.
I will never forget this day 27 years ago when Mickey Mantle passed away at the age of 63. Growing up in New Jersey in the late fifties and early sixties Mantle was more than a star, more than an icon, he was a constant—a force of nature binding together the scattered remnants of the big bang.
If you were a kid in those days, who liked baseball, Mantle was everything—the best slugger with the best smile and the best name—the best baseball player period. He was always there, and we never knew a world without him. His presence was transcendent, and it seemed it would never change. Summers were endless, playing ball was ceaseless. And Mickey Mantle’s roughed elegance was timeless.
I thought about all of this the day the Mick died, but most of all I thought about how much he meant to my childhood, and it brought tears to my eyes as the hero of my youth would now be left only to my memories.
Vin Scully passed away yesterday at the age of 94. He was born in the Bronx in 1927 the same year Babe Ruth hit his record-shattering 60 home runs but later his family moved to Manhattan, and he became a New York Giants fan. With baseball in his blood, Scully played the outfield for Fordham University and eventually landed a job as an announcer for the then Brooklyn Dodgers. A ginger himself, he honed his craft under the tutelage of the “ol’ Redhead” Red Barber, but when Barber moved over to the Yankees in 1954, the Dodger broadcast booth became Scully’s domain. He followed Dem Bums to Los Angeles in 1957 and would be the voice of the Dodgers for 67 years until retiring in 2016.
He called classic games: Don Larsen’s perfect World Series game in 1956, the Mets improbable comeback in game six of the 1986 World Series and Kirk Gibson’s unbelievable game-winning home run against the Oakland A’s in game one of the 1988 World Series. All these games are featured in my book Grandpa Gordy’s Greatest World Series Games. Click the link. https://amzn.to/2T9lYVT
You can see the You Tube video of the Gibson home run here.
All together Scully called three perfect games and 20 no-hitters.
My most personnel memory of Vin Scully was his call of the 1963 World Series. I was eleven years old at the time and as a die-hard Yankee fan I wasn’t expecting my Yankees to lose to the lowly Dodgers. But that they did in four straight agonizing games with Vin Scully at the mike for much of it. His iconic voice, which everyone is praising, would be like fingernails on a chalk board for me for many years. But fortunately, I grew up and got over it. Like everyone in the sports world I grew to have nothing but respect for Vin Scully and his indelible impact on the wonderful world of baseball.
While researching my recent post about the Yankees’ Don Mattingly and Dave Winfield battling for the 1984 batting title, I discovered that teammates battling for the batting title, though rare, has happened several times over the long and rich history of major league baseball.
The most recent occurred in 2003 when Bill Mueller and Manny Ramirez of the Red Sox went head-to-head. The switching-hitting Mueller wound up on top batting .326 to Ramirez’s .325. Mueller would go on to future fame as the only player ever to hit two grand slam homers from both sides of the plate in a single game. Remarkably he hit a third home run in that game.
Ramirez won the AL batting title with a .349 average the prior year 2002.
The most contentious contest occurred in 1976 when Kansas City teammates George Brett and Hal McRae went down to the last game and McRae’s last at bat. McRae was ahead of Brett .33078 to .33073 on the final day of the season and they both went two for three through eight innings against the Minnesota Twins. In his last at bat in the bottom of the ninth Brett hit a fly ball to leftfield where Twins’ outfielder Steve Brye took a step back on the ball misjudging it. He was unable to recover, and the ball fell in for a hit and bounced past Brye allowing Brett to come all the way around for an inside-the-park home run. McRae then came up knowing he needed a base hit to win the batting title. But he grounded out to third leaving Brett ahead .333 to .332. Unfortunately, McRae was upset by the turn of events. According to SABR, when McRae walked back to the dugout, he tipped his batting helmet to a standing ovation by the Royals fans. Then McRae turned and gave the Twins’ dugout the finger. Twins’ manager Gene Mauch immediately charged the field and both benches emptied. It took several minutes for the umpires to restore order. Later McRae accused Brye of misplaying the ball in order to give Brett the title. “This is America, and not that much has changed. Too bad in 1976 things are still like that,” he said, citing racism as the reason why he came in second. Mauch denied the charge, saying: “This thing hurts me more than anything that has ever happened in my 35 years in baseball.”
Brett went on to win two more batting titles. Although McRae had many solid seasons, 1976 was his best chance at a title.
In 1958 Boston Red Sox mates, Ted Williams and Pete Runnells were tied at .323 after 153 games. In the final two games “The Splendid Splinter” went five for eight and Runnells was three for ten giving Williams the batting title with a .328 average. It would be the last of his six titles. Runnells would go on to win the AL batting title in 1960 and 1962.
In 1954 Willie Mays and Don Mueller (no relation to Bill) of the World Champion New York Giants battled to the final game with Mueller having a slight edge .343 to .342. But “The Say Hey Kid” went three for four with a walk and Mueller slumped to two for six giving Mays the title at .345 to .342. This would be the only batting title for Mays.
The only battle involving .400 hitters occurred in 1930 when Willie Wells of the St. Louis Stars in the NNL edged out his teammate Mule Suttles .410 to .409. This was the only title for Wells, but Suttles earned the NNL batting titles in 1926 and 1928.
The tightest of all contests was in 1928 when Jud Wilson of the Baltimore Black Sox in the ECL bested his mate Rap Dixon .3987 to .3982. Wilson also won the ECL batting title in 1927.
Way back in 1903 Honus Wagner of the Pittsburg Pirates won the batting title when his teammate Fred Clarke went zero for his last nine at bats. Wagner finished at .355 to Clarke’s .351. Wagner would win 8 NL batting titles in his illustrious career.
Baseball is full of great stories and incredible characters. Here is one from baseball’s early days written by guest blogger Bill Schaefer. The article originally appeared in Gary Livacari’s blog Baseball History Comes Alive.
“He had more stuff than any pitcher I ever saw”-Connie Mack
“When Waddell had control and some sleep, he was unbeatable.”-Branch Rickey
As a young man, he possessed the chiseled features of a matinee idol and developed a penchant for eating animal crackers in bed.
Biographer Alan Levy said: “He was a decidedly different sort of a child.” At the age of three, he wandered over to a local fire station and stayed there for several days (much to his parent’s consternation). Waddell once left in the middle of a baseball game to go fishing and would delay games to play marbles with kids.
When George Edward Waddell was born October 13, 1876, in Bradford, PA, the cosmos held its breath, with a sense that this was going to be no ordinary human being. He would grow to be powerfully constructed at 6’1”,196 pounds. A jumbo-sized athlete to be sure when you consider the average male height in the late nineteenth century was less than 5 feet 7 inches tall. George Edward toiled on mining and drilling sites as a kid, which helped his conditioning and arm strength. The nickname “Rube” was bestowed upon him as a natural consequence of his simply looking like a big old country boy.
According to SABR writer, Dan O’Brien,
“He entered this world on Friday the 13th and exited on April Fool’s Day. In the 37 intervening years, Rube Waddell struck out more batters, frustrated more managers, and attracted more fans than any pitcher of his era.”
He combined charisma, alcoholism, heroic qualities, child-like tendencies, and an extraordinary pitching talent. The Columbus Dispatch wrote,
“There was a delicious humor in many of his vagaries…an ingenuousness that he did cartwheels off the mound in victory and once disappeared for months during an off-season, only to be discovered wrestling alligators in a circus. He tried out for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1897 but was seated next to Manager Patsy Donovan during breakfast and was released immediately after the meal. However, it was also his pitching talent that made Rube a fan favorite. He threw a heavy fastball and a curve that swooped and darted and may have been the best breaking pitch in the major leagues. Let’s look at the record:
Over the course of 13 years (1897-1910), Waddell pitched for the Louisville Colonels (NL), Chicago Orphans, Philadelphia Athletics, and St. Louis Browns. The books show a won-lost record of 193-143, with a career ERA of 2.16 (eleventh all-time), 261 complete games, and 50 shutouts. He led the league in ERA twice (1900, 1905), had four consecutive years of 20 or more wins (1902-1905), topped the circuit in strikeouts an amazing six straight years (1902-1907); and in ’03 and ’04 was the only pitcher to compile consecutive 300-strikeout seasons until Sandy Koufax did it in 1965 and 1966. Waddell’s 349 K’s in 1904 represented the modern-era major league season record for more than 60 years (sixth on the all-time list) and is still the American League single-season mark for a left-handed pitcher. 1905 saw Waddell win the Triple Crown for pitching with 27 wins, 287 strikeouts and a minuscule 1.48 earned run average.
Rube Waddell was possibly the most eccentric player in the history of the game. According to baseball historian Lee Allen, he began the 1903 season sleeping in a firehouse in Camden NJ and ended it tending bar in a saloon in Wheeling West Virginia. In between, he won 22 games for the Athletics; toured the country in a vaudeville play called The Stain of Guilt; got married; saved a woman from drowning; accidentally shot a friend through the hand; and was bitten by a lion. The play was well-received by critics, but Waddell’s performance was panned royally. He couldn’t memorize lines, so he was permitted to ad-lib short responses. Nevertheless, his charismatic stage presence drew crowds from far and wide—particularly acclaimed was a scene in which Waddell lifted the actor playing the villain and threw him across the stage with ease. Rube used his sudden stardom to negotiate higher wages for his baseball career (though his highest salary was reported to be a meager $2800).
You’d like to be in the trenches with Rube: In 1904, he carried A’s center fielder, Danny Hoffman, knocked unconscious by a fastball to the temple, over his shoulder, on the run across the field…flagged a carriage to a nearby hospital, and thus saved his life.
He also helped save the city of Hickman, Kentucky twice from floods, in 1912 and 1913. Heroically working in icy water for hours led to pneumonia and then tuberculosis, from which he never fully recovered.
Unfortunately, his flakiness and drunken escapades alienated many managers and players, and Rube was shipped to the minor leagues numerous times because of his disruptive tendencies. He was easily distracted by shiny objects held up in the crowd, seemingly mesmerized by them. This could have been a sign of autism, not widely researched back in the day. Only Cornelius Alexander McGillicuddy could tolerate him for any length of time. It paid off for Connie Mack with a Philadelphia A’s World Series birth in 1905, mostly due to Waddell’s brilliance. (According to SABR, gamblers may have bribed Rube, who needed money, to miss the WS against the winning NY Giants). He stayed with “The Tall Tactician” for six years. His battery mate and drinking buddy in Philly was catcher Ossee Schreckengost (Schreck). My dad used to tell me about Rube Waddell, who ate animal crackers in bed. The story was that his roomie Ossee Schreck was not a happy camper. Here’s part of a letter to Connie Mack, purportedly written by Schreck, which appeared in the papers, circa 1906:
“Dear Connie: This is not a touch for any advance or increase in salary, but something much more serious, and as it won’t be long before the Athletics start south for spring practice. I am going to ask you to put Waddell under another charge this year. While I did not mind Rube bringing mockingbirds and a reptile or two into our sleeping apartments down south, I do object to his habit of eating crackers in bed…many of them resembling animals. This Rube does nightly.His crunching of the crackers…the bed was full of crumbs…I would like to suggest that if you can put a clause in his contract that he is not to eat crackers in bed during the 1907 season…we will continue to be real good friends as of yore.”
Reports that the request was actually put in the contract might be apocryphal.
Waddell was elected to the HOF in 1946 by the Veterans Committee, looking to enshrine a number of players from his era who had contributed to the growth of the game. Rube drew fans, like a magnet, to ballparks around the country.
Down to 130 pounds from consumption, Waddell passed away on April 1, 1914, in a sanitarium in Elmendorf, Texas. “Dad always had a gleam in his eye when he told stories about Rube Waddell,” said Connie Mack’s daughter, Ruth Mack Clark. “Dad really loved the Rube.”
SOURCES: Grunge.com The-true-tragic-story- of- Rube- Waddell; SABR article by Dan O’Brien; Wikipedia, Rube Waddell; baseball history daily.com “Rube and Ossee”; Rube Waddell baseball-reference.
Photo Credits: Featured photo used with permission from Chris Whitehouse, visit Mancave Pictures website to see Chris’s entire collection All others from Google search.
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A few weeks back I reviewed a book by retired baseball star Ruppert Jones whose promising career was cut short by a traumatic brain injury he suffered while playing centerfield for the New York Yankees in August 1980.
Jones was interviewed by Tom Kranz on his excellent podcast Type. Tune. Tint.