Saturday, May 31, 2014

Players I Love More Than I Should: Shortstop: Cal Ripken

More than 18,000 players have appeared in Major League Baseball games since the start of the league.  Some players have short careers that last one at bat or one appearance in the field.  Others have 20+ year careers.  As I read more and more about baseball history there are certain players I find myself enjoying reading about more than others.  It is obviously illogical since many of them retired, or in some cases passed away, long before I was even born.  I have no first hand experience in watching some of them play but for whatever reason their personalities and perseverance strikes me above and beyond the other players I read about.  Over the next few weeks I will be giving you short biographical histories*of some of these players.  Some of them will be Hall of Fame players.  Some of them will be players only casual fans may know.  Regardless, I chose one player from each position for this series to explore.  This week we will explore the Shortstop  I chose for the series.  For those of you who know me would be shocked if I chose anyone else: Cal Ripken, Jr.

A Baseball Family
Growing up the son of a celebrity can be a double edged sword.  There is trouble for some balancing the idea of the superstar on Television and read about in the papers against the actual person who is the parent.  Walt Disney told the story of his daughter looking at him funny one night and asking "Are you Walt Disney?"  He said "Of course I am, you know that."  His daughter asked again "but are you the Walt Disney?"

There is nothing fun about being the son of a minor league player and manager.  The pay is low, the conditions are bad, the travel is ridiculous, the time away from the family is seemingly endless and it is a long climb to the top.  You can't brag to your friends that my dad plays baseball for some team in the northwest that doesn't even get their box scores published in the local papers.

The Ripkens were a baseball family from day 1.  Cal Senior was a minor league catcher whose potential major league career was slowed when a separated shoulder was misdiagnosed and healed improperly.  Knowing nothing but baseball as his career Senior became a coach in the minor leagues and worked hard to eventually become a coach on the staff of Earl Weaver.  While Senior was coaching in the majors Junior was learning.  He observed everything.  While Senior was on the field Cal was in the locker room asking the players why they did things the way they did.  Why did they bunt here and not there?  Why did you take this pitch but not that one?  Junior had a million questions and no limit of people to ask. Frank Robinson.  Mark Belanger.  Boog Powell.  Paul Blair.  Jim Palmer.  They were all an immediate resource.

The Oriole Way
What he learned from all these players was "the Oriole Way" to play ball.  It was ingrained in him from the time he was young.  In trying to compete with the Yankees, the Orioles had to develop a strong farm system that could produce game ready players who could fit into the big league lineup immediately. It was an organization wide philosophy of the game.  How to operate a cut off play.  Where to stand if the throw is coming to third from the outfield.  How to direct the play.  Every possibility was accounted for.  Junior had learned it all the way and he loved the game of baseball.  Junior became a pitcher in his youth and was a highly touted High School Athlete.  He was scouted by several teams, including the Orioles.  Although the rumor was that Senior pressured the O's to draft Junior that was not the case.  Cal's mom would later say Senior "was away so much, so he hardly saw Cal play".  Senior was "surprised the scouts were seriously scouting Cal."  Cal Senior said "Before his high school graduation I told Vi, 'I believe our son is going to be drafted.'  With a smile she answered 'I'm glad you noticed.'"

Cal's professional indoctrination into the Oriole way began at Bluefield in West Virginia in the rookie league.  Cal had been drafted as a pitcher but the Orioles had the better idea of using him as a position player.  His first year in rookie ball he was moved to Shortstop.  In 63 games he made 33 errors and hit only .264 but in classic Ripken style he kept working on improving his skills.

He moved up to the Oriole's A Ball team in 1979 and played most of the season in Miami before finishing the season in AA Charlotte.  The problem with playing Shortstop in the Orioles minor league organization was that Mark Belanger was a living legend in the Orioles dynasty.  With the Orioles reaching the World Series in 1979 there was no immediate hope of big league playing time at Short Stop in Baltimore.  Cal started to see playing time at Third Base and he was doing just fine.

In 1980 he played the whole year in Charlotte and excelled, although his fielding was still a bit of an issue.  He made only 7 errors at short stop but 28 at third.  Cal knew he needed to work on this.  "I am still not satisfied with my fielding.  I am still making dumb errors."  Cal continued to develop and his manager, Jimmy Williams noticed.  Williams said Cal could "do everything but run" and that he was a "sure Major Leaguer".  He was moved up to Rochester in AAA for the 1981 season.  He would play in 114 games in Rochester, 85 of those at third.  It was clear the direction the team was taking with his career path.  It was felt that Third Base was the best choice for Cal because of his size and the success of Belanger.

1981 was an odd year in the Major Leagues with the strike leading to a split season.  The Orioles had not won the first half so they needed every available resource to make a run at the second half.  Cal was called up to the big league club and on August 10, 1981 Cal Ripken, Jr made his big league debut.  Considering Jimmy Williams said the one thing Cal couldn't do was run it is ironic that his first appearance in the big leagues was as a Pinch Runner for Ken Singleton, someone known for decent speed.  In the bottom of the 12th, after Singleton doubled, Cal jogged out to second base.  When John Lowenstein singled, Cal came around to score the winning run on a walk off win.  Welcome to the big leagues.  Cal played in a total of 23 games that year mostly at Shortstop and got plenty of experience.

With Belanger entrenched at Short, Cal would likely be the Third Baseman when he came up full time. The problem there was that Doug DeCinces was a fan favorite at third.  The fans were not necessarily happy that nepotism might push Doug out.  A controversy erupted in Baltimore. Could Cal play third and DeCinces left?  What did DeCinces think of all this?  DeCinces said he knew that Cal was a big league player and would have a successful career, although he was not quite ready to just hand over the hot corner just yet.  The Orioles made it official in January of 1982 by trading DeCinces  to the Angels.  Now Cal could relax.

The problem was Cal wasn't relaxed.  He started 1982 fine but he quickly fell into a slump.  The harder he worked the worse it got.  Eventually he got advice from an unexpected source.  Cal was struggling through another bad day against the Angels when Reggie Jackson ended up on third base.  Reggie, who had a reputation as a selfish player, told Cal "You look like you're fighting yourself.  Everybody is probably telling you to do this and do that.  So just know what you know you can do, not what everybody tells you to do.  Stick with what got you here."  Cal started to turn things around but not before a scary moment drove home the reality of how quickly a career can come and go.  He was  hit in the head by a Mike Moore fastball against the Mariners and was removed from the game.  The batting helmet was hit so hard that it left a hole in the helmet.  Cal sat out the next day, May 4.  He was back in the lineup on May 5 and he never looked back.  It would be years before he missed another inning and even longer before he would miss another game.

The Move, Rookie of the Year, MVP and a Ring
The traditional Shortstop is small, quick, a defensive expert and carries a weak or average bat.  Players like Ozzie Smith, Gary Templeton and Pee Wee Reese were the ideal Shortstops.  On July 1 Earl Weaver went against tradition.  He moved a tall, solid, slow footed third baseman to short.  Why the big deal over the size of the player?  It is the requirements of the position.  The middle infielder needs to be able to quickly range from left to right and cover a lot of ground to reach balls on either side.  They need to be nimble to turn a double play and get out of the way in time.  Cal Ripken was none of these things.  Earl Weaver didn't care. He wanted Cal Ripken as his Shortstop.  While Junior moved to short the Orioles used Floyd Rayford and Glenn Gulliver at Third Base.  The Orioles caught fire and started to chase down the division leading Brewers.  Led by Junior, Eddie Murray and Rick Dempsey the Orioles entered the final weekend of the year with four straight head to head against the Brewers.  If the Orioles won all four they won the division.  In Earl Weaver's final series before retirement the Orioles took the first three games.  They needed to win the final game.  They didn't and Milwaukee went on to their only World Series appearance.

Despite the early slump, controversy over the move to short and the disappointing end to the year, Junior won the Rookie of the Year award.  He received 94% of the first place votes beating out Kent Hrbek, Wade Boggs, Gary Gaetti, Von Hayes and Jesse Barfield among others.  Cal himself, humble as always, was a bit surprised.  "I was surprised by the margin.  Hrbek had a fabulous year and I got off to that slow start.  I thought I had a chance but I thought it would be close."  Twins owner Clark Griffith was outraged and called it a travesty that Hrbek wasn't the winner.

The Orioles had a new leader for 1983 in Joe Altobelli but the Oriole way continued.  Cal and Eddie Murray were the best 1-2 punch in baseball and the Orioles used the pitching combo of Mike Flannagan and Scott McGregor to win the AL East division.  In the process of reaching the playoffs Cal won the MVP award.  Again there was controversy in the decision.  Although it was clear he was one of the best in the league, many felt that Murray was the bigger driving force behind the success.  The numbers were comparable.  Cal had a higher average, more doubles and more runs.  Murray had more Home Runs and more RBI.  Either way the Orioles benefited from both players and Cal proved that he was a Major League Short stop despite the doubters.

The Orioles  took on the White Sox (in their first post season since AL Lopez led the go-go White Sox of 1959) in a heated ALCS often on the verge of breaking out into violence.  The normally calm Cal was hit by a pitch that he was sure Richard Dotson threw intentionally.  He yelled at Dotson "If that's all you've got you shouldn't throw at people."  Cal hit .400 in the four game series.  He drove in 1 run and scored 5 as the Orioles moved on to face the Phillies.  Cal had less success against Steve Carlton and John Denny and struggled at the plate with only a .167 average.  The star of the series was their Catcher, Rick Dempsey who had five hits in the series.  All five were extra base hits including one Home Run and the Orioles won the World Series in six games.

In Cal's first two full years in the league he had revolutionized the Short Stop position, become the first player ever to win a Rookie of the Year and follow that up with an MVP season and had won a World Series.  There was no reason to believe anything would be different.

The Terrible Years
As Cal entered the 1984 season the Orioles were riding high on the World Series win.  Everything had gone right in 1983.  The Orioles were considered one of the top organizations in baseball but behind the scenes there were major issues.  Despite Altobelli's success at the head of the team there was constant friction between Altobelli and owner Edgar Bennett Williams.  The Orioles lost their first 4 games and started 2-10.    By the end of 40 games they reached two games above .500.  The Tigers set the pace that year by starting  35-5 and they never looked back.  The team finished above .500 with a winning record but they were never really in the race.

The team prepared for the 1985 season by splashing into the free agent market and signing Fred Lynn, Don Aase and Lee Lacy.  It was a disaster.  The pitching was no longer strong. Murray and Ripken continued to excel but the minor league system was failing and Altobelli was gone before mid season.  He was replaced by Weaver who had the team a game above .500 the rest of the season but they were far out of the race.  1986 was no better and Weaver retired again at the end of the year.

1987 saw Cal Ripken Sr take over as manager but he took over a poor team. The team barely avoided losing 100 games and Williams promised everyone that Senior would be given a chance to manage a good team.  The promise didn't last long.  The O's lost their first six games of 1988 and Senior was replaced by Frank Robinson.  It didn't make a difference.  The team started 0-21 and the once proud organization was now a joke.  The end of the year saw Eddie Murray leave the team and Cal was the lone star on the team.

This period (1984-1988) is looked at as the darkest period of Orioles baseball but Cal had plenty of company in suffering.  Although Senior was no longer managing he was eventually brought back as a coach.  Also joining the Orioles family was Cal's brother Billy, starting in 1987.  The brothers made the first brothers double play combo but the family similarities were limited.  Given unrealistic expectations because of his brothers success Billy was viewed by some as a disappointment. Billy was a very good second baseman and good hitter but he was not Cal.  For whatever reason many in Baltimore judged Billy by Cal's standard which did not allow Billy to create his own standard.

1989 saw the Orioles flying high for most of the season in an almost complete turn around from the year before.  They spent most of the year in first place but faltered near the end and lost the division in the final weekend when Toronto passed the team.  Ripken had another very good year (and had help from young players like Craig Worthington, Brady Anderson, Randy Milligan and Sam Horn) but as the team faltered Cal's offense did as well and the blame was placed on Cal.  The year would start a new rivalry in the American League East as the Orioles and Blue Jays would fight back and forth for the next few years with the Blue Jays always coming out ahead.

Through all of this Cal continued to perform at a high level. He made the All Star team every season beginning in 1983.  He set records for most consecutive 20+ Home Run seasons by a short stop. He set a record for most consecutive errorless chances and most consecutive errorless games.  In fact in 1990 he made only three errors all year.  Still, his defense was overlooked. Despite the records he did not win his first Gold Glove until 1991.

Controversial MVP
Cal started the 1991 season on a hot streak.  Often a hot start to a season will fall off by the end of April.  Cal continued and by the All Star Break he was leading the league in most categories.  He would end the year with career highs in Home Runs, RBI and batting average and would win his second MVP.  The other MVP candidate was Cecil Fielder of the Tigers who had returned from a few years in Japan to hit 44 Home Runs and help the Tigers contend for the AL East title.  The Orioles, on the other hand, despite Cal's huge numbers ended near the bottom of the division.  Fielder was understandably frustrated.  He had hit 51 Home Runs the year before and was told he didn't win the MVP because he didn't play for a contender. His second year above 40 HR and he was beaten out for MVP by a player whose team never came close to contention.  It was disturbing to some.  The controversy led to debate over what the Most Valuable Player award meant.  Was it the best player of the year or was it the player who most helped his team win?  It is a debate that still rages.  Regardless the voting was in and Cal won his second MVP.

The Streak
Around the same time people started to notice that Cal had not taken a day off for quite some time.  He had already set a record for most consecutive innings played but that streak had been broken when Senior had replaced Cal in a game with Ron Washington breaking that streak.  Still, since the day he sat out following the beaning by Mike Moore in Seattle he had not missed another game.  In 1989 he passed Steve Garvey for third all time. In 1990 he passed Everett Scott for second all time.  The only name ahead was still years away.  Lou Gehrig's 2130 was the top number.

The focus on the streak came from external forces.  Cal just showed up every day ready to play.  As the years went on team mates and managers came and went.  Cal was the one continuing piece of the Orioles.  He kept showing up to play and the team started to turn around.  With young pitchers like Mike Mussina, Ben McDonald and Bob Milacki the Orioles started to improve.  They were not far out of first in 1994 when the league shut down.  The streak was in serious danger when the league threatened to use replacement players if the strike was not settled.  There was talk that Cal would be given special approval to cross the picket line.  He refused.  The league did not use replacement players for regular season games and the streak survived.

1995 was a tough time for baseball.  Fans were angry over the strike and many did not return to watch baseball but in late September of 1995 Ripken proved why this is a great game.  In playing in his 2131st consecutive game, the Orioles celebrated his achievement and Cal humbly celebrated his team mates and the game.

The Orioles continued to improve their team for 1996 bringing in players like Bobby Bonillia, Rafael Palmeiro, Roberto Alomar and David Wells.  The team made the playoffs as a Wild Card in 1996, their first appearance since the 1983 World Series team.  In the first round they shocked the Cleveland Indians and looked like an even match for the Yankees in the ALCS.  That was until a young boy named Jeffrey Maier changed the course of the series when he reached over the wall in center field and turned a fly ball out into a series changing Home Run.

The following year the Orioles came back with a vengeance.  The  team led the American League East from the very first day to the very last day and easily moved through Seattle in the ALDS.  Facing the Indians in the ALCS they looked set to move easily on to the World Series but when the Indians took games 2 and 3 in heartbreaking fashion the Orioles went home devastated.

The Retirement
After the 1997 season manager Davey Johnson had a dispute with owner Peter Angelos and decided he would rather manage the Dodgers than the Orioles and he left the team.  Though the team was not changed much the results were dramatically different.  The team struggled all year and major changes were in store for the next year.

Chris Hoiles, Roberto Alomar and Rafael Palmeiro were gone.  They were replaced with Will Clark, Delino Deshields, Charles Johnson and Albert Belle.  The team was a bigger disaster than the year before.  The team had gone from old to older and got no results.  It was clear that the team would need to rebuild.  Cal continued to play every day until the end of the 1998 season.  He sat out on September 20, 1998 ending a streak that had lasted 16 years.

Cal was still respected  as one of the greats of all time but with young shortstops like Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Nomar Garciapara in the game Cal was being looked on as a man past his prime.  Most of the league saw that Cal's 1982 move to shortstop and the success of Weaver's experiment had opened the door for the current generation of Short Stops.

Cal played through the 2000 season but back problems slowed his results.  He announced that 2001 would be his final year and when Tony Gwynn announced the same, the league paid tribute to two of the best players anyone had ever seen.  Both went out with respectable numbers in their final season but no where near the numbers they provided in their prime.

The Legend
Junior walked away from the game on October 6, 2001.  When all was said and done he had won a Rookie of the Year, two MVP awards, played in 19 All Star Games, won two Gold Glove awards and eight Silver Sluggers.  Cal finished his career with over  3000 hits and over 400 Home Runs.  In 2007, in his first year of eligibility, Calvin Edwin Ripken, Jr was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.  He appeared on 98.5 % of the ballots.

*This is not intended as a full biography and due to space I have done my best to summarize the life of the players in this series.  For further information on Cal Ripken please check out:

Ken Burns Baseball
Baltimore Orioles Legends- Cal Ripken Jr Collectors Edition'
Major League Baseball Memorable Moments: 30 Most Memorable Moments in Baseball History


Extra Innings by Frank Robinson
Play Baseball the Ripken Way: The Complete Illustrated Guide to the Fundamentals  by Cal Ripken Jr, Billy Ripken and Larry Burke
The Only Way I Know by Cal Ripken
Oriole Magic:  The O's of 1983 by Thom Loverro
The Baltimore Orioles: Four Decades of Magic from 33rd Street to Camden Yards by Ted Patterson
Inside the Baseball Hall of Fame by National Baseball Hall of Fame
The National Baseball Hall of Fame Almanac (2013 Edition) by Baseball America

During his career Billy Ripken hit 20 Home Runs.  Cal hit 431 career Home Runs giving them a combined 451 Home Runs.  What brother combination holds the record for most Home Runs hit by brothers?

Answer to Last Week's Question:
Johnny Bench had a television show that aired in syndication for several years.  The show used Major League stars to teach the fundamentals of baseball to kids.  Guest stars included Pete Rose, Sparky Anderson and Ozzie Smith among many others.  The show was named "Baseball Bunch".

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Players I Love More Than I Should: Second Base Joe Morgan

More than 18,000 players have appeared in Major League Baseball games since the start of the league.  Some players have short careers that last one at bat or one appearance in the field.  Others have 20+ year careers.  As I read more and more about baseball history there are certain players I find myself enjoying reading about more than others.  It is obviously illogical since many of them retired, or in some cases passed away, long before I was even born.  I have no first hand experience in watching them play but for whatever reason their personalities and perseverance strikes me above and beyond the other players I read about.  Over the next few weeks I will be giving you short biographical histories*of some of these players.  Some of them will be Hall of Fame players.  Some of them will be players only casual fans may know.  Regardless, I chose one player from each position for this series to explore.  This week we will explore the Second Baseman  I chose for the series: Joe Morgan.

In last week's article about Hank Greenberg I told you I felt that he may be one of the most under rated players of all time.  I say this because when I hear people mention the all time great players I almost never hear his name dropped in the conversations.  The focus of this week's  article can probably be put into that category as well.  Only 19 second basemen have reached the Hall of Fame.  When you list the top at this position of all time Napoleon Lajoie, Frankie Frisch, Rogers Hornsby and Eddie Collins are the names that usually are mentioned.  Ryne Sandberg and Roberto Alomar are the more recently named.  There is one name that I rarely hear mentioned as the greatest 2B of all time and it is honestly sad that he does not get more attention. Not only was he a great fielder and a great hitter, he has become one of the great statesmen of the game.

Early Years
Joe Morgan was born in Bonham, TX in 1943.  Growing up in the south in the 1940's was not the easiest thing in the world and Joe's family moved west to the Oakland area.  Joe's father, a former semi-pro baseball player, taught Joe everything he had learned himself and Joe worked harder than anyone else.  His efforts paid off as he was scouted as a high school baseball player at Castlemont High School in Oakland.  Morgan was not your average major league player.  He was smaller than most.  He didn't "look" like a ball player.  That was until you had watched him play and then you wondered why you had ever doubted he could play.  On November 1, 1962, just shortly after the end of their first year in existence, the Houston Colt .45's took a chance on the little guy.  Joe started at the Class A Durham Bulls in 1963 and played 95 games there.  He hit .322 with 13 Home Runs before being shifted to the Modesto Colts of Class A.  By the end of the year he was moved up to the big league club for some major league experience.  He got little experience, only 8 games at the end of the year but in those 8 games he got six hits (including a triple), scored 5 runs and drove in 6.  He went back to the minors for 1964 and played 140 games for the Texas League San Antonio Bullets.  Morgan definitely impressed the Colt .45's with 47 steals and 113 runs scored while driving in 90 with a .323 average.  Again with a late season call up Little Joe got into a few games but had less success.  Nevertheless, it was clear this kid was good and he was better than anything the Colt .45's had.

Growing up in Houston
The Colt .45's had a new look for 1965.  First of all they were now the Houston Astros so new uniforms were in order.  The new stadium was open now, the Astrodome, and Colt Park was empty.  Most importantly, there were new players.  The starting second baseman was now Joe Morgan, replacing an aging Nellie Fox.  Fox knew he was on his way out and did what he could to help Morgan.  He even helped Morgan gain his most memorable trait, "the chicken wing".  The story goes that Morgan had trouble keeping his elbow down so Fox told him to flap it as a reminder. What developed was what appeared to be an involuntary twitch of the back hitting elbow.  Whatever it was it seemed to work for Joe.  Morgan worked hard and gained success in a bad situation.  The Astros were bad but Joe had a tremendous rookie year finishing second (behind Jim Lefebvre of the Dodgers) in the Rookie of the Year voting.  His strong performance continued in 1966 and 1967 (representing Houston in the All Star Game) but in 1968 disaster struck.  As he was trying to turn a double play he received a rolling block by Tommie Agee that destroyed his knee.  He played only 10 games that year.  He struggled a bit in 1969 as the league moved to division play but in 1970 he came back stronger than ever and again represented the Astros in the All Star Game.  It was clear that Joe would be a star if he played for a team that was not ignored by the major media.  At the time the Astros were almost irrelevant.  If that was not bad enough, his manager, Harry Walker hated him.  He called Morgan a trouble maker and labelled him as a problem.  It is unclear what exactly Joe did that would cause Walker to form this opinion.  Many have suggested it was a race issue and it is one possible reason.  Walker, brother of former Dodgers Outfielder Dixie Walker who had started the petition to keep Jackie Robinson out of baseball, grew up in the deep south.  Former Cardinals First Baseman Bill White told stories about Walker's racist attitude while playing with the Cardinals, however, also said that in later life Walker was a close friend and grew as a person.  In Jim Bouton's book "Ball Four" he often references the positive attitude of the club in that 1969 season and mentions Joe Morgan as a part of that attitude so it is odd that Walker would feel so different. Whatever it was,  it led to a disaster for the Astros and glory for another organization.

Driving The Machine
Some trades don't reveal all levels of the impact until years later.  For the Astros it should have been clear immediately.  This one was bad.  The Cincinnati Reds were a successful organization throughout the history of the National League.  As recently as 1970 they had reached the World Series only to be swept by the Orioles.  They were close to something big.  Sparky Anderson could feel it.  They just needed a little bit more. So on November 29, 1971 the Reds sent three key pieces (Lee May, Tommy Helms and Jimmy Stewart) of their near championship team to Houston.  In return they received Ed Armbrister, Jack Billingham, Cesar Geronimo, Dennis Menke and Joe Morgan.  Moving Helms and May opened up the entire right side of the infield so Tony Perez (who had played third base in 1971) moved to first and Joe took over at second.  With Johnny Bench behind the plate and Dave Concepcion at shortstop the legendary machine was beginning to assemble pieces.  The 1972 season saw Joe represent Cincinnati in the All Star Game for the first time, finish 4th in MVP voting and reach the playoffs for the first time.  It was not the best experience for him.  He did not hit the way he would prove he could in the future and the Reds fell to the A's in a seven game classic World Series.  This was Sparky Anderson's second World Series and second World Series loss.  The belief was that the Big Red Machine ran out of gas late in the year and that Sparky would never get a World Series title.

The 1973 season was very similar to 1972.  Morgan was an All Star, an MVP candidate (4th again), won a Gold Glove, the Reds reached the post season, Morgan struggled (he hit .100 in a five game series) and the machine failed to produce the big win.  It was frustrating for everyone involved.  Morgan played well again in 1974, establishing himself as the best second baseman in the game without doubt.  He was an All Star for the third straight year, Gold Glove winner for the second straight year, finished 8th in the MVP voting and established himself as one of the leaders on the club.  It was clear that Bench, Rose, Perez and Morgan were the leaders and Joe was the spark that got them all going.

Although Joe had established himself as the best second baseman in the game, 1975 saw him take a step above that.  His numbers had been great previously, and his passion and leadership spectacular, but no one was ready for the number he established.  Having never hit above .300 for a season, he hit .327. He walked over 100 times, stole 67 bases, scored over 100 and drove in over 90.  This was his year.  An All Star for the fourth straight year, Gold Glove winner for the third straight year and he helped drive one of the greatest teams in the history of the game.  Morgan was the clear MVP of the league.  The Reds ran away with the division, cruised through the Pirates and ran smack into the Red Sox.

Game 1 saw Luis Tiant retire 10 straight Red Sox before Joe knocked a single to center in the third.  He was balked to second but was stranded there.  With one out in the 6th Morgan doubled.  He was stuck there.  The Red Sox scored 6 runs in the 7th and went on to win the game 6-0, shocking the Reds.  Game 2 saw the Red Sox enter the 4th with a 1-0 lead.  Joe walked, took third on a Bench single and scored when Tony Perez grounded to short.  The Reds won but Morgan was shut down the rest of the day.  The third game was where all hell broke loose.  Morgan was 0-3 as the game entered the 10th, though he had hit a sacrifice fly.  Cesar Geronimo opened the 10th with a single.  Ed Armbrister pinch hit and laid down a bunt, tried to run to first as Carlton Fisk tried to field the ball and neither could get out of the others way.  Fisk threw wild to second allowing Geronimo to reach third, Armbrister to reach second and Pete Rose was walked intentionally to load the bases.  That's where Joe proved he was the MVP.  He lined a single scoring the winning run and the Reds were up 2-1.  Game 4 saw the Reds struggle against Tiant again and Morgan went 0-3 with two walks as the Sox tied up the series.  Game 5 saw the Reds seemingly take control of the series, though Joe had only one hit, a steal and scored a run.  Morgan scored on a three run Home Run by Perez.  In the infamous Carlton Fisk game (Game 6) Morgan had a hit but it meant little in the end as Fisk became a legend.  In the final game it was Joe's turn to become legend.  The Sox took a 3-0 lead in the 3rd and Sparky started updating his resume.  The Reds cut the lead to 3-2 in the 6th on a two run Tony Perez Home Run.  The Reds tied it in the 7th and it remained there until the top of the ninth.  Ken Griffey led off the inning with a walk.  Geronimo bunted him to second and pinch hitter Dan Driessen grounded to the right side, moving Griffey to 3rd.  Pete Rose walked and now it was time for Joe to do something.  He took a ball then missed two swings.  On the fourth pitch of the at bat the ball is down and away.  Most people would pop it up but Joe got it just where he needed to and the ball dropped in front of Fred Lynn for a single scoring Griffey and the Big Red Machine were World Champions.

1976 was even better for Joe.  He hit .320, drove in 111, hit 20 Home Runs, stole 60 and scored 116.  Again he represented the Reds in the All Star Game, again won a Gold Glove and again won the MVP.  No one would dare challenge him as the best second baseman in the game.  The Reds faced the young Phillies in the NLCS and although the Phillies had a young Mike Schmidt, Larry Bowa, Greg Luzinski and a dominant Steve Carlton, the Big Red Machine rolled over the team in three straight.

Their opponent in the 1976 World Series was the newly reborn Yankees led by Thurman Munson.  Game 1 of the Series moved to the bottom of the first and the Reds quickly had two outs.  Morgan stepped to the plate.  He took a called strike.  Watched three balls go by and stepped out of the box for a second.  He set himself back in the box, the wing started flapping and the fifth pitch of the at bat came in and it quickly went out.  The Reds led 1-0 and never looked back.  They took game 1 and kept rolling.  The Yankees had a great team but they were no match for the machine.  Joe kept hitting and helped the Reds greatly.  He had 5 hits and a .333 average for the series.  The star of the series was Johnny Bench who had 8 hits (including a double, triple and two Home Runs), 4 runs, 6 RBI and a .533 average for the series.

With the birth of free agency the face of the Reds started to change.  1977 and 1978 were still an All Star appearance for Joe and a Gold Glove but no MVP votes and no post season.  The Reds fell off the pace.  In 1979 they were right back on top in the NL West.  The Reds lost to the Pirates in three straight in the NLCS and Joe went hitless for the entire series.  It was his last appearance in a Reds uniform.

Short Lived Home Coming
He was granted free agency after 1979 and he returned to his roots in a way.  The Houston Astros had signed Nolan Ryan as a free agent and were looking to push for their first ever playoff appearance.  Joe was not the player he had been in the past.  His average fell below .250 and his stolen bases dropped to 24.  What Morgan brought to the Astros was more than just numbers.  He brought experience and he brought leadership.  The leadership of Morgan and Ryan helped get the Astros in the NLCS.  They pushed the eventual World Champion Phillies to the fifth game.  Morgan played in four of the five games and hit well.  Unfortunately, the Phils were too much and Morgan and the Astros went home disappointed.

Near Miss in the Bay
A free agent again Morgan moved on to the Giants.  His manager this time was the first African American manager, Frank Robinson.  Robinson pushed the general manager hard to sign Morgan along with the veteran Reggie Smith.  Morgan had received a big money offer to stay in Houston another year but he wanted to play for Frank.  "The thing about Frank is that he really hates to lose.  A lot of people hate to lose, but they don't really mean it.  Frank does."  Frank was just as excited to have Joe on his team.  Joe and Frank worked great together.  Joe was the leader in the clubhouse, the in between for the players and the manager.  1981 was a disaster for the league as the strike split the season.  Joe came back to the Giants for 1982.  He had a great season. He even made an impact on the Giants-Dodgers rivalry when he hit a Home Run on the last day of the 1982 season to knock the Dodgers out of the playoffs.  In the off season Frank Robinson was blindsided when he found out his second baseman and best relief pitcher, Al Holland had been traded to the Phillies for relief pitchers Mark Davis and Mike Krukow.

If You've Already Beat Them, Join Them
The 1983 Phillies were at the end of the most successful period of the team's long history at that time.  Pete Rose, Steve Carlton and Mike Schmidt were aging.  Manny Trillo, Larry Bowa and Greg Luzinski were gone.  Tony Perez and Joe Morgan were here now.  The press dubbed them the "Wheeze Kids" or the "Over the Hill Gang".  Three key pieces of the Big Red Machine were all together for one more run at a title.  For the better part of the season it looked like the Expos would run away with the pennant but the Phillies got hot in September.  The leader of the charge was Morgan who led the Phillies into the playoffs.  He struggled in the NLCS and the World Series as the Phillies lost to the Orioles in the World Series.

Final Lap Around the Bay
Confident that Juan Samuel would be their second baseman of the future, the Phillies released Morgan at the end of the 1983 season. Since he was no longer needed in Philadelphia, he went home.  He signed a one year deal in Oakland to play for the team in his old home town.  The A's were going through a rebuilding phase and although Morgan played in 116 games it was clear his career was at an end.  Morgan retired at the end of the year.  He retired as the greatest second baseman the game has seen.

Baseball Genius
Morgan began his broadcasting career almost immediately after retirement. He broadcast local games for the Reds, A's and Giants for years as well as broadcasting for ESPN, ABC and NBC.  Morgan was well respected for many years and has a strong opinion of how the game should be played. Unfortunately, Morgan's opinions were in stark contrast to the current theories of SABRmetrics. Morgan strongly criticised Moneyball, SABRmetrics and the over use of statistics. Because SABRmetrics are so strongly entrenched in the game now, people took strong offense.  Instead of realizing that Morgan's theory of the game was just as valid as theirs, people started a campaign to fire Morgan from broadcasting.  Morgan's argument was not that statistics are useless.  His argument was that they are not a substitute for watching what is actually happening in front of you.  Morgan currently hosts a sports talk show where he interviews players from all walks of life.

*This is not intended as a full biography and due to space I have done my best to summarize the life of the players in this series.  For further information on Joe Morgan please check out:
Ken Burns Baseball
The Cincinnati Reds 1975 World Series Collector Edition


Ball Four by Jim Bouton
The Summer Game by Roger Angell
Four Seasons by Roger Angell
Swinging '73: Baseball's Wildest Season. By Matthew Silverman
The Machine: A Hot Team, A Legendary Season and a Heart Stopping World Series: The Story of the 1975 Cincinnati Reds  By Joe Posnanski
The Long Ball: The Summer of '75-Spaceman, Catfish, Charlie Hustle and the Greatest World Series Ever Played by Tom Adelman
Occasional Glory: The History of the Philadelphia Phillies by David M. Jordan
Phillies Encyclopedia by Rich Westcott, Frank Bilovsky and Foreward by Harry Kalas
Extra Innings by Frank Robinson
Inside the Baseball Hall of Fame by National Baseball Hall of Fame
National Baseball Hall of Fame Almanac (2013 Edition)  By Baseball America

Joe Morgan was the MVP of the Reds but Johnny Bench was the media darling of the team.  Bench was so popular that he was even given a television show which aired from 1982-1985.   What was the name of the show?

Answer to Last Week's Question:
Bing Crosby was part owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates when they won the 1960 World Series. His partner in the movie White Christmas, Danny Kaye, was one of the original owners of the Seattle Mariners.  Crosby's long time partner Bob Hope was a partial owner of the Cleveland Indians.  In the 6th season of I Love Lucy (1956) Bob Hope showed up as the owner of the Cleveland Indians.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Players I Love More Than I Should: First Base Hank Greenberg

Don't forget to check out the first article in this series of player profiles:  Yogi Berra.

More than 18,000 players have appeared in Major League Baseball games since the start of the league.  Some players have short careers that last one at bat or one appearance in the field.  Others have 20+ year careers.  As I read more and more about baseball history there are certain players I find myself enjoying reading about more than others.  It is obviously illogical since many of them retired, or in some cases passed away, long before I was even born.  I have no first hand experience in watching them play but for whatever reason their personalities and perseverance strikes me above and beyond the other players I read about.  Over the next few weeks I will be giving you short biographical histories*of some of these players.  Some of them will be Hall of Fame players.  Some of them will be players only casual fans may know.  Regardless, I chose one player from each position for this series to explore.  This week we will explore the First Baseman  I chose for the series, the one that my regular readers probably knew was coming: Hank Greenberg.

Hank Greenberg suffered through some horrible moments in his career.  Every moment was a struggle.  Even his most noble and lasting action was torn apart by a press that found reasons not to like him. Some have said this is the normal territory heroes tread, however, the general consensus was that Hank suffered quite a bit more because of his Jewish heritage.  After all of that Greenberg remains one of the most under rated players in the history of baseball and one of my favorite baseball figures.

Early Days in New York
The Philadelphia Athletics were still riding high on their World Series Championship on New Year's Eve 1910-1911.  While they were celebrating Sarah Greenberg was ensuring the future of baseball.  Five minutes into the new year Sarah Greenberg gave birth to Henry Benjamin Greenberg.  The Greenbergs were Romanian immigrants who settled in the Greenwich Village section of New York.  The same Greenwich Village that would give birth to the career of Bob Dylan decades later. Similar to the story of Yogi Berra, Hank's father could not comprehend what good could come out of playing ball.  Hank didn't care.  It was all he thought of.  He would spend all day at the ball field.  No matter what time of year.  Regardless of snow, rain, cold.  Hank focused on all aspects of his game.  Fielding, hitting, even sliding.  He built himself a sliding pit to work on sliding like the major leaguers he read about in the papers.  He was a great athlete all around.  Tall for his age, he excelled at basketball.  As a freshman in high school Greenberg made the varsity baseball team.  His biggest problem was also his biggest attribute.  He was a perfectionist.  When he wasn't perfect he would get down on himself.  If he struck out, didn't advance a runner, missed a shot, committed a dumb foul or made any normal everyday mistake he would get angry and frustrated.  Then he would use that frustration to push himself harder.  Like all young boys Hank wanted to be a Major League Baseball player.  He was also aware of how difficult it was.  Hank would spend hours with the neighborhood kids hitting balls until it was too dark to see anymore.  His High School Basketball coach would later say "Hank never played games, he worked at them.  He was not the natural athlete."  Sharing that field with the kids was a local Irish policeman named Pat McDonald, who was also an Olympic Hammer Tosser.  They shared the same field and the local kids were terrified of him.  Often he would wind up to practice a hammer toss and would see one of those damn punks out of the corner of his eye and have to stop his throw.  One day he saw Hank as they were both leaving the park and called him over.  Hank froze.  Terrified.  This was not only a policeman, he was a very very large man.  Hank approached him with caution: "Young man, I just came from watching the Yankees play and, by god, you can hit a ball better than Lou Gehrig."  A compliment telling Hank he hit better than the man he idolized, especially coming from the man he called his mortal enemy, made Hank even more determined to be a big league ballplayer.

Playing for the Home Town Team?
Paul Krichell had been a scout for the Yankees for years.  He had discovered Lou Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri and would later discover Phil Rizzuto and Whitey Ford.  Greenberg's high school teammate Rudy Herzog caught Krichell's attention.  Krichell went to the game to scout Herzog.  Instead he saw something he had least expected.  A tall first baseman.  So tall and gangly it almost didn't make sense that he could have the coordination to swing a bat.  Krichell liked what he saw but didn't say anything.  He couldn't risk tipping anyone off to this amazing find.  When he saw Lou Gehrig he had told the Yankees he had found another Babe Ruth.  He may very well have told them now that he had found another Lou Gehrig.  Krichell started to scout Greenberg.  He and Hank went to see a game together.  Hank asked the obvious question.  If you have Gehrig why do you want a first baseman.  Krichell quietly told Greenberg that Gehrig was washed up.  "In a few years you'll be the Yankees' First Baseman."  Greenberg knew better.  He hoped to play for the Giants but he was getting offers from the Pirates, Nationals and others as well.  Hank wanted to test his skills so he was able to line up some work as a semi-pro player, thanks to the help of Tigers scout Jean Dubuc.  This small bit of help gave the Tigers the inside track and in September 1929 Greenberg  signed with the Tigers for $9000 ($3000 for the season and $6000 signing bonus) with the caveat that Hank be allowed to attend college for four years and join the Tigers after the school year and full time after four years.  A great student, Hank had a scholarship to attend NYU.  Krichell upped his offer to $10,000 but Hank knew he would be stuck behind Lou Gehrig and knew he would never reach the big leagues.  "That was the primary reason I signed with Detroit.  It certainly was not the glamour of playing in Detroit, since I knew nothing about the town, nothing about the ballpark...It was my good fortune to sign with the Tigers because the Detroit ballpark turned out to be perfect for a right handed hitter and Detroit was a great baseball town.

The Long Road to Detroit
Greeneberg's father, although happy with the extra income that the Tiger's contract added to the household, still had doubts about Hank's future.  He was worried that Hank would be done in a year or two and have no fall back.  He insisted that Hank go to college.  Hank agreed.  So did the Tigers.    "My contract with the Tigers had a provision that I wouldn't be farmed out any lower than AAA ball.  But the Tigers permitted me to join them at Spring Training."  Articles in Detroit started to pop up about the prospect at First base but when the season started, instead of heading back north for school, Greenberg was sent to the A Ball affiliate in Newark.  Following in Gehrig's steps, Greenberg tried to fill the shoes that Gehrig had left when he had played in Newark for the Yankees.  Greenberg waived the AAA level clause and got started.  A young Jewish kid, far from home with great pressure and expectations for the first time Hank struggled and was optioned to Level C ball in Raleigh, NC.  The south was not the most welcome place for a Jewish kid at the time and Hank felt more awkward and out of place.  He continued to struggle and was hitting .151 when a pitcher on the team started to point out that he was hitting .155.  The taunt ignited the competitive fire in Greenberg and got him hitting.  Greenberg played 122 games for the 1930 Raleigh team and hit a total of 19 Home Runs with a .314 average.  Not bad for a young kid who was supposed to be in college. His numbers were enough to get him called up at the end of the season and get some big league experience.  "I got in one game as a pinch hitter against the Yankees in a game that was hopelessly lost.  The pitcher was Red Ruffing and I was as good as out before I even reached the plate."  Expecting to get some sort of playing time, Hank sat on the bench for the rest of the year.  Growing more and more frustrated with every inning he was inactive, Hank could not wait for the end of the year.  Finally in the bottom of the eighth inning of the last game of the year, Greenberg was told it was his chance.  Standing up he hit his head on the roof of the dugout.  Frustrated, self-conscious and now embarrassed Hank yelled out "I'm not going to play for this team." and stormed out.  As a 19 year old kid Hank did not look long term.  When he was sent to Spring Training 1931 he was designated a B League player, Hank then tried to invoke the clause requiring him to be at AAA or higher.  Tiger Owner Frank Navin was not someone to be trifled with.  Navin told Hank in a letter:  "You were given a $9000 bonus to sign with the understanding you were to go to college for four years and play baseball in college...Instead you cut the four years entirely....we took you to Detroit so you could get acquainted with Major League surroundings and not play ball, thinking it might help you." The stay in B League with Beaumont lasted only 3 games.  He was dropped lower to the III league and played the year at Evanston, IN hitting .318 with 15 HR.  The next year he played the whole year in Beaumont.  Greenberg often tried to downplay the anti semitism he faced.  In one game he collided on the base paths with Zeke Bonura, an opposing first baseman.  There was a near riot over a Jewish man colliding with a white man.  Extra security was ordered for the next day.  Despite the challenges, Hank hit 81 extra base hits (including 39 Home Runs) and hit .290 in his full year in Beaumont.  With these numbers he would never need to spend another day below AAA.

The Climb to the Near Top
The Tigers organization was not in the best of shape compared to other organizations when Hank joined them in 1933.  Although the days of Cobb, Crawford, Schaeffer and Jennings were not that far in the past, the team had not reached a World Series since 1909.  The team was not terrible but it was usually a 6th place team and out of contention.  1933 was no different, except that the future looked bright.  The team had slowly brought in young players like Gehringer, Owen, Rogell, Jo-Jo White (nicknamed because of his distinct way of telling people he was from Georgia), Auker, Rowe and of course Hank.  The team finished fifth in 1933, behind Joe Cronin and his Washington "Wrecking Crew".  Hank had a solid rookie year.  He hit .301, drove in 87 but hit only 12 Home Runs.  The Tigers saw that the youth would serve them well.  What they needed was some veteran leadership.  They found a way to deal for it (which was closer to stealing it).  On 12/12/1933 they traded Catcher Johnny Pasek and $100,000 to Connie Mack's A's and in return they got one of the greatest Catchers in history in his prime: Mickey Cochrane.  (Cochrane was so popular that a coal miner in Oklahoma, nicknamed Mutt, would name his son Mickey after the Catcher.  Cochrane's namesake would go on to become the legendary Yankee who replaced Joe DiMaggio in center field.  You might have heard the name Mickey Mantle once or twice.)  The Tigers weren't done.  Coming off their World Series appearance the Senators Clark Griffith could not afford to give raises to the players who had earned them.  The result was he traded Goose Goslin to the Tigers for outfielder John Stone.  The Tigers were now solid everywhere.  With Cochrane in the lead and Greenberg in the clean up spot, the Tigers roared in 1934.  The '34 Tigers started fast but by May 10 they had fallen to 6th.  Hank was hitting only .226 but things were about to change  As the Yankees learned what life would be like without Ruth and the Senators struggled to replicate their magical pennant of the previous year, the G-Men (Greenberg, Gehringer and Goslin) started an assault and Schoolboy Rowe, Eldon Auker and Tommy Bridges blew people away from the mound.  The Tigers climbed to the top and clawed their way to the American League pennant.  Greenberg became a beloved player in Detroit based on this year alone.  He hit .339, hit 63 doubles and 26 Home Runs and drove in 139 RBI. The Tigers faced the famous "Gashouse Gang" Cardinals in the World Series and Hank was taunted terribly by the Cardinals, most viciously by Dizzy Dean.  Dean repeatedly yelled to Hank "Hey Mose" referring to his Jewish heritage.  Dean yelled to another Cardinal pitcher "Throw him a pork chop.  He can't touch it."  Hank struggled in the series and was devastated by the disappointment.  Dean even yelled to him  "Hey Mose, come on into our clubhouse and get your meal money. You're the best player we got."  The series went seven games, although the Cardinals routed the Tigers in a feisty game 7.  The Tigers were angry at the loss.

Reaching the Top and Becoming a Hero
During the 1934 pennant race, which was still tight at the time, Hank had to make a serious decision.  The baseball season, designed decades before, did not take into consideration any holidays.  Baseball was non-denominational in theory.  In 1934 the Tigers needed Hank for every game and every at bat.  Hank had to make a choice of his own.  With his team in a pennant race the Jewish Holiday of Rosh Hashanah approached.  Uncertain of how to approach the problem, Hank played on a holiday when all are supposed to rest and reflect.  The controversy erupted.  How could he be a Jewish hero when he defied his religion.  Rabbi's around the country defended him but his parents were furious.  Even worse, the holiest holiday, Yom Kipur, was quickly approaching.  Hank had little to think about.  While he could defend playing on Rosh Hashanah there was no wiggle room on this.  He sat out.  His teammates were worried but they respected his decision.  Hank's decision was heralded and he set the standard for all who followed.

Hank made 1935 his own personal answer to the taunting of Dean from the previous year's World Series.  Greenberg won his first MVP award hitting 46 doubles, 36 Home Runs, driving in an amazing 170 and hitting .339.  In July Hank was on pace to match Babe Ruth's Home Run record but his focus was always Lou Gehrig and the RBI record.  His 170 was well better than anyone in the league.  He put up tremendous numbers.  Even better, the Tigers won the AL pennant again.  Their opponents this year were the Chicago Cubs.  Hank again suffered torment from the NL bench.  "They were all on me with 'Jew this' and 'Jew that'."  It got bad enough that umpire George Moriarty stopped the game and told the Cubs to stop.  Cubs first baseman Phil Cavaretta remembered "the language was pretty rough.  Detroit was on some of our players.  We tried to retaliate."  Cavaretta does not appear to have joined in the yelling though he did say some of the things that were said should never be printed.  Greenberg hit a Home Run in Game 2 and was hit by a pitch his next time up.  While on first base, Charlie Gehringer lined a base hit and Greenberg decided he would score no matter what.  He hit third and turned for home.  Waiting at the plate was Gabby Hartnett with the ball and when the two collided Greenberg broke his wrist.  It swelled up over night and he was done for the series.  He watched from the bench as the Tigers won their first World Series.

The next season was a disaster as well.  In the 12th game of the year, a collision at first base was all it took to break the same wrist and make the year a wash.  Hank trained hard, harder than ever if possible, and came back with a vengeance.  Always a fan of Gehrig, Greenberg held himself  to the Iron Horse's standards.  Greenberg idolized Gehrig and loved the chance to play with him.  Both naturally shy men, Greenberg would always say hello to Gehrig when they traded positions at first base.  Gehrig never responded.  Feeling shunned Greenberg stopped saying hello.  The next inning Gehrig asked him "You didn't say hello to me last inning.  Are you mad at me?"  In 1937, Greenberg did more than say hello to Gehrig's record 184 RBI for a season.  He chased, it clawed at it, fought it and craved it all year.  He ended the year with 183 RBI and 40 Home Runs.  "1937 was, personally, my best year.  I say this because ballplayers appreciate that runs batted in are all that's important to a ball club."  He was just warming up because 1938 would be Hank's big year.

It was clear by now that Hank was head and shoulders (literally) above every other first baseman and maybe every player in general.  With the exception of DiMaggio there were few who could challenge him.  1938 would prove it.  It quickly became clear that Hank was ahead of Babe Ruth's single season Home Run pace and as the summer moved on the press started to believe that someone might actually be capable of catching the Babe.  The pressure Hank felt was comparable to the pressure that Maris would face in 1961 but the attention was possibly even more focused.  In the era when nicknames were a must Hank's Home Runs gained him the nickname of "Hammerin' Hank".  In Detroit at the time two of the biggest personalities were Henry Ford and Father Charles Coughlan.  Ford was allegedly an Anti-Semite and Coughlan was vocally an anti-Semite.  In one of the most ironic twists of fate, the two were Tigers fans meaning they were cheering for the "Hebrew Hammer", another of the many nicknames Greenberg was given.  Hank certainly faced attention for his religion.  "Ben Chapman played for the Yankees.  He was a genuine Jew-baiter.  Whenever he would have a bad day in the outfield the Jews at Yankee Stadium would get after him because he had made remarks about Jews...I knew and still know that men like Ben Chapman, and there were a lot of them, hated my guts and resented my success all the more because I am a Jew."  As the year progressed Hank kept pace with the Babe.  On August 1 he was still ahead of the pace and the attention became more intense.  The reaction was various.  Some were elated.  Some were angry.  Some were skeptical.  Some thought he could do it because he was just too damned good not to.  Some thought he couldn't because the anti-Semitic pitchers in the league wouldn't give him the chance (he would walk a carer high 119 times).  "What if I do break it?  It will be just like the guys who flew the Atlantic after Lindbergh.  The Babe was the first to do it."   At the end of August he had 46.  Still ahead of Ruth.  An early September slump put him slightly behind but not out of it.  He kept hitting and was followed closely by Jimmy Foxx for most of the year.  There has always been a theory that pitchers were avoiding the plate with Hank because he was Jewish.  Hank never felt so.  He felt that the pressure on him was equally on the pitchers.  They didn't want to walk him but the nerves caused them to miss the plate.  He also felt that having young players called up for the end of the season hurt.  He felt some off these pitchers were wild and unused to the focus.  The numbers show that in the last month of the year, as he chased the record, he walked 28 times.  In the earlier months of the season, well before the focus of the race was intense, he walked 20-23 times per month.  Not much more.  In the end the dramatic chase ended with 58 Home Runs, two shy of Ruth.  Despite all that, the Tigers would finish in 4th and Mickey Cochrane would lose his job.

1939 was worse, with a fifth place finish.  The Tigers needed something to change their fortunes.  They approached Hank Greenberg, one of the best players in the game,  with the idea of switching positions.  How would the player feel about moving to Left Field.  Left Field?  The Tigers wanted young first baseman Rudy York to take over there and the Tigers could not afford to lose Hank's production.  So Hank did it.  What Michael Young has been lauded for doing when he helped the Rangers by switching positions to help the team, Greenberg did in the 1940 season.  How did he do?  He led the league with 50 doubles, 41 Home Runs and 150 RBI.  He also scored 129 and hit .340.  He won his second MVP (the first player to win an MVP at two different positions) and led the Tigers to the World Series.  The Tigers lost to the Reds in seven games.  "What a disappointed lot we were coming back from Cincinnati on that train, losing that final game after a long hard season."  With the continent of Europe engulfed in war and fears that the United States might be dragged into it, Greenberg registered for the draft on his way home to New York.  It would be an important part of his legacy.

War Time Hero
In January of 1941 Greenberg's draft number was called.  He was sent for a physical and, amazingly, he failed.  It was not yet war time and the army could still afford to be selective with who served.  The reason he didn't pass:  he had flat feet.  His poor arches were enough to have him disqualified from service.  There was an immediate and angry backlash.  While others were being sent for basic training a professional athlete, capable of winning an MVP, was not fit for wartime duty.  The assumption was that Greenberg had bought his way out of the army.  Greenberg voluntarily submitted himself for a second physical with another doctor and this time he passed.  After 12 games of the 1941 season Greenberg was off to the army.  This was still pre-Pearl Harbor so there was little chance of combat.  Hank put in his time and shortly after he was inducted a law was passed limiting the drafting age at 28.  Hank, at 30, would have been exempt.  On Friday, December 5, 1941 Hank was discharged from the army.  He returned to New York for a restful weekend.  It was a nice one day weekend.  Hank thought of how he would need to get back into playing shape and planned out his exercise routine.  Then Sunday everything changed.  December 7, 1941. Hank knew exactly what he needed to do.  "I'm going back in.  We are in trouble and there is only one thing to do - return to service.  I have not been called back.  I am going back of my own accord."  He was the first player to volunteer for service.  Hank was first stationed in Ft. Worth, TX.  His room mate during his stay there was none other than actor William Holden.

Not satisfied with remaining state side, Greenberg requested a transfer closer to the action.  He served in the air force and was stationed in India.  He saw little combat but was in several moments where he "didn't wonder whether or not I'd be able to return to baseball.  I was quite satisfied just to be alive."  On June 9, 1945 Greenberg was discharged he had now missed all of three seasons and parts of two others in the prime of his career.  Now he was trying to do what no one had done before.  Skip nearly five years and return at a high level of play.

The Hero Returns
Hank returned to the Tigers' lineup on July 1.  The Tigers had won the day before putting them a game and a half in front of the league.  With DiMaggio, Feller and Williams still in the service there was no reason for anyone to believe the Tigers couldn't stay there.  This was any one's year for the taking.  Greenberg took the field in left.  "In my first game back, on July 1, I came out in front of 55,000 people, the largest crowd of the year in Briggs Stadium.  Everybody was cheering like mad.  After four years in the service, the greeting was nice, but it didn't matter all that much to me.  I was just glad to be back alive.  I just went out there to do my job. I went right back out to left field.  We were playing Philadelphia in a double header and I hit a home run in the eighth inning of the first game."
Greenberg was able to play in 78 games that year and hit .311 with 13 Home Runs and 60 RBI.  His most important hit won the pennant.  With the pennant on the line and rain pouring down on the last day of the season Greenberg stepped to the plate and launched a Grand Slam to send the Tigers back to the fall classic.  Even better, the Tigers would face the Cubs.  While Hank had missed the end of the 1935 World Series against the Cubs because of his broken wrist, he was excited to get another chance.  Hank played well but he was blamed for allowing the series to reach the 7th game.  With runners on base Hank went to field a ball hit to left.  In an odd change of events, the type that would normally go against the Cubs, the ball hit a sprinkler head and bounced over Hank's head.  It led to a Cubs win and a Game 7.  What was worse, Hank injured his wrist again and it looked like he would miss the crucial game 7 again.  The Cubs had their MVP Hank Borowy, a new addition from the Yankees, on the mound for Game 7.  Greenberg went to batting practice once but really couldn't even grip the bat.  The Cubs didn't notice.  Maybe they were too entertained by the ruckus in the crowd.  Some crazy Cubs fan had brought a Billy Goat to the game and was arguing with security who were trying to escort him and the goat out.  The fan cursed the team and it seems to have taken effect immediately.  The Tigers started the game with three straight singles and a run.  That brought Hank to the plate with two on, no one out and a one run lead already.  This would be the time for the big man to swing away. The Cubs pulled the infield back hoping for just a fly ball at worst.  Instead Hank laid down a bunt.  Something no one saw coming and the Cubs seemed to unravel.  Four more runs and the Tigers' second World Series title followed and the Cubs have not been back to a World Series since.

Playing for Bing
Hank's 1946 season was a mixture of success.  He was able to play 142 games and hit 44 Home Runs but the team fell badly and Hank had only a .277 average.  With many of the older players like Gehringer, Auker and White gone it was time for the Tigers to rebuild.  They did what was unthinkable just a year and a half after the conquering hero returned.  They sold his contract to Pittsburgh for $75,000.  Hank would not dream of playing in Pittsburgh.  The team was a joke and what the hell did he know about National League pitchers, ball parks or umpires?  He was ready to retire.  The problem was the Pirates needed him.  The team had recently been purchased by, among others, Bing Crosby who owned 25% of the team.  The team had not been to a World Series since 1927 and had very few seasons where they were competitive.  When fans learned that the new ownership was willing to go out and get a player like Greenberg, the team sold $400,000 worth of advanced tickets.  The ownership begged him to play one more year.  Bing wrote him several letters begging him to play and the Pirates GM met with Hank repeatedly to talk him into it.  Fate has a way of putting people where they are needed most.  Hank agreed and it was a good thing he did.  This was Jackie Robinson's first season in the major leagues and when the Dodgers came to Pittsburgh for the first time several Pirates players tried to get to Jackie.  In a close play at first Hank and Jackie collided. It was not a dirty play by either.  It was just part of the game.  A little later as Hank covered first and Jackie was a base runner, Hank casually asked "I didn't get a chance to ask if you were hurt on that play."  Jackie said he was fine and Hank told him not to let the haters get to him.  He told him "keep your head up. You're doing fine."  Hank also invited Jackie to dinner after the game.  Jackie declined thinking it would put Hank in an awkward position but he let several people know how important that interaction was for him.  Hank's kindness came at the right time  Hank's kindness also helped mentor a young Ralph Kiner in the early part of his career.  The young Kiner was struggling and the Pirates were concerned he might not make it.  Greenberg had insisted on a clause in his contract that he not have a room mate on the road.  He waived that clause and took Kiner under his wing.  After one year in Pittsburgh Hank officially retired and had no idea what was next.

Moving on Up
Just as fate put Hank on first base to encourage Jackie, in the World Series that year fate sat him next to the man that would launch Hank on the second career of this life. He took his seat next to Bill Veeck, former owner of the St.Louis Browns and a man looking to take over a new team.  The two hit it off, had similar views on the game and when Veeck bought the Cleveland Indians he brought Hank along with him.  Hank started by running the farm system and moved up to General Manager.  While General Manager Hank shocked the Cleveland Press by firing fan favorite manager Lou Boudreau and hiring Al Lopez as the manager.  All Lopez did was lead the Indians to a World Series in 1954.

Veeck moved on and bought the Chicago White Sox and eventually brought Greenberg with him.  Hank, in turn, brought Lopez with him to Chicago and the team again reached a World Series, though they never won the whole thing.

Possible Owner
Many times at the winter meetings while Hank was the GM, the topic of shifting teams came up.  Hank made the suggestion that the league explore the west coast.  He was laughed at.  Clark Griffith, owner of the Washington Senators, told Hank "It's cold and it's damp out there."  Griffith had pitched in Portland in 1905 and had not been west since.  Griffith decided to move to Minnesota instead.  When the league was forced to expand in 1961 they were originally going to give a team to Washington (to replace the now Twins) and Toronto.  At the last minute Hank brought in some financial power and convinced the league that baseball in Southern California, competing with the NL Dodgers, would work.  The league looked at his plan and agreed.  Then his financial backers backed out and Hank was left without a team.  Instead Walt Disney convinced Gene Autry to buy into the team and the Los Angeles Angels were born.

The Toughest Fight
Hank was not broken up terribly about missing out on the team.  Greenberg had a great life.  He wisely invested his money. He had been elected into the Hall of Fame in 1956 (seriously, it took him nine years to make the Hall of Fame?), he was happily married, had a wonderful relationship with his kids and was happily retired.  Greenberg became known as a Jewish legend, an idol of the religious community, although he never truly identified with the Jewish religion.  He understood the good that came out of this connection but he never played up the fact that he was Jewish.  Because of the legendary status he had attained throughout the years he was approached by Ira Berkow to work on an autobiography that would eventually become "Hank Greenberg: The Story of My Life".  In 1985 Hank started to have some pains in his leg.  At first he ignored it but after a while decided to get it checked.  It was cancer and it was spreading.  Few knew that Hank was suffering.  He was notoriously a private person and he felt that this was something he could fight and beat.  Even Hammerin' Hank could not beat this.  On September 3, 1986 the Tigers finished a series with the Seattle Mariners. They blew a two run lead and lost when Ken Phelps hit a bottom of the ninth Home Run to defeat the Tigers.  Less than twelve hours later, at 8:50 A.M., the Tigers organization had an even bigger loss. Hank passed away on Thursday, September 4, 1986.  At his prayer service Walter Matthau, the great comedic actor, was one of the speakers.  He told his favorite story of Hank.  According to Matthau when Hank was in the army a drunken sailor was looking for a fight and felt he would pick an "easy target".  The sailor yelled out "Anybody here named Goldberg or Ginsburg? I'll kick the livin' daylights out of him."  Hank stood up, all 6'4 of him, and said "My name is Greenberg."  The sailor looked at him and thought about it for a second.  "I didn't say nothin' about Greenberg.  I said Goldberg or Ginsburg."  Hank had already told Matthau this story was false.  Matthau told him "I don't care, I'm going to continue to tell the story anyways."

*This is not intended as a full biography and due to space I have done my best to summarize the life of the players in this series.  For further information on Hank Greenberg please check out:

Ken Burns Baseball


Hank Greenberg: The Story of My Life By Hank Greenberg and Ira Berkow
Al Lopez: The Life of Baseball's El Senor  By Wes Singletary
Hank Greenberg: The Hero of Heroes by John Rosengren
Hammerin' Hank Greenberg: The Jewish Babe Ruth by Adam Pfeffer
Sleeper Cars and Flannel Uniforms: A Lifetime of Memories from Striking Out Babe Ruth to Teeing It Up With the President. by Elden Auer with Tom Keegan
The Gashouse Gang:  How Dizzy Dean, Leo Durocher, Branch Rickey, Pepper Martin and their Colorful, Come From Behind Ballclub Won the World Serie's and America's Heart During the Great Depression by John Heidenry
Mentioned in today's article was Bing Crosby's ownership of the Pittsburgh Pirtates.  Bing partnered with future Seattle Mariners owner Danny Kaye in the movie White Christmas but his more famous partner was Bob Hope.  Hope also owned a Major League team.  Who was it and on what classic television show did his ownership play a part in an episode plot?

Answer to Last Week's Trivia Question:
Congratulations to Hope on Answering Last Week's Question Correctly.
The Yankees have retired the number 8 twice.  Catcher Bill Dickey originally wore the number 10 in his rookie 1929 season.  From 1930-1946 he sat behind the plate with a number 8 on his back.  Yogi wore the number 38 for the 1946 season.  He then switched to number 35 for the 1947 season.  Beginning in 1948 Berra switched to to the number 8.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Players I love More Than I Should: Catcher Yogi Berra

More than 18,000 players have appeared in Major League Baseball games since the start of the league.  Some players have short careers that last one at bat or one appearance in the field.  Others have 20+ year careers.  As I read more and more about baseball history there are certain players I find myself enjoying reading about more than others.  It is obviously illogical since many of them retired, or in some cases passed away, long before I was even born.  I have no first hand experience in watching them play but for whatever reason their personalities and perseverance strikes me above and beyond the other players I read about.  Over the next few weeks I will be giving you short biographical histories*of some of these players.  Some of them will be Hall of Fame players.  Some of them will be players only casual fans may know.  Regardless, I chose one player from each position for this series to explore.  Starting this week we will explore the Catcher that always makes everyone smile, Yogi Berra.

"He seemed to be doing everything wrong, yet everything came out right.  He stopped everything behind the plate and he hit everything in front of it"

When Mel Ott gives you a compliment like that you must be doing something right.  The problem with being a legend is that your actual accomplishments get blurred.  The worst part about being a legend in the Yogi Berra mold is that your accomplishments get ignored.  The name Yogi Berra is synonymous with funny sayings and a goofy personality, yet Yogi Berra is one of the greatest baseball players in history for what he did on the field and not for what he said.

Early Days in St. Louis
Lawrence Peter Berra was born in St.Louis, MO on May 12, 1925.  Although he is known as Yogi, he was originally nicknamed Lawdie.  The name came from his Italian immigrant mother's inability to properly call him Larry.

Baseball was all he wanted to do.  His father did not approve.  An Italian immigrant who worked hard every day of his life, he could not understand how wasting time on a ball field could lead to anything good, especially when Larry's grades fell off.  Despite the wishes of his family Larry continued to play and spent every moment possible playing ball.  In the Hill section of St. Louis, he met a boy who would become a lifelong friend. The boy's name was Joe Garagiola and both would go on to long careers behind the plate and would be famous for their humor.

So how did he go from Lawdie to Yogi?  There are several stories.  The first said that a team mate saw a news reel film featuring people doing Yoga.  The Yogi leading the session, according to the team mate, looked exactly like Larry.  Another version says the team photo led to the nickname.  In the little league photo Berra can be seen sitting in the front row with legs folded, which reminded some of a Yoga pose and the name came from this.  Regardless, the name stuck...forever.

Yogi was good at baseball though he didn't "look like a ball player".  Even Branch Rickey, who could always spot talent didn't like Berra enough to offer a big contract.  Of course, Rickey did offer a contract and Berra refused.  The historical perception has been that Rickey missed out but knowing how shrewd Rickey was he may have been trying to get a bargain on a kid that few teams were legitimately considering.  He gambled and he lost.  Rickey signed Garagiola for $500 and offered Berra $250.  Berra rejected the Dodgers' offer and signed for $500 dollars with the Yankees.

Nearly Missing Out
Berra joined the Yankees Class B Norfolk team in the Piedmont League for 1943, played in 111 games and hit .253.  That is not a terrible average but his 16 errors probably gave pause to the Yankees brass who were used to having Bill Dickey behind the plate.

The numbers in Norfolk were not eye popping and he may have been concerned about his future but his focus quickly changed.  With World War II destroying the world, Berra joined the navy at age 18 and was involved in the D-Day landing.  As the story goes, while the landing craft was approaching the shore they came under heavy fire.  Instinctively everyone crouched as low as possible to avoid getting hit.  Everyone except Yogi.  "I wanted to see what was going on."

Berra's service in the navy took him out of the  1944 and 1945 seasons.  Many of those who served went overseas as boys and came back as men.  After the experiences of combat it would have been easy to come back and lose focus on the game that he had played as a child.  Berra could have missed out on a career that he had dreamt of before leaving for the war.

Learning the Game
Returning to the states Yogi was assigned to the New London affiliate and was spotted by Mel Ott.  Ott was managing the Giants at the time and he thought he had to have the young funny looking Catcher.  Berra's career is filled with cross road moments, starting with Rickey's decision to offer Berra a smaller contract than the offered to Garagiola.  Had Yogi signed the contract with the Cardinals who knows if he would have made the majors.  Now, in New London, Ott offered Larry MacPhail and the Yankees $50,000 dollars for the kid.  MacPhail didn't know who the hell this Yogi kid was but he knew that Ott had an eye for talent and if Ott was offering that much he damn well better not let Ott have him.  While Rickey's low ball offer pushed Yogi to the Yankees, Ott's over the top offer kept him there.

MacPhail assigned him to Newark of AAA and now wanted to keep an eye on him.  Berra played 77 games in Norfolk in the 1946 season.  He hit .314 with 15 Home Runs and 59 RBI.  Even more impressive, Berra only struck out 16 times, despite having an unusual, crazy swing (a trait that would continue through his career).

Had he signed with the Cardinals he would have had to fight with Garagiola for a roster spot.  Instead, in signing with the Yankees, he had to follow a legend.  Bill Dickey, an 11 time All Star,   had been the Yankees Catcher on 8 World Series teams.  Ironically Dickey wore the number 8 on his back.  Dickey was the epitome of the Yankees.  Room mate and best friend of Gehrig, Dickey walked, talked, looked and presented himself like a Yankee.  Known as a tough son of a bitch, Dickey was once suspended for punching Carl Reynolds of the Senators, breaking Reynolds's jaw.  Baseball at Yankee Stadium was a serious business and Dickey was the perfect example of that philosophy.

Yogi was a nervous kid still learning the game.  The learning process in New York better be quick.  There is no acceptance of losing.  Dickey was given a task.  Get the funny looking kid up to speed and do it now.  Joe McCarthy didn't have time to wait and the pitchers didn't have the patience or respect to help Berra along.  Reynolds, Lopat and Raschi were used to working with Dickey who was always on the same page.  If Dickey told them to do something they damn well did it because it was Bill Dickey.  If Yogi told them to do it, they fought back because it was McCarthy interfering in their game.

The pitch call would be relayed to Yogi who would tell the pitcher what he was throwing.  The problem was Raschi and Reynolds didn't take direction.  This was their game and they made the decisions.  They sure didn't make it easy on Yogi.  In David Halberstam's great book "Summer of '49" he tells several great stories of the process Yogi worked through to gain the respect of these veterans.  A catcher is supposed to communicate with the pitcher, talk with the pitcher, but Raschi didn't talk.  he demanded.  "Yogi, get your dago ass back behind the plate where you belong."  Reynolds didn't make it any easier.  Halberstam also tells the story of Yogi being caught between a war of wills between Reynolds and Stengel.  Stengel tried to get Berra's attention to relay a pitch demand.  Reynolds yelled to Yogi.  "Don't look over there Yogi.  Look at me.  If you look over there I'll cross you up."  At the same time Stengel demanded "Look over here or I'll fine your ass."

It was a hard time.  But Dickey kept working with Yogi.  Stengel saw what he had and did not give up.  Although Berra is often portrayed as a goofy simpleton because of his funny quotes, it takes a strong mental facility to stick with the torment he went through in those first years.  He played in only 7 games with the Yankees in 1946, Dickey's last year, but in 1947 he got plenty of playing time and made his mark, even getting MVP votes.

Berra knew how much help Dickey had been.  "I owe everything I did in baseball to Bill Dickey.  He was a great man."

Championship Years
Failure in New York baseball is not taken lightly.  The Yankees had won the World Series in 1923, 1927, 1928, 1932, 1936, 1937, 1938, 1941 and 1943.  They had also reached the World Series 1921, 1922, 1926 and 1942.  Entering the 1947 season it had now been three seasons since they had reached the World Series.  In New York that is unacceptable.  Now, in 1947, everything was changing in the game.   The Dodgers had broken the color barrier.  The Red Sox were the defending AL Champions and Joe McCarthy was no longer the manager of the Yankees.

All successful runs must come to an end.  The Celtics won eight straight championships at one time, then went decades without another.  The Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs dominated the NHL for years but neither has won a Stanley Cup since the 1990s.  The Browns and Lions were once the dominant team in the pre-Super Bowl NFL but have not won (or even appeared in a Super Bowl).  It appeared, as 1947 dawned, that the Yankees were on the decline.  Gehrig and Dickey were gone.  DiMaggio was hurting.  Keller and Henrich were aging.  No one could have foreseen the run of success that came next.

The Yankees would win the American League in 1947, 1949, 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963 and 1964.  Of those 15 World Series appearances the Yankees would win ten.

Before Yogi came the Yankees were stocked with legends:  Dickey, Keller, Henrich, Raschi, Reynolds, Rizzuto and of course DiMaggio.  When Yogi left they would still be stocked with legends: Ford, Skowron, Richardson, Bauer and of course Mantle and Maris.  Two separate dynasties with one continuous stretch of winning and the one link between the two was Yogi.

The legend of Yogi is an uneducated man using the "tools of ignorance" as Roger Bresnahan called a catcher's equipment.  Somebody once asked Yogi if he wanted to go to Toots Shoor's for dinner, the famous hang out for professional athletes and entertainers alike.  "Nobody goes there anymore.  It's too crowded." Yogi said.

Somebody asked him about a decline in attendance. Yogi had a logical answer.  "If people don't want to come out to the stadium, how are you gonna stop them?"

While that legend of the funny guy grew, too many people missed out on the big secret.  Yogi Berra was one of the best players who ever put on a uniform for any team.  In a career that lasted 17 full seasons (and parts of two more seasons) Berra would make 15 All Star Games.  He would receive votes for MVP in 15 separate seasons.  Of those 15 seasons Berra would finish in the top 10 of voting seven times, in the top three six times and three of those times he would be named American League Most Valuable Player.  In the history of the game 25 people have won more than one MVP.  Only 10 have won more than two.  One of those is Yogi Berra.

It is impossible to do justice to Yogi Berra's career in an article this short.  He has been involved in some of the most unforgettable moments in the history of the game.  In Game 1 of the 1955 World Series Jackie Robinson stole home.  To this day, Yogi swears he tagged Jackie out and that the umpire was out of position.  In Game 5 of the 1956 World Series, Yogi was calling the pitches behind the plate when Don Larsen threw a perfect game.  In 1960, as Bill Mazeroski launched the Home Run that ended the Yankees dynasty it was Yogi Berra in left field watching the ball go over the wall.  When Reggie Jackson launched his three World Series Home Runs in 1977, Yogi was on the bench as a Yankees coach.

Leading the Charge
By 1963 his playing time was declining and he was down to just 64 games in the season.  At the end of the season he decided to walk away from the game and retire.  In the 1963 World Series he made one appearance as a pinch hitter and was unsuccessful.  After the Yankees were swept by the now Los Angeles Dodgers the Yankees started looking for a new manager.  They decided on Yogi.
It was clear the organization was in decline but despite the diminished talent Yogi led the team to the World Series.  They took the Cardinals to a decisive 7th game but Bob Gibson and the Cardinals were too much for the pinstripes.

Normally a rookie manager reaching the World Series would mean job security.  Instead the Yankees fired Yogi after just one season and added insult to injury replacing him with the Cardinal's manager that had just beaten him.

Yogi moved on to the New York Mets organization and served as a coach on Gil Hodges's staff.  Hodges was an amazingly successful manager with the Mets, leading the Miracle Mets to the 1969 championship.  As the team prepared for the 1972 season the organization was thrown into chaos when Hodges passed away suddenly from a heart attack.  Hodges's replacement was none other than Yogi Berra.  The 1972 season was not the best.  The team finished third in the National League East but with Tom Seaver in the fold it would have been foolish for anyone to count them out.  Yogi led the team to the World Series in 1973, although, they lost in seven games to the Oakland A's.  The Mets were not as successful in the following years and Yogi suffered for it.  Part way through the 1975 season Yogi was fired and returned to the Yankees as a coach on Billy Martin's staff.

As George Costanza described it George Steinbrenner fired people "like it was a bodily function".  Yogi saw managers come and go in New York.  Billy Martin, Dick Howser, Bob Lemon, Billy Martin again, Dick Howser again, Gene Michael, Bob Lemon again, Gene Michael again, Clyde King, Billy Martin again.  After all of this George Steinbrenner tapped Yogi on the shoulder and handed him the reigns.

The Split with the Boss
Yogi took control of a team in transition.  The Yankees had been in the World Series in 1981 but with Steinbrenner it wasn't good enough.  They had stars like Mattingly, Randolph, Winfield, Guidry and Righetti but unless the team won it all Steinbrenner was not satisfied.  In 1984 Yogi led the team to a third place finish, although to be fair they were in the division with the unstoppable Tigers so third place was not so bad.  Heading into the 1985 season Steinbrenner assured everyone that there were no plans for a change at the top.  Berra was assured over and over again that he would be allowed to finish the entire season. The team appeared that it would be one of those streaky teams.  They lost their first three.  Then won four straight.  They lost one, won one, lost three, won one, lost three.  The record stood at 6-10.  They hadn't even finished the first month of the season and Steinbrenner went back on his promise.  Instead of allowing Yogi to work it out he put Billy Martin back in charge of the team.  Yogi was furious.  He vowed never to return to Yankee Stadium while Steinbrenner was involved with the team and he kept his promise until 2000.  It took a personal apology from Steinbrenner to bring Yogi back home.

The Legend
It is unfortunate that Yogi's legend has become what it has.  The version of Yogi that everyone knows certainly reminds us how fun this game can be.  The unfortunate part is that it has overshadowed what was an amazing career as a player and not as a clown.

Despite the three MVP's, 15 All Star Games, 10 World Series championships (and 14 total appearances) it is the personality that is remembered about Yogi.  According to the newspapers  Yogi has made some of the greatest statements in history.

"It's not over 'til it's over."

"It gets late early out here."

"We made too many wrong mistakes."

"When you come to a fork in the road take it."

"So I'm ugly.  I never saw someone hit with his face."

"90% of this game is half mental."

Yogi's best quote is probably the most accurate.  "I haven't said half of the things I've said."

*This is not intended as a full biography and due to space I have done my best to summarize the life of the players in this series.  For further information on Yogi Berra please check out:

Yogi Berra: In His Own Words Video released through Yogi Berra Museum
Ken Burns Baseball


The Perfect Yankee: The Incredible Story of  the Greatest Miracle in Baseball History By Don Larsen with Mark Shaw.  Foreward by Yogi Berra
DiMaggio's Yankees: A history of the 1936-1944 Dynasty.  By Lew Freedman
Swinging '73: Baseball's Wildest Season.  By Matthew Silverman
Summer of '49 by David Halberstam
Perfect: Don Larsen's Miraculous World Series Game and the Men Who Made it Lew Paper
October 1964 by David Halbertsam
The Last Good Season: Brooklyn, the Dodgers and their Final Pennant Race Together
Jackie Robinson: A Biography by Arnold Rampersad
Impact Player: Leaving a Lasting Legacy on and Off the Field: A Memoir by Bobby Richardson with David Thomas
The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America's Childhood by Jane Leavy

The Yankees have retired 18 uniform numbers (including the league wide retiring of Jackie Robinson's 42).  The number 8 has been retired in honor of two Yankees.  Who are they?

Answer to Last Week's Question:
The format for the Home Run Derby TV show was a head to head competition.  There were nine innings with three outs in each inning.  Anything not hit over the fence was an out.  The player who finished the game with the most Home Runs came back the next week.  This was not all for fun.  This was long before million dollar contracts and the players could win money if they won each week.  The winner won $2000 and the runner up $1000.  They could also earn extra each week.  For example, three straight home runs was a $500 bonus, a fourth straight would be another $500.  Each consecutive Home Run above four in a row would be an additional $1000 each.  Henry Aaron won six consecutive games.  Not yet known as the Home Run king, Aaron was years from pursuing Ruth's all time record.  Yet he won six consecutive programs winning $13,500 dollars.  Considering his yearly salary was $45,000 it wasn't a bad deal for basically taking batting practice.  Aaron finally lost to Wally Post.