That’s the 1962 Dodgers yearbook. The year 2012 celebrates the 50th anniversary of Dodger Stadium, that venerable and beloved ballpark on a hillside just north of downtown L.A. And what a rich history this beautiful venue claims.
However, this post is about an anniversary that transcends baseball, and sports.
It’s been 20 years as of this weekend since the riots in reaction to the Rodney King police beating verdict, and a lot has happened over two decades.
But I’ll never forget the events of April 29, 1992 and beyond…when urban anger boiled over in Los Angeles, essentially shutting down the Dodgers along with most of the city.
Keep in mind that living 100 miles away, I watched from afar. But as a Dodger fan whose favorite baseball team played not far from where the action was taking place, the events that unfolded over the next few days clutched at my heart.
It all started on a Tuesday afternoon, far from the heart of L.A., with the acquittal of four police officers by a Simi Valley jury, and regardless of where you stood on the issue, the repercussions could be seen coming. Racial tensions in the city had been exacerbated over a series of incidents in the early 1990s. Tired of practicing patience, for many, this was the last straw.
Remembering that this all took place in those last days of the pre-Internet era, the home video taken by a witness to a beating the year before nevertheless became instantly popular nationwide, as cable TV was emerging as the primary source of news around the country. Today, it would have “went viral.” Back then, it was merely televised and re-televised on major media news outlets.
During the year (actually, almost 14 months) between the time the beating occurred and the time the verdict was announced, I assumed, incorrectly, that some conviction would be forthcoming, and the trial itself was just a matter of going through the motions. Surely one, if not all, of the cops would be found guilty.
Like you always do when there’s some defining moment in history, I still remember where I was when I heard news of the trial’s outcome–driving home from work, stopped at a stop sign on Pershing Drive. The announcement had been made live in Ventura County around 3:15 p.m. Forty-five minutes later, as I got into my car for my brief commute, I had just left a meeting. I hadn’t even realized the verdict was near, or was coming down that day.
But the talk show host on KFI radio was ranting about something, along with some guests on his show, outraged about how not much had changed over the years. “Is this 1992 in L.A.?” I remember someone saying. “It’s like 1962 in Mississippi.” Then he announced, for those who had not yet heard the news, that the four were found not guilty, and there was talk that the city was on the verge of erupting. Quite frankly, I was shocked at the news, myself. I raced the last mile home and turned on my TV.
I watched it all on KTLA’s broadcast, while my relatives in L.A. watched from their backyards in the distance—smoke, fires, drivers being attacked if they were in the wrong neighborhood.
I understood the mixed emotions. My dad was a retired cop. I called him and we had a long talk about his experience with the riots of the ‘60s, something I barely remember from my childhood and knew relatively little about then. The last time anything on this scale had taken place, I was five years old and didn’t have a clue what was going on outside my own little world. Back then, the Dodgers were slogging through the dog days of August, a heated pennant race with the Giants in the 1965 season, with L.A. soon to be crowned world champions.
But fast forward 27 years later, and it was a different world. The Dodgers were playing the Phillies early in the season, on that warm April night at Dodger Stadium, not too far away from the smoldering events south of downtown L.A. which began shortly before nightfall. 36,000+ fans were in Chavez Ravine to see Orel Hershiser face Danny Cox for Philadelphia. Mike Scioscia was behind the plate catching Hershiser. Lenny “Nails” Dykstra, who was born and raised in Garden Grove, CA, was in the lineup for the Phillies. Two more hometown players from the city, who grew up in Southcentral L.A.–Eric Davis and Darryl Strawberry–were in the lineup for the Dodgers and patrolling the outfield. (Strawberry’s brother, Michael, was an LAPD cop who was shot in the ensuing mayhem, but survived.)
A young rookie who would soon win the first base job pinch-hit late in the game, drilling an RBI single. His name was Eric Karros. The Dodgers lost, 7-3, their fourth consecutive setback, and fell to 9-13 on the young season. I don’t remember anything more about that game. I was riveted with the TV news.
I do know very few people had cell phones in those days–I could count the number of people I knew who had one, on one hand–so it wasn’t easy to just call someone at the game to let them know it would be best to take an alternate route home if they had to use the Harbor Freeway. And unbeknownst to many who were at the game, the city was going up in flames, outside the confines of Elysian Park. I heard stories about burning palm trees off the 110 freeway, which cuts through downtown just south of Dodger Stadium and through the heart of South L.A. On the program cover above, it’s marked “Harbor” and, denoted with a pinkish streak, takes a direct route through Strawberry and Davis’ neighborhood, south to San Pedro.
Over the next couple of days, mass chaos gave way to devastation. Looting and arson continued. Governor Wilson ordered 2000 California National Guardsman into the city (a number which was later doubled). President George H.W. Bush granted Federal assistance to L.A. Mayor Tom Bradley imposed a curfew. I listened to the radio all day at work, and watched on TV again as I got home. I was horrified, but mesmerized. I listened to many accounts from politicians, emergency personnel, and eyewitnesses; I saw devastation and death. I cried. I saw the pain of others–anger and tears. A mapped area on the news showed fires and destruction perilously close to the home where my aunt and uncle had lived for so many years in Gardena, before retiring two years earlier to a desert home. “This is Los Angeles”, one newscast led off. “But it looks and smells like Beirut.”
I saw opportunists, but I also saw righteous rage. And I saw people pulling together to move forward.
Meanwhile, in the sports world, the Lakers had moved their playoff series from the near heart of the violence, out of state to Las Vegas. The team’s superstar, Magic Johnson, who had just endured his own personal crisis a few months earlier, was deeply touched by what he saw happening around this city in which he had carried the Lakers to five NBA titles.
The Dodgers had been scheduled to play the Montreal Expos in that same homestand, but those games were all cancelled and later rescheduled as doubleheaders in July.
For now, sports was off the map. The entertainment industry stopped. Fiesta Broadway was cancelled. LAX was shut down; Amtrak service and RTD bus service were suspended. Unless you were involved in rioting or trying to control it, it seemed as if life was at a standstill in the City of Angels. Workplaces in many neighborhoods were shut down. But in some outlying suburban areas, life went on, albeit with caution.
How long would it continue? Well, by the time the weekend arrived, order had been restored, for the most part. I woke up Saturday morning to my neighbor knocking on my door. “What are you doing today? Any plans? Grab a broom and dustpan, we’re going to L.A.” KFI had put out a call for volunteers. The reports they gave from locations around the areas hardest hit by the riots were that people of all ethnic backgrounds were busy working together, cleaning up, organizing assistance to residents—with no tensions, just the goal of cleaning up in the aftermath. They gave the address of an AME church in Southcentral as the central organizing point. My neighbor, Jay, his girlfriend and I pooled our money together for a tank of gas, ready to hit Interstate 5 north. I grabbed my Los Angeles Thomas guide, figured out how to get there, and we were on our way.
When we arrived in Southcentral L.A., it was just as it appeared on TV–like it had been a war zone. The feeling was surreal. With the National Guard occupying the neighborhoods, there was peace, but it had not come without a price.
We asked where help was needed most. We saw people of all backgrounds, working together–many wearing Dodgers or Lakers gear–cleaning broken glass, debris, wreckage of storefronts–it appeared to be endless. What I saw brought me a sense of humility. It seemed the very least I could do to just be there and try to help in some way, because watching TV at home, I had simply felt helpless.
People were driving up and down Western Ave. with hand-held camcorders, preserving history on videotape. Later, on the way out of the city to head home, we cruised the length of Koreatown and saw scenes like that everywhere. Tanks were positioned, order was being maintained, and yet there was a kind of an eerie feeling–calm, but still on edge.
The long week had come to an end. On Monday, Cinco de Mayo, Los Angeles dug out from the wreckage and returned to work, the nation’s second-largest city trying to pick up the pieces of five horrifying days. Lives were lost, lives were forever changed, and in some cases, new life arrived. In my hometown, on that very day, my nephew was born.
The Dodgers came back, but they never were the same. It had been my hope that they would regroup from their sluggish start and lead their city to unity, coming together in support. The results were quite the opposite of what I envisioned, as they endured their worst season since moving to Los Angeles, losing 99 games—yet, only four years removed from a world championship. A team that had finished just one mere game behind the Braves in their division the season before, fell to a staggering 35 games back by the end of 1992.
Did sports really matter? I concluded yes, as a unifying force. We had seen sports teams rally to help bring healing to cities that had endured disasters before. Less than three years earlier, the “Bay Bridge World Series” helped Bay Area residents move forward from the Loma Prieta earthquake. So, why not now?
But in this case, it was just not to be.
In contrast, though, a 35-game deficit—while embarrassing for a franchise of the Dodgers’ stature—paled compared to the loss of life and livelihood in many L.A. neighborhoods.
Still, as far as the game on the field went, the silver lining that season was the emergence of Karros, the former UCLA Bruin, who would eventually write his own chapter in Dodgers history. He was one of the few bright spots on this team that had tripped up and never recovered. Later on that summer, Kevin Gross’ no-hitter against the Giants at Dodger Stadium—on August 18–was the Dodgers’ highlight game of 1992. Not much else about that season was memorable. It was almost as if the Dodgers reflected a mirror image of Los Angeles–broken and trying to restore itself.
Over those next few years in the city of L.A., leaders began to strategize and consider, where to go from here? And slowly, things got done. Wounds began to heal. Rebuilding began. Many who lived in Southcentral then, comparing it to Southcentral now, will tell you that much progress has been made.
But race wasn’t through being an issue in L.A. or with the LAPD; three years later the world’s eyes were riveted by the O.J. Simpson murder trial.
In the meantime, in those ensuing years, the Dodgers would struggle to find themselves. Yet, despite friction between the black and Korean communities in L.A., it was at Dodger Stadium that a Korean pitcher would emerge two years later as another groundbreaker for the team. The following season, it was a Japanese pitcher. And in the post-Valenzuela era, yet another Mexican pitcher. The Dodgers once again were reflecting a mirror image of Los Angeles; between 1992 and 1995, they were starting to look a lot like the city they represented.
From 1992 to 1996, the organization would produce five consecutive NL Rookies of the Year, but it got them nothing more than a couple of playoff appearances and quick exits.
Then Newscorp. bought the team, abruptly dumped their biggest star, and the Dodgers were left to start from scratch.
Twenty years after the riots took place, the Washington Nationals —formerly the Expos, whose series with the Dodgers was cancelled back then—were playing in Dodger Stadium. To put things into perspective, phenom Bryce Harper wasn’t even born yet on April 29, 1992.
And Magic, who was the Lakers’ greatest player as a city’s anger was unleashed in 1992, is now part owner of the Dodgers.
Things have an interesting way of evolving. History shapes the present. Perhaps the Dodgers and the city of Los Angeles will emerge stronger, with what certainly appears to be a brighter future than the bleakness that existed for both, back in April of 1992.
Celebrating her golden anniversary, the shining ballpark on the hill is certainly poised to return to the glory of earlier times.
As Marvin Gaye sang, “Whenever blue teardrops are falling…”
Well, the teardrops fell from my blue eyes several times over the past few days, upon the news last Sunday of the passing of the immortal Duke Snider. Edwin Donald Snider of Fallbrook, California–commonly known as “The Duke”–had a special place in my own heart, going back to when I was a teenager…and he meant so much to Dodger fans from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, and to anyone who appreciates the game of baseball and its legends.
I wrote about Duke in this space last September on the occasion of his 84th birthday, not knowing it would be the last he’d celebrate.
And today, I celebrated the life and legacy of the great center fielder who wore #4, joining others in his rural community in remembering his life and legacy.
Long before Don Henley sang about them, of course, Roger Kahn wrote about them–The Boys of Summer. The title of his book was taken from a Dylan Thomas poem, but Kahn’s paean to a bygone era of baseball lulled me into falling in love. Over the course of reading it at age 15, I developed a passion for this team, these men who became iconic. Most of them were still alive when the book was written in 1972. (Gil Hodges and Jackie Robinson would die that same year.) Duke appealed to me in particular, because he lived nearby and there were local connections.
My father had bought a copy of the book, which I still cherish to this day. Although I was more of a casual baseball fan back in the early to mid-1970s, over the next couple of years I became a passionate, true blue, diehard, eager to learn more about the rich history of the game, and my favorite team–the Dodgers. Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully, an icon himself, helped in that regard. So did my late dad, who’d taken me to my first baseball games and taught me the basics–how to follow the game, keep score, etc.
Of course, 40 years or so ago, we didn’t know how much the structure of baseball would change in years soon to come. Free agency began to tear at the heart of teams that had been built from within, such as the Dodgers and Reds of the ’70s were.
The first time I met Duke Snider was very briefly, outside of San Diego Stadium in 1970. I was 10. My friend and I were waiting after a Padres game to see if we could catch a glimpse of slugger Nate Colbert. Instead out came Duke, who at the time was a color commentator for the second-year expansion team in San Diego, and a couple of other men. Duke Snider was just another name to me at the time, a former player, someone important. But I didn’t know much about his feats. And he wasn’t who we were waiting for.
But within a few years, he’d become an important part of Dodger lore for me. I regretted having been born to late to see him play. Still, I would have more opportunities to be in the same place as he was over the course of the next 40 years, a short list of which follows. And how blessed do I feel now because of that?
-There was the sentimental journey taken in 1980 when Duke’s No. 4 was retired at Dodger Stadium upon his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
-There was the reunion in 2005 of the surviving members of the hallowed Brooklyn team on the golden anniversary of the Dodgers’ first world championship. By that time, Duke was the last living player from the starting lineup of “Dem Bums”. With me at Dodger Stadium that glorious afternoon was an older friend who had grown up idolizing Duke in Brooklyn, who now lives in San Diego. Also present was a friend from Delaware who had flown to Los Angeles specifically to attend this game. What a ceremony, and what a celebration!
-Earlier that spring, there had been the San Diego Hall of Champions event in which he appeared with, among others, former Dodgers GM, the late Buzzie Bavasi, before a packed house of baseball fans, many of them graying, transplanted Brooklynites–telling stories and sharing anecdotes with an adoring audience, of that golden era of baseball. What great memories they shared!–everything about baseball from Brooklyn to Los Angeles. Joining them at the Sports at Lunch event was former Yankee/current Padres broadcaster Jerry Coleman. Another San Diegan who was unable to attend that day was still a hot topic, with his career highlight–no small feat–discussed, anyway: Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series. Snider and Coleman were both on the field that day and shared their recollections of it. I also enjoyed hearing Duke’s memories of playing in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the team’s home for four years upon their arrival in L.A. in 1958. After the event was over, I had Duke sign my Dodgers 2005 yearbook celebrating the 50th anniversary of the ’55 team, then simply shook his hand and said, “Thank you, sir; it is an honor.” He smiled back, a smile that made the day of everyone in attendance. (That autograph of his, by the way, was one of the most beautiful in all of sports–it looked positively eloquent.)
-There was the “Field of Dreams” opening day pre-game ceremony in 2008, the 50th anniversary of the Dodgers’ arrival in L.A., in which Duke stood in centerfield of Dodger Stadium, with everyone in the house on their feet cheering wildly.
-And there was the famed “Return to the Coliseum” exhibition game, just a couple of weeks earlier at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the Dodgers’ first home in Los Angeles. It was clear at the time that Duke had slowed down a lot, but I still remember him signing autographs at the cavernous stadium before the game, even though it was never his favorite place to play given its unfriendly dimensions toward left-handed hitters. Friends and I wondered then how much longer he would still be with us.
-And I’m not likely to forget being in attendance for Induction weekend at the Hall of Fame the previous summer, when in 2007 crowds setting record attendance descended on Cooperstown to see Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn, another San Diegan, honored. Seeing Duke in the elite company of so many others of his era was a thrill beyond just his Dodger moments.
Over the years, friends purchased and had autographed for me two of Duke’s books. Most recently, “Few and Chosen - Defining Dodger Greatness Across the Eras”, was one Duke signed at Dodger Stadium, thanks to my friend Emma. In the late 1980s, an old (ex)-boyfriend of mine from that era–a diehard Mets fan–gave me a copy of “The Duke of Flatbush.” I cherish these as well as every other bit of memorabillia I have that reminds me of this wonderful player.
Duke was a Brooklyn Dodger, and one of the original Los Angeles Dodgers, having come full circle from his hometown. He was proud to play in Brooklyn, thrilled to be a part of a legendary group of men playing at a classic ballpark remembered by many as the greatest ever; yet he was happy to come home to the City of Angels, even as his career was waning with his best days behind him. He was a treasure to baseball, and fans in both cities adored him, as did baseball fans around the country. Duke was not only a “transitional” Dodger, but he played for a world championship team in both cities–and in both cases, the first for the city (1955, 1959). He was the last surviving member of the starting lineup for the Dodgers that won the team’s only title in ’55.
As time went on, I still remember the rest of those boys, slowly leaving us–”Campy”, Roy Campanella; “Pee Wee” Reese; and “The Skoonj”, Carl Furillo. By 1999, Duke was the last one of the position players who was left standing. In recent years, the passing of pitcher Johnny Podres was yet another blow to fans.
So, all these thoughts were swirling in my head when I heard the news last Sunday. And I thought it was very fitting that I was present in Compton, California–yes, the Duke was “straight outta Compton”–on the very site where Snider had played in his youth, the same weekend that he died 70 miles south in Escondido.
Some great college baseball was being played. The annual Urban Youth Academy Baseball Tournament took place from Friday through Sunday, alternating between periods of rain and sunshine, and the academy, located at Compton Community College in Duke Snider’s hometown, is on the very same ground that “The Duke” would prove himself to his community, before becoming one of baseball’s most feared hitters.
Snider’s debut in the major leagues in April, 1947 was overshadowed by the arrival of one Jack Roosevelt Robinson, but the two became integral pieces of a decade of the Dodgers establishing themselves as baseball’s beloved underdogs–losing to the Yankees in the World Series numerous times before finally defeating them in 1955. Duke found it ironic that he broke in with the Dodgers at the same time as Robinson, a multi-sport athlete he’d admired in his youth back home, at Pasadena City College, and then as a UCLA Bruin–yet now they were teammates 3000 miles away from the sandlots of their younger days.
He was beloved beyond comparison in Brooklyn, and this past week many accounts have been written of his wonderful career there, where his Hall of Fame credentials sparkled. In fact, one of his ten grandchildren is named with a variation on the borough–”Brooklynn.”
A few facts about Duke’s greatness are as follows:
-His 11 World Series home runs and 26 RBI are the most ever by a National League player.
-He knew how to celebrate his birthday with fanfare: on two separate occasions in his career, he homered twice on September 19 (1950 and 1953).
-To this day, he remains the Dodgers’ all-time home run leader.
He contributed some historic firsts and lasts to Dodgers history:
-On Sept. 22, 1957, he hit the last home run at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, the second of two off Hall of Famer Robin Roberts Philadelphia Phillies
-At the Coliseum on April 18, 1958, the Duke singled for the first Dodger hit in his hometown
-And on April 10, 1962, he had the first Dodger hit in the brand new Dodger Stadium
Beginning with his rookie year, he was a part of many historic moments in baseball over the next 18 seasons.
His passing came at an uncanny time:
-Two weeks after the death of his good friend Cliff Dapper, another former Dodger, lesser known to be certain–but also a Fallbrook resident. (For more information, see my previous entry.) So, after meeting a friend of Duke’s at the National Baseball Expo in January who had informed me he wasn’t doing too well at the time–and then hearing Dapper had passed away in mid-February–one of three Brooklyn Dodgers to die within one week–I organized a campaign with friends in my female baseball fans forum to all send a card to Duke. We knew at the time that his health was failing, but didn’t realize how brief a time he had left. A former coworker of mine had a sister who worked for the convalescent center in which Duke had been quietly placed. I asked her to follow up that our cards were received, which she did. I am so glad we took the time, and now I know they put a smile on his face. For me, I simply wrote that even though I was born too late to enjoy his talents firsthand, I appreciated all that he had meant to baseball, and what he had been to the Dodgers. I enclosed a copy of my blog entry from last September.
Two other notes about the timing of his death:
-It took place on the weekend of the GuacFest in San Diego, celebrating that sublime concoction produced from avocados, and the weekend the Dodgers would begin playing exhibition games in Arizona.
-And, it happened just a week after the release of a movie titled, “I am Number Four.”
So, to memorialize him last Sunday, my friend and fellow Dodger fan who works at a North County nursery set a floral arrangement, all in blue, and had it placed on home plate at Duke Snider Field in Fallbrook. This was similar to what I’d done in 2002 on the occasion of the great Ted Williams’ death, when roses were placed on home plate at Ted Williams Field in San Diego.
But what about Duke Snider before and beyond his glory days? Here’s some background on Duke’s pre-Brooklyn life, and post-retirement:
Like Williams, and many players of his era, Duke proudly served his country–in his case, with the U.S. Navy.
He never forgot his roots. He was born in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, just a couple of miles south of where Dodger Stadium is now located (and made note of that in the ceremony when his number was retired). He was a gifted multi-sport athlete in Compton at Enterprise Jr. High and Compton High. On a side note reflecting the times, the South Bay Daily Breeze notes of his junior high days, “Three of the team’s best hitters were Japanese boys, and when the war started they were sent to internment camps.”
In high school, Duke played QB and running back on the football team, and in his debut in his first spring on the baseball team, threw a 6-0 no-hitter against Beverly Hills High. He also hit .411. Duke excelled on the basketball court as well. But it was on the baseball field where he flourished most. (My dad, who was four years younger than Duke and graduated from Santa Monica High, remembered his exploits as a local athlete in those days.)
As he developed into an outstanding player on the diamond, Duke’s coach at Compton wrote to then-Dodgers GM Branch Rickey alerting him to the talented athlete he was mentoring. Scouts from the Cardinals and Reds organizations were also after him, but it was the Dodgers he eventually signed with.
The Daily Breeze also noted:
“His Dodgers tryout in 1943 was held at Rec Park in Long Beach, the old dusty field that now is Blair Field [home of the Long Beach State Dirtbags]. If you dig through newspaper archives deep enough, you’ll find a few stories on Duke Snider’s high school exploits were written by a schoolmate and close friend from Compton who grew up to be NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle…The “Duke of Compton” helped plant the seeds of success that made the Dodgers as beloved here as they were in Brooklyn.”
In his post-baseball career, while he tended to growing avocados in Fallbrook in North San Diego County, Duke’s children grew up and graduated from Fallbrook Union High School, and he has been a visible supporter of youth and high school sports in that community for decades. A writer covering Palomar College baseball remembered Duke following his son Kevin’s games while playing for that small school: “While later Major League dads such as Graig Nettles kept low profiles at Palomar games and Bruce Bochy disguised himself, Snider openly mingled with the crowd for two full seasons.”
Duke was married to his wife, Beverly–his high school sweetheart at Compton High–for 63 years (they were wed just after his rookie season ended), and for most of his retirement has lived in the backcountry (just as did his friend Cliff Dapper), where he was considered a community treasure. Early in his retirement, one of his business ventures was Duke Snider Lanes, a bowling alley in town.
But, baseball always drew him back, particularly baseball in the Avocado Capital of the country. Duke was active with fundraising for the Fallbrook baseball Booster Club, in particular their annual golf tournament, and he also sponsored an annual Home Run Derby. During that event in 2002, Fallbrook High’s baseball field was renamed in his honor. Local prep products benefitted from his involvement; in recent years, Cincinnati Reds pitcher Mike Leake (Class of 2006) was one.
Today, under bright sunshine on a beautiful March day, the Fallbrook High Warriors honored Duke Snider before and during their game against Temecula Valley, prompting me to make a special drive out to the backcountry of north San Diego County to meet a couple of friends. Both teams wore #4 jerseys in memory of the Duke and all he has been to baseball at many levels. There was a sentimental and stirring pre-game ceremony, with Farmer John Dodger Dogs® (grilled!) for sale at the game, and many men and women wearing Dodger jerseys and caps. (I wore my “My Town Brooklyn” Tshirt from last year’s Dodgers promotion.) It was the first high school game of the season for me, and the first time I’d attended a game at Duke Snider Field since my nephew pitched there as a visiting high school senior in 2008. Most of Duke’s family was present today, and were comforted by the tributes to him. A moment of silence was observed during the pre-game ceremony. While at today’s game, I also ran into Bill, the same man I had met at the National Baseball Expo, who told me that this gesture on behalf of the Fallbrook varsity team would have meant so much to Duke Snider: “He was all about baseball at this level. He was all about community.”
One more thing about the day’s events: During team warm-ups, the school PA system played the very fitting song,”Willie, Mickey and the Duke.”
Next weekend, the Duke’s private memorial service will be held. Fittingly, the Snider family has asked that in lieu of flowers, contributions be made to FUHS Warriors baseball. What a precious gift!
And tonight, in an unrelated event, one of his contemporaries mentioned above, former Yankee Larsen of perfect game fame, is appearing in San Diego at a fundraiser for the benefit of Point Loma baseball. He’s sure to share some memories of that centerfielder in Brooklyn.
Among my favorite Duke Snider comments are the following:
From his Hall of Fame induction speech:
“I’d like to thank God for including me in his master plan . . . being a Brooklyn Dodger and Los Angeles Dodger.”
And his most enduring, endearing himself to the Dodger faithful:
“I don’t much care for Halloween because its colors remind me of the Giants.”
Upon the announcement of Duke’s death, legendary Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda had said, “God was waiting for a left-handed hitter in that lineup”…and now he’s got him.
It surely must be heavenly now that you’ve joined the Big Dodger in the Sky with the rest of that baseball family. But we’ll miss you down here, Mr. Snider!
Happy Valentine’s Day! Pitchers and catchers may report this week, but that is far from the only baseball going on. Live action will be underway on the college mounds in less than two weeks! (And I’m talking about games that count–not exhibition!) So many showcases of top prospects have been taking place around SoCal, and the buzz is getting loud about some of these young players as they prepare for the season beginning this month. At the major league level, some of my Dodgers are already at Camelback Ranch; others will be reporting later this week.
That having been said, I’d like to post a tribute to three men who were not household names. Yet, all were all Brooklyn Dodgers, and within the span of less than a week, we lost these three former players. And while all three played for the Brooks, all three were very much Californians. So on this day in which valentine hearts are so prevalent, I post this information with a heavy heart.
First, Tony Malinosky passed away in Oxnard (Ventura County) last Tuesday at age 101. Malinosky played 35 games for Brooklyn in 1937, and on his life resume lists the following:
-Attended Whittier College and was a classmate of President Richard Nixon;
-Saw combat at the Battle of the Bulge with the U.S. Army;
in addition to two other impressive things: having played a brief stint in MLB, and being a centenarian.
Many will recall the NLDS game in October, 2009
between the Dodgers and Cardinals, at which Malinosky celebrated his
100th birthday along with a sold-out crowd at Dodger Stadium. Until his passing, Malinosky was the oldest living former major league player.
Next was Clifford Roland Dapper,
whose place in baseball history will forever be unique, although his story is pretty well-known. Dapper was a
PCL star before WWII, and like many ballplayers of his era, he served
our country overseas. But being traded for a Hall of Fame broadcaster was what
he will be remembered most for. In 1948, Dodgers GM Branch Rickey shipped Dapper
to the Atlanta Crackers for Ernie Harwell, who was replaced in the booth
a couple of years later by our own Vin Scully.
More recently, Dapper was a neighbor, and remained a long-time good
friend, of Duke Snider. Like the Duke, Dapper was a Los Angeles native
(Dapper graduated from Washington High) who retired away to the
backcountry of Fallbrook–the Avocado Capital of the world. In that picturesque setting, both former Dodgers owned groves of Haas and citrus
I was fortunate to meet Dapper a couple of times. He was an assistant
coach with Fallbrook High’s baseball team. (Some of you will remember I’ve
volunteered for several years at the annual Lions Tournament here in town.) Of
course, Dapper was the lesser known of these two ex-Bums in town–the
baseball field there is named “Duke Snider Field.” Dapper got a bit of attention last year when Ernie Harwell died, mentioned in most obits as
the “other guy.” Overall, Dapper maintained a low profile (he was not
exactly a household name) throughout his later years in life, but on occasion attended
events at the San Diego Hall of Champions. It’s my understanding that
he was last living at the Fallbrook Regency. He had celebrated his 90th
birthday just a little over a year ago.
Dapper passed away in Fallbrook last week at age 91.
Finally, Gino Cimoli passed away on Saturday at age 81 in the Bay Area of heart and kidney complications. He played a historic part in the Dodgers’ move to the West Coast in 1958, as the first major league batter to step to the plate in California. Ironically, it was against his hometown team. Cimoli, a native San Franciscan, hit leadoff for the Dodgers on Opening Day in 1958 for the Dodgers against the Giants at Seals Stadium. He struck out, and the Dodgers eventually lost that historic first game.
And it should be noted for the record that Cimoli finally lived long enough in San Francisco to see the Giants win one World Series there.
The outfielder, who was an All-Star in 1957, also played for the 1960 world champion Pirates over the course of a ten-year career that ended with the Angels in 1965. Cimoli had been traded to the Cardinals for Wally Moon later in 1958; Moon helped the Dodgers win their first world championship on the West Coast the following season. Cimoli went on to play for the Braves, Athletics and Orioles, but he will always be remembered as one of the original Los Angeles Dodgers, and the Dodgers were the team he broke in with.
The San Francisco Chronicle also noted that after retirement he worked as a driver for UPS. According to Wikipedia, “In 1990, the company honored Cimoli for completing 21 years of service without a traffic accident. Cimoli, then 60 years old and still working for them, was now referred to as ‘The Lou Gehrig of UPS.’ “
Cimoli also shared a birthday with me, although he was 30 years older.
As they say, they go in threes. Rest in peace, Old Bums!
Congratulations to the Yacquis of Obregon, Mexico, who won the Caribbean Series on February 7, played in Puerto Rico this year. Several friends and I got together for a viewing party, catered by Rubio’s. The Caribbean Series routinely features some great baseball, and this year was no exception! The fact that it coincided with the Super Bowl allowed for real baseball action to be followed for those who simply don’t care about the Super hype. (I admit to having had some interest in the Super Bowl this year…although I’m not a fan of either team that played in it, SB XLV MVP Aaron Rodgers lives 10 miles away from me, as do a few other Packer players.) Still, the fact that not all eyes in this region were focused on the game going on in Dallas was good for my soul to see, because I will forever be a baseball chick in a football-saturated nation.
Besides the events posted about in my previous entry, some of the other sights around town over the last several weeks have been kids playing pick-up games on Ted Williams Field in San Diego, winter youth and high school baseball underway in neighborhoods throughout SoCal, and college practices as several heralded programs gear up for the new season in a bid to become the best in the nation.
FanFests and Caravans have their place. They are fun to engage and participate in, but they are not the same thing as watching live baseball action. I’m less about meeting the players, taking pictures and getting autographs than I am about the game itself! So, I anxiously search out baseball at various levels during the months between the end of the World Series and the beginning of the next season.
The Dodgertown Classic, which will be played at Dodger Stadium in Chavez Ravine on March 13, will feature the marquee game with crosstown rivals UCLA and USC facing off. The Bruins are coming off a phenomenal 2010 season in which they fell just short of their bid to win the school’s first-ever College World Series, yet lost in the finals to “another” USC–University of South Carolina. Meanwhile, the Trojans, traditionally a college baseball powerhouse, are trying to rebuild in 2011 after several seasons of mediocrity. This USC, of course, has won more CWS titles than any other team in the country. But UCLA, even without a baseball title, has more national championships overall than any other school in the nation. So, the pride of these two teams in the City of Angels will be on display at the home of the Dodgers, just one month away. The Dodgers fan base is pretty split between support for UCLA and USC, so it’s always fun when the two teams play each other in any sport. Collegiate sports success is unrivaled in any other city in the U.S. compared to Los Angeles with these schools’ winning traditions.
Perhaps all three teams will have great seasons, and there’ll be a lot of happy Angelenos.
The Chinese Lunar New Year will conclude with the full moon this Wednesday, as we usher in the Year of the Rabbit. I count many baseball fans among my Chinese friends–some Dodger fans, others Padre fans. The two-week long festivities also coincided with the Super Bowl, and the celebration ends with the always colorful Lantern Festival.
And speaking of rabbits, I am very much looking forward to this man’s return to the Dodgers as a coach. Davey Lopes was a rabbit on the basepaths for the 1970s-era Dodgers and held down second base as a member of the longest-running infield in MLB history, which was together from 1973-1981. The Dodgers of that eight-year period won four National League championship titles and one world championship. Lopes was the offensive catalyst who set the table for the power bats of Steve Garvey, Ron Cey, Dusty Baker and Reggie Smith. Let’s see what he does with the maturing kids of the 2011 Dodgers.
Although it’s not yet official for the Dodgers, it’s no coincidence that Valentine’s Day often coincides with the day pitchers and catchers report to camp. What’s more romantic than baseball? This year, the official date for Los Dodgers is February 16, but one can always send their valentines late, right?
Never forget, though, that no matter how much red this holiday may bring out, LOVE IS BLUE, and may it eternally be so.
PEACE, LOVE AND DODGER BLUE IN 2011!
“Do you know what Jackie’s impact was? Well, let Martin Luther King tell you. In 1968, Martin had dinner in my house with my family. This was 28 days before he was assassinated. He said to me, “Don, I don’t know what I would’ve done without you guys setting up the minds of people for change. You, Jackie, and Roy will never know how easy you made it for me to do my job.” Can you imagine that? How easy we made it for Martin Luther King!”
-Former Dodgers pitcher Don Newcombe
That, perhaps, is the only connection I can think of which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had to baseball. I had to wonder, because on the weekend of of the holiday honoring Dr. King’s birthday, baseball was swirling in the air non-stop all weekend around Socal. Tournaments, a 5K benefit, the Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation Dinner, and last, but not least, the very first National Baseball Expo. I almost wish they had rescheduled the Expo–or at least converted it to an outdoor event–because with the focus on baseball, it was too beautiful a weekend to spend indoors. (And I’m not usually one for spending a lot of time cooped up inside!)
My weekend began on Friday, January 14, with picking up friends from out-of-state who were coming in to town for the Expo, escaping the frigid temps and snow of the Midwest. A late
afternoon winter league game set the tone for the next couple of days’ events. Baseball was definitely in the air, and there’s something about going to a game in January that does my soul good. We grilled Dodger DogsÂ® to take along with us, a treat that was new and a positive experience for my visiting guests.
Now, not much would get me out of the house at 7:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning, but again, another event having to do with baseball was one of them–coupled with a gorgeous day outdoors. This was the day of the Strasburg/Gwynn 5K at San Diego State University, for the benefit of the Aztecs baseball team, and I met my friend Cathy, a diehard Padre fan, for the early morning start. The San Diego sun was shining brightly even as I left my driveway shortly after 7, and 15 minutes later I was parking in the SDSU garage with hundreds of others, all of us ready to get moving for the Aztecs. The 5K wound around the lovely campus of SDSU and ended at the baseball field, where there were refreshments, music and autograph sessions all around. There, a festive atmosphere welcomed us as Stephen mingled freely among the runners and walkers, wearing his old Aztecs uniform, was interviewed by several local and national media outlets, and made himself accessible to fans of all ages. Hall of Famer and Aztecs manager Tony Gwynn, beloved local icon, was making his first public appearance on behalf of his team after his recent cancer treatments. Local favorite baseball family, the Boones, were there signing, too (Bob and Bret Boone had participated in the 5K); the current SDSU team, all in uniform, signed their 2011 team photo for fans and seemed to be taking it all in stride. All in all, there was a real baseball groove going on, with so many families participating in the events. All participants received an autographed photo of Stephen and several other freebies (tickets to Aztecs and Padres games). As noted above, Stephen was pretty accessible to fans and media alike. There were jokes made that it should have been
an “18K” instead of a “5K” in deference to Stephen’s masterful pitching
I had last been here at SDSU in early November for the annual Red-Black Series. But after that, baseball took a back seat to football as the vastly improved Aztecs won the Poinsettia Bowl, and the hoops team won its first 20 games of the season without a defeat. Yet here we were, back to having it be all about baseball on a glorious day. California state budget cuts might loom, and that’s what prompted this event in the first place.
From the San Diego Union-Tribune:
The event was a benefit for the Aztecs baseball program that turned an overweight and underwhelming, but obviously talented, pitcher from West Hills High into the certifiable sensation of both amateur and professional baseball. Since the (Tommy John) operation, Strasburg has been working toward his degree with public-administration courses, but also getting his lesson in resilience from the SDSU head coach whose own name adorns the Aztecs ballpark.
“He came by the office,” said Tony Gwynn, also present at Saturday’s event. “He feels like he’s ahead of schedule. He feels like he’s gonna be able to throw sooner than anybody thought. I was telling him, ‘Hey, slow dowwwwwn. Tommy John, man. Tommy John.’ “
From the Washington Post:
“The program really needed it this year,” (Strasburg) said. “They’re all Aztecs
to me. We’re all here for the same reason, because we love the game and
we love this school. It’s great to give back.”
Once Cathy and I were finished with everything, this was followed by a late morning baseball tournament game and post-game BBQ; then we were on our way to our next event. We met up with my friends from Illinois and jetted up the coast to the scenic town of Del Mar, north of San Diego, “where the surf meets the turf.” Known for its thoroughbred racing in the summer and other events throughout the year which take place on the seaside fairgrounds, this was the scene of the first National Baseball Expo, which we’d been awaiting for several months. Bing Crosby Hall, named after one of the racetrack and fairgrounds’ founders, was the location, and since this was the inaugural edition of this event, I wasn’t really sure what to expect, although I had some idea. I wasn’t disappointed. If you love this great game, you wouldn’t be either.
“The National Baseball Expo is an exciting consumer show that will be a “must attend” event for all Southern Californians who share the enthusiasm for America’s pastime.“
The ad in several baseball publications I receive certainly piqued my curiosity.
“Vendors will encompass every potential baseball interest a consumer might desire. It truly will be the one-stop shop for everything baseball.”
The All-Star Fanfest, at which I worked last summer, celebrated the love of Major League Baseball. This expo was not limited to that alone.
Inside, Crosby Hall was teeming with people of all ages sharing that love for the game. I was pleased to see that this event covered nearly every aspect of the love of the game of baseball, from playing to being a fan. I was also proud that San Diego was the location for such an expo. Exhibits and displays, ranging from instruction, to baseball gear, to autograph sessions, to memorabilia (my favorite). I ran into several people I’d come to know in the
local baseball community over the years, as well as many visitors from
out of the area. Some were from other parts of the country, but in
particular I encountered a few of my L.A./Dodger fan friends here, too.
Over the course of the weekend, some of the highlights were as follows:
-White Sox veteran Omar Vizquel was on hand to fielding demonstrations.
-Former Dodger Reggie Smith was there to discuss his playing days, his sense of fulfillment in working as a baseball instructor, and in particular, gripsize.com, a concept he’s working with today. From their website:
“If you play baseball, you will be given the proper bat handle size for both hands and the beginning and end point of your stride at the plate. Your perception of the point of the release of the pitch and the position of the ball as it approaches the plate will be precisely accurate. The wrong bat handle size or an imbalance stance at the plate and the perception of the release of the pitch and the position of the ball as it approaches the plate will be inaccurate. Reggie Smith tested these perceptual changes with over 50 major league players during 2009 Spring Training in Florida.”
-Among the vendors were some of the best baseball schools around. Former Oakland Athletics star Eric Chavez showcased his baseball academy in Rancho Bernardo. (Chavez would also this week privately work out for the Dodgers.) Gonzalez Sports Academy, which was established a couple of years ago by then-Padre, now Red Sox Adrian Gonzalez and his brother Edgar, had established a strong presence, too.
-Padres ace Mat Latos and All-Star closer Heath Bell were on hand for interviews and fan autographs.
-Free samples were given of a variety of products. When I was handed some packs of sunflower seeds, and opened them only to note the brand name on the package was Giant sunflower seeds, I almost choked!
--Weekend-long appearances by several players from the AAGPBL.
These spunky ladies are always a hit wherever they go.
On the second day of the expo, I wore my “Diamonds for Women” Tshirt and fielded a few inquiries about the site.
The event attendance thrived in the early afternoon hours on Sunday, and we were content to immerse ourselves once again in baseball and nothing but. Also on this day, with so many pieces from the memorabilia dealers discounted for the last hours of the expo, I was happy to pick up some rare photos from the 1960s and ’70s-era Dodgers, some signed by the Dodger coaching staff. It’s interesting to note that within a couple of days, two of the coaches on the staff had passed away.
But the prized item of all wasn’t for sale; it was simply being transported like the precious item it is, by an elderly lady who carried an autographed baseball in a case, from exhibit to exhibit. She was wondering if anyone could appraise the value of it–”not that it’s for sale, mind you–I’m just wondering.” That rare baseball was signed by the Boys of Summer–the 1955 Dodgers. My eyes lit up. It turned out the woman had lived in Brooklyn and regularly attended games at Ebbets Field with her family: “We would get a different player’s autograph each time we went to the park. It was a wonderful time in baseball.” She told me she’d moved to California from New Jersey only two years earlier. We talked for quite a bit afterward about the many former Brooklynites I know around this region, but the Padre players (and at least one former Dodger) who were on hand for autographs during this time frame were very interested in perusing this artifact themselves. They called out the names as they identified the players’ signatures, marveling at this small piece of history before their eyes.
On Sunday, the 2009 Little League champions, Park View LL, were on hand for autographs 17 months after their phenomenal run through Williamsport, PA being crowned the Little League World Series victors. Copies of the book written about them last year were available for purchase, with the authors also present to sign them.
As mentioned above, I also loved that this expo was a celebration of the game, not just any one team, not just any one facet of the game. The many conventions and caravans that take place at this time of year are often focused on individual teams rather than on simply the love of baseball. There’s nothing wrong with that, but to me the game is bigger than any one team, bigger than simply being a fan and spectator, or a player. This expo encompassed all of the above–in baseball terms, covered virtually all the bases.
I loved seeing so many families present in Crosby Hall. The $10 entry fee ($5 for kids) made this event affordable for so many, and while the majority of the vendors were male, I was happy to see so many young females perusing the exhibits. Some kids came in uniform straight from playing in their own winter league games.
However, since this was indeed the first ever National Baseball Expo, I did note some room for improvement and expect that my suggestions will be taken into consideration. The organizers were accessible and provided an email address for me to send any feedback and ideas for future editions of the expo. There was even talk going on of moving it to Petco Park, although I liked the concept of the location remaining north of the city, so as to allow easier access for fans from Orange County and Los Angeles. Still, since there is talk of expansion to other cities (and at least to the Bay Area), this might not be an issue in the future. Whatever changes or additions are made, I am simply happy I had the opportunity attend the very first one.
Later in the afternoon, as everything wound down, we ducked our heads into the San Diego Ski and Snowboard Megasale next door in the Exhibit Hall (admission free), before leaving the Del Mar fairgrounds. And on the way out, I thought about how in just five months I will be hauling assorted items from my own baseball memorabilia collection to these same grounds for the San Diego County Fair, at which I enter the annual Home & Hobby competition in the Collections Division.
The day was capped off watching a late afternoon game just a couple of miles inland, with a nice ocean breeze blowing off our backs. I could almost swear it was really baseball season!
Let everyone else fixate on football or shoveling snow. For awhile on a lazy, sunny afternoon, the crack of the bat and cheers of the fans were all I could hear.
This was also the weekend of the Professional Baseball Scouts Dinner in Los Angeles, something I enjoy seeing in the spotlight, as scouts are the “unsung heroes” of baseball. There may be a lot of glitz at the awards presentation, but there isn’t much in the job itself. Last year another friend and I attended the event, but this year it was just too much to fit into one weekend. I’m envious of several of my friends in L.A. who did go to this dinner after spending the day in Del Mar (although none of them did the 5K, too). Still, these are some true diehard baseball fans!
My out-of-state friends were thrilled with their experiences of this mid-winter trip. Unless you were going skiing or boarding in our mountains on this weekend, no deep freeze was needed for a few days of drowning in the love of baseball, both on and off the field. It sure beat the alternative!
Because as much as I love a great baseball discussion, or reading a good baseball book, there’s nothing quite like being at a game. The National Baseball Expo ran a close second, though.
–In an earlier era (pre-McCourt owned Dodgers), the beginning of January used to mean “winter workouts” began to take place at Dodger Stadium. That all changed in the mid-2000s, and now the new tradition is prospects mini-camp, which took place in Chavez Ravine the week before all of the above. I still miss winter workouts, though.
–Congratulations to Bert Blyleven for finally making it into the Hall of Fame! The former Santiago High star’s induction is long overdue. And while no Dodger player has been inducted in over a decade, still, an amazing total of 7 CIF players produced by L.A. area high schools between 1969-1978 are now in the Baseball Hall of Fame–certainly cause for pride in SoCal’s baseball roots. (If you can name the other six, you know baseball!) That decade corresponded with my own youth and budding interest in this beautiful game. Blyleven has often cited his inspiration as the ’60s-era Dodgers when Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale reigned on the mound, as his family moved from Canada to Orange County, CA when he was a child. He is a most deserving candidate. And with the passing of Bob Feller last month, native Angeleno Bobby Doerr is now the oldest living member of the Hall of Fame.
–Congratulations to Trevor Hoffman, who retired this month after a wonderful career which he leaves as the all-time saves leader. Hoffy, who grew up not far from where Blyleven did in Orange County (Savannah High, University of Arizona), will join fellow ex-Padres Mark Loretta, Dave Roberts and Brad Ausmus in the Padres’ front office this year. That’s one classy F.O., and I might add, Hoffman is the only one of the four who did not play for the Dodgers, too–although his brother Glenn coached for them before moving on to the Padres’ coaching staff.
Yes, this is the National League, where we play “real baseball”–none of that DH stuff–and Sandy Koufax just tripled.
Virtually every action photo of the Dodger legend taken during his
playing days features him on the mound, but not today. Sanford Braun
Koufax turns 75, although in the mind’s eye of most people who were
around in the 1960s, he’ll always look a youthful 30, the age he was
when he announced his retirement just after the 1966 World Series.
Happy birthday, Sandy.
Many have asked where I’ve been and what I’ve been doing since my last
entry here three months ago. The response is writing in my “real” job;
catching some offseason baseball, and coming to terms with the San
Francisco Giants being world champions.
In the months since I last posted, the Scottsdale Scorpions won the
Arizona Fall League Championship and I caught a bit of the San Diego
State Aztecs’ Red-Black Series last month.
I’m ready to flip the calendar. I hope everyone has had a happy holiday season, and is enjoying winter.
Because I’m still taking some time to digest it (and reaching for the Pepto-Bismol throughout it all), I’m going to avoid any mention of recent developments within the Dodgers’ organization in this entry. I’ve had discussions ad nauseum (no pun intended) with many other fans over the last couple of days to the point where I finally got blue in the face…so I’ll save some of those comments for another time.
As an otherwise dismal September winds down with my team so not in a very exciting NL Western Division race, today I want to wish a happy birthday to Edwin Donald “Duke” Snider, of Fallbrook, California. The Hall of Fame center fielder for the Dodgers and native Angeleno turns 84 today. He’s the last surviving member of the starting lineup for the Dodgers that won the team’s first world championship in 1955. One of my favorite memories in recent years was hearing Duke speak at the San Diego Hall of Champions in 2005 along with former Dodgers General Manager, the late Buzzie Bavasi. What great memories they shared!–everything about baseball from Brooklyn to Los Angeles. Joining them at the Sports at Lunch event was former Yankee/current Padres broadcaster Jerry Coleman. Another San Diegan who was unable to attend that day was still a hot topic, with his career highlight–no small feat–discussed, anyway: Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series. Snider and Coleman were both on the field that day and shared their recollections of it. I also enjoyed hearing his memories of playing in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the team’s home for four years upon their arrival in L.A. in 1958.
A few other notes about “The Duke”: He is also a veteran of the U.S. Navy. That’s something you don’t often hear much about. And, he knew how to celebrate his birthday with fanfare: on two separate occasions in his career, he homered twice on this day (1950 and 1953). Today, Duke and Beverly, his high school sweetheart at Compton High to whom he’s been married 63 years, live among the avocado groves tucked away in the northern reaches of San Diego County, where he is considered a community treasure. His health has not been so good in recent years, and he hasn’t been able to participate in one of his favorite activities, playing golf, for some time. But even though he maintains a lower profile these days, Duke Snider will be remembered with love by Dodger fans of all ages.
This Wednesday, September 22, two special Dodgers celebrate a birthday–Tommy Lasorda (#83) and “Sweet Lou” Johnson” (#76). So do two “Bobs”–although one is actually deceased. Hall of Famer Bob Lemon, of Long Beach, CA would have turned 90 that day. His career is interesting in that he started his major league career as a centerfielder for Cleveland in 1946 before eventually becoming a pitcher who recorded seven 20-win seasons and a .618 career winning percentage. As a player, he was a member of the 1948 World Champion Indians, and as a manager, he guided the Yankees to the 1978 world championship. Lemon, like the Duke, was also a Navy veteran.
Then, there’s Bob Geren, Athletics manager, who will turn 49 that day. A contemporary of mine while growing up in San Diego, we attended rival high schools in adjacent neighborhoods, and his feats were well known around town, although I must say I disliked him because of the team he played for. A first-round draft choice of the Padres, Geren’s professional playing career was cut short due to injuries, and I have certainly gained much more respect for him over the years!
Going back to the Dodgers’ current state of disarray, perhaps I should feel a little encouraged by the thought they could possibly enjoy a turnaround sooner rather than later. Recently, I was reminded of an exchange I had shortly after the World Series a couple of years back. So, rewinding to November, 2008, less than two years ago at this writing:
I was at a local sports talk event in which radio station XXsports 1090 was conducting a toy drive for local military families. While there, I chatted for a few moments with one of the station’s talk show hosts about the recent postseason in baseball which had just ended. I shared with him that I was a Dodger fan, but not a Padre basher, and we talked for awhile about our team’s futures. The Dodgers had just lost the NLCS to the Phillies, who then became world champions. At the time, the big story locally was the Padres’ discussion of trading their ace, Jake Peavy, in the offseason. They’d just come off a season in which they’d lost 99 games. Meanwhile, the Dodgers had surged with the second-half acquisition of Manny Ramirez, and rode that wave into the NLCS. Their future seemed bright. The show’s host looked at me and said, “The Dodgers are looking good for next year; you may need a tweak or two but they’re the team to beat. But at least your owners care about the team. Ours are too busy wrapped up with a divorce and cutting payroll. It’s really depressing.” I could see it in his eyes. I tried to sympathize, but with the Padres playing in the same division as my Dodgers, that was hard to do. Still, I have friends and some in my family who were in real angst about the direction of their favorite team.
Now, two years later, what we saw this year was close to a role reversal. It was the Dodgers whose owners are tied up in a bitter divorce (albeit much more high-profile than that of John and Becky Moores). It was the Dodgers who took a nosedive in the National League West, and whose future seems completely up in the air. Meanwhile, the Padres surprised everyone with their ascent in the standings, and their new owner has gone the extra mile to let fans –especially those alienated by the sour aftertaste of the Moores era–know he cares about putting a winning product on the field.
But expectations are different in both cities, too. The Padres have never experienced riding a crest of building their team through the farm for long-term success, trading for a few key pieces, and winning for a sustained period of time. The Dodgers looked like they were just about getting back to that point this year, and it appeared that their kids-turned-veterans, who are mostly playing in their fourth full season, were finally busting loose, with Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier set to establish leadership. Complementing the mix would be Manny and Raffy, two catalysts who make the team go, and that offense could be so explosive. Key injuries to those two players, though, would throw the lineup out of synch. Oh, of course it wasn’t just that. The bullpen imploding all season long was a huge contributing factor. I admit I had some concerns when the Dodgers’ payroll was slashed over the past year. Still, looking at the team on paper and realizing they’d been successful with most of the same players for a year or two, gave me cause to believe they had a good shot at repeating as NL West champions this year. In fact, on paper, just about any team in the division was going to be competitive; it was just a toss-up as to how wild the West was going to be. In my mind, the depth of our starting pitching was my only real concern–and that wasn’t the issue with the other teams in our division. The NL West is pitching-deep, for the most part. The differences are, despite a low payroll for a large market team like L.A., the Padres still have a lower payroll, and their fans have rarely had high expectations. Desires?–yes. But not necessarily expectations. Even the most optimistic among my Padre fan friends predicted they would finish in third place this year. That still has yet to be determined, but they have owned first place or a share of it most of the season. The Giants and Rockies will still have much to say over the next two weeks. But the Dodgers? They can’t even play the spoiler role right. So, how this all plays out will be very interesting.
A Tale of Two Trevors*
One is the major leagues’ all-time leader in saves, having just notched his milestone #600 last week. That, of course, is Brewers reliever Trevor Hoffman, former Padre, Orange County native, and San Diego resident. Although I agree with those purists of the game who remember the days when a save was a real save–that is, relief pitchers came in with runners on base and often pitched more than one inning–I’m still in awe of Hoffman’s ability to reach this level. Beyond what he has accomplished on the mound, he is a first-class human being, As a Padre, I saw the impact he had on his teammates, and I see the same thing happening in Milwaukee. I know firsthand how respected he is in the local community. The Hoffmans are deeply rooted in SoCal, with Trevor’s brother Glenn still the third base coach for the Padres–and a former manager, though briefly, of the Dodgers back in 1998. Glenn stayed on with the Dodgers’ organization through 2005, also as a third base coach, but always overshadowed by his famous brother. (Note: This trend has often been duplicated in this region. For example, Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn was forever a Padre, but his lesser-known brother Chris won a world championship ring with the 1988 Dodgers.. Chris later played for, and now works as a scout for, the Padres. And for a couple of seasons both All-Star Adrian Gonzalez, and his non-household-name brother Edgar, played for their hometown Padres as well. Adrian’s still a Padre, but Edgar competed in a Japanese league this year.)
Trevor and the Dodgers have crossed paths often. Over the course of his career, he’s notched more saves against the Dodgers than against any other team. And four years ago yesterday–September 18, 2006–in the heat of a division race between the Dodgers and Padres, the team from L.A. came back from the dead in the ninth inning with four consecutive home runs to tie the game, 9-9. Two of those home runs were off Trevor Hoffman, the man who had held the Dodgers in check in so many previous appearances.
So it’s been much easier for me over the last couple of seasons since Hoffy left the NL West, as far as admiring his accomplishments. I know Padre fans wish Hoffman well, and so do most baseball fans. It’s just less stressful when he isn’t helping another team in the division win games, especially knowing my Dodgers only play the Brewers a handful of games each year. It’s been a struggle for Trevor this season at age 42, but perseverance paid off, and his teammates stuck with him through difficult times.
By the way, the Padres have more than adequately replaced Hoffman on their roster with another kid from Orange County, Heath Bell, who’s been stellar in racking up 42 saves this season, with the bullpen being a big part of the team’s success. So, the transition went well. Congratulations, Trevor–a man of remarkable accomplishments and forever a class act.
*Of course, the other Trevor merits a mere footnote, and is the Athletics’ All-Star, Trevor Cahill, who at 22 is shaping up to be the ace in Oakland. Those who have read this blog for awhile know I’ve been following this local kid closely (even though I don’t care as much for AL baseball in general) this season. Cahill bounced back from a difficult start against
the world champion Yankees a couple of weeks ago and last weekend, shut out the Red Sox on three hits. Cahill’s record is 16-7, 2.84 ERA in 2010, his second as a major league pitcher.
A few weeks ago, I saw the independent movie, “Chasing 3000″, at a local theatre. I was immediately captivated by the subject matter and storyline: two teenage boys, diehard Pirates fans who’ve recently relocated with their mother from Pittsburgh to Los Angeles in the summer of 1972, escape with their mom’s car on a cross-country drive so they can “be there” for Roberto Clemente’s 3000th career hit when it finally happens. It’s based on a true story, and of course I’m sure much of it was “Hollywood-ized”, but even still, there were some minor issues that were clearly oversights as far as accuracy goes (or maybe the writers figured some people weren’t paying attention). Nevertheless, I loved the film overall. It’s a great story about bonding, a great story about what fans will do for the love of their baseball heroes and just to “be there” for a special moment. In some ways, I could identify with the basic premise of this story. While I certalnly never stole (or “borrowed”, in that sense) a car, even as a teen I pulled my bit of stunts to “be there” for my Dodgers at any cost, no matter what was necessary to get there, even when I was car-less myself. For me, it usually meant going it alone, though.
Certainly, credibility took a hit in the scene in which the main character picked up an L.A. newspaper and found no mention at all of Clemente’s march to 3000 hits. Hey, I read the L.A. Times then–yes, even as a 12-year old. I devoured the sports page of that newspaper. It was what sustained me and one of many sources that nourished my love for baseball–along with my dad, and Vin Scully–while I was growing up. Another “questionable call” I had to wonder about was–how is it that through all the scenes that took place in Los Angeles, with the many baseball references and games played out on diamonds around town, there was not even one mention of the Dodgers? (Okay, I get it. The Pirates were defending world champions. The Dodgers were transitioning. They probably weren’t even on the kids’ radar. Okay, the boys just didn’t care about my team. I suppose I understand!)
But what a heartwarming movie. It was sentimental without being sappy, nostalgic about an era in Pittsburgh baseball history in which the Pirates were on top of the world. I loved this film because it reminded me of when I was cutting my teeth on baseball, when I was personally falling in love with the game. Even though I was born and raised on the West Coast, I could appreciate that team on the other side of the country and their accomplishments. And there seemed to be a lot of baseball deaths of legends that year, some via personal tragedy like Clemente, others lost to failing health (Jackie Robinson, Gil Hodges).
After watching the movie the first time, I went back and saw it again with a couple of friends who are Pittsburgh transplants who lived through that era, and they thoroughly enjoyed it too.
“Chasing 3000″ is set to be released on DVD soon. I didn’t want to wait for that. I’m a person who loves seeing movies in the theater, and that is particularly the case with baseball movies–I enjoy sharing the love of the game with an audience of diverse backgrounds, all of whom have that common thread, in the same room. I’m old school in that sense. For those who are too young to remember it or were not yet born, the setting of the early ’70s was captured well in “Chasing 3000″—those last fleeting years before free agency took hold of baseball…when teams really did stay together, for the most part. That in itself is nostalgic.
Yeah, we Dodger fans have needed to cling tightly to anything good that we can, lately. Even if it’s last week’s sweep of the Brewers–the team’s first sweep since June. Really, I am tempted to start with yet another litany of the 2010 Dodgers’ woes, but nothing can dim the bright light of a wonderful announcement that was made last week.
Vin Scully will return for his 62nd season of calling Dodger baseball in 2011. Speaking as one of many fans who needed a lift like this news provided in this very trying season, I can only say this is a real cause for celebration.
I’ve given some thought about how blessed we as Dodger fans are, despite the drama accompanying 2010. As if 60+ years with the greatest baseball broadcaster in history isn’t enough, we actually have two Hall of Fame announcers still calling games for us–Jaime Jarrin is the other–and they’ve combined for 112 seasons of excellence. What is really special is that, among all Major League Baseball teams, these two gentlemen have been associated with only the Dodgers’ organization. Broadcasters have tended to hop around from team to team over the years, but these men are strictly Dodger Blue–two classy people who represent the organization so well. Even in a dismal season, they make the intolerable tolerable. Vin brings a smile to my face on a regular basis with his smooth and inimitable blend of knowledge, wit, and his masterful vocabulary, occasional weaving in cultural references. Even his self-professed ignorance of some trends is charming in its own way–just a couple of weeks ago, Vin noted on the air he didn’t even know what a mullet was, much to the amusement of many viewers on Fox Sports Prime Ticket. Of all the sights, sounds, and other things associated with baseball season, none is sweeter than the sound of his voice. He is a link to Brooklyn history, a link to baseball’s arrival on the West Coast. Vin was baseball long before I was a
twinkle in my daddy’s blue eyes. I mean, think about it–Vin was
calling baseball games when Harry Truman was president!
Still, I’m happy to share Vinnie with the rest of MLB’s fans, as he is a treasure to the game itself. A devoted husband, Vin has always credited his wife with allowing him to continue his work even though he’s cut back on the number of games he calls over the years. So, in addition to being elated about this late season surprise announcement, I would also like to express my gratitude to Sandy Scully, for sharing him with all of us.
I’ve always said there were two men who taught me about baseball–one was my late father, and the other was Vincent Edward Scully. Dad has been gone for seven years. And I have never been more grateful to still have Vin. Words, something that Vin is so good with, can never be enough to express my appreciation to him for his many accomplishments over the years. He has been part of my extended family for as long as I can remember.
So it was that baseball fans, but especially those in Dodgertown U.S.A., held their collective breath last weekend when it was announced that an announcement would be made the next day as to our beloved announcer’s future with the team. Vin will be 83 by the time next season gets underway. To our knowledge, his health is still good. Surely he couldn’t think of going out on a season like this, could he? Even when asked about his decision after the fact, he beamed about his deep love for the game. It’s to our benefit.
Whatever the 2010 Dodgers do in the next month, nothing can mar this wonderful news. The very definition of timeless excellence, Vin just keeps on bringing new generations into the fold, like he did with so many before them, with his golden voice. It’s one I can’t imagine life without, although someday that certainly will come to pass. But I don’t want to ever think about it having to happen. I’ll certainly cherish every moment, come what may.
Maybe it won’t ever come to fruition, and Vinnie will outlast us all.
But now that we must move on, what a horrible season this has turned into. And yet, I still savor it. The events of the last few days have played out like a real soap opera. Manny has been claimed off waivers and is now in a Chicago White Sox uniform. (His last at-bat was an abrupt, one-pitch pinch-hit appearance before he was ejected.) The McCourts’ divorce trial started today. The Dodgers have lost their last two games, and trail in the wild card race by 6 1/2 games. And as if all of that weren’t enough, the Phillies roar into town tonight fresh off a sweep of the first place Padres over the weekend, and our Bums get to face Doc Halladay.
My thoughts on Manny are that I’m grateful for his carrying the team into the 2008 playoffs, and beyond, though they fell short of winning a championship. Although I’d been on the fence about the acquisition when he arrived in L.A., I was supportive of the Dodgers re-signing him in the offseason, based on what we’d seen in those two-plus months of August-October. Then, he disgraced himself and the organization with the PED suspension. He’s still a great contact hitter, but the power just isn’t there, nor is the health. He’s had three stints on the DL this year. What more can you say? Thanks to No. 99 for the thrilling moments. The pinch-hit grand slam on his bobblehead night in July, 2009 was described by Vin as “even more Hollywood than Hollywood.” But like the Hollywood sign needing refurbishing in its old age, I think this version of Hollywood is showing signs of wear and tear, too. .
Way back in April, I noted here that several Dodger trends of the past decade were beginning to change. That was noticeable in their season opening series on the road in Pittsburgh as the Pirates, a team they had always beaten handily since PNC Park opened in 2000, dominated them in the first four games. Well, here’s another spell broken–prior to last weekend, the Cincinnati Reds had lost 12 consecutive games in Dodger Stadium, going back to 2006. The law of averages, of course, dictated that streak would come to an end–but not only did Cincy win the first game, they won the series as well, taking two of three. Reds manager Dusty Baker, a fan favorite during his Dodger days some 30 years ago, wears #12 just as he did when he played in L.A.–and said before the 13th game was played that the losing streak would end at 12. Moreover, Baker’s team won the season series between the two teams for the first time since 2004.
The next constant to fall by the wayside was the Rockies winning a series with the Dodgers, when they took two of three in Coors Field over this past weekend. That hasn’t happened since 2008; Colorado and L.A. have played nine series, all won by the Dodgers, over that span.
I’m disappointed, of course, with the recent news that Nationals rookie Stephen Strasburg will miss next season because he’ll undergo Tommy John surgery. Fortunately, the success rate for pitchers is very high, as so many have returned to action and continued a stellar career. If you didn’t read my post about “TJ and the Doc” last year, it’s in the September 2009 archives. Best wishes to Stephen, although his recovery period will be long and surely difficult, in that youth is not patient. But the kid has made us proud, however briefly.
I’ll end this entry on another positive note:
Happy Birthday to the Splendid Splinter. Yes, he’s been gone for eight years now, but today would have been Teddy Samuel Williams’ 92nd birthday. Born in my hometown of San Diego on August 30, 1918, Williams was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1966. The last player to hit .400 in a season, he was a two-time Triple Crown winner. His 21-season career was interrupted twice by military service (39 combat missions as a Marine pilot). Williams retired from baseball on September 28, 1960–fifty years ago next month.
Before I was old enough to know much about baseball, I knew about the legend of Teddy Ballgame. At the time, there was no major league baseball in San Diego. He grew up in North Park, went to Hoover High, and played for the minor league Padres before making it big with the Red Sox. And what a career! There was a time when I was four or five years old when I could count on one hand the number of other major league players’ names I knew–Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and Sandy Koufax. So far as I knew, these six players were the “greats” of all-time.
So here’s to “that other” Kid! Thanks for all you did for the great game of baseball, and for this wonderful country of ours.
Oh, my Dodgers! They have been in a terrible hitting slump for the last couple of weeks and since the All-Star break, have suffered two losing streaks, the first one lasting six games, and the most recent one having just ended at six games. While they’ve gotten great starting pitching, lack of run production and some shoddy relief pitching has done them in. The Dodgers have some good relievers (see Hong-Chih Kuo, and although he’s relatively untested, Kenley Jansen), but a definite liability in George Sherrill (ERA over 7). And while the big bats aren’t coming through offensively, let’s face it, injuries have definitely taken their toll too, with a weaker lineup taking the field. It’s just a combination of a lot of factors that has added up to many losses. The fact that the surging Giants were able to sweep them over the weekend is definitely a sign of the times–Matt Cain, starting pitcher in the final game of the series, was 0-8 in his career vs. the Dodgers going in, and still came away with a victory, so what does that tell you?
Having just dropped to fourth place and at nine games out of first place, and playing four at home this week vs. the division leading Padres, I decided I was going to give the new acquisitions–Ted Lilly, Ryan Theriot, Scott Podsednik and Octavio Dotel–a shot to see if they can turn this thing around in the next couple of months. In fact, I would never count them out until they are mathematically eliminated. And Lilly looked remarkable in his Dodger debut, which finally took place 14 years after the team drafted him. We’ve still got two months left, folks. So many short-sighted fans have forgotten our Bums were eight games out of first in mid-August, 2008, when they made their run and won the division. However, they just can’t afford to drop any further back. With the way the team had been playing even with the new arrivals, I began to think that perhaps Lilly, Theriot, Dotel and Podsednik were questioning if they ever really did leave the Cubs, Pirates and Royals.
Vin Scully opened the broadcast in the first of a four-game set against San Diego by saying some are wondering if the Dodgers are out of it. He commended the Padres for hanging tough, but as usual, Vin’s words of wisdom included 61 years of observations about pennant races. It’s true there are probably some younger fans who have no idea that the 1964 Phillies had a 6 1/2 game lead with 12 left to play, then lost 10 straight. At least in recent memory, the 2007 Mets suffered a similar collapse, as the Phillies erased their seven-game lead with a couple of weeks left in the season. But as Vin noted, the 1951 Dodgers led the Giants by 13 games in August…and that led to the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” which stunningly put the Giants in the World Series. In my lifetime, I can recall the 1978 Red Sox who led the Yankees by 14.5 games at the end of July, only to lose in a one-game playoff after both teams finished the season with the same record. Then, of course, there were the 2007 Rockies who came out of nowhere (fourth place) to record one of the hottest Septembers on record in baseball history. It was especially unlikely given the Rockies’ previous pennant race performances, and they had to climb over a couple of teams in the standings to win the wild card. As Vinnie said, “nobody knows, but from what I have seen, no lead is safe.”
Something fans of other teams will never understand is this: Losing, and then becoming winners, is tradition with the Dodgers; it’s part of our heritage, going back to our historic past in Brooklyn, and now the Dodgers have endured their worst drought since moving to Los Angeles 52 years ago–over two decades long. But for those of us who love them, it’s part of supporting a team, and when I look back at the blessings in my life over the years, I count being a fan of this team as one of them. Sure, everyone can claim pride in being a fan of their team–but very few teams can top the Dodgers’ contributions to baseball. It isn’t always about winning or losing. I think, believe, bleed, and breathe Dodger Blue forever!
So, we keep on keeping at it. This divorce we too will survive.
In fact, the only series the Dodgers have won since the All-Star break was against the Mets at home, taking three of four. The team is now 10-1 when I’m in attendance this year. Unfortunately, the one game they lost was on July 23, the only setback in the four-game series with the Mets. In particular, I wanted to attend this game because the Dodgers would be honoring their first world championship team, the 1955 team which won their only title while playing in New York. Baseball is a game that celebrates its revered history more than any other sport, and the Dodgers do that pretty well.Was it really five years ago that I was at Dodger Stadium for the 50th anniversary of the ’55 team? It’s hard to believe. I attended that game, against the Houston Astros, with my friend Crzblue and two others, both from San Diego: one, my good friend Harpo, a true historian of the game who attended the ’55 World Series as a five-year old, and the other my friend Rhoda, who was born and raised in Brooklyn, now in her 80s, who had attended games at Ebbets Field while growing up. For the golden anniversary, the Dodgers played the Astros that Sunday afternoon in August, 2005. And to complete the cycle of the team moving west, it was a Los Angeles native, Jeff Weaver, who took the mound for the Bums that day, beating Roger Clemens. (And as fate would have it, it was the Astros who actually played in the World Series a couple of months later.)
Now, everyone knows that the team’s one link to Brooklyn that has remained unbroken throughout all those years is our beloved announcer, Vin Scully. I cherish the video of that 50th anniversary game, because the Dodgers did something really cool with their broadcast that day: they showed the evolution of televised baseball, as it was in 1955, and as it was half a century later, everything from the camera angles to the way the action was covered then and now.
But, fast-forwarding to 2010, the Dodgers were honoring with one of their popular promotions in the “My Town” section. On selected home games, this section, in the reserved level/right field, features a special theme celebrating the diversity of the City of Angels. On July 23, “My Town” commemorated Brooklyn, New York: “Dodgertown, Brooklyn.” In all “My Town” events, participating fans who purchase tickets in that section receive All You Can Eat food related to the theme, along with unlimited non-alcoholic beverages. I thought they should have served Brooklyn pizza that night, but no…the menu of deli food was a bit thin, compared to that served at “Dodgertown, Philippines”, “Dodgertown, Mexico”, and “Dodgertown, Ireland”, all of which I’ve attended going back to last season. But no matter, one of the best things about “My Town” promotions is the Tshirts (with individual designs for each specific promotion) the attendees receive.
In this case, the Tshirt featured the “55 since ’55″ patch the team is wearing on their uniforms this season. The first 20,000 fans in the gate were given a poster commemorating the ’55 Dodgers team winning the World Series.
Big Don Newcombe, who has been associated with the Dodgers for the better part of 61 years, threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Newk was the only player in MLB history to win all three major awards, and is a source of inspiration and pride to the organization. A contemporary of Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella, he arrived on the scene as baseball was slowly integrating, in 1949. His first pitch on this beautiful evening was thrown over an original home plate from Ebbets Field, which was placed over the Dodger Stadium home plate. Newcombe was introduced as he took the field, as the “best dressed man in the house”–which he always is! During games he attends at Dodger Stadium, he’s easily recognizable to fans around the park with his suit and hat, and of course his long, lean figure.
House organist Nancy Bea Hefley played all night long, as the game proceeded without pre-recorded music. Even the DiamondVision graphics on screen were in black & white. Before the National Anthem was sung, some others in attendance joked about whether the flag would contain only 48 stars. And, of course, the former Brooklyn Dodgers announcer and current L.A. Dodgers broadcaster, Mr. Scully was on hand for it all.
My mom is attending her 55th high school reunion here in San Diego in a couple of weeks. I joked that she should wear the Tshirt with the “55 since ’55″ replica patch. :) Interestingly, her high school has a couple of cool baseball ties. It is the alma mater of not one, but two, perfect game pitchers–Don Larsen, and David Wells, who both accomplished the feat for the Yankees, 42 years apart.
Speaking of the Brooklyn Dodgers: Rest in peace to Billy Loes, who pitched for three Brooklyn National League championship teams, including the ’55 Dodgers, passed away on July 15 in Arizona, at age 80. From the L.A. Times obituary:
He started Game 6 of the 1952 World Series for the Dodgers against the Yankees at Ebbets Field. The Dodgers led 1-0 in the seventh inning when Loes gave up a home run to Yogi Berra and a single by Gene Woodling.
Then Loes balked by letting the baseball slip from his hand while he was on the pitching rubber, sending Woodling to second base. With two out, Vic Raschi, the Yankees’ starting pitcher, hit a ball off Loes’ leg, and it caromed into right field for a single, scoring Woodling. The Yankees went on to a 3-2 victory, tying the series at three games apiece. The Yankees won the World Series the next day.
Other items of recent note:
Congratulations to Andre Dawson, Whitey Herzog, and Doug Harvey, who were all inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on July 25. Congratulations also to Jon Miller, who is now in the elite broadcasters’ wing. Even though he’s a Giants announcer, I have appreciated his wit and superb broadcasting skills for many years.
While much attention has been focused on Dawson, the player, and Herzog, the manager, the unglamorous job of umpiring is usually overlooked. So a special nod to Harvey, who is the first living umpire to be inducted. I first met Harvey when I was in high school. The umpire known as “God” is a San Diegan, and was a contemporary of my parents at San Diego State in the mid-1950s. For some reason San Diego is a magnet for umpires; the Runge family (three generations–Ed, Paul, Brian) have been based locally, as well. Recently I shared with friends a classic Vin Scully-ism from the early 1980s, when the Dodgers were playing a home game on Easter Sunday, that always reminds me of “God”:
“Jimmy Stewart is in attendance enjoying the game today. And being that it’s Easter Sunday, well, one of the symbols of this day is a rabbit, and some of you may remember that Stewart appeared in a movie about a human-sized rabbit. What was the name of the rabbit? Harvey. And today, on Easter Sunday, Doug Harvey is umpiring behind home plate.” After that, I always busted up thinking of Doug Harvey as a rabbit.
Now suffering from throat cancer, Harvey also has a few Dodger connections–the first game he worked in his career, at third base, was the occasion of Dodger Stadium’s christening on April 10, 1962, a moment near and dear to my heart. And the first player he ejected was Joe Torre, now Dodgers manager, then playing for the Braves.
So, best wishes to the ailing umpire.
And the same for a young pitcher, Stephen Strasburg, who with an inflamed shoulder last week suffered the first injury of his young Major League career. Stephen just turned 22 on July 20. Many Aztecs supporters had been waiting to see if he’d make his first West Coast start during next weekend’s Nationals series at Dodger Stadium. Apparently not, but there were busloads of fans waiting to take a trip up Interstate 5 just in case.
Some addenda to my previous post about the All-Star Game and festivities in Anaheim last month:
–A couple of years ago, the 100th anniversary of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”, baseball’s “national anthem” of sorts, was celebrated. Who doesn’t love this light-hearted, early 20th century paean to the simplicity of attending a baseball game? Most of us know the story behind it, about how it was written by someone who had never been to a baseball game. What very few people know, and is one of Orange County’s obscure claims to fame, is that songwriter Jack Norworth is buried in Melrose Abbey Memorial Park. During All-Star week, the Los Angeles Times featured a nice read about Nortworth’s long-time ties to the O.C. before his death in 1957. Certainly, as I sang the famous song in Angel Stadium on July 13, I thought long and hard about the NL: “If they don’t win, it’s a shame.” With the Senior Circuit’s victory, tradition did indeed win out, Interestingly, he passed away the following year, just weeks before the Dodgers would win the first World Series ever played on the West Coast. Norworth may have been a Philly native, but he died in Laguna Beach, and in fact, was the founder of that coastal town’s first Little League.
According to the Times:
…the first time he heard his song performed at a game was in 1958, when the Dodgers, newly arrived from Brooklyn, honored him at the Coliseum during the tune’s 50th anniversary. The makers of Cracker Jack presented him with a trophy.
Because there was nothing in the cemetery commemorating Norworth’s place in baseball history, a Facebook group was created to correct this oversight. So, just before this year’s All-Star Game, on July 11, a three-foot tall black granite monument, paid for by concerned fans, was installed.
The composer of the melody? That was Albert von Tilzer. He passed away in Los Angeles, in 1956–a couple of years before the tune’s golden anniversary was celebrated.
–In connection with the All-Star Game’s Home Run Derby, the Times also wrote about the original Home Run Derby, a similar competition that was regularly filmed for TV audiences, which took place at L.A.’s Wrigley Field, once located at 42nd and Avalon, from 1959-60.
From that article:
The show developed in 1959 between sportscaster Mark Scott and a broadcasting company. The idea: have the best home-run hitters from each league compete against each other at Wrigley, a hitter-friendly ballpark.
The format called for two players to square off over nine innings, with each getting three outs per inning. Anything but a home run was considered an out. The winner received $2,000, the runner-up $1,000 – and three consecutive home runs earned a $500 bonus.
Scott, handsome and with a baritone voice, moderated the show and
interviewed one player while the other batted, giving viewers a personal look at their heroes.
The show was popular but lasted only 26 episodes after Scott, 45, suffered a fatal heart attack in 1960.
It’s hard for those who’ve grown up in recent years to understand how little baseball was actually shown on TV back in those days. In the “Home Run Derby” days, all-time greats such as Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron and others appeared on the show. If those men played the game today, they’d be seen in every at-bat on a nightly basis. But a half-century ago, on network TV, sports programming was a lot more limited. Many who are reading this now will remember that wonderful old show, and some will have enjoyed watching reruns of it years later on ESPN or MLB Network.
Now, though, it’s time to re-focus my attention on the Dodgers and how far they can go with one-third of the season left to be played. How much defending of their back-to-back Western titles can really be done? A win against the Padres was a great start, but unless that continues, treading water will be the norm. The bleeding has temporarily ceased, but you can bet that everything spilled has been blue blood. That never changes.
It’s been a wonderful last few days in Orange County, California, working as an All-Star FanFest volunteer (with some great stories about that experience!), attending other festivities, and finally, the Mid-Summer Classic at Angel Stadium.
Enough will be said about the game itself; the most important and biggest storyline is that the National League won, 3-1, for the first time in 14 years. My nephew who is 20 had just gotten out of kindergarten the last time the NL won an All-Star Game! While this one was not the best All-Star Game I’ve attended, it was a pretty good one, featuring great pitching, and the Senior Circuit prevailed–so that was good enough for me. The NL has won a majority of the times I’ve been to ASG, so I had a feeling this would be the year, finally–and I was right. The law of averages, if nothing else–such as my presence–said so. Since 1997, the AL had been so dominant, it was frustrating for NL fans. When I was growing up, the opposite was so true that I actually felt sorry for the American League not being able to win a game for so many years.
As all baseball eyes were on Anaheim over the past week, I’m also proud I was able to support a worthy organization as a result of seeing this game played live. I’m the co-moderator of a forum for female baseball fans, and my cohort had asked back in January how many of us were interested in organizing a group trip to the game. Her husband is a subcontractor who had done some work for friends of his who are Angels season ticket holders. They offered him their family’s eight tickets to the All-Star Game in exchange, as payment for the work done, since they had a family trip planned out of the country this July. In turn, he graciously offered them to our group free of charge, so we took him up on that! The seats were great–on the field level, just beyond first base. Instead of selling the tickets, they asked that donations be made to CHOC (Children’s Hospital of Orange County) as they have a son who is a special needs child. What could be better, right? Watching baseball in great seats, while supporting a good cause, at a “name your price” discount? The icing on the cake was the National League victory. Hopefully this is the beginning of another winning streak for the NL. Ever since the 2009 World Series ended, our forum has been organizing events to promote socializing around baseball, and we’ve attended some college and winter league games over the last offseason to satisfy those hunger pangs without MLB. Though the core group of us resides in Southern California, we’ve had at least one come from out of state for one of our winter activities.
So, it was a win-win-win situation, all around, with our tickets secured without a hassle, CHOC receiving donations, and the enjoyment of camaraderie within our group. Other than the above-mentioned husband, we also had the boyfriend of one of our fellow female fans accompany us. Those of us from the forum who attended are all National League fans, so we wore our forum T-shirts in solidarity, along with our corresponding team caps. My fellow female fans in attendance also volunteered time at FanFest, too. And with the win, we all went home happy. (By the way, the NL leads the overall All-Star Game series 41-38-2.)
So congratulations to Braves catcher Brian McCann, who was named Most Valuable Player of the game for the NL. And what do you know, Jonathan Broxton proved he could close out a big game with serious national exposure, shutting the door on the AL in the ninth. This was important not only for him, but because in recent years the NL had gone into the late innings with a lead only to see the AL rally off such illustrious closers as Trevor Hoffman and Eric Gagne.
At this time last year, I wrote about my previous experiences attending All-Star Games. That post can be read in my entry from July, 2009.
One of my favorite memories that did not have to do with the action in the game itself took place 30 years ago last week–on July 8, 1980, as Dodger Stadium hosted its one and only ASG, ever. That All-Star Game was the second of five I’ve attended, the first one being a high school graduation gift for me in 1978. But I still cherish my ticket from the 1980 All-Star game. I sat in the RF pavilion, and the cost was $8! On that evening, the Dodgers unveiled the brand new state-of-the-art DiamondVision screen by Mitsubishi, the first ever large-scale video display to be used at an American sporting event. The 56,000 fans on hand were excited and impressed by this advanced (for the time) technology. Although it was our lovely ballpark’s one and only moment to shine in the Mid-Summer Classic, I’m so proud I was there! Decades later, Jumbotrons have become not only standard but essential at all sporting venues. But, this is where it all started.
Now, some comments about the All-Star FanFest at Anaheim Convention Center. I worked at this event for three days, the second time I’ve volunteered at a FanFest (the only other time was in 1992 in San Diego), but I’ve also worked at similar conventions of sports fans, such as the NFL Experience at the Super Bowl. This was also the third time I’ve attended FanFest, as a baseball enthusiast myself. It is always a thrilling experience, shairng the love of baseball with fans from all over the country and many parts of the world.
So, this week I’ve been meeting enthusiasts of the great game who have traveled from near and far to Orange County, CA for the festivities. While Angels and Dodgers fans have had the largest turnout in numbers, it’s been fun to meet fans from Japan and Korea, many of whom were here for the World Baseball Classic held at Dodger Stadium last year; and, of course, many fans who’ve traveled the short distance from Mexico. So when you hear about folks traveling from “near and far” to attend All-Star festivities, that’s accurate. The World Cup may have just concluded, but baseball is gaining in international popularity. (And let me state for the record that I didn’t watch the World Cup. The only sport that interferes with baseball season that I will give a nod to is the NBA Finals. Besides, I was working on the floor at Anaheim Convention Center on the day of the final match.) Hey, it was bad enough I had to miss Dodger games which were taking place during my shifts.
The Futures Game is one of my favorite things about All-Star weekend. In fact, I like it better than related All-Star activities such as the Home Run Derby and parade, more because it’s actually about baseball being played than the others, which I consider to be mostly the ratings hype of star power. The unglamorous world of minor leaguers lacks the glitz and drawing power of the Major League All-Star Game itself, with its big names, but the desire to win is still there–perhaps even more so because these players must continue to prove themselves. This year’s game, unfortunately, was not a great one–it was a 9-1 rout on the part of the U.S. Of course I’m glad the U.S. won, but a more competitive game would have been better to watch. Congratulations to Angels prospect Hank Conger! Hank, a catcher out of Huntington Beach, was the Most Valuable Player of the Futures Game, and how appropriate to have him excel in Angel Stadium, giving their fans a glimpse of what their future might hold for them. Conger hit a three-run homer in this game, and he might not have even been there, if not for the fact he was a late addition to the roster to replace an injured player.
As I love to follow the local youth talent throughout this region, I made note
that on the U.S. roster of the best minor leaguers, seven of them played high school baseball in the surrounding area of Orange County–which is a pretty impressive number given the number of players in the minor league talent pool. It must have been a thrill for their families and friends to see them play in the neighborhood again, with higher stakes. In addition, Royals prospect and first round draft choice in 2007, U.S. Futures player Mike Moustakas, is from Los Angeles. Moustakas holds the CA state record for home runs in a high school “career”–52. So, it was like a homecoming for many of these young men.
In the MLB All-Star Game, 11 of the players (both NL and AL teams) were from Southern California. Obviously Stephen Strasburg was not one of them, and I understand the reasons behind that decision; however, if he’d been included on the final vote ballot for the NL, no doubt he’d have made it in. There’ll be plenty of opportunities for him to make the team in future All-Star Games. In particular, Trevor Cahill of the Oakland Athletics, a RHP in his second year with the team, deserves a nod of recognition as a first-time All-Star, even though he did not play (wasn’t eligible since he pitched on the Sunday before the game) . In my past posts I’ve mentioned two pitchers from the high school class of 2006 in San Diego–Mike Leake, and Stephen. Cahill is also a third pitcher from ’06. Who knew he’d make the MLB All-Star team only four years later, before the other two?
During the All-Star FanFest, the Golden Spikes Award presentation was made to college baseball superstar Bryce Harper–to nobody’s surprise. (Last year, at the FanFest in St. Louis, it was Stephen who received that same honor.) So, congratulations to Bryce! Both Harper and Strasburg were the No. 1 overall picks in their respective drafts, and with both being selected by the Washington Nationals, it should be interesting to see how things progress for that organization. Harper, at only age 17, is out of the College of Southern Nevada.
Over the weekend, we had a few comments about our SoCal weather, which was had been atypical all week long. For the benefit of those who don’t live here, I’ll just say this region is full of microclimates which can vary from neighborhood to neighborhood. Along the coast, it had been relatively cool over the Fourth of July week. Laguna Beach had temps in the high 60s and low 70s, while in July it is typically 75-80. Many who’ve traveled from other parts of the country have welcomed this relief from the heat and high humidity, but others wonder where is the California sun that is the staple of the All-Star Game commercials? On the coast, it was making on and off appearances. In Anaheim, which is a few miles inland, it was more noticeable, but there were still puffy clouds interspersed. This has certainly been an unusual beginning of summer here, with everything from the 60s at the beaches–which is more typical of winter weather on the coast–to the 70s in inland suburbs, 90s in the mountains, and 100+ in the desert–all in the same day! But by Monday, the day before the big game itself, everything had returned to normal in the suburbs of Orange County. Temps were in the mid-to-high 80s, and in the mid-to-high 70s at the beaches west.
Indoors as I was most of the day, I missed much of the sunshine. For the first couple of days at FanFest, I was assigned to the batting cages, loading balls into the pitching machine as person after person took their turn at the plate for five pitches each. Then, I got a bit of exercise shagging balls in the so-called “outfield.” Later, I was assigned to the cages in which bunting techniques are stressed (the Firestone Tire Challenge, with tires arranged as targets for the bunted balls). As I watched so many partake in these activities, it was evident the love of baseball knows no boundaries, as fans of all ages, sizes and shapes participated. There were more than just fathers and sons, there were entire families taking at-bats; there are dads and daughters, moms and daughters, bulky guys who are the size and build of MLB players, and tiny tots. Kids wearing Dodger caps and kids wearing Angel caps, some sporting USC, others UCLA. My favorites were the tykes with eyes as big as saucers as they struggled to hold a bat that was larger than their own tiny bodies.
As noted above, fans of all ages were in the cages. There was the 80-something year old woman who didn’t look a bit frail as she made contact with the ball. There was the daughter about 10 years old who laid down a perfect bunt, and laughed as her dad fouled his off. And I must add, I love that this event is so inclusive. If All-Star FanFest had been held 40 years ago, when I was first playing organized softball, there’s no doubt this activity would have been limited to boys only. Now, girls are accepted as a part of the game at many levels.
In the “Home Run Derby” batting cages, I had a long way to go to keep up with shagging balls for a couple of hours. Two Marines were volunteering at the same time, and they were definitely outpacing me. I’ll say I definitely got a workout, as opposed to my regular day job in which I’m sitting at a desk most of the time.
But the best and most enjoyable part of working at FanFest was interacting with the participants in “You Call the Play”, on my final day of work. In this popular activity, fans are given the opportunity to record their own broadcast of a historic moment in Major League baseball history. There were several choices, the two most popular being Kirk Gibson’s 1988 World Series Game 1 home run, and the Angels winning the 2002 World Series. The third most requested baseball moment was Tony Gwynn’s 3000th career hit. Others were: Hank Aaron’s 715th home run, Rod Carew’s 3000th hit, Jackie Robinson stealing home, and Nolan Ryan’s seventh no-hitter. Participants were handed an informational sheet with stats and some of the background to place them “in the moment” as the scene was set.
The majority of the participants were kids under 14, so this was very entertaining. I laughed and I cried, and I laughed all over again, during the three hours I was assigned to this station. Some of the kids chose to make their broadcasts solo, a la Vin Scully, while others sat in the booth with a friend. It reminded me of the Junior Dodgers broadcasts, a kids’ program in which selected fans under 14 call games in the press box at Dodger Stadium. For the kids at FanFest, though, there was predictably a lack of polish, which made it even more enjoyable for me listening in.
Some switched back and forth from being “in the moment” to the present, making observations on the in-between years: There were plenty of corrections and interjections made with two broadcasters in the booth. Listening in as the kids called the plays, I started jotting notes on some of the more entertaining ones:
From two youngsters, about age 12:
Kid #1: “Well, I’m here with my friend Josh in Montreal, Canada. Tony Gwynn is going for his 5000th hit here.”
Kid #2: “Three thousandth!”
Kid #1: “Oops, I mean his 3000th. Here’s Gwynn waiting for the pitch…I think he’s going to be in the Hall of Fame someday.”
Kid #2: “Dude, he is already in the Hall of Fame!”
Kid #1 (sounding exasperated): “Well, he isn’t now, not yet!”
Kid #2: “Well, here’s the pitch and it’s a line drive, Tony Gwynn has gotten his 3000th hit and the Padres win the game!”
Kid #1: “They didn’t win yet! They just stopped the game a minute!”
Kid #2 (lowering his voice and adopting a more serious tone): “Well, I remember Roberto Clemente and his 3000th hit…he got into a car accident right after.”
Kid #1: “It was a plane crash, dummy!”
Kid #2: “Oh yeah, plane crash, well anyway, he is dead, and this is Tony Gwynn’s time now.”
Kid #1: “This moment is brought to you by El Cajon Ford. Nobody beats El Cajon Ford!” (Note: Gwynn has been a spokesperson for that dealership since his playing days.)
One young man simply read the information sheet as if from a script, documentary-
style, while the video moment played: “Tony Gwynn and the Padres were on the road in Olympic Stadium in Montreal on August 6, 1999. Gwynn stepped up to the plate with 2999 hits in his career…”
From a husband and wife, on the 2002 World Series, Game 7:
Husband: “And your Anaheim Angels…”
Wife: “Not Los Angeles Angels…”
Husband: “…have won the World Series for the first time!”
From an eight year-old girl, on the same game, pleading for the outcome:
“Two out in the ninth inning and the Angels are still ahead. Here’s the pitch, ohhhhh! He hit a fly ball! Please, please, please, catch it so we can win the game!”
Of the kids’ calls on the Angels winning the World Series, there were
several variations on the scene showing the Giants’ dugout:
“Barry Bonds is just sitting there in the Giants’ dugout. He just can’t believe it!”
“Barry Bonds…you can see how mad he is on his face!”
“Barry Bonds is getting up…he can’t stand to watch the Angels celebrating!”
Then, with the scene of a crying Darren Baker, the three-year old son of San Francisco manager Dusty Baker: “I would not want to be that kid now! He is crying his head off!”
For the Gibson home run, two guys in their early 30s sat in, as if performing a comedy act (one was a Dodger fan, the other an Angel fan):
Guy #1: “Well, it’s going to be Kirk Gibson vs. Dennis Eckersley here. Say, Steve, which one do you think has the better mustache?”
Guy #2: “Well, I don’t know, let me think about that one. And there is Mike Scioscia, Dodger catcher, watching from the bench. Hey, Jake, I do believe Scioscia might make a good manager someday. I just can’t see him doing it anywhere other than here in Dodger Stadium.”
Guy #1: “Oh, I don’t know, Steve. He might make a pretty good Angels manager.”
Guy #2: “Next thing you know you’ll be telling me the Angels will someday have a chance to win the World Series.”
Guy #1: “Gibson swings, and it’s going to go over the right field wall and into the stands. What an amazing moment! Even Tommy Lasorda, who has seen everything in baseball at least twice, hasn’t seen this until now.”
Guy #2: “Yeah, Jake, I think Tommy just sweated off about 10 pounds watching that at-bat.”
Guy #1: “Eckersley can’t believe what just happened. There’s a consolation, though, I think he has the better mustache.”
Guy #2: “You know, people may still be talking about this home run 22 years later. What do you think?”
On the Gwynn milestone, as a father and son called the moment
Dad: “They’ve stopped the game, his teammates are all out of the dugout. Everyone’s happy for him. And Tony is being hugged by his mother on the field.”
Son (about age 7, recoiling in horror): “Oh my God, Dad. I wouldn’t want Mom to come out and hug me!”
Another father-son duo, Angels fans, who had already called the Angels World Series moment earlier, decided to sit in on the Gibson shot this time–with Dad prompting the young boy, who remained pretty quiet until a revelation hit home with him:
Dad: “Well, what’d you think of that pitch?”
Son: “Ummm…it was a good pitch.”
Dad: “What’d you think of the swing?”
Son: “It was an ugly swing.”
Dad: “There’s Dodger catcher Mike Scioscia watching on as Gibson takes another swing, it’s 0 and 2.”
Son: “Hey, Dad–is that our Mike Scioscia?”
From a young Angels fan:
“And the Angels win the World Series! This was the best day of my life!”
Afterward, I asked him how old he was, and he replied, “I’m 10.” I said, “So you were just a baby when that happened, huh?”
His response: “Yeah. But it was still the best day of my life!”
Two young boys, on the Gibson home run:
Kid #1: “Well, here we are at Yankee Stadium.”
Kid #2: “No it’s Dodger Stadium!”
Kid #1: “Oh yeah. It’s the Dodgers and the “A”s in Game 1. Sorry I forgot it’s not against the Yankees.”
Kid #2: “That is Mark McGwire playing first base for the “A”s. He looks skinny there. Hey, how long do you think after this was that he started using steroids?”
Kid #1: “Gibson swings and that is a home run! I didn’t see who caught it, do you think he will sell it on Ebay?”
I was impressed there were kids who had such an appreciation for
history, that they called moments that happened decades before they
were born. Of course, for some of these kids, even the ’02 World Series took place before they were born!
One of them, calling a moment from the 1955 World Series:
“Oh! Jackie Robinson is going to try and steal home! He is called
safe! But this catcher for the Yankees better watch out. He might get
thrown out for arguing with the umpire!”
A 12 year-old on Hank Aaron’s 715th home run:
“He hits it deep, is it out, is it out yet? Yes! Oh my God, he did it, he broke Babe Ruth’s record, that was awesome!”
Some of the more noticeable errors made (by adults) were:
“The Angels have beaten the Giants to win the pennant!”
“The Dodgers have won the game, 4-3!”
(Hey, excitement can get the best of anyone, even years after the fact.)
The Gibson home run was the longest segment of all, but it was the most popular among fans, overall. We had Dodgers and Angels fans both calling it; Yankees, Cardinals and Cubs fans called it. At 7 minutes plus, from Gibby stepping up to the plate, to the rounding of the bases and celebration at home plate, it was high drama unlike any of the other moments, and that is what makes it such a timeless bit of baseball history. And, as long as it may have lasted, I loved every second of it–even after seeing it for the thousandth time.
One guy, about 40, stepped up and selected 1988 World Series, Game 1, and I told him it seemed to be pretty popular. “I bet you’re sick of this one, huh?” he said with a laugh.
“Oh, no, sir,” I replied. “I never get tired of this one.”
I won’t go into many other details about the FanFest, other than to say if you’ve never been and you consider yourself a hard-core fan, it covers nearly every aspect of the game you could ask for. And, though Anaheim may be an American League town, there was definitely a Dodger/National League influence there, from all the blue at the
FanFest and the 1988 World Series calls, to the final game score.
And why did it seem like very few Angels fans, at least among the volunteers present, knew about their own team’s history? One of my friends (a Padres fan) and I both knew the answer to one of the trivia questions asked of the volunteers: “What was the Angels’ original home field and where was it located?” She won a pair of tickets to a future Angels game for answering correctly. (Wrigley Field, at 42nd and Avalon.) I wondered if many Angels fans knew the part Wrigley Field played in successfully establishing Major League Baseball on the West Coast, to begin with?
In general, though, I must say I did see a lot of friendly co-existence between Dodgers and Angels fans throughout those several days. Some families even showed up with several in their group wearing gear from either team.
On the stage outside the main convention floor, a variety of musical acts entertained fans over the five-day duration of the event. Listening to a mariachi band play “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”, and
“It’s a Small World”, that well-known theme song from Disneyland located just across
the way, I was reminded of the message that baseball is, indeed, expanding across the
globe. One surf-sound band set
the tone for the overall All-Star festivities with a nice version of
“Good Vibrations”, which summarizes the love of both baseball and the beach for me. Was there a hidden trivia question there? (Brian
Wilson, a Giants pitcher with the same name as the Beach Boy who wrote
“Good Vibrations”, is an All-Star on the NL team.)
And the memorabilia that was available! For collectors like me, it’s heaven, much like the shops lining the streets of Cooperstown. I purchased a few old scorecards and yearbooks from early-to-mid-’70s era Dodgers. Some I was sure I’d bought before, at that time, but had lost track of over the years. Who knew when I was saving my hard-earned babysitting money back then to spend $2 on a World Series program, that I’d be spending $25 on the same all these years later? I even found an All-Star Game program from 1974, when my beloved Steve Garvey won the write-in vote to start at first base for the NL.
Disneyland, just down the street from Angel Stadium, is known as the Happiest Place on Earth, and with a National League win, the surrounding area continues to be known as a place where dreams really do come true. Many fans from out of the area raved about their wonderful visit to Southern California, and although I’d love to see another All-Star Game take place at Dodger Stadium, this was perhaps the next best thing. I’m so proud I has part of one of the most successful All-Star weekends ever.
After the FanFest closed on Monday evening, I drove home south along the coastline of PCH (Highway 1), watching a golden sunset out of the corner of my eye as El Sol sank into the Pacific. Like the Gibson home run, that’s something beautiful I never get tired of seeing. And so it was the next night that the sun set on 14 years of American League dominance.
Today, the sun rises on the rest of the 2010 season. Let’s make it a memorable one, just as my All-Star experience was.
I’m taking some time away from MLB for this blog entry, not just because I don’t like interleague play–that’s a topic in and of itself–but because something much more exciting is going on in baseball right now. And while I do have a bit to say about a couple of National League pitchers who are making names for themselves, I will get to that later.
I figured out I’ve been to almost 70 baseball games so far this year, because I’ve averaged close to four a week since February began. From Dodger Stadium to Petco Park, to the CIF championship game, to Tony Gwynn Stadium and Jackie Robinson Stadium, Cunningham Stadium, and of course Camelback Ranch–I’ve seen this great game played at many sites over the last four months. Except for a brief day trip to Arizona for spring training, unlike some people I know, I haven’t taken any real “road trips” this year. But that’s okay, because I haven’t really had time to get away!
But with a recent passing of a legend, and another SoCal team winning a championship, there has already been enough to talk about in the City of Angels this month. Congratulations to the Lakers, who clinched the franchise’s 16th NBA title last week, and have established themselves as the team of this millennium, so far, with five NBA titles since 2000. Can they pass the baton to the Dodgers? In 1988, both teams won championships just months apart–but that’s the only time they’ve enjoyed the ultimate success in the same calendar year. The Dodgers and Angels played an interleague series during the NBA finals, and all eyes of fans from both teams have been on the team in purple and gold. I’ll say a few more words about basketball, shortly.
Back to baseball, though, for now, it’s all about UCLA! The Bruins are in the College World Series!
Whether you are a college baseball fan or have never followed it, read on because I have plenty to say about its impact. And although I still love my Bums, UCLA is playing with a lot more heart now than the Dodgers are. Watching the “other” team in blue over the last couple of games has been more rewarding and satisfying than witnessing the Dodgers’ interleague sweep.
This has been a great season for the team from the West Side of Los Angeles, which finished 48-14. They roared out of the gate with 22 consecutive wins to open the season, establishing themselves as a dominant pitching team. The Bruins’ great run began back in February when the cross-town rivals in the Pac-10 faced each other in the Dodgertown Classic at Dodger Stadium. This was appropriate because, as is the Dodgers’ tradition, pitching has been the hallmark for UCLA and the biggest factor of their success. They beat USC that afternoon, and despite a mid-season struggle while losing to Arizona State, haven’t really looked back since.
And how is this for a twist? UCLA happens to reside in the same city of the team with the most CWS championships of all–USC. Although they haven’t won it all since 1998, the Trojans are much like the Yankees of college baseball. And they’ve fallen on hard times in recent years. Several college teams can claim a great baseball legacy, but none like the University of Southern California. Since the College World Series’ inception in 1947, the Trojans have won 12 titles. In fact, USC plays its home games at Dedeaux Field, named in honor of their late coach, Rod Dedeaux, the most successful in the history of college baseball.
When I was growing up, USC won seven CWS championships in an 11-year period (1968-78), with Dedeaux leading the way. But, no matter that Dedeaux was a great coach. UCLA plays its home games at Jackie Robinson Stadium. Think about that, what a legend! Most of my baseball fan friends and I have enjoyed watching games at this facility many times over he years, but I still can’t believe I have a few friends who have never been to Jackie Robinson Stadium. (Ironically, baseball was considered the multi-talented Robinson’s “worst” sport at UCLA.)
Starting with the great Robinson, UCLA has produced a few very good players over the years. Another great second baseman currently in the Majors, Chase Utley, excelled on this diamond in his pre-Phillies days. A few recognizable names since the 1990s include Troy Glaus, MVP of the 2002 World Series with the Angels, who’s now enjoying a successful year with the Braves; all-time Los Angeles Dodgers home run king Eric Karros; and another one-time Dodger, Dave Roberts, who had a fleeting moment of fame with the 2004 Red Sox. These are just a handful of players who had decent careers in the majors who wore Bruins blue and gold. The list is much longer on the USC side, and it includes many big names over several decades.
UCLA has also won the most sports championships, overall, of any Division I school (106, at this writing). But they have never won one in baseball! Now, factor in that UCLA’s women’s softball team just won the College World Series, beating Arizona earlier this month. Can the men match that feat?
Much of the Bruins’ success in the last half-century was due to their basketball legacy. Which brings me to this: Their great hoops coach, John Wooden, passed away at age 99 1/2 on June 4. And Wooden was a huge baseball fan! In his younger years, he was often seen at both Dodger Stadium and Angel Stadium. Wooden was a long-time friend of Dodgers announcer Vin Scully, whose touching tribute during the Dodgers-Braves broadcast on the evening the Coach died had me in tears. Scully and Wooden had been neighbors when the Dodgers first moved to California in 1958, bringing along their young announcer. Over the next couple of decades, both men would become legends in Los Angeles. Concurrent with USC’s reign atop college baseball, between 1964-1975, the Bruins were busy winning basketball titles in 10 of those 12 seasons.
So, between Coach Wooden and Coach Dedeaux mentioned above, it’s an amazing fact that during the 1960s and ’70s in Los Angeles, there were 21 NCAA titles won between just baseball and basketball, all in the same city! All of this just so happened while I was cutting my teeth on sports over those years, but I didn’t realize at the time I was witnessing dynasties the likes of which would never again be seen.
But, back to Bruins baseball, circa 2010. UCLA breezed through the Regionals; I attended one game of that tournament (in which UC Irvine eliminated the defending College World Series champions, LSU), and watched the rest on TV. Another team I was following closely, the University of San Diego Toreros, were sent home in the first round. In the Super-Regionals, again held at Jackie Robinson Stadium–with UC Irvine having been ousted from further competition–UCLA was matched up against Cal State Fullerton, a perennial contender in the CWS, in a best-of-three series played over the weekend of June 11-13. Fullerton is another baseball program which has been very successful in SoCal, having won four national championships in Omaha since 1979, most recently in 2004. In baseball-rich SoCal, it’s located about 30 miles from UCLA in Orange County; yet, several of UCLA’s key players also come from OC.
CSUF won a tight Game 1, 4-3, and the Titans had the Bruins reeling on their own field–when in Game 2, they were one out away from clinching a trip to Omaha. But, what an exciting finish! UCLA came back to win, 11-7, in ten innings, then bested Fullerton decisively, 8-1 in the rubber game, an
d began packing for a trip to Nebraska.
Sophomore RHP Trevor Bauer pitched the Bruins over Florida, 11-3, on in their opening game in Omaha on Saturday, striking out 11 Gators in the process. Facing TCU two days later, UCLA ace Gerrit Cole shut out the Horned Frogs through six, gave up a bases-loaded triple in the seventh, then shook it off and proceeded to win, 6-3. Cole struck out 13 over eight nnings. The Bruins’ pitching depth is amazing; Rob Rasmussen and Garett Claypool have yet to pitch in Omaha, and hopefully being “rusty” won’t be a factor once they do take the mound, because UCLA gets a few days off now. Arizona State, the top seed in the Pac-10, has already lost twice and been sent home.
Beyond sports, UCLA is a proud school with developments that have impacted the world. In fact, you wouldn’t be reading this without the Internet, the origins of which were born over 40 years ago on the UCLA campus, with absolutely no help from Al Gore. But for all their accomplishments and production, the Bruins have no longstanding winning baseball tradition. Perhaps that will now begin to change.
One more thing, the Bruins are honoring Coach Wooden’s memory throughout the College World Series. Both their caps and batting helmets feature the initials “JW.”
Do I wish college baseball would use wooden bats? Yes. Do I wish they’d do away with the DH? Of course. But baseball at this level still provides some thrilling games, some of the best pitching around, and quality baseball played by young men who are getting an education–not getting paid–still playing for pride and passion for the game.
How can anyone not love that?
Major League Notes:
Props to two young pitchers I mentioned in my last post a few weeks ago, my hometown boys Mike Leake and Stephen Strasburg. As I had stated at the time, both kids graduated from San Diego area high schools in 2006, both went on to have excellent seasons in college, Mike at Arizona State, and Stephen at San Diego State. Both were selected in the first round of the 2009 draft. Now, one year later, both are playing in the Majors.
Stephen’s debut with the Nationals on June 8 was perhaps the most highly anticipated ever in Major League Baseball. (In fact, his opponent that day was the Pirates’ Jeff Karstens, another San Diego born and bred pitcher–hardly spoken of in the same breathtaking manner as Strassy is!) Washington won, 5-2, as Stephen, age 21, notched his first major league victory. In his first three starts, Stephen has struck out 32 batters. He was named National League Player of the Week two weeks ago. The last time I remember this kind of a buzz about a pitcher, it was 2003 and the pitcher was Mark Prior of the Cubs, a USC product, also a first-round draft pick. (Yes, he was also another San Diegan!) [EDIT: Stephen's first loss of the year came on the same day I posted this entry, a tough 1-0 setback to the Royals. He struck out nine in that outing.]
Mike, who skipped the minor leagues altogether, has been in the Reds’ rotation since April. Now, he’s back in Stephen’s shadow again, just as he was the last several years. But let this fact be known: Mike Leake was the first pitcher in Reds franchise history to go undefeated after 11 major league starts.
Who did his first loss come at the hands of? My Dodgers, of course!, who scored five runs off him in a game played in Cincinnati last week. The only time I’ll be rooting against him.
By the way, don’t mention DH to this National League pitcher. As of this writing, he’s hitting .385!
Lesser known: Quietly excelling is a young American League pitcher who, like Leake and Strasburg, also graduated in 2006, but from Vista High. Trevor Cahill is not being talked about much outside Oakland, but he’s another young pitcher doing quite well this season. Cahill, 22, is 6-2 with a 3.21 ERA for the Athletics. I don’t follow the American League quite as closely as I do the National League, but I try to keep tabs as best I can, and I saw Cahill beat the Dodgers during interleague play at Dodger Stadium last season, his rookie year. Teammate Dallas “Perfect Game” Braden is the bigger name on the “A”s’ staff.
Congratulations to Rancho Bernardo High, who won the CIF-SD championship title on June 5, beating Poway, 9-5, at Tony Gwynn Stadium. RB over the past 15 years has become a baseball powerhouse in San Diego County, producing the likes of Cole Hamels and Hank Blalock as well as numerous others who’ve gone on to play professional baseball. This time, a new generation of Broncos is on top. Their title was the fifth for RB overall, and the first since 2005 (they won back-to-back championships in Hamels’ era). This was also the ninth championship for coach Sam Blalock, Hank’s uncle, who won four CIF titles at Mt. Carmel High. Will we be seeing anyone from this class excelling in the majors in a few years?