Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Baseball Place No. 78: Mickey Mantle Memorial Exhibit; and 78A: The Grand Rapids Sports Hall of Fame and an amazing career lasting one at-bat.

I have nothing against Mickey Mantle, mind you.

Other than his Yankee taint, of course. But then, that’s like asking Mrs. Lincoln if there was anything she liked about going to see “Our American Cousin.”

But I can co-exist with the Mick. Josh Pahigain takes us to a Mickey Mantle Memorial Exhibit at the Hollywood at Home video store in the Lakeview Shopping Center in Grove, Okla. As place No. 78 in the “101 Baseball Places to See Before You Strike Out.”

Yes, after giving Josh a couple months off, we’re back on the trail.

The video store tribute is a fan’s appreciation of the slugger, who grew up in nearby Commerce. The owner became friends with Mick and started collecting items that were taking up more and more of the floor space in his store. Now he has all sorts of things, including Mantle’s high school locker.

It’s probably the biggest collection of Mantle memorabilia outside of Cooperstown, and it sounds like it was gathered for the right reasons.

The trouble is that I tend to be more interested in players like Don Eaddy. That takes us to:

Alternative place No. 78A: Grand Rapids Sports Hall of Fame.

To learn about Eaddy, we need to go from exhibits in a in a video store to a displays spread throughout the Van Andel Arena in downtown Grand Rapids.

The Hall of Fame was started in 1995 and is up to 110 inductees, including President Gerald R. Ford for his turns on the gridiron.

The Hall honors people from all sports and even one of my colleagues at the Grand Rapids Press. Naturally, I’m drawn toward the baseball players, including:

Chad Curtis, who I’ve learned is a nice guy despite Yankee taint.

Dave Rozema and Mickey Stanley – a pair of guys with Tigers World Series rings.

Jim Kaat, who actually is from Zeeland, about a half-hour away.

Wally Pipp, who was a darn fine player who did not get a headache, as the myth tells us.

Rick Miller, who played for the Red Sox and the Angels between 1971 and 1985

Connie Wisniewski, a pitcher who holds a record .690 winning percentage for the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.

Benny McCoy, who played for the Tigers and Athletics between 1938 and 1941.

Phil Regan, who piled up a 96-81 record between 1960 and 1972, and later piloted the Orioles. More recently, he took the helm of the West Michigan Whitecap here in Grand Rapids, and I sort of suspect that was kind of a hobby job.

Jim Command, who played parts of two seasons with the Phillies in 1954 and 1955. But more interestingly, Baseball Reference lists that his nicknames were “Igor” and “Gor,” with no indication why.
"Stubby" Overmire's Tigers jersey is among the artifacts on display at the arena.

Frank “Stubby” Overmire, who pitched for the Tigers, Browns and the Yankees between 1943 and 1952.

Then I came to Don Eaddy, who, unlike the other players, I was not aware of. A quick look at his stats tells me he played ever-so-briefly for the Cubs in 1934, appearing in 15 games but having but one plate appearance – a strike out.

I realized there must be more to this story, because you don’t get enshrined anywhere for those numbers.

I poked through out library at the Press, and came across a biography on www.baseballreferece.com.

Eaddy,it seems was an incredible high school athlete and a big star at University of Michigan, playing on a national champion.

He graduated with his bachelor’s degree then signed with the Cubs, starting in the minors in Des Moines -- turning a triple play at shortstop in his first professional game – then hitting .304 in Burlington.

The next season he went to spring training with the Cubs, was sent back to Des Moines and was hitting .390 in 11 games when he was called up to serve in the United States Air Force, not returning until 1958.

Getting back to baseball in 1959, he was allowed to be kept on the Cubs' roster as a 26th player, because of his status as a veteran. He pinch ran in a handful of games, was sent back to the minors and returned to Chicago in July.

Baseballreference.com reports Eaddy “appeared in 15 games for the Cubs, 14 times as a pinch runner, scoring 3 runs. He played one game in the field, at third base on Aug. 1 against the Cincinnati Redlegs. He replaced At Schult in the bottom of the 5th inning. He committed an error in the bottom of the 6th on a Roy McMillan groundball that scored Jerry Lynch. He then batted against Bob Purkey in the top of the 7th and struck out.”

“After the season, he was sent outright to Fort Worth, as he was by now out of options. In Cuba that winter, he led the league in walks and helped Cienfuegos win the 1960 Caribbean Series title.

He stayed in the Cubs organization for five more seasons, playing in San Antonio and at Salt Lake City. In 1963, Eaddy contracted hepatitis but in the winter played in Nicaragua, batting .347 and leading his team to a win in the international Series.

“That winter, Cubs second baseman Ken Hubbs died in an airplane clash, and Eaddy was seen as a potential replacement. He failed to grab the job in spring training and returned to Salt Lake City for the 1964 season, where he played 137 games and hit .271. He called it quits at the end of the year.”

Eaddy, I also learned, was black, playing in the majors less than 10 years after Jackie Robinson’s debut. Even though baseball was integrated, you have to wonder if he would have received more opportunities had he been white.

I thought about Moonlight Graham, the real player W. P. Kinsella introduced us to in Field of Dreams. His dream was to get that one at-bat. Eaddy at least got that opportunity.

Standing at the plate, do you think it ever entered his mind that it wold be the only time? How many times must that chance have replayed in his mind, over and over.

But reading columns from some of our writers after Eaddy passed away in 2008, I didn’t get the sense that he was bitter.

Eaddy was in the third class of players inducted into the Grand Rapids Hall of Fame, enshrined, in fact, alongside President Ford. Not bad company – and a fascinating story for us to remember.

Monday, February 15, 2010

When the competition is two foods and a fraud, Mets can race to the front with felines

We’re hearing all kinds of rumors – mostly from reading Metsblog– that the Mets are planning to add some kind of race to add to the in-game excitement.

Sadly, our team no longer employs Steve Trachsel, because we could have enjoyed races between pitches, rather than between innings. Marathons, even. At least a 5K.

Granted, a competition between costumed racers is not the most original idea out there. But anyone looking at our ballpark knows that originality isn’t exactly the Mets’ forte. Heck, if anything, we’ve made swiping from other teams an art form.

The Brewers, of course, have the racing sausages. Brett Wurst the bratwurst, Stosh the Polish sausage, Guido the Italian sausage and Cinco the sombrero-wearing chorizo, when not offending entire ethnic groups by their stereotypical outfits and names, battle Frankie Furter.

That would be a giant hot dog and not the Tim Curry character from the Rocky Horror Picture Show, who would be so much more entertaining.
Sadly, going "El Kabong" on Guido was the defining moment of Randall Simon's career.

Randall Simon of the Pirates tried to make the race entertaining without resorting to singing “Sweet Transvestite” by whacking Guido with a bat, well, tapping him actually. But you have to stick with the stereotype. The stricken sausage fell to the ground, taking the leather and fishnet stocking-less Frankie with him.

The Pirates, no doubt in an effort to rehabilitate Simon, created their own Great Pierogi Race, featuring Jalape├▒o Hannah, Cheese Chester, Sauerkraut Saul and Oliver Onion.

I’ve witnessed both of these races, and they are indeed fun.

Then there is the gross miscarriage of justice that is the Washington Nationals’ racing presidents.

Anything that combines my twin passions of presidents and baseball would be glorious, one would think. And when you add that the competitors are the quartet from Mt, Rushmore – with Long Island’s own Theodore Roosevelt -- well, you’re looking at Hall of Fame worthy ballpark tradition up there with watching batting practice, singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” and paying $4 for a Diet Coke in a plastic collectible cup.

But, no. As they most always do unless they are playing the Mets in a crucial September game, the Nationals fail miserably.

You see, the team has made our hero the butt of jokes. President Roosevelt is famous for never once winning a race. There’s even a Web site called "Let Teddy Win"

Friends, is there any doubt that the Rough Rider would be dee-lighted to kick the butts of all three of those other commanders-in-chief? In real life, there would be a Web site called, “Theodore (no one called him ‘Teddy’) Let Someone Else Win Once in a While.”

So this is the competition the Mets face. Two foods and a fraud. The Amazin’s can do so much better.

I asked my loving family for suggestions. Wise guy son suggested various wounded Mets on crutches and in casts, but I insisted we’ve turned the page from last year.

They also offered vice presidents – since we’re stealing shamelessly anyway – and zombies, because, well, teen-agers love them.

We also suggested various superheroes who call New York home, like Batman and Spider-Man. But then you have issues with licensing rights and sidekicks, and before long you have the Wonder Twins and Wendy and Marvin tagging along for no good reason.

They also suggested various New York-based rock stars. As much as I’d like to see Twisted Sister, Kiss and Billy Joel taking turns embarrassing Neil Diamond, I’m not sure it would work. “Heart Light” only proved that Neil might not be capable of being shamed.

I went right for my New York icons, which I cling to dearly, decorating my living room and desk area at work with their images. Co-workers need to be reminded daily that one of us is from New York and it is not them.

We could have Lady Liberty racing the Empire State Building, a Big Apple, the Unisphere and, dare I be so bold, a giant poppy seed bagel!

Alas, this was dismissed at the dinner table as being too clich├ęd.

Then my wife had a fantastic thought, inspired, perhaps by Tug, the family pet.

Racing cats, she suggested. Brilliant!

Cats have a long history with the Mets.

Remember the black cat that ran out in front of the Cubs dugout in 1969, placing the dreaded "Fading in September Curse" upon them?

Remember the cat that made quite a stir during Citi Field’s nationally televised debut? It appeared on the field out nowhere, jumping on the screen behind home plate. He would have scared the heck out of Gov. Patterson had Patterson been able to see him!
This kitty was the only life form to step onto the Citi Field turf and not end up on the disabled list.

Remember, the beloved Shea Stadium was legendary for being the home to dozens of otherwise homeless cats.

The way I see it, we could have giant mascot cats, each named after a beloved Mets player of the past. You’d have Mookie running against Choo-Choo, Casey, Rusty, Tug and Benny Agbayani. (Hey, I wanted someone from each era). They’d each be wearing a jersey with the name and number on the back.

And they’re cats! You can’t herd them. They’ll run all over the ballpark every which way. It’s all part of the fun. Then a mouse dressed like Derek Jeter can appear near the finish line and the now-focused kitties can pounce on him like hard rain.

It’s marketing gold, I tell you! Think of all the merchandising opportunities. And it would show that the Wilpons know something about team history, which would be nice.

So Brewers and Pirates, keep your mobile concession ads. Nationals, continue to insult one of our finest heroes. We’ll have a borrowed idea of a promotion with a hometown twist and a nod to our traditions and history.

At least it is better than the animated taxi race on the scoreboard.

My family is standing by for any other consulting needs the Mets might have.

Monday, February 08, 2010

For every hello, there is a goodbye: Metdom painted over

Having solved the Rusty Staub airbrush mystery, we can now head over to the other side of the equation. For every new Met added to the roster, there has to be a farewell – some sadder than others.

Like the incoming Mets with poorly disguised paint jobs, there are outgoing players still showing evidence of Metdom on their Topps cards of the 1970s.

The Mets made a lot of moves after the 1971 season, sending Topps artists into overtime.

Lots of heartbreak here, the most famous being the Nolan Ryan card. No reason to rehash that disaster.

Almost as sad is the sight of Ron Swoboda on a Yankees card with his regal Mets blue cap and pinstripes. Rocky in my mind is forever diving in Shea’s right field, but he was actually traded to the Expos with Rich Hacker at the end of spring training in 1971 for Don Hahn.

He went to the Yankees in June of that season, so his Topps card is actually two teams old, and without a decent excuse since the vile ones play right there in the Homeland, where Topps is based.

The Ron Taylor and Art Shamsky card in that set doesn’t elicit as much sadness, since they were going to places not as tainted. But they are reminders of he dismantling of the 1969 team, which continued into the next season.

Taylor went on to be the team doctor for the Blue Jays, which is pretty cool.

Shamsky gets points for continuing to keep the memory of 1969 alive, and is behind several of the anniversary efforts.

Then there is the sad case of Bobby Pfeil, shown here with a hint of his Mets lettering with his air-brushed Red Sox cap. The light-hitting mostly infielder only played in the majors in parts of two seasons, 1969 with the Mets and 1971 with the Phillies.

But note his transactions, as documented by baseball-reference.com:

April 7, 1965: Traded by the Cubs with Hal Gibson to the Cardinals for Bob Humphreys.
Before 1968 Season: Sent from the Cardinals to the Mets in an “unknown transaction.”

May 26, 1970: Sent by the Mets to the Phillies to complete an earlier deal made on April 10, 1970. The Mets sent a player to be named later to the Phils for Ron Allen.

February 8, 1972: Traded by the Phils to the Brewers for a player to be named later. The Brewers sent Chico Vaughns (minors) (March 25, 1972) to the Phils to complete the trade.

March 20, 1972: Purchased by the Boston Red Sox from the Brewers.

A couple things to note here. Pfeil played for two teams between the Mets and the Red Sox, so Topps was using a really old photo.

And second, what the heck is “an unknown transaction?” Did Bobby stow away with the Mets equipment bags? Did he just kind of show up in spring training like Willie Mays Hayes? Imagine the conversation in the Mets front office.

“Hey, nice move getting Pfeil. But who did we give up for him?”

“I didn’t make a deal. I thought you did.”

“Well, might as well let him stay, since he’s got a uniform and everything.”

The dismantling of the champs continued with the 1973 set. Newcomers Felix Millan and George Stone got what Will calls the nostril treatment, shot from below the chin to the cap logo can’t be seen. But the departing Mets had no such luck.

Gary Gentry has his new Braves cap painted on, but still his Mets pinstripes. And poor Dave Marshall.

The light-hitting outfielder went to the Padres, where his career died in mustard yellow. Topps painted his cap, and even gave him a yellow collar – put left the Mets blue pinstripes, as if to say, “We started to give a darn, but got distracted by lunch.”

Alas, they set the stage for the abomination that is the Tommie Agee card..
Picking up Agee was one of the Mets most inspired trades, snagging him, and fellow World Series hero Al Weis from the White Sox for Tommy Davis, Buddy Booker, Jack Fisher and Billy Wynne.

Alas, his departure yielded no great returns. Tommie became an Astro for Rich Chiles and Buddy Harris, neither of whom would leave their mark on the franchise.

But apparently the deal could have been worse. In what can only be described as a mass air-brushing in the 1973 set, Topps also colored Astros uniforms on Rusty Staub and Ken Boswell or Buddy Harrelson, I’m not sure which one that is. This is, in fact, Staub’s only appearance in the 1973 set.

Rusty, of course, came up with the Astros, and Boswell would end up there after the 1974 season. At least he got to see how he'd look as an Astro.

The glorious 1974 set was without incident, but the trouble picks up again in 1975.
Ray Sadecki was traded for Joe Torre just after the 1974 season.

What I never realized was that he became a Met again, signing as a free agent at the tail end of spring training in 1977, pitching only three innings before being released in early May.

Sadecki’s faux Cards card is another schizophrenic Topps effort. The Mets pinstripes are gone, but the buttons remain – along with a Cardinals pull-over collar.

And, finally, we end up back at poor Rusty Staub. Traded by the Mets at the end of the 1975 season, we see Rusty in the traded set with a painted on Old English D. It’s actually a decent job by Topps standards. The pinstripes are gone, replaced by the Tigers road gray with the orange and navy blue collar.

The card, of course, is the reminder of one of the Mets worst trades. The tragedy of the Ryan deal is not that he was sent out, because he didn’t like New York and was never going to be as successful here. It’s that the team didn’t get more than the broken down Jim Fergosi in return.

The Staub deal was just a fiasco all around. The Mets thought Mike Vail’s hot tail end of the season – pre basketball injury – would easily replace Rusty, who went on to be an All-Star for the Tigers.

The Mets got an older player in Mickey Lolich who, like Ryan, wanted no part of the Big Apple. Which just shows that you can airbrush a logo, but not a smile.