Tuesday, July 30, 2013

R.I.P. Boomer...

                                      My favorite ballplayer from my childhood died yesterday.  There wasn't a lot of fanfare, at least here in New York, anyway. I'm sure the Boston papers, T.V. and whatnot gave a decent amount of coverage to his passing, but ESPN and MLB network didn't even mention it (To be fair, I only watched a few hours of each, and I'm sure Boston native Peter Gammons may have brought it up at some point...ESPN seemed to be focused on College football, which I could give 3 shits about, but anyway...).  George Scott, nicknamed "The Boomer", played first base for the Red Sox from 1966-71 and again from '77 to mid '79.  His best year offensively was for the Milwaukee Brewers in 1975, when he tied for the Home Run lead with Reggie Jackson with 36 and led the AL with 109 RBI's.

              My dad and brothers used to tell me how great a fielder he was back in the early days of his career. He won eight Gold Gloves for his play at first base and, according to former teammate Bill Lee, "May have been an even better third baseman."   He came up to the big leagues in 1966 and was a big part of of the '67 "Impossible dream season", where the Sox almost won it all after years of futility.  Other than his fielding, he loved to hit homers, which he called "taters"; taking wild, violent swings, in which his right hand would come off the bat by the end of the swing.

           It was that swing that made me like him.  Of course, I didn't see the Boomer in his prime, only  for a couple of years at the end of his career, when the Sox traded away Cecil Cooper to the Brewers for Scott.  He had an All Star season his first year back, hitting 33 taters and driving in 95 in '77.  That was the year the entire team was swinging for the fences, hitting 213 total that year.  I only saw him in person play once, at a game against the Royals in 1978.  Not sure if George went deep, but I think KC's  Frank White went deep...twice.  I swear, every time I saw the Sox play the Royals at Fenway, it was always White, not George Brett that killed us...Brett always saved his clutch moments for the Yankees (which is why he's one of my all time faves.

            Boston traded the Boomer in 1979 for something called Tom Poqeutte (which I think is French for "Stan Papi" ), then ended that season- and his career- with the Yankees.  Seeing that 1980  Topps trading card with the Boomer wearing a Yankees cap was almost too much to take.  At the end, he basically ate his way out of baseball, not unlike another beloved Boston First baseman, Mo Vaughn a decade and a half later.  And while Vaughn may have been a better hitter, he was nowhere near the fielder Scott was.

             I am always bitching about how there aren't enough characters in the game today...too many players have that "aw shucks" attitude, or, even worse, the "I'd like to thank God for..."thing, which always irritates me...not for people's beliefs, but really, If God helped you hit a home run last night, where was he the night before when you struck out four times.  The Lord has bigger things to worry about, Mr. Hamilton.  George was one of those characters you loved.  Born in Greenville Mississippi, without much education, the Boomer was as unpretentious as they came.  He was once quoted as saying, " If it weren't for that Muddafucka Luis Aparicio, I would have had 3,00 hits." Which means Aparicio robbed him of 1,008 hits.

             But my favorite story involving the Boomer was in 1970, where the Red Sox and Orioles were playing in Spring training.  Scott was taking batting practice while Frank Robinson, Elrod Hendricks and another Oriole player (I think it was Paul Blair) were talking about the plight of Biafra.  One of the players asked Boomer, "Hey George, what do you think of Biafra?", and he replied, "I never faced the muddafucka, but third time up, I'll hit a tater off him!" will be missed Boomer, rest in peace...  

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Random All Star moments...

                                Every time the All Star game comes around, people start waxing poetic about All Star games past. The same moments always always get mentioned; Carl Hubbel striking out five Hall of famers in a row in 1934, Ted William's walk-off homer in the '41 midsummer game and so on...The '50s had an odd moment, when Cincinnati Reds fans stuffed the ballot in '57 and seven of their players were elected to start, although Mays and Aaron were later put into replace two of the Reds outfielders.  The '60s had not one, but TWO All Star games each year for a short time (59-62), one mid season, one at the end, so it was confusing as to what happened in either game (Most famous moment during this time was Stu Miller getting blown off the mound in 1962's second game , due to the high winds at San Fransisco's Candlestick park).

                I was barely a year old when Pete Rose crashed into Ray Fosse, effectively ending Fosse's career in the 1970 game.  If I had to come up with my first All Star memory, it would have to be in 1979, when the Pirates Dave Parker made a perfect throw to the Expos Gary Carter, nailing Brian Downing of the Angels at the plate. (Although it was a great throw, it was aided by maybe one of the worst slides I had ever seen by Downing).  I remember the '83 game being a big deal because the AL had won for the first time in over a decade, thanks to a grand slam by California's Fred Lynn, which came soon after a two run shot by former team mate Jim Rice of the Red Sox.  The offensive outburst came at the expense of the NL starter Atlee Hammaker, who was never the same after the experience.

            The only mid summer classic held at Fenway in my lifetime was in 1999.  Most people will remember three things about it...1) the home run hitting contest the day before, in which Mark McGuire and Ken Griffey Junior looked like a couple of kids playing wiffle ball, as ball after ball was crushed.  I'm surprised the local Giant Glass company didn't sponsor it, as many a car windshield must have been shattered in the parking lot behind the green monster, as well as unsuspecting drivers on the Mass. Pike. 2) The pregame had the All Century team, which concluded with Ted Williams coming out and all the players surrounding...I'll admit it, I cried.  3) The actual game featured Boston's own Pedro Martinez doing his best Carl Hubbel Impression, striking out a future Hall of famer, tow that may some day make it, and two who may never because of PED...(I'll give you a hint: I already mentioned one of them)

                However, my biggest memory of that game wasn't any of the above, nor was it Smashmouth doing the song "All Star" over and over again for soundcheck-my friend Jim lived across the street from the park at the time-No, the most enduring memory was right before the game, when the P.A. announcer, sporting a wicked thick Boston accent said "Ladies and gentlemen, here to sing our National anthem, Boston's own, DONNER SUMMA...

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The mark of Zoilo...

                         Three weeks ago, the Yankees brought up Zoilo Almonte, a 24 year old outfielder from the Dominican Republic.  Almonte has been a good addition to New York, batting .314 and playing solid defense for a Yankees team whose injuries have forced them to do a lot of things with smoke and mirrors.  A lot of people (especially baseball geeks like myself), have been focusing on his first name; mostly because in the 170 plus year history of Major league baseball, it has only appeared on a roster once before, and that was from 1959-1971.  Of course I am referring to the immortal Zoilo Versalles.

                   Nicknamed "Zorro" by his teammates, Versalles was a Cuban born player who made it to the bigs at the end of the '50s with the Washington Senators.  D.C. had been in the second division for many years when they started to finally put a roster together with up and coming, home grown talent such as Versalles, Harmon Killebrew, Ceasar Tovar, Jim Katt, Camillo Pascual, and Tony Oliva.  Unfortunately for Senator fans, this young, exiting team would move to Minnesota in 1961, leaving the nation's capital without a franchise, albeit briefly, as a second version of the Washington Senators would soon appear before the season started.  This "second" Senators team lasted for 12 years, becoming the Texas Rangers in 1972.  For 32 years, there was no baseball in D.C....until of course the Nationals replaced the Montreal Expos in the N.L. East. 

            ANYWAY, back to the Twins...By 1965, Minnesota had put together a pennant winner, with the starting pitching of Mudcat Grant and Kaat (I remember having Jim Kaat's baseball card in the '80s; there were so many years on it, you could barely read it), the hitting of Bob Allison, Don Mincher, Jimmy Hall, Oliva and Tovar, and especially the all around play of Versalles.  Zoilo was already a good player going into the '65 season, but Twins coach Billy Martin ( the same) wanted Zoilo to be more aggressive on the field, which in turn led the bespectacled Versalles to have a breakout season, as he led the A.L. with plate appearances, at bats, runs, doubles, triples, and total bases.  He also had 19 homers, 27 stolen bases and a Gold Glove, on his way to winning the 1965 American league MVP award.

                A few things were odd about his MVP season (I for one think he deserved it, while others say his teammate Oliva was more worthy, but anyway)... for one thing, he only batted .270, but I guess when you consider he was a Gold glove shortstop in an era where that position was not known for it's offense, then it's not that big of a deal. Another thing was that he won the Gold Glove despite leading the league with 39 errors.  Lastly, he wasn't the most patient hitter in the majors; leading the league with at bats usually means very little walks.  Never one to want to watch the ball go by him, Zoilo only had 41 BB's that year, and also led the league with 122 strikeouts, which would be the equivalent of about 160 today.

            Minnesota would lose the '65 World Series in a thrilling seven game series to the Los Angeles Dodgers.  It would prove to be Versalles' last good year as a player, as his averages got lower and lower and his playing time diminished.  Eventually, he ended his career playing for the Dodgers and  (maybe fittingly) the "second" Washington Senators in their final year before moving to Arlington (the city, not the cemetery) in '71.  So now that there is another player with the same first name Zoilo, it's up to someone else to name their child an odd first name that's only been used once before...does anyone have Bombo Riveria's phone number...?

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

There but for the grace of God...

                    Last week, former MLB pitcher Justin Miller died at the age of 35 of  to this date, unknown causes.  He played between 2002-2012 for the Blue Jays, Marlins, Giants and Dodgers, both starting and relieving.  Nicknamed "Tattoo man", for his many tattoos, Miller was responsible for the "Justin Miller rule", in which players had to cover up their arm tats with sleeves in order not to distract the others team's players.  In his first start for Toronto, he plunked the first two batters he faced and let up four hits and a run in 2 1/3 innings of relief.  While his career was rather nondescript, his death at a young age got me  thinking about other players who have left us too soon.  There are many players like Miller who have passed away after their playing days were done, as well as players that were active and still under contract that have left us in the offseason...but what of those who died while the season was going on? 

             The most recent tragedy was at the beginning of the 2009 season, when Angels rookie pitcher Nick Adenheart died in a car crash shortly after his first start of his career.  Yankees pitcher Corey Lidle's plane crashed into the East river in Manhattan back in 2006....Cardinal pitcher Daryl Kile was found dead in his hotel room in June of 2002 at the age of 33...I was in fourth grade when I heard of Thurman Munson's death; like Lidle, he was on the Yankees and died while flying his own plane..  Lymon Bostock, who finished second in the 1977 batting race to fellow Twins teammate Rod Carew, was offered a big contract by the Angels for 1978.  He had such a bad April, he decided to give his month's salary back to the team, which they in turn gave to charity.  He became a big hit with the fans for his unselfish gesture, and went on to lead the team in hitting...that is, until a mid summer game in Chicago, where he was hanging with his uncle in nearby Gary, Indiana, and a bullet meant for someone else struck and killed him.

                    Of course, there are others who have died during the season, including Hall of famers Addie Joss and Ed Delahanty, as well as Red Sox young phenom from the mid '50s, Harry Agganis. But there's only one player who died due to an injury he sustained on the field, and that was Indians shortstop Ray Chapman. The year was 1920, and Chapman was enjoying his finest season in the bigs, batting over .300 for much of the year. Then on August 17th, tragedy struck.  Yankees pitcher Carl Mays hit him in the head with a pitch, fracturing his skull, and eventually killing him.  Chapman was known to crowd the plate, and some observers have claimed the pitch was actually a strike.  The ball actually appeared to have been hit by the bat, as some of the Yankee players tried to field it.

             After Chapman died, MLB decided that the next year, a tighter, more visible ball was going to be used, officially ending the so-called "Dead ball era" and ushering in the Babe Ruth led, "Lively ball era"( although why helmets wouldn't be worn for a few decades is beyond me).  Despite the tragedy, and loss of their star shortstop, Cleveland went on to beat the Brooklyn Robins (aka Dodgers) in the World series that year. A little over 50 years later, the Indians suffered another on the field tragedy, although this one wasn't fatal. The final play of the 1970 All Star game had Pete Rose of the Reds slamming into Cleveland's  catcher Ray Fosse, separating his shoulder, and effectively shortening what looked to be a long career.

                   So basically, we all need to live our lives to the fullest, because as Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett once said shortly before his untimely death, : "Tomorrow's not promised to any of us..." well put, Kirby...