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

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.


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. 

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.

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.  

Billy Martin: World Series Wonderkid

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.


SABR: Society for American Baseball Reference

Baseball Almanac

If you get a chance check out my books:

Mickey Mantle’s Last Home Run: Falco, Steven A: 9781532052088: Books

Grandpa Gordy’s Greatest World Series Games: Falco, Steven: 9780595219148: Books

Mickey Mantle’s First World Series Home Run

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On this date October 6, 69 years ago Mickey Mantle came to the plate against Brooklyn Dodger pitcher Billy Loes in the eighth inning of game 6 of the 1952 World Series. Brooklyn was ahead 3 games to 2 in the series but the Yanks held a precarious 2-1 lead in game 6. New York was amid a dominant streak having won the last three World Series and four out of the last five. They had the Dodgers’ number beating Brooklyn in their three previous meetings in, ‘41, ’47 and ’49. So Brooklyn was out for revenge. They needed to hold the hated Yankees at bay in the eighth and ninth so the powerful Brooklyn lineup could secure a victory and end the Yankee dominance.

As Mantle stepped to the plate, he was a twenty-year-old phenom who had taken over centerfield from the revered Joe DiMaggio who had retired at the end of 1951. This was Mickey’s second World Series. His first, the previous year, ended tragically in the fifth inning of game 2 when Willie Mays hit a fly to right centerfield. Mantle, who was playing right, charged over for the ball but pulled up when DiMaggio called him off. Mantle’s foot got caught in a drainage ditch and his knee buckled. He left the game and did not return for the rest of the series. It was the beginning of a string of leg injuries that would hamper the Mick’s career. All this was in the past as Mantle dug in from the left side and blasted a Loes pitch over the wall to give the Yanks a 3-1.

Mantle’s first World Series homer turned out to be the deciding run in game 6 as Dodger slugger Duke Snider homered in the bottom of the eighth. New York held on for a 3-2 win knotting the series at 3-3.

In game 7 the young Mickey Mantle once again had the deciding blow when he hit a solo shot in the top of the sixth against Joe Black giving the Yanks a 3-2 lead. New York held on to win 4-2 thanks to miraculous catch by Billy Martin on a short pop up by Jackie Robinson. It was the fourth World Championship in a row for the Bronx Bombers.

Mantle was the unquestioned hitting star of the series batting .345 with two homers, five runs scored, three RBI and a .655 slugging percentage.

I was only two months old at the time so I could only read about the Mick’s early exploits. But like so many others I would soon become a devoted Mickey Mantle fan and enjoyed watching his storied career which included 16 more World Series homers for record of 18 which still stands today.