Tag Archives: Willie Mays

We Got us a Ball Game

“The Pittsburgh Pirates have the best record in baseball”

– USA Today 06/27/2013

I was brought back to my early adolescent years last week. It was Sunday and I was watching our number 5 batter in the late afternoon softball game we were playing.  It’s a coed team of mixed abilities defined by enthusiasm for the game and not by age or gender.  Our oldest player is about 70 and he’s hitting around .250.  I’m 0-3 with with a winning walk-off walk; sort of like Mazeroski without the honest benefit of the hit.  The nostalgia came from Ron who had his iPhone up to his ear and eyes – like a 1968 transistor radio – listening to the Pirates play Anaheim.  We found ourselves devoting as much attention to their game as to ours.

Barring serious injuries, the Bucs look like they have the legs to keep going.  How many of us can allow ourselves the luxury of remembering what a competitive (much less a winning) baseball team is?  The Bucs are 51 and 30 as of today, with the best record in baseball, and they’re fun to watch. Don’t discount that; why watch if there’s no entertainment factor? Maybe that’s why I couldn’t abide the Yankees growing up; especially opposite the Mets and the rest of the National league.  

I love the poetic geometry of baseball, the importance of fundamentals (how many times couldn’t the Pirates turn a double-play against SF two weeks ago?) the skills and coordination required, and the history – the thousand and one stories we’ve collectively seen ourselves, watched on TV, read about or heard about from our friends, parents, siblings and neighbors.  I couldn’t be with Aldrin and Armstrong on the Moon, I didn’t make it to either of President Obama’s inaugurations, but I was there (July, 1977) when Mays, Mantle, Snider and DiMaggio walked in together from Shea Stadium’s center field fence.  I can only imagine it’s what the Earps and Doc Holiday looked like going to the OK Corral.

Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays & Duke Snider walking from Center Field. Shea Stadium, July 19, 1977.

Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays & Duke Snider walking from Center Field. Shea Stadium, July 19, 1977.

We’ve been doubly blessed this year – the Pirates as a winning club, and the release of  “42.”  I enjoyed the movie because of who Jackie Robinson was and what he meant to baseball, and also because it brought to life a long-gone era and players who were shop-talk for my brothers, but only history lessons for me.  My only gripe about the movie – How do you have a credit blurb for Ralph Branca (one of the good guys who welcomed Robinson to Brooklyn) and not even obliquely mention Bobby Thomson and the 51 pennant?

Even if you don’t like watching the game (you’re a Communist) the lore and history should be able to stand on their own as fine literature. You just need to know who / what to look for.


42 – “In 1946, Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) signed Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) to the Brooklyn Dodgers, breaking MLB’s infamous color line and forever changing history.”

blassA Pirate for Life / Steve Blass – “Exploring a pitching career that began with a complete-game victory over Hall of Famer Don Drysdale in 1964 and ended when he could no longer control his pitches, this book details the life of Pittsburgh Pirates great, Steve Blass.”



The Boys of Summer / Roger Kahn – “This is a book about what happened to Jackie, Carl Erskine, Pee Wee Reese, and the others when their glory days were behind them. this is a book about America, about fathers and sons, prejudice and courage, triumph and disaster, told with warmth, humor, wit, candor, and love.”


robinson never hadit

I Never Had it Made : An Autobiography / Jackie Robinson – “I Never Had It Made recalls Robinson’s early years and influences: his time at UCLA, where he became the school’s first four-letter athlete; his army stint during World War II, when he challenged Jim Crow laws and narrowly escaped court martial; his years of frustration, on and off the field, with the Negro Leagues; and finally that fateful day when Branch Rickey of the Brooklyn Dodgers proposed what became known as the “Noble Experiment”

robinson a bio

Jackie Robinson: A Biography / Arnold Rampershad – “The life of Jackie Robinson is recounted in this biography by Arnold Rampersad, who was chosen by Jack’s widow, Rachel, to tell her husband’s story, and was given unprecedented access to his private papers. We are brought closer than we have ever been to the great ballplayer, a man of courage and quality who became a pivotal figure in the areas of race and civil rights.”


A Moment in Time : An American Story of Baseball, Heartbreak, and Grace / Ralph Branca – “Ralph Branca is best known for throwing the pitch that resulted in Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard ’Round the World,” the historic home run that capped an incredible comeback and won the pennant for the New York Giants in 1951. Branca was on the losing end of what many consider to be baseball’s most thrilling moment, but that notoriety belies a profoundly successful life and career.”


Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game / Micahel Lewis – “By re-evaluating the strategies that produce wins on the field, the 2002 Athletics, with approximately US$41 million in salary, were competitive with larger market teams such as the New York Yankees, who spent over US$125 million in payroll that same season. Because of the team’s smaller revenues, Oakland is forced to find players undervalued by the market, and their system for finding value in undervalued players has proven itself thus far.”


October, 1964 / David Halberstam – “The 1964 World Series between the Yankees and Cardinals was coated in myth from the get-go. The Yankees represented the establishment; the victorious Cards were baseball’s rebellious future. Their seven-game barnburner, played out against the Kennedy assassination, the escalating war in Vietnam, and emerging civil rights movement, marked a turning point. Halberstam looks back in this marvelous and spirited elegy to the era, and players such as Mantle, Maris, Ford, Gibson, Brock, and Flood with a clear eye in search of the truth that time has blurred into legend.”


Out of Left Field : Willie Stargell and the Pittsburgh Pirates / Bob Adelman – An “unauthorized” account of the Pirates’ 1973 season, told chiefly through direct interviews with the players.  The interviews are more like transcriptions of off-the-cuff tapings.  Not only players, but wives, “baseball Annie’s”, agents and management. About 2/3 of the book is comments by the pre-“Pops” Willie Stargell, hence the book’s title. But there’s much more than that.  This is the season following the Clemente tragedy, where the team was trying to find itself without their former leader. It was the year the Pirates, despite admittedly underperforming, managed to stay in the pennant race until the end.


The Team That Changed Baseball : Roberto Clemente and the 1971 Pittsburgh Pirates / Bruce Markusen – Veteran writer Markusen tells the story of one of the most likable and significant teams in the history of professional sports. In addition to the fact that they fielded the first all-minority lineup in major league history, the 1971 Pirates are noteworthy for the team’s inspiring individual performances, including those of future Hall of Famers Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, and Bill Mazeroski, and their remarkable World Series victory over the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles.


We Had ‘Em All the Way : Bob Prince and His Pittsburgh Pirates / by Jim O’Brien – Bob Prince, The Gunner, who broadcast the Pirates from the 1950’s through 1975 rooted unashamedly for the Bucs. Like other announcers, he had his pet phrases such as “We have a bug on the rug.” “You can kiss it goodbye. Home run!” “Let’s spread some chicken on the hill with Will.” And, of course, at the end of a close game in which the Pirates were victorious, “We had ’em allll the way.” Bob was Pittsburgh’s answer to the likes of Harry Caray, Vin Scully and Mel Allen. He was colorful, controversial, and a people person.

– Richard


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No More Pretending

I came out of the closet last week.  At least in Pittsburgh fashion.  I’m not a Steeler’s fan, I don’t bleed Black & Gold and I wouldn’t put a mini Polamalu jersey on my Labradoodle or Yorkie – if I had one or the other, or any other pet for that matter.  I’ve lived this lie for the 21 years my wife and I have lived here.  I fake my Sundays between August and January and it has to stop. My wife grew up with Big 10 Football and went to a Big 10 school for undergrad, she’s an honest fan.  So’s my daughter who was born here and has only known the Steelers, that’s her choice.  I won’t pretend anymore though.  Rest assured, it’s not about the Steelers or some other team; it’s about Baseball.

Photo of Met's pitcher Tom Seaver

Poetry in Motion

I grew up on Long Island, about 45 minutes from midtown on the LIRR (Long Island Railroad) and 15 minutes from Shea Stadium by the same train.  When I was born, there wasn’t National League baseball in NY – it had gone west a year earlier.  (The three most evil people in the world? – Hitler, Stalin, Walter Alston.)  My parents were both from Brooklyn and the Dodger strain ran deep.  I grew up with the Mets and by extension their National League opponents.  If there were must see games back then, it was the Giants and/or Dodgers for sentimental love/hate reasons (and always to see Willie Mays,) the Cubs because it was Chicago – the second city, and the Bucs because man for man they were usually the most talented team that came to town.  The Yankees?  They were the humorless also-rans from the Bronx.  If Pittsburgh looks north with disdain to Cleveland, so too do the Children of Kings (County) look up the BQE (Brooklyn Queens Expressway) and the Bruckner to the borough that serves as a gateway to Upstate.

Why now? That’s easy.  DID YOU watch any of the World Series?  It was poetry; it was Agatha Christie without a solution until it happened.  It was unadulterated fun to not see the usual suspects; no Yankees or Red Sox, no Atlanta or Philly.  It was mostly well-played, well executed baseball until Texas’ pitching collapsed in Game 7.  More than that, it was just fun to watch or even listen too.  It reminded me – some 20 years and 2 kids later – why we chose Pittsburgh over other cities.  The tie-breaker between here and some other places (including Baltimore) became “Does it have major league baseball?”  Pittsburgh won because it had National League vs. Baltimore’s American League with its flawed Designated Hitter accommodation.  It may have been something subliminal too; who did the Miracle Mets soundly thrash in 1969?  The same Orioles the Bucs whupped in both 1971 and 1979.

Just remember: Pitchers and Catchers report in 104 days (not counting today.)  In the meantime . . .  to tide you over until then.

The best game ever : Pirates vs. Yankees : October 13, 1960 / Jim Reisler – How can you not include the game in the Series with the most dramatic conclusion in baseball.

“Whoever was up at the time was the team you thought was going to win.”

Ball Four : the final pitch / Jim BoutonThe first and best baseball tell-all.  It makes the game and the players real. Their sins? – nothing like steroids and shaved bats.

“The word on Tim McCarver of the Cards was that Sandy Koufax struck him out on letter-high fastballs. Which is great advice if you can throw letter-high fastballs like Koufax could.”

Men at work : the craft of baseball / George F. Will – Will gets the experts of the day to expound on how mastering the fundamentals takes more than just physical prowess.  Among the interviewees, Tony La Russa of the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals.

“Baseball, it is said, is only a game. True. And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona.”

Can’t anybody here play this game? / Jimmy Breslin – Breslin, an irascible writer if there ever was one, recounts the first miserable season  of the awful, incomparable and unabashedly loved 1962 NY Mets.

 “So the Mets started with the worst pitching, backed by the most deplorable infield and outfield, ever         assembled on a single diamond.”

Willie’s time : a memoir / by Charles EinsteinMy personal favorite. A well written overview of the grandest period in baseball with Mays as the constant, against 25 years of contemporary American history and current events.

“Branca, taking the mound, threw a called strike past Thompson.  Sitting there without premonition,       I watched Thompson swing at the next pitch, and out it tracked toward the left-field stands.

The Last icon: Tom Seaver and his times / Stephen Travers (Ebook only) – Overall a good, fast read.  What I truly enjoyed here were the recounting of games, especially during the 1969 and 1973 seasons that I distinctly remember listening to, watching, or attending. Travers gets a little lost in the book, elevating Tom Terrific a little too high, even for my tastes, and bringing in extraneous or marginal baseball issues instead of staying on topic.

“Swoboda rolled, displayed the glove to the umpire who made the out call, and in one motion came up throwing home to try to nab Frank Robinson.”

Summer of ’49 / David HalberstamBaseball has finally returned to some post-war, post integration normalcy, and “the” rivalry is about to emerge, personified by the respective excellence of Joe Dimaggio for the Yankees and Ted WIlliams of the Red Sox in one of the greatest pennant races of any era.

“The crowd of 35,000 rose as one to give the star outfielder of the hated Yankees a standing ovation.”

Baseball [videorecording] / a film by Ken Burns – A fantastic 10 DVD set that reintroduces you to everything about baseball, from the beginning.  The original release concluded in the mid 90s when we still (naively) thought Bonds, Sosa and McGwire had cleanly reinvigorated the game.  Since then, additional content brings the viewer through the 2009 season (Yankees beating Phillies in 6.)

“It is played everywhere .  .  . by small boys and old men.”
– Richard


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