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Monday, December 17, 2018

Willie McCovey & My World Series Nightmare: Part Two


As I mentioned in my last blog post, many times I have been the fan of the team that lost the World Series.  I called those painfully disappointing losses my World Series nightmares.   One of those nightmares involved Hall of Fame slugger Willie McCovey who died this past October 31.

Willie McCovey
The 1962 World Series would be the seventh “Yankees vs Giants”, but with a huge difference.  After being a New York franchise since 1883, first the Gothams then in 1885 the Giants, the New York Giants moved to the west coast after the 1957 season to become the San Francisco Giants.    By 1962, center fielder Willie Mays and manager Alvin Dark were the only Giants who had played with the team in New York.   They were on the Giants’ team that lost the 1951 World Series to the New York Yankees.   

Before the boom in television coverage of sporting events, all World Series games were played in the afternoon.  In grade school, I could only watch the first innings during my lunch break.  The games were over by the time school ended.  I would have to wait until the weekends to see a complete game.

In Game One at Candlestick Park the Giants’ stopped pitcher Whitey Ford’s World Series scoreless streak at 33 2/3 innings, but still lost to the Yankees 6-2.  With Ford being a left-handed pitcher, left-handed hitting Willie McCovey did not play.

The Giants’ continued the World Series miseries of Yankees’ pitcher Ralph Terry in Game Two, winning 2 – 0.  Willie McCovey hit a seventh inning home run.  Terry, who won 23 games during the 1962 regular season, had been the goat of the 1960 World Series surrendering the walk-off Seventh Game winning home run to Bill Mazeroski of the Pittsburgh Pirates.  In the 1961 World Series Terry dropped   Game Two; New York’s only loss to the Cincinnati Reds. 

Willie McCovey's Game 2 HR in 1962 World Series
The Series switched to Yankee Stadium for Game Three that Sunday and I got to watch it all on TV. However, New York won 3 – 2.  McCovey played right field, zero for three at the plate.

When I came home for lunch during Game Four the next day, the Giants were ahead 2 – 0.  Juan Marichal had held the Yankees scoreless the first four innings, but left the game with a sore hand.  After my lunch break, the Yankees tied the score.  But later, from a friend who missed school due to a stomach ache, I learned the Giants scored five runs the last three innings to win 7 – 3.  Claiming to have the same type of stomach ache the next morning, I stayed home to watch Game Five.  However, it rained in New York forcing the game to be cancelled!  My mother told me though the expression on her face, “You got what you deserved for your stunt”.  Returning home from school the next day, I had no more “sick day” options, I painfully learned the Yankees had won Game Five behind Ralph Terry’s sound pitching 5 – 3.  McCovey, playing first base, got one hit. 

Willie McCovey, 1962 World Series
A Northern California rain storm cancelled Game Six a Series’ record three times, including during the weekend when I would have been able to watch.  When play resumed, the Giants won 5 – 2 tying the Series at three games apiece.

My school’s janitor had a bet with my teacher that New York would win the World Series.  After listening to Game Seven on his transistor radio, he came into my classroom to collect on his bet.  I learned the details on the game after school.  With Ralph Terry pitching, the Yankees led 1 – 0 going into the bottom of the ninth inning.  Matty Alou singled to lead-off for the Giants.  With two outs, Willie Mays doubled.  Willie McCovey, who had tripled in the seventh inning, then hit a line drive to second baseman Bobby Richardson to end the Series. 

The 1962 World Series brought triumphant vindication to Ralph Terry, but disappointment to Willie McCovey.  For the remainder of his great career, McCovey did not get another opportunity for World Series success.  For me, due to the rain outs, I only saw one entire game and my stunt to see another failed.  Also, in the words spoken by Charlie Brown in the newspaper comic strip Peanuts on 11/22/62; “Why couldn’t McCovey have hit the ball just 3 feet higher?”  It probably needed to be more than three feet, but that tells how painfully I still think about it now.  What a nightmare!



Thursday, November 29, 2018

Willie McCovey & My World Series Nightmare: Part 1


Being a fan of the team that loses the baseball World Series is a disappointing experience. It is a deeper frustration than your favorite football team losing the Super Bowl.  That is just one game.  But with the World Series, you have the emotionally draining ebb and flow of four to possibly seven games.  I could see this emotional frustration on the faces of Los Angeles Dodgers' fans during this year’s World Series.  The Boston Red Sox defeated the Dodgers 5 – 1 at Dodger Stadium this past October 28 to win the 2018 Series 4 games to 1.  It would be the second straight year Dodger fans had to watch the opposing team celebrate winning the World Series at the Dodgers’ home field.  The Houston Astros won Game Seven of the 2017 Series 5 – 1 in front of the frustrated Dodger fateful.  The last two World Series have been horrible experiences for Dodger fans.  Both have been like nightmares.

Being a rabid baseball fan for just over 60 years, I can relate to what the Dodgers’ fans experienced; I have had more than a few World Series nightmares.  The Milwaukee Braves losing three straight to the New York Yankees after being ahead three games to one in the 1958 World Series and the St. Louis Cardinals losing their three games to one lead to the Detroit Tigers in the 1968 Series were two of my nightmares.  I still painfully flinch when I remember Curt Flood misplaying Detroit’s Jim Northup’s long fly ball as the Cards lost Game Seven.

Willie McCovey

Another of my World Series nightmares involved Hall of Fame first baseman Willie McCovey who died October 31, three days after the end of this year’s Series.  Eighty years old, the six-time National League All-Star lost his battle with an infection and other on-going health issues at the Stanford University Medical Center.  Tributes from both inside and outside of professional baseball are still continuing to come for the big (6’4”, 198 lbs.) left-handed slugger who my older brother and I along with others called “Stretch”.  Born January 10, 1938 in Mobile, Alabama; McCovey made his Major League debut with the San Francisco Giants July 30, 1959 getting four hits against Hall of Fame pitcher Robin Roberts of the Philadelphia Phillies.  He finished the season hitting .354 with 13 HRs in 54 games and received the National League Rookie of the Year award.

After his sensational 1959 rookie season, McCovey fought a batting slump through the summer of 1960 hitting .238 in 101 games with 13 HRs and even spent time back in the minor leagues.  He regained his hitting stroke in 1961(18 HRs, 50 RBIs, .271 BA in 106 games) and created a dilemma for the Giants.  Both McCovey and 1999 Hall of Fame inductee Orlando Cepeda were first basemen.  In order to get both their bats in the line-up one of them had to play in the outfield, not the strongest position for either.  However, with Hall of Fame outfielder Willie Mays covering ground in center field, it worked in 1962 as the Giants won the National League pennant with McCovey and Cepeda splitting time between playing first base and right or left field.  



That set the 1962 World Series between the San Francisco Giants and the defending champion New York Yankees.  The main reasons for my World Series nightmares at that time, the Yankees had won 8 Series in the prior 13 years and were favored to win in 1962 for their ninth.  Be sure to read Part Two of this post to see how my hope for a World Series win by the Giants turned into another nightmare for me.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Negro League Baseball Catchers - Part Two


From March through June on Twitter, follow me at Kevin L. Mitchell @LastTraintocoop, I wrote about Negro League Baseball catchers.

Currently there are four former Negro League catchers in the National Baseball Hall of Fame:  Roy Campanella (1969), Josh Gibson (1972), James Raleigh “Biz” Mackey (2006), and Louis Santop (2006).  However, there were others who developed the skills necessary to handle the responsibilities of the position and made outstanding contributions to the success of their teams. 

I listed ten of my Negro League catcher Tweets in the May 28th blog post, “Negro League Baseball Catchers – Part One”.  Following is listed another ten.  They all came before the erasing of the “invisible color line” and did not play Major League baseball.  But, they helped to build the legacy of the Negro Leagues.


John Hines, Chicago American Giants 1924 – 1930, 1932, 1934. Negro League World Series champs 1926 and 1927, attended Wiley College.




John Walter Burch, Negro League baseball 1934 – 1946, teams included Atlantic City Bacharach Giants 1931, Homestead Grays 1936, Cleveland Buckeyes 1943 – 1944, 1946.  Buckeyes manager in 1942.




Leon “Pepper” Daniels, Detroit Stars 1921 – 1927, battery mate of Hall of Fame pitcher Andy Cooper, Chicago American Giants 1931.





Bob Clarke, Negro League career 1923 – 1948.  Played mainly with Baltimore Black Sox 1923 – 1928, New York Black Yankees 1933 – 1940, Baltimore Elite Giants 1941 – 1946.




Pete Booker, Negro League 1905 – 1919, teams included Philadelphia Giants, Leland Giants, New York Lincoln Giants, Brooklyn Royal Giants, Chicago American Giants, Indianapolis ABCs, Also played 1B.




Lloyd “Pepper” Bassett, Negro League career 1935 – 1946, played with several teams including Pittsburgh Crawfords and Birmingham Black Barons (1943 & 1944 Negro American League champs).  




WG “Bill” Perkins, Negro League career 1928 – 1948, 2-time Negro League All-Star, best years 1931 – 1936 Pittsburgh Crawfords, frequent battery mate of Satchel Paige.




Joe Greene, Kansas City Monarchs 1939 – 1943, 1946 – 1947.  Handled pitching staffs that included “Satchel” Paige, Connie Johnson, Hilton Smith, Jack Matchett, and others who pitched for Monarchs during that time.




Frazier Robinson, Kansas City Monarchs 1942 – 1943, New York Black Yankees 1943, Baltimore Elite Giants 1943, 1946 - 1950.




Bill “Ready” Cash, 2-time Negro League All-Star, Philadelphia Stars 1943 – 1949.  Briefly played in Chicago White Sox minor league systems 1950s.






All photos for post the courtesy of internet sites via Google Images

Monday, October 22, 2018

A Tribute to Ed Charles: Part 2


This is the second part of my tribute to Ed Charles a baseball player I admired during the 1960s when he played with the Kansas City A’s.  I discovered this summer that Charles died earlier this year on March 15.


Although he did not receive any votes for 1962 American League Rookie of the Year, Ed Charles had a solid initial year in the Major Leagues.  He hit .288 with 17 HRs, 74 RBI, and 20 stolen bases.  Playing for the 9th place Kansas City A’s did not give Charles much help in the voting despite his statistics.  However, he did make the 1962 Topps All-Star Rookie team.

In Ed Charles’ five full seasons with the A’s (1962 – 1966), the team finished no higher than 7th place.  On average per year for that period, Charles hit 13 HRs, had 62 RBI, batting .270 with 14 stolen bases.  These offensive statistics were not equal to the best third baseman in the American League during that time, Brooks Robinson of the Baltimore Orioles, who averaged 20 HRs, 90 RBI, and a .287 batting mark.  However, Charles’ per year averages for the period were compatible with other American League top “hot corner” men: 

     Pete Ward (Chicago White Sox) 14 HRs, 65 RBIs, .260 BA
     Rich Rollins (Minnesota Twins) 11 HRs, 59 RBI, .273 BA
     Clete Boyer (New York Yankees) 14 HRS, 57 RBI, .246 BA
     Max Alvis (Cleveland Indians) 19 HRs, 59 RBI, .257 BA
     Frank Malzone (Boston Red Sox) 13 HRS, 63 RBI, .269 BA 

The way he consistently hit in the minor leagues, it is no surprise when given the opportunity Charles would be a capable Major League hitter.

Defensively, Brooks Robinson won five Gold Gloves at third base from 1962 – 1966.  He averaged 12 errors per year with a .974 fielding percentage.  Charles, during this period, averaged 16 errors per year with a .960 fielding percentage making him statistically above par in terms of defense with the other top American League third basemen who averaged 19 errors and a .954 fielding percentage.


 After he began playing with the A’s, Ed Charles’ running style first captured my attention.   Most fans called it a glide.  He turned his elbows outward, pumping his arms up and down in coordination with his stride.  Seeing it more like a prideful strut or pimp, I loved it.  To me, Frank Robinson had the only other distinctive running style at that time.

The way Charles swung his bat also got my attention.  He had a slight hitch in his swing, but had strong wrists and forearms that still allowed him to hit with power.  On July 31, 1964, my neighborhood friends and I went to see an A’s and Baltimore Orioles doubleheader.  After losing the first game, the A’s rallied to tie the nightcap 6 – 6 in the eighth inning.  In the late innings, the stadium ushers allowed kids from the bleachers to go down to the box seats which would then be empty.  This gave us the opportunity to see and hear Major League players up close.  The O’s brought in pitcher Steve Barber to face the A’s in the ninth and Charles greeted him with a home run to win the game.  I saw Ed Charles up close one other time that summer when he turned the switch on the new lighting for the inner-city baseball field in my neighborhood. 


 Charles’ poetry began to get notice during his time with the A’s.  I remember him reciting the one called “An Athlete’s Prayer” on the radio or TV dugout show a number of times.

In 1967, the Kansas City A’s were building the team that would become World Series Champions in 1972, 1973,and 1974 when owner Charlie Finley moved it to Oakland after that season ended.   But 34 years old Ed Charles did not fit into the team’s plans.  On May 10 the A’s traded him to the last place New York Mets.  I did not totally lose track of Charles’ career after the trade.  In 1968, he proved to still be a suitable Major League hitter for again a bottom rug team, 15 HRs, 53 RBI, and a .276 batting average.  This is something he had accomplished his entire Major League career. 

The baseball fate of Ed Charles made a remarkable turnaround as the miracle New York Mets were 1969 World Series Champions. He went 2 for 4 in Game 2 with a double in the Mets 2 – 1 win.  A picture of the celebrating Mets after the final out to close out the Series shows a smiling, jubilant Ed Charles.  After toiling nine years in the minor leagues and seven with bottom rug Major League teams, Charles reached the top of pro baseball’s world; a place where some Hall of Fame players never reached.



Thursday, September 20, 2018

Remembering Ed Charles - Part 1


For the past months I have juggled coaching a baseball team of eight to twelve years old kids while teaching a course on the history of Negro League baseball; “Negro League Baseball:  The Deep Roots of African Americans in America’s National Pastime”, and visiting 
grandchildren in Texas. 

  

Included in this summer’s curriculum of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Kansas, the course discussed the deep historical roots African Americans have in the sport due to the Negro League baseball era.  Although he did not play in the Negro Leagues, I briefly mentioned former Major League player Ed Charles in the introductory section of the course.  I wanted to give the students a brief history of how as a kid I fell in love with baseball.  Edwin Douglas Charles had a part in that history.  In my course preparation research, I discovered Charles had died last March 15th in the East Elmhurst section of the New York City borough of Queens. The former third baseman was 84 years old.


A baby boomer born and raised in the Kansas City area, I became a baseball fan through following the Kansas City A’s in the late 1950s; a team that consistently finished near the bottom of the American League standings.  Much to the chagrin of Kansas City baseball fans, the A’s functioned as a player development team for the New York Yankees at that time.  They would trade their best players to New York; Hector Lopez, Harry “Suitcase” Simpson, Roger Maris, Bob Cerv, Ralph Terry, and Clete Boyer, in exchange for utility players or those past their prime.  I saw Hank Bauer, Don Larson, Marv Throneberry, Johnny Kucks, Norm Siebern, and other former Yankees dawn an Athletics uniform.    The A’s finished the 1960 season in last place and were the only Major League team without an African-American or dark-skinned Latino ballplayer.

In 1961, Charlie Finley purchased the team and the next season racially diversified it adding to the roster John Wyatt, Jose Tartabull, Diego Segui, Orlando Pena, Manny Jimenez, and Ed Charles.  A product of the depression era and post-World War II “Jim Crow” south, born April 29, 1933 in Daytona Beach, Florida, Charles had been obtained in a trade with the Milwaukee Braves.  The team signed him in 1952 while still the Boston Braves, but for 10 seasons he labored in its minor league system.  That included stops at the A to AAA levels in places such as Jacksonville, Louisville, Wichita, and Vancouver. 

Although the “invisible color line” had been erased, Charles along with other African-American and dark-skinned Latino players in the 1950s experienced the racial prejudice that existed in professional baseball’s minor league systems.  Overall he hit .291 in the minor leagues and showed occasional home run power.  But Charles played 3rd base, the position manned during that period by 2-time National League home run leader and future Hall of Fame inductee (1978) Eddie Mathews.  Charles had the versatility to play 2nd base, but there is no evidence the Braves thought about a shift despite the inconsistent performances at the position in 1959 and 1960 during Red Schoendienst’s absence due to illness.  The A’s would finally give Ed Charles, at 29 years old, the opportunity to prove himself as a Major League player.

Given that opportunity, Ed Charles over the next five years became an above average, solid ballplayer on a team that consistently finished near last in the American League. Also, he caught the eye of a ten year old baseball fan that would hold on to a love for the sport that would extend beyond the trading card collection years to more than half a century.


 Part Two of my tribute to Ed Charles is in my next blog post.  I promise it will not be three months before it appears!

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Revisiting Nate Colbert's Big Day


Nate Colbert of the San Diego Padres tied a Major League record on August 1, 1972 by hitting five home runs in doubleheader.  The story surrounding the first baseman’s feat reflects how the baseball dreams of African-American boys changed as a result of Jackie Robinson erasing Major League baseball’s “invisible color line” in 1947.





On May 2, 1954 in a doubleheader against the New York Giants; St. Louis Cardinal right fielder Stan Musial hit five home runs.  There were 26,662 in attendance that Sunday afternoon at St. Louis’ Busch Stadium to see him do what no other Major League player had accomplished.   In the first game, Musial hit three home runs and drove in six runs in the Cardinal’s 10 – 6 victory.  He hit 2 homers and drove in three runs in the nightcap, but the Giants won 9 – 7.

In the stadium that spring afternoon with his father was eight year old African-American Nate Colbert.  I can visualize the excitement on little Nate’s face in seeing his favorite Cardinal ballplayer, “Stan the Man”, hit those five home runs. But Colbert that day also saw Cardinal rookie first baseman Tom Alston, the first African American to appear in a Major League game for the St. Louis Cardinals.

For the first time in the franchise’s history, the 1954 Cardinal team had African-American players. The 28-year-old Alston made his Major League debut on April 13, earlier than Brooks Lawrence (June 24) and Bill Greason (May 31), the other two African Americans on the team.  A good defensive first baseman, he had a hot bat against the Giants in the doubleheader witnessed by little Nate.  In the first game Alston got four hits including a home run, his third of the young season, and two RBIs.  The second game he hit a bases loaded double (3 RBIs) in the Cardinals’ first inning.  He ended the day batting .313.


Wally Moon, Stan Musial, and Tom Alston
  
Little Nate also saw that day three former Negro League baseball players who appeared in both games for the Giants: Willie Mays, Monte Irvin, and Hank Thompson. Irvin and Thompson in 1949 were the first African-Americans to play for the Giants.


Monte Irvin, Willie Mays, and Hank Thompson

Fast forward this story to 1964. 18 year old Nate Colbert is signed by the Cardinals, but they lose him to the Houston Astros in the 1965 Rule Five draft and he never plays a game in the uniform of his hometown team.  The Astros then traded him to the San Diego Padres in 1969.


On August 1, 1972; in Colbert’s fourth season with the Padres, he ties the record he saw Stan Musial set in 1954.  Colbert hits five home runs in a doubleheader against the Atlanta Braves at Fulton County Stadium in Atlanta.  He hits two home runs and drives in five runs as the Padres win the first game 9-0 and hits three homers driving in eight runs in his team’s 11 -7 victory in the nightcap.  For the second time in his six years with the Padres, Colbert hits 38 home runs in 1972.


Little Nate Colbert’s Major League career did not come close to that of  Stan Musial a 1969 Hall of Fame inductee.  To tie or break a record in baseball; however, is considered a great accomplishment.   And Colbert being present to see the record set that he would eventually tie makes this a unique circumstance.  In addition, Colbert got the opportunity to be able to do what he saw his childhood favorite Cardinal ballplayer do because of what he also witnessed that May afternoon.

By seeing Tom Alston, Willie Mays, Hank Thompson, and Monte Irvin play that day; Colbert witnessed the new day in Major League baseball that was occurring. It had dawned in 1947 when Jackie Robinson became the first African-American in the 20th Century to play Major League baseball.  It was a new day in which the baseball dreams of little Nate Colbert and other African-American boys were no longer confined to Negro League baseball.  A new day that would produce stories like Nate Colbert’s and others as the racial barriers in professional baseball were pulled down in the 1950s and 1960s.

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Monday, July 30, 2018

Teaching a Course About Negro League Baseball


Last month, I taught a course for the summer 2018 session of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Kansas.  Entitled, " Negro League Baseball:  The Deep Roots of African Americans in America's National Pastime", the course examined the deep roots African Americans have in America's great game because of the Negro League baseball era.  It explained how the Negro Leagues provided a vehicle for African Americans and dark-skinned Latino players to showcase their baseball talents despite racial and economic obstacles, painting a true picture of how Negro League baseball is embedded into the fabric of 20th-century American History.


Those attending the course were baseball fans of baby-boomer age and older.   Some had very little knowledge of the Negro League era while others were familiar with Negro League lore about “Satchel” Paige, Josh Gibson, and “Cool Papa” Bell.  However, they all saw Negro League baseball as a neglected part of the sport’s history and wanted to know more about it.  This led to course sessions full of questions and lively discussions about not just Negro League baseball, but also the history of race relations in America.




I want to thank KU’s Osher Institute Director Jim Peters for including my course in this summer’s session.  Also, I thank the 17 baseball fans who took six hours from their summer activities to attend the course.