Minnie, A Shadow Player.

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Before Yasiel Puig, Jose Abreu or Yoenis Cespedes, there was Minnie Minoso. Thirty years ago this week, after 12 years of retirement and after 17 years in the Major Leagues, Minoso was activated by Bill Veeck, then owner of the Chicago White Sox an started as designated hitter, batting ninth, in the first game of a twin bill with the California Angels. In the second inning, with two outs and Chet Lemon on first base, he singled to left off Angels’ starter Sid Monge. At age 53, Minoso had become the second oldest player to notch a hit in a major league game (Jim O’Rourke had a hit at 54 years/21 days) and the second oldest to suit up after Satchel Paige had played at age 59 for Veeck’s Indians in 1965. Minoso would play three games in 1976, getting one hit in eight at bats. He played again in 1980 for the White Sox. In 1993 (at age 71) and 2003 (at age 81), he put on a uniform for the independent Northern League’s St. Paul Saints, becoming baseball’s first octogenarian and only seven-decade player. He was a 7 time All-Star and batted .298 for his career. He won the Golden Glove three times. In his 12 years with the Chicago White Sox, he batted .304.

Minnie Minoso is one of the famous Great Ten of Cuban baseball players. These are the Shadow Players. With one exception, all were terrific players who played in the shadow of having two handicaps, one was the color of their skin and the other was the unfamiliar language when grew up with, spoke and understood.

Certainly Luis Tiant would head the list as he pitched 19 years in the Show, winning 20 or more games four times and was an All-Star three times. He’s not in the Hall.

Tony Perez is the lone Hall of Famer of the Great Ten as he won two World Series as a player for Cincinnati and a 7 time All-Star and MVP in the 1967 game.

Tony Oliva was the 1964 AL Rookie of the Year and played 15 years for the Minnesota Twins becoming an All-Star 8 times. With a 3.04 lifetime batting average, it is seemingly improbable that he is not in the Hall of Fame.

Mike Cuellar won 20 or more game four times and was the 1969 Cy Young Award winner and four-time All-Star. He finished after 15 years in the Major Leagues with a 185-130 record and a 3.14 ERA. He is not in the Hall of Fame.

Dolf Luque, The Pride of Havana, was a legendary pitcher who spend 20 seasons in the Bigs. He had the second most wins of any Cuban pitcher and finished with 194-179 record with a 3.24 ERA from 1914-1935. In 1923, he went 27-8 with a 1.93 ERA for the Cincinnati Reds. He won the 1923 and the 1925 NL pitching title. He is not in the Hall.

Camilo Pascual for 18 season produced a 174-170 record with a 3.63 ERA, particularly with poor teams. He was a 7 time All-Star. Ted Williams said he had the ‘most feared curial in the American League’. In an era when pitchers were real pitchers, he had back-to-back 20 game win season and had 18 complete games in each of the 1962 and 1963 seasons and led the AL in strikeouts 1961 thru 1963. He is not in the Hall.

Bert Campaneris played in the MLB for 19 seasons and at one time in 1965, played all nine positions in a major league age, the first to ever do that. He was an All-Star 6 times and won three World Series titles in 1972, 1973 and 1974 with the fantastic Oakland A’s. The undisputed shortstop of his day, he is not in the Hall of Fame.

Two of the Great Ten were the Tainted Ones.

Rafael Palmeiro ended a 20 year career with Baltimore Orioles in 2005 when he gained his 3,000th hit. He is one of four players to have 3,000 hits and 500 home runs in his career (he hit 569 home runs). A 4-time All-Star, he escaped from Cuba with his family to Miami in 1964. Some say he was a juicer. While he is not in the Hall, others who took cocaine were admitted.

Jose Canseco hit 462 home runs in 17 seasons in the Major Leagues. A 6 time All-Star, e won two World Series with the 1989 Oakland A’s and the 2000 New York Yankees. He was the American League MVP in 1988 and was the first player to ever compile 40 home runs and 40 stolen bases in a season. He is not in Cooperstown.

But this is about Saturnino Orestes Armas ‘Minnie’ Minoso Arrieta, the fuel behind the ‘Go Go White Sox’ of the ’50s. To anyone growing up in the Midwest at that time, every team had their stars. In Milwaukee it was Eddie and Warren. In St. Louis it was Stan ‘The Man’ and ‘Country’. But in Chicago it was ‘Billy and Minnie’. Minnie was one of the most exciting players in his day and someone who belongs in baseball’s Hall of Fame.

Play Ball!

 

It Was Night

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It had never been done before. The All-Star game would be played at night.

Thanks to a three-run home run by Red Sox second baseman Bobby Doerr, the American League defeats the National League in the first night All Star game in 1943, 5-3. In a game broadcast to GIs via shortwave radio around the world, Pirates’ outfielder Vince DiMaggio stood out for the Senior Circuit, hitting a single, triple and home run. This, the 11th All-Star game, was held in Shibe Park in Philadelphia, baseball’s first steel and concrete stadium. Connie Mack, who owned the Philadelphia A’s and Shibe Park, tried to install lights in 1938 and overcame neighborhood objections to have the first night game played at Shibe Park just four years earlier than the All-Star game, on May 16, 1939.

Prior to this All-Star game, the first to be held at night, American League manager Joe McCarthy was publicly accused of being flagrantly partial to his own Yankees when it came to selecting his starters. In a bold and controversial reply, he played the entire game without calling on any of the five Yankees on his bench. Due to the war effort, many of the previous standout players such as Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Johnny Mize, Pete Reiser, Warren Spahn, Bob Feller and others were absent.

In the first inning, the National League took the lead on a run batted in by Stan Musial, who was making his first of twenty-four straight All-Star appearances. The senior circuit did not hold their lead for long as the American League began its comeback against Mort Cooper. With the junior circuit now up 5-1, Vince DiMaggio stepped up for the National League. He had singled as a pinch-hitter in the fourth and stayed in the game. Next, he tripled off of Tex Hughson in the seventh and scored on a fly ball. In the ninth, he hit a long home run off Hughson. Still, Hughson managed to wrap up yet another American League win for their eighth All-Star victory, 5-3.

So as you settle into your viewing room seats this Tuesday, think back to the night of the first All-Star game. Now it’s time to…

Play Ball!

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For a look at some silent, black & white film footage of the game, go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_rTpEhLIa58. The film shows crowd shots. Billy Southworth, Manager of NL team and Joe McCarthy, Manager of AL team. Ford Frick, President of NL, Commissioner Landis and AL President Will Harridge. Crowd. In the first inning for NL Hack singles, Herman singles sending Hack to third, Musial hits long sacrifice fly scoring Hack (all against Dutch Leonard) Crowd. Mort Cooper pitching in second inning for NL, Chet Laabs walks, Bobby Doerr comes up and hits three run homer scoring Laabs and Jake Early who also had gotten on via a base on balls.

Halftime.

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It has been a very interesting first half of the baseball season in 2014 as a couple of things stand out. First, there have been very few umpire disputes that have resulted in the old-fashioned kicking-up dirt and in-your-face heated arguments, spewing high blood pressure to transfer into a blast of spittle upon the face of the beloved ump. Not sure if that is a relief or something we should want back like the ‘No Pepper’ signs on the fence behind home plate. Regardless, the micro view of the slo-mo cameras from the many different angles make today’s baseball look like a reinvention of steam power into the combustible era.

Second is the excitement in several markets throughout America. Seventeen of the teams have officially hit the half way mark in the season. The winningest team in baseball is the Milwaukee Brewers, leaders in the Central Division of the National League. The top team in the American League is the Oakland A’s. There are three areas of North America that are entering the world of delirium. First there is Milwaukee. This week they had a three game series against the Eastern Division leading Washington Nationals and drew over 100,000 fans ON A MONDAY THRU WEDNESDAY time frame. Yesterday’s game was packed to the rafters as they defeated Colorado for the seventh straight game against the Rockies. Surprisingly they rank #8 in attendance with 78.5% capacity. Another area where baseball is king is the Bay Area. Both the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland A’s lead their league’s Western Divisions. Both teams are loaded in pitching. Both teams are very exciting. San Francisco leads the major leagues in attendance with 99.4% of capacity while Oakland, in one of the worst stadiums in the world, is drawing 66.9% capacity. Then there is Toronto. They are in front in a very tight Eastern Division of the American league. With over 6 million people in their marketing area, they are the fifth largest city in North America and the largest on the Great Lakes, surpassing Chicago. They are drawing 54.2% capacity but unfortunately that places them only 26th among the 30 Major League Baseball teams. Only four American League teams rank worse (Chicago White Sox with 50.1% of capacity; Tampa Bay Rays while having a disastrous season at 50.0% of capacity; shockingly the high payroll team in Seattle with only 49.9% of capacity and the Cleveland Indians with 38.8% of capacity. FYI: the lowest team in the National League is the Arizona Diamondbacks with only 54.8% of capacity reached this season.)

Frankly, all of those things are shocking except for Billy Beane’s exceptional overseeing of a team with a huge budget limitation and a continual exceeding above expectation as the A’s continue to drive the Western Division in the American League.

As for Milwaukee, who would have thought that Doug Melvin would have put together a team this good. A critic of his methods, I have to admit through the first half of this season, he should be given the Billy Beane Award for the most Outstanding General Manager of the Year trophy. He has put together a splendid bullpen by trading one of the City’s most favored players, Aoki, for an unknown left hander in Smith, who has performed way above expectation. The first base fix with Overbay and Reynolds was masterful in bringing veteran leadership to the club and a solid defensive and occasional offensive performance day-in and day-out. The revival of Rickie Weeks has given Scooter Gannett the time to adjust to Big League pitching and provided Milwaukee with great depth at second. Khris Davis is continuing to develop as a key player for the team in left allowing Braunschweiger to learn how to play right field and concentrate on something other than the mess he created last season. Then there is Jonathan Lucroy. Pound for pound, he is the best catcher in baseball this season. Offensively, there is no match. In the clutch, there is no match. He is single-handedly taken leadership of the team and molding it into a winner only Melvin could have seen before the season began. Then there is the manager, Roenicke. He has proven that this year, with four right handers and four left handers in the bullpen, he can manage as well as anyone in the game. So far, I am the one who has to eat crow IF he continues to lead the team to victory and the Central Division Championship, the national League Championship and the World Series kings.

But…we are only half way in the marathon that is known as a baseball season.

Play Ball!

The Spirit

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Years ago, there was a man who set baseball on its ear. He was fast and crafty. He did things with a flair. And the opposing players always had to have their heads on a swivel to make sure he wasn’t doing something that would be spectacular and cause them to look foolish. Yesterday, Jackie’s spirit was in full evidence as the kid from the Dominican Republic, the crafty young shortstop of the Milwaukee Brewers, put on a display that baffled many of the baseball veterans who had never seen what he did before in the history of the sport.

To set the stage, with runners on second and third, Jean Segura came to the plate in the thin air of the Colorado Rockies home field. He was intentionally walked with two outs to load the bases for the pitcher, Wily Peralta. Then it happened. The pitcher, Christian Friedrich, threw a wild pitch, which bounced back to the first base side of the diamond in foul territory to the right of the first baseline. Instantly, while the catcher was retrieving the ball, Mark Reynolds came home from third and scored as the catcher, Michael McKenry,  lofted the rebounded ball over the head of the pitcher who was covering home plate and going back to the backstop again. At that time, Aramis Ramirez, from second came home to score the second run. The pitcher at this time was against the backstop next to the Brewer dugout, retrieving the ball, head down and dejected over what had just happened. The catcher, facing home plate was bent over with his hands on his knees doing the same thing. Both felt terrible because two runs had scored with two out on a single wild pitch.

During all of this despair for Rockie fans everywhere, unseen by anyone on the Rockies team or staff, was Jean Segura, moving cautiously from first to second and then from second to third. Pausing slightly as he rounded third, he suddenly burst home and was half way down the third base line barreling toward home plate when the pitcher, finally caught him out of the corner of his eye and tried to run and dive to tag him out before he too would score. The burst of speed…the craftiness of his effort from first and his brilliant fade away slide into home, leaning his back toward the pitcher’s mound and away from the diving pitcher coming in from the backstop scored.

It was a moment one who saw the play will never forget. Imagine, the bases loaded before the pitch, all scored on one wild throw by the pitcher.

Now here’s the unfairness of this play. The pitcher, who caused at least the first and third runs to score, would not be charged for any runs as they were all unearned even though he caused this craziness to happen. But I digress.

The moment went to the Brewers and The Spirit of Jackie was in full view at Coors Field in Denver on Saturday.

Play Ball!

Fresh Air

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When a kid grew up in the Midwest, on those long summer nights, the radio became your best friend. Tuning into games from around the various big league cities allowed you to hear some of the greatest broadcast voices in that era. You could tune in St Louis, and hear on KMOX, the Voice of St. Louis, , Harry Carey bring the Cardinal games to you along with Jack Buck and Joe Gargaiola. In Detroit, on WJBK, you could hear the great description of Tiger games by Van Patrick and later, Ernie Harwell. KDKA in Pittsburgh would bring Pirates games to you by Bob Prince. On the South Side of Chicago, Bob Elston gave his unique delivery to the White Sox broadcast over the Voice of Labor, WCFL. On the North Side of Chicago, you always tuned into WGN.

WGN, the Chicago Tribune radio station, brought you Cubs baseball since 1925. It was like peanut butter and jelly. Since Calvin Coolidge was President of the United States, Cubs baseball has been on WGN. They just went together. Beginning with Hal Totten, then Bob Elson, Pat Flanagan, Ronald Reagan, Russ Hodges, Jimmy Dudley, Jack Drees, Charlie Grimm before Jack Brickhouse, the Bert Wilson, and then back to Jack Brickhouse, Bud Campbell was in there as was Harry Creighton. Vince Lloyd came in as did Milo Hamilton. Jack Quinlan and Lou Boudreau were behind the mike. Lloyd Pettit, the great voice of the Blackhawks was there as was Jim West and Joe Wilson. Harry Caray toning ‘It might be…it could be…it is!’ ‘Holy Cow!’ ‘Cubs Wins!’ was there. Steve Stone, Dewayne Staats, Dave Nelson, Ron Santo and Bob Brenly. Thom Brennaman, Pat Hughes, Dan Roan and Josh Lewin. Andy Masur, Chip Caray, Joe Carter, Dave Otto, Len Kasper, Dan Pleasac, Cory Provus, Judd Sirott, Keith Moreland, Jim Deshaies and Ron Coomer. The voice of Jack Brickhouse bringing you the exploits of those lovable Cubbies still rings in my years.

Since 1925 you could tune into WGN. Now, after this season, no more.

Since nobody reads the newspaper anymore, the power of the Chicago Tribune has waned. Now, according to bean counters at The Trib, the Cubs are no longer of financial value to McCormick’s ‘All The News That’s Fit To Print’ domain. The Tribune, whose assets are now delivering circulars as a distribution channel to people who really don’t want more fish wrap and a local television station that now thinks it is a cable network, have dropped both the Cubs broadcasts and telecasts. This in itself is a bit confusing as Cub and White Sox games are huge content fillers. Now, supposedly, people will flock to tune into reruns of ‘Friends’ and ‘Two and a Half Men’ on WGN-TV. Good luck. You’ve just lost four hours per day of LIVE content to fill your independent station schedule. Arsenio is cancelled. You won’t even have him in the evenings any more.

But just like ‘JAG’ fans who were disappointed that NBC cancelled the series, people flocked to the series which spun off ‘NCIS’ when it shifted to CBS. Now Cubs fans will be able to hear their favorite team on WBBM, ‘News Ratio 78′, and it won’t skip a beat. The only looser is that group of dudes sitting in Tribune Tower wishing they could have one of the cornerstone franchises in the world back on their air.

It’s time for Fresh Air in Chicago.

Play Ball!

The Guessing Game

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On Thursday, one of the least known major drafts in sports will begin. It is the Major League Amateur Draft. All of the clubs, who have had their scouting staffs back in the team’s offices for the past week, will give it their best guess on who will make it. Chances are, few will. Here is a look at what the previous drafts have brought us as the first pick hopefully this year will turn out as good as the very first, Rick Monday.

1965 Rick Monday, Kansas City Athletics. ASU
1966 Steven Chilcott, New York Mets, High School (Reggie Jackson #2)
1967 Ron Blomberg. New York Yankees, High School (Ted Simmons #10)
1968 Tim Foli, New York Mets, High School (Thurman Munson #4)
1969 Jeff Burroughs, Washington Senators, High School (JR Richard #2)
1970 Mike Ivie, San Diego Padres, High School (Darrell Porter #4-Crew #1 Pick)
1971 Danny Goodwin, Chicago White Sox, High School (Frank Tanana #13)
1972 Dave Roberts, San Diego Padres, Oregon (Rick Manning #2)
1973 David Clyde, Texas Rangers, High School (Robin Yount #3, Dave Winfield #4)
1974 Bill Almon, San Diego Padres, Brown (Dale Murphy #5, Gary Templeton #13, Moose Haas #30)
1975 Danny Goodwin, California Angels, Southern U (Rick Cerone #7)
1976 Floyd Bannister, Houston Astros, ASU (Mike Scioscia #19)
1977 Harold Baines, Chicago White Sox, High School (Paul Molitor #3)
1978 Bob Homer, Atlanta Braves ASU (Cal Ripkin #48)
1979 Al Chambers, Seattle Mariners, High School
1980 Darryl Strawberry, New York Mets, High School (Billy Beane #23)
1981 Mike Moore, Seattle Mariners, Oral Roberts U ( )
1982 Shawon Dunston, Chicago Cubs, High School (Dwight Gooden #5)
1983 Tim Belcher, Minnesota Twins, Mount Vernon Nazarene College (Dan Plesac #26)
1984 Shawn Abner, New York Mets, High School (Mark McGwire #10)
1985 B.J. Surhoff, Milwaukee Brewers, North Carolina (Barry Larkin #4, Barry Bonds #6, Rafael Palmeiro #22, Randy Johnson #36, Jim Fergosi #42)
1986 Jeff King, Pittsburgh Pirates, Arkansas (Matt Williams #3, Gary Sheffield #6)
1987 Ken Griffey Jr., Seattle Mariners, High School
1988 Andy Benes, San Diego Padres, University of Evansville (Jim Abbott #8, Robin Ventura #10, Tino Martinez #14)
1989 Ben McDonald, Baltimore Orioles, LSU (Frank Thomas #7, Mo Vaughn #23)
1990 Chipper Jones, Atlanta Braves, High School
1991 Brien Taylor, New York Yankees, High School (Manny Ramirez #13)
1992 Phil Nevin, Houston Astros, Cal State Fullerton (Derek Jeter #6)
1993 Alex Rodriguez, Seattle Mariners, High School
1994 Paul Wilson, New York Mets, Florida State (Nomar Garciaparra #12)
1995 Darin Erstand, California Angels, Nebraska (Kerry Wood #4, Todd Helton #8, Geoff Jenkins #9, Roy Halladay #17)
1996 Kris Benson, Pittsburgh Pirates, Clemson (R.A. Dickey #18, Jimmy Rollins #46)
1997 Matt Anderson, Detroit Tigers, Rice (Lance Berkman #16)
1998 Pat Burrell, Philadelphia Phillies, Miami (J.D. Drew #5, CC Sabathia #20)
1999 Josh Hamilton, Tampa Bay Devil Rays, High School (Josh Beckett #2, Barry Zito #9, Ben Sheets #10, Corey Myers #4-1st pick of D’Backs)
2000 Adrian Gonzalez, Florida Marlins, High School (Chase Utley #15, Adam Wainwright #29)
2001 Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins, High School (Mark Prior #2, Mark Teixeira #5, David Wright #38,
2002 Bryan Bullington, Pittsburgh Pirates, Ball State (BJ Upton #2, Zach Greinke #6, Prince Fielder #7, Cole Hamels #17, Matt Cain #25, Joey Votta #44)
2003 Delmon Young, Tampa Bay Devil Rays, High School (Rickie Weeks #2, Brandon Wood #23)
2004 Matt Bush, San Diego Padres, High School (Justin Verlander #2, Jered Weaver #12, Billy Butler #14, Yovani Gallardo #46)
2005 Justin Upton, Arizona Diamondbacks, High School (Ryan Zimmerman #4, Ryan Braun #5, Troy Tulowitzki #7, Andrew McCutchen #11, Jacoby Ellsbury #23, Matt Garza #25)
2006 Luke Hochevar, Kansas City Royals, no school (Evan Longoria #3, Clayton Kershaw #7, Tim Lincecum #10, Max Scherzer #11, Ian Kennedy #21)
2007 David Price, Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Vanderbilt (Jason Heyward #14)
2008 Tim Beckham, Tampa Bay Devil Rays, High School (Pedro Alvarez #2, Buster Posey #5)
2009 Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals, San Diego State (Mike Trout #25)
2010 Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals, Southern Nevada (Manny Machado #3)
2011 Gerrit Cole, Pittsburgh Pirates, UCLA
2012 Carlos Correa, Houston Astros, no school
2013 Mark Appel, Houston Astros, Stanford

Who will your team pick today? The Houston Astros have the #1 pick. Let’s hope it is as good as the 1985, 2002 or the 2005 draft.

Play Ball!

Measuring Up

In the City of Beloit, there was a sandlot where the junior high school team played. There wasn’t a blade of grass on the entire field. After all, it was used as a gigantic hockey rink during the winter, which if memory serves me correctly, was nearly all the time. There were two seasons: hot, humid, allergy-filled summers and the dead of winter. As one summer began, my father, the baseball coach of the Lincoln Nine, had a couple of pro prospects on his roster. On was Dick Mogoleky, a big 8th grader who could really throw the ball. After seeing him warm up on this particular afternoon, my dad said, better get behind the fence today. And, we’d better tell John he’ll be coming in relief sometime soon. As I went behind the fence, the first pitch out of Mogo’s hand went sailing right into the backstop fence where I was watching. It was already time to get John warmed up.

There are three big holiday weekends in a major league baseball season. Memorial Day weekend is the first. For years one uses these data points as guideposts for a season. Thus, the season is conveniently decided into four parts: the Opening; The Summer; The Dog Days and finally the Race To The Finish.

So far this season, the following teams are the leaders in their Divisions in the Opening Period.
NL East … Atlanta Braves
NL Central … Milwaukee Brewers
NL West … San Francisco Giants

AL East … Toronto Blue Jays
AL Central … Detroit Tigers
AL West … Oakland As

The Brewers position is unusual…not because it is an unusual place for a Milwaukee Nine to be, especially considering their horrible historical performances in May, but the mental gymnastics they tend to pull off. This past week, even the Attanasio Club put new meaning into sloppy, non-professional play.

You had to be in Atlanta to catch this one. Leading the Carpetbaggers 4-2, and Braves runners at 2nd & 3rd, Roenicke, the Brewers manager, stepped out of the dugout and signaled for a new pitcher, a left hander. As he walked to the mound, head down, he never looked up to see who was coming out of the bullpen. When he did, he saw it was not the guy he wanted. The pitcher who was coming in, stopped in his tracks and mouthed…’There’s no one warming up’. At which time he headed straight back into the bullpen as Roenicke motioned for the ‘other’ left hander, Will Smith. Smith, who most recently was sitting on the bullpen bench considering all sorts of things in life, the least of which was to sprint straight onto the field WITHOUT warming up. Big league pitching is tough enough, but with runners on second and third and a one run lead and not having had the ability to warm up, the odds at success were easily 100-1 AGAINST.

The comparison between what my dad did so many years before and what Roenicke did or did not do, last Thursday, reminds me that the Milwaukee Brewers are not a professional organization. Can you imagine this happening with the St. Louis Cardinals? How about the New York Yankees. Do you think it ever would happen to a Buck Showalter team?

We have reached the first milestone of the marathon that is called the baseball season. With organizational leadership like Roenicke showed, there is no chance the Brewers will be on top at the end of the season.

Play Ball!