The 1994 Northridge Earthquake, Little League, and the Big A Stadium

This post deals with the Northridge quake and its impact on baseball in Southern California. First this, from the Fresno Bee, reporting on the January 17 quake and Cal State-Northridge:

As a shortstop at Bullard High School and Fresno City College, Chad Thornhill has handled hot shots afield and unnerving fastballs at bat.

Early Monday, nature threw him a curveball in Northridge that left the 21- year-old bewildered, literally shaken and suddenly realizing the value of life beyond his passion, baseball .

“It felt like the world was coming to an end, the way my room was shaking,” Thornhill, who now attends Cal State-Northridge, said of the earthquake that measured 6.6 on the Richter scale.

Thornhill and teammate Kevin Howard, a Bullard and FCC outfielder, were unhurt in the quake.

“Just woke up shaking and hoped it would end,” Howard said. “It seemed like it would go on forever.”

Golden West High graduate Traci Gallian, a softball player at Cal State-Northridge, has returned home to Visalia after her dormitory sustained extensive damage, her older sister Niki Gallian said.

Former Fresno State softball pitcher Amy Windmiller was unhurt in the collapse of an apartment building that killed 16 people.

Thornhill and Howard moved to the San Fernando Valley with the idea of hitting and catching baseballs , earning college degrees and enjoying Southern California living.

Not on the agenda was dodging flying dresser drawers, gushing water pipes and ruptured gas mains during and after the violent earthquake , the epicenter of which was virtually in their backyard.

“I figured nice weather year-round, play ball and have fun,” Thornhill said. “This is the kind of stuff you see on TV, not in real life. I’ve never been so scared. It’s a mess.”

So is Gallian’s dorm room. Her sister said Traci spent Monday night with a teammate in Newbury Park. Traci phoned her parents about six hours after the quake, and they drove Tuesday to Northridge to bring her home.

“Her dorm room was pretty much destroyed – everything on the floor, everything broken,” Niki Gallian said. “The sliding glass door onto a patio was blown out. The dorms are closed, and they are not allowing students in or out.”

Thornhill and Howard said their multi-level apartments near campus were damaged but not nearly to the extent of a three-story complex reduced to two stories down the road.

Windmiller, who pitched for Fresno State in 1991, said she and roommate Shannon Jones dived out of their first-floor window shortly before the top two floors collapsed on the first.

“It seemed like an eternity,” Windmiller said. “I was screaming. Then a picture fell on my head, and I knew I had to get out of there.”

Jones, Windmiller’s catcher at Sacramento’s Mira Loma High, said: “You didn’t have time to think. I don’t know what prompted me to jump out the window, but that’s why I’m alive now.”

Thornhill added: “Two more seconds and they’d be down there with the [crushed] cars. They were more in shock than anything.”

Thornhill said he was close to shock himself. Most frightening, he said, was darkness that seemed to loom endlessly without electricity until sunrise.

For about 30 minutes after the tremor, Thornhill said he and three roommates huddled in a living room soaked by water from a tumbled fish tank.

“We couldn’t see each other; we just listened for voices,” he said. “We could see fires all around. There were complexes burning down not a half-mile from us.

“Ashes were coming down, and there were sparks everywhere. It was scary as hell to be in the dark. Once the sun came up we realized what had happened and got our wits.”

Thornhill said he tried unsuccessfully to telephone his parents, Bill and Margaret Thornhill, in Fresno.

“All I was thinking about was my mom, dad and brother [Eric],” he said. “My brother and I have been at odds, and it was then that I realized what he means to me.”

And this, from the L.A. Daily News, on the Northridge Little League team and the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa, that August:

Put down your National Enquirer. Tune out the O.J. Simpson hysteria. Forget about a baseball strike.

Here’s a story that will excite and inspire everyone in the San Fernando Valley. It’s a tale about a group of 11- and 12-year-olds living out their baseball fantasy just seven months after a horrific earthquake brought unprecedented confusion and uncertainty into their everyday lives.

The 14-member Northridge Little League team is one tournament championship away from earning a trip to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa. The team is 12-0 in playoff action entering Friday’s West Regional in San Bernardino.

It’s a script made for television. Are you paying attention, Steven Spielberg? These Northridge players are going to become as familiar as Sean Burroughs, Aron Garcia and Cody Webster, Little League stars of the past.

And don’t anyone worry about Northridge players having to adjust to sudden media scrutiny. Believe me, they are ready for prime time. Unlike many major leaguers, these Northridge players don’t shy away from reporters. They rush toward anyone carrying a note pad, eager to offer their best one-liners.

It’s a talented baseball team, filled with hitters up and down the lineup. The pitching staff is five-deep. The manager, Larry Baca, has a calm, easy-going demeanor that fits in perfectly with his high-energy players. . . .

First baseman Matt Cassel [who became a quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs]. You want personality? Just follow around Cassel. He talks to his shiny aluminum bat named “Susan.” He always has the dirtiest uniform. Twice he got hit by pitches in a game and didn’t shed a tear. He’s the team’s best athlete and has been hitting some monster home runs. He’s also a little hyper. “If he’s in my car, I have to tie him down,” Baca said.

The Cassels could become one of the most visible athletic families in Valley baseball over the next decade. Matt’s brother, Jack, 13, is a highly touted freshman at Notre Dame High School. Another brother, Justin, 10, is also a promising player. . . .

The mother of Matt Fisher recently wrote an article distributed to other parents.

“January 17, 1994 disrupted so many of our lives,” she wrote, recalling the Northridge Earthquake . “Our homes were shattered, our nerves were shattered. Everything we had taken for granted like local markets, theaters and malls were suddenly reduced to rubble or closed indefinitely. Our only recreation was baseball . . . .

“Together these boys have worked and played so hard. There has been no beach, late nights, movies and sleepovers. Their lives are baseball and rest up for more baseball . Guess what? They love it! Whether we go to Pennsylvania or not, our sons are winners. . . .

“Fourteen wonderful young men who will never forget the summer of ’94.”

I’ll be rooting for Northridge, just like everybody else in the Valley. They’re our team now, and they’re ready to take on the best.

Northridge did make it to Williamsport, where they lost 4-3 to Maracaibo, Venezuela, in the championship game of the Little League World Series of ’94. (By the way, congratulations to the Huntington Beach team for winning the 2011 Little League World Series).

Finally, the Northridge quake did a lot of damage to Anaheim Stadium, home of the Angels (and owned by the city of Anaheim). Here, the Long Beach Press-Telegram reports on what happened:

Anaheim Stadium sustained significant damage during Monday morning’s predawn earthquake when a scoreboard and Jumbotron video screen came crashing forward into the seats.

A portion of the stadium roof beneath the “Little A” scoreboard collapsed, and city officials have postponed the Mickey Thompson Off-Road Races scheduled Saturday night and rescheduled the event for Feb. 12.

Damage to the stadium was estimated at about $4 million, although city officials said the figure could go much higher.

Although the City of Anaheim has earthquake insurance, it likely will have to pay for most, if not all, the damages to the stadium.

“The deductible is 5 percent of the stadium’s total value, which is $125 million,” said Bret Colson, Anaheim’s public information officer. “So in an earthquake , we have to pay for the first $6.25 millon in damages.”

“If there is a silver lining, it’s the timing of the earthquake ,” Colson said. “If we had had a motor sports event going on at the time, there would have been several fatalities. There would have been people in those seats who most definitely would have been killed. It’s not a question of if, just how many.”

The Sony video board that collapsed into the seats weighs 17 tons. It and four large billboards, along with the “Little A” structure, crashed inward from the top rim of the stadium, smashing dozens of seats on the uppermost level.

Although all of Anaheim Stadium’s damage was confined to one area, it was substantial.

“When the roof fell forward,” said Colson, “it pushed seats back and through the infrastructure of the stadium. You can see seats sticking out, and we have at least two or three sections with major cracks in the concrete. Large chunks of concrete fell into the concession area and the exit ramps.”

Colson estimated that full repairs will take several months, but the Angels’ coming baseball season doesn’t figure to be affected.

The newly built Anaheim Arena, commonly known as the Pond, stands less than half a mile from Anaheim Stadium but sustained no damage.

Anaheim Stadium had never been significantly damaged in earthquake before, coming through the Whitter quake of 1987 (5.9 on the Richter Scale) and the Sylmar quake of 1971 (measured at 6.5) with just minor cracks in walls.

In fact, preliminary research indicates no natural disaster has ever done more damage, in terms of dollars, to any North American stadium than what occured Monday in Anaheim.

When the MLB season started that April, the Orange County Register reported that the stadium was far from recovered:

When the Angels play host to the Dodgers tonight in the second of three exhibition Freeway Series games, a temporary video screen will be up and operating in the field-level section of left field.

That means 2,800 seats around the temporary screen will not be available for the 1994 baseball season. The first few rows of the second-tier club level will not be sold because spectators would not be able to see over the temporary screen. Also, 3,000 seats have been removed from the third-tier view level where the old Sony Jumbotron crashed during the Jan. 17 Northridge earthquake , damaging the men’s and women’s restrooms, a concession stand and hundreds of seats.

“Those view-level seats are the last seats that would be sold in a game,” Stadium Manager Greg Smith said. “Those would be sold only if there were in excess of 60,000 people at a game.”

While the temporary video screen is 62 percent the size of the old Jumbotron, its lower position makes it easier to see for those sitting in over-hang sections.

The 26-foot-by-36-foot Jumbotron, which displayed commercials, advertising information, entertainment features as well as slow-motion replays, was installed in 1988.

The temporary screen, delivered from Japan last week, is 20-feet-by-29 feet. Workers took three days to put in the lighting units, which will be transferred to the new $3.4 million Sony Jumbotron being installed where the old Jumbotron was located. The new Jumbotron will be up in time for the first exhibition football game Aug. 13.

Because the earthquake destroyed the “little A”, the Marlboro sign and four of the six trivision advertising signs, fireworks for the Angels’ opening home game _ April 11 against Cleveland _ will be shot off from the two standing trivision advertising signs.

“They’ll be firing the fireworks every time there is an Angels home run,” Smith said.

Anaheim Stadium was the only structure in Orange County damaged by the earthquake . The cost of fixing the Sony Jumbotron is estimated at $10 million. It is unclear how much will come from insurance companies or the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Randy Johnson’s No-Hitter on June 2, 1990

This 2-0 mastery of the Detroit Tigers, featuring Cecil Fielder, was the Big Unit’s real arrival on the baseball scene, the first obvious evidence that he was more than just an erratic hard thrower. It was also one of the early signs that the Seattle Mariners of the 1990s would be much more exciting than the 1980s team, and a decade later, when the Kingdome imploded, it still stood as one of the great highlights for baseball in the Kingdome. The Seattle Times reported:

Johnson, whose 95 mph fastball and sharp breaking ball give him no-hit ability in every start, was just strong enough, just sharp enough and just wild enough to bring it together last night.

He struck out eight, walked six and had a Tiger reach on an error by shortstop Mike Brumley in the fourth. He threw 50 pitches over 94 mph, several reaching 97, including the final strike to Detroit’s Mike Heath.

“I’ve never seen him before,” said Detroit slugger Cecil Fielder, who fanned twice and walked twice. “But I heard he has trouble controlling his breaking ball sometimes. Well, not tonight.

“The man pitched a great game and deserved what he got. He was throwing that slider over for strikes when he was behind in the count. Then he comes in with that big fastball. How are you going to hit that?

“The answer is – you’re not, and we didn’t,” Fielder said.

Only a few of the batted balls that Johnson allowed had a chance of falling safely. In the first inning, center fielder Ken Griffey Jr. ran down a long shot by Gary Ward. In the fourth, third baseman Edgar Martinez cut off a ball in the hole by Chet Lemon. In the eighth, second baseman Harold Reynolds made a charge-and-shovel play on a roller by Alan Trammell.

There was also a close play in the seventh on Tracy Jones. Martinez’ throw pulled Alvin Davis off first, but Davis slapped a tag on the back of Jones head as he went past.

“I was out,” Jones said of the play, which drew a brief beef from Detroit Manager Sparky Anderson.

Johnson was in trouble only once, and it was of his own making. In the sixth he walked three to load the bases, but came back from a 2-1 count to strike out Lemon, who owns a .314 lifetime mark against Seattle.

After his no-hitter, Johnson said: “I think, being a power pitcher, sometimes I can use my wildness to my advantage. Once, when I was in the minor leagues, Casey Candaele, one of my teammates, told me I should get a pair of big, old, thick, bottle glasses and he would walk me to the mound and I would face toward second base and he would have to turn me around.

“Usually I come in here on game days really high-strung, but I was really relaxed. And then, in about the seventh inning, to get my mind off the no-hitter , I started tapping the drum beats I’d been practicing. I just got a beat and kind of got into my own world.

“It kind of took my mind off the game, and it made it easier for me to go out there every inning. I think if I had been thinking about the game between innings, something bad might have happened. Getting my mind off the game really helped.

“I’ve been listening to some tapes on how to relax, and the combination of those tapes and the drumming worked. I’m going to talk to Jim (Lefebvre) about taking those drums on the road.”

Johnson said of the game’s ending: “The feeling I had is something that’s hard to describe. Toward the end of the game, I felt like I could throw my pitches exactly where I wanted to and, for me, that’s saying a lot.

“After it was over, I didn’t know how to react. It’s the greatest thrill in the world. It’s a great joy to do it. It’s an accomplishment I’ll probably never do again.

“There’s a sigh of relief that it is done and completed now. I can really feel for guys like Brian Holman who come within one out of one.”

As a postscript, here’s an unofficial list of all nine no-hitters in the 1990 mlb season, with pitcher or pitchers, opponent, score and date (Perez’s and Hawkins’ have been dropped from the official ranks):

— Mark Langston (7 innings) and Mike Witt (2), California vs. Seattle, 1-0, April 11.

— Randy Johnson , Seattle vs. Detroit, 2-0, June 2.

— Nolan Ryan, Texas at Oakland, 5-0, June 11.

— Dave Stewart, Oakland at Toronto, 5-0, June 29.

— Fernando Valenzuela, Los Angeles vs. St. Louis, 6-0, June 29.

Andy Hawkins, New York at Chicago, 0-4, July 1.

— Melido Perez, Chicago at New York, 8-0, July 12.

— Terry Mulholland, Philadelphia vs. San Francisco, 6-0, Aug. 15.

— Dave Stieb, Toronto at Cleveland, 3-0, Sept. 2

Published in: on June 1, 2011 at 3:14 am  Leave a Comment  
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Japanese Baseball and the Aftermath of the Kobe Earthquake in 1995

After the Kobe quake, Japan went on with its plans to hold the spring high school baseball tournament at Koshien stadium near the city. Here’s an Associated Press report from early March, 1995 that looked forward to the tourney and its importance in the wake of the thousands of deaths in Kobe a few weeks earlier:

Last month’s earthquake demolished buildings and shattered lives in Kobe. It didn’t, however, destroy a dream.

The annual spring invitational baseball tournament will be held, as usual, at nearby Koshien stadium. And the Hotoku Gakuen High School team has been invited to play.

The high school – located in an area that was among the hardest hit in the earthquake – was the last of 32 teams chosen for the tournament.

To an outsider, that might not sound like such a big deal. But Koshien is much, much more than just a high school sporting event. In Japan, it amounts to almost a sacred ritual that the whole country shares in.

During the annual tournament in March and August, millions of viewers immerse themselves in the series. Televisions are wheeled into offices, company cafeterias and even some train stations. Strangers on trains exchange the latest scores.

For the young players, the Koshien ballpark is their dream, like Yankee Stadium and Carnegie Hall rolled into one. Aspiring players practice seven days a week, often starting before dawn or late into the night, from elementary school on.

At the tournament, players often weep with emotion and scoop a handful of dirt from the playing field to treasure forever as a memento. Many look back on playing Koshien as a high point of their lives. Even among those who go on to a professional ball career, Koshien alumni are a kind of exclusive priesthood.

At first, it wasn’t certain the tournament could be held at all this spring. In the wake of the Jan. 17 quake, the 71-year-old, 55,000-seat concrete structure was riddled with cracks, including a 4-inch-wide rift running through the concrete bleachers. An even wider fissure ran the length of the corridor behind home plate.

Despite the damage, the Japan High School Baseball Federation announced last week that the 10-day national tournament would start as scheduled March 25 – “as a sign of hope.” Workers at the ivy-shrouded ballpark were pouring and smoothing cement Tuesday, rushing to get ready.

For many living in and around the ravaged city of Kobe, news that the tournament was on was some of the best news since the devastating quake hit.

“Without Koshien, it would feel so empty. I wouldn’t feel like spring had come,” said Amini Nagamitsu, a 17-year-old high school junior.

At Hotoku Gakuen high school, the players spent the hours before the announcement of team selection practicing as best they could. The players, most of them 16 or 17 years old, have had much to cope with since the quake, in which more than 5,400 people died and tens of thousands of homes were leveled.

Five of the team’s 51 players weren’t at practice because they had to help rebuild their homes or aid quake-stricken relatives. Another has been living in a shelter since his home was ravaged and hasn’t been able to return to the team.

Five others have been living in a school dormitory after their residential hotel – where they had been living so they could play on the team at the school, which is far from their homes – collapsed on top of them.

As they waited to see if they would be picked for the tournament, the players practiced, diving for ground balls in their white uniforms, shouting encouragement to one another. In time-honored Japanese baseball tradition, they bowed to home plate after sliding in head first.

When the announcement finally came – that they had been selected – they wept together.

“Koshien is the dream for every high school student,” said coach Yugi Nagata, who played outfield on the Hotoku team that won the summer tournament at Koshien in 1981.

But Nagata told his players to temper their joy in consideration of their neighbors who are still suffering. His players didn’t need to any coaching on that.

“I want to play so I can boost the spirits of all the victims around here,” vice-captain Harumichi Mabachi, 17, said softly. Struggling to express himself, he scuffed the ground with his cleats.

“I feel like I want to cry,” he said.

Tears already were welling in his eyes.

In April 1995, the Washington Post noted that the tournament had gone ahead as scheduled: “The famous ivy-covered Koshien baseball stadium — Japan’s equivalent of Fenway Park — was repaired in time to host last month’s national high-school baseball tournament.”

Published in: on March 17, 2011 at 7:40 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Japanese Baseball Benefit Games for the 1995 Kobe Earthquake and the 2004 Quake/Tsunami Victims

In the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami on the island of Honshu in Japan, I looked up the response Japanese baseball had to the Kobe earthquake of January 1995. I found this, by Wayne Graczyk of the Japan Times in 2005:

Ten years have passed since one of the most unforgettable times in Japan’s history.

Two weeks ago, we observed the anniversary of the Great Hanshin Earthquake that struck Kobe on Jan. 17, 1995. Six and a half weeks from now, on March 20, Japan will also mark a decade since the Aum Shinrikyo Tokyo subway gassing.

The year 1995 was also a most memorable one in Japanese baseball.

Orix BlueWave players, wearing the slogan “Gambare (Hang in There) Kobe” on the sleeve of their uniform jerseys, epitomized the fighting spirit and will to recover of the Kansai people, and they won the Pacific League pennant under manager Akira Ogi.

His roster included a skinny 21-year-old kid named Ichiro Suzuki who had just played his first full season, batted .385 and broke Japan’s single-season hits record with 210. . . .

In July of that year, a special All-Star Game was played at Fukuoka Dome, pitting the foreign players on the Japanese teams, managed by Valentine, against the best Japanese players, led by Oh. Proceeds from ticket sales were sent to help earthquake victims in Kobe.

The game featured the likes of [Tom] O’Malley, [Hensley] Meulens and [Terry] Bross, Troy Neel, Bobby Rose, Ralph Bryant, Alonzo Powell, Kip Gross, Lee Stevens and Glenn Braggs against such Japanese stars as Ichiro, Atsuya Furuta, Hideki Matsui, Kazuhiro Kiyohara, Keiichi Yabu and Norihiro Nakamura. . . .

Now, here we are 10 years later, in the year 2005.

Will it also be a memorable year in Japanese baseball?

It should be. There is talk of another Gaikokujin vs. Japanese All-Star Game to be played March 14 and benefit survivors of the earthquake that struck Niigata on Oct. 23.

Valentine is back heading the Marines, joined as a foreign manager by Trey Hillman of Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters.

That benefit game did happen, as the Daily Yomiuri and The Yomiuri Shimbun reported in mid-March, 2005:

A team of Japanese-registered stars defeated a foreign squad 5-3 on Monday at Tokyo Dome in the Charity Dream Game, which raised over 8 million yen for the victims of three recent disasters in Asia.

The Japan Dreams decided the game in the bottom of the first inning, when they rocked Seibu Lions starter Hsu Ming-chieh for four runs on five hits.

Hanshin Tigers leadoff man Norihiro Akahoshi hit Hsu’s second pitch for a line single to center. The 28-year-old, who has led the Central League in steals in each of his first four pro seasons, swiped second on the next pitch and scored the game’s first run on a double by the Dragons’ Hirokazu Ibata.

“There were a lot of great things right from the start,” said Chiba Lotte Marines skipper Bobby Valentine, who managed the Foreign Dreams. “Akahoshi stole a base—the fans loved to see that—and there were fine defensive plays.

“I was as much a fan today as a manager,” added Valentine.

Fukuoka Softbank Hawks captain Nobuhiko Matsunaka, last year’s Pacific League MVP, made it a 2-0 game with an RBI single and Hawks teammate Kenji Jojima plated him from third after a double by the Giants cleanup man Kazuhiro Kiyohara.

The Hiroshima Carp’s Shigenobu Shima, last year’s Central League batting champ, added a fourth run with a clean single to center.

“It seemed my starting pitcher forgot what manager he was pitching for,” Valentine joked. “Since he usually pitches for the other manager.”

Hsu’s skipper with Seibu, Tsutomu Ito, managed the Japan Dreams.

Erick Almonte, a new acquisition of the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, hit a two-run homer in the second to halve the Japanese lead.

John Bale of the Hiroshima Carp pitched two scoreless innings for Valentine’s foreign legion, but Yokohama BayStars right-hander Mark Kroon gave up two singles and a pair of walks to make it a 5-2 game in the fourth.

The Giants’ Tuffy Rhodes singled home a run in the top of the sixth after new Yomiuri teammate Gabe Kapler led off the inning with a double.

With Rhodes on first and one out, Marines shortstop Makoto Kosaka made one of the defensive plays of the game. The three-time Golden Glove winner went to his right to pluck a grounder in the hole and fire to second to start an inning-ending double play.

But that effort was soon matched by the Hawks’ Munenori Kawasaki in the seventh.

Kawasaki, the PL’s Golden Glove winner at short last season, was playing second when he robbed new Tiger Andy Sheets of a ground single up the middle for the second out.

“It was a well played game,” said Valentine, who would like to see the foreign vs Japanese format become a regular mid-season event.

“I think the fans would really enjoy it and the players would as well,” he said.

The uniforms worn by the players and coaches will now be auctioned off on the internet to further boost contributions from the contest.

Valentine, who suggested the idea of a game to raise money for victims of last year’s Niigata Chuetsu Earthquake, also proposed and managed in a similar contest in 1995 that went toward relief of the earthquake that hit the Hanshin region earlier that year.

Proceeds from the game, attended by 16,728, will also go toward victims of December’s earthquake and tsunami in the Indian Ocean, as well as to those affected by last October’s typhoon No. 23.

Just for the record, here are a few more notes from Graczyk previewing that game:

Because there are no foreign catchers on the Japanese teams, Shinji Takahashi of the Fighters and Tomoya Satozaki of the Marines will brush up their English and be loaned to the Foreign Dreams to share the behind-the-plate work.

The game will benefit victims of recent earthquakes and typhoons in Japan and the Dec. 26 tsunami that struck the coasts of many Indian Ocean countries.

The format will follow that of a similar game played at Fukuoka Dome in July of 1995 which helped victims of the Great Hanshin Earthquake that struck Kobe on Jan. 17 of that year.

Game time for this one is 6 p.m., and ticket prices are 3,500 yen for S seats, 3,000 yen for A seats, 2,500 yen for a boy-and-girl couple for White Day seats and 1,000 yen for reserved bleacher space.

And, there are two other earthquake relief games in the U.S. I thought I’d note as well. The first one apparently never happened; it would have been a benefit for recovery from the Loma Prieta earthquake, but, as the San Jose Mercury News reported in late February 1990, a lockout intervened:

To no one’s surprise, the A’s and Giants announced Monday that they’re postponing the spring-training earthquake relief benefit game originally scheduled for Phoenix Municipal Stadium on Thursday.

The World Series rematch was planned as the exhibition opener for both teams, but the owners’ lockout is endangering spring-training games in Arizona and Florida.

“We are going to attempt to reschedule the game, and tickets will be honored on that date,” said Steve Page, the A’s director of spring-training operations. But Page said fans can begin redeeming tickets for a refund at the place of purchase Wednesday. Tickets also will be refunded if the game is eventually canceled.

Fans have until March 31 to redeem tickets. But Page said fans will be encouraged to keep tickets, with the proceeds donated to earthquake relief.

Projections had the game raising between $70,000 to $90,000 for the Northern California Earthquake Relief Fund. Tickets were sold for $8, $10 and $15. Normally, tickets at Phoenix Stadium are $5, $6 and $8.

Although it’s obvious that a good portion of the spring- training schedule is in jeopardy, Page says no games have been officially canceled. The A’s plan an announcement today on upcoming games.

One likely scenario has the schedule resuming in progress, with missed games canceled, if owners and players reach a basic agreement in time to preserve some of the schedule.

Also, in February 2010, a group of Cuban-American professional baseball players played a game in Miami to benefit recovery from the Haiti earthquake. From the Miami Herald of February 5:

Former and current Cuban-American professional baseball players are putting on a game in Miami on Saturday to benefit Haitian earthquake relief.

The game, pitting a Blue Team against a Red Team, will feature pitchers Orlando ”Duque” Hernandez, a four-time World Series champ, against World Series champ, Jose A. Contreras. Other players confirmed to play: Livan Hernandez, Kendry Morales, Rey Ordonez, Alexei Ramirez, Yunel Escobar and Yonder Alonso.

Professional Cuban players will also participate, along with current and former University of Miami baseball players of Cuban descent.

The event is being organized by Gulliver Schools baseball coach Hector Torres.

The Cuban All-Star Baseball Game for Haiti Relief Fund will be played at Miami Southridge Senior High, 19355 SW 114th Ave. Admission cost $10.

Gates open at noon. The game begins at 1:30 p.m.

Published in: on March 14, 2011 at 9:43 am  Comments (1)  
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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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Alan Wiggins, AIDS, and the San Diego Padres

Alan Wiggins was the first mlb player to die from AIDS, and possibly the first well-known pro sports player to die from AIDS; he’d helped the Padres win their N.L. pennant in 1984, and was one of the better major league players of 1983 and 1984. But he died in an L.A. hospital about a month shy of his 33rd birthday, and had practically disappeared in the years since he left the Baltimore Orioles in 1987. The San Diego Union reported his death on January 6, 1991, as coming from not AIDS but lung cancer:

Alan Wiggins, who in 1984 led the Padres to their only National League championship, died Sunday night in Los Angeles at age 32. Wiggins died of respiratory failure from lung cancer, his mother-in-law said last night.

Wiggins, suspended by the Padres and traded to Baltimore after drug problems in 1985, died at Cedars Sinai Hospital, where he had been a patient since Dec. 1.

The switch-hitting outfielder-turned-second baseman is survived by his wife, Angie, and their three children — Cassandra, 8, Alan, 5, and Candace, 3.

“He went down so fast, I’m sure the drugs and everything had a lot to do with it,” said Wiggins’ mother-in-law, Anna Wood of Altadena.

“This should be a lesson for so many people. I saw him fight for his life, for his breathing.”

Wiggins, who moved from Poway to his native Los Angeles last year, had been out of baseball since being released by Baltimore in 1987.

Wiggins set the existing Padres club record for stolen bases with 70 in 1984, when he scored 104 runs as their leadoff hitter and led them into a World Series that Detroit won in five games.

However, Wiggins’ career went downhill early in 1985 after he disappeared for the opener of a series at Dodger Stadium and drew a suspension that led to his admittance into a drug-rehabilitation center. It was the second time Wiggins spent time at a substance-abuse center.

Joan Kroc, who owned the Padres at the time, was unwilling for Wiggins to rejoin the team, and General Manager Jack McKeon traded him to Baltimore in a June 27 fire sale for journeyman left-hander Roy Lee Jackson.

Wiggins finished the season batting .285 in 76 games with the Orioles. He averaged .251 in 71 games the next season and was released by Baltimore Sept. 29, 1987, after hitting .232 in 85 games.

“Alan developed pneumonia just before Thanksgiving,” said Wood. “We thought he was over it, then he started coughing and we put him in the hospital.” It was then Wiggins learned he had lung cancer.

Wood said funeral services for Wiggins tentatively are scheduled for Friday in Pasadena, with interment at Rose Hill Cemetary in Whittier.

Wiggins’ former San Diego teammates were stunned by the news.

“He died at 32? My goodness!” said Padres right fielder Tony Gwynn, who won his first NL batting championship (at .351) hitting second in the lineup behind Wiggins in 1984.

“You talk about a catalyst! It seemed like every time I came up, Wiggie was on base. He was Mr. Excitement. He made things happen. He started out playing center field and left field, then did a great job when he moved to second base.

“Wiggie was controversial. He always bucked the system. I guess rebel is the right word for him. He’d say something, and 22 of the 25 guys on the ballclub would disagree, but this is a terrible loss for everybody.

“He should still be playing, but he was never the same after he left San Diego. He left and we waited five years to get another leadoff man (Bip Roberts).”

Gwynn lived near Wiggins in Poway but said he hadn’t seen his former teammate since early last year, before the Padres went to their Yuma spring-training camp.

“He was in good spirits, but he didn’t look like himself,” Gwynn said. “He looked like he hadn’t eaten in several days. He told me he was doing a lot of fishing at Lake Poway. I asked him if he missed baseball. He said he did in some ways, but not in others. He seemed content. He had his son with him.

“This is hard for all of us to accept. He should still be an outstanding ballplayer.”

Wiggins, who once attended Pasadena City College, originally was signed by the California Angels, but they released him after he allegedly fought a teammate while playing for Quad Cities of the Class A Midwest League in 1978.

“I had great rapport with Alan,” McKeon said. “I took a chance on him in the draft, and he became our catalyst in 1984. He was a good kid who ran into problems. When we lost him, it took three years to find another second baseman (recently traded Roberto Alomar) and five years to find another leadoff hitter (Roberts).”

“Alan was one of the best sparkplugs any club ever had,” said Padres veteran shortstop Garry Templeton. “He was electrifying on the bases.

“He was the main guy in 1984. It was an automatic run for us if he got on base. He was great at every position he ever played.

“This is a sad day. Alan Wiggins should still be playing.”

The knowledge that Wiggins had actually died from AIDS was released about a week after he died, in a long Los Angeles Times article outlining the young hopes and premature decline of a man who, unfortunately, is probably now best known merely for how he died, not for his achievements on the ball field:

PASADENA, Calif. – The three sat together in pews at Calvary C.M.E. Methodist Church in Pasadena Friday during the funeral service, trying to comfort one another and erase feelings of guilt created by their friend’s death.

These were three of Alan Wiggins ‘ closest friends growing up in Pasadena, staying together from Little League to junior high to the Senior Babe Ruth League to being high school teammates.

There was Warren Hollier, a 6-foot-6 pitcher and the star of the group, who eventually earned a baseball scholarship to Oral Roberts. There was Lyle Breckenridge, the shortstop, who went to Cal. There was Wayne Stone, the right fielder, who also wound up at Oral Roberts.

And there was Wiggins, who, a doctor told the Los Angeles Times Saturday, died of complications caused by AIDS.

The four friends were all close, all sharing the same dream. They were inseparable, playing ball at Brookside Park across from the Rose Bowl in the mornings. Their diamond was nothing more than a sandlot. They would rake an infield, build a pitching mound, and while playing the field, pulled their hats on tightly to prevent them from falling into the stickers.

“We’d sit around and talk about pro ball, what was going to happen, how we’d do,” Hollier said. “Alan and I were best friends. Neither of us had a dad, or much money, and we figured sports was our way out.

“Alan probably had less than any of us, but he wasn’t going to let that stop him. I remember once when he didn’t have any shoes to wear, so he wore these white Converse high-tops, and he didn’t care who laughed at him.”

What did matter was that Wiggins could outrun anyone in his bare feet. He knew he was going to play ball. He just knew it. All you had to do was ask him.

“Alan knew he had superior talent,” Stone said. “I remember one day I was working, and he said to me, ‘You know something, I’ll never have to work a day in my life,’ and he kind of laughed.

“You know something? He never did.”

Said Wiggins’ brother, Donald: “I remember those guys would actually sit around and practice signing autographs. That’s why when you look at his signature, it’s so good. He had been practicing.”

Wiggins, 32, died Jan. 6 of complications caused by AIDS, acquired immune deficiency syndrome, according to one of his doctors. Wiggins had been suffering from complications caused by AIDS for three years, said the doctor, who declined to be identified.

Wiggins’ family and the staff at Los Angeles’ Cedars-Sinai Hospital decline to publicly acknowledge the cause of death, but one family member, and several friends of Wiggins, confirmed that Wiggins died from complications caused by AIDS.

“He has had some health problems for some time, he knew what was happening,” said Dr. James McGee, Wiggins’ psychiatrist in Baltimore. “The last few times I talked to him, about four months ago, were not fun, happy conversations. He was not in good shape and wasn’t optimistic.

“Things were not going well for him.”

Wiggins, who had been hospitalized on several occasions, was admitted into the emergency room at Cedars-Sinai at 2:20 a.m. on Nov. 29. The admissions report said Wiggins was “coughing, had breathing difficulty, and a clear indication of pneumonia.”

He drifted in and out of consciousness during his stay, and 37 days later, he was dead.

“It’s so tough when you see someone going through the pain he was going through,” said Ronald Wiggins, Alan’s 35-year-old brother, “and not being able to do anything about it. We always hung onto that hope. We kept praying God would perform a miracle. We held out hope right to the end.”

The man whose athletic body and enabled him to be the catalyst behind the San Diego Padres’ 1984 National League championship team weighed less than 75 pounds at the time of death.

“I feel like basically he died alone,” Hollier said. “We all cared about him greatly, but I think he felt embarrassed about what happened, and he shut us out. I mean as close as we were, none of us even knew he was sick. Can you believe it?

“I’ve shed a lot of tears over this, and I don’t want to place blame on myself or Lyle or Wayne, but we feel bad because we were not persistent enough. We used to say all the time, we need to go down there (to San Diego), grab the brother, pull him aside, and straighten him out. But we lost contact.

“He always felt embarrassed about the problems he had. He probably just needed someone to say, `It’s OK.’ I don’t want to put any guilt on myself, but I wish I had been there for him, and given him encouragement.

“It’s really a shame. There’s so much I wanted to tell him. There’s so much I wanted to thank him for what he did.

“Most of all, I just wanted to tell him that I love him.”

Steve Garvey was the only member of the 1984 Padres World Series team that attended the services. Lee Lacy was the only Orioles player who arrived. In all, there were only five former teammates who paid their respects to Wiggins.

“Some friends, huh?,” said Tony Attanasio, Wiggins’ agent and confidant. “I remember when he was with the Padres, and was in Minnesota (in drug rehabilitation). He’d call me and say, `Here’s my number, tell the guys to call me.’ I’d go to the ballpark, give out the number to a few guys, and you know what? Not once did anyone call.

“That’s what makes me sick now, seeing these guys come out in the paper like they’re his friends, and they’re not even at the funeral. His friends were at the service. The rest is pseudo, and that bothers me a lot.”

A postscript following Tony Gwynn’s death: In Men at Work, George Will’s book on baseball, Gwynn talks at some length about Wiggins and his effect on Gwynn’s approach to hitting. Some quotes from Gwynn: “We haven’t had a guy like Wiggy since he left. Having a guy like that in front of you can open up some things for a hitter.”
“At times in 1984 I’d see out of the corner of my eye that Wiggins had got a great jump, so I’d take the pitch even if I already had a strike on me.”
“As soon as he was gone [to the Orioles], the fastballs ceased coming. . . . If Wiggins stole second and I didn’t have a strike on me, I’d take another pitch so he could steal third.”

Published in: on January 4, 2011 at 3:23 am  Comments (2)  
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From Usenet to the World Wide Web: the Early History of Baseball Online

A little while ago I decided to look up some things on how talk about baseball emerged on the Internet, starting in the ‘80s with Usenet and moving into AOL, Prodigy, Compuserve, etc., and then the first year or so after Mosaic and Netscape started the browser-based web experience and the term “information superhighway” started to be obsolete. Here, from Google Groups Usenet archives, is the announcement of apparently the first-ever Strat-O-Matic baseball simulation played online, on September 29, 1984 (you’ll have to pardon the bad line breaks in the list of members):

After almost 5 months of preparations and delays, the net-Strat-O-Matic Baseball league is ready to open its first season. We have five players and ten teams, all from the 1983 season, as follows:
Name                            Address                                     Teams

Josh Rosenbluth    houxm!hounx!jhr2        Reds, Expos
Peter Barbee           fluke!tron                            Orioles, Dodgers
Jeff Houston           dual!jeff                              Giants, Brewers
Shane McDonald     sask!mcdonald              Mets, Cardinals
Ken Kaufman          uiucdcs!kaufman           Pirates, Red Sox

Needless to say, the mechanics of playing this game PBM are quite difficult, as games could take months if rules were followed to the letter.

There are many decisions encountered in the game and given the turnaround time of electronic mail, a large schedule would normally be unplayable. Therefore, I have assumed the role of gamemaster, as well as player, and will do all the dice-rolling. In order that the players won’t have to approve decisions on every situation that comes up, they have all sent me policy sheets which cover most situations. I will still continue to question them where necessary. Of course, as gamemaster, so that I don’t have an unfair advantage, I have also written out such a sheet and sent copies to the players. I will follow it to the letter. Several rules have been changed to add to the simplicity; the players have been informed of these.

There are a couple of other relevant rule alterations. All teams will use the DH. This is mostly to balance the game for AL teams whose pitchers are otherwise at a hitting disadvantage. And, due to the shortness of the schedule (see below), the severity of injuries will tend to be reduced. This will be done by referring twice to the injury chart, and taking the lesser result.

The schedule will be initially set at 8 games with each team playing each team owned by another player. After a few games, when we all get a feel of how it’s going, the players will choose whether to leave it an 8 game slate, or to up it to 16, 32, or even 64, as was suggested a few months ago by one of the players. Regardless, the top two teams will meet in a 4-of-7 series for the title. Should there be a tie for the second playoff spot, we’ll use a 2-of-3 to decide it.

Then, in 1993, one girl made a threat against Cal Ripken Jr. on Prodigy and got in trouble for it. The Seattle Times of Friday, August 20, 1993 :

A 14-year-old girl logged onto the Prodigy computer network’s bulletin board and typed out a death threat against baseball superstar Cal Ripken Jr.

It was meant to get a rise out of her boyfriend in New Jersey, who idolizes Ripken, said Joe Race, police chief in Medina, Wash., a suburb of Seattle, where the girl lives.

It got a rise all right — but out of Prodigy security officials, who screen the messages from their headquarters in New York. Prodigy contacted New York police and provided the phone number that was assigned to the message.

An officer in New York called Seattle police, who contacted Medina police and security officials at Seattle’s Kingdome, where Ripken and the Baltimore Orioles were playing the Seattle Mariners earlier this week.

Kingdome officials immediately tightened security. “We do take these things seriously,” Kingdome spokeswoman Carol Keaton said.

One reason for the concern, Kingdome security chief Pat Murphy said, is that Ripken is closing in on Lou Gehrig’s consecutive-games-played record. Gehrig, the great New York Yankees first baseman, played in 2,130 straight games before he was forced from baseball by the fatal disease that eventually was named after him. Ripken, in his 12th season, has played in more than 1,800 games, and some fans are concerned that he may break a record that once seemed unapproachable.

This spring, another computer message about Ripken created an outcry on the Internet, an international computer network used by universities, corporations, governments and other subscribers.

In that message, sent to a bulletin board for baseball fans, it was suggested that someone should hurt Ripken before he broke Gehrig’s record. Soon after, the bulletin board was deluged with condemnations of the message, and one respondent said he notified the FBI about the incident.

Two King County police officers were assigned to guard Ripken during Monday night’s game. A third accompanied him back to his hotel after the game.

“He was aware of it, but he was very calm,” Murphy said of Ripken. “It didn’t seem to bother him.”

Apparently not. Ripken went 1 for 4 and scored a run, even as the Orioles lost, 8-6.

Monday night, police began staking out the address provided by Prodigy. By 2 p.m. Tuesday, the 14-year-old arrived home with her 28-year-old sister.

The girl admitted she sent the message and was “very embarrassed and apologetic,” Race said. The girl received a stern lecture from police, but no criminal charges will be filed.

And the next year, in August 1994, the Akron Beacon Journal carried an item about how Cleveland Indians fans were using a Usenet newsgroup to talk about their team during the strike:

Chuck Grim didn’t know the thrill of cheering a Cleveland Indians team through a pennant race until he went halfway around the world to Bulgaria.

Unfortunately, Grim, a 35-year-old native of Chatham Township in Medina County, doesn’t get to see or hear many of the games. He doesn’t even get to read much news about the team.

Yet he knows more about the ins and outs of Tribe baseball than most folks lounging on the banks of the Cuyahoga River or stuck in traffic next to Jacobs Field.

And if you’re looking for opinions about how the baseball strike affects Tribe fans, he has more than a few informed ones.

How does Grim manage? The Internet, in general; cle.sports, also known as the Cleveland Sports Mailing List, in particular.

“This group is the only timely info I get about Cleveland sports,” Grim said in an interview on the Internet. “Between it and a Purdue sports group, I have to piece together the rest of the sports world.”

Cle.sports (cle-dot-sports in Internet -speak) is a newsgroup dedicated to electronically discussing Cleveland sports teams that can be accessed around the world by subscribers to Usenet, a network of several thousand newsgroups on the Internet . It is run in conjunction with the Cleveland Sports Mailing List, which sends the same electronic discussion through Internet electronic mail to those who do not have access to Usenet.
The group of contributors, which was started in November 1991 by then-Cleveland State University student Richard Kowicki, has been around for about two years. It’s basically a bunch of knowledgeable Cleveland sports enthusiasts from around the country getting together on a daily basis to discuss Cleveland sports.

Ron Graham, a longtime contributor to the cle.sports newsgroup, said the idea grew out of necessity.

“Because of the negative image that Cleveland sports teams have, Cleveland fans are lightning rods for flames (negative comments and e-mail abuse). A few of us were Usenet defenders for Cleveland sports and we got together.”

Graham, 36, of Lakewood, says he started hanging out in the Usenet site

“That is one mean place,” he said. “Nobody likes the Tribe there. Never mind that the Tribe organization has figured out (how) to win.”

Graham said the Cleveland fans ended up spending most of their time defending their team and very little time discussing what they wanted to discuss, so they banded together and formed the Cleveland Sports Mailing List.

Kowicki, who now administers the mailing list, set out two simple goals: to provide a forum for discussion about Cleveland sports teams and to provide news and information that most out-of-towners couldn’t get otherwise.

“We are more statistics- and analysis-oriented than other media sources,” said Kowicki. “The readers we have like this. The discussions are generally fact-based and maybe a bit more intellectual.”

Kowicki says the list now reaches Australia, the Netherlands, Canada and England — and Grim in Bulgaria.

“Finding Cleveland sports info in Massachusetts is difficult at best,” wrote one grateful contributor. “Finding anyone who actually wants to talk Cleveland sports is even more difficult.”

Earlier this year, the mailing list was added to the Usenet list of newsgroups and has grown significantly.

In the past few months, cle.sports has been near the top of the Usenet usage lists for the Cleveland Free-net, ranking up there with the usual high-traffic areas like, and

Kowicki, a 31-year-old computer programmer from Garfield Heights, said since baseball ‘s Opening Day, the mailing list has logged more than 1 million messages, occupying 2.2 gigabytes of memory (that’s 2.2 billion bytes — the average computer has 40,000 to 80,000 kilobytes).

The core members of the group have given themselves assignments, the same way reporters in a newsroom would get assignments. Some specialize in specific sports, others in certain statistics.

Graham, for example, specializes in tidbits that are off the beaten path.
His most recent contribution includes items on Jon Bon Jovi catching passes from Mark Rypien, the Toledo Mud Hens breaking a single-game attendance record and a tip of the hat to Leroy Kelly and his touching induction ceremony speech in Canton at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“This has become something that nobody else is doing,” Graham said. “And now we have contributors from all over the world.”

That gives subscribers to the newsgroup a strong background in Cleveland sports, which makes for lively discussion. And now with the baseball strike in full force, contributors have been feverishly posting their thoughts and possible solutions.

Most support the players and they can argue from several points of view — including social, public policy and labor-based arguments.

Grim’s idea is based more on free-market economics.
“If owners are too stupid to constrain their own spending without placing artificial barriers on competition, they deserve to lose money,” wrote Grim. “After witnessing the effect of a salary cap and Danny Ferry on the Cavs, I am amazed that anybody thinks it’s a good idea.”

Of course, web browsers were already around in the summer of 1994. Late that November, the Seattle Mariners saw the opportunity, and became the first baseball team to offer a website to the public. The Seattle Times of Wednesday, November 30, 1994 reported:

COMPUTER USERS with an Internet connection now can access information about the Seattle Mariners, communicate with club officials or even buy a hat.

A professor in Denmark had a request. Browsing around the Internet , he had come across a file announcing a “web site” for the Seattle Mariners. By electronic mail, he wrote to the baseball club.

“I saw your site and I want to buy a cap,” the professor wrote.

With that, the Mariners not only made a sale but entered a new dimension in pro sports, as the first team to run its own home page on the Internet’s World Wide Web.

After a week of tinkering with a preliminary version that raised cyber-brows around the globe, the official version was made available today by the Mariners and Semaphore Corp., a small Seattle-based company that helped develop it.

By gliding into cyberspace, the Mariners now offer schedule, ticket, merchandise, spring-training and other information to anyone around the world with a computer and Internet connection.

Whether in Moscow, Idaho, or Moscow, Russia, a Mariner fan can call up player biographies and statistics, press releases and game updates, and send electronic mail to club executives.

In its present state, the Mariner home page offers little information for local citizens that isn’t already available through more conventional media sources. But as the site adds services and becomes more interactive, the club is hoping to attract more of the estimated 20 million Internet users around the globe.

Several thousand people have already tapped into it on a total of six continents, a figure the club expects to grow to 5,000 to 10,000 a day once the season gets going, said Kevin Mason, Mariner financial analyst.

By the start of next season, fans will probably be able to order tickets and merchandise electronically by punching in their credit-card numbers, Mason said. For now, because of security concerns about credit-card theft, the Mariners offer forms that can be printed out and sent or faxed to the club.

The M’s also are considering extending electronic mail to individual players, so fans can communicate directly with their favorite star. Mason concedes that players may not have the time or desire to participate in the exchange. But, theoretically, Ken Griffey, Jr., could sit down for an hour on occasion and answer questions.

Griffey already has been given his own section on the Mariner Web site that includes career statistics, trivia and other individual information. The club may add a section for minor-league pitcher Makato “Mac” Suzuki, who comes from Japan, where the Mariner home page has received significant interest over the past week.

The M’s are encouraged by the visual capabilities of the World Wide Web, which allows Internet users a graphic interface similar to a Macintosh or a PC using Microsoft Windows.

Users can point and click with a mouse to view photos and graphics, or if they have sound cards in their computers, they can hear audio of Mariner broadcaster Dave Niehaus calling big plays from games.

By the start of next season, the Mariners will add video clips to their archives of highlights from big games in club history, said Garth Brown, president of Semaphore.

If the Mariner home page becomes popular enough, the club ultimately would like to provide immediate inning-by-inning progress reports, with video highlight clips and sound bites.

Other sports franchises will be watching. Although Major League Baseball is treating the Mariners as its test case, Mason expects other teams to enter cyberspace, under a league umbrella.

“If this thing gets hot and going, it’s only a matter of time before all the teams join,” Mason said.

Semaphore, a company that specializes in Internet services, approached the M’s about creating their own web site while the Mariners were exploring the concept. The club owners, who include Microsoft executives, readily backed the project, Mason said.

The Mariners expect the web site to cost $20,000 to $40,000 to run the first year, Mason said. They hope to make up the expense through the sale of merchandise and tickets and by getting businesses to sponsor segments on the web site.

For the user, access to the Mariner home page is free beyond the basic cost of Internet access. The club, though, is exploring possible partnerships with an online service that could be more expensive for users.

The Mariner Web site should be extremely popular with fans, said Jay Christensen, manager of a Seattle interactive marketing agency that is not connected to the project. Little is missing from the service, he said, except the ability to get game tickets electronically.

“That,” he said, “and ordering a beer.”

The Mariners’ Web site can be found at the following Internet address: There are six information categories inside the Web site.
News Center: press releases and game wrap-ups.
Game Center: schedule and season-ticket information.
Team Center: player biographies, rosters and spring-training information.
Administration: staff directory with e-mail addresses for executives.
Merchandise: photos and information on how to order novelties and apparel.
Sponsors: list of companies involved in development of web site.

Published in: on November 28, 2010 at 10:48 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Dan Quisenberry and His 1998 Death From a Brain Tumor

I hadn’t known much at all about this story, so I went looking, and found this in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch of Sunday, January 11, 1998:

On the saddest day of Kansas City’s baseball history, Dan Quisenberry watched Dick Howser say goodbye to the Royals through red, flooded eyes.

This was Feb. 23, 1987, three days after Howser had triumphantly returned to the Royals’ spring training headquarters in Fort Myers, Fla.

Seven months earlier, Howser had been diagnosed with a malignant tumor in the left frontal lobe of his brain. Howser had vowed to return in time for spring training and had done that. But his illness and the Florida sun each had taken a toll, and now he had reached an inevitable conclusion. He had to go. So Howser gathered his team one last time before him.

“I was hoping once I could get in the uniform, things would be OK,” Howser whispered. “It didn’t happen. But don’t quit. Don’t quit. Everything will be all right. Once again, good luck.”

That was it. Howser turned the team over to Billy Gardner and stepped to the side. But Quisenberry – for so many years the team’s court jester and most reliable relief pitcher – couldn’t help himself. Tears had already begun to stream down his face.

Friday morning, the part of Kansas City that hurts, the part that remembers, the part that feels and reaches out to old heroes and friendly faces is going through the same angst Quisenberry did on that long-ago Florida morning.

The news was sudden, shocking and frighteningly familiar: Quisenberry himself had undergone brain surgery Thursday afternoon, a 3 1/2-hour procedure at Research Hospital that removed 80 to 90 percent of a tumor that had formed in Quisenberry’s brain. Now a doctor was pointing to the model of a brain, trying to explain the inexplicable:

How could Dan Quisenberry, at age 44, be sick? . . .

It is important to remember those days and nights of the 1980s this morning. To remember how happy Quisenberry has been in retirement, writing poetry, reading it to small groups. Remaining an active and unique community asset.

He was joking with his nurses in the moments after he woke from surgery Thursday.

“Quiz being Quiz,” said Steve Fink, Royals director of media relations.

He had been experiencing some dizziness, some blurred vision in the last two weeks. That’s when doctors found the tumor lodged in the right half of his brain between a ventricle – a cavity containing spinal fluid – and the thalamus, the brain’s relay center that sends messages from the upper portion of the brain to the lower regions.

As the early months of 1998 went by, it became more clear that Quisenberry was declining. In late May, the Kansas City Star’s Mike Vaccaro wrote:

Minutes before he would step into the brightest night of this Royals season, before he would delight another audience of baseball fans with humor and grace, Dan Quisenberry chatted with a few old friends as they walked slowly along the bottom floor of Kauffman Stadium. He wanted to sit in the first-base dugout, the home team’s dugout, where he could wait for the ceremony that would induct him into the Royals Hall of Fame.

One of his companions said absently, “This way, Quiz,” nudging Quisenberry toward the tunnel that leads to the dugout.

“Not to worry,” Quisenberry said, blending a small smile with a twinkle in his eyes. “I know the way. ” That was the path this evening was supposed to follow, after all, thousands of Kansas Citians reacquainting themselves with the old days, with the good days, when baseball controlled the rhythms and moods of the city. It didn’t take long to discover that muscle memory, not for the 30,341 who made the pilgrimage to Kauffman Stadium on Saturday, who showered Quisenberry in cheers.

“I’m so blessed,” he told the hushed audience at the outset of a five-minute address.

“I’ve got this great family,” he said, before joining his wife, Janie, his son, David, and his daughter, Alysia, in a group embrace.

“I loved playing those years with those guys in this stadium,” he said, the final syllables dissolving into a great roar, another familiar sound, shaken out of the 1980s.

The outpouring was long, it was loud, and it was genuine.

There was a generous sprinkling of Royal blue, outfits worn by fans who remembered Quisenberry the player, the sinkerball specialist who led the American League in saves for five years, who made three All-Star Games, who played in 18 postseason games for the Royals, who collected 244 lifetime saves, all but six for the Royals.

But there was more, too, much more. Quisenberry’s voice cracked early, and it cracked often, and nobody cared much or noticed because so many people were feeling the same way, hearing their own voices crack, feeling their own tears burning in their eyes.

The Royals were playing the A’s that day, and Rickey Henderson said: “I never feared, and I never bowed to any pitcher. But he was awfully tough.” Rickey stood up to help adjust to Quisenberry’s difficult submarine delivery, and he remembered “that helped. Not all the time. Nothing worked all the time against that man.”

Then on September 30, 1998, Dan Quisenberry died, at 45, at home, early on a Wednesday morning. The Star’s Jeffrey Flanagan noted that “Quisenberry had been diagnosed in January as having a Grade IV brain tumor – the most aggressive type. He underwent radiation and chemotherapy treatments and two surgeries to remove parts of the tumor.

“Quisenberry was hospitalized Sept. 22 and returned home last weekend. Surviving family members are his wife, Janie, and children Alysia, 18, and David, 17.”

Former teammate Dennis Leonard said: “I will remember him as a decent man. And I think that’s how he would want to be remembered. He was not only good for the Royals but good for his family and good for the community. He’s got a place in heaven. I know that. Only now, he’ll be getting saves for a different starter.”

George Brett said: “The thing I will never, ever forget about Quiz was his courage. And when things went bad for him on the mound, he never looked for excuses. And when things went well for him, he always gave the credit to others. … I feel blessed to have known him as a teammate and as a friend.”

Former Royals catcher John Wathan: “I’m going to miss just talking to him. He was very special to me and very special to a lot of people, I know.

“One of the things I will remember most is back when he was diagnosed, someone asked him if he ever thought to himself ‘Why me?’ And his response was ‘Why not me? I’ve got just as good a chance to get through this as anyone else because of my faith in God.’ Through this whole thing, Quiz never once felt sorry for himself.”

Royals broadcaster Denny Matthews: “He really loved the language. That was evident to anyone who ever talked to him.

“I’ve come across a lot of ballplayers in the 30 years I’ve been announcing games and generally those players fit into two categories: players and friends. I’m happy to be able to say that Quiz fit into that second category. He was a true friend.”

Early ’80s Royals manager Jim Frey: “He was one of the most intelligent ballplayers I’ve ever come across. And, as everyone knows, he was funny. You don’t see that in that many players anymore. He will be missed greatly.”

Former Royal David Howard: “It sounds mean to say, but when something like this happens to such a good guy like Quiz, you wonder ‘Why doesn’t it ever happen to someone you don’t like?’ I kept thinking about that from the day I heard he was sick.

“He was always so good to me. He invited me to all his golf tournaments. No matter what, he always stopped to talk when he’d see you. He was just a joy to be around. He always made you feel good.”

Published in: on November 25, 2010 at 3:47 pm  Comments (6)  

Dave Winfield and Other George Steinbrenner Controversies, 1973-1990

Since George Steinbrenner, after having a large monument to his memory put up in the new Yankee Stadium’s Monument Park, is now a candidate for the Hall of Fame, it’s a good time to look back on some of his transgressions, controversies, and tumults from 1973 through 1990. First, here’s the core of a timeline USA Today put together in August 1990, chronicling his time as Yankees owner:

Jan. 3, 1973: As managing general partner, buys the Yankees from CBS.

April 18, 1974: Receives 15-count federal indictment for violation of election laws.

April 19, 1974: Pleads not guilty to all 15 counts.

Aug. 23, 1974: Pleads guilty to one count of conspiracy to make illegal campaign contributions.

Aug. 30, 1974: Fined $15,000 by federal court in Cleveland.

Nov. 27, 1974: Suspended from baseball two years by Commissioner Bowie Kuhn because of guilty plea.

March 1, 1976: Suspension lifted after 15 months for good behavior.

Nov. 11, 1979: Fined $5,000 by Kuhn for tampering with Brian Downing of the California Angels.

June 26, 1980: Reprimanded by Kuhn for tampering with free-agent amateur player Billy Cannon Jr.

Dec. 15, 1980: Signs Dave Winfield to a 10-year contract that eventually is worth $18 million.

April 21, 1981: Orders 50,000 copies of the team yearbook taken off Yankee Stadium concession stands because he dislikes his picture.

Oct. 25, 1981: Breaks hand in Los Angeles elevator, saying he was attacked by fans after Yankees lost fifth game of the World Series to the Dodgers.

Oct. 28, 1981: Apologizes to fans for team’s play in six-game loss to Los Angeles in World Series.

Jan. 3, 1983: Fined $5,000 by Kuhn for remarks made about Chicago White Sox co-owner Jerry Reinsdorf.

April 19, 1983: Fined $50,000 by Kuhn for remarks made during a March 25 spring training game questioning the integrity of National League umpire Lee Weyer.

May 31, 1983: Suspended for one week (June 3-9) by American League President Lee MacPhail for statements made May 27, questioning integrity of American League umpires Darryl Cousins and John Shulock.

Oct. 4, 1983: Winfield Foundation files suit charging Steinbrenner with reneging on agreement to pay $3 million to the charity.

Dec. 23, 1983: Fined $250,000 by Kuhn for involvement in pine-tar game with Kansas City.

Aug. 17, 1984: Settles dispute with Winfield.

Sept. 1, 1986: Attacks Winfield’s integrity and Winfield book, A Player’s Life.

Jan. 10, 1989: Countersues Winfield charging him with misusing money from his foundation.

Feb. 1989: Elected a vice president of the U.S. Olympic Committee.

Sept. 6, 1989: Settles with Winfield out of court.

March 24, 1990: Commissioner Fay Vincent announces he is examining Steinbrenner’s relationship with admitted gambler Howard Spira and a $40,000 payment that Spira alleges Steinbrenner gave him for information to discredit Winfield. Denies charge.

May 11, 1990: Trades Winfield to the Angels.

May 14, 1990: Tells Winfield he never wanted to trade him but was urged by Bucky Dent.

July 5, 1990: Fined $225,000 for tampering with the Winfield trade.

July 5-6, 1990: Appears in hearings before Vincent.

July 30, 1990: Agrees to resign as general partner for his dealings with Spira.

Aug. 15, 1990: Names Robert Nederlander successor as general partner after son Hank declines and executive vice president Leonard Kleinman is blocked by Vincent.

At the same time, Joe Klein wrote a column speculating that Steinbrenner’s downfall was an emblem of the broader decay of New York City after the ’80s-that it combined with the downfall “of Donald Trump and Ed Koch – and a thousand other slivers of news, like the bankruptcy of his good buddy William Fugazy, the travel-and- limousine-king – to become part of this year’s unavoidable theme in New York, the end of an era: the frantic years between New York’s fiscal crisis and the 1987 stock-market Crash, the time of the yuppies, the loudmouths and insiders.”

I don’t know if Klein was accurate in this diagnosis, but in the column, Steinbrenner had an interesting response to the stories of the demise of New York City 20 years ago: “The city better hope it’s not over. David Dinkins is a fine man, with an awful task ahead of him. . . . But this is no time for quiet contemplation – we need action: hands-on, one-on-one leadership. You can’t sit back and just take these kind of economic problems. Boy, I don’t see that era being over. The Yankees will be back. The city will be back. Because if it’s over, we’re in deep, deep trouble.”

Also in August 1990, George Vecsey made, I think, a more interesting analogy between Steinbrenner and Richard Nixon:

George Steinbrenner has been kicked out of Yankee Stadium, but he does not seem to know it. The question is: Does everybody else?

The elevator doors were clattering Monday night, but Steinbrenner could not resist the paparazzi swarm. He extended his hands and held the elevator doors, answering more questions, loving the attention.

He had already told a packed news conference that he was not remorseful and that he was not in shock. Nobody had asked him if he was.

It was time to move on, he volunteered, omitting the minor detail that he had been ordered to move on by the commissioner of baseball, backed up by every major-league owner in North America.

This was quite a scene, a powerful man leaving a building he had dominated for 17 1/2 years. Certainly the sight was not as important or dramatic as a president of the United States trudging onto a service helicopter and being whisked off the White House lawn, but some of the same elements were there: abuse of power, lack of candor, eventual downfall.

Now we will find out if the U.S. Olympic Committee has paid attention to this affair. The USOC board, which meets today in Colorado Springs, is said to be mesmerized by the money Steinbrenner has donated and raised.

Steinbrenner has always been a blowhard and a bully, and that is not a crime, but he was found guilty of illegal political contributions in 1972, and 17 years later he gave money to a seedy little gambler in a vendetta against Dave Winfield. The board members should, of course, ask Steinbrenner to resign.

On Monday night, Steinbrenner made the Nixonian feint of confessing “”mistakes,” which turned out to be Checkers-type slip-ups like dismissing Dick Howser as manager after 1980 and not retaining Reggie Jackson after 1981.

Finally, here are some comments, again made in August 1990, by Dave Winfield on his return to New York for the first time as an ex-Yankee.

Of Commissioner Fay Vincent’s ruling against Steinbrenner, Winfield said: “Finally, they uncovered the tip of the iceberg. There’s a whole lot of ice underneath the water. Good, I finally didn’t have to say anything myself. Someone else said it for me. Someone else was looking for the truth.

“They only took what (Steinbrenner) did within baseball that broke the rules. Really, they didn’t get into all the other things. They said, ‘We’re going to take Spira, and that’s enough. You’re gone.’

“All I remember is Howard Spira for a week going on TV and newspapers and creating, trying to create situations about me, saying everything demeaning and disparaging about me … They’ve looked into everything on everything. There’s nothing on Winfield. They answered that.

“Whether you understand it, they damaged me for a long time…. Here I am, and I have to listen to them making claims across the country. I never did appreciate it. I still did my job, and no one else did it better in the ’80s.

“But with all the stuff kicked up, only one person (Steinbrenner) was muddied. I’m not going to wallow in the mud.

“You think about some of the things that happened over the nine-plus years, and people ask me why I didn’t scream or fight. You fight it, but what are you going to do, spend every waking hour discussing the garbage?”

Published in: on November 19, 2010 at 4:08 am  Leave a Comment  
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A Few Words From and About Dave Niehaus

The Seattle area has been abuzz with memories and tributes to Mariners broadcaster Dave Niehaus in the days since he died. Rather than tell some stories about the man who defines the franchise, I thought I’d try to gather up some of his quotes on baseball and broadcasting in the time before the Mariners became a hot product in the Northwest. Niehaus’s quotes here come from Seattle newspaper articles from 1986, when the team was still struggling toward mediocrity, and 1994, when its games were canceled by strike.

From 1986:

“I literally become a member of your family, hopefully, for six months out of the year.”

“In 1977, I had a common home-run call – it’s gone or something. J Michael Kenyon from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and I were in Arizona, the radio was on and some group was singing, ‘It will fly away.’ I said that is exactly what a baseball does. I used it and it took off like wildfire.”

“The biggest mistake this organization ever made, to my way of thinking, was when they fired Lou Gorman. Or maybe the worst thing that ever happened to this franchise was when they hired Kip Horsburgh. They kind of go hand in glove.”

“The Wills regime was just a nightmare, an absolute nightmare, from start to finish. Some of the things he did. I expected more of a baseball man like that, and I felt sorry for Maury Wills.”

On the Mariners’ first game in 1977: “There was just incredible excitement. Anticipation. A new baby. Hopes. I was nervous. The fans were so happy. I’ll never forget that night as long as I live.”

On hopes for 1986: “We could contend. I really think we could. ‘If’ is the biggest small word in the English language, but if you stay healthy, and if the guys have the kind of years that they can have, the potential is there. And potential means you really haven’t done anything yet. I’ve been talking about potential for nine years, and I’m getting tired of it.”

Also: “I’ll die in the booth. I’ve told lots of people that if I die-not if I die but when I die-I’m sure it’s going to be either on an airplane or sitting in a booth and I’ll have a heart attack calling a home run.

“When it happens, I want to be cremated and have my ashes put under home plate at Fenway Park in Boston.”

From 1994:

“The worst thing you can do is emulate somebody else. You have to develop your own style. I’m not a fan of radio and TV broadcast schools. I say get a liberal education and know something about the world around you.”

“This is a baseball town. The fans don’t owe the Mariners anything. The Mariners owe the fans a winning season.”

“Baseball is a radio game. On TV you’re just a director – and half the time the camera doesn’t show what you want.”

“The Kingdome is not a ballpark. There are no elements, no effect on the baseball. At Fenway, you can see the grass grow on some days. Fenway smells, you can see Ted Williams, Babe Ruth playing there. I darn near genuflect when I walk through the gates at Fenway Park.”

“The game itself is enough for me. If you are a real baseball fan, the film clips and the sonic boom or whatever it is, I think it gets on your nerves. It does on my nerves. But I also understand that this is 1994 and not 1974. But to the real fan, it is a pain in the neck, too much noise.”

On the end of major league baseball in 1994 because of the recently started strike: “Do I miss it? God, yes. The last 10 days of the season, I couldn’t wait to get to the park. The team was playing great. I really believe they’d have won the division.

“The first pennant race in franchise history. People were getting pumped, and I’d have turned this town on in September. Of course, the crime was there would have been no place for the fans here to have come to see the team – except on television. They sure weren’t going to be able to play here.

“I felt for a guy like Goose Gossage. It shouldn’t end this way for a class man like Goose, and he had tears in his eyes that night. It reminded me of the September this team finally clinched a .500 season – players like Alvin Davis and Dave Valle were crying.

“Those were tears of happiness. These weren’t.”

His goal as a broadcaster: “To do a World Series and have the Seattle Mariners win it. Not only one, but two or three or four. I would like to get the chance to really turn on this town in September.”

I’ll close this remembrance with excerpts from an Emmett Watson column in the Seattle Times in late August 1985:

“How’re your ratings?” I asked Niehaus. With a pleased look on his rather cherubic face, Dave pulled out a sheet of figures. In 1984, they showed, Niehaus’ KVI ratings were frequently almost double that of KIRO. When KIRO got the Mariner broadcasting contract this season, the results were almost unbelievable.

Dave’s (and KIRO’s) ratings had more than quadrupled. Through the evening hours of Mariner baseball, from 6-7 p.m. and on through 10-11 p.m., the hourly average audience showed Niehaus with numbers like 43,000 on KIRO to some 6,000 for KVI.

Earlier, I said that Dave Niehaus was one of the four or five best sports announcers in America. That is perhaps only a slight exaggeration: Sport Magazine picked him fourth best nationally among 26 major-league broadcasters in a recent story that rated both mike proficiency and productions of baseball broadcasts. A recent Bellevue Journal-American piece rated Niehaus best among the Northwest announcers, ahead of Bob Blackburn (Sonics), Pete Gross (Seahawk football) and Bob Rondeau (Husky football). . . .

Except for Fred and Henry Genzele, the two clubhouse men, Dave is the last of the original Mariners. Since the team first took the field in 1977, Niehaus has outlasted owners, managers, players, coaches, officials, scouts-everybody ever connected with the baby franchise.

In a sense, Dave’s first job here was to get the fans de-Lassenized, so to speak. Everybody compared him to Leo the Great, whose broadcasting heyday was in the ’30, ’40s and ’50s. In his long reign, Leo literally “raised” three generations of baseball fans, who were hooked on him. By next season-Dave’s 10th-he’ll have his own generation of followers.

Unlike Leo’s high-pitched intonations, Dave’s voice is a beauty. He has constantly improved his work, trying to avoid the “homer” stamp, and he experiments with shading and register to lend an air of low-keyed excitement to a game.

“You can almost chant a game,” he says.

He also has another weapon in his arsenal, one that Leo Lassen never had. In front of Dave and his broadcasting partner, Rick Rizzs, are two TV monitors, part of the Mariners’ in-house channel. Disputed or difficult plays can be shown many times, and Dave frequently knows more about a single play than any umpire or player on the field.

In his professional lifetime, Dave has broadcast pro football and basketball, college and pro, and even hockey. He works on a personal service contract to Mariner owner George Argyros, one which prevents him from broadcasting sports other than Mariner baseball. He has done boxing in Los Angeles and once, to his consternation, he found himself announcing a New York Rangers-Montreal hockey game for Armed Forces Radio.

“It was the first hockey game I’d ever seen,” he grins. “I didn’t know a blue line from a face-off, so I went to the New York public library and studied up on the game. The broadcast was a disaster. I sure hope nobody kept a tape of it.”

As his popularity on the Mariner network increases, Dave hears the fans talk less and less about Leo Lassen. He is his own man with his own style and his own “fly away” signature. He is beginning to hear the ultimate tribute any announcer can have: “I’d rather stay home and listen to you than go to the games.”

“It’s nice to hear that,” he says, “but that’s not what I want to happen. I tell ’em to come to the games anyway and bring their own radios.”

Published in: on November 13, 2010 at 4:07 am  Comments (1)  
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