Tag Archives: Lou Pinella

Baseball by the Book or Let’s Play Two

30 Jul

 

 

Just after the All-star Game break in the long slog of the MLB 162 game  marathon and we  are in the beginning of season 2* of the three seasons (the playoffs being season three).*  The fragile state of our republic, whose governance is currently in the hands of a coterie of three-card Monte dealers, carny barkers and generally sleazy types (that have always been part of the deal). This is a disheartening and deflating state of affairs,. There is, of course, baseball to divert us from the Real World. And as an added pleasure, baseball occasions the publication of countless books actually worth reading.  As one of the oldest recreations in American culture, the sport has always been peopled with odd characters and athletes of extraordinary talent. This season there is a plethora of books of focused on some of those—some well known, some from  ‘back in the day’, some with unusual stories…and some displaying heroic character.

 

 Papi: My Story  by David Ortiz with Michael Holley

If I have to introduce the recently retired  Boston Red Sox slugger, you may want to go elsewhere for some edification. Needless to day David Ortiz was one of the most popular players in the modern baseball era. This is his story

 

 Teammate: My Journey in Baseball and a World Series for the Ages   by David Ross , Theo

 

 

 

 

Epstein (Foreword),with  Don Yaeger

Former Red Sox backup catcher David Ross , who stands as the paradigm of the valuable locker room presence was signed by the Chicago Cubs in Deember of 2014 after they acquired former Red Sox  ace lefty Jon Lester and became Lester’s personal catcher . And given the youth of the 2016 Cubs, he quickly assumed the mantle of sage personage with the sobriquet Grampa attached. Ross’s final season as a major league player found him on  a  World Series champion. Ross’s story is a bit of a fairy tale —which in his case is not a bad thing.  

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Lou: Fifty Years of Kicking Dirt, Playing Hard, and Winning Big in the Sweet Spot of Baseball by Lou Piniella and Bill Madden

The title of Piniella’s baseball memoir is an excellent lead into the fiery Sweet Lou’s persona. He went from a career as  NY Yankee star in the 70’s to managing 5 different teams

Here’s a  signature three-minute temper tantrum by Pinella

 

 

 

 

 

 Lefty O’Doul: Baseball’s Forgotten Ambassador  by Dennis Snelling

I’m guessing you have never heard of  O’Doul (me neither). He is credited with being the father of  Japanese baseball. In 1949, General McArthur who was charged with overseeing the post war the reconstruction of Jaspan asked O’Doul to bring a baseball team to Japan and the rest is, as they say, history. And having mastered the difficult art of hitting a baseball (4th highest batting average in baseball history), he became, for among others, Joe Dimaggio and Ted Williams’s hitting guru. And on a minor note, San Franciscans mourned the closing of the bar O’Doulopened in 1958. Lesser figures have  warranted a hard cover paper and ink biography

 

Casey Stengel: Baseball’s Greatest Character by Marty Appel 

Charles Dillon “Casey” Stengel’ was an important  baseball figure in the by gone era when major league managers had personalities ( a bit of trivia: the only person in history to wear the uniforms of all four New York teams: the Dodgers, Giants, Yankees, and Mets.) As manager of a dominant New York Yankees, he won ten pennants and seven World Series Championships. New York Yankees’ historian and  author Marty Appel  has assembled what will no doubt stand as the  definitive account of this Hall Of Famers life and  recapped the sense  and spirit of a mid 20th baseball

 

 

 Rock Solid: My Life in Baseball’s Fast Lane by Tim Raines with Alan Maimon  

Tim Raines (nicknamed ‘Rock’)a former unanimous MVP for Montreal Expos was inducted into the Hall of Fame  on his 10th and final year of eligibility  After seven seasons with the Expos, he played on Chicago White Sox, New York Yankees, Oakland Athletics, Baltimore Orioles, and Florida Marlins, ultimately earning three World Series rings. In mid career, Raines overcame a cocaine addiction and returned to baseball, a compelling side bar to his splendid career.

 

 

Hank Greenberg in 1938: Hatred and Home Runs in the Shadow of War  by Ron Kaplan

If you think Jackie Robinson had it tough in the racist environment of post-WWII baseball, attend to  Detroit slugger Hammerin’ Hank Greenberg big league career. While a persistent target of anti-Semitism,  Greenberg always did his best to shut the noise out and concentrate on baseball. In the year that this book focuses on, the Jews of the world were keenly aware of the events in Europe and Hitler and the  Nazi’s genocidal program. Greenberg rarely spoke about the anti-Semitism he dealt with, but as world events unfolded,  the slugger he took  a new role upon himself— saying, “I came to feel that if I, as a Jew, hit a home run, I was hitting one against Hitler.”

 

 

Ballplayer by Chipper Jones  with Carroll Rogers Walton  , Bobby Cox (Foreword)

 
For nearly 19 years Larry Wayne “Chipper” Jones Jr.(retiring in 2012) manned the hot corner for the perennially contending  Atlanta Braves. A nine time All Star, Jone’s team s were skippered by highly regarded Bobby Cox. and included a dominant trio of arms‚—Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and  John Smoltz. In an addition to recounting his experiences playing on a talent laden winner Chipper freely opines on his sense of baseball in its era of financial opulence.

 

The Phenomenon: Pressure, the Yips, and the Pitch that Changed My Life  by Rick Ankiel  with Tim Brown

You won’t find the condition known as Yips in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders but as a condition that afflicts athletes, it has attained visibility going back in baseball to at least 1972 with pitcher Steve Blass and later infielder Chuck Knoblauch. Currently, Chicago Cubs ace Jon Lester presents with a very challenged ability to throw over to 1st base. Inthe most famous case, and thus the resultant chronicle of his travails, Rick Ankiel was a stud starting pitcher who without any warning lost his ability to pitch (as in throw strikes). He then spent 4 years struggling to return to the major leagues as an outfielder where he played for a few more years

 

Here’s Ankiel relating his  experience

 

 

They Call Me Pudge: My Life Playing the Game I Love by Ivan Rodriguez with, Jeff Sullivan 

 

It would not be a stretch to value position of catcher in baseball equal to starting pitchers. And when you factor in the number of games per season required of the starting catcher, the scales may tip into the stud behind the plate. At the age of  19 Puerto Rican born Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez debuted with the Texas Rangers in, 1991 and retired in 2012. Pudge played for he played for the Texas Rangers (on two different tours,   Florida MarlinsDetroit TigersNew York YankeesHouston Astros and Washington Nationals. He  made14 All-Star appearances, received 13 Gold Gloves, a Most Valuable Player Award, and won a World Series with the 2003 Florida Marlins. This year he was inducted into the Hall of Fame. Here are two tidbits from his book:

 1978
I started really focusing on baseball at the age of seven. Pretty much my whole family played baseball, and at the time both my dad and my mom were playing in softball leagues. I loved the game from Day One. I actually used to be a pitcher and a third baseman. That’s how I started. But my dad was my first coach, and he noticed pretty quickly that I had a strong arm. So one day he sat me down and told me, “You are not going to pitch or play third base anymore, you’re gonna be a catcher. And I think you’re gonna be a good catcher.” I immediately started crying. I didn’t want to catch. I wanted to be a third baseman and hit home runs. He said, “You can cry as much as you want, but you’re gonna catch from now on.” I was eight years old.I cried for about 15 minutes. But from that point on, I was a catcher.

 

 

1989
I got my nickname on the very first day of camp. People always think I’m called “Pudge” because of Carlton Fisk. That’s not the case. I’m a huge fan of Carlton Fisk. He’s one of the greatest to ever play the game. But he had nothing to do with me being known as Pudge. Chino Cadahia, who was a Rangers coach at the time, gave me that name. He saw that I was short and stocky, so, from Day One, he started calling me “Pudge.” It caught on, and the rest is history.

 

 

 

Leo Durocher: Baseball’s Prodigal Son by Paul Dickson

Paul Dickson who has done fine work in documenting various aspects of baseball including the very useful. The Dickson Baseball Dictionary has written a long over due biography of  Leo “THE LIP” Durocher. A former big leaguer and manager whose career spanned 40 years,  Durocher rank high as one of the more colorful characters ever attached to the game. The aphorism, “Nice guys finish last” is mistakenly attributed to him. Nonetheless, he was unabashed in entitling his memoir, Nice Guys Finish Last. Reportedly, he actually said,”Look at Mel Ott over there. He’s a nice guy, and he finishes second. Now look at the Brat (Eddie Stanky). He can’t hit, can’t run, can’t field. He’s no nice guy, but all the little son-of-a-bitch can do is win.” **  Nonetheless he was unabashgewdHe was no doubt happy to entitle his memoir, Nice Guys Finish Last. Leo Durocher was a combative player  ( a three-time All-Star) and became a storied manager (in the top five with 95 career game ejections), winning three pennants and a World Series in 1954.

 

Tomorrow the Liges Grandes season begins in earnest as it is the trading deadline when teams add a piece for this year’s pennantstrecth drive or give up and make deals for the future…

 

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*On a personal note the Chicago Cubs are showing early signs of shaking off their season long (to date) lack luster play (and they went out and obtained a first rate starter)

** The 2017 Hall of Fame induction ceremony is today with Tim Raines and Ivan Rodriguez and Jeff Bagwell this year’s honorees.

*** An alternative attribution “Nice guys! Look over there. Do you know a nicer guy than Mel Ott? Or any of the other Giants? Why they’re the nicest guys in the world! And where are they? In seventh place! Nice guys! I’m not a nice guy – and I’m in first place.” After pacing up and down the visitors’ dugout, the Dodger manager waved a hand toward the Giants’ dugout and repeated, “The nice guys are all over there, in seventh place.”

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How Blue Can You Get?

4 Aug
Robert Birnbaum's only 'selfie '[photo: Robert Birnbaum]

Robert Birnbaum’s only ‘selfie ‘[photo: Robert Birnbaum]

Last night, after umpiring a Little League game of the local 11 year old all stars, I had pause to reflect on my having reached the golden age of two-thirds of a century and discovering a new avocation: umpiring kid’s baseball. It seems that, gradually, over the past five or 6 years, I have morphed from being a standby,fill-in umpire, to this year, refereeing over 40 games.

Considering my anti-authoritarian pathology, the irony of my new role hums along as an air of bemusement through every game in which I am involved and even some that I just spectate. Which is not to say that I don’t take the task of running a game seriously— I do.

Now granted I am drawing from a very small sample size but I am of the belief that I may be the only anarchist baseball umpire on the East Coast(thankfully, no one is going to ask me to prove that assertion). I am also distinguishable from patched (certified )umpires who see what they do as income producing— and yet I haven’t met any who did not also love baseball. But after that, the commonality ends—which an indirect way of saying it takes all kinds.

For a life-long baseball fan (like me) viewing a baseball game as a judicial presence is a rarified and most revealing perspective from which to add the kind of minutiae to the never-ending body of knowledge that dedicated fans are constantly accumulating. And that accrual is one of the elements of the game that makes baseball fascinating.

The bibliography on the subject of umpiring (except for instruction manuals) is not extensive but then for the most part umpires are usually only noticed when one of the participants feels wronged and obliged to seek redress.Then fans are treated to uncommon behavior of adult temper tantrums (of which few artful practitioners remain—no dirt kicking Lou Pinellas, rabid gesticulators like Earl Weaver or tragically wronged victims like Jim Leyland). One rarely hears in the post game wrap up, “And tonight’s umpiring crew did a excellent job.”

Here are a handful of books that reveal the men behind the masks:

Remembrance of Swings Past by Ron Luciano

Remembrance of Swings Past by Ron Luciano

Looking back to the 80’s, it seems that Ron Luciano was the most (perhaps only) visible MLB umpire, publishing (purportedly)cleverly entitled books such asThe Umpire Strikes Back and The Fall of the Roman Umpire. and Remembrance of Swings Past. Luciano’s career-long arch rival,Baltimore Orioles’s manager, Earl Weaver opined of Luciano, he was “one of the few umpires people have paid their way into the park to see.” And Luciano pays back the compliment, observing of Weaver:

The problem with Earl [Weaver] is that he holds a grudge. Other managers, if they disagree with a call, may holler and shout, but you can still go out for a beer with them after the game. Not Earl. He never forgets. Heck, he even holds your minor league record against you. Once, a couple of years ago, I made a controversial call at the plate. Earl charged out of the dugout, screaming that that was the same call I’d blown at Elmira in ’66. That sort of thing can get to you.

Sadly, Luciano committed suicide in 1995 at age of 57.

Called Out But Safe by Al Clark

Called Out But Safe by Al Clark

Twenty five year veteran American League Umpire Al Clark who covered over 3000 games and a couple of World Series, accounts for his life in baseball. And his fall from grace when he was fired for travel expenses irregularities in 2001 and then in 2004 when he was convicted of mail fraud connected to the sale of baseball memorabilia in Called Out but Safe: A Baseball Umpire’s Journey (University of Nebraska Press) In addition to being one of a very small number of Jewish arbiters,Clark claims to have the distinction of suffering a hernia as he enthusiastically threw someone out of a game.

They Called Me God by Doug Harvey

They Called Me God by Doug Harvey

After 30 years, Hall of Fame Umpire, Doug Harvey retired in 1992 with 4673 games under his belt. His memoir (with the hyperbolic title) written with Peter Golenbock,They Called Me God: The Best Umpire Who Ever Lived (Gallery Books) is chocked full,as expected, of colorful anecdotes that include baseball legends such as Sandy Koufax, Ted Williams, Willie Mays, Leo Durocher, Sparky Anderson, Tommy Lasorda, and Walter Alston. Harvey adds charmed bits of baseball lore to ever expanding history of our once and future national pastime

   Nobody’s Perfect by Armando Galarraga and Jim Joyce


Nobody’s Perfect by Armando Galarraga and Jim Joyce

The degree of difficulty in pitching a perfect game in baseball should be obvious when you consider the numbers— in almost 400,000 major league games there have only been twenty. The ostensible 21st is the subject of Nobody’s Perfect: Two Men, One Call,and a Game for Baseball History(Grove Atlantic) by Armando Galarraga, Jim Joyce.* On June 2, 2010, Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga threw what appeared to be like baseball’s twenty-first perfect game. Unfortunately, veteran umpire Jim Joyce (who is in the Irish American Baseball Hall of Fame) missed the call on the final out at first base. After viewing the replay Joyce observed “No, I did not get the call correct,I kicked the shit out of it.” And Galarraga? He got the final out and when asked about the play offered,“Nobody’s perfect.” The pair were widely praised in the sports chattering classes for the grace with which this incident was handled—and thus the book accounts for this singular baseball moment.

AsThey See Em by Bruce Weber

AsThey See Em by Bruce Weber

Veteran New York Timesman Bruce Weber who actually went to umpire school interviewed over 200 men in blue to create this insightful peek into the otherwise mysterious world of baseball umpires in As They See ‘Em: A Fan’s Travels in the Land of Umpires (Scribner). Along the way we learn about QuesTec, the system of cameras and computers that measures umpires’ plate performances during regular season games. And most enlighteningly (sic), that although they are “held together by the powerful bond of their singular profession, umpires are a dysfunctional family, at odds with players, management and one another” Weber also points out that the pay is not lucrative and there’s no real job security and “that few fathers light up cigars, point to their babies and say, ‘That kid is going to be a major league umpire.'” Still, hundreds continue signing up for umpire school, as they say,”chasin’ the dream”.

You're The Umpire by  Wayne Stewart

You’re The Umpire by Wayne Stewart

When I reveal to people that I umpire little league— I eventually get around to asserting that every fan of the game should try their hand at it— insight into the game of baseball increases exponentially (well, it did for me). Wayne Stewart’s You’re the Umpire: 139 Scenarios to Test Your Baseball Knowledge (Skyhorse Publishing)doesn’t put you on the field but it does give you a sense of the density and sometimes obscurity of the code that governs baseball play.

It should not go unsaid that I have seen bad adult behavior at kid baseball games and have been subjected to all manner of passive aggressive acting out by parents and coaches. Thankfully none has risen to the level of violence that saw a soccer referee in Michigan die from parental assault. But it does give one pause to think when I see someone exhibiting poor impulse control and weak anger management

* , The old saw “Nobody’s perfect” is also the title of the New Yorker’s Anthony Lane’s anthology which we attributed to legendary director Billy Wilder (Some Like it Hot):

Billy Wilder's Headstone

Billy Wilder’s Headstone

Currently reading Death of A River Guide by Richard Flanagan (Grove/Atlantic)