Booker T’s Finest

A member of the All-Century Team...Mr. Cub.

A member of the All-Century Team…Mr. Cub.

The other day, in Mesa, Arizona, there were more than 15,000 packing in the new Cubs park. It really didn’t matter who they were playing. Cub fans descended upon it in hoards. And for the same reason they gather on nearly every game no matter where the Cubs play…it’s an event. Family and friends gather for one common cause: misery and comaraderie.

Here they were, gathered again, smiling, laughing, Vienna in one hand and a drink in another. It was Cub time. It was ‘hope’ time. Will this be the year?

Back in the day, there really was hope. A young all around athlete from Booker T Washington High School in Dallas was entering his first full season. He starred in track, basketball, football as well as baseball. In his brief appearance in the previous season he had only appeared in 10 games with 35 at bats. But he took measure of greatness as he banged out 2 home runs, a double and a triple, along with 7 other hits to bat .314. He really was the hope the Cubs had been looking for since Gabby retired. For the next 18 years he would be ‘The Cub’….’Mr Cub’.

I first met Ernie Banks at a game in Milwaukee. He was there, walking through the stands, greeting everyone, shaking hands and given a warm welcome even in the dreaded enemy city of the Cream City. But this was Ernest Banks, always smiling and instantly recognizable and personable. Shaking his hand he simply said, ‘Great day to play two’, sort of giggling and smiling every second and looking directly into you eyes.

What I remember most about that day was not just meeting him but the respect the fans in Milwaukee had for him, applauding him everywhere he went in the stadium while he was waving and smiling all the way to his seat, next to Cub fans who were simply in delirium as their hero was amongst them.

And it is a funny thing about this Hall of Fame hero. He never disappointed. Here was a man who had hit 47 home runs in one season. Here was a man who drove in 147 RBI in a single season. He was an All-Star in 13 games in 11 years (remember, they used to have two All-Star games in certain seasons). He was MVP twice in back-to-back years, 1958-1959.

On this day in Mesa, everyone was talking about how they got to the park that day and one said he had just flown down from Chicago where it had been snowing when he left. Now it was 80 degrees and he ask, ‘Where’s Ernie?’.

That’s what Cub fans have been asking for decades. That’s what bring hope to these fans who follow their beloved Cubbies everywhere. Now it’s time to …

Play Ball!

Why #9 May Have Been The Greatest

“He stood out like a brown cow in a field of white cows.”, Eddie Collins said. While still in high school, this ‘brown cow’ was offered contracts with both the St. Louis Cardinals and the New York Yankees. His mother said no. He was too young to leave home. Instead, before his Senior year in high school, he signed and played with the then major league of the West, the Pacific Coast League’s local team, the San Diego Padres. This was Nuxhallian. A kid, ‘The Kid’ graduated and rejoined the Padres for his second year and entered the starting lineup on June 22nd with an inside-the-park home run in his first at bat. That season he would lead the PCL in hitting with a .291 average and 23 home runs, all of this in about 100 days and pushed the Padres to win the PCL Championship. That was 1937.

Born Teddy Samuel Williams (that’s right…not Theodore), this mother’s son did not take to his Mom’s Salvation Army soldiering nor her evangelism, but instead to a bat and a ball, for which he would gain immortality in the world of 109 stitches.

Then, history rewritten by baseball, states that Ted was signed as an amateur free agent in December 1937. In fact, the General Manager of the Boson Red Sox, one Eddie Collins, traded for his favorite brown cow and in turn, gave the San Diego Padres (who had been paying the brown cow for two season, hopefully more than hay and oats) two major league ballplayers and two minor leaguers plus $35,000. You’ve gotta love the story telling by the historians of  baseball. That’s where baseball’s fictional tale and Mr. Williams’ amateur status ends.

He spent one year with the Minneapolis Millers, then the Red Sox Triple A club, where he crafted his art of hitting and won the American Association Triple Crown. Then in his very first Major League game, on April 20, 1939, on Opening Day, the torch was passed. It was on that day, for the one and only time, Ted Williams played against Lou Gehrig. Ten days later, Gehrig played in his 2,130 consecutive game. He went hitless in that game against the Washington Senators and in the next game, at Detroit, he took himself out of the lineup. Tiger fans, upon the announcement being made over the public address system, gave Lou Gehrig a standing ovation. He never played in another game again. On June 13th, he went to the famed Mayo Clinic. On July 21st, the New York Yankees announced his retirement from baseball. On June 2, 1941 he died.

Gehrig was THE player before Williams. He was the torch bearer between Babe Ruth and ‘Teddy Ballgame’. Gehrig was the last man to have won a triple crown with .363 BA, 49 HR and 159 RBI in 1934. Here was the only player in history to have 400 total bases per year for five seasons.

Ted Williams was worthy of carrying on the tradition as he was the youngest man ever to hit .400 (.406 in 1941) and seventh youngest to ever win a batting title. Sure there was Joe DiMaggio, who throughout Williams early career, was his main rival. But for pure hitting, no one compared to ‘The Kid’. He was one of 15 men to win the Triple Crown and only the second ever to win it twice (the first being his former manager of the Minneapolis Millers, Rogers Hornsby). He also hit .388 sixteen years later in 1957 (age 39) and the oldest ever win the batting title at the age of 40 in 1958. ‘Teddy Ballgame’ was an All-Star 17 times; finished with a career .344 batting average, seventh best in the history of the game and 20 points better than DiMaggio; won the MVP twice; was the Runs leader six time and leader in doubles twice; took the Home Run title four times, and, perhaps most important, was the wingman for Marine Captain John Glenn in Korea.

He served his country through his military obligation not once, but twice. He volunteered and entered Naval Aviation which lead to his commission as Marine officer. He retired from the Marines after serving in both the Second World War and the Korean War. He was honored by earning an Air Medal with two gold stars; the Navy Unit Commendation, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George H. W Bush; awarded the American Campaign Medal; the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with service star; the World War II Victory Medal; the Navy Occupation Service Medal; the National Defense Service Medal; the Korean Service Medal with two service stars; the Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation; the United Nations Service Medal and the Republic of Korea War Service Medal.

On his 40th birthday, he received an oil painting of his hero with the inscription: “To Ted Williams – not only America’s greatest baseball player, but a great American who served his country. Your friend, Douglas MacArthur, General, U.S. Army”

Greatest hitter of all-time? How about the greatest United States Military Veteran baseball player of all-time!

The ‘Splendid Splinter’ was an American original, the last player to bat .400 in a season. He was simply magnificant.

Play Ball!

A Vote For #3

He was one of those players that played for eighteen years in a state called ‘Overlooked’. In a world that favors big market players, baseball’s Hall of Fame is filled with players who played for teams in New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia and Washington. He was a local legend and for the majority of his career, played in Atlanta. That in itself is a bit difficult to gain entrance into Cooperstown.

Although his career statistics aren’t mind boggling (.265 batting average; 398 home runs; 1,266 rbi), his selection to the All-Star team seven times, five Gold Glove Awards, four Silver Slugger Awards, back-to-back MVP Awards in the National League, the 1988 Roberto Clemente Award and the 1985 Lou Gehrig Memorial Award, #3 in your program and #1 in your Atlanta Braves hearts should provide entry into the Hall of Fame for one Dale Murphy.

He is one of three players who have won multiple MVP awards not in the Hall.

He absolutely dominated the National League in the 1980s.

He was also incredibly kind, generous and giving. According to a CNN report on July 4, 1983, titled “Murphy’s Law Is Nice Guys Finish First” brought to America his humanity. Before a home game against San Francisco on June 12, 1983, Murphy visited in the stands with Elizabeth Smith, a six-year-old girl who had lost both hands and a leg when she stepped on a live power line. After Murphy gave her a cap and a T-shirt, her nurse innocently asked if he could hit a home run for Elizabeth. “I didn’t know what to say, so I just sort of mumbled ‘Well, O.K.,'” said Murphy. That day he hit two homers and drove in all the Braves’ runs in a 3-2 victory. This was as close to a Ruthian event as any in the history of baseball.

He played ball before EC, the Era of Cheating, that ran rampant in the 90s and early 00s. His home runs and tremendous play was before everyone was Bond-ing. Murphy did hit playing without using performance-enhancing drugs. Thus his amazing career efforts could be diminished by his coming before the inflated era of EC.

Perhaps it is the stance he took by forming iWontCheat Foundation to promote ethical behavior and deter steroid use and cheating in youth athletics in 2005. Since 2008, every team member in the Little League World Series wears the “I WON’T CHEAT!” embroidered patch above the Little League Baseball logo on the left sleeve of their jerseys. Whatever the reason, the sport needs examples of what ‘hero’ in baseball means. For those members who vote on such issues, it is spelled M U R P H Y,  D A L E, Atlanta Braves outfielder.

A Case For #28 As MVP


All-star, silver slugger award winner, Prince Fielder is an undisputed MVP candidate of the American League this season. Case in point: in 2011 he was the insurance behind the National League’s MVP, Ryan Braun. that assured pitchers threw would rather pitch to Braun in the third position in the batting order than take their chances with the ever dangerous Fielder in clean up. In 2012, he was the insurance behind the American League’s first Triple Crown winner in 45 years, Miguel Cabrera. In the clean up position, Fielder was again the biggest threat. Pitchers have learned that they just don’t like pitching to #28. He is that dangerous. Cabrera was the beneficiary.

This is not to take anything away from Braun or Cabrera. They are both great baseball players and superb hitters. Both earned their achievement titles.

But how dangerous is Fielder? In both 2011 and 2012, he played in all 162 games. In 2011 he had 170 hits. In 2012 he had 182 hits. Last year he had 36 doubles while he collected 33 doubles this season. He hit 38 home runs while driving in 120 RBIs last season. This year he hit 30 home runs and drove in 108 RBIs. As for the RBI total, you probably can’t have too many men on base when the Triple Crown winner is hitting ahead of you. Last year he hit .299 and this year hit .313. Perhaps the most amazing stat is the fact that he walked 85 times while striking out only 84 times.

He will get better. This was his first season in the American League. Despite inter league games, he had to learn all of the pitchers in a new league.

So, who is better than Prince Fielder as an MVP candidate in the American League? Is it a Triple Crown winner or Michael Trout of the Angels, who had a very good rookie season?  Detroit won their division and moved on to the playoffs. The Angels finished out of the running. MVP is all about who got you there not who might have gotten you there. Remember, Prince played in more games and hit as many home runs as Trout did. Plus he’s playing in the playoffs once again.

Play Ball!






The Brewer Clipper

There is a hint of anticipation on any day at the ballpark when he comes out of the dugout and onto the on-deck circle and begins his familiar routine to get ready to take his turn at bat. With the weighted led ring up the barrel of his bat, he swings it back and forth to loosen up the muscles that have been at rest as he has. Grabbing the barrel of the bat, the Sam Bat RB8, and tapping the end of it against the rubber on-deck circle mat freeing the weighed ring, he glides to the plate, ready to take on all comers. Stepping back from the box with his right foot while adjusting, and then readjusting, his batting gloves, he finally steps into the batters box with his right hand raised up indicating to the umpire that he is still getting ready and then grabs his bat, while digging in his right foot deep against the back line of the box, swinging his 35″ maple bat slowly back and forth, like a golfer would in preparing for his tee shot. He is ready for the surprise that is about to come. He stands deep in the batter’s box with a bat larger than most use. With all of this, he appears remarkably similar to one of the greatest baseball players of all-time, Joe DiMaggio.

Since the first days he entered the league in 2007, Ryan Braun has done everything with great consistency, much like The Yankee Clipper of old. This past Saturday morning, following a long rain delay, at sometime after 1AM along the Mississippi River, Braun hit his 38th home run of the season to give the resurging Brewers a victory over their arch rivals, St. Louis Cardinals in Busch Stadium. This season, he has carried the team on his back after winning the National League MVP the year previous.

To compare a current player with a legend of the past is nearly impossible. However, here are some fascinating statistics that push the case that Braun is today’s version of the great DiMaggio. In DiMaggio’s case we use his records from 1936-1941, his great pre-war years. For Braun we use his records from May 2007-September 7, 2012.

DiMaggio was 6’2″ 193 lbs. Braun is 6’1″ 200 lbs.

In games played during their first six seasons, DiMaggio played in 825 games; Braun 859.

In home runs during their first six seasons, DiMaggio hit 198 while Braun has hit 199.

In doubles during their first six seasons, DiMaggio hit 214 while Braun has hit 216.

In hits during their first six seasons, DiMaggio hit 1163 while Braun has hit 1056.

Only in RBIs, where DiMaggio drove in 816 vs Braun’s 631 is there a big difference.

In fielding, DiMaggio had 70 errors in his first six seasons while Braun had 38 errors, 26 of which occurred during his rookie season when he played 3B.

Both batted right-handed. Both primarily played the outfield position.

DiMaggio led his league in home runs only once (1937 with 46) during his first five seasons. Braun is leading his league in home runs this season with 38 at present.                                DiMaggio won the MVP twice during this span in 1939 & 1941. Braun was named MVP once (2011).

If you never saw, Joe DiMaggio play in person, and many of us never did, the reflection of that past is in evidence when one looks at Ryan Braun. As Joe D was in his day, Ryan B is one of the top players in the game today. Both could run like the wind. Both had great throwing arms. Both could hit with consistency and power.

Yankee Clipper, meet The Brewer Clipper.

Play Ball!