Jun 16

Baseball As A Bond On Father’s Day

Was channel surfing on the car radio Saturday when the numbers stopped on the New York Mets game. I thought I’d stick around for a quick listen to Howie Rose and Josh Lewin for a couple of reasons.

First, they are good, and secondly I thought I’d do my part to boost their ratings. What else are friends for?

I forget the context it was mentioned, but Howie brought up the now-demolished Cleveland Municipal Stadium. Josh called it, “The Mistake on the Lake.” Constructed on the shores of Lake Erie, the one-time home of the Indians and Browns – and built in the long-forgotten hope of Cleveland one day hosting the Olympics – like so many others exists only in film clips and memories.

Howie mentioned his disdain for the Stadium and asked how anybody could like the place. To anybody who once shivered watching the Browns in December or Indians in April, or battled the monstrous bugs, or sat behind a pillar, or smelt the stench of the beer and urine-soaked concourses, I surely understand.

But, I said “once.’’

For me, and thousands like me, there were countless trips and Cleveland Stadium became a second home. When Howie mentioned it I couldn’t help think of my father, who on this special day, is only with me in my distracted and rushing thoughts.

My father instilled in me my love of baseball and sense of fair play. He was my Little League coach and my teams weren’t that good, but win or lose, after each game we’d go for ice cream. And, whether you were good or not, on my father’s team you always played and everybody batted. No exceptions. Only now do I understand why we lost so many games late because some kid I’ve long since forgotten muffed a pop up or struck out.

The first day of practice was for preparing the field. You brought shovels and rakes, not bats and gloves that day.

Baseball was it in my house. Dad rushed home to coach the games, and on the nights we didn’t play we’d watch the Indians. I loved watching those games with him. Somehow, it was better in black-and-white long before the days of instant replay and high-def.

However, serious bonding was done at Cleveland Stadium. I still have the box score from the first game he took me to, won 5-0 by the Indians over Baltimore. I came to see Rocky Colavito, but Chuck Hinton homered.

We’d go several times each summer, and he always brought along a group of my friends for my birthday. I’ll never forget when he took my brother and me out of school for Opening Day. He said we’d remember that more than anything they’d teach us that day in school.

He was right, as he often was, but I didn’t give him that much.

I remember a lot of the games, including the time we had standing room tickets to watch the Browns beat Dallas in the playoffs. Dale Lindsey ran back an interception for a touchdown. What I remember most was looking up at him as he shivered just because I wanted to be there.

When I got older and covered the Indians, I treated him. Then, years later, the best time I had with him in my adult life was when he spent a week with me in spring training. Sadly, we did it once. But, that week in Florida was planted in Cleveland Stadium decades earlier.

The Stadium wasn’t glamorous, but it was mine. Just as Shea Stadium was Howie’s place of worship, so to speak. In these days of Citi Field and retro stadiums, there are countless of baseball fans like us weaned in dumpy ballparks.

Gone are Tiger Stadium; Memorial Stadium in Baltimore; the old Yankee Stadium; RFK in Washington; Metropolitan Stadium in Minnesota; Crosley Field; and Forbes Field. And, we haven’t even gotten to Ebbets Field or the Polo Grounds.

Those are sacred places of Tom Seaver and Mickey Mantle; of Al Kaline and Brooks Robinson; of Harmon Killebrew and Pete Rose; of Ralph Kiner and Willie Mays.

Some of those stadiums are now dust, or covered in concrete and built over by apartment complexes and shopping malls. Some of the players are also gone.

They remain in our consciousness in large part because our fathers told us about them while sitting in cramped aisles between innings and pitching changes. Those were the days before non-stop video and blaring audio, sometimes between batters. The lull in the action is the beauty of the sport, which those who run this game worrying about the added five minutes will never understand.

My father and I were close then, but drifted apart as I grew older. We differed politically and I rebelled about a lot of things, as most teenagers do.

I don’t recall if we ever played catch in the yard after he stopped coaching and I went to high school. Maybe we did, but honestly, I don’t think so. However, when things were the coldest between us, we always had baseball and World War II history to talk about.

There were times, even if I knew the answers, I’d ask questions just to hear him talk. Even manufactured conversation is better than silence. He’s gone now and there’s so much more I’d like to tell him if I had the chance I will never get.

If I were smart enough then as reflective as I am now, perhaps we would have thrown the ball around a lot more.

Jan 10

How To Change The Hall Of Fame Voting Process

I read many columns from my colleagues, and was greatly disappointed in those who would not recognize a player on the first ballot, and even worse, those who returned their ballots blank.

As I wrote yesterday, boycotting first timers is an abuse of power. If you truly believe a player merits induction based on his career, then he should be on your ballot the first year.

You can’t legislate whom a voter marks down on his ballot, and history has shown this practice has gone on since the voting began.

Tom Seaver appeared on the highest percentage of the ballots at 98.84 percent. In the all-time rankings of the Hall of Fame inductees by percentage: Ty Cobb (4), Babe Ruth and Honus Wagner (tied 11), Willie Mays (14), Ted Williams (18), and Stan Musial (19).

Did you know, Frank Robinson, Joe DiMaggio, Al Kaline, Mickey Mantle, Mel Ott, Yogi Berra, Bob Gibson and Harmon Killebrew didn’t even receive 90 percent of the vote?

Did you know, before the voting rules changed, that Lou Gehrig received only 22.6 percent of the vote?

How could any of these players not appear on a voter’s ballot?

If you’re a voter and believe a player is worthy, he should not be omitted based on his first year of eligibility. Frankly, that is an abuse of your voting privileges.

Then there is the issue of the blank ballot. You’re allotted ten votes. Send your message against the steroid users all you want, but don’t penalize a worthy candidate with a blank ballot because it changes the percentages. I find it impossible out of all the candidates a voter can’t find at least one player worthy.

A blank vote is a vote of arrogance.

There are voting guidelines, but one should never be to dictate how a member votes. I am disappointed in the first-year and blank ballot voters, but don’t believe they should lose the right to vote based on their God-complex.

What changes would I make in the voting process?

* I would have the Hall of Fame voters identified with their choices. Media members can find out easily enough as to whom the voters chose. I think it should be out front and a condition of the voting.

* Blank ballots should be identified and not count against the percentage of ballots cast. This will eliminate the voter who votes against Barry Bonds and in the fallout penalizes Craig Biggio.

* Identify drug users on their plaques and have their names listed with an asterisk in the record books. Tainted players have tainted records. In my thinking, Hank Aaron and Roger Maris have the career and single-season home run records, not Bonds and McGwire. When I refer to Bonds and McGwire, I’ll say “balls hit over the wall,” and not call them home runs.

Baseball is about numbers and history. Bonds, Clemens and Rafael Palmeiro, not to mention Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson, all have careers worthy of induction. We just can’t pretend their careers didn’t exist.

To put a scarlet letter on their careers doesn’t condone their actions, but acknowledges their complete roles in the sport.

Dec 26

One More Night Of Tom Seaver …

Good morning. I hope you all enjoyed your Christmas and you got what you wanted or needed. If I had the power, I would have given you these things:

* One more summer like 1969, when the expectations weren’t high and your team captured the imagination of the City and the nation.

* An ownership group solvent and desirous of giving you the talent you deserve to cheer for.

* One more night of Tom Seaver going into that classic windup and stride, brushing his right knee to the mound and throwing a darting fastball on the corner, with Willie Mays swinging and missing with a mighty grunt.

* Shea Stadium rocking one more time, with the stands actually moving as the K’s mount up for Dwight Gooden.

* Darryl Strawberry uncoiling that mighty swing of his and ripping a majestic blast deep into the bullpen area. That is, if it misses the scoreboard.

* Another summer against the classic rivalries, the Cubs, the Cardinals, the Braves … and beating them.

* Mike Piazza whiplash swing, rifling a line drive deep into the night.

* The gritty play of Len Dykstra and Wally Backman, diving for balls and into bases, letting us know hustle is still in vogue.

* Keith Hernandez, creeping in from first to pounce on the bunt and nail the runner going to third.

* Johan Santana, healthy from April through October.

* Jerry Koosman dropping a slow curve in on the hands of Willie McCovey.

* Those hundreds of creative signs on Banner Day.

* Seeing the stars come in one more time: Mays, Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Hank Aaron, Bob Gibson, Juan Marichal, Roberto Clemente, Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Gaylord Perry, Ron Santo, Billy Williams, Ernie Banks, Richie Allen, Mike Schmidt, Willie Stargell, Fergie Jenkins, Dale Murphy and yes, Chipper Jones.

* Jose Reyes drilling a liner into the gap, striding around the bases and diving head first into third with a triple.

* Ed Kranepool holding on speedster Maury Wills at first.

* A Dave Kingman moonshot, without the complementary strikeout.

* Shea Stadium on a sunny, Sunday afternoon.

* Citi Field, full for once on a date other than Opening Day and against somebody other than the Yankees.

* Speaking of the Yankees, sweeping them during interleague play.

* Carlos Beltran running into the gap to chase down a line drive.

* A solid rotation of Ron Darling and Sid Fernandez.

* Randy Myers throwing smoke in the ninth.

* Billy Wagner doing the same.

* Jerry Grote blocking the plate.

* An October of magic, with J.C. Martin getting the call when he was struck running down the line … with Tommie Agee chasing down uncatchable fly balls and Donn Clendenon ripping home runs.

* A summer when the non-descript come through in the clutch: Ken Boswell and Al Weis; Ron Taylor and Don Cardwell.

* Another spring training with Casey Stengel telling his tales.

* Another summer with Gil Hodges in the dugout.

* David Wright with supporting hitters all around him.

* John Olerud’s sweet swing.

* Robin Ventura with the bases loaded.

* R.A. Dickey’s knuckleball floating towards home.

* And, one more dribbler down the first base line from Mooke Wilson ….

 

 

Oct 27

Happy Birthday Ralph Kiner

Today is the 90th birthday for baseball legend Ralph KIner, once a slugging All-Star first baseman for the Pittsburgh Pirates and currently a guest analyst for the Mets on home weekends for SNY.

KINER: One of a kind.

I remember the first time I met Ralph. It was in Houston in the early 1980s when I was interning with the Houston Astros in their marketing/group sales department. I was interested in radio work and was given the opportunity to work with the visiting radio-TV crews feeding the guys notes and stats.

Growing up in Ohio I’d spend parts of my summers watching the pitiful Mets, but enjoyed listening to Ralph, Bob Murphy and Lindsey Nelson. They were a joy to listen. I loved their stories and how they described a game. Far better than the Cleveland Indians broadcasters I watched at home.

Now I had the chance to hear those stories personally, and he was gracious with his time and the stories were so much better because I got to ask questions. Somewhere, I have an autographed ball with Kiner, Murphy and Steve Albert, a fellow Kent State grad like myself.

Kiner has led a grand life, one we’d all be envious of. Once a Navy Pilot during World War II, which is an awesome achievement in itself, Kiner graduated to the major leagues and while playing for the lowly Pirates, lead the National League in homers seven times. He played in baseball’s Golden Age, competing against fellow Hall of Famers Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays, Stan Musial, Duke Snider, Eddie Mathews and Hank Aaron.

Kiner hit 51 homers in 1947 while striking out less than 100 times. Who can imagine that in today’s game?

The left field porch in old Forbes Field was dubbed “Kiner’s Korner,” the name he used for his postgame show after the Mets’ telecasts.

It was in the both where Kiner gained great acclaim as an analyst working with Nelson and Murphy, spinning yarns about the inner workings of the game and the characters who played it. He provided a combination of humor and insight.

Kiner became known for his malapropisms, which only can be defined as priceless. The following are a list of his best:

* “All of his saves have come in relief appearances” 

* “All of the Mets road wins against the Dodgers this year occurred at Dodger Stadium.”

* “Cadillacs are down at the end of the bat.” 

* “Darryl Strawberry has been voted to the Hall of Fame five years in a row.”

* “Hello, everybody. Welcome to Kiner’s Corner. This is….uh. I’m…uh”

* “He’s (Bruce Sutter) going to be out of action the rest of his career.”

* “If Casey Stengel were alive today, he’d be spinning in his grave.”

* “I think one of the most difficult things for anyone who’s played baseball is to accept the fact that maybe the players today are playing just as well as ever.”

* “It’s (Phil Niekro’s knuckleball) like watching Mario Andretti park a car.”

* “Jose DeLeon on his career has seventy-three wins and one-hundred and five rbi’s.”

* “Kevin McReynolds stops at third and he scores.”

* “Now up to bat for the Mets is Gary Cooper.”

* “On Fathers Day, we again wish you all happy birthday.”

* “Solo homers usually come with no one on base.”

* “(Don) Sutton lost thirteen games in a row without winning a ballgame.”

* “The hall of fame ceremonies are on the thirty-first and thirty-second of July.”

* “The Mets have gotten their leadoff batter on only once this inning.”

* “The reason the Mets have played so well at Shea this year is they have the best home record in baseball.”

* “This one deep to right and it is way back, going, going, it is gone, no off of the top of the wall.”

* “There’s a lot of heredity in that family.”

* “Tony Gwynn was named player of the year for April.”

* “Two-thirds of the earth is covered by water. The other third is covered by Garry Maddox.”

* “You know what they say about Chicago. If you don’t like the weather, wait fifteen minutes.” 

It was good to read these again and laugh. I hope Ralph has a lot of laughs on his birthday today, and every day.

 

 

May 31

Today in Mets History: A long one vs. the Giants.

Greetings all. I hope you had a great holiday weekend. I was away at a place with no Internet access and it was like being stranded on Gilligan’s Island without the Professor.

KRANEPOOL: A busy day.

I see I didn’t miss much with the Mets during the Phillies series. A lot of pre-series talk about getting back to .500 and making a statement went by the boards. It’s time to climb out of the hole again.

Tonight it is the Pirates, but on this day in 1964, the Mets played an unforgettable doubleheader against the San Francisco Giants at Shea Stadium. The Giants swept, winning the first game, 5-3, but needing 23 amazing innings to prevail in the nightcap, 8-6.

“I wanted it to go a little longer,’’ said Ed Kranepool, who played in all 32 innings. “That way I could say I played in a game that started in May and ended in June.’’

The Mets tied it in the seventh inning on a three-run homer by Joe Christopher off Bob Bolin and even turned a triple play in the 14th inning. The game lasted 7:23.

It’s always fascinating looking at the box scores for games like this. Eight different players, including Willie Mays for the Giants and Kranepool for the Mets had 10 at-bats. Galen Cisco for the Mets pitched nine innings of relief and took the loss, while Gaylord Perry worked ten innings in relief for the Giants and earned the win.

Years later, Perry said that game enabled him to break into the Giants rotation and launch his Hall of Fame Career.

GAME ONE

GAME TWO