The 1964 Yankees Come to Richmond for an Exhibition Game

Ike Futch, who played in the Yankees’ minor league system as, primarily, a second baseman, from 1959 through 1964 (check his stats), recently left a comment on a post on this blog about Yogi Berra and Mickey Mantle. When I wrote an email back to him, he told me about an exhibition game he had played for the Richmond Virginians (they were the Yankees’ AAA affiliate) at the end of 1964 spring training. Ike sent along files of the Richmond Times-Dispatch’s coverage of the game, played on Sunday, April 12, 1964, at Richmond’s Parker Field.

Here is some of the coverage; to begin, Ike sliding into second under Phil Linz’s tag to steal the base; he would score the winning run a couple minutes later on a Horace Clarke single.

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The box score:
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Part of the game account:
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And a few game notes, featuring an item on Mickey Mantle and his health:
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I believe that of all the Richmond Virginians, Mel Stottlemyre, who pitched in this game, went on to have the best MLB career. Also, I have interviewed Ike Futch about his minor league career, especially his years in the Yankees organization.

Published in: on June 5, 2014 at 8:53 am  Comments (1)  
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Jackie Robinson’s Post-Baseball Life

This post gathers together some information about Jackie Robinson’s life after leaving the Dodgers and his death. Beyond some vague things about his involvement in politics, and being an executive at Chock Full O’ Nuts, and dying sometime in the ‘70s, it seemed, I hadn’t heard much about his post-playing life. So the material provided below was an education.

Here is Jimmy Cannon of the New York Post writing about his retirement not long after it happened in 1957:

WE CAME out of the theatre where Jackie Robinson had taken a bow in the audience of the Ed Sullivan Show. It was snowing and the kids were standing in the storm with Elvis Presley buttons pinned on their coats. They asked for Robinson’s autograph and he gave it to them. He is famous for being a ballplayer with the Brooklyn Dodgers, but he put his name on those pads as the personnel director of Chock Full O’ Nuts. They are his employers now. He is through, Robinson explained, forever with his game and had signed a two-year contract with the lunch-counter chain.

The guy he is now working for is William Black, who never made the big leagues, but then neither did Buzzie Bavasi. It infuriates Bavasi, one of the Brooklyn vice presidents, because Robinson has decided not to work for the Giants, where he was sent for a score of cash and a left-handed pitcher. . . .

We ate spaghetti in La Scala on W. 54th Street and Robinson talked. He was angry. “I begged the Giants not to announce the deal,” Robinson said. “I didn’t want to embarrass any one. I didn’t know I was traded, but I called Buzzie to tell him not to trade Randy Jackson. I got his secretary. She said he was en route to New York. I had signed with the Chock Full O’ Nuts before the trade. I was calling to do Buzzie a favor. I thought he was a nice guy.

“My new job entails finding out why they have such a turnover in employees. It wasn’t created for me. One of the executives got sick and people moved up. The only way I could have stayed in baseball is if William Black . . . who hired me . . . told me it was important to Chock Full O’ Nuts . Even if the Dodgers hadn’t traded me, I was gone.

“I had a meeting with Mr. Black and the magazine people when Red Patterson . . . who works for Buzzie . . . called me.

“I called Buzzie. Buzzie said, I’ll come to your house. I have something important to tell you.’ I said, I’ve never seen you like this. What can it be?’ He said, You are now a Giant.’ It took me by surprise. I didn’t say anything to him. I called Chub Feeney. I told him to withhold the story. He didn’t.

“I can’t understand Buzzie. Ten days before he wrote me a letter telling me all I’ve done for the organization. Then he comes up with such stuff like he does, blasting me.”

It wasn’t, Robinson said, until Black made him the proposition about six weeks ago that he decided to quit baseball.

“I wasn’t sure. There were times last year when I played real well, but there were times when I got to the ball park and had trouble giving my best. When I can’t give my best, I’m through. Because I don’t do what Buzzie wants me, he turns around and blasts me. He acted like a little kid, taking his ball home and not letting the game be played.

“The trade had nothing to do with it. If I had made up my mind to play, I’d play for New York, Brooklyn or Pasadena. Rachel, my wife, and I discussed it. She’d be more thrilled than ever. I wanted to go out without saying a word to anyone. I wanted to finish as a member of the Brooklyn Baseball Club. The Dodgers didn’t offer me a salary. I was going to ask for a raise. I didn’t sign a contract with the Giants or the Dodgers. I signed with Chock Full O’ Nuts.

“Why should I get in touch with Bavasi or anyone? My retirement is my business. Two-faced as he is, I’m sorry now that I tried to call him, but I did call his secretary and couldn’t get him. I was going to tell him I quit baseball.

“In Japan, Buzzie wrote me a long letter. He said I was carrying on. You know all the guys and their wives were having some fun. Everyone else was doing it. I said I’m doing it myself. He also asked me for information on young players. I mean he wanted my opinion on their playing ability. I felt good, him asking me that. Now he’s slapping back at me because I’m doing what’s right for me. I never saw anyone as little. Littleness is all it can be. I wrote him back exactly my opinion.”

Here’s a timeline of Robinson’s retirement that John Shea of the S.F. Chronicle wrote a few years ago:

Though many believe Robinson retired because he didn’t want to play for the rival Giants, the truth is that he was planning to quit, anyway. In fact, long before the trade, he sold his retirement story to Look magazine, which was to break the story and pay Robinson $50,000 for a series of articles.

The timeline, with help from Dodgers historian Mark Langill, is telling.

Dec. 10, 1956: Robinson accepts a job with Chock Full O’ Nuts (a chain of New York-based lunch counters), a two-year deal for $30,000 a year. He’s to be vice president and director of personnel. It’s not immediately publicized.

Dec. 13: The announcement comes that he’s traded by Bavasi, who apparently doesn’t know Robinson plans to retire.

Jan. 8, 1957: Look is to hit news stands, though the story is leaked in advance. Bavasi irks Robinson by reportedly saying the retirement talk is to get more money from the Giants, making Robinson more determined to retire.

Jan. 11: Giants vice president Chub Feeney sends Robinson a contract for $35,000 with an attached note: “If you decide to play, naturally financial terms will be open to discussion.” The Associated Press later speculates the Giants would have gone as high as $65,000.

Jan. 14: Robinson writes a note to Giants owner Horace Stoneham on Chock full o’ Nuts stationery that he’s requesting to be placed on the voluntary retired list and that it’s unrelated to the trade. Stoneham responds with this message: “I can’t help but thinking it would have been fun to have had you on our side for a year or two.”

In 2007, Buzzie Bavasi, 92, said of Robinson: “If he went to the Giants, they might still be in New York. He’d have meant that much to them. If Jackie played for the Giants, they would’ve had a great ’57 and ’58. Imagine Jackie and Willie Mays together. Plus, the Polo Grounds were exactly a half-mile from the middle of Harlem.

“I was opposed to the trade. The only reason he was traded was because Walter O’Malley and Jackie never got along. It was a personal feud between Walter and Jackie, and I was asked to trade him. Walter wanted a trade a year earlier, but I told Walter we could win the pennant in ’56 with Jackie and wouldn’t without him. So he put it off a year.”

Back in 1987, Stan Hochman of the Philadelphia Daily News drew the scene of Robinson’s last appearance in a major league stadium:

Jackie Robinson swaggered across ballyards all those years, arrogance in his strut, belligerence in his posture, take-your-best-shot branded on his out-thrust chin.

And now, Oct. 15, 1972, he shuffled across the artificial surface of Riverfront Stadium for a ceremony preceding a Cincinnati-Oakland World Series game.

Robinson shuffling warily? His hair so gray? His gait wobbled by diabetes , his eyesight blurred? Pain shimmered off the plastic grass and into the minds of those who had known him in his warrior days.

Red Barber introduced Robinson. Barber, the Old Redhead, the voice of the Dodgers, his voice still mellow, his manner courtly. The honeyed drawl came naturally. Barber was born in Mississippi, raised in Florida.

And when Branch Rickey said he was signing Robinson to play for the Dodgers, Barber’s first thought was to resign. He did not. He managed to keep his professional distance, his courtly poise, through those dramatic years in Brooklyn.

It was Robinson’s turn to speak and his voice was thin but precise. He
thanked his wife, his family, the fans. He praised “Captain” Pee Wee Reese. He lauded the game.

And then, slowly, he turned toward the third base dugout and said, ”Someday I’d like to be able to look over at third base and see a black man managing the ballclub.”

Nine days later, that gallant heart stopped beating. The Rev. Jesse Jackson delivered the eulogy.

“All of us,” Jackson said, “are better off because a man with a mission passed this way.” . . .

When Robinson retired in 1956, a job with Chock Full O’ Nuts was waiting, personnel vice president.

“He could have gone in as a celebrity vice president, doing the celebrity thing,” [Rachel Robinson, his wife] said. “Instead, he went in to learn the business.

“He was one of the few personnel directors who went to funerals, weddings, jail, wherever he had to go to use his influence, his presence.

“He had two ideas when he left baseball: first, we needed to be more involved in economic development. And two, be more involved in politics.”

Robinson gravitated toward the Republican side. He backed Nelson Rockefeller and then Richard Nixon.

“When you’ve got a maverick, you’ve got a maverick,” Mrs. Robinson said. ”Our families had a tradition of being Democrats. Jack Roosevelt Robinson, the Roosevelt is after Teddy.

“When Nixon failed to respond to Martin Luther King when he was jailed, Jack realized he was dealing with a recalcitrant person and became disillusioned with him.”

In 1997, Les Carpenter of the Seattle Times added:

As he got older, Robinson became more outspoken. In 1949, at the request of Rickey, he appeared before the Un-American Activities Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives to dispel notions that blacks would not fight for the United States in a war against the Soviet Union. His testimony contradicted a statement made in Paris by Paul Robeson, an African-American actor and singer who insisted there were more civil rights in the communist USSR than there were in the United States.

Speaking against a prominent member of his own race was something Robinson later regretted. But it was one of many unusual contrasts in his public life. Socially, he was a Democrat, yet as a businessman who for a few years ran a clothing store in addition to the bank, he was more of a Republican. In 1960, he worked on Richard Nixon’s presidential campaign, and he was a good friend of New York’s Republican Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, who later became Gerald Ford’s vice president. In 1967, Robinson resigned from the NAACP.

After his retirement from baseball, in 1956, he took a job as a vice president for Chock Full O’ Nuts , a restaurant chain on the East Coast. He traveled from store to store, talking to the mostly black employees, encouraging them to go back to school and push for better jobs within the company. This strange contrast from his political side was further emphasized when he quit Chock Full O’ Nuts after the workers were forced to agree to a union contract that didn’t provide for much upward mobility.

Robinson’s children followed various paths, but the most interesting thing I learned was that Jack Jr. was a soldier in the Vietnam War, who developed a drug addiction, went through rehab, then died in a car accident about a year before his father died. Which one has to think had something to do with Robinson’s break with Nixon.

Published in: on October 22, 2012 at 8:05 pm  Comments (1)  

Remembering 1960s Cubs Second Baseman Ken Hubbs

Thirty years after his death, Dick Rosetta of the Salt Lake Tribune wrote about Ken Hubbs on February 14, 1994:

Ken Hubbs remains Bob Kennedy’s “all-time” second baseman.

Thirty years after Hubbs’ Cessna 172 airplane plummeted into Utah Lake, killing two people including the 1962 National League rookie of the year, the former Brigham Young University student is remembered as a “can’t-miss superstar.”

Kennedy, the ex-Salt Lake Bees manager who went on to manage the Cubs from 1963-65, says he doesn’t know current Cub All-Star second baseman Ryne Sandberg that well. But “if I had a choice,” he said, “my all-time second baseman would be Ken Hubbs.”

Playing in a lineup that included future Hall of Famers Ernie Banks and Billy Williams in 1962 and 1963, the 22-year-old Hubbs was viewed by Kennedy as part of a team that would return the Cubs to baseball prominence.

Buttressing Kennedy’s prophecy was a recent issue of Sports Illustrated that fantasized just how big a cog Hubbs could have been. SI suggested the Cubs with Hubbs would not have collapsed in 1969, and it would have been Chicago, not the New York Mets, who won the N.L. East, the N.L. playoffs over Atlanta and ultimately the World Series over Baltimore.

Kennedy wasn’t so sure about a Cubs pennant and a World Series in 1969, even though it was Leo Durocher and not he that was managing by then. “Kenny was a great young fielder and a pretty good hitter, but then, like now, what the Cubs lacked was good pitching depth.”

Chicago was just 59-103 in Hubbs’ rookie season of 1962, when he hit .260 with 49 RBI and a .983 fielding average. In Kennedy’s first season at the helm in 1963, the Cubs improved to 82-80 although Hubbs’ average dipped to .235. His fielding held steady at .974.

Kennedy, speaking from his home in Mesa, Ariz., remembers Hubbs as the “highest type of young man . . . a great talent. He was like a steel post at second. When you thought there was no way a double play could be turned, Ken Hubbs turned it.”

Hubbs was better known for his glove than his bat. He broke two major league records in 1962, playing 78 games and handling 418 chances without an error. In addition to 1962 N.L. rookie honors, he was honored by his peers with a Gold Glove. He was the first rookie to win the award.

His brief career ended on Feb. 13, 1964. He and Dennis Doyle were killed instantly when the new Cessna that Hubbs was piloting crashed into Utah Lake in a snowstorm some 10 miles from the Provo Airport.

Hubbs, like Doyle a native of Colton, Calif., had logged just 71 hours of flight training prior to the accident. The Civil Aeronautics Board attributed the crash to faulty judgment. The CAB said Hubbs was not qualified to fly by instruments and “continued visual flight into an area of adverse weather resulting in a loss of control.”

Kennedy says Hubbs’ death was “a terrible blow to his family, to the Cubs’ family and to baseball. His future was boundless. Leadership in baseball comes in the middle of the diamond from catcher on out through second and short and to center field. Kenny was to be the center of the Cubs for years and years.”

About a decade later, in 2003, the Chicago Sun Times looked at Hubbs and why his memory was so vibrant for Cubs fans:

For a baseball team whose modern history revolves around the concept of woulda, coulda, shoulda, there can be no better icon than Kenny Hubbs.

He would have taken the Cubs to the World Series, some say. He could have made it to the Hall of Fame, they’ll tell you.

On Wednesday, he’ll come as close as he’ll ever get.

As part of the buildup for next week’s All-Star Game here, Hubbs’ family is donating to the Hall of Fame the glove he used as a rookie in 1962 to set two major league fielding records, along with the game ball from the day he set one of them–consecutive errorless games by a second baseman.

Ted Spencer, chief curator for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, said he will immediately display Hubbs’ items along with artifacts from more famous baseball notables at the All-Star FanFest, which opens Friday at McCormick Place. Then he’ll take Hubbs’ memorabilia back to Cooperstown to join the museum’s collection, more “footprints in time,” as Spencer refers to the keepsakes from record-setting performances.

Keith Hubbs, Ken’s older brother, met me at McCormick Place on Tuesday to show me the ball and glove and talk about his brother. If there’s one thing you don’t have to ask Keith Hubbs twice, it’s to talk about Ken, who would have turned 62 this December.

“It’s nice to have just a little bit of him in the Hall of Fame,” said Keith, 65, a successful businessman and star athlete in his own right who moved to Wrigleyville with his wife six months ago on a Mormon mission.

Keith showed me pictures of when Ken was a high school All-America in both football and basketball (“his best sport,” Keith says) in California, and told me how he’d been class president and a top student. He told me about the personal qualities that always set Ken apart: quiet, modest, focused, driven.

He showed me the Sports Illustrated article from a decade ago titled “What Might Have Been,” in which the writer took a flight of fancy relating how Hubbs led the Cubs to five world championships (with the help of Brock, who was never traded for Ernie Broglio in this altered state of reality). Keith told me Billy Williams assured him they would have at least won in 1969.

Keith showed me a letter he’d received in 1964 from Holly Schindler, 12, of Flossmoor, donating 50 cents to the then-newly created Ken Hubbs Foundation. (It’s still going strong.)

“I am a loyal Cub fan and Ken Hubbs was my hero,” Holly wrote. “I knew all statistics of him, height, weight, etc., even the color of his eyes. I have even converted a Sox fan to a Cub fan. I was grieved to hear of the young athlete’s death, and I feel terribly sorry for the Hubbs family. This is part of my allowance, and I feel better by donating.”

If you’re not old enough to remember Hubbs, Holly’s letter may give you a sense of how his death was received.

It was a knife through the heart of Cubs fans, but the story of the untimely death of the young athlete with the wholesome, clean-cut image went beyond Cubdom.

“Ken Hubbs had the affection and respect of all Chicago,” said the telegram from Mayor Richard J. Daley that was read at the funeral. “There isn’t a man in Chicago who wouldn’t have been proud to have him as a son.”

Keith Hubbs said he only recently found the ball, which was kept in a small pouch with two small black-and-white photos of Santo making the presentation.

His mother then found the glove in a long-neglected equipment bag, just where Hubbs had packed it for the trip to spring training that never came. He died when a small plane he was piloting crashed in a snowstorm near Provo, Utah.

It never occurred to them to sell the stuff.

The Hubbs glove is notable mostly for its simplicity–a small Chuck Cottier autograph model made by Spalding. Hubbs used it while going 78 consecutive games and 418 chances without an error, which helped him become the first rookie to win a Gold Glove award.

Published in: on January 7, 2012 at 11:53 am  Comments (3)  
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Greg Goossen on Sick’s Stadium and Life as a Seattle Pilot

These questions for Greg Goossen of the 1969 Seattle Pilots were posed by Steve Cox and Brad Powers as they prepared to make their documentary about the team, The Seattle Pilots: Short Flight Into History, which is available for purchase at Amazon.com. You can also read up about the film.

Here is part of the exchange between “SC/BP” and Goossen, who died early in 2011. You can read the whole interview at Hardball Times.

SC/BP: How did you feel about Sick’s?

GG: Loved it. When I was a kid we watched old Hollywood movies about baseball, they weren’t these luxurious ballyards – they were ballyards like Sick’s. Nothing better than the advertisements on the walls and they were all different. There isn’t a ballpark like Sick’s Stadium. There isn’t a ballpark like Wrigley Field. There isn’t a ballpark like Fenway. I loved those parks. The lighting could have been better. I loved it. Of course I did very well there. I hit double-digit home runs there in very few games. Loved it.

SC/BP: What did you do after the 1969 season?

GG: That was a journey that broke my heart. I used to say, “well I played and they got rid of me.” To me, Joe Schultz who managed Seattle was the smartest manager I ever met in my life. You know why? He played me! It’s the truth. I deemed him a genius. And not knowing whether we were going to leave Seattle, well, we were there in spring training on the last day and had no idea. I thought if we stayed in Seattle and Joe was still there I would have been the starting first baseman. No doubt. I hit .309 in Seattle. Ten home runs, 24 RBI’s in 57 times at bat which is…I should have played even more when I was with Seattle.

Dave Bristol was the manager in Milwaukee – or Seattle at the time. We didn’t get along well at all. I damn near didn’t make the club, much less start. I broke camp with them and ended up with Milwaukee. Not for long though, about a month and Bristol got rid of me.

SC/BP: Besides his tactical abilities, what did you think of Joe Schultz?

GG: He was great with the players. I mean, by the time they get to the big leagues, what are you going to tell them? Their path is sort of marked. The human element like in football or any other sport means so much. You really want to go out and win for them. I wanted to go out and win for Joe so badly. He was a good man. A good man to play for.

SC/BP: What did you think about the crowds in Seattle?

GG: There is not a thing about Seattle that I didn’t love. I mean if we had stayed here and I played 20 years here and the Dodgers wanted me or Chicago – I wouldn’t take any money. I was the happiest guy in the world and part of it was my teammates. A lot of it was my teammates. There was not an ego on the team.

There were guys who were up and coming down. Or guys who never got a chance. There were guys who had been on World Series teams like Ray Oyler for Detroit. They were the greatest bunch of guys I’d ever been around in my life.

1968’s Year of the Pitcher and Denny McLain and Bob Gibson

Back in 1993, Jim Caple of the St. Paul Pioneer Press took a look from 25 years on at this season:

But probably the finest stretch of pitching in baseball history began [on June 6] when Gibson shut out Houston on three hits to even his record at 5-5. From that night until August, Gibson allowed three runs in 102 innings. Three runs! In two months! And one of the runs scored on a wild pitch. “They called it a wild pitch,” Gibson corrects 25 years later, believing it should have been a passed ball and an unearned run.

From the end of May to Aug. 23, Gibson won 15 consecutive games and threw 10 shutouts. At one point he was 15-5 with a 0.94 ERA. When he shut out Philadelphia for 10 innings Sept. 2 to win his 20th game, he lowered his ERA to 0.99.

Gibson started 34 games and completed 28 of them. No team ever drove him off the mound. The only time he left a game was for a pinch hitter. Had he been given just a bit better support, he might have come close to 30 victories. As it was, the Cardinals scored only 12 runs in his nine losses and just four in his first five. He also was the victim of Gaylord Perry’s no-hitter.

Gibson often is described as one of the fiercest, most competitive pitchers in the game’s history, and he does not deny it. After getting hit in the shin by a Roberto Clemente line drive in 1967, he pitched to three batters on a broken leg before finally leaving the game. A quick worker, seven of his games that season lasted less than two hours.

“You’d step out of the box against him,” says former catcher and current Orioles coach Elrod Hendricks, “and he’d yell at you, `Get back in there, I’m not getting paid by the hour.’ ”

The competitive fire still burns. Last winter Gibson was touring the winter leagues when he was asked to pitch the second game of a doubleheader against a team of all-stars. He refused – “I was 56 years old” – until the younger players began to taunt him. So he went out to the mound and pitched three innings. “I wasn’t going to let a bunch of kids make fun of me,” he says. “I struck out seven of them.”

Baseball’s other great figure of 1968, of course, was Denny McLain , whose season, on and off the field, may never be matched.

“Everybody should have the opportunity to live one year like that,” says McLain , now a radio talk-show host in Detroit. “Everybody should be able to have a year like that so they can experience what pure euphoria is.”

The whole 1968 season, he says, is a blur. And no wonder.

Let’s see. He won 31 games and played the organ for any audience he could find. He appeared on the “Today” show as well as Bob Hope’s, Glen Campbell’s and Steve Allen’s shows. An accomplished organist, he booked gigs everywhere from Vegas to Disneyland, often playing shows between starts. “I didn’t miss many towns,” he says.

He didn’t miss much of anything.

The week he won his 30th game he appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated and Time and was featured in Life (though a two-part series on the Beatles was that issue’s major story). The day he won his 30th game, he met with a Hammond organ representative to arrange an endorsement. Two days after his 30th win , Capitol Records released “Denny McLain at the Organ” (he says he played mostly Sinatra songs).

He wore Nehru jackets. He showed up at spring training with red hair. By midsummer it was blond.

The amazing thing is that despite all those distractions, he won. He won game after game. He won 20 games by the end of July. He won 30 by mid-September.

“ Denny won. He just won all the time,” says former Detroit infielder Dick Tracewski, now a Tigers coach. “And it seemed like he was pitching every day. And he’d go nine innings. It wasn’t like he was handing the ball off after six innings. When he walked out there, he was going to give you nine.”

McLain went for his 30th win in front of a national television audience Sept. 14 but wasn’t in top form. He gave up two home runs to Oakland’s Reggie Jackson and trailed 4-3 in the ninth inning. The Tigers rallied for two runs in the bottom of the ninth, and baseball had its first 30-game winner since Dizzy Dean in 1934. McLain threw 336 innings and pitched on two days of rest three times. He said his arm ached several times, but he took cortisone shots to keep him going. He said that had the season been replayed with the current medical knowledge, he wouldn’t have won 30 games. “They didn’t know then what effects cortisone could have,” he says. “If that happened today, I’d come into the ballpark with my agent and personal doctor saying I wouldn’t pitch.”

McLain won 24 games in 1969, but then arm injuries and his lifestyle caught up to him. He lost 22 games in 1971 and was finished by 1972. He was 28 when he pitched his last game in the majors.

Although McLain has made a lot of mistakes in his life – he has served time in prison on racketeering charges – few of them were in 1968. But here’s one.

After the season, a restaurant chain planned to go national, and because of his name, McLain would have been a natural to endorse it. The restaurant people offered him a small percentage of the profits, but he held out for more, and the deal fell through.

Now every time he hears the McCormick Sisters talk about Denny ‘s, McLain cringes a little bit about what might have been.

Denny vs. Gibby

McLain and Gibson finally met in Game 1 of the World Series, which was perhaps the finest game of Gibson’s career. He gave up five hits and won 4-0 – giving him 14 shutouts for the season – and struck out 17 batters. When reporters asked him whether the performance surprised even him, Gibson replied, “Nothing I do surprises me.”

Three days later, Gibson beat McLain 10-1 and hit a home run to give the Cardinals a 3-1 lead and improve Gibson’s mark to 7-1 with a 1.63 ERA and seven complete games in eight World Series starts. Going back to the 1967 World Series, he was 27-9 with a 1.08 ERA in a 39-start span.

Before the Tigers faced Gibson again in Game 7, Detroit manager Mayo Smith told his team that it had been a great season no matter what happened and that all he asked was they do the best they could against Gibson.

“He’s not Superman,” Smith said.

“I don’t know,” Norm Cash replied, “I just saw him changing his clothes in a telephone booth.”

Mickey Lolich and the Tigers beat Gibson 4-1 to win their first World Series since 1945. McLain got all the attention during the season, but Lolich was the most valuable player after winning three Series games. That night, the Tigers returned to Detroit but had to land in nearby Ypsilanti because fans had swarmed the runway at Detroit Metro. When their bus reached Tiger Stadium, they found the park surrounded by celebrating fans.

It was a mob. After a championship. In Detroit. There was no violence.

“It was a great thing for the city,” McLain says. “The previous year had been the race riots and 47 people were killed, but this was something that pulled the whole city together regardless or whether you were black, white, yellow or green.

“And nobody turned over a squad car. No one looted a building, no one set anything on fire. It was just a celebration.”

Those are all reasons why we may never again see such a year as 1968. McLain sees one more.

“I’ve given this a lot of thought and talked to a lot of people and think there’s a consensus,” McLain says. “It was the end of an era. The end of an era when the family unit came together, when Mom and Dad went to the Little League games, when Mom and Dad were at home, when the kids were in bed by 11.

“We were the first babies out of World War II. We were bigger, stronger and with better educations than those before us. Think of all the pitchers then, and it’s absolutely incredible. We were all World War II babies. I think that has a lot to do with it. When we were growing up, it was America, Chevrolet, apple pie and baseball. That’s what we were supposed to do. Play baseball. We weren’t supposed to like girls, we were supposed to play baseball. And we were the last of that in the majors.

“Kids don’t play sports like we did then. They have so many other things to do. And it’s the guys who play every day who get good. You just don’t get good at something unless you practice.”

McLain was 24 in 1968, that infamous year when America’s youth took to the streets and no one over 30 was to be trusted. Tracewski calls him baseball’s first liberal, but McLain says he was as apolitical as the next player.

“The bottom line is we were not politically involved,” he says. “Most of us came out of high school; we didn’t have college educations. The people who were out there protesting, I think we respected their right to protest, but we didn’t understand what they were upset about.”

His attitude changed that winter when he toured Vietnam with a USO show.

“It took me one trip to realize what turmoil there was and to realize we were killing our own kids,” he says. “I think at that point my thought became, `Boy I love my country, but you can never trust your government.’ ”

I came by this story after thinking about all the wins Justin Verlander was accumulating in 2011, and thought I’d find a good summary of the 27 wins Bob Welch had for the A’s in 1990: the last year anyone came even sort of close to a 30-win season. I didn’t find that, but I did find this chart of the “most combined wins by two teammates in the last half-century (1940 to 1990)” that the San Jose Mercury News published in 1990:

56: Hal Newhouser (29) and Dizzy Trout ( 27 ), Tigers, 1944

49: Sandy Koufax (26) and Don Drysdale (23), Dodgers, 1965

49: Bob Welch (27) and Dave Stewart (22), A’s, 1990

48: Mike Cuellar (24) and Dave McNally (24), Orioles, 1970

48: Denny McLain (31) and Mickey Lolich (17), Tigers, 1968

48: Mel Parnell (25) and Ellis Kinder (23), Red Sox, 1949

I think the 2002 Diamondbacks, with Randy Johnson (24) and Curt Schilling (23) combining for 47 wins, are the only two pitchers on a team in the last 20 years to come close to 48 wins combined.

Published in: on October 12, 2011 at 5:48 am  Comments (1)  
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Harmon Killebrew’s Playing Days and His Post-Baseball Life

Back in 1989, Jay Weiner of the Minneapolis Star Tribune wrote a long profile of Killebrew and his troubles in the nearly 15 years since he had left major league baseball. There’s no real need to detail all of the financial mishaps he had over that time, but they included partnering with a fraudulent real estate developer in Rancho Mirage, California, problems with an Oregon car dealership, and multiple loan defaults.

Reggie Jackson, one of the people who had gone to court with Killebrew over loan repayments, said: “It is a very sophisticated business. If you’re a novice you can be taken to the cleaners. People like Reggie Jackson and Harmon Killebrew who are not in that business can be taken advantage of because we come from baseball, where everything is black and white. You hit a home run because it went over the fence. You hit .270 because you have 27 hits out of 100 at-bats. Car dealerships are different. Most people are not afraid to take advantage of you. They figure you’re Reggie Jackson, you’re Harmon Killebrew , you’ve got it and they want some of it.”

Killebrew had also separated from his longtime wife, Elaine, who grew up with him in Payette, Idaho. Here are some lines from Weiner’s profile:

In 1976, his baseball income stopped, but Killebrew remembers his exit from the field as smooth. His first job was as a color commentator on televised Twins games. He received his securities license and became a partner in a Boise insurance and financial planning firm with former Idaho congressman Ralph Harding.

Killebrew said he practically welcomed the end of his playing days. “The last couple years that I played my knees hurt so bad it was painful to play. That’s why these old-timers games are so difficult – because it hurts. People forget that’s the reason we quit playing – because we couldn’t play anymore. I’d had my day and my day was over.”

Elaine Killebrew, who has known Harmon since both were 12 years old and growing up in Payette, remembers Harmon ‘s passage from field to office differently. Nine months after the cheers ended, he reached 40 and she noticed a change.

“He was not handling (turning 40) well,” she said. “He admitted to me he was really having a tough time. He had a tough time leaving baseball, too, even though he was having pain in his body. He didn’t want to leave baseball. There was silence, a sort of underlying hostility (toward) everything, the children, me. He became noncommunicative.”

He was facing his first financial crisis. A cattle ranch he bought toward the end of his career failed. Elaine said the family was forced to sell some of its investments. At the same time, she said, the house they were building on the hill wound up costing about $180,000, twice as much as expected.

“He had that feeling, ‘I was successful in baseball. I can do it again,’ ” Elaine said. But her husband seemed a candidate for business failure. “He’s always been the type of person whose niceness gets him used. He didn’t want anybody to be displeased with him.”

His reputation as a good fellow and sports hero might have attracted business partners, customers and bankers, but it took its toll on the Killebrew family, she said.

“We couldn’t be left alone. It was difficult because his celebrity took him away from his children. I don’t think it’s good to put people on a pedestal and worship them as a hero. I don’t think it’s good for the person they make the hero.” . . .

Now he confronts impatient banks in Minnesota and Idaho for defaulting on loans. Among his creditors are Midwest Savings Association and Marquette Bank, controlled by Twins owner Carl Pohlad.

He is the defendant in a lawsuit in California, brought by former star outfielder Reggie Jackson, for failing to pay a loan Jackson co-signed. That suit is on hold because Killebrew and Jackson have worked out a payback plan.

Jackson said, “Harmon’s been at the bottom of the pit and he’s climbing out of the hole. All he has left is his word and he wants to keep it.”

Former Twins owner Griffith said Killebrew owes him $100,000 for a loan Griffith gave “three or four years ago” to cover Killebrew’s taxes.

Griffith said, “It’s a sad situation.”

Yet Harmon Clayton Killebrew, the Minnesota sports hero, remains “Killer,” your basic nice guy. At 6 feet tall and 197 pounds, he’s 23 pounds lighter than during his final season, and two pounds heavier than when the Washington Senators signed him 35 years ago. Killebrew is warm to strangers who simply want to shake his hand. He’s remembered fondly enough that television viewers from across the country paid $149.92 each to buy autographed bats during a home shopping network sale in July.

Killebrew seeks no sympathy. In 1974, when “Harmon Killebrew Day” was held at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, he refused gifts, calling them “embarrassing.” Instead, $10,000 was raised for charity.

“My feeling then was the people didn’t owe me anything,” he said. He frowns at the thought of $10 checks pouring in from supporters. “I don’t want that sort of thing. I think I’m getting help from the people that can help me right now.”

“No matter what, I’ve always been an optimistic person,” Killebrew said. “I’m not a quitter. All my career I went through a lot of physical adversity, injuries. It’s in my nature to be a battler.”

“It’s been a living hell. You have a lot of those days when you feel you’re at the bottom,” Harmon Killebrew said. “You get to feeling that sometimes you’re out on that island by yourself. I don’t feel anger, more sometimes frustration, sadness is another, loneliness is another one. . . . Stressful? That’s an understatement.”

He is determined to pay off his debts and has new projects, most of which he won’t detail, to “turn things around.”

“I want to say that maybe I’ve made some wrong decisions but I’m still an honorable person and I intend to take care of all of my obligations.”

He is the fifth most prolific home run hitter in history. Nothing in Killebrew ‘s 22-year playing career matched the pressure he faces today.

“In baseball, you pack your uniform in the clubhouse after a ballgame and you see it hanging up in your locker when you get to your next city,” Killebrew said. “You pack your bag and your bag gets in your room when you get to the hotel. They pay for your meals, your hotel. When you’re out and you’re strictly doing it on your own, it’s a different situation.”

I’ve reprinted the above paragraphs to give an example of the gap that exists between the heroic superstar player we see out there on the field and the life that man lives, especially once his playing days are over. Also, to give a broader picture of who Killebrew was: more than just a nice guy slugger who regularly hit the ball 400+ feet. An Associated Press article on his death stated that “he became a successful businessman in insurance, financial planning and car sales,” and said “Killebrew and Nita had nine children,” without mentioning his five children with his first wife, Elaine. We shouldn’t simply gloss over and erase the less heroic details of his life in order to fabricate a false image of Killebrew as a man who never made a mistake. He apparently paid off his debts between 1989 and 2011, and was indeed a nice guy, but he and quite a few other former playing greats have made significant mistakes and had very deep problems in their post-baseball careers.

When I went looking for material about the man, I also came across this item from the St. Paul Pioneer Press of May 26, 1990, on Killebrew’s recent operation: “Hall of famer Harmon Killebrew underwent surgery for a ruptured esophagus and a collapsed lung Friday afternoon in Phoenix. No information regarding his condition was available. It was the second time Killebrew, 53, has undergone surgery on his esophagus.”

I don’t know much about whether chronic problems in an organ of the body can leave you susceptible to cancer in the same organ later in life, but it does not seem a coincidence that Killebrew would eventually die from esophagus cancer. In July 1993, the Star Tribune covered his return to the Metrodome “for the first time since 1988, when he covered the Twins as a broadcaster. As he wandered familiar corridors and waved to old friends, he looked healthy and happy.

“He has had plenty of problems with his health and finances in recent years, but yesterday he reflected on better days, and the chance to relive them that Sunday’s Upper Deck Heroes Game at the Dome will grant him.

“Killebrew has been plagued by ulcers and various problems with his esophagus and underwent surgery last winter that had some friends fearing for his life.”

Finally, here are some of Killebrew’s remembrances, as told to the Star Tribune in 1999, of playing ball for the Twins in the 1960s:

“I have to tell you I was apprehensive about going to Minnesota. I had played in the American Association for about a month, and because Washington did not have a Triple A farm club, I played for Indianapolis, the White Sox club. We had made a swing through Minneapolis and St. Paul. I knew it was pretty chilly. I really took to the warmer weather in Washington, and the lifestyle of living in the nation’s capital. Plus, we were starting to become a good club and I thought the fans deserved it after all they had been through. I can’t say I was real excited about moving.”

“I quickly grew to like it. Pretty much right away I started hitting the ball good, and I loved the fans because they’re down-to-earth Midwestern people. They like their baseball, but they’re not so rabid like they can be in Fenway Park or in New York. And I had the chance to play with some great guys on some very good teams. What’s amazing to me is every time I go back how much people, even the young people, seem to know about me. It was a wonderful place to play.

“I think it’s true that the home run hitter holds a special place for fans. To me it’s the ultimate in baseball – to drive the ball out of the park. Actually, I remember going to other parks, like Fenway, when we had me, Bob Allison, Don Mincher, so many guys who could hit the ball out, and people would give us a standing ovation in batting practice.

“I am very happy to have played when I did. I call it the golden years of baseball. Look at the great players – Ted Williams, Frank Robinson, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Willie McCovey, Ernie Banks, Stan Musial. To just be a part of that time is special to me.”

Published in: on May 18, 2011 at 8:52 pm  Comments (4)  
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Marking the 10th Anniversary of Willie Stargell’s 2001 Death

A decade after Willie Stargell’s death, and 30 years after he left the playing field, it’s easy for younger fans to know nothing about him. This post remembers a player and man who was the effective N.L. counter to Reggie Jackson in the 1970s (he, not Reggie, led MLB in homers that decade: 296 to 292). I met Stargell in a baseball card shop near San Jose in either 1988 or 1989, not long after he got into the Hall of Fame. He was signing autographs, for free, for a crowd of mostly kids born around the time he retired who knew little about him.

I remember a warm, friendly man who’d added mass in his retirement (he died from a stroke), but at the time I knew nothing about Stargell being one of the great black players who’d come out of Oakland and the East Bay.

Of course, Stargell was also the Pirates leader in the ‘70s, as the team added two World Series titles to a trophy case that’s had no real additions in the time since his retirement. 10-year teammate Al Oliver said: “If (Stargell) asked us to jump off the Fort Pitt Bridge (which crosses the Monongahela River), we would ask him what kind of dive he wanted. That’s how much respect we have for the man.”

When he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in summer 1988, the Sacramento Bee took the occasion to recount his journey into baseball. Some excerpts:

As a youngster growing up in Alameda County, Willie Stargell was a fan of the Giants, especially Willie McCovey. Today, he joins his hero in the pantheon of baseball as a member of the Hall of Fame.

Stargell, 47, no longer calls the Bay Area home, having settled in Pittsburgh. Yet he holds fond memories of his Alameda roots and of the inspiration he derived from McCovey, who became a Hall of Famer in 1986.

“I can remember how tough my first season was in pro baseball,” recalled Stargell, who broke in with Roswell (N.M.) in 1959. “I went home in September and visited Seals Stadium to watch the Pirates play the Giants.

“It was McCovey’s rookie year. I saw him swing the bat, and I was impressed. I wanted to bang out hits like ‘Stretch’ did. I have very good feelings about the Bay Area and those cold nights at Candlestick.”

“I was a baaad dude,” Stargell recalled. “I got into trouble just like the other kids. I stole fruit off trees, I was a Peeping Tom and I played on the railroad tracks.”

Stargell, who was born in Oklahoma in 1941, moved to Alameda 10 years later and lived in a housing project. As a gangly youngster, Wilver was a good athlete, but there always was time for mischief.

“My parents didn’t even know about this one,” he said. “You know those ice cream three-wheelers with the bells on them? I filled out an application form at the plant, then I got on the bicycle and raced to the project.

“I rounded up my buddies, and we ate ice cream until we got sick. We started in the daytime and didn’t finish till late at night. Then I took the bicycle back to the plant and left it there.

“We’d also go down to the Skippy peanut butter factory on Webster Street,” he added. “There would be all those huge boxes of peanuts, and a sharp nail suddenly would jump into my hands. I’d pierce the boxes, peanuts would pour out and we’d take them home and roast them.”

There were no brushes with the law, and he grew up close to home, where his mother, Gladys, instilled in him values that still serve him well as an adult.

“Mom taught me that it’s important how you treat people,” he said. “When you grow up in a project, there’s no reason to be thin-skinned. If you were, they stayed on you. I’ve learned you’ve got to be able to take what you dish out.”

Stargell had no reason to become swell-headed over his talent as a youngster. In fact, he was probably the fourth-best athlete at Encinal High in the late ’50s. His teammates included Tommy Harper and Curt Motton, who also played in the majors.

“Tommy received a $20,000 bonus to sign, and I got $1,500. I had a summer job at the Chevy plant in San Leandro. I also worked there in the off-season for $1,200 a month. They wanted to place me in a management training program.”

Stargell appreciated the offer, but his desire was to play baseball. So he went to Roswell and began a painful climb to the majors — one that included his first serious experiences with discrimination.

“I gave that (the Chevy offer) up for an opportunity to make $175 a month and face racial insults in the minors,” he recalled.

“You’ve really got to work at hating people. I can’t be that way. The Bible says we’re all God’s children, and that’s more convincing to me. I’m colorblind.”

That definitely wasn’t the case when he played in the Southwest and the South during a four-year minor-league career, one that toughened him for the majors and taught him about life.

“Dealing with life in the minors was much more devastating than getting to the majors and hitting a baseball,” Stargell said. “I hit my crossroads the first year. I had my life threatened. It doesn’t get any tougher.

“We were in Plainview, Texas, and the blacks had to stay on the other side of town. A guy put a shotgun to my head and said, ‘Nigger, if you play tonight, I’m going to blow your brains out!’

“I went to the stadium very bravely, but with weak kidneys,” he continued. “I was willing to come face to face because I wanted to play ball. I made a decision not to let anyone stop me from doing what I had to do.”

“You always talked about Stargell. He was the highlight of the city,” said Alameda resident Nick Cabral, who graduated from Encinal with Stargell in 1958. “You can talk to many, many people in the city of Alameda, especially Encinal High School students who went to school back in those times, and you will always find someone who will say something nice about him.”

In April 2001, on the day after his death on April 10, the S.F. Chronicle added:

Willie Stargell is to Pittsburgh what Willie McCovey is to San Francisco, and maybe that says it all about the humble and lovable man who spoke softly and carried an extra big (36-inch, 36-ounce) Louisville Slugger.

Like McCovey, who played with Willie Mays, Stargell played first base in the shadow of a baseball god, Roberto Clemente. He was No. 2 on the stat sheet but in a lot of ways No. 1 in the hearts of fans, especially in the Three Rivers Stadium era.

Stargell died yesterday of a stroke at age 61, and Pittsburgh mourned on a day that should have been set aside for glory, a day when the Pirates opened their new downtown ballpark featuring outside its gates a 12-foot statue of his likeness.

Stargell was born Wilver Dornell Stargell in Earlsboro, Okla., of African- American and Seminole Indian descent. Oklahoma records list the birth date as March 6, 1940, but Stargell always put it on March 7, 1941.

He grew up in Orlando, Fla., and in a government housing project in Alameda, reared by his mother and, for a time, an aunt after being abandoned by his father. He played high school baseball at Alameda’s Encinal High School on the same team with future major leagues Tommy Harper and Curt Motton.

His mother and stepfather worked two jobs each much of the time and young Willie spent after-school hours baby-sitting his sister, cooking, cleaning and running a paper route.

His first bat was a two-by-four whittled down, his first organized team was with the police activities league in the projects.

At Encinal, Stargell preferred football, but a knee injury kept him out of it. In baseball, it was teammate Tommy Harper who got all the attention, although Stargell was even then a powerful hitter.

After Encinal, he went to Santa Rosa Junior College. When he broke his pelvis during practice, doctors advised him to give up competitive sports.

Stargell was spotted by Pirates scout Bob Zuk, who offered him a $1,500 bonus to sign. That gave him the chance to fulfill his oft-expressed intent to use his already awesome baseball skills as his ticket out of the projects.

But baseball 40 years ago was still almost as tough on young black men as the housing projects were.

Fellow Hall of Famer Joe Morgan knew Stargell better than most, having grown up in the East Bay (Castlemont High School).

“We go back a long way, and he was a very special individual, not just a great baseball player,” Morgan said. “I used to say we were 600 major-league players — he was one, and all the other 599 liked him. No one disliked Willie Stargell. He was a player’s player and the greatest teammate ever, from what I hear from his teammates. One of the things lacking in my life is that I was never his teammate.”

Morgan was asked what he’d tell an East Bay kid who inquired about Stargell.

“I would probably say he was the greatest leader of men I ever knew,” he said. “He led the Pirates to championships and respectability.”

In the days after Stargell’s death, journalists followed Morgan in recognizing his massive power and status as one of the greatest players of the post-WWII era. The Charlotte Observer wrote:

In the three decades that baseball was played in Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Stadium, six home runs reached the upper deck beyond right field.

Willie Stargell hit four of them.

That tells you more about the slugger Stargell was than his statistics.

Stargell hit 296 home runs in the decade of the 1970s, an average of fewer than 30 a season. In the `90s, Ken Griffey Jr. hit 382. So Stargell’s total doesn’t seem like many until you realize that no one in baseball hit as many over that same period; Jackson was second with 292.

Those of us who remember him at the plate do so with a sense of awe. Stargell, a fearsome presence batting from the left side, waiting for the pitch and windmilling the bat in his hands as if he were twirling a pencil. You would watch and think, how far will he hit the next one?

In 1969, Stargell hit a 506-foot shot clear out of Dodger Stadium. In 1973, he hit another out of that ballpark. 1978, he hit a 535-footer in Montreal.

Before the Pirates moved to Three Rivers Stadium, they played for 61 years in Forbes Field. Many great Pirates walked through those gates, including slugger Ralph Kiner, who led the National League in home runs seven times. Over those 61 years, the 86-foot-high right-field roof was cleared 18 times.

Seven of those home runs were hit by Willie Stargell.

Published in: on April 8, 2011 at 4:04 am  Comments (3)  
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Houston Astro Don Wilson and His Possible Suicide in 1975

In 1994, Todd Jones of the Cincinnati Post took a look at Wilson, his career and apparent suicide on January 5, 1975. Wilson’s one of the few major league pitchers with at least two no-hitters, and I believe the only such pitcher, aside from Addie Joss, to die in the midst of his career:

“He could throw hard – kind of like Bob Gibson,” said former Reds manager and player Tommy Helms.

Helms knows. It was 25 years ago Sunday – May 1, 1969 – that he made the final out in Wilson’s no-hitter against the Reds at Crosley Field. Wilson’s feat for the Houston Astros came 24 hours after Jim Maloney of the Reds no-hit Houston. Nothing new for Wilson. He tossed a no-hitter against the Atlanta Braves in 1967. And he had a no-hitter going against the Reds Sept. 4, 1974, before he was lifted after eight innings for a pinch-hitter with the Astros trailing 2-1.

Four months later, Wilson was dead.

Wilson’s body was found in his car, a victim of poisonous carbon monoxide fumes swirling in the garage of his Houston home. Whether the death was a suicide or accident never has been determined. He was 29.

“It was a sad, sad thing,” said Helms, a Houston teammate of Wilson at the time of the pitcher’s death.

The sudden death was the final mysterious chapter in a career of an intriguing and mysterious player.

Wilson had a 104-92 record, a career ERA of 3.15, and 1,479 strikeouts for the Astros from 1966-74. He was a talented but moody player who became known as much for his idiosyncracies as for his abilities.

“He was a great teammate and competitor,” said Helms, “but sometimes he might not speak to you for three or four days and then all of sudden talk to you. He would come to the park early to do his work so no one would see what he did. You just have to call him a loner.”

Said former Reds manager Dave Bristol: “You didn’t know what he was thinking. He’d be talking to himself on the mound.”

Bristol was the cause of a feud between Wilson and the Reds. Wilson so dominated Cincinnati in 1968 – striking out 18 Reds (including eight consecutive) in one game and 16 in another – that Bristol resorted to verbal taunts from the dugout, trying to rattle the pitcher.

“He threw hard, hard,” Bristol said. “We used to get on him all the time to try to upset him and distract his attention.”

Nine days before the Reds went hitless against Wilson they pounded him 14-0. The taunts of Bristol and Wilson’s knockdown pitches that day caused bad blood to boil.

Wilson was angered that Pete Rose attempted to take an extra base with the Reds far in front. He was upset, too, because Johnny Bench called for breaking pitches against Houston in the ninth inning. After the game, Wilson telephoned Cincinnati’s clubhouse.

Wilson’s revenge came on the field nine days later. Before a Crosley crowd of 4,042, he struck out 13 Reds, including Helms to end the no-hitter.

“After he pitched the no-hitter he wanted to whip my butt,” Bristol said. “He wanted to come after me. He didn’t even want congratulations from his teammates. Lucky for me they got to him first.” Wilson was stoic afterward.

“I’ve got a few friends on the Reds, but most of them I’ve got no use for,” Wilson said. “I beat the Reds. That’s why I got more personal satisfaction out of this no-hitter than the last one.”

Wilson was just entering the prime of his career when he died. His body was found slumped over a reclining seat on the passenger side of his sports car on Jan. 5, 1975. The ignition was turned on, but the engine was not running.

Fumes from the car’s exhaust seeped into the master bedroom above the garage and killed his 9-year-old son, Alex. Wilson’s wife and daughter also were overcome by carbon monoxide fumes but survived after being hospitalized. His wife had a broken jaw that never was explained.

Wilson was buried on a gloomy, overcast day.

In reporting on the death, the AP wrote:

A Houston Fire Department spokesman, Jack MacGillis, said a woman had called the fire department, which handles ambulance service within the city, saying that she could not wake her children and that her husband was in their car. MacGillis said the call was received at 1:24 P.M. Calls for ambulances are automatically reported to the Houston Police Department, which then dispatched officers to Wilson’s fashionable home in the city’s southwest section.

A spokesman for the Houston Police Department said that when officers arrived at the Wilson home at approximately 1:30 P.M. they found the pitcher in the garage. He was unconscious seated in the right front seat of his 1972 Thunderbird. His head was tilted back resting on the seat and his arms were at his sides. His left foot was crossed over his right foot. A pack of cigarettes was on the dashboard in front of Wilson.

The left front door was closed. but the right door was open. The ignition was on and the gasoline indicator was at empty, but the car’s engine was cold. The garage doors were open.

Alexander, the son, was found in his bed, lying on his stomach with his arms raised around his head, covered to the waist by a sheet.

T.R. Trinkle, a juvenile-care officer, said he had talked to Mrs. Wilson at the hospital. He quoted her as having said she awoke after having heard a car motor running and had gone to check on the children.

She told him she had picked up the boy and taken him to the master bedroom and shut the doors to both the daughter’s bedroom and the master bedroom. She said she could not go back to sleep because the car motor was still running, so she went to check and found her husband, Trinkle reported.

She told him she had called a friend, a registered nurse, who had told her to check for a pulse. She said she did not know how she got the broken jaw, Trinkle added.

“It was a terrible shock,” said the Astros’ general manager, Spec Richardson. “The whole organization is very sorry over this tragedy.”

“I couldn’t believe it,” fellow Astro pitcher, Dave Roberts, said as he waited at the hospital to visit Mrs. Wilson. “Don had everything going for him. He had it all together.”

“We had been working at the speaker’s bureau together and everything was fine. He didn’t show up for the pitching school this morning and I guess that started them looking.”

Wilson and Roberts work in the offseason at the Astros’ speaker’s bureau, which arranges speaking engagements for the players. Wilson had been scheduled to instruct at a coaching school today with another Astros’ pitcher, Tom Griffin.

Roberts said the last time he was with Wilson was Dec. 15, when the two reported to the speaker’s bureau office at the Astrodome.

An Astro official said Wilson had visited the Astros offices several times during the offseason and was looking forward to the 1975 season.

“He really was enthused about the upcoming season,” said Boby Risinger, in charge of Astro publicity.

“I really enjoyed him and being around him,” Griffin said. “He was a nice person, a great person. I want people to know what kind of a guy he was. He was a good human being.”

And in that same year, 1994, the Austin American-Statesman’s Michael Point took a second look at Wilson and his

1967 no-hitter against the Braves, a 2-0 victory against a hard-hitting lineup that included Henry Aaron, Rico Carty, Felipe Alou and Tito Francona. In fitting fashion, Aaron was the last hitter Wilson faced, and the star-crossed rookie finished his masterpiece in fine style, making the all-time home run champ his 15th and final strikeout.

Wilson is the only Astros pitcher to twice achieve no-hit status. The brilliant, but disturbed, young right-hander probably would have added several more to his total if his personal life could have been as perfect as his pitching. The 29-year old Wilson was found slumped in his car in his garage on Jan. 5, 1975, dead from carbon monoxide fumes. It was ruled a suicide.

After having struck out 197 batters in 187 innings at Amarillo in the Texas League in 1966, Wilson was promoted to the Astros’ starting rotation. He was never taken out of it, and in his brief career led the team in wins and ERA three times. In 1971, he was named to the National League All-Star team and pitched two shoutout innings in the game. Wilson’s name is still among the Astros’ top five in shutouts, complete games, strikeouts and innings pitched. He ranks sixth in wins.

Wilson would be particularly valuable in the Astros’ new division. Cincinnati, a long-time Houston nemesis, has emerged as the Astros’ chief competitor in the NL Central race. Wilson hated the Reds and did his best to make them aware of it. His second no-hitter came in 1969 against Cincinnati, and it was meant to send a message. The Reds’ Maloney had no-hit the Astros, then limping along with a 4-20 record, the game before. Maloney and his fellow Reds had openly ridiculed the Astros during and after the game. Wilson went to the mound with a mission and left it with a no-hitter, silencing not only the mouths but the bats of Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Tony Perez and the others.

A much more extensive review of Wilson’s life and death was written by Mike Lynch of Seamheads.com.

Published in: on January 19, 2011 at 4:27 am  Comments (4)  
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Remembering Curt Flood After His Death in 1997

A while back I gathered some remembrances of Vada Pinson following his death in October of 1995. His longtime friend, Curt Flood, died not quite a year and a half later, on January 20, 1997. Flood, of course, had a deeper impact on pro baseball, but along with that, he had a more turbulent life than Pinson. The L.A. Times’ obituary noted that Flood, who “made a lasting impact on major league baseball by opening the door to free agency with his unsuccessful challenge of the reserve system, died of throat cancer at the UCLA Medical Center on Monday. Friends said Flood had been ill for more than a year and had contracted pneumonia Friday. He was 59.” Here’s a bit of the L.A. Times coverage of his funeral:

More than 250 people crowded into First AME Church in South Central Los Angeles on Monday to hear Flood – who died of cancer at age 59 on Jan. 20 – remembered as an underappreciated American hero.

The mourners came from the worlds of politics and arts as well as sports. Political opposites, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and George Will, delivered tributes. Brock Peters, the actor, sat next to Lou Brock, the Hall of Famer. Don Fehr, the head of the major-league players’ union, was followed to the pulpit by Bill White, who used to be president of the National League.

Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) read a statement from President Clinton, lauding Flood as a man “whose achievements on the field were matched only by the strength of his character.”

“Because he came this way,” Jackson said in a stirring eulogy, “baseball is better, America is better and generations unborn are better.”

Mike Eisenbath of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch recalled the man and his character:

Bing Devine, the man who brought Curt Flood to the Cardinals, pointed out the obvious coincidence Monday. It is indeed interesting that Flood had died on Martin Luther King Day. . . .

On Monday night, not so many hours after Flood, 59, had died in California of throat cancer, one of his many fans called him the Abraham Lincoln of players in all pro team sports. He helped pave the way for free agency. Flood is surely one of the most influential figures in American sports history.

He also was an excellent ballplayer during one of the Cardinals’ most successful periods, a proud and strong man who lends a sophistication to a franchise history that includes the Gas House Gang.

He was an artist. A Flood portrait of Martin Luther King hangs in the living room of King’s widow, Coretta.

A quiet man, he rarely displayed resentment. Friends and former teammates recall him as having a delicacy about him, an elegant way of moving about life both on the baseball field and elsewhere. He impressed with his inner toughness, his intelligence, an uncommon motivation. Flood’s gifts reached beyond the sports field. He developed his brush strokes on canvas long before he mastered his big-league batting stroke.

Among the anger he kept to himself involved his first trade. The Cards dealt three players who never would amount to much for him. The Cardinals didn’t necessarily expect great things.

As Bing Devine was mulling, nervously, making his first trade as the Cardinals’ general manager, then Cards manager Fred Hutchinson gave the endorsement: “Make the deal. We’ll fit him in somewhere. We think he can hit. We know he can run. Maybe he can play center field for us.” . . .

Despite all his deft athletic and artistic work, Flood called his suit against baseball the “central fact of my life.”

Flood made $72,500 in 1968. He rejected August Busch Jr.’s offer of a $77,500 pact for the 1969 season. Flood told the owner that if he wanted to sign a player who was the best center fielder in baseball and a .300 hitter, it would coast him $90,000, “which is not $77,500 and is not $89,999.”

Flood got the money he wanted for that season. But Busch remembered helping Flood out of financial problems earlier in his career and considered his salary demand ungrateful.

The next offseason, after a sub-par 1969 performance, Flood asked for $100,000.

Before the 1969 World Series began, the Cardinals traded Flood, Tim McCarver, Joe Hoerner and Byron Browne to the Phillies for Richie Allen, Cookie Rojas and Jerry Johnson. Flood was upset. There was the problem of leaving the Cardinals and friends such as Bob Gibson, his 10-year roommate on the road.

He was nearly 32, had been with the team for 12 years and had no desire to leave. Baseball’s rule said he had no choice, if he wanted to continue playing the game.

In a Christmas Eve, 1969, letter to commissioner Bowie Kuhn, Flood said he was not a piece of property to be bought, sold and traded and would not be going to the Phillies. “I couldn’t stand to be treated that way,” Flood once said. “When I was traded, it drove me up a wall.”

He sued the game. He asked for changes in baseball’s reserve clause and $1.4 million in damages. His lawyers and union chief Marvin Miller warned his chances of winning were slim. “If you go ahead with this, forget any idea of ever being the first black manager,” Miller told him. “Or even a coach or a scout. Forget it!”

He responded: “I want to go out like a man instead of a bottle cap.”

When spring training began in 1970, the case was headed to court and Flood was in Copenhagen, Denmark. It was the beginning of a long, oft-difficult sojourn through the second half of his life.

None of his baseball contemporaries came to his defense. But former big-leaguer and Hall-of-Famer Hank Greenberg testified for Flood’s side. So did Bill Veeck. And Jackie Robinson.

A U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s dismissal of the case. The Supreme Court decision came June 19, 1972, and, by 5-3 majority, upheld baseball’s antitrust exemption. But Flood’s courage challenging baseball told the game’s players and leaders that changes would come.

Pitchers Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally became free agents when, in 1975, a federal arbitrator upheld the individual bargaining rights of players and granted them free agency. . . .

[In retirement] Flood painted. He wrote. He got away from America’s game and America itself for a while.

“I tried to refresh myself and tried to overcome a lot of the hurt I felt,” Flood once recalled. “I tried to deal with the misunderstanding many people had of what I was attempting to do with my court case, why I was bringing all of it to light. (1970) was a difficult year for several reasons. But as much as anything, I’m a baseball person, and to take that away from me cold turkey like that was not easy for me.”

Flood returned from Copenhagen in 1971, when he signed a $110,000 contract with the Washington Senators. His heart wasn’t in it, and he left after 13 forgettable games. After the Supreme Court decision, Flood moved to Barcelona and then to the Mediterranean island of Majorca.

Drinking was one of Flood’s more haunting problems for a while after his return to the States in the late 1970s. Then, it was making a living in a world where he seemed to be blackballed from working at the one thing at which he had excelled, pro baseball.

Eventually, he owned and operated a public relations firm. He worked as a commercial painter and taught guitar. He worked for a year as color man on the Oakland broadcasts. He worked with kids, notably as an American Legion and Connie Mack coach in Oakland, then as little league commissioner for the Oakland Recreation Department.

A remembrance from Lou Brock: “It’s sad. Most of the pioneers wind up with an arrow in their backs. And he certainly was one of those who had an arrow in his back. As a pioneer, he never got his just due.

“God will amend that.”

Shortstop Dal Maxvill from those ’60s Cardinals teams said “besides his being a good ballplayer, [Flood] was a real professional all the way. He did what had to be done. If Brock led off with a single and stole second and if you needed a ground ball to get him to third, Curt would do that, so Roger Maris could hit a 320-foot fly ball and we’d be ahead 1-0.

“He didn’t have the greatest arm in the world but he was feared because he played so shallow and guys didn’t want to take any chances. He’s going to be missed by a lot of people. I don’t know of any enemies he had. I don’t know that Curt Flood had anybody who didn’t like him.

“He was one of the first (players) to rock the boat. But the players playing today ought to owe him a great deal of gratitude for his courage. He changed the system and the system changed forever.”

Bing Devine, the Cardinals’ former general manager, who traded pitchers Marty Kutyna, Willard Schmidt and Ted Wieand to Cincinnati for Flood and outfielder Joe Taylor in December of 1957, remembered: “I made that trade with a great deal of fear and trepidation.

“A lot people refer to the fact that undoubtedly the best trade I ever made was for Lou Brock because he’s in the Hall of Fame and that’s certainly true. But in my mind, the Curt Flood trade was probably equal to that because of it being my first deal. If that hadn’t worked out, I probably wouldn’t have lasted as long as I did. It’s interesting he died on Martin Luther King Day. In their own way, they probably had the same goal in mind.”

Maury Wills added: “He was a man who dared to live by the strength of his conviction. Most of us were not courageous enough to take that stand. I know I wasn’t.”

In contrast to the general acclaim of Flood, Bob Broeg of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote a somewhat acidic item gathering his thoughts on the man. Broeg also provided some interesting details on Flood’s career:

Curt Flood as a player was good, very good, but he could have been great. And if he had won that lawsuit, challenging baseball’s reserve clause, he would have been rich. But back then, he didn’t want money. He only wanted to stay in St. Louis.

As a player, that is, not a resident, because he still preferred warmer winter climates. But here, he had a vest-pocket painting agency, truly a love affair with the Cardinals and – until near the end – with the Big Eagle, Gussie Busch.

If you want to assign blame for the problems of the wiry little defensive wonder, blame Curt himself. But also, inferentially, Busch and me, too.

When I left the road with the Cardinals in midseason, 1958, my last word was to josh Flood privately. The little man just had won a 2-1 game at Pittsburgh with a home run, but his trouble was that he swung too often for the fences.

So he was in and out of the lineup too often the next two seasons, when he was roughly a .250 hitter. Meanwhile, with defensive wizardry close to Terry Moore’s in center field, he had impressed Busch.

For one thing, quietly borrowing a passport-sized photo of Gussie in a yachting captain’s getup, Flood displayed his other gift. He was amazing in his ability to copy in oil the likeness of anyone.

Busch, overwhelmed, directed Curt to paint for modest pay all members of the brewery baron’s large family. And then when Johnny Keane relieved Solly Hemus as manager at the Fourth of July in 1961, he gave both Busch and Flood the greatest gift. That is, the chance for the boss’ pet to play every day.

Flood had learned to cut down that big swing. Immediately, he hit .322. Six times he hit over .300 in the next eight years. Hitting behind Lou Brock, he was even better than when leading off. Afield, he made incredible catches. He ran the bases with speed and daring.

By the time the Cardinals won a second world championship in 1967, Flood hit a club-leading .335. Busch lavished his players with the big league’s first $1 million payroll. Flood’s share was a handsome $72,000.

When the Redbirds repeated with a pennant in ’68, yet lost the Series in which Flood made a rare defensive gaffe behind close friend Bob Gibson, Busch had begun to grumble about relations with players, including salaries.

Even though Flood’s average dropped 34 points to .301 in ’68, the Year of the Pitcher, Curt told the Globe-Democrat in an eight-column banner that he “insisted” on $100,000. “And,” he snipped, “I don’t mean $99,999.99.”

For one, I winced. The “Dutchman” Busch wouldn’t like that. He didn’t. Flood settled finally for a handsome hike to $92,000, but he had just become one of the boys in the eyes of the big boss, no longer a favorite son.

In 1969, a subpar season for the Cardinals, Flood nosedived to .285. Harry Walker, a thinking man’s manager at Houston, had bunched his defense up the middle, where Curt often singled past the pitcher. Other clubs followed suit. In addition, the player was living as fast as he ran.

Divorced and away from his family, he spent considerable time in other arms, including Bacchus’ and not Morpheus’. In addition, he put in many of the diminishing waking hours oil-painting photos for a price.

At the batting cage late that season, I scolded him as a friendly Dutch uncle, but I offered a consolation, relative to the tighter up- the-middle defense.

Next year, 1970, Busch Stadium would have artificial turf, quickening ground balls. Many of those balls now being caught would go through as they had in those 200-hit seasons.

Curt shrugged off my criticism of his life style, but smiled over the batting prospects.

They weren’t achieved. Flood was traded to the Phillies at a time when they were futile, part of a multiple-player deal in which another popular player, Tim McCarver, was lost.

When the Cardinals notified Flood of the deal, his first words were, “Oh, no, not Philadelphia.”

The second thought of resistance brought the Flood lawsuit, which he didn’t win, unfortunately. The Phillies had offered to make Flood the first “$100,000 singles’ hitter,” a designation Pete Rose later claimed.

After a fast-track year abroad, he was dealt to Washington in 1971. Flood lasted only several games with the Senators. He quit.
Said a Washington doctor gravely, “The oldest 33-year-old athlete I ever examined.”

As a carrot back there in ’69, I’d suggested to Flood that with a couple more .300 seasons he would be a Hall of Famer in fact as well as in potential. Curtis Charles Flood didn’t make it. He was only 59 when he died.

I’d heard the stories about Flood refusing to go to Philadelphia because of its Southern feelings about black people, so I found a Philadelphia Daily News retrospective on Flood’s life by Mark Kram, from 2002. Kram said of the owners:

By the sheer arrogance with which they conducted their affairs, you get the feeling in retrospect that it was as if they were daring someone like Flood to step forward and take them on. How else could you explain the way that the Cardinals informed him he had been shipped to the Phillies : by form letter, with a box checked that explained that he was no longer their property. He had played for them since 1958 for 12 years and helped them to world championships in 1964 and 1967, and yet no one from the Cardinals even had the courtesy to phone him. While it was assumed then that Flood did not want to come to Philadelphia because the city and organization were racially backward, [Judy] Pace- Flood says he simply rejected the deal because it “violated his dignity as a man.”

So Flood had no special animus toward Philadelphia?

“None whatsoever that I was aware of,” says [Judy] Pace-Flood , a former actress who appeared in the TV series “Peyton Place” and had movie parts in “The Fortune Cookie” (1966) and “Cotton Comes to Harlem” (1970), among others. “What it came down to was that he objected to be treated as chattel.”

Pace-Flood married Curt in 1986. Here are two more quotes. Flood told San Francisco Chronicle sports columnist Joan Ryan before he died: “I lost money, coaching jobs, a shot at the Hall of Fame. But when you weigh that against all the things that are really and truly important, things that are deep inside you, then I think I’ve succeeded.”

Frank Robinson said of the stance baseball ownership took toward players: “What they were counting on was the fact that you were probably in a position where you had to take it [their contract offer]. You probably had a wife and children to support, and you needed that check every 2 weeks. They would say, ‘Now, do you want to play or not?’ They held every card.”

Finally, here is the story of Flood’s situation when Vada Pinson died: he was already getting treatment for the cancer that would kill him:

So far, he has tolerated the chemotherapy; the second cycle began Monday. But now Curt Flood is to undergo radiation for throat cancer Thursday morning, and the doctors say he cannot skip the treatment.

So Curt Flood hopes his friend of 50 years, Vada Pinson, will understand if he is unable to make it to Oakland for Pinson’s funeral that day.

“Vada would say, `You did what? Get out of here,'” Flood said Tuesday from his home in Los Angeles, where he looks up from the phone and every day sees the same picture on the wall: Vada Pinson, Curt Flood and Lou Brock on a framed cover of the Sporting News.

“I’ve seen that handsome face for many years,” Flood said. “Vada was neat as a pin. He shined his shoes between innings, almost.”

The picture was taken in 1969, when the three were together in the outfield of the St. Louis Cardinals. “The doctors say they caught it in time,” Flood said of the cancer. “The prognosis is good. They say it’s 90 to 95 percent curable. I haven’t been sick. I haven’t lost my hair … or my testiness.

“Yes, it’s scary. It’s something God puts on your shoulders: `Here, handle this.”‘ Last winter, when Flood was inducted into the Bay Area Hall of Fame, his presenter was Vada Pinson, who drove all the way from South Florida. The scheduled inductee this winter: Pinson. Of course, you know who Pinson asked to present him.

“I’m going to ask them to honor his last wish,” Flood said Tuesday.
“My lasting image of Vada: I always remember Vada Pinson’s smile. It was always present. If not on his face, it was in his voice.”

Published in: on January 9, 2011 at 4:56 am  Comments (1)  
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The Giants Winning the 1962 National League Playoff


Here’s how the San Francisco Chronicle described the ninth-inning rally with which the Giants took a 6-4 lead over the Dodgers in the deciding game of the three-game playoff for the National League pennant in 1962:

Matty Alou, swinging for winning pitcher Don Larsen [yes, that Don Larsen], singled sharply into right field, and the afternoon somehow seemed to suddenly light up. A little of that brightness was wiped away when Harvey Kuenn forced Matty at second, and even manager Alvin Dark slumped slightly on the dugout steps as he glowered down at the tobacco juice-strewn floor.

But Willie McCovey, hitting for Chuck Hiller, walked on four pitches as Roebuck measured the big man’s strike area too finely.

Ernie Bowman went to first base to become McCovey’s legs, and Roebuck continued, with glaze in his eyes.

The great Dodger fireman, 10-1 by the books in 64 relief appearances, walked Felipe Alou, and the bases were loaded. The Dodgers were on their way out, their 4-2 lead in jeopardy, their dugout in a state of stunned and silent disbelief.

Willie Mays was next, and he crashed a horrendous blow back at Roebuck that Ed knocked down but could not retrieve in time to make a play. Kuenn scored. It was 4-3. Ecstasy began to sneak up on agony.

Stan Williams replaced the stricken Roebuck on the mound.

Orlando Cepeda, who had contributed the early agony by leaving base-runners stranded all over the Southland, crashed a line drive deep into right field, and Bowman danced home after the catch. It was 4-4, and the Giants in the dugout were going out of their cotton-pickin’ minds.

While pitching to Ed Bailey, Williams unleashed a wild pitch, and Felipe Alou and Mays moved up a base, leaving first base open. Dodger manager Walt Alston closed it by ordering Bailey purposely passed, loading the bases again.

Then, in their final moments of humiliation, the club that spent almost half the season looking back at the pursuing Giants collapsed. Williams walked Jimmy Davenport on the three-and-two, forcing Felipe home with the run that took 165 games and six months to arrive.

It was 5-4.

But the inning wasn’t over. The Dodgers had one more dignity-robbing move to make, and second-baseman Larry Burright made it. With Ron Perranoski now on the mound, Jose Pagan grounded to Burright, and Larry kicked the life out of it for an error. Mays exploded home with the insurance run, making Los Angeles’ impending ninth a little more bearable.

To finish off the game, Billy Pierce put Dodgers Maury Wills, Jim Gilliam, and Lee Walls down in order, with Mays catching the Walls fly ball. Then Mays “went into a wild dance, threw the ball toward the right field stands, and the next moments were delirious. Giants cried, tugged, hauled, grabbed for Pierce, for Dark, for each other, in a wild melee in front of the dugout. It was pandemonium. It was majestic.”

I’ve gathered up a bit more on the Giants run in response to them winning the pennant in 2010. A few quotes from the postgame celebration:

Willie Mays: “Honestly I never thought we’d do it. I never thought we’d come back to win. . . never in a million years.

“This was it. This was the pressure. We won, see, we won. We got no time to worry about the Yankees now, we’ll take them as they come.

“This is my third World Series. I feel real good about the young fellows. I’m getting a big kick out of it it, but look at them–they’re wild. It’s wonderful.. You know, we’ve got so many fine young ball players on this club, we should be up there fighting for the pennant for a long time. Me? Well, I hope to play for seven or eight years.”

Giants manager Alvin Dark: “I always felt like a play-off [would happen]. Way back when we were four out, I felt like a play-off. This series certainly renews a man’s faith.”

On the ninth-inning rally to beat the Dodgers: “When the inning began, I wished for two things to happen. I was hoping we could get one of our first two hitters–pinch-hitter Matty Alou or Harvey Kuenn–on base so I could send Willie McCovey, our left-handed power hitter, up to hit against their pitcher, Ed Roebuck.

“Naturally, I was fully aware that a home run by McCovey in a spot like this would tie the score. My other wish was to somehow get the tying run to third base with Willie Mays at bat. Who else would any manager rather have up there?

“Fortunately, I got both wishes.”

Willie McCovey: “This is the greatest moment in my life.”

The Chronicle reported that in the clubhouse,

Jose Pagan was intrigued by the entry of ex-Vice President Nixon. After Nixon recited the life history of Billy Pierce to the press, including Billy’s near-perfect game in 1957 against Washington, Jose muscled in and extended his hand.

For the first time Nixon fumbled. “Er . . . I beg your pardon but I don’t recognize you without your working clothes,” said Nixon. “Who are you?”

“I am Jose Pagan. I am happy you are here.”

The former Veep never received a warmer greeting from a Latin American neighbor.

When the Giants flew back to the city that night to start the Series the next day, it was a madhouse. The Chronicle covered the scene:

At about midnight last night, Police Chief Thomas Cahill said he had “close to 300″ men deployed on Market, more than he has ever used on a New Year’s Eve.

“They’re really running wild,” he said. “Fights all over town–in bars and on the streets.”

The peak was at the airport, where the crowd was so eager to greet the team it was impossible for the Giants’ United Air Lines jet to pull up to its regular unloading area.
Instead, while the mob surrounded the jet concourse and climbed on luggage and equipment for a better view, the plane from Los Angeles unloaded its pennant-winning passengers at the United maintenance terminal, a mile to the north.

It was “by far the largest crowd ever seen at the airport,” said Captain Jack O’Brien of the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office.

Scores of late-coming fans simply left their cars on the Bayshore Freeway and hiked to the passenger terminal.

“We’re as happy as anybody else about the Giants, but this is ridiculous,” protested a spokesman for the California Highway Patrol. “There’s not a thing we can do. Our cars can’t get through.”

The crowd was so thick at Concourse B, the United jet loading area, that regular flights couldn’t taxi up under their own power. To prevent injuries from jet blasts, planes were towed to their gates by tractors.

Neither appeals nor trickery succeeded in controlling the mob. . . .

Finally, shortly after 9 o’clock, when the Giants were safely unloaded from their plane, the crowd was informed that the team had been taken to the maintenance base “for their own safety.”

But the disappointment was brief. Moments later, the crowd spied the team’s special bus, roaring along an airport taxiway an escort of police cars and motorcycles.
The crowd surged out, surrounding the caravan and bringing it to a halt.

Police Chief Thomas Cahill, who gave the 75,000 estimate of crowd size, stood guard with a dozen officers.

“If we had been a thousand, we never could have held back that happy crowd,” Cahill said. “They pushed so hard I nearly became part of the bus.”

Superintendent of Schools Harold Spears announced that he would “encourage” his principals to keep the city’s pupils informed of the inning-by-inning progress of World Series games: the first game of the series was starting at noon on a Thursday in Candlestick Park.

“It’s a big day in San Francisco,” he said, “and it will certainly carry over into the schools. It’s going to be a day where they can’t get along without that information.”

Acting Mayor Harold Dobbs said: “Our school children are among the Giants’ most enthusiastic fans, and I want this first World Series in San Francisco to be an event all of them as well as all of us can look back and remember with great pride as the tremendous event that it is.”

And the Chronicle’s legendary Herb Caen had this to say to the Yankees:

I know there are lots of things you’d like to do besides play baseball, since you’ve never been here before, and we want you to do them. You’re probably as sick of baseball as baseball is sick of–but no; politeness at all cost.

[At Candlestick] look at the way the wind plays with the hot dog wrappers. And remember that it’s the only ballyard in the world in which a sportscaster was once heard to say: “it’s a hard drive to dead center–no–it’s drifting a little–FOUL!”

On behalf of all San Franciscans, we bid you welcome, Yankees. Welcome to a city that has always been big league, and has made major leaguers out of a club that had bush league support in New York. The cry around here used to be “Wait till next year!”, but next year is here at least, and now all we’re waiting for is you.

Finally, here are a couple more pictures of the Chronicle’s coverage of the Giants run to the 1962 pennant. (With 165 games played by the Dodgers and Giants, it was the longest season in mlb history.) This, from the end of the regular season:

This, from the coverage of the post-playoff celebration:

For those of you who’ve gotten this far, two last tidbits you might enjoy. Before game 3 of the N.L. playoff, the Chronicle reported from L.A.: “I have,” said portly Alfred Hitchcock, siting erect and dignified at a table with his wife, “the utmost confidence in the ultimate defeat of the Giants–the good guys always win in our fair city.”

And a day earlier, the Chronicle said:

Don Drysdale will not pitch in today’s second game of the National League playoff, according to Dodger manager Walt Alston, and Don is fuming about it. “What the Hell,” Drysdale snapped yesterday. “Are they saving me for the first spring intrasquad game?”

Alston: “I could take a chance and pitch Drysdale with two days’ rest. . . . Drysdale wants to pitch, and that’s a good sign, but he would be going with only two days’ rest for the third time lately.”

Drysdale did wind up starting game 2. In ’62, Drysdale was starting a five-year stretch of making at least 40 starts a year, and he’d already made 8 starts in September, before pitching game 2 of the playoff.

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