11th and Washington

11th and Washington: January 2011

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Yogi's the first

I've met Yogi Berra a couple of times but never had a chance to get his autograph. I remedied that today at a show in Secaucus, immersing myself in a sea of Yankee fans to do so.

But rather than go with a black-and-white 8x10 photo in the true Yankee Stadium or the ubiquitous Hall of Fame postcard, I had the idea to recognize his Mets tenure, hence this photo. My hope is to fill it in with the other five -- Nolan Ryan, Jerry Grote, Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman and Duffy Dyer. I've got Ryan and Seaver separately on other items, but I'd love to get them all together here.

And so the quest begins...

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Flashbacks about to become more common in southern California

The Angels announced on Friday that they'll feature "Flashback Fridays" as part of their 50th anniversary this season. To kick it off, they'll wear reproductions of their 1989-92 uniform (with the 50th anniversary patch added) on April 8, April 22 and May 6.

The press release trumpets it as the "late 1980s" design, and while the lettering and cap design remained pretty much the same from 1972-92, the button-down version only came around in '89, but it's not a big deal. My first reaction was to wonder why they chose that particular jersey, but after reading through the release, which only mentions those three dates out of 13 Friday home games, it seems that the other 10 games will feature different designs. I don't know why they didn't mention that in the initial release, though. I'm also curious as to whether they'll go in reverse chronological order, or just unveil them randomly.

It's possible they're simply starting with the uniform they wore for nearly half of their existence (buttons aside), the one we picture on the likes of Nolan Ryan, Reggie Jackson and Wally Joyner. If it's reverse chronological, then it means they'll be skipping the 1997-2000 design we all remember Mo Vaughn wearing and the mid-'90s Tim Salmon design. As ugly as it was, it would be amusing to see those blue-sleeved faux vests resurrected.

They'll almost certainly include their initial 1961 design, perhaps for the final Flashback Fridays of the season. That one isn't too far off from what they currently wear (since the road jerseys won't come into play), with the awesome exception of the cap and its white halo. That's a replica I wouldn't mind having.

But I'm hoping they bring back the e.e. cummings lowercase design from the early '70s. Unfortunately, in a surprising happenstance in a division with only three other opponents, the Angels won't host the Rangers on a Friday night, which would've given them a perfect opportunity to have Ryan throw out the first pitch.
But would he wear the throwback jersey from his Angels days? Is it taboo for a team owner to wear an opponent's jersey, even if he once played for that team, if it's not the result of a lost bet? Twice in 2009, Ryan donned the Mets' blue and orange, once for a Sports Illustrated photo shoot and again for a reunion at Citi Field of the 1969 championship team. He was the Rangers' president at that time, but not yet a part owner of the team. And the Rangers weren't there for the game at Citi Field. I don't know why I just spent a paragraph on that, since it's not likely to come up. The Angels might have him throw out a first pitch when the Rangers are in town, but it won't be a Flashback Friday, so the jersey issue won't come up. But now it has me wondering if a team owner has ever worn the jersey of another team in a non-wager situation. I doubt it.
(Incidentally, know who else has a 50th anniversary this year? The Texas Rangers, because they were the expansion Senators in 1961. But that's not an anniversary they plan on celebrating, apparently.)

The Mets' 50th anniversary is next season (as is the Astros' -- here's hoping for some Colt .45s throwbacks, a wish on another shooting star, some tequila sunrise action and a return to what I've just decided to call Biggio blue).
Though the Mets don't have too many variations in their uniform design over the years, I hope they'll do something similar. Start with the 1993-94 swoosh design (if only for one night), bring back the racing stripes from '86 for three or four home games, whip up a blue pullover to go with those '80s striped pants, then sport the two-button pullover worn from '78-82, and wrap it up with the simple, basic, no-black-to-be-seen and numberless front of the 1962 originals.

Or, you know, just ditch the black for the entire season. That's an anniversary celebration right there.

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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Shouldn't the original be good enough?

This is a random post just to see if the automatic Twitter update feature I set up works. [Two-minute update: It sure did, faster than my Google Reader, in fact.] I didn't want to simply do a basic post that says nothing but "testing," so I flipped through some photos and decided on this gripe.

Check out the photos below. I hate this -- why would you want your team's hat in another team's colors? Shouldn't an original hat be good enough? This is just lame.

I saw this Phillies cap in A's colors at Notre Dame over Labor Day weekend.

Phillies cap fail

And this Yankees cap, also in A's colors (I know the green and gold is pretty cool, but come on) was spotted at the train station in New Jersey, just a few days before I saw that Phillies cap. The guy is wearing a Yankees BP jersey and "NY" cap in Oakland colors on a night the A's were playing at Yankee Stadium. So I assume he was going to the game. That's idiotic.

Yankee hat fail

Why would you want your team's hat in another team's colors? Shouldn't an original hat be good enough?

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And my mom wondered why I saved so many newspapers

As a guy who once thought being an investigative journalist or baseball beat reporter was his ultimate dream job, I kept a lot of newspapers. I thought about the historical value they might have and dreamed of some large game room or memorabilia display in the sprawling house I would have based on my book profits as a well-known author (in addition to my reporting duties, of course).

After Mark McGwire broke Roger Maris' single-season home run record, I asked my friends around the country to send me a copy of their local newspapers from the next day. One college friend -- also a newspaper and baseball buff -- happened to have been visiting his girlfriend in law school in St. Louis at the time and sent me the next day's (if not the EXTRA! edition distributed at the ballpark after the game) Post-Dispatch. I then did the same thing with friends in Knoxville and Austin the morning after the Bush-Gore election, which of course wasn't decided until a month later.

I still have some of the papers from those and other events, though I sorted through them a few months ago and recycled quite a few. At this point, do I really need to see how the Los Angeles Times covered McGwire's feat, especially now that it has lost so much of its luster? But I still have papers commemorating the Mets' 2001 NLCS clincher (which I attended), their World Series Game 3 win over the Yankees, the deaths of Joe DiMaggio and Harry Caray, the Nationals' first game in Washington (which I also went to), the first day-night doubleheader played in both New York ballparks, Tom Seaver's Hall of Fame induction and some significant moments in Lakewood BlueClaws history (as much because I wrote a lot of it).

There is also an assortment of non-baseball and non-sports events: Notre Dame football in Hawaii and the Fiesta Bowl, the women's basketball national championship, the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster and the Devils' second Stanley Cup. Most of the papers are The New York Times and Asbury Park Press, but there are a few issues of the Chicago Tribune, New York Daily News, Orlando Sentinel, Arizona Republic, Washington Post and maybe even a New York Post.

Of course, the oldest of these events is the 1992 Seaver induction. Somewhere (I might not have come across it yet, or I might have ditched it because of the condition it was in), I think I have at least one of the New York tabloids from the 1986 postseason -- I believe it was Lenny Dykstra's Game 3 walk-off home run. I'm just not old enough to have anything as cool as the Daily News covering Don Larsen's perfect game. Who knows how many copies of that paper were burned up, used to wrap up fish for trucking uptown or dishes for a move, or used to cover someone's head during an unexpected downpour. But Gary Sangastiano saved his copy and soon will loan it to Montclair's Yogi Berra Museum to be put on display (Yogi, of course, caught Larsen that day).

I'll make a point to drive up Valley Road to see it, but I also hope they scan or photograph the inside pages, too. As a news nut, I'll be as interested in reading the coverage as I will be in seeing the cover in all its yellowed glory.

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Friday, January 28, 2011

Just whose Bears are these, anyway?

As the Newark Bears prepare to begin their inaugural season in the Can-Am League, they've got a snazzy new redesigned website (it's quite sharp) and an interesting new set of game times. But that's not what first struck me when I went to the site from Paul's and Phil Hoops' sites.

It's the year in the masthead:

Look, I give the current Bears all kinds of credit for embracing Newark's baseball history -- both that of the legendary Bears and of the Eagles of the Negro Leagues. But, as with the Nationals, I can't get on board with "Since 1917." I'm not even sure "stretching the truth" is going far enough in this instance.

First, it's obviously not the same Bears franchise. The Bears teams of yore were affiliated clubs -- often with the Yankees -- and saw the likes of Yogi Berra and Jerry Coleman call Ruppert Stadium home. The current club's name is certainly an homage, but it's not as if this club is a direct descendant.

Second, Newark hasn't had a team continuously since 1917. There is a pretty significant 49-year gap between the 1949 Bears leaving town and the current version being born. In fact, if you want to get technical about it, baseball was absent from the city for an even 50 years, because Riverfront Stadium didn't open until 1999.

Third -- and this is more tongue-in-cheek and related to how the words in the masthead are read -- there was no internet in 1917. That's taking the words "Official home of the Newark Bears since 1917" quite literally.

And that's where I think some tweaking would help. Maybe "since" isn't the right word there. While "Est. 1917" still might not be completely accurate, because this isn't the same franchise, the first iteration of "Newark Bears baseball" was established in 1917, so there is some truth to that. Or maybe they should go even further back -- add a tagline to the effect of "Carrying on Newark's baseball tradition, established 1877." Since it's not the same Bears franchise, why start with 1917? Why not acknowledge all of Newark's past teams?

I'll admit that (quite obviously), I don't have all the answers. Heck, I'm not sure I have one good answer. I just know that "Since 1917" doesn't sit well with me.

Then the other thing that struck me on the site was the start times for most games (I can't seem to get a link that goes directly to May, when games start, so you'll have to scroll through to get there): On weekdays, first pitch will often be at 5 p.m. And opening day is at 11 a.m., on a Thursday, as is the second game of the season the next day. Considering Newark's attendance problems (177th in average attendance out of 281 professional minor league clubs), I guess they figure they'll try to get more school and camp groups with the weekday morning/afternoon games and also try to keep Newark's 9-5 employees downtown with first pitch set for quittin' time. I can understand that thinking -- how many people would stick around for 90 minutes or two hours after work, killing time before the start of a 7 p.m. ballgame? Maybe a 5:30 first pitch would be more convenient, but for a team that doesn't have television tie-ins and plays in a ballpark in a business (and not residential) area, it's not a bad idea. Now it remains to be seen if it has any effect.

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Monday, January 24, 2011

From ND to MLB: Cy Williams

Conlon Collection Cy Williams
Fred Williams bears the names of two of baseball's greatest players. The nickname he was known by, Cy -- as in "Cyclone" -- naturally sparks thoughts of the winningest pitcher in Major League history. And the surname is shared with the self-described "greatest hitter who ever lived," Ted Williams. But Cy Williams made a name for himself as a pretty decent power hitter and speedy outfielder during a 19-year career with the Cubs and Phillies. He was said to be the fastest player in the game and such an athletic talent that, in addition to serving as the backup left end on the football team (Knute Rockne was the reserve on the right side), he apparently passed up a chance at the 1912 Olympics as a hurdler and broad jumper.

Williams' baseball career worked out just fine. Signing with the Cubs in 1912, he became the first slugger in the Senior Circuit to reach 200 home runs and went into his final season, 1929, as the National League's career leader, with 246. He hit just five in his final season, and during that campaign, Rogers Hornsby blew past him, taking the lead in June with the 250th of his career in a 39-homer season, which he finished with 277. Williams hit 202 home runs from 1920-30, a total surpassed only by Hornsby's 252 and Babe Ruth's, um, 516.

Williams went straight from Notre Dame to the Cubs, playing 28 games and batting just .242 with one RBI in his rookie season. He spent five years in Chicago, first playing in the West Side Grounds and then moving to the new Weeghman Park in the years before it was known as Cubs Park (starting in 1920) and then Wrigley Field (beginning in 1926). In 1915, his first full season, he slugged 13 home runs to finish second in the league. A year later, his 12 round-trippers would be good for the Major League lead.

Williams was dealt to the Phillies before the 1918 season, and in 1920 started a run of nine straight seasons of double-digit homers, including NL-leading totals of 15 in 1920, 41 (tied for the MLB best with Ruth) in '23 and 30 in '27. The spike in power came as the Dead Ball Era ended and Williams got comfortable with the Baker Bowl's dimensions: 300 feet to right-center (with a 40-foot fence) and 272 down the right-field line (with a 60-foot fence and net). There's no need to bother with other dimensions of the Phils' home field, because Williams was known as such a pull hitter that, according to his SABR bio, opposing managers positioned their fielders on the right side of the diamond, employing what became known as the "Williams shift" -- for Ted Williams -- two decades before it was used on the Splendid Splinter.

After his retirement in 1930, Williams got his only minor league experience by serving as the player-manager for the Richmond Byrds in the Eastern League for just one season. He then retired from the game, returning to his dairy farm in his native Wisconsin and beginning the second phase of his life as an architect and running a construction company.

Cards for the earliest players are hard to come by -- at least on a budget. While there are a few contemporary cards available from the 1920s, the prices tend to be anywhere from $30 to $70. Some PSA graded autographs go for hundreds of dollars. So while I would've preferred something more first-hand, this 1991 Conlon card fits my needs, showing Williams in his Cubs uniform. Works for me.

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Saturday, January 22, 2011

Talk of a new tenant in Sussex

The Advertiser-News, a weekly paper in Sussex County, has a follow-up article to the departure of the Sussex Skyhawks (a tip of the ol' hat to Ballpark Biz). Those on the ballpark side of things are saying all the right things -- hoping to get a team for 2011, considering independent and affiliated franchises, hoping local redevelopment and the ballpark can work hand-in-hand to make Skylands Park a destination for fans and families. But they have to say that now; they must do whatever they can to keep fans' hopes up and their minds on baseball and the ballpark that now -- and for the foreseeable future -- sits dormant.

A team for 2011 would be possible, but it would almost have to be an independent -- or even summer collegiate -- league team. But the Skyhawks were an independent league team, playing in the only independent league in the area, and that relationship fell apart.

As for an affiliated club? My personal opinion is that's just a smokescreen. I don't see how that will work. For one thing, with a capacity of 4,200, the ballpark is too small for anything but Class A ball. Double-A ballparks seat at least 6,000, so expansion would be needed. The only options in Class A is the full-season South Atlantic League and the short-season New York-Penn League. While a northern New Jersey rival to the Lakewood BlueClaws would be nice and would give the BlueClaws and the Maryland teams, the Delmarva Shorebirds and Hagerstown Suns, another northern road trip, I don't see the Sally League expanding north again after it shed its Lake County, Ohio, and Bowling Green, Kentucky, franchises to the Midwest League.

And the New York-Penn League has been done in Sussex County. The New Jersey Cardinals went west to State College, Pa., in 2006 for a new ballpark. If I recall, at the time part of the issue there was upgrades to Skylands Park -- the team wanted the management group to pay for the upgrades, and management wanted the team to contribute. Unless those ballpark upgrades are made before a team signs a lease, I question the chances of an affiliated team returning.

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Rooting for Chris Young won't be hard

The news that the Mets are just a physical away from signing Chris Young has me smiling. It's just that I think he's a good signing in this offseason of frugal living -- a low-cost starting pitcher who has the ability, when healthy, to be a solid starter -- but he's a good person, the kind of guy you can't help but root for.

I know this from personal experience. Back in 2002, Young was a top prospect in the Pirates' organization. (Sadly, another one that got away from Pittsburgh ... and from Montreal and, with Adrian Gonzalez, from Texas, Young's hometown team. And none of the deals yielded much of anything for the team that dealt away Young.) When the Bucs' Hickory Crawdads affiliate came through Lakewood, I talked to Young about his Princeton days and making the transition from college life to pro ball while finishing up his final semester. It's one thing to earn a Princeton degree; it's quite another to do so while spending March in spring training, then riding buses across the Southeast though April and May.

As if to reward Young for his hard work, the fates lined up the Crawdads' schedule perfectly in June 2002. Hickory found itself in Lakewood, N.J., during the first weekend of June, playing the final game on Sunday -- guess who was scheduled to start -- and having a day off on Monday. Princeton's graduation was that Tuesday. So Young made that Sunday start in the series finale, then stayed behind in New Jersey while his teammates took the bus back to North Carolina. The Pirates gave Young permission to miss the Crawdads' game that Tuesday night so he could attend his graduation.

After coming across a 2007 column by Jeff Bradley -- brother of the former Major Leaguer and Princeton coach Scott Bradley, as well as Team USA soccer coach Bob Bradley (a New Jersey sports family dynasty) -- I also recalled that Young spent that 2002 spring training and the first month or so of the season completing his senior thesis. The subject, in the simplest terms, was race relations in the United States in 1947, using Jackie Robinson's Major League debut as the crux of his hypothesis. The title of the 61-page paper was The Integration of Professional Baseball and Racial Attitudes in America: A Study in Stereotype Change, according to the database on the Princeton library's website. As The New York Times suggested a couple of weeks ago, Young could lead the Mets' pitching staff's philosophical discussions this spring.

So I went into my files and dug up the story -- the lead to my weekly minor league notebook, it turns out -- that I wrote nearly nine years ago. Just reading "Young said yesterday at FirstEnergy Park" reminded me that we sat in the stands talking baseball and Princeton on a warm, sunny Saturday afternoon, before the gates opened and the fans started streaming in for batting practice. Our paths met again just three weeks later, when the BlueClaws hosted the South Atlantic League All-Star Game. Young was the winning pitcher in the North Division's 5-2 victory, but there's a bit more to that story.

Rather than rehash those stories in bits and pieces, I put the scanner to use and converted the clippings to electronic archives. (That's something I should really try to do for all my clippings.) Not mentioned in the all-star game story: the fact that the South Division's David Wright went 0-for-2, coming on in the seventh as the designated hitter.

June 2, 2002

Things working out well for ex-Tiger star Young
Faces BlueClaws today, graduates Princeton Tuesday


Chris Young left the Princeton basketball team after his sophomore year to turn pro. No, not as a 6-foot-10 center banging Shaquille O'Neal beneath the basket, but as a hard-throwing right-handed pitcher in the Pittsburgh Pirates' farm system. Oh, and he stayed in school too. At Princeton.

"After I signed, I stayed in school most of my junior year," Young said yesterday at FirstEnergy Park before the Hickory Crawdads played the BlueClaws. "Got a late start in baseball last year because I stayed in school. This year, went back to school in the fall, left school in the middle of the second semester in March to go to spring training and started playing full time."

But every day after baseball, Young returned to his room to study and complete his assignments. His diligence will pay off Tuesday, when he joins his graduating class at Princeton's commencement exercises.

"I e-mailed my work back to my professors along with my senior thesis," said Young, who earned a degree in political science. "I wrote it on racial attitudes and stereotypes and how they were affected with the integration of baseball by Jackie Robinson in 1947. I had to relate it to baseball, or else I would've lost interest.

"So for a couple months there, it was some tough times. I'm sure I wasn't the typical baseball player, going back to my room and studying during spring training, but it was worth it. I graduated in four years, so the way things turned out couldn't be better."

This weekend couldn't be better. The Crawdads finish up a seven-game road trip with today's game, and Young is the starting pitcher. They have a day off tomorrow, and Young will miss Tuesday night's game in Hickory, N.C., to attend graduation.

"This series has worked out unbelievably," said Young, who will have dozens of friends and family members in attendance today. "I get to commute back and forth during the day to be able to see some of the stuff that's going on on campus right now. I'll have all day Monday to hang out at school. Throwing the last game here
won't affect my rotation. Things couldn't work out any better."

Young, who received a $1.65 million signing bonus, is rated by. Baseball America as the 10th best prospect in the Pirates' organization. After going 5-3 with a 4.13 ERA in 12 starts in 2001, Young is 6-3 with a 2.57 ERA this year. He ranks second in wins, just one off the lead; is tied for eighth in ERA with Lakewood's Seung Lee, and is fourth with 65 strikeouts in 56 innings. Now he can really concentrate on baseball.

"I enjoyed school, but it's nice to have it behind me," Young said. "I'm not going to miss school. I'll miss the fun, the social part -- friends. But in terms of the school work, I'm not going to miss that too much. It's nice to have that behind me and I can concentrate 100 percent on baseball. It's a big relief."

June 19, 2002


wins game
with homer


LAKEWOOD -- Trey Salinas does not need a pregame home run derby trophy. He got a bigger award. Salinas, a catcher and designated hitter for the Delmarva Shorebirds, drilled a three-run homer with two outs in the eighth last night to send the Northern Division to a 5-2 victory over the South in the South Atlantic League All-Star Game -- a one-hitter by the North to boot.

After losing to Macon's Andy Marte in the final of the pregame power show, Salinas helped the North take the bigger prize and end the South's four-game all-star winning streak in the process. Naturally, he was named the game's most valuable player.

"That's something you dream about, hitting the game-winning home run in an all-star game," said Salinas, who has eight home runs for the Shorebirds this year. "That was awesome."

With the exception of Salinas' home run onto the berm in left field, the game was a pitchers duel -- emphasis on "pitchers," with a total of 17 used in the contest. Eight North pitchers carried a no-hitter into the eighth, when Macon's Greg Miller lined a clean single to right-center off Hickory's Chris Young, scoring Jay Bourgeois to tie the game 2-2.

Young ended up the winning pitcher, with the help of Salinas.

"I was so mad about losing the no-hitter, I didn't even think about (getting the win) until my teammates told me," Young said.

The North, now 9-14 in this format of the all-star game, struck first with a run in the second off starter Justin Hampson of Asheville. Lexington's Charlton Jimerson doubled to left and came around on a double by Mike Snyder of Charleston. It was Snyder, the designated hitter, whom Salinas replaced when he entered the game in the seventh.

The South evened the score in the third when Miller -- who earned most valuable player honors for his team -- was hit by a pitch from Kannapolis' Chris Honel, stole second and reached third on a wild pitch. He came home on another wild pitch, one that Honel lost in mid-motion and tossed toward the third-base dugout.

Delmarva's Benjamin Knapp was the most impressive of the nine North pitchers who threw an inning each. The right-hander struck out the side in order in the second, needing just 11 pitches to do it. The feat earned the 6-7 right-hander -- who is usually a starter -- recognition as the Northern Division's most valuable pitcher.

"It was overwhelming, I can say that," Knapp said. "As a starter, you try to get through the first few innings on just one pitch. But when you're only throwing one inning, you can throw everything out there. Everything was working for me tonight."

Augusta's Phil, Dumatrait picked up the most valuable pitcher award for the South. The lefty hit Hickory's Vic Buttler leading off the sixth, then gave up an opposite-field double to Lakewood's Ryan Howard off the wall, missing a home run by a few feet.

"I thought it might have had a chance to get out," Howard said. "But then I saw it bounce, and the left fielder threw it back in, so apparently it didn't."

With Buttler on third -- he had to hold up to make sure Howard's drive wasn't caught -- and Howard on second, Dumatrait then struck out the side to keep the game tied 1-1.

Buttler gave the North a short-lived 2-1 lead with a two-out single in the seventh, scoring Kannapolis' Chris Amador, who had reached on a two-out error.

Lakewood shortstop Danny Gonzalez and Howard played the entire game for the North, along with Buttler. BlueClaws catcher Ben Margalski was 0-for-1 in his three innings behind the plate. Miller, Bourgeois and Capital City center fielder Angel Pagan played the whole game for the South.

"It was very exciting, very special," said Gonzalez, the only player with two hits, including the first one of the game in the first "I didn't expect to get a hit in my first at-bat. It just happened."

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Friday, January 14, 2011

From ND to MLB: Frank Carpin

As the "From Notre Dame to the Major Leagues" series resumes today, it bears a new look. First, it has a graphic, however rudimentary, that, when clicked, will take you to all of the posts in the series. There's a simple graphic -- an include, as we call it in the biz -- embedded in each post and a static one with player images at the top of the right rail.

And secondly, this latest installment is more than just my thoughts and observations gleaned from searching the internet for information on a long-ago player. After the New Year, I went to Notre Dame's online alumni directory to see which former players had contact information listed. Last Saturday, I wrote out e-mails to those with web addresses, and on Monday, I sent out a letter to another. There are still more I have yet to contact, but after this initial effort, I'm more than pleased with the response. Of the six e-mails sent, I had three responses by Monday afternoon.

We'll begin with the first response, because he wrote back within 24 hours and has been very helpful and forthcoming. I'm not a fan of Q&A formatted interviews (it doesn't feel like writing to me), so I think the best way to present this is with some research and background, with his comments included for greater detail.

And with that, the From Notre Dame to the Major Leagues" series continues with ...

1966 Topps Frank Carpin

Frank Carpin, a left-handed pitcher born in Brooklyn who went to high school in Richmond, Va., played just one season at Notre Dame, in 1958. The Irish went 20-11, reaching the NCAA Tournament, but falling in the district round with a 2-2 record in Kalamazoo, Mich. I picked up this 1966 Topps card -- Carpin's only card -- at the same show where I got the 1965 Jim Hannan that began this project. (I'm not positive, but it looks like Carpin's photo may have been taken at Shea Stadium. It looks like Shea's left-field corner, and because of the card stock and quality of 1960s photos, I can't be sure if the uniform is white or gray -- and in '65, both of the Bucs' jerseys said "PIRATES." Carpin was with the Pirates for all of their trips to New York that season.)

Baseball had no part in my decision to attend ND. I chose ND because of its reputation and Catholic background. My first choice was West Point, but that was not an option when I realized my pro baseball potential. I turned down scholarships to many Southern schools, including Wake Forest [the 1955 NCAA champ]. Ironically, the man who got me the scholarship was Syd Thrift, a Pirate scout, who later engineered my being drafted from the Yankee farm system. I did receive a walk-on scholarship at ND, but signed [with the Yankees] after one year.

But Carpin left his mark in his one season. His 102 strikeouts remained the single-season record until Aaron Heilman broke it with 118 in 1999. Heilman now holds the top three single-season strikeouts totals in Irish history, fanning 118 again in 2000 and finishing up with 111 in 2001. Jeff Manship equalled the 111 in 2006 and Danny Tamayo struck out 106 in '01. Those, along with Carpin's 102 and David Phelps' 102 in 2007, are the only 100-strikeout seasons in Notre Dame history, and all but Carpin's came in the past 12 years. To put it into greater perspective, in 1958, the Irish played 36 games. The rest of those hurlers compiled their strikeout totals in no fewer than 61 games.

To his credit, Carpin still holds the all-time marks for strikeouts per nine innings (12.63) and in a game. On April 16, 1958, he struck out 19 Indiana Hoosiers, then hit a three-run home run in the bottom of the 10th of a 12-10 Irish victory.

After that stellar season, Carpin accepted the Yankees' offer and headed to Greensboro in the Class B Carolina League in 1959.

Despite signing with the Yankees in 1959, the Tigers made a better offer. [John] McHale was the GM then and an ND graduate. But my father liked the Yankees and since the Dodgers were not interested, the natural choice was the opposition ... just like ND became the choice when West Point was not possible.

After going 12-9 with a 3.24 ERA and 1.47 WHIP (minor league stats for the time period are incomplete, so we have to take what we can get) at age 20 with Greensboro, Carpin moved up to Class A Binghamton in the Eastern League in 1960, going 11-8/3.69/1.52. In '61, he made the jump to Triple-A and got to go home, playing for Richmond in the International League. He went 7-9/3.52/1.25 with 104 strikeouts in 125 innings and returned the Virginians in '62. But after starting out 1-6/4.71/1.65, he was demoted to Double-A Amarillo in the Texas League.

The most humbling [moment] was being sent down in 1962 by the Triple-A Yankee team from my hometown -- Richmond -- to the Texas League. I went from a prospect who nearly made the Yankees in 1961 and 1962 to a suspect who could not win a game until sent out of the organization in 1963 to Lynchburg.

In '63, Carpin returned to the Southeast, starting out with the Augusta (Ga.) Yankees in the Double-A South Atlantic League before being sent to Lynchburg in the same circuit, but part of the White Sox organization. It was with Lynchburg where he experienced a turning point.

I told this story to the young kids I coached to help them understand what is necessary to be successful in sports or any field. In 1963, I was languishing in the bullpen in Double-A Augusta, Georgia, after a horrible 1962 season and demotion from Triple-A to Double-A. I literally could not get anybody out and the August manager had to send someone out at cut time. They couldn't send me back to Greensboro, where I had started five years earlier, because of option rules, so they offered me to Lynchburg in the same league. I walked across the diamond that night to join the opposing Lynchburg team, and the manager, Les Moss, asked if I could pitch that night because I was all they had. I eagerly accepted the start and pitched better than I had in two years. The minute I crossed the diamond from one clubhouse to another, everything changed. Two of my next three starts were shutouts on the way to a 15-game winning season and another win in the playoffs against my former Yankee teammates. I asked my kids -- What changed? I had the same arm and same "stuff." The only performance-enhancing substance I took was Wheaties. That's how much the mental aspect plays in sports and the confidence you get when someone tells you, "You're all we got."

Carpin finished '63 with a 15-9 record, 3.12 ERA and 1.24 WHIP, fanning 142 in 196 innings. He spent '64 back with Richmond, going 5-3/2.79/1.39, fanning 87 in 97 frames. After the season, the Pirates selected him in the minor league draft, assigning him to Triple-A Columbus, where he started 4-0/2.67/1.44 before getting the call. On May 25, 1965, he made his debut with the Pirates.

The happiest moment was the news of the call-up while in Triple-A early in 1965 and the win that night. My debut was very memorable: Two innings of relief and a win against the Cubs that started a long winning streak for the Pirates, who had started very poorly. I became a good luck charm among the players.

The win in Carpin's debut was actually the fifth in a 12-game winning streak for the Pirates that season. Before the streak started, they had been 9-24 on the season; Carpin's win improved Pittsburgh's record to 10-24. By the end of the streak, they were 21-24 and had cut their deficit in the National League from 13 1/2 games to 7 1/2 and improved their standing from last place (10th in the league) to sixth. They spent most of the season in the middle of the pack before going 10-2 over the final two weeks to finish third.

Carpin finished his rookie year with a 3-1 record, 3.18 ERA and 1.49 WHIP in 39 games, all out of the bullpen. He finished 14 contests, saving four of them, and struck out 27 and walked 24 in 39 2/3 innings. After the season, the Astros selected him in the Rule 5 Draft.

He opened the '66 season with Houston, appearing in four games and earning the fourth win of his career before being sent down to Triple-A Oklahoma City. On May 5 at the Astrodome, he came into a tie game with two outs in the top of the 13th inning, caught the Cubs' Adolfo Phillips trying to steal home to get out of the inning and earned the win without throwing a pitch when Joe Morgan scored the game-winner for Houston in the bottom half.

During his 44-game stint with the 89ers, Carpin went 3-5/2.92/1.35 before a recall to the big leagues. He finished the season with a total of six innings in 10 Major League games, going 1-0/7.50/2.50. His final game came on Sept. 3, 1966, two innings in a 12-2 loss at Atlanta, allowing no hits and three walks.

In 1966 I had three children and an expectant wife. There were bone chips starting to develop in my pitching elbow and the Houston doctor told me I had an arthrithic elbow. He suggested they send me home in late August and see how things looked in the spring. I was making $12,000 and this was before free agency and arthroscopic surgery. I also had a Notre Dame degree and my oldest son would start grade school in the fall. My wife said she was not going to accompany me the following year and take my son out of the Richmond school. In addition, I had been working in a training program in the offseason to become a stock broker. All I needed was to pass the exam. I did so that October. What if there had been arthroscopic surgery then? Free agency? More than $12,000 salaries? I rested for two years then started pitching again. Blood flow had dissolved the developing chips and I only pitched once a week in the summer college league in Shennandoah Valley. The results were outstanding. Scouts asked if I would report to their Triple-A clubs right away if they could secure my services. I said no. My brokerage career was taking off, my family was happy in their place and pitching once a week wouldn’t cut it in pro ball. Plus, the money was not there as free agency was still a few years off. But looking back, it is easy to second guess.

Carpin's career line reads 49 games in those two seasons, a 4-1 record and 3.74 ERA. He holds a distinction for having the most wins since 1930 without allowing a home run, though Craig Kimbrell won four games for the Braves last season, his rookie year, without allowing a long ball. For the moment, Kimbrell and Carpin share that distinction.

Though his career was cut short, Carpin counts five Hall of Famers among his teammates: Roberto Clemente, Bill Mazeroski and Willie Stargell with the Pirates and Joe Morgan and Robin Roberts with the Astros.

Interesting point on Robin Roberts ... I first met him in Yankee spring camp 1961 and renewed the relationship in 1966 at Cocoa Beach (Astros). He invited me fishing in Ft. Lauderdale and we surf fished together at Cocoa Beach. My first encounter with him was Richmond, Va., circa 1949. The Phillies were barnstorming north prior to the season and they came to Richmond to play the Cardinals. I was the only one at the ballpark early one Saturday morning when I saw him staring at the outfield in a box seat. I asked for his autograph and he never broke his stare. In 1961, I told him that story and the next day two autograph pictures were in my locker. Then he invited me fishing offshore and in 1966 he confided with me about Marvin Miller and his part in having a players union with Marvin as head. He introduced me to Marvin, who was also a Brooklyn native and Dodger fan. The Astros, I believe, were the only team that voted against the union and Marvin Miller. Management poisoned everyone's minds, except me ... The rest is history. Maz was a great teammate in Pittsburgh and Willie and Roberto were obviously great players. My Astro experience was a big letdown after Pittsburgh.

Now 72, Carpin still lives in Richmond, where he is a stock and commodities broker for Oppenheimer & Co. He said he follows Notre Dame football "religiously," attending several games a year, and keeps tabs on the basketball, baseball and top Irish women's sports. "My wife played against Pat Summit's first team, so that and soccer are on my viewing list," he told me. In a follow-up e-mail he sent me yesterday, he offered some thoughts on his decision to leave Notre Dame. With the news that star receiver Michael Floyd would return for his senior season in the fall, I found Carpin's comments to be quite poignant.

Looking back on my decisions as a young man, I do regret leaving Notre Dame after one year as a baseball player. My education and receiving a degree is not the issue. I graduated in February 1962 with a B.A. in history. Although my career at ND was short, I am more proud that I was Domer than I was a Major League player. And I regret that I cut my college athletic experience short. I think about this when the NFL beckons with the big money. Today's players don't have much choice with injury a major concern, especially football players. But baseball is different. There was some money involved, but the main reason I jumped was wanting to find out if I could compete. Patience has never been a virtue, but I wish it had in respect to ND.

1966 Topps Frank Carpin reverse

As I take this "From ND to MLB" series forward, I think Mr. Carpin's willingness to share his memories have set the bar pretty high. In addition to trading e-mails with me during the week, he also asked for my mailing address. Yesterday, two signed photos of him at Forbes Field (one posted above, the other here) arrived in my mailbox -- such a kind gesture. I wasn't expecting anything and won't be asking others for anything in return -- only their time and their memories. I can't wait to see what comes next.

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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Radioactive Man at Kauffman Stadium

The Simpsons snuck another slight baseball reference into Sunday night's show that I just caught while watching it on DVR this afternoon. In the above image, tacked to the wall behind Comic Book Guy, is an issue of the Radioactive Man comic: Radioactive Man meets the Kansas City Royals.

It's at least the third baseball reference in the show this season. The biggest, of course, was the "MoneyBART" episode, in which Lisa takes over Bart's Little League team and makes her decisions based solely on statistics. Wezen-ball.com posted a great recap, focusing on Bart's game-winning home run.

The first baseball reference I caught this season came the week before, in "Loan-a-Lisa," when Grandpa decides to give the family members their inheritance money so he can see them spend it. When each one only receives $50, Grandpa explains that he lost the rest of it investing in a failed musical about the life of Eddie Gaedel.

I couldn't find a clip online, so I resorted to the rudimentary video recording of the TV. The tripod helps steady it, but the volume may be a bit loud. I overcompensated, not wanting to risk it being too low.

It's been seven years now since ESPN.com's Page 3 ranked the 100 greatest sports moments on The Simpsons. There have certainly been a few more in the years since, but there's probably no way of knowing how many other minor, throwaway references like these have made it to the show. I'm not sure I'll ever have the time to dedicate to reviewing each episode on DVD, but if I ever find myself laid up for a month, maybe I'll start.

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Sun sets on Sussex baseball -- for the last time?

It's kind of a shame that the Sussex Skyhawks won't be part of the Can-Am League in 2011. Various issues -- from attendance to the ballpark lease to both the team and ballpark (owned by separate entities) being up for sale -- led to the club folding.

I suppose, technically, it could be a temporary hiatus. If new owners were found for the team and the ballpark and, if it's not one organization that buys both, an arrangement could be worked out, it's certainly possible that the team could resurface. The Can-Am League would certainly prefer to bring back an anchored team instead of fielding a traveling squad, which is what they'll do in 2011 to give the circuit eight franchises. But I'm not holding my breath.

I'll admit that the distance to that far corner of New Jersey made Skylands Park a difficult ballpark to get to, and while I hadn't been since 2005 -- the last season of the previous tennant, the St. Louis-affiliated New Jersey Cardinals -- I still looked forward to getting back there. The drive up to Sussex County (for me, west on I-80, then north on Route 15) has to be the prettiest route to a ballpark in the state. Once there, the tiny field was nestled among the cornfields and trees, only a few miles from the Appalachian Trail. I seem to recall an article one season about the manager and perhaps a few players or coaches spending the summer camping instead of lining up with host families. Now compare that to league opponents like Staten Island, Brooklyn and Lowell, clubs located in cities, big and small.

There was something so nostalgic about a ballgame at Skylands, and it wasn't just the rural setting and the thoughts of Field of Dreams. The ballpark was designed to blend in with the red-barn architecture of the area. I think the only thing that could've made it more wholesome would've been if it were situated alongside the county fairgrounds. The place oozed Americana. I mean, check out the drive-in across the road.

And so much for the Can-Am fielding three teams in the eight-team league. Now it's down to just the Jackals up the road at Montclair State and the Newark Bears coming aboard. They'll have to come up with a trophy for the head-to-head winner, but it would've been nice to have a three-way, round-robin competition for New Jersey Can-Am supremacy.

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Monday, January 10, 2011

Coming to terms with an incomplete Hall of Fame

I haven't commented on the Hall of Fame election results from last week, and I wasn't sure I would. But I've been reading about the vote totals, perusing others' opinions -- both those eligible to vote and those not -- and mulling it over in my head lately.

Today, I first had a thought that I might write something, but not about Roberto Alomar or Bert Blyleven. I'm happy for Alomar, who certainly was one of the best second basemen to ever play the game, and his humility in discussing the accomplishment was nice to see. I didn't see Blyleven in his prime, so I can't say whether he was the kind of pitcher you either wanted to see when he came to your city to see greatness (or the guy you hoped your hitters wouldn't have to face). I didn't have a strong opinion of his career one way or the other (though he certainly did).

After I read Mets Police's comments on steroids and the Hall of Fame, I felt I had found my starting point. I think what struck me with that post and what I had been formulating over the past few days is that we saw what happened. We watched with our own eyes the numbers put up by Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro and Barry Bonds and all the others. But we also watched how their arms and torsos and legs -- and heads -- seemed to balloon to sometimes comical proportions. We may have suspected less-than-natural means for those changes, but we let them slide, because the home runs and strikeouts and feats of strength were so much fun to watch. As fans, we have some level of deniability. As for the writers ... those who covered the players, those who entered the clubhouses every day, they probably should've let us know something was up a bit sooner than they did. They chose to let it slide then, but now they choose the hard line.

In keeping these less-than-perfect players out of the Hall, the writers are doing more than punishing the players -- they're punishing those of us who watched these guys play. At the time, we thought, "We're watching a Hall of Famer in his prime." Now those feelings can't be validated. It's one thing to debate McGwire's stats or compare Palmeiro's numbers to his contemporaries' (for this argument, I'm speaking of all players as if they had the numbers that, otherwise, would represent a Hall of Fame career), but to cut off the discussion before it even begins just because you don't like the way he put up those numbers is cheating the game's history. The players' actions may have been unethical, but with the one exception of Palmeiro, whose one positive test came at the end of his long career, what they did -- or what we presume they did -- wasn't against the rules of the game at the time.

So now we're supposed to forget that managers were so afraid of what Bonds could do that they walked him twice as much as the next guy (Hank Aaron) in history and three times as much as nearly every other player ... ever. We're supposed to believe that pretty much anything that happened from the mid-'90s until 2005 -- no matter who did it -- can't be believed. We're never going to know how many players were unethical, but the writers have taken it upon themselves to make that decision for us.

I'm not completely against the writers. There was a time I wanted to be one of them, to be a beat reporter covering a Major League team, but along the way I chose to deviate from the path that might've made me one. There's still a part of me that would enjoy it, and I will probably take their side more than not, but as the years go by and McGwire's percentage falls and Palmeiro and even Jeff Bagwell -- a guy who was hardly suspected when he played and certainly has never been proven to be dirty -- have to start so far in the back of the pack on their first ballot, I think I'd rather they just cut down on some of the gray areas on the ballot instructions. There are plenty of unsavory characters already in the Hall. Sure, some of them may have managed to keep their indiscretions under wraps, but surely the antics of Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle and others were known by some of the writers went ahead and voted for them anyway. It is here where I think Mets Police's suggestion (and I'm sure others have offered it as well) is the compromise to be made: Evaluate the players on their numbers, and if there is some clarification that needs to be noted -- McGwire's admission, Palmeiro's failed test, Sammy Sosa's corked bat -- then it should be engraved on the plaque. It's the Hall of Fame, not the Hall of the Pristine, the Hall of the Perfect. It's a museum, a place where the good is often presented along with the bad. Contrast -- context -- can help highlight the true greats.

But if there's one thing that bothers me more than anything else -- not just in baseball writers' Hall of Fame voting, but in all walks of life -- it's hypocrisy. In the past week, you've probably read about the ballot submitted by ESPN news editor Barry Stanton. Forget about his checking off the names of Jack Morris, Edgar Martinez, Don Mattingly, Tino Martinez and B.J. Surhoff (and no one else). That's another debate. My problem is with the fact that, in 2002, he resigned from his position as a sports columnist in Westchester, N.Y., after he was charged with plagiarising a Joe Posnanski column.

So the Baseball Writers' Association of America, which takes it upon itself to decide who has the character worthy of election into the Hall of Fame, cannot or will not judge the character of its own membership? What is the difference in Mark McGwire taking androstenedione or steroids to make his job easier and in a sports writer taking another's words to make his own job easier? There's an element of laziness in both acts -- and a character flaw in both of the men who committed the indiscretions.

The writers need to trim the fat on their electorate. This year, a record 581 ballots were cast, meaning a player needed to be named on 436 of them to gain the 75 percent needed for election. I'm not saying it needs to be a hard number, 100 or 200 or whatever. But why should those who no longer cover baseball or work as an editor for an outlet covering the sport -- such as the political cartoonist in Montreal or the college football writer mentioned in Craig Calcaterra's post -- still be asked to judge the merits of baseball players with regard to the Hall of Fame? And if the players are to be judged on their character, shouldn't those doing the judging have to abide by some standards of character? Or are they permitted to live in glass houses without any fear of repercussions?

Nobody's perfect -- not Hall of Famers, not writers, not fans. Yet we may be bearing a disproportionate amount of the burden for their mistakes.

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Sunday, January 09, 2011

Shea Stadium in 1965

This is a great shot of ol' Shea back in '65 -- with a crowded upper deck for batting practice! Check it out by clicking on the photo to the right or perusing rbglasson's great set of photos.

So Happy New Year and all that. I haven't quite gotten back on track from the holidays, but I hope to be updating again soon.

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