Wednesday, September 19, 2018

The Not So Amazin’ Mets by Frommer




The Not So Amazin’ Mets

       


             The first run they ever scored came on a balk. They lost the first nine games they ever played. Rumor has it they picked the name of the best pitcher (Tom Seaver) in their history out of a hat on April Fools' Day.
        They were supposed to be the replacement for the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants. They could have been the New York Continentals, Burros, Skyliners, Skyscrapers, Bees, Rebels, NYB's, Avengers or even Jets (all runner-up names in a contest to tab the National League team that began playing baseball in 1962).
        But as the press release dated May 8, 1961, announced, the name was "METS...just plain Mets." They have never been anything to their fans but amazing - the Amazin' New York Mets.
         In 1960 Casey Stengel managed the New York Yankees to a first-place finish as the team recorded a .630 percentage winning 97 games and losing 57. By 1962, Stengel was in place as the skipper of the New York Mets. They finished 10th in a 10-team league. They finished 60 1/2 games out of first place, losing more games (120) than any other team in the 20th century.
      Richie Ashburn batted .306 for the Mets that season and then retired. He remembered those days.
      "It was the only time I went to a ballpark in the major leagues and nobody expected you to win."
        Once they were losing a game12-1, and there were two out in the bottom of the ninth inning. A fan held up a sign that said "PRAY!" There was a walk. And ever hopeful thousands of fans started shouting at the Polo Grounds (where they played while Shea Stadium was being built) "Let's Go Mets!!" A bumbling collection of castoffs, not quite-ready-for prime-time major league players, paycheck collectors and callow youth, the Mets underwhelmed the opposition. But Casey loved the young players on the team who he called "the youth of America."
     They had pitcher Jay Hook who could talk for hours about why a curve ball curved (he had a Masters degree in engineering), but couldn't throw one consistently.
     They had "Choo-Choo" Coleman, an excellent low-ball catcher. The only problem was that the Mets had very few low-ball pitchers. They had "Marvelous Marv" Throneberry, a Mickey Mantle look-alike in the batter's box, and that's where the resemblance ended.
      Day after day Casey Stengel would watch the Mets and be amazed at how they could find newer and more original ways to beat themselves. In desperation - some swore it was on the day he witnessed Al Jackson go 15 innings yielding but three hits only to lose the game on two errors committed by Marvelous Marv - Casey bellowed out his plaintive query, "Can't anybody here play this game?"
     They were 100-1 underdogs to win the pennant in 1969, and incredibly came on to finish the year as World Champions.
     There are some who think it will happen again soon.
     There are many who think it will not happen until new ownership is in place.
     One  thing all agree on is that the Mets are no longer Amazin’.

BOOKENDS: CAP IN HAND by Bruce Dowbiggin ($32.95, 240 pages, ECW Press) is an argument made about how salary caps in pro sports have a highly negative effect and why the free market could save them.
ABOUT HARVEY FROMMER
One of the most prolific and respected sports journalists and oral historians in the United States, author of the autobiographies of legends Nolan Ryan, , Tony Dorsett, and Red Holzman, Dr. Harvey Frommer has been a professor for more than two decades in the MALS program at Dartmouth College, Frommer was dubbed “Dartmouth’s Mr. Baseball” by alumni magazine. He’s also the founder of www.HarveyFrommerSports.com. Frommer books may be ordered directly from the author: http://frommerbooks.com/


Thursday, September 6, 2018

The Greatest Baseball Team  --Ever





By Harvey Frommer
There is always the debate among baseball aficionados, experts, fans - -what was the greatest baseball team of all time?
          In my book Five O’Clock Lighting, there is provided for all the definitive answer, the 1927 New York Yankees, hands down. You could look it up: http://frommerbooks.com/five-o-clock-lightning-NEW.html



          When Yankee owner Colonel Ruppert's "Rough Riders," as some called them, were not going head to head against their American League competition, they were playing exhibition games in Buffalo, Omaha, Rochester, Columbus, Dayton, Indianapolis, all kinds of places.
            Everyone in the little cities and small towns wanted to catch a glimpse of the Babe, Lou and the others. Wherever the Yankees went, there were always packed ballparks and playing fields. The team was a magnet, a syncopated jazz band playing a baseball song with the Babe leading, striking up the band with his home run baton, his bat. Whole towns came out early and they stayed late studying the moves of "the Colossus of Baseball." How the Sultan of Swat walked, how he ran, how he swung a bat, how he caught and threw a baseball, how he joked and wrestled with kids in the fields of play, how many different kinds of home runs he hit. Demand for the Yankees came from all over.  
Murderers' Row even played exhibition games in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, National League cities.
          In Omaha, Nebraska, the King of Clouts, Ruth, and his protégé the "Prince of Pounders," Gehrig seemed genuinely happy to make the acquaintance of one "Lady Amco" who was known as the "Babe Ruth of chickens." She was a world champ at laying eggs. The morning the Babe and the Buster met her she produced on cue, laying an egg for the 171st straight day.
           In Indianapolis, the Sultan of Swat failed to homer or even swat the ball out of the infield in his first three times at bats.  Each time the smattering of boos and heckling became louder, all good natured, of course. According to reports, Ruth in his fourth at bat tagged the ball, and it leaped over the fence in right field into the street bouncing into box cars in a nearby freight yard. That was the story.
          And its punch line: "I guess I did show those people something, make fun of me, will they," the Big Bam boomed going into the dugout.  
        In a dilapidated park in Ft. Wayne, Indiana before 35,000 against the Lincoln Lifes, a semi-pro team, the scene was all too familiar. Hundreds of kids screamed, ached to ogle, to get an autograph or just to be close to George Herman Ruth, their idol.
         The Bambino, to save his legs, played first base, as was his custom many times during those exhibition games. Gehrig played right field. Going into the tenth inning, the score was tied, 3-3. Mike Gazella was on first base when Ruth stepped into the batter's box. Always the showman, signaling to the crowd that they might as well start going home, the Big Bam poked the ball over the right field fence giving the Yankees a 5-3 win. Hundreds of boys who had been relatively controlled and contained mobbed their idol as he crossed home plate. It took quite a while before Ruth and the Yankees could clear out of the park.
       Wherever the exhibition games were staged, overflow crowds sat in the outfield watching the action. Attendance records were broken. Mobs cheered. They roared and howled and jumped to their feet, marveling at the power and magic of the mighty Yankees and especially George Herman Ruth. "God, we liked that big son of a bitch. He was a constant source of joy, Waite Hoyt said. "I've seen them kids, men, women, worshipers all, hoping to get his name on a torn, dirty piece of paper, or hoping for a grunt of recognition when they said, 'Hi-ya, Babe.'
        He never let them down; not once. He was the greatest crowd pleaser of them all." In a game played at Sing-Sing, New York against the prison team, Ruth slugged a batting practice home run over the right field wall and then another over the center field wall. "I'd love to be riding out of here on those balls," one of the prisoners joked. During the game the Sultan of Swat turned to the crowd of cons in the stands and bellowed in that big booming baritone voice of his: "What time is it?" Many of the cons shouted back the answer.
      "What difference does it make?" the showman Ruth yelled. "You guys ain't going anyplace, any time soon."
          The Yankees were going anyplace they could play baseball. On May 26 they were at West Point. Entering the Mess Hall at noon to dine with the Cadets for lunch, the team from the Bronx received a standing and enthusiastic ovation from the 1,200 West Pointers. Before the baseball exhibition game began at West Stadium, "Jidge" Ruth presented members of the Army nine with autographed baseballs and a specially autographed baseball to the leading ball player of each of the twelve companies.
         The Yankees used virtually their regular lineup except that Ruth and Gehrig switched places in the field. Earle Combs walked to start the game. Mark Koenig singled. Babe Ruth was struck out by Army pitcher Tim Timberlake and that got a mighty rise from the Cadets.

       James Harrison later described the scene in The New York Times: "'Aw, he didn't try to hit the ball,' said one of the cadets. 'He was just trying to make us feel good.' “However, the truth of the matter was that the Big Bam was so eager to hit a homer for the Hudson folks that he went after bad balls which he couldn't have reached on a stepladder.
       No matter. A good time was being had by all until lightning, thunder and a soaking rain brought the festivities to a quick conclusion after just two innings. The Yanks, as usual, won another, 2-0. It was said that the Babe got a big kick playing in exhibition games. It was said that he liked that time to show off his skills, play without pressure, and have fun. That was what was said. But there was also the unpublicized financial benefit. At the beginning of his participation in exhibitions gigs, Ruth received 10 percent of the gate receipts. That arrangement ballooned later to a guaranteed $2,500 against 15 percent of gate receipts.
         Just how many became fans of the Yankees after attending those exhibition games cannot be measured. Just how many heard about the dramatic doings of the team and became lifelong fans of the team that were calling "Murderers' Row" is also beyond calculation.

BOOKENDS;

Tigerland by Wil Haywood (Knopf, $27.95, 420 pages)is a highly relevant and rewarding flashback to a time and place in sports and cultural history.Detroit, 1968-1969. Eloquently written, carefully researched, the Detroit Tigers, the city, the memorable cast of characters...this is a keeper, a book that belongs on your sports bookshelf. Interestingly enough, one of my Dartmouth College graduate students did her thesis in a much more limited way on this topic some years ago.

 Baseball Cop by Eddie Dominguez (Hatchette, $28.00, 304 pages) is a real inside baseball book that focuses as its sub-title proclaims on the dark side of America’s national Pastime.
The author worked in MLB’s Department of Investigation and provides an anecdotal and fascinating story of self policing. Highly recommended.

About
Harvey
Frommer

One of the most prolific and respected sports journalists and oral historians in the United States, author of the autobiographies of legends Nolan Ryan, Tony Dorsett, and Red Holzman, Dr. Harvey Frommer is an expert on the New York Yankees and has arguably written more books, articles and reviews on the New York Yankees than anyone.
A professor for more than two decades in the MALS program at Dartmouth College, Frommer was dubbed “Dartmouth’s Mr. Baseball” by their alumni magazine. He’s also the founder of www.HarveyFrommerSports.com. Frommer books maybe ordered directly from the author: http://frommerbooks.com/

Monday, September 3, 2018

TEDDY BALLGAME and THE BABE

Featuring a Never-Before-Disvovered-or-Published Historical Connection Between The Kid and The Babe

TEDDY BALLGAME and THE BABE: 



As the baseball world rightly celebrates the 100th birthday of Ted Williams (August 30), it is natural to think about his remarkable career. As a baseball historian, I had the privilege of interviewing Williams in 1986 at Winter Haven, Florida, and it was a powerful experience. Not surprisingly, therefore, I have thought hard in recent days about both that interview and what Ted told me during that magical time.
Two compelling truths immerged as we talked. First, despite his slender frame, Ted hit the ball astonishingly hard and far. Second, although often regarded as somewhat self-absorbed, Williams showed profound respect and even affection for many of his former colleagues.
The list of those for whom he spoke most glowingly was a “Who’s Who In Baseball History.” Admittedly, I was totally entranced. That august group included Rogers Hornsby, Bob Feller, Joe DiMaggio, Lefty Grove, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and many others. Yet, although that was very select company, two names stood out above all others. They were Babe Ruth and Jimmie Foxx.
Ted teamed with Foxx for over three seasons, and spoke with such tenderness and warmth about the then, aging slugger that I became highly emotional myself. Yet, what about The Babe? Ted never even saw the man play. The explanation for that apparent conundrum came directly from Ted himself in that same memorable 1986 interview.
When the nineteen-year-old Williams toured up and down the West Coast’s Pacific Coast League in 1937, he left a trail of monstrous home runs nearly everywhere he played. He was that powerful with a bat in his hands. Yet, this is what Ted said to me about The Bambino:
When I first came up in the Pacific Coast League, I’d hear stories about long home runs. They’d point to a house across the street, and say that’s where Lou Gehrig hit one. Or a wood pile, and say that’s where somebody else hit one. And then they’d point to a factory across another street farther from the house, and say that’s where Babe Ruth hit one. I’d hear stories like that everywhere I went.
In that context, is it any wonder why Ted Williams was still in awe of Babe Ruth a half century later?
I have spent a lot of time thinking about those two guys ever since then, and I still marvel at the synchronicity of their combined careers. Statistically, there is little doubt that those two left-handed bombers were the greatest batsmen in the history of their sport. In slugging percentage, Babe is still number one at .690, and Ted is second at .634. In on-base-percentage, Ted is the all-time leader at .482 with Babe right behind him at .474. When you combine those two crucial numerical categories (so-called OPS), there they sit at the top: Babe Ruth at 1.164 and Ted Williams at 1.116.
Most baseball fans know that Ted passionately wanted to be regarded as his sport’s greatest hitter. The numbers tell us that, if he didn’t succeed, there was only one man ahead of him. Those two iconic individualists are forever linked as the best who ever swung a bat. Okay then, what about pure power?
To answer that question, we again refer back to that serendipitous conversation in the spring of 1986. We talked about all of Ted’s longest homers, but, most of all, we discussed the one for which he is most famous: his so-called Straw Hat home run. Recorded at Boston’s Fenway Park on June 9, 1946, it is also referred to as his “Red Seat” homer. The derivations of those two titles are easy to explain.
Ted’s astounding drive (estimated here at 522 feet) actually struck a fan on his head, plunking through his straw hat. Sobriquet number two derives from the fact that, in 1984, the Red Sox painted a seat which corresponds to the spot in the former bench rows where the ball descended from the heavens. The Sox chose the color red to commemorate the 1946 event, and selected the 37th row as the level where this historic drive landed.
In this particular detail, I respectfully disagree with the Red Sox. I feel that the evidence tells us that the likely landing point was the 33rd row. However, that difference is minor in the overall context of this tale. Either way, both fans and players still gawk at the approximate landing spot in breathless admiration mixed with understandable skepticism. For example, when I spoke with Reggie Jackson (another of baseball’s all-time longest hitters) during batting practice at Fenway back in the mid-eighties, we rated Ted’s shot based on it landing in either row 33 or row 37. Reggie was dumbstruck either way.
Historians can tell the doubters not to bother with their cynicism.  That blow has been researched to the point of overkill, and the available data holds up. Benefitting from a forcible wind at his back, Teddy Ballgame really did blast a ball well beyond the 30th row. He truly did. But, where does Babe Ruth fit into this part of the story?
The truth is that nobody compares with the Sultan of Swat in the matter of pure power. As strong as Williams was, not even Ted could challenge Ruth in this regard. Nobody could (or can). I have written three books on the topic of distance hitting, and have known for many years that The Babe smashed several drives at Fenway Park that rivaled Ted’s 1946 classic shot…the one that bonked a guy on his bean, right through his straw hat.
Yet, until I started thinking again about these two old warriors as a result of Ted’s forthcoming 100th birthday, it never occurred to me to link Babe and Ted in the matter of the “Straw Hat” home run. Recently, however, I began reviewing all my records on their combined mightiest homers in Boston. That brought me directly in touch with the twenty-fifth home run of Babe’s tremendous 1921 season. It was struck on June 23, and, predictably (at this stage of the story), was launched at Fenway Park.
According to multiple primary newspaper accounts (Boston Globe, Boston Herald, New York World, New York Times, and various wire services), the ball landed two-thirds of the way up into the right field bleachers. Those bleachers stood exactly fifty rows above the playing field. Using fourth grade arithmetic, we can conclude that the ball descended into the 33rd row (or very close to it). What about the exact direction of Babe’s drive? For that we got a little lucky.
Sadly, despite the fact that most of the Boston newspapers of that era included sketches of game highlights, there were no such drawings the day after Ruth’s home run. Happily, however, when Babe had crushed a stupendous game-winner back on July 9, 1918 as a Red Sox player, the Boston Post had published a sketch of the exact landing point. Three years later, when Babe smacked his shot to the 33rd row as a New York Yankee, that New York World stated that it was virtually identical to his 1918 bomb. And guess what? That 1918 drive had taken what appears to have been the precise line of travel as Williams’ subsequent “Straw Hat” homer.
Taking that information to its logical conclusion, we know that both drives landed in virtually the same place. Somewhat of a coincidence? Well, hold on. There’s more to it than that, a lot more. When I recently reread the account of Babe’s 1921 drive in the Boston Herald, in part, this is what I saw:
The count was two and two when he (Ruth) caught the next one and lifted it high toward right, with Peckinpaugh on first base. Shauno Collins (right fielder) turned his back, took a step or two and then joined all the other spectators and the most vitally interested person was a gent wearing a straw hat who had to duck to get out of the way…
That narrative got my attention. I couldn’t help wondering about the odds of two 500-foot-plus home runs (they are extremely rare: only one so far in the 21st Century) landing in the same place and tracking directly at the straw hat of male attendee. One in a million? How about one in a trillion?
It’s true that Ruth hit his homer into the old wooden bleachers which were replaced in 1934 by the newer concrete and steel stands. Those updated seats were erected in the same position as their predecessors, and retained the same fifty row size. The modern bleachers are thirty inches wide. In Babe’s day, they were twenty-four inches in depth. However, the new rows have six inch risers whereas the old ones were about ten inches in height, one above the other.
I’ve asked a couple of physicists to figure out the spatial relationship between the two sets of bleachers, and I have been told that a batted ball into the 33rd row of both would have tracked in almost the same flight path (Ted’s in the new bleachers being, perhaps, a few feet farther). In other words, Babe and Ted’s homers, hit almost exactly a quarter century apart, landed in, basically, the same place.
There were some differences in the two men. Babe was a renowned partier while Ted was a widely recognized loner. Yet, their similarities were remarkable. Both men loved to hunt and fish. Williams played his entire MLB career in Boston, whereas Ruth began and ended his playing days in Beantown. Most importantly, they shared an absolute obsession for hitting a baseball. Williams famously thought about little else during the season. In Ruth’s case, he gave up a budding Hall of Fame pitching career because he simply couldn’t wait to bash a baseball.
In their own distinctive ways, Babe Ruth and Ted Williams became the two best batters in the long years that the National Pastime had been played. As we honor Ted on his 100th birthday, it’s fun for me to think about how their paths intertwined. That is never more apparent than when I close my eyes to watch those two leviathan drives fly toward hats made of straw.
Bill Jenkinson, Baseball Historian-Copyright 2018