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.
Billy Martin had a long, illustrious and many times controversial baseball career. Described as pugnacious, irascible, a fighter and a brat, Billy Martin was anything but boring throughout his four decades in Major League Baseball. Billy’s ten-year playing career was average at best. A good glove man but a light hitter he ended with a .257 batting average, 877 hits and 64 home runs. He found much more success as a manager where he compiled a .553 winning percentage over 16 years. He also made too many headlines for the wrong reasons—throwing a bat at a pitcher, sparing in a New York City night club brawl, tussling with his eventual hall-of-fame outfield slugger, and punching out a marshmallow salesman in an elevator. But what is many times overlooked and always underappreciated was Martin’s truly spectacular performance in the World Series. Participating in our nation’s premiere sporting event in the 1950’s, the scrappy Billy Martin was one of the best ever.
Over his long career Martin was part of seven Fall Classics, all with the Yankees, five of which he was on the winning side. In two he was the manager—winning against the Dodgers in 1977 and losing against the Reds in 1976. In the 1951 Series against the Giants, he pinch ran once and scored a run. But it was in the ’52, ’53, ’55 and ’56 World Series where Billy really excelled. Martin’s lifetime WS batting average over 28 games was an impressive .333 and the wiry second baseman’s slugging percentage was a powerful .566. In fact, Martin’s WS average and slugging percentage in a similar number of games were better than such sluggers as Musial, Mays, Maris, and Jackie Robinson.
Martin had his first significant playing time in the 1952 World Series against the Dodgers where his sixth inning three-run homer propelled the Yanks to a 7-1 victory in game two. But what he is most remembered for in that Series was his spectacular grab of a wind-blown pop-up in the seventh inning of game seven. With New York nursing a 4-2 lead in that pivotable game, Jackie Robinson came up with the based loaded, two outs and lofted a short infield pop-up that confused all the Yankee infielders and seemed certain to drop scoring the tying runs. But Martin came out of nowhere to make a lunging grab by the pitcher’s mound to save the day for the Yanks.
In the seventh game of the 1955 World Series, it was Martin, who with a walk, started what could have been the game-winning Yankee rally if not for Sandy Amoros’ incredible snag of Yogi Berra’s deep fly into the leftfield corner.
In the 1956 World Series Martin was once again in the middle of a New York Championship belting two home runs, knocking in five and scoring eight runs.
But Martin’s best performance was in the 1953 World Series against the Dodgers. “Billy the Kid” batted a scintillating .500 with 12 hits including two triples and two home runs. His 23 total bases bested the record of 19 set 30 years prior by none other than Babe Ruth. And it was Brash Billy who contributed the game-winning, series-winning, walk-off hit, knocking in Hank Bauer in the ninth inning of game six.
Billy Martin without question was the Wonderkid of the World Series.
On a personal note, I was too young to ever see Billy Martin play as a New York Yankee though I did spend years rooting for him and cringing for him during his tumultuous and mostly successful years as the Yankee manager. But as a kid what I most remember was that my first baseball glove was a Billy Martin model. I didn’t really know who he was as Gil McDougald had taken over second base for the Yanks and soon after Bobby Richardson would don Billy’s number one. But there was something magical about that glove. Back then we played baseball all the time, everywhere, and every variation of the game—stickball, whiffle ball, three flies six grounders, any base, infield practice, outfield practice, you name it. And I always brought my Billy Martin baseball glove. It got so worn out that at one point my brother and I ripped out the padding and all that was left was a flapping piece of worn-out leather. But I loved it and continued to take it everywhere and I did pretty well with it. As a matter of fact, I began to get a reputation as a pretty darn good fielder for a little squirt. My older brother would even take me to play with the big kids, but he made sure I took my Martin. By that time, we were referring to the chunk of leather as simply the Martin. Soon other kids began to take notice. “Hey. Nice catch, kid,” they’d say. Then they’d take a glimpse of my glove and say, “you made that catch with that scroungy glove?” Soon everybody wanted to take a look at my Martin. The big kids would say, “yeah you can play. But make sure you bring the Martin.” At the time I knew very little about Billy Martin. I didn’t know that he was a good fielding second baseman who had a special talent for getting big hits when it mattered. And that he was a scrappy competitor, often overlooked and even at times ridiculed, but possessing an undeniable touch of magic. Just like my glove.
You may have enjoyed some of Gary Livacari’s articles and essays that I have posted here on Back Home with Baseball and Beyond. If you haven’t read them, take a moment to scroll back and check them out. You will see Gary has a talent for uncovering some of baseball’s most entertaining stories and he truly does make baseball history come alive.His new book is full of these stories.
Here’s an excerpt from the Amazon description of the book:
Over the years, baseball historian Gary L. Livacari has written over one thousand essays for his Baseball History Comes Alive website. Covering all historical eras of the National Pastime, this volume is a collection of over one hundred of his most well-received essays.
There’s a certain romanticism to the “Old Days” of baseball that the current game lacks. The author tries to recapture that lost charm in these essays. If you’re looking for writing on the modern game, you won’t find it here. What you will find is entertaining, interesting essays, stories, and out-right gossip from the Golden Days of baseball. It is a book that will appeal to baseball history fans of all stripes and also to those interested to learn the impact baseball has had on American history and culture. All who love baseball and its glorious past will find the collection to be a source of enjoyable reading. As the author says in his introduction, “If you love baseball history, you’ve come to the right place!”
And by the way: Gary’s has graciously included my essay about Yogi Berra in the book, so I know you won’t want to miss that!
Seventy-one years ago today, the New York Yankees squared off against the Chicago White Sox on a cool day in Comiskey Park. Yankee starter Vic Raschi was matched up against Chicago lefty Bob Cain. Nineteen-year-old Mickey Mantle was batting leadoff and playing right field. Jackie Jensen was in center field for the injured Joe DiMaggio.
The Yankees got off to an early 5-2 lead and Cain left for a pinch hitter. His replacement, the grizzled right hander Randy Gumpert, took over in the top of the sixth. With one out and Raschi on second after a double, Mantle stepped to the plate batting lefty. Gumpert had faced many sluggers in his day, Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio and he knew the expectations placed on the young Mickey Mantle. He realized the rookie was under intense pressure to perform and he thought he would be overanxious at the plate. So Gumbert served up a changeup. But the talented phenom wasn’t fooled and blasted the ball more than 400 feet into the center field bull pen.
It was Mickey Mantle’s first home run and according to the Mick his most memorable. Yankee backup catcher Charley Silvera was in the outfield bullpen where the ball landed and thoughtfully retrieved it. The Mick would inscribe the ball:
“My first home run in the majors May 1,1951 4:50 PM in Chicago 6th inning off Randy Gumpert.”
Mantle would later display the ball in his Holiday Inn in Joplin Missouri. The town of Joplin was significant to Mickey because it was there that he launched his career with a scorching .383 batting average in 1950 that caught the eyes of the Yankee brass. Mantle went on to hit 535 more home runs and 18 additional home runs in the World Series. When he hit his last home run in September 1968, he was number three on the all-time home run list behind only Babe Ruth at 714 and Willie Mays at 587.
In honor of Mickey Mantle’s first home run and his iconic #7, I will be giving away 7 copies of my novel Mickey Mantle’s Last Home Run. My book has been described by Kirkus Reviews as “an emotionally satisfying story of friendship and a well written sports tale with excellent, detailed scenes of characters observing and playing the game, and will appeal to fans of good sports writing.”
Just contact me via email firstname.lastname@example.org or the comment section and I’ll mail you the book postage free.
James P. Dawson THE NEW YORK TIMES Associated Press (1951, May 02).
Smokey Joe Wood began his career with the Boston Red Sox in 1908. His best season was in 1912 when he led Boston to the American League pennant with 34 wins. He had a 1.91 ERA and topped the league with 10 shut outs. Incredibly, he was only fifth in the MVP voting and was the second-best pitcher behind Walter Johnson who had 33 wins, a 1.39 ERA and 303 strikeouts. Wood and Johnson both won 16 games in a row during the 1912 season. With a stellar performance in the World Series Wood added three more victories as the Sox claimed the championship.
Then in 1913, Smokey Joe Wood slipped and broke his thumb. When he tried to come back too soon, he hurt his shoulder—so badly, that by 1915, he couldn’t raise his right arm high enough to put it on the arm rest at the movie theater. By 1916, Wood retired and went back to the farm, washed up at 26 years old. But Smokey Joe said, “Doggone it, I am a ballplayer, not just a pitcher.” Wood fought his way back to the big leagues as an outfielder and played for the Cleveland Indians for five years, batting .366 in 1921.
Smokey Joe Wood—the best pitcher you never heard of and an inspiration for us all.
Four of the greatest hurlers from the early decades of the 20th Century: Smokey Joe Wood, Cy Young, Lefty Grove and The Big Train, Walter Johnson. Each of these pitchers won 30 games or more in a season at least once.
Jackie Robinson made his professional debut not in Brooklyn in 1947, but 76 years ago today in Jersey City, when the Dodgers’ Triple A team, the Montreal Royals opened their minor league season in Roosevelt Stadium, the home park of the Jersey City Giants.
Mayor Hague declared Opening Day in Jersey City a holiday for city employees and school children. On April 18, 1946, Jackie Robinson, wearing a Montreal Royals jersey (#9) stepped to the plate in front of 51,837 raucous fans at the over-capacity Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City. Jackie Robinson settled in for his first official at-bat as a professional in an integrated baseball game. Nervous? Perhaps, but not for long. On a full count pitch in his first at-bat, Robinson grounded out to the shortstop. It was the only out he’d make that day. His next plate appearance was a three-run homer, and he was met at home plate with an outstretched hand by teammate George “Shotgun” Shuba – fixed in time by the famed photograph of the moment when black and white teammates saluted each other on the diamond. Robinson followed up the dinger with a bunt single, a steal of second, and ultimately a balk home after rattling the pitcher dancing down the third base line. Robinson’s final stat line was 4-5 with four RBIs in a 14-1 victory.
The Mets had a wonderful opening day ceremony today honoring Jackie Robinson who made his debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers 75 years ago. It reminds me of the great song by Garland Jeffreys, “Color Line” which was very appropriate for today’s celebration in Queens. The song is from Jeffreys’ 1991 album, Don’t Call Me Buckwheat. Check out the YouTube link below. It shows the album cover which has Jeffreys as a young kid in front of what appears to be Ebbets Field. Garland Jeffreys is now retired. I last saw him in a sold-out concert about seven years ago at Rahway’s Hamilton Stage and he was still rockin’ and rollin’.
The Dodgers were the first major league team to sign a black player. The Boston Red Sox were the last. Elijah “Pumpsie” Green made his debut with Boston on July 1, 1959. He was the brother of Cornell Green who starred with the Dallas Cowboys playing 13 years as a defensive back and appearing in two Super Bowls.
Jackie Robinson had a Hall of Fame career with a lifetime batting average of .313. He was a seven-time All Star, Rookie of the Year in 1947, and the National League MVP and NL Batting Title winner in 1949. He appeared in six World Series with the Dodgers including their World Championship in 1955. Pumpsie Green played four years with the Boston and finished his career in 1963 with the New York Mets.