Tim and Gibby an Unlikely Match Made for the Right Place in the Right Time

As we continue to remember the legacy of Tim McCarver who passed away last Friday, we should not overlook his contribution to that elusive thread of racial healing that drifted precariously throughout the turbulent 1960’s. Growing up in Memphis Tennessee the son of a policeman, McCarver could never be expected to be at the vanguard of the roiling civil rights movement of the sixties. He was a product of white America and possessed what he would describe as latent prejudices against African Americans. When he arrived in the major leagues his team, the St. Louis Cardinals, had already made a strong thrust toward integration by acquiring some of the best black ball players in the country such as Curt Flood, Bill White, Lou Brock, and Bob Gibson. It was his relationship with these players and especially Bob Gibson (who passed away in 2020) which would test McCarver’s ability to overcome his prejudices. All indications are that he did so successfully and during an era of civil unrest the McCarver-Gibson relationship became a model of racial harmony.

McCarver became the starting catch for the Cardinals in 1963 and he and Gibson would be battery mates for the next six years before McCarver was traded to the Phillies. Gibson played his entire 17-year career with the Cardinals, winning 251 games, earning the Cy Young Award twice and MVP once while eventually being inducted in the Hall of Fame. His 1968 season was one for the record books. That year he had an incredible 1.12 ERA. The lowest ERA by any pitcher in the modern era (since 1920). During their six years together, Tim caught 197 of Gibby’s starts and they had tremendous success winning the National League Pennant three times and the World Series in 1964 and 1967.

Through this time Gibson was considered an extremely talented pitcher and an intimidating figure on the mound. Some would consider him mean and menacing with racial undertones. But McCarver always considered his battery mate a gentleman and friend who was just a fierce competitor on the mound in much the same way as LA Dodger pitcher and contemporary, Don Drysdale.

Over the years the pair became good friends despite their different backgrounds and were goodwill ambassadors for the game of baseball during an unsettled time. One such example was their appearance together on The Ed Sullivan Show just after defeating New York in the 1964 Series. Their relationship though was not without some give and take. McCarver often spoke of the education he received as a newcomer in St Louis. His teammates Gibson and outfielder Curt Flood were Black players who did not hesitate to confront or tease McCarver. As reported by The Guardian “when McCarver used racist language against a Black child trying to jump a fence during spring training, Gibson would remember getting right up in McCarver’s face. McCarver liked to tell another story about drinking an orange soda during a hot day in spring training and Gibson asking him for some, then laughing when McCarver flinched.”

“It was probably Gibby more than any other Black man who helped me to overcome whatever latent prejudices I may have had,” McCarver wrote in his 1987 memoir “Oh, Baby, I Love It!”

There were also lighter moments between the two. According to Tim Kirkjian of ESPN, “when McCarver went to the mound to talk to Gibson, he wasn’t always given a kindly welcome. McCarver famously said that Gibson was particularly ornery during one trip to the mound, and said to McCarver, the only thing you know about pitching is you can’t hit it.

Probably the most significant incident between the two occurred in the morning after the assassination of Martin Luther King. The country was reeling with hatred and on the verge of an explosion, but McCarver tried to discuss the tragic news with Gibson. According to reporter Tim Wendell, “Gibson told McCarver that it was impossible for whites, no matter how well intentioned, to understand how he was feeling that morning. It didn’t help that McCarver was from Memphis, where King was murdered. Yet McCarver stood his ground, telling Gibson that it was possible for people to change. If anything, he was a prime example. McCarver reminded Gibson that when the catcher was new to the team, Gibson and Curt Flood teased him about his reluctance to share a sip of soda offered by a black man. Bob and I reached a meeting of the minds that morning, McCarver later said. That was the kind of talk we often had on the Cardinals.

Gibby and Tim remained friends through the years.

What is most important about the Tim and Gibby relationship is they learned from each other. They learned how to listen, respect each other and to get along together on the biggest stage in a complicated world. One can only assume that our country was made just a little bit better by the actions of these two very talented and gracious gentlemen.



The Guardian

Tim Kirkjiian

Tim Wendel

On a personal note: If you have had the chance to read my novel Mickey Mantle’s Last Home Run you will remember that one of the protagonists, an African American teenager named Jonathan, was a huge fan of the St. Louis Cardinals and especially Bob Gibson. Jonathan was looking for role models and, as a struggling JV pitcher, who could be a better role model than Bob Gibson? Jonathan, who had a rebellious spirit, especially liked Gibson because Gibson was “mean”. And if you were black in the white dominated society you had to be mean according to the teenager’s reasoning.

The main theme of the novel is played out as Jonathan reacts to the murder of his other hero Martin Luther King and refuses to accept the condolences from his white friend TJ the book’s narrator. The emotions expressed by Jonathan and TJ are nearly exactly those described by Wendel’s reporting. I was unaware of the Tim and Gibby incident in April 1968, but surely similar confrontations were common back then and remain so today.

Remembering Tim McCarver

Legendary broadcaster and former All-Star catcher Tim McCarver passed away yesterday at the age of 81. McCarver had a long and distinguished 21-year career as a catcher for both the St. Louis Cardinals and the Philadelphia Phillies.

Although he was considered a light hitter throughout his career my most searing memory of McCarver occurred in the 1964 World Series when his Cardinals faced off against my Yankees. McCarver was in only his second season as a starter, and among the talented batting order of the NL Champion Cardinals, which included Lou Brock, Ken Boyer, Bill White and of course Hall-of-Famer Bob Gibson, outside of the St. Louis area McCarver was a virtual unknown.

With the Series tied at two games apiece, game five was a real nail-biter. After listening to the game on my trusty transistor radio in school, at the bell I like most of my friends, raced home on our bikes to watch the rest of the game. Tied 2-2 after nine innings, the game entered the tenth with Pete Mikkelsen on the mound for New York. Mikkelsen was the Yanks’ top reliever that year and manager Yogi Berra’s favorite. But to me and my brothers, who joined me watching the game, the erratic righty was nothing but agita.

Sure enough, it took Mikkelsen no time to pitch himself into a jam. With Bill White and Dick Groat on base McCarver came to the plate. A left-handed hitter, he had a unique and somewhat weird batting stance, holding his bat close to his body and just behind his left ear.  With virtually no power (he hit only 99 home runs in his two-decade career) McCarver was not considered a threat. But it didn’t take him long to blast a fat Mikkelsen pitch deep into the lower rightfield stands giving the Cards a 5-2 victory. My brothers and I looked at each other in disbelief—thinking who is this guy?

St. Louis would go on to win the Series in seven games with McCarver hitting at scintillating .478. He appeared in two more World Series with the Cards, winning against the Red Sox in 1967 and losing the next year to the Tigers.

McCarver is probably best known for his career as a broadcaster. He and Joe Buck were the voice of the World Series for 24 years and he was elected to the Broadcasting Hall of Fame. But I will never forget that October afternoon so many years ago when that plucky, little known Cardinal catcher ruined my day.

Many thanks to Baseball-Reference.com.

Dusty Gets His Due

Dusty Baker

It was hard to root for the Houston Astros in last fall’s World Series. The cheating scandal of a few years back still hadn’t faded. But one thing that wasn’t hard to do was to root for Johnnie B. “Dusty” Baker.

Dusty Baker had a long and productive 19-year career as a power-hitting outfielder for the Braves and the Dodgers. I remember him well against my Yankees in the 1977, 1978 and 1981 World Series. He was a dangerous right-handed hitter, usually batting cleanup in a very potent LA lineup. Although Reggie Jackson stole the show in the 1977 World Series, Baker was a steady force for the Dodgers hitting .292 after an MVP performance against the Phillies in the NLCS.

In game one of the 1978 World Series Baker had three hits as the Dodgers pounded the Yanks 11-5.  But it was not until 1981 that Dusty finally found the promised land as the Dodgers became World Champions defeating the Yankees four games to two with Baker contributing 2 hits in the deciding sixth game.

As solid as Baker was as a player he is better known today for his successful career as a manager. Baker has managed for 25 years winning over 2,000 games with a .539 winning percentage. His steady competent managerial style was on hand in his very first assignment as he led the San Francisco Giants to 103 victories in 1993, falling short of the divisional title by one game to the red-hot Atlanta Braves.

Altogether Baker won eight divisional titles over his years managing the Giants, the Reds, the Cubs and the Astros and was National League Manager of the Year three times—winning the NL pennant three times, a World Series title eluded him.  But it was this past year that Baker’s long years of dedication, hard work and baseball wisdom got him to the top. Having taken over the scandal-ridden Houston Astros in 2020 Baker righted the ship and provided solid guidance to a young talented team looking to move beyond their franchise’s past troubles. And it was Baker’s excellent leadership that propelled the Astros to their first untainted championship. The decisive four games to two victory by Houston over Philadelphia was Dusty Baker’s finest moment.

After 41 years Dusty Baker is once again a World Champion, an honor he truly deserves and one all fans of the national pastime can cheer.

Sources: Baseball-References.com

Astros Soar with History-Making No-hitter in Game Four

Christian Javier

Last night the Houston Astros tied the World Series at two games apiece with a history-making no-hitter. It was the first time in World Series history that a pitching staff pitched a combined no-hitter. Christian Javier, Bryan Abreu, Rafael Montero and Ryan Pressly shut down the hard-hitting Philadelphia Phillies 5-0 without a hit in a game for the ages. The only other World Series no-hitter occurred 66 years ago when Don Larsen of the New York Yankees threw his remarkable perfect game against the Brooklyn Dodgers. 

The young flame-thrower Javier pitched the first six innings recording nine strikeouts. Abreu, Montero and Pressly each pitched one inning mowing down the Phils with ease. The four pitchers totaled 14 punchouts. They allowed three walks for the only Phillie baserunners.

Don Larsen

An interesting comparison between Larsen’s masterpiece and last night’s gem was the similarity of pitching deliveries. Larsen was noted for his no-windup delivery which back in the fifties was very uncommon. Today many pitchers throw without a windup and have tremendous success as was evident last night. All four Astro pitchers used a no-windup delivery. Of course, it would be unheard of back in the fifties to remove a pitcher in the sixth inning throwing a no-hitter. Things have changed nowadays, and no one has questioned Dusty Baker’s decision to remove Javier. In fact, the Astros had a similar combined no-hitter against the Yankees in 2003. And since Houston had a comfortable 5-0 lead last night it made sense to remove Javier in case he is needed again if the series goes to seven games. 

We’ll see if Philadelphia can bounce back tonight. 

Holy Cow He Did It! See Ya!

Last night Aaron Judge hit his 61st home run of the 2022 season and tied Roger Maris for the American League single-season home run record. The momentous blast over the leftfield wall in Toronto occurred in the top of the seventh inning against Blue Jay lefty Tim Mayza. The home run propelled the Yankees to an 8-3 victory over the Blue Jays.

Judge’s home run ironically came 61 years after the Maris record which was set in 1961. The ball bounced back onto the playing field where it was retrieved and given to Judge. He in turn gave the historic baseball to his mom in a touching moment.

This historic event has specific meaning for me. As a nine-year-old I was fortunate enough to attend the game in 1961 where Maris hit his 61st. Pictured above is the ticket stub from that game that my brother saved. Back then our dad made it his mission to take us to at least one Yankee game every year. The trek over to Yankee Stadium from New Jersey wasn’t always an easy one especially for my dad who worked in construction and the summer and early fall were extremely busy for him. But we made it to that game. The last game of the 1961 season. And it will forever be etched in our memories.

Congrats to Aaron Judge for his tremendous achievement and to Roger Maris for all the memories. And thanks, dad.

Mickey and Bobby: An Unlikely Pairing

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.

Mickey and Bobby. Also, with Mrs. Lou Gehrig. September 18, 1965.

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.

The Three Alou Brothers Make History: All Three in The Same Outfield!

By guest blogger Gary Livacari

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.

Brothers Felipe, Matty and Jesus Alou

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.

Information: Excerpt edited from the New York Times article on the Three Alou’s in the same game. http://bats.blogs.nytimes.com/…/the-myth-of-the-alou-brot…/…

Check out Gary’s blog https://www.baseballhistorycomesalive.com/

And Gary’s new book The Best of Baseball History Come Alive https://www.amazon.com/Best-Baseball-History-Comes-Alive/dp/0578395967

The 49ers of Major League Baseball

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

Lou Gehrig reached 49 twice in 1934 and 1936, as did Harmon Killebrew in 1964 and 1969.

Frank Robinson

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.

Albert Pujols

Quite an extraordinary, though overlooked achievement, by a group of some great Major League sluggers.

Baseball and All Its Charms

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. 

Yankee Stadium resplendent under a New York City sunset.

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.

That’s Aaron Judge of course from whom Benintendi stole the spotlight.

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.  

That’s Yankees’ star prospect Anthony Volpe with the Somerset Patriots

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.

Vin Scully, A Class Act All the Way

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.

Rest in peace, Mr. Dodger, Vin Scully.