Jan 21

Farewell, Stan Musial and Earl Weaver

Saturday was a seriously rough day for baseball fans with the passing of Stan Musial and Earl Weaver.  My dad is taking the Musial passing particularly hard. He wrote in an e-mail:

Part of my history and a big part of my addiction gone.

Difficult to accept the typical, mediocre $8 mill per year persona that populates the mid to low ranks of most franchises as compared to what it was like at Wrigley or Ebbets, much less Sportsman’s, to see The Man walk to the plate, crouch and hammer the ball against a right-centerfield wall.

There was nothing like it.

But I wanted to take a free moment to pass along two worthwhile pieces about Weaver that appeared today. At Baseball Prospectus, former Dodger general manager Dan Evans talked about getting to spend time at age 22 with Weaver.

… Hall of Famer Don Drysdale was one of the White Sox announcers at the time, and he was quickly becoming one of my mentors. We talked immediately after the tough loss, and Drysdale mentioned that Weaver was a master, a manager I should pay close attention to and learn from.

Early the next morning, Don called my room and asked if I would like to meet Weaver. I jumped at the opportunity.

Drysdale and I wandered over to the batting cage as the Orioles began batting practice that evening, and the next 20 minutes were incredible. It was apparent that Weaver and Drysdale were on good terms. Weaver was engaging, eager to talk about the game he loved. He spoke about how essential pitching and defense were to a winning club, because the two components never went into extended slumps. He talked about the need to keep extra players sharp, but more importantly, make them feel they were part of the team by finding spots for them to perform. He stressed that he was constantly trying to find favorable match ups, whether through an in-game substitution or a start for an extra player. Weaver said that his legendary index cards tipped him off to info that would reinforce his gut hunches and also would be used in conversations with players about whether they were playing or going to sit. He mentioned that every player is flawed, and that the key is finding situations where their strengths have the best chance of being best utilized, and not to dwell on their weaknesses.

Then Weaver looked right at me and said, “this game is all about outs.” He said that you had to convert potential defensive outs to win regularly and had to maximize your offense’s ability to score runs. He and Drysdale talked about how important instincts were, and how nearly all the great defenders in baseball history were equipped with great instincts. Weaver kept mentioning intelligence and instincts being critical elements of players who touched the ball the most on defense, because it was their decisions that would often affect the game’s outcome.

Our conversation moved to Ripken, who was in the cage at the time and would win the AL Rookie of the Year Award after that season. Weaver had decided to move Cal to shortstop just three weeks earlier, and he made a couple of terrific plays against us in the first two days of the series. He told us that Ripken was one of those examples of intelligence and rare instincts. Weaver said that Ripken would be outstanding down the line, that he was just learning the position but seemed to be in the right place all the time. He and Drysdale tried to list all the “big” shortstops, and they struggled. Then Weaver added, “plus, this guy is going to hit, and hit a lot.”

That is the evaluation side of Weaver that separated him from most of his peers. Not only could he identify talent, but he also knew how to squeeze the most out of his players, and not ask them to do things they were incapable of doing. …

And at the Hardball Times, Chris Jaffe passes along “11 things I didn’t know about Earl Weaver.” He touches on something that stunned me as I realized it Saturday.

Jul 09

Farewell, Peter Sauer

AP

The most famous player from Stanford’s 1997-98 Final Four men’s basketball team is Mark Madsen, whose roar punctuated the team’s final-minute rally in the 1998 Elite Eight against Rhode Island in St. Louis – the last March Madness game I attended.

But the final points scored by the team that year came during another furious comeback attempt in the national semifinal against Kentucky, a three-pointer from the baseline that I can still remember with seconds remaining in overtime that cut the Wildcats’ lead to a single point. That shot came from Stanford’s captain, Peter Sauer, the kind of steadfast player no championship team could do without.

It was barely 12 years ago. It was incomprehensible to learn today that Sauer collapsed and died while playing a rec hoops game Sunday in New York – 35 years old. A financial executive, Sauer leaves behind a wife and three daughters. His father is former Pirates president Mark Sauer.

From Laurence Arnold of Bloomberg:

… After Stanford, he signed with the Atlanta Hawks of the National Basketball Association and was cut in the summer of 1999, according to a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette profile in July 2000. He then moved to Greece to play for the B.C. Iraklis Thessaloniki professional team, shunning minor leagues in the U.S.

“Basketball will take me places and afford me experiences I might not have had,” Sauer told the Post-Gazette. “But it is not my life. I see myself playing maybe three to five more years and then going out and getting a real job and living a more normal existence.” …

* * *

And another farewell, to a Los Angeles Ram of my youth, offensive lineman John Williams. From the Times:

… It took him five years as a part-time student before he earned his doctorate in dentistry. He retired from the NFL after tearing a calf muscle during the 1979 season and moved back to Minneapolis to open his dental office.

The 6-foot, 3-inch 256-pounder described his off-the-field work with patients in the Times interview.

“There is curiosity and some of that normal fan-athlete identification,” he said. “But the main thing is rapport. Rapport is everything in dentistry. The ability to instill confidence.”

In Minneapolis, Williams worked to revitalize the urban district where he established his business and was named the city’s volunteer of the year in 1992.

Trained in forensic dentistry, Williams joined a team of public health professionals who helped identify remains of victims after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. …

Mar 26

Sue Weisman, 1910-2012

My grandmother, Sue Weisman, whom some of you have gotten to know here over the years, has passed away. She was 101.

Grandma Sue’s 102nd birthday would have been a week from Saturday, and as frail as she became in the past year or so, you never quite believed she wouldn’t roll right into through that milestone and many more. She was indomitable. I’m not sure I’ve ever known a woman who was more self-possessed.

She was born in New York into a childhood, the sixth of eight siblings, that eventually found her family in the thick of the Prohibition-defying liquor trade. She moved to Chicago, married at age 20, into a world where the shadow of Capone hovered over her young household’s livelihood. She, her husband Aaron and my father, aunt and uncle moved to Los Angeles in 1951, first renting a house from the Mankiewicz family that was the home of the actual Rosebud from Citizen Kane. And in this city she stayed, becoming a founding volunteer for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, to whom she provided services for approximately half a century, indulging her limitless love of art.

She played catch with me in our backyard in her 60s, and encouraged me in every way.

She cherished her family. And we all thought the world of her.

Mar 19

Spanish-language Dodger telecasts coming to airwaves

Fox Sports is going to begin producing dedicated Spanish-language broadcasts of the Dodgers this season, along with the Angels and Clippers. I have some details in a story this morning at Variety.

… Time Warner Cable will air the Fox-produced games even as it moves toward its proposed Spanish-language channel dedicated primarily to the Lakers, scheduled to launch before the 2012-13 NBA season. Time Warner and Fox are primary rivals for the post-2013 cable TV rights to the Dodgers.

FSN said it would produce more than 100 Spanish-language game broadcasts this year and more than 150 in 2013, with an eye on continued growth down the road. The productions will include Spanish-language play-by-play, graphics, player interviews. Announcers and a full game schedule remain to be announced, but the first game for the Angels will be April 6 and for the Dodgers will be April 11.

There will be a handful of Clipper games in Spanish before the regular season ends April 25.

Fox is not charging distributors any additional fees for the broadcasts, but rather only requiring that they be made available on expanded digital as opposed to a paid tier. Ad sales will be the primary source of revenue. …

* * *

Dee Gordon’s potential is praised by Buster Olney at ESPN.com.

Dee Gordon asks a lot of questions, something that Barry Larkin noticed the first time he worked with the Dodgers shortstop in the offseason. Precise questions, about how you hold the glove in making a play at the second base bag, about how you make sure you hit the ball on the ground when you want to, about your mental approach.

This curiosity is part of the reason Larkin came away from his conversations with Gordon believing that the son of former relief pitcher Tom Gordon will become a good player — a really good player. “He’s got the ability to be an All-Star — and a perennial All-Star,” Larkin said over the phone Friday, from Arizona. …

* * *

  • Sportswriting legend Furman Bisher has passed away, at age 93. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where Bisher spent 59 years, has more, while Kevin Kaduk of Big League Stew points to Bisher’s seminal piece on Shoeless Joe Jackson.
  • At the Daily Mirror, Mary Mallory has a long piece on original Dodger Stadium organist Bob Mitchell, whose career in music dated back to the 1920s.
  • Maury Brown takes a look at the Dodger ownership finalists at Baseball Prospectus.
  • Sandy Koufax had more trouble with Hank Aaron than any other hitter, according to this post by William Juliano at Bronx Banter. Willie Mays also gave Koufax fits.
Feb 16

Farewell, Gary Carter

Gary Carter, the Hall of Fame catcher who spent 1991 with the Dodgers, passed away from brain cancer at the too-young age of 57.

Carter was the subject of one of my earliest posts at Dodger Thoughts: January 7, 2003.

I’ll get back to the 2003 Dodgers soon, but I am cutting in to comment on the two players elected to the Hall of Fame today – both ex-Dodgers – Eddie Murray and Gary Carter.

Both are completely deserving, although Carter had to wait until his fifth year of eligibility. Carter is at a level just below Mike Piazza as a hitter, and since Piazza will retire as the greatest hitting catcher of all time, that’s saying something. And Carter was much better defensively. Murray played at a high level of excellence for close to 20 years. The Dodgers acquired Murray toward the end of his career, not too differently from their newest first baseman, Fred McGriff. McGriff is a Hall of Fame candidate but is a level below Murray.

I covered about two dozen major league baseball games as a reporter, and only three at Dodger Stadium. But one of my most memorable experiences involved Murray and Carter. To put it in context, Murray retired with a terrible reputation with the media; Carter retired on quite different terms.

I had patiently waited 30 minutes in the Dodger locker room before a game to interview Carter and had just begun to interview him when Murray directed me to leave the locker room. There is a rule that reporters have to leave the locker room x minutes before the game starts. I had never seen this rule enforced until Murray tried to. Carter, realizing how long I had waited and knowing I wasn’t asking a lot, let me finish the interview.

The rule is there for a reason, and I don’t begrudge its existence. I will easily give Murray the benefit of the doubt that he was probably doing what he thought was right for the team. At the same time, I was doing my job in a professional manner and it would have been nice if he had tried to work something out with me instead of trying to kick me out, no questions asked.

I am confident that no doubt some unfair and/or inappropriate things were written about Murray during his career. However, I also tend to believe that he was similarly flawed in his dealings with reporters, and that whatever was written about him in Baltimore or anywhere else, he deserves some responsibility for his reputation as a curmudgeon with the media.

The postscript to this is that today Ken Daley, the Dodgers’ main beat reporter for the Daily News, wrote an article very critical of Carter, based on incidents that occurred the same year:

Daley implies that he didn’t vote for Carter for the Hall of Fame for these reasons. I think the moral of the story is that unless you have a situation like Pete Rose or Joe Jackson, it’s best to judge HoF candidates on their on-the-field merits as much as possible.

All my best wishes to Carter’s friends and family.

Jun 18

Farewell, Clarence

Here’s the thing about Clarence Clemons, besides being part of music that has meant so much to me for what I can now say is most of my life.

The saxophone can so often be a cheesy instrument, feeling very much like an affectation, insincere. With the Big Man, it was something completely different – something searing, something jolting, something that could make you exult, or tear up, or both.

The passing of Clarence Clemons is a devastating loss for those like me who didn’t know him personally – I can only imagine what it’s like for those who did – mitigated by knowing that his music will live forever.

May 13

Harmon Killebrew says goodbye

Statement from Harmon Killebrew at MLB.com:

“It is with profound sadness that I share with you that my continued battle with esophageal cancer is coming to an end. With the continued love and support of my wife, Nita, I have exhausted all options with respect to controlling this awful disease. My illness has progressed beyond my doctors’ expectation of cure.

“I have spent the past decade of my life promoting hospice care and educating people on its benefits. I am very comfortable taking this next step and experiencing the compassionate care that hospice provides.

“I am comforted by the fact that I am surrounded by my family and friends. I thank you for the outpouring of concern, prayers and encouragement that you have shown me. I look forward to spending my final days in comfort and peace with Nita by my side.”

Mar 02

Farewell, Wally Yonamine

Remembrances of Wally Yonamine, the first American to play baseball in Japan after World War II, are popping up — examples here, here, here and here. Yonamine passed away Monday at age 85.

* * *

Royals at Dodgers, 12:05 p.m.
Jamey Carroll, 3B
Dioner Navarro, C
Andre Ethier, RF
Matt Kemp, CF
Gabe Kapler, LF
James Loney, 1B
Jay Gibbons, DH
Ivan De Jesus Jr., 2B
Juan Castro, SS
(Tim Redding, P)

Feb 27

Farewell, Duke Snider


Hulton Archive/Getty ImagesThe Duke of Flatbush

My tribute to Duke Snider, who died this morning at the age of 84, from “100 Things Dodgers Fans Should Know …”

National Baseball Hall of Fame
Duke Snider joined the Hall of Fame in 1980.

“With two runners on base and the Dodgers leading, 5-4, in the 12th inning, Willie Jones drove a 405-footer up against the left-centerfield wall. Duke isn’t a look-and-run outfielder, like Mays. He prefers to keep the ball in view all the time if possible, and he was judging this one every step of his long run to the wall. There it seemed he was climbing the concrete ‘on his knees,’ as awed Dodger coach Ted Lyons put it. Up and up he went like a human fly to spear the ball, give a confirming wave of his glove and fall backward to the turf. The wooden bracing on the wall showed spike marks almost as high as his head. It was such a catch that, although it saved the game for Brooklyn, admiring Philly fans swarmed the field by the dozens. Duke lost his cap and part of his shirt and almost lost his belt.”
– Al Stump,
Sport

Edwin Donald Snider gets third billing in the Terry Cashman song, “Willie, Mickey and the Duke” – a placement that seems to celebrate as well as diminish his legacy. Snider was one of the greatest center fielders of all time, up there with Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle, but he was forever proving himself, to the Dodgers and to baseball history.

“Duke was so talented, and he had a grace about him,” said his Dodger roommate for 10 years, Carl Erskine. “They talk about (Joe) DiMaggio and how he carried himself on the field. … His outfield play and his running the bases and his trot for the home run, he just looked class, man.

“The thing that bothered Duke was, no matter how well he did, the coaches (and) managers always said, ‘He can do better than that.’ They always kind of made Duke feel no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t satisfy everybody. It was bothersome for him.”

Snider, a Compton High School graduate from Los Angeles, even had a love-hate relationship with Ebbets Field fans, as Maury Allen writes in Brooklyn Remembered. “Snider always wore his emotions on his sleeve,” Allen said. “A home run in a key spot would produce that Hollywood handsome grin. A strikeout with the bases loaded and the Brooklyn fans booing his very name announcement the next day would result in a week of sulkiness.”

APTaking his cut, c. 1950.

Ultimately, like the way he climbed that Ebbets Field wall to save the game against the Phillies, Snider reached magnificent heights. He had eight full seasons and two partial seasons with EQAs of .300 or better, more than any other Dodger ever. He had at least 40 homers in the Dodgers’ five final seasons in Brooklyn, and a career .295 batting average, .380 on-base percentage and .540 slugging percentage. He hit an all-time Dodger record 389 homers.

In a 1955 article, Sports Illustrated chose Snider over Willie Mays: “In every sense, the contemporary hero of Flatbush, prematurely gray at the temples in his 29th year, is a picture player with a classic stance that seldom develops a hitch. Next to (Ted) Williams, Snider probably has the best hitting form in the game. And, like Williams, he has amazing eyes — large, clear, calm and probing. With each oncoming pitch, Snider tenses and then throws his full 195 pounds into it, if he swings, with a smooth, lashing motion.”

The Duke was much, much more than a name in a song.

This is a tectonic passing. The Duke is iconic, a legacy carved in granite.  We will truly miss you.