Tag Archives: baseball

Balancing My Baseball Loyalties.

bb-banner-jpegThere’s no doubt that the 2016 World Series is laden with historic significance.

1948-cleveland-indians-world-series-champions-patchThis year’s Fall Classic pits two of baseball’s legendary hard luck franchises: The Cleveland Indians and The Chicago Cubs. When you consider how long it’s been since the Indians and Cubs have won a World Series, it’s 1948 against 1908 – with the Cubs suffering the longest title drought.

The 2016 World Series will put an end to one of baseball’s two most notorious curses: the Curse of Colavito and the Curse of the Billy Goat.

And, for me, it will be an exquisitely personal experience.

cubs-goat-logoI was born and raised on the West Side of Cleveland — but I went to college and lived and worked on Chicago’s North Side for 15 years. I married my wife, a Chicagoan and lifelong Cubs fan, in Chicago. One of our daughters was born there.

For years, I’ve been able to root for my American League heroes, The Indians – while also cheering for my favorite National League team, The Cubs. The likelihood that my dual baseball loyalties would be tested in World Series was remote. Like worrying about getting hit by lightning.

But now, the baseball gods have flung their bolts – and lightning has struck.

images-washingtonpost-comSo, I must make my choice.

Baseball and boyhood are inextricable. Some of my earliest memories involve the Cleveland Indians. I remember when I was 3-5 years old, looking at the front page of The Cleveland Plain Dealer to see if the Tribe had won or lost.

cw2My dad, who was a fine cartoonist himself, enjoyed showing me the small cartoon Indian that appeared on The Plain Dealer’s front page the day after each game.

If the Indians won, that tiny cartoon Indian brave looked upbeat – with a feather in his headdress. (Two feathers for two victories in a doubleheader.)

cw-3If they lost, the little Indian would have a black eye – or, in this case, a sore bottom from getting his butt kicked.

620x686xphoto-8-montage-927x1024-png-pagespeed-ic-sjzucr-yqiAnd in the case of a split doubleheader, he might sport one black eye for the loss – while triumphantly holding a scalp to indicate the win.

Little boys – and The Plain Dealer — had no clue about political correctness in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.

95dd7d0bb910ca4fb7b02e83d49fc367I have vivid memories of frequent trips with my father and brother to the cavernous Municipal Stadium to cheer on those 1960’s Indians teams, starring my favorite player, Rocky Colavito. (Who should be in the Hall of Fame.) I was only two years old in 1960 when Rocky was sent to Detroit in a trade that many fans believed cursed the team – but I sure remember Rocky’s glorious return to Cleveland in 1965.

It didn’t hurt that Rocco “Rocky” Colavito was Italian. My mom is Italian – and as a member of St. Rocco’s Church and school – my world was decidedly Italian-centric.

davalilloHeck, I also took pride in the fact that Rocky’s teammate Vic Davalillo was also Italian. (He wasn’t. Vic was Venezuelan.)

In all the seasons that I followed The Indians before I went off to college in Chicago, there were more lowlights than highlights. But I saw young Craig Nettles, Dennis Eckersley, Luis Tiant, Sudden Sam McDowell, Buddy Bell, Gaylord Perry and so many others compete in a Tribe uniform.

bat-dayThe Indians has a Straight A Tickets program – and boy, did I make sure to score those straight A’s. On Bat Day, they gave you a real bat. Can you imagine handing 40,000 kids a real bat in downtown Cleveland – or any city – today?

So, the Indians are in my DNA. They’re my hometown team. My boyhood idols.

big-cubbieBut I love The Cubs, too.

Soon after arriving at Northwestern University in 1976, I started watching Cubs games on WGN – with Jack Brickhouse calling the games. We didn’t get every Indians game on TV in Cleveland, and I got hooked on watching the Cubs every day.

600f51b17cdc6a926d68e07a04b60144In 1984, I started going to Wrigley Field on a regular basis. After all those years of watching baseball in the drafty vastness of Municipal Stadium, I was charmed by the intimacy of The Friendly Confines. And I fell in love with the team, led by the bat and glove of the glorious Ryne Sandberg.

Of course, those 1984 Cubs broke my heart when they blew a two-game lead to lose the NL pennant to Steve Garvey and the San Diego Padres. Having my heart broken by the Cubs only intensified a growing bond with my fellow Cubs fans and the people of the Windy City’s North Side. I knew from birth what it was to support a lovable baseball loser. Now I supported two of them.

Since then, I enjoyed the Indians’ resurgence in the late 1990’s – and endured their losses in the 1995 and ‘97 World Series. (But at least we got there, right?)

And, as a Cubs fan, I anguished along with everybody else in Chicago when Steve Bartman got in the way of that fateful pop foul.

artbble-pos-16tbb2-1154-gold-sThese highs and lows only reinforced the needlessness of worrying about divided loyalties in an Indians vs. Cubs World Series. Such an incredible thing was never going to happen.

But now, it has happened.

And, as I said, baseball and boyhood are inextricable.

So, I’m rooting for my Cleveland Indians in this Series.

kris_bryant-topps-061015As for the Cubbies, they have so much youth, talent, pitching, managerial wisdom and front office brilliance that I expect them to be World Series favorites for the next decade.

I’ll say what we Cubs fans have said since 1908.

Wait ‘til next year.

I’ll be rooting for a Cubs victory then.

Now, let’s play ball!


Filed under History, Sports

Salute to Opening Day!

WorldSeriesClevelandIndians1948-85081With opening day for The Los Angeles Dodgers today, the Chicago Cubs playing their first game of the season tomorrow, and my hometown Cleveland Indians opening their 2015 campaign tonight — baseball prognosticators are saying great things about the potential of all three of these clubs. My fellow Cubs and Indians fans know not to get too excited too early (or ever) — but opening day is all about possibilities, optimism and renewal. So, here’s to an Indians vs. Cubs World Series.

And in celebration of Opening Day, here’s a re-post of a piece from 5 years ago, featuring a bit of satiric verse.


I’d like to celebrate the first flowering of the MLB baseball season with a re-print of a poem I wrote many years ago. Full credit must be given to my wife Victoria (who was not yet my wife at the time) who managed in 1988 to get my satiric take on Ernest Lawrence Thayer’sCasey At The Bat” published in the Baseball Bible, The Sporting News.

I still remember being at the wheel of our car when Victoria told me that some sports publication called “the sporting something” was going to publish my poem. “Is it The Sporting News?” I screamed at her, pounding the steering wheel! “Are you talking about the Baseball Bible? The Sporting News??” Victoria was a cool, impossibly groovy girl — but she had no idea how absolutely perfect a publication she’d landed. And, as a relatively good South Side Chicago girl, she could not fully appreciate how I felt when I saw that the legendary Mad Magazine artist, Jack Davis, illustrated my poem.

UPDATE: Before I published this article, I wrote to The Sporting News to confirm the identity of the artist.  In September 2010, I finally heard from Sporting News archivist Bill Wilson that is was he — and not Jack Davis — who illustrated my poem. “I hate to disappoint you,” writes Wilson, “but the ‘prominent artist’ who illustrated this piece was none other than me. I’ll take the compliment, however, as well as the comparison to Jack Davis—it is an apt one, as he was one of the biggest influences on my style. I was with TSN as everything from a staff artist and cartoonist to creative director between 1981 and 2008.” Ultimately, I’m not disappointed. The very talented Bill Wilson did a great job.

Here then, in honor of Spring Training 2010, is my poem — first published in The Sporting News on January 5, 1988.


Written by Paul Barrosse

With apologies to Ernest Lawrence Thayer, a tongue-in-cheek look at baseball today…

It looked extremely hopeful for the Mudville nine that year,
The Spring was full of promise, and the fans were full of cheer.
Then came the news by UPI that hit home with such clout,

The star would not report that Spring — Mighty Casey would hold out!

Casey was the MVP on last year’s Series Champ,
And all the writers in the land pitched tents in Casey’s camp.
 ‘Twas “Casey this!” and “Casey that!” and features on TV,

Now when they came to interview, no Casey did they see.

The Mudville General Manager, his Stetson hat askew,
Bellowed “I’ll make Casey hold his breath until he turns bright blue!”
 Casey’s agent, Morton Zucker, raised a challenge in the press,

“No Pay — No Play,” read headlines, “We Want Millions — Nothing Less!”

The season ticket holders soon stopped calling to renew,
As Casey held out six long weeks, and then another two!
Spring training almost over, and the lineup nearly set,

The name of Mighty Casey was not written on it yet.

 On Op’ning Day the Mayor threw the first ball out with shame,
Not a fan inside the ballpark dared to whisper Casey’s name.
The players took the field and paused to hear the Anthem played,

A little boy sat crying, Mighty Casey was delayed.

The fans were growing restless, Mudville started 0 and 10,
And rumor was that Mudville would not see Casey again.
But when Casey’s agent Zucker sought an arbitration hearing,

Every Mudville heart believed a blessed settlement was nearing.

The Mudville G.M. cried with rage, “This business reeks of greed!
If Zucker wants to arbitrate, then we’ll make Casey bleed!
Ev’ry error he’s committed, every drunk post-curfew spree,

Will be laid before the arbitrator — bare for all to see!”

The hearing lasted five long days, as both sides thrashed it out,
Some devoted fans of Casey’s were no longer so devout.
“He has problems with his back,” his trainer testified to all,

“He’s drunk so often, sometimes he can’t even see the ball!”

“Casey never hits for average,” Mudville’s G.M. pointed out,
“And let’s not forget the day that ‘Mighty Casey had struck out!'”
The arbitrator ruled that Mudville pay nine hundred grand,

But Mudville brass weren’t buying and they made their own demand.

“If Casey wants his money, we demand he do his best,
And since he can’t be trusted, he must pass a urine test.”
Casey’s test results were positive; all Mudville was in pain,

When Casey was suspended for dependence on cocaine.

Casey rehabilitated while the season passed him by,
Mudville fell into the cellar while he hung out to dry.
There were stories in the paper, graphic photos told the tale,

Of how Casey got into a fight and spent the night in jail.

This was not the season for which Mudville hearts had hope,
The greatness overcome by greed, the dream done in by dope.
By All-Star break, with Mudville’s pennant promise all but faded,

It was announced that Mighty Casey would be reinstated.

Casey soon was reassigned to Triple A Des Moines,
First time up he hit a triple, ran too hard, and pulled his groin.
On a minor league Disabled List, laid low by wear and tear,

Mighty Casey waited for his body to repair.

July was nearly over, Casey wasn’t yet in shape,
If Mudville had a chance in hell, they could no longer wait.
The day at last arrived when Casey showed up, bat in hand,

And was penciled in the lineup for the final pennant stand.

Casey stepped into the box, a hush was heard to fall,
With Mudville on its feet, he tore the cover off the ball.
It smashed against the outfield fence, a triple in the gap,

And Casey, charging hard for third, paused just to tip his cap.

The throw from left was right on line, and Casey had to slide,
But Casey’s legs did not react, he could not find his stride.
The baseman put the tag down from the fielder’s perfect peg,

Before the dust had settled, Mighty Casey broke his leg.

A silence gripped the faithful when they heard that fateful crack,
And realized that Casey was not ever coming back.
They bundled him with air-splints and they trundled him away,

No Mudville man nor boy alive will e’er forget that day.

Somewhere children sing and laugh and play with simply joy,
Somewhere in ev’ry Baseball Play’r still lives the little boy,
Somewhere there’s a place where Baseball’s just a joyous game,
But there is no joy in Mudville — Mighty Casey pulled up lame.

Author’s Note: Of course, if this had been written in the last decade, cocaine would have been replaced by HGH and steroids — and Tiger Wood’s peccadillos would have loomed large. In many ways, my 1988 Casey got off easy.


Filed under Art, Comedy, Sports

Poor Sports

Loser bannerAPR_Oct_1_2013I am thrilled that my hometown Major League baseball team, The Cleveland Indians, have staged an impressive and determined late season rally to earn a spot in the Wild Card playoff game – and a shot to advance in their improbable quest for the Tribe’s first World Series crown since 1948.

Chicago White Sox v Cleveland IndiansMy Indians will play the Tampa Bay Rays in a single game tomorrow, Wednesday October 2 in Cleveland, to determine which team advances to face the Boston Red Sox in the American League Division Series.

There will be a lot riding on that one game tomorrow: the hopes and dreams of both teams and the millions of fans that follow them in Northern Ohio and the Florida Gulf Coast. For the players and fans, there will be a lot of pride, prestige and money at stake. A great deal will be on the line when the two teams face off between the lines.

-48a9714f75dcb39dWhen the Wild Card game is over, there will be a winner and a loser. The winning team will advance and the losing team will not.

The team that loses may claim a moral victory. The Indians and their manager, Terry Francona, certainly could console themselves with a moral victory as nobody expected this young team of no-name players to get anywhere near the playoffs this season. But, more likely, they won’t. Instead, like all good and honorable athletes and sportsmen, they will look to the future and rededicate themselves to earning playoff victories next season.

bildeAnd you won’t hear a lot of gripes from the players on the losing team about the umpires being unfair or how they really won but the media, or the opposing team, or their opponent’s fans are Un-American  liars and cheaters. They will behave like professionals. They’ll have measured, respectful, even complimentary words to say about the team that defeated them. They’ll thank their fans and they’ll take their lumps in the press and the court of public opinion depending upon the merits of their performance on the field.

And that’s why I love sports. Because, in the end, if you play the game the right way – sports builds character. In life, you must learn how to win with grace and humility – and how to lose with dignity and an optimistic resolve to improve and persevere.

2aea3a55c6047b68_enhanced-buzz-25400-1380636798-10.preview_tallWhich is also why I can’t stand the GOP majority in the House of Representatives and their poor sport tactics that have led to this unfortunate, self-inflicted government shutdown. Driven by the right wing ideological anarchists of their rabidly anti-government Tea Party caucus, the GOP has steered itself – and the nation – into an easily avoidable ditch. And why?

Because the GOP refused to behave like professionals when they lost the big game.

0929-romneycare-obamacare.jpg_full_380Last year, President Obama and his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, played a long, marathon playoff series called the Presidential Election of 2012. At stake in that contest was a public referendum on the key legislative accomplishments of Obama’s first term, especially the Affordable Care Act. Romney made it clear that he would abolish “Obamacare” (as though he actually could do such a thing on his own, which he couldn’t) and President Obama defended the new health care law as a fundamental step in restoring out nation’s economic and physical health.

After all the games were played, The Democrats outscored the Republicans to take the championship.

763fc0aaf484d5203e0f6a706700c3e6President Obama won the election 51% to 47%. He won by 5 million votes. It wasn’t even close. Democrats also increased their majority in the Senate and won additional seats in the House. In fact, half a million more Americans cast their votes for Democrats in the House than they did for Republicans. So, the GOP could claim no mandate (no moral victory) coming out of the big game.

So what did the poor sport Republicans do?

Did they endure their loss with dignity and look forward with optimism and a resolve to improve and persevere?

130820231059-ted-cruz-obamacare-story-topNo, that’s not the way these sore losers play. Instead, the GOP refused to accept the final score and have tried over and over to re-play the game all by themselves. They voted dozens of times to overturn Obamacare — despite the fact they could not possibly prevail because the President and the Democrats in the Senate had already won that crucial game and had no reason to re-play it. The same was true of the GOP House majority’s constant votes to degrade a woman’s right to choose, weaken voting rights laws, and re-play other critical games they lost in the Presidential Championship Series of 2012.

rAnd now these poor GOP-Tea Party losers have decided that, rather than compete in a new season with new ideas, more popular policy positions and a rededication to making progress through the small-D democratic process – they have forced themselves and the nation into the damaging, self-defeating equivalent of the 1994 Major League Baseball strike.

That baseball strike wiped out the second half of the season, the playoffs and the World Series. It was devastating to the Great American Pastime – and to Cleveland in particular. When the strike began on August 12, 1994, the Indians were just one game back from the division-leading Chicago White Sox and were leading the AL Wildcard Race over the Baltimore Orioles by 2.5 games.

Barack ObamaNow, these whining Conservative House Republican losers have shut down the political season because they couldn’t compete on the playing field in last year’s championship playoffs. And their manager, John Boehner, has proved himself a wimp of a leader: a man who knows how the game should be played but is too weak and venal to lead his unruly players in a manner that respects their opponents and the great American game they all play: democracy.

I wish my Cleveland Indians good luck tomorrow and I dearly hope they win.

john_boehner_begs_gop_congressmen_to_stop_partying_with_pretty_lady_lobbyists-1280x899And I hope John Boehner and his Tea Party-GOP children are watching. It will be good for them to see how adult professional sportsmen compete.

Play ball, GOP.

In the adult world, you can’t just take your ball and go home when you’re on the wrong end of the score.


Filed under History, Politics, Sports, Truth

The Biggest Man in Pro Sports Today…

k-bigpicWhat a great day for professional sports.

DownloadedFileThe film “42” is in theatres, celebrating the transformational story of how Jackie Robinson broke the color line in Major League Baseball with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.

Today, 66 years later, professional basketball player Jason Collins overcame another taboo in pro sports by announcing to the world that he is a gay man – becoming the first openly gay man active in a major American professional sport.

xxx-stanford---usc-3_4_r536_c534A first round pick in the 2001 NBA draft, Jason Collins is a 12-year NBA veteran. An All-American center at Stanford, Jason and his twin brother Jarron both enjoyed decade-long careers in the National Basketball Association. Jason’s dozen years in the NBA are further proof – as if needed – that it’s not if there are gay men in pro sports – but how many pro athletes are gay? And why should we even care?

COLLINS THOMAS WEATHERSPOON HARRINGTONThe New Jersey fans that cheered for Jason Collins during seven seasons with the Nets – and the ticket buyers who rooted for him in his NBA stops since leaving New Jersey – weren’t cheering for a heterosexual man or gay man. They were cheering for a talented and durable big man who fought for rebounds and scored consistently in the paint. Team player Jason has also always been considered a good guy in the locker room.

975820-jason-collinsTrivia note: The Dodgers played in Brooklyn NY when Jackie Robinson made history in 1947. The Nets, the NBA team that drafted Jason Collins in 2001, is now playing its first season in Brooklyn. (Significant? Probably not. But us sports fans love us some trivia.)

la-me-ln-jason-collins-aunt-20130429Jason’s revelation regarding his sexuality reminds me of the silly debate over gays in the military. There have always been gay men in the military – and there have always been gay men in sports. From the first moment men clashed in battle – whether in war or on the playing field – a percentage of those men have been gay. That’s only natural. Completely natural.

jason-collins-siSo, congratulations, Jason Collins!

I’m honored that Jason attended the same San Fernando Valley grade school that my daughters attended. Sierra Canyon School should be prouder than ever of Jason.

His college and NBA basketball achievements have been laudable.

His honesty and courage today make him an American hero for the ages.


Filed under History, Sports, Truth

Cleveland Indians on the warpath….

I don’t want to jinx anything, but…

As of June 25, 2011, my beloved Cleveland Indians are still in first place in the American League’s Central Division — scant percentage points ahead of the Detroit Tigers.

The Tribe is 5-5 in their last ten games and Detroit is 4-6, so it’s a close race – but when the season began, who would have thought that the Cleveland Indians would even be in the race, let alone ahead?

The Tribe's 1948 owner, Bill Veeck.

I dearly hope my Tribe hangs on and makes it a race this season. My blue collar hometown could use a positive sports story to lift its spirits – and fill the ballpark. Cleveland is a proud Rust Belt city — and we haven’t won a World Series since legendary owner Bill Veeck and player-manager Lou Boudreau’s team took the title in 1948.

We came close a couple times in the 1990’s. Don’t get me started about the ridiculously wide strike zone that umpires gave Florida’s favorite Cuban boat-person Liván Hernández in 1997 – leading up to that weak, heartbreaking dribbler up the middle past the Tribe’s previously impervious closer, Jose Mesa.

Since 1901 the Indians have appeared in five World Series. They beat The Brooklyn Robins for their first World Championship in 1920 in a best of nine format, 5 games to 2 — allowing just two runs over the last four games. (Indian pitching posted a miniscule 0.89 ERA during the series.)

1948 player-manager Lou Boudreau and his wife.

In 1948, The Indians returned to the World Series for the first time since 1920, beating the Boston Braves in six games to capture their second championship. To this day, this is the Tribe’s greatest moment, though superstar pitcher Bob Feller failed to win his two starts. It was the first World Series to be televised on a nationwide network and was announced by famed sportscaster, Red Barber.

In 1954, The Indians set a franchise record with 111 victories to win the American League Pennant. But in the ’54 World Series, Giant’s center fielder Willie Mays ran down Tribe slugger Vic Wertz’ smash — and the Tribe was swept in four games.

The Giant's Willie Mays hauls in "The Catch" in the '54 World Series.

In 1995, The Indians won their first American League Pennant in over 40 years and advanced to the World Series to face the Atlanta Braves — who won the series in six games. The Tribe, who had batted .291 in the regular season, averaged just .179 in the Series.

This guy got the widest strike zone in World Series history.

In 1997, the Indians won their second American League Pennant in three years. They faced the Florida Marlins in the World Series. Trailing three games to two, the Indians won Game Six to force a decisive Game 7. But it was not gonna be the Tribe’s moment.

The Indians had a one run lead in the 9th inning and were on the verge of winning their first World Championship since 1948 — when the Marlins rallied to win the game in the 11th inning. Game 7 was decided in extra innings on an Edgar Rentería single up the middle past Jose Mesa: one of the great heartbreaking moments in Cleveland sports history, including The Catch, Red Right 88, The Drive, The Shot and The Fumble.

But that’s history. And history is the past. Today, the Cleveland Indians have a chance to write a surprising new chapter in Cleveland sports history. We’ve got Asdrubal Cabrera, Grady Sizeore and Travis Hafner. Screw the past.

Go Tribe. 1948 is just 63 years ago. We’re ready to party!

Knock on wood…


Filed under History, Sports

A Great Pack of Baseball Cards

Recently, a buddy of mine gave me a pack of 1982 Donruss baseball cards. Thus began an adventure.

At first glance one package of 1982 Donruss baseball cards might not seem like a big deal. I mean, these aren’t Topps cards – which are the only ones I collected as a kid.

In fact, Donruss didn’t put out a line of baseball cards until 1981, the year after I graduated college: not a time when I was collecting many baseball cards. My friend’s gift pack, then, was from Donruss’ second year in the baseball card game.

After Fleer won a lawsuit in 1975 to break Topps’ monopoly on baseball cards, the sluice gates opened to release a slurry of increasingly elaborate and expensive cards. From 1981 to ‘87, Donruss was one of a trio of companies making baseball cards, including Fleer and Topps – all of which gave you gum. However, Topps appealed the Fleer lawsuit and the court ruled that Topps’ exclusive rights only applied to cards sold with gum. So, from then on, Fleer and Donruss were gum-less. Fleer put team logo stickers in each pack and Donruss included three pieces of a “Hall of Fame Diamond Kings” puzzle. (More on this later.) Score made its baseball card debut in 1988 and Upper Deck in 1989. Foil cards, holograms, I lost track.

Enclosed in its wax wrapper, my pack of 1982 Donruss cards held 15 of the 660 baseball cards they produced that year. As always, it was a crapshoot as to who those 15 players would be. The expectation I felt as a child just before opening each pack of Topps still rose in me as I tore off the wrapper. Fanning out the cards, I could see right away…

This particular pack was a Hall of Fame gold mine!

Here’s are the 15 cards in my one pack of 1982 Donruss baseball cards: a remarkable package of Major League Baseball heroics and history – plus three puzzle pieces!

1. Mike Schmidt (Third Base) Phillies

Now, that’s the way to start a pack of baseball cards – with the best third baseman of his day, and among the best to ever play the hot corner. Michael Jack Schmidt, born September 27, 1949 in Dayton, Ohio played his entire career  for the Philadelphia Phillies – hitting 548 home runs in 18 seasons. He played his final game 
on May 28, 1989. One of the great Cub-killers ever, Schmidt was voted National League MVP three times, an All-Star 12 times, and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1995. He was voted into Cooperstown on 444 out of 460 ballots. So, who were the 16 absolute morons who didn’t think Mike Schmidt was a first ballot Hall of Famer? Probably bitter Cubs fans.

2. Joe Morgan (Second Base) Giants

A younger generation of baseball fans might think that Joe Leonard Morgan is just another ex-jock broadcaster. But, patrolling second base for the World Champion Cincinnati Reds, Joe Morgan was the central cog in The Big Red Machine: a star among stars. With teammates Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Tony Pérez, and Dave Concepción, Morgan led the Reds to back-to-back World Series rings in 1975 and ‘76 — and was also the National League MVP in those two years: the first second baseman in the history of the National League to win consecutive MVP awards. In the New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, Bill James named the 10-time All-Star the best second baseman in baseball history, ahead of #2 Eddie Collins and #3 Rogers Hornsby. Of course, Joe Morgan was enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 1990.

3. Rich Gossage (Pitcher) Yankees

The next Hall of Famer in my pack was briefly a Chicago Cub: Richard Michael “Goose” Gossage — for 22 seasons one of the most feared relief pitchers in the Majors. From 1972-1994 Gossage played for nine different teams but he had his best years with the Yankees and Padres, becoming baseball’s greatest big game closer before the iceman Mariano Rivera cometh. In the late 1970s and early 80s, the 8-time All-Star was the epitome of the Closer as Character with his Wild West whiskers, nasty attitude and screaming heater. He led the AL in saves three times and his 310 saves are fourth all-time. Then again, he’s also the career leader in blown saves (112). That’s what happens when you always get the ball with the game on the line. And Goose Gossage got the final out to clinch a division, league or World Series title seven times. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2008.

For all you Cub fans: Gossage got his 300th career save while pitching for the Cubbies on August 6, 1988. Entering the game with two out in the ninth and two Phillies on base – he got Phil Bradley to pop it up to Hall of Fame second baseman Ryne Sandberg, preserving a 7-4 Cubs victory. Cubs win! Cubs win!

4. Lou Whitaker (Second Base) Tigers

“Sweet Lou” Whitaker isn’t in the Hall of Fame, but a lot of Detroit Tiger fans think that’s a crying shame. Louis Rodman Whitaker, Jr. played second for the Detroit Tigers from 1977 to 1995. Whitaker teamed with shortstop Alan Trammell to form the longest running double play combination in major league history: arguably the most famous since Tinker to Evers to Chance. Could he field? Sweet Lou set the standard for defensive play at his position for over a decade. Could he hit? He’s one of the very few players to ever to drive a ball over the roof of Tiger Stadium. Over his 19-year career, he batted .276 with 244 home runs and 2,369 hits in 2,390 games. Since he hung up his cleats, no Detroit Tiger has worn Whitaker’s jersey number (#1), although it’s not officially retired. Sweet Lou’s jersey should probably be in Cooperstown.

5. Ron Hassey (Catcher) Indians

Hey, I got an Indian!

It’s always a big deal to get a hometown player in your package of baseball cards.

Ronald William Hassey doesn’t have a plaque in Cooperstown, either – but he had his Hall of Fame moments. In fact, Ron Hassey is the only major league catcher to catch two perfect games. On May 15, 1981, while playing for my downtrodden Tribe, Hassey caught Len Barker‘s perfect game against the Blue Jays.  A decade later, on July 28, 1991, he was playing for Montreal when he caught a perfect game for the Expos’ Dennis Martinez against the Dodgers.  (Who says lightning doesn’t strike twice in the same place?) While with the Oakland A’s, Hassey caught nearly all of Bob Welch‘s games, including during Welch’s 1990 Cy Young season in which he won 27 games. Hassey began his career with the Cleveland Indians, and he and future Tribe manager Mike Hargrove played together in Cleveland from 1979-1984. Many of us also remember him as a dependable late season addition to those beloved 1984 Cubs who won the NL East title before a heartbreaking loss in the NLCS to Steve Garvey and the Padres.

6. Bill Virdon (Manager) Astros

William Charles Virdon was the starting center fielder on the 1960 World Champion Pirates. He hit a ground ball in Game 7 of the World Series that took a bad hop and hit Yankees shortstop Tony Kubek in the throat. Virdon reached first base and helped ignite a late-game rally that culminated in Bill Mazeroski‘s legendary walk-off home run. When his playing days were done, Virdon managed the Pirates (1972-73), Yankees (1974-75), Astros (1975-82), and Expos (1983-84). As a manager, he added another unique chapter to the annals of baseball trivia — as one of only four men to be voted Manager of the Year in both leagues. Virdon was the 1974 American League Manager of the Year in with the Yankees – and in 1980 he was named National League Manager of the Year with the Astros.

7. Roger Erickson (Pitcher) Twins

Roger Farrell Erickson was 21 years old when he broke into the big leagues on April 6, 1978, with the Minnesota Twins. His rookie year in The Bigs was auspicious: he started 37 games, recording a 14-13 record with a 3.96 ERA and 121 strikeouts. But during his next 5 seasons, he never won more than 7 games, finishing with a career 35-53 won-loss record and a 4.13 ERA. He did, however, complete 24 of his 117 career starts: which would be a rare feat nowadays.

8. Verne Ruhle (Pitcher) Astros

Vernon Gerald Ruhle pitched in the majors from 1974 to ’86, mostly with the Tigers and Astros.  In a workmanlike 13-year career, Ruhle had a 67-88 won-loss record with 582 strikeouts and a 3.73 ERA. (Which would be pretty damn good if it was you or me pitching.) Ruhle ended his career in the Angels’ bullpen and made his last appearance on the mound in Game 4 of the 1986 American League Championship Series against the Red Sox. Ruhle took the ball from Manager Gene Mauch with the Angels trailing 1-0 with two out in the seventh and gave up two more runs in the eighth. Luckily, the Angels tied it in the ninth and won the game in 11 innings. Ruhle fared far better than his fellow Angels pitcher Donnie Moore did in the very next game of the series. In Game 5, the Angels were one strike away from advancing to the World Series for the first time — but Moore became the goat of the ’86 ALCS by giving up a two-out, two-strikes home run to Dave Henderson in the top of the ninth inning — and then giving up Henderson’s game-winning sacrifice fly two innings later. Boston went on to win the AL Pennant in 7 games. Hounded by the media and unforgiving fans, Moore became depressed, sank into alcoholism over the next two years, and killed himself on July 19, 1989. After his playing days, Ruhle became a pitching coach with the Astros, Phillies, Mets and Reds. One game can make a big difference. In Game 4, The Angels hitters came back to save Verne Ruhle from a loss. They didn’t save Donnie Moore.

9. Otto Velez (Outfielder) Blue Jays

Outfielder Otoniel Vélez Franceschi mercifully went by “Otto Velez” or a lot of baseball beat writers would have worn out their proofreaders between 1973 and ’83. (This was long before computer spell-check.) To make things even simpler, they nicknamed him “The Swatto”. Otto the Swatto is one of several players to hit four home runs in a doubleheader, a feat he accomplished while playing for the Toronto Blue Jays on May 4, 1980 against my beloved Tribe. But Velez’ hit his four home runs for the cycle: a solo shot, a two-run homer, a three-run blast — and a grand slam. That’s pretty damn cool. He finished his career with 78 home runs – and he ended it playing for the Indians. But Otto didn’t swatto any home runs for the Tribe, which doesn’t seem fair after hitting four against us in just one day.

10. John Urrea (Pitcher) Padres

Los Angeles born pitcher John Urrea was no longer in the Major Leagues when his 1982 baseball card came out. John Goody Urrea was a first round draft pick of the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1974 amateur draft. In 1977, he moved up from Double-A to the Cardinals as a reliever — and won his first five games as a starter. It was a promising debut, but in a five-year career with St. Louis and San Diego, that promise was not kept. Urrea pitched well for St. Louis in ’77, recording a 7-6 record with 4 saves and a 3.16 ERA, but he found himself back in the minors the next year. He fared better in the Cardinals bullpen in 1980, going 4-1 with 3 saves and 3.48 ERA – but St. Louis sent him and Terry Kennedy to San Diego in a 1981 trade for Rollie Fingers, Gene Tenace and some others. Despite the fact that Urrea posted a stellar 2.39 ERA in 38 relief appearances for manager Frank Howard’s Padres, his career was over after that season at the age of 26.  I wondered how a guy with a lifetime ERA of 3.74 could have such a brief and spotty career – but I couldn’t find much info about Urrea. However, one of the few things I did find was very intriguing. It’s an interesting blog article with a provocative series of comments. Check it out at: http://cards.devonyoung.com/padres/john-urrea/

11. Tom Underwood (Pitcher) A’s

For 11 seasons, journeyman pitcher Thomas Gerald Underwood plied his trade with the Phillies, Cardinals, Blue Jays, Yankees, A’s and Orioles, posting an 86-87 won-loss record and a career 3.89 ERA. Underwood’s career was not without some highlights. He helped the Phillies win their division in 1976 and ’77, and he was part of a Yankees team that won their division in 1980 and the AL Pennant in ’81. In 1978, he was voted the Blue Jays’ outstanding pitcher. Tom’s brother, Pat Underwood, pitched for the Detroit Tigers from ’79 to ’83 – one of 381 sets of brothers who have played in a Major League game. On May 31, Pat made his major league debut pitching for Detroit against his older brother Tom who started that day for the Blue Jays. They both pitched seven shutout innings, but Pat prevailed 1-0 with some relief help in the ninth. It was one of the very few cases where pitching brothers faced each other in a regulation game.

12. Dan Ford (Outfielder) Angels

Darnell “Disco Dan” Glenn Ford played in the Majors primarily as an outfielder from 1975-’85 for the Twins, Angels and Orioles. Besides having a fabulous nickname (and also having the same name as the star of “Blackboard Jungle” and “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father”), Disco Dan also had some notable on-the-field accomplishments. He hit the first home run at the rebuilt Yankee Stadium on April 15, 1976 and he hit for the cycle against the Seattle Mariners on August 10, 1979. He hit a home run for the Orioles in Game 3 of the 1983 World Series on their way to the championship. (Trivia note: ’83 was the last World Series that Bowie Kuhn presided over as commissioner.) In his 11 seasons, Ford maintained a .270 career batting average and slugged 121 homers. A solid career for Disco Dan.

13. Eddie Miller (Outfielder) Braves

From 1977-1984, Edward Lee Miller was a utility outfielder for the Rangers, Braves, Tigers, and Padres. Miller never played in more than 50 games in a season – and in ’81, the year he played in those 50 games, his 23 stolen bases were 10th in the National League. But Eddie Miller biggest moment in baseball was his last. In his final game on September 30, 1984 — after 7 seasons, 138 games, 332 plate appearances and 79 career hits — Miller socked his only major league home run in his last career at bat.

14. John Stearns (Catcher) Mets

John Hardin Stearns was called up from the AAA Toledo Mud Hens to play for the Phillies, and on September 22, 1974, he made his major league debut, coming off the bench to get his first knock in two at bats. But his first game with the Phillies was his last. With young Bob Boone already established behind the plate for Philly, Stearns was expendable. (Trivia note: Bob Boone is the son of the late MLB third baseman Ray Boone, and the father of two major leaguers: Bret Boone and Aaron Boone. All four Boones were named All-Stars during their careers.) Thus, the Phillies sent Stearns to the Mets, for whom he donned the tools of ignorance from ‘75 to ’84. Stearns had the dubious distinction of being one of the best players on the worst team of his era. He represented the lowly Mets in four All-Star Games — even as his team hovered around 100 losses all four of those seasons. Stearns was fast for a catcher — with nearly twice as many stolen bases as homers during his career. But Stearns best moment in baseball may have been when he got annoyed by the Atlanta Braves’ mascot, Chief Noc-A-Homa, and chased him off the field. And remember, Stearns was fast for catcher.

15. John Harris (First Base) Angels

John Harris is 1 of 571 players to have played for the Angels – and like John Urrea, he was already out of the Major Leagues when his ‘82 baseball card came out. Harris was no bonus baby: he was picked in the 29th round of the 1976 Major League Baseball draft – and he was already 25 years old when he broke into the big leagues. His three seasons, from 1979 to ’81, were all with the California Angels. In 56 games for the Halos, Harris batted .258, with 31 hits, 5 homers and 16 RBI. But though his time in The Show was brief, he’s a baseball lifer. This year, he was hired as the field manager of the Amarillo Sox of the American Association. Harris is still living the dream.

And finally, there’s those puzzle pieces.

The three 3 puzzle pieces in my package are among the 63 total pieces needed to put together the complete puzzle: a Babe Ruth collage entitled “Hall of Fame Diamond King.” Needless to say, I won’t be trying to collect them all. But I am glad that I’ve got these three pieces – and that I spent some quality time with the 15 players in this great pack of baseball cards.

Get a pack of cards – any year, any maker, and try this exercise yourself.

Each baseball card is a life story.

It’s like reading 15 tiny novels.

With or without the gum.


Filed under Sports

Baseball Season Opens: Of Mud Hens & More…

Baseball is back. Which means that, for some of us, the suffering has just begun.

But despite the travails and triumphs of the teams we follow with such passion each season, the classic American game that legend has attributed to Abner Doubleday — played with a bat and ball — is fundamentally a profound and simple joy.

My hometown Cleveland Indians opened this 2010 baseball season on April 5th in Chicago by scratching out just four hits in a 6-0 loss to the White Sox. An ill omen, to be sure. Three days later, 250 miles east on Interstate 80, it will be Opening Day for the Toledo Mud Hens.

For some, the Toledo Mud Hens are a team of 16” softball players who played from the mid 1980’s to the early 90’s in the Chicago Theatre League, led by their manager and sweet-singing slugger, Coach Tom “Wolf” Larson. (More on these Mud Hens later.)

But for the vast majority of those who follow baseball, the Toledo Mud Hens are a minor league baseball team that plays in the International League. The current Mud Hens are the latest of a series of pro ballclubs that have called Toledo home since 1883.

For many years, "M*A*S*H" star, Jamie Farr, was the Toledo Mud Hens most high-profile fan -- other than Wolf Larson, of course.

The name “Mud Hens” was bestowed upon the team in 1896, as one of the two parks they played in that year was located near marshland inhabited by American Coots, also known as marsh hens or mud hens.

Today, the team mascot’s name is Muddy, and the female mascot is named Muddonna. (Which sounds a bit sacrilegious to this former altar boy’s ears – but I’m sure the reference is to the pop singer not the BVM. Which should not be confused with the MVP.)

I find it particularly interesting to note that The Mud Hens have a connection to my hometown, though only the most trivia-obsessed baseball fan living beyond Northeast Ohio will be intrigued to learn that The Mud Hens relocated temporarily to Cleveland from 1914-1915. The move was made to ensure that Cleveland’s League Park would have a game every day – and thus help the Cleveland Indians to counter territorial threats by the Federal League. (Damn that upstart Federal League!)

Another Cleveland connection to The Mud Hens is even more surprising. When the team was playing in Cleveland, it took on a new nickname: the “Iron Men”. The nickname of my high school alma mater, Cleveland Central Catholic, is “The Ironmen”. This is the kind of information baseball fans love to exchange in the long pauses between pitches, between innings, and between hot dogs and beer.

No, Alex Rodriguez was never a Mud hen -- but in 2007, they did (with beak in cheek) offer free agent A-Rod a contract that included a bonus for hitting 75 home runs in ‘08 and leading them to 10 straight International League titles. Hank Steinbrenner, son of the Yankees owner, asked The New York Times: "Does he want to go into the Hall of Fame as a Yankee, or a Toledo Mud Hen?”

The Mud Hens may be a minor league team, but they’ve had a lot of major league talent over the years – and some legendary ballplayers have worn Mud Hens gear, including Addie Joss, Travis Fryman, Kirby Puckett, Casey Stengel, Jim Thorpe (yes, that Jim Thorpe), Frank Viola, and the great, drunken Chicago Cub’s slugger, Hack Wilson, who knocked in 191 RBI’s for the Cubbies in 1930 – a major league record that still stands. Click here for a complete list of Toledo Mud Hens alumni enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

It should also be noted that Toledo is the site of a failed late 19th Century attempt to break pro baseball’s color line. The 1884 Toledo Blue Stockings of the American Association, was the only major league team with black players (Moses Fleetwood Walker and his brother, Welday Walker) before Jackie Robinson and the Brooklyn Dodgers made history in 1947. Sadly, Cap Anson, the racist star of the Chicago White Stockings (alas, the modern day Cubs) refused to play on the same field as a black man. Though Anson relented when told his team would lose its share of the gate for an exhibition game against Toledo – Anson’s steadfast resistance to interracial play helped to draw an ignominious color line in baseball for another 63 years.

Now, back to 16” softball. Most of what you need to know about this wacky, egalitarian, and blessedly coed sport is encapsulated in this graphic from the website of the Chicago 16” Softball Hall of Fame.

Back in 1983, the Practical Theatre Company joined the fledgling Chicago Theatre Softball League, and someone — most likely Coach Wolf Larson himself — dubbed our team The Toledo Mud Hens. We played against teams from the Remains and Steppenwolf Theatres, among others. Bashing around the big 16” orb, a good time was had by all. And who can forget the time John Malkovich helped us to tackle Donny Moffat and give him a pink belly? But I digress…

Toledo Mud Hens on the stage of the PTC's John Lennon Auditorium (1983).

Jeff Lupetin. (Dig that crazy headband!)

These photos, taken in 1983, capture the distinctive batting stances of the early PTC Toledo Mud Hens. What we lacked in skill, we made up for in style. Of course, not all Mud Hens were without skill. Coach Wolf consistently crushed the ball at the plate and caught everything in centerfield within reach – and many that were far out of reach.

Terry Barron was a real honest-to-goodness shortstop that could field and throw with dexterity and flair. I witnessed Terry’s heroics many times from my post at third base. How good was I? Well, I still have a bent ring finger on my left hand from where I mishandled yet another bouncing, bounding 16” projectile.

Brad Hall, Casey Fox at the Bat, Isabella Hoffman

Julia Crowe, Jim McCutchen, Sally Nemeth

The Author, Stacy Upton, Shelly Goldstein

As Coach Wolf hits, note the all-star lineup of Hens on deck. (Photo by Jim McCutchen)

Over the years, players came and went – but Coach Wolf continued to hold the team together with the help of player-manager Ken Snedegar, and a new cast of Mud Hens clucked together into the early 1990’s. This edition of The Mud Hens was a winner. Heck! They even won league championships! And they had baseball cards, drawn by John Goodrich.

Here’s a select batch of some of Johnny B’s favorite Mud Hens cards from the six sets that he and Ken Snedegar produced. John tells me that many Mud Hen veterans have chosen the Paul Barrosse card from the first set (1985) as their favorite Mud Hen card portrayal of all time. It certainly captures my proficiency in the field.

For John, half the fun of the cards was the meticulous stats and “fun facts” on the backs, supplied by Captain Snedegar. You can see by the reading the back of Barb Reeder’s card in ’90 how far John and Sned progressed in their card-making, stat-tabulating craft.

Today, Coach Wolf is living in faraway Madrid, Spain – where I presume they have no 16” softball. Yet I know that, even in Spain, Wolf Larson is well aware that it’s baseball’s opening week – and that The Toledo Mud Hens will take the field to start the 2010 season this Thursday.

As for the Chicago Theatre League’s Toledo Mud Hens – they played in the league championship final on August 31, 2009. Does anyone know who won? Do we still know any Mud Hens on that team? Let’s hear you cluck, Mud Hens!

Now, here’s a gallery of classic Chicago Theatre League Toledo Mud Hens Cards, drawn by Johnny B. Goodrich.


Filed under Art, History, Sports