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Sunday, December 14, 2014

Joe DiMaggio Selling Christmas Coffee Makers: The Baseball Historian's Notes for the Week of December 14, 2014

Although the major league baseball offseason is in full swing, there are plenty of other things keeping the game in the news. That’s one of its best traits, as there is always something of interest or value that fans can discover or rediscover on a regular basis. There is simply no other sport that can engage the senses on so many levels. At least that’s my take…

Now, on to the notes for the week.

*The Baseball Golden Era Ballot voting has come and gone, and there will be no new members of the Baseball Hall of Fame from this body in 2015. Dick Allen and Tony Oliva each came within one vote of being elected, while Jim Kaat, Maury Wills and Minnie Minoso narrowly missed as well.

As usual, there was varying amounts of outrage on the behalf of the ten candidates. The simple fact is that while they were all excellent players and contributors to the game, none of them were slam dunk choices. If they were, most would not have been elected from the writers’ ballot. That being said, this kind of process and debate is good for the game and keeping people interested in its history.

*More regarding the Hall of Fame. There has never been a player inducted with 100 percent of the votes from the writer’s ballot. This even includes the likes of Babe Ruth and Willie Mays. Sports Cheat Sheet’s Eric Schall has compiled a list of the top-10 vote getters by percentage of all members of the Hall of Fame. Hint; they probably aren’t who you think.

*With the holidays nearly upon us, the shopping season produces a vast quantity of advertisements to hawk gift ideas. Check out this 1977 Christmas Mr. Coffee commercial starring Joe DiMaggio. If even a fraction of those who grew up idolizing the “Yankee Clipper” bought one of his coffee machines, the company must have had a very merry holiday season.

*Louisville Slugger bats are synonymous with baseball. An incredible number of players have used them for decades, and they are truly part of the fabric of the game. This video gives a succinct history of the company and how they have evolved over the years.

*Actor and director Penny Marshall (of Laverne and Shirley fame) will be bringing an important baseball story to the silver screen. It was recently announced she will be directing a biopic of Effa Manley appropriately titled Effa. The first woman elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, Manley was a groundbreaking owner in the Negro Leagues who trail blazed not only for herself and women in the game but for her players.

*With 303 wins and 4,875 strikeouts in his career, former left-handed pitcher Randy Johnson was one of the most dominant hurlers in the history of the game. He is on the 2015 writer’s ballot and it will be a major surprise if he is not a shoo-in for induction next summer. That being said, baseball is far from being what defines him. ESPN’s E:60 recently had a great feature showing what the lanky southpaw is up to these days, as he seems to have seamlessly transitioned into the next phase of his life.

*Chuck Connors gained his greatest fame as a Hollywood actor, becoming known for such roles as the Rifleman and as a slave owner in the epic television miniseries Roots. Before that, he was a fine athlete, playing professional basketball and baseball. Here is a photo of him during training with the Brooklyn Dodgers, demonstrating a proper sliding technique.

In 66 games with the Dodgers and Chicago Cubs (1949 & 1951) he hit a combined .238 with two home runs, so he definitely made a wise career choice!

*A huge collection of baseball memorabilia has been discovered at Birmingham’s old Rickwood Field, the oldest active ballpark in the country. This trove of artifacts, autographs and other amazing items (including a pair of Reggie Jackson’s cleats) is being put up for auction, and the public will be able to take away a piece of history that had been tucked away for years.

*The Baseball History Daily has dug up another lost gem of a story. In 1883, Providence Grays outfielder Cliff Carroll decided to water down fan Jimmy Murphy after taking a drink from a hose during a game. The drenched crank was so incensed that he retrieved a gun and took a potshot at the player. You’ll have to read the whole entry to find out what happened in this crazy encounter.

*Outfielder Mark Gilbert had a major league career that lasted all of seven games with the 1985 Chicago White Sox. Although he had six hits and four walks in 26 plate appearances, his playing career was over by the time he was 29. Fortunately, it looks like he has moved on nicely. USA Today reported last fall how the now 58-year-old was nominated by President Barack Obama to be the United States’ ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa. Just recently, that appointment was confirmed by the Senate, making him the first former major leaguer to hold such a post.

*Detroit Tigers Hall-of-Fame outfielder Al Kaline turns 80 later in the week. The Detroit News’ Tom Gage wrote a profile of the legend and looks back on his outstanding career that lasted 22 years as a player and is still going strong with his role as an adviser with the same team that made him a bonus baby signing in 1953. "Al continues to be involved in all of our major meetings and discussions," Tigers' president and general manager Dave Dombrowski said of the legend, who does what he loves and loves what he does. It’s great to see he is still involved, and many warm wishes for that to continue for years to come.

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You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

10 Thoughts on Jon Lester Leaving the Boston Red Sox

Red Sox Nation is in full-fledged mourning with the news that longtime team-favorite, pitcher Jon Lester, has elected to join the Chicago Cubs on a lucrative free-agent contract. A lot has already been written and talked about on the matter but here are a few of my thoughts.

1.       The Boston Red Sox clearly have enough money so that they could have signed Lester if they wanted. It looks like it probably came down to the team setting a limit on the years and/or dollars they were willing to go, and tapped out when that was exceeded.

2.       Lester should not receive an iota of flak for his decision. Neither should the Red Sox. Baseball is a business and both parties made the choices they respectively thought best for themselves.

3.       In parts of nine seasons in Boston, Lester won 110 regular season games; was a big part of two World Series-winning squads; was a widely-respected teammate and community member; and kicked cancer’s butt. You can’t beat that resume.

4.       Leaving Boston doesn’t tarnish Lester’s team legacy in any way. He came, he saw, he conquered, he left.

5.       Never understood why so many fans felt Lester would potentially pass up the biggest deal to return to Boston. I am sure he enjoyed his time in the area and the fan support, but at the end of the day he worked incredibly hard to get to the point where he could command a bidding frenzy.

6.       Like any person with a career, Lester had the right and a responsibility to himself to weigh factors like compensation, future goals and opportunity.

7.       Just because the Red Sox weren’t willing to spend whatever it took to sign Lester doesn’t mean they won’t spend as much or more to bring in another ace (Max Scherzer?). Like most teams, they likely have a value assigned to available players, and Lester may not have been tops on that list.

8.       If they can pry him loose, Cole Hamels is a much better deal. The Phillies’ southpaw is due to make $94 million over the next four seasons while Lester will make $155 million over the next six. Even with prospects/players Boston would have to give up to obtain Hamels, the savings would be huge on a pitcher who has traditionally provided similar production.

9.       I bet fans will likely be surprised with how well the Boston starting rotation comes together when it is all said and done. The team has already demonstrated it is working to build a 2015 contender and there are still plenty of good arms out there to be had.

10.   I wish Lester all the best with his new team. He is certainly one of the classier guys to don a Red Sox uniform, and he will be missed.

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You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

Monday, December 8, 2014

Rambling On Podcast: Discussing MLB’s Golden Era Hall of Fame Ballot

Check out the current edition of the Rambling On podcast with myself and Ron Juckett as we discuss the MLB Golden Era Hall of Fame Ballot. Who should get in and who shouldn't? ! No players were selected this year, and though we didn't have votes we certainly have opinions. Check out what we would have done.

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You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Mantle, Mays and Klinger From M*A*S*H: The Baseball Historian's Notes for the Week of December 7, 2014

Baseball lasts through the years not just because of the championships and the statistics, but also because of the memories. The game has produced so many enthralling stories that it will remain its own significant chapter in the story of America. The best way this is all preserved is by historians of the game, and this group lost a titan with the recent passing of Dick Bresciani.

In a 40-plus-year career with the Boston Red Sox, Bresciani worked in public relations and ultimately became the official team historian. So exhaustive was his knowledge of the team that club CEO Larry Luchino described him as their “intuitional memory.” He was always willing to lend a hand or a thought to a historian in need (including yours truly), and while he will be truly missed, he created a legacy that will continue for years to come.

Now, on to the notes for the week.

*It’s usually not a good sign if fans of a team are well-acquainted with the names of their base coaches, as that can be indicative of their maverick style in managing base runners. From 1997-2000, Wendell Kim manned the third base coaching box for the Red Sox. While he had an aggressive style that led to some dubbing him “Wave-‘em-Home Wendell,” he became a wildly popular figure because of his visceral love and passion for the game. In addition to his stint with the Sox, he had a lengthy career coaching and managing with various franchises (particularly in the minors).

 Sally Tippett Rains of the StL Sports Page reports that Kim is sadly in the advanced stages of Alzheimers. The first Korean-American to don a major league uniform, it’s bitter irony that the man who brought countless good memories to so many is being robbed of his own. All the best to him and his family.

*Slugger Babe Ruth gained fame belting home runs for the New York Yankees, earning him the distinction of highest-paid player in the game during much of his career. However, it was nowhere near what players are paid today. As a result he was consistently involved in ventures designed to capitalize on his fame, including touring the Vaudeville circuit and doing various speeches, skits and other buffoonery. This picture shows the Babe on such a tour. Although this is much different than what would be expected of modern players, it was an excellent way for fans around the country to see the famous player when attending games wasn’t a possibility and televisions were yet to be invented.

*Did you know that major league teams have scored 25 or more runs in a game 26 times throughout history? If random stats like that interest you, this mlb.com page of rare feats might interest you. It’s a treasure trove of tidbits about some of the landmark accomplishments in baseball.

*Dick Allen was a polarizing figure during his 15-year major league career. Playing from 1963-77 with five teams (his greatest success was with the St. Louis Cardinals), the right-handed slugger hit .292 with 351 home runs. However, he also gained a reputation for being a complicated presence. This was often because of his refusal as a black player to kowtow to those who might belittle him or treat him as lesser than during a time when baseball was still figuring out integration. Bill James once called him the second-most controversial figure in baseball history behind Rogers Hornsby.

Allen has a resume that makes him a viable candidate for the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, he fell off the ballot in 1997 after failing to get the requisite number of votes during his maximum 15 years under consideration. He is now under consideration for induction by the Golden Era Committee and may get to see his plaque in Cooperstown after all. USA Today’s Bob Nightengale has a terrific piece on the proud and talented former player.

*What more could you want from a commercial than Klinger from M*A*S*H and the singing duo of Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle in bonnets? To find out what I mean, check out this vintage Blue Bonnet Margarine commercial.

*Charles “Whammy” Douglas was a right-handed pitcher who went 3-3 with a 3.26 ERA in 11 games with the 1957 Pittsburgh Pirates. Although he played minor league ball for ten seasons that was his only taste of the majors. The numbers he produced are nice but nothing special, until you take into consideration that he pitched with a glass eye.

Dylan Howlett of the Carrboro Commons has a piece detailing the career and life of Douglas, who sadly passed away in November at the age of 79. It’s a glimpse of a lesser known player from baseball history with his own very unique story, going from when he lost his sight in a school yard fight as an 11-year-old, to his feats on the diamond, including winning 27 games for the 1954 Brunswick Pirates.

*Former New York Yankees outfielder Hideki Matsui once hit a home run a very long way. The tater in question came when he was playing professional ball in Japan. The majestic drive hit off the ceiling of the Tokyo Dome but still had enough to clear the wall by plenty. Seriously, you have to see it.

*The New York Post’s Larry Getlen has an interesting snippet regarding sports announcer Al Michael’s recent memoire You Can’t Make This Up concerning his former partner Howard Cosell and an off-color remark he once made to a teary Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda about his deceased friend, Ken Boyer.

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You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew