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Historical Hot Stove
by Bruce Markusen
Previous Columns

Cooperstown Confidential: Hot Stove League Edition #3 - 12/17/2002

Voting By The Vets: For the first time ever, the ballots being considered by the Hall of Fame’s new Veterans Committee—which consists of all living Hall of Famers and winners of the Frick and Spink awards—are now both common and public knowledge. After years of clandestine ballots, which were never released to the general public or the media, the Hall of Fame announced last week the names of players, managers, umpires, owners, and executives being considered for 2003 enshrinement in Cooperstown… Here are some tidbits that you might not have known about each of the 26 men being considered on the Players Ballot by the newly shaped Veterans Committee… At the tail end of his controversial career, Dick Allen wore the name of his hometown in Pennsylvania (Wampum) on the back of his Oakland A’s uniform. He decided to quit the A’s—and professional baseball—in 1977 when the team tried to make him a fulltime designated hitter… When he first came up with the San Francisco Giants, Bobby Bonds carried the nickname, “Bo Bo Junior,” which had been given to him by his childhood friends. The nickname really didn’t stick during his major league career, but became a portent of things to come. Bonds eventually had a real “Bo Bo Junior,” when his son, Bobby Bonds Jr., was born. Bonds Jr. played minor league ball for a number of years, but never achieved the major league dream fulfilled by father Bobby and brother Barry… As one of 14 children who grew up in the town of Alba, Missouri, Ken Boyer was also the best player of six brothers to play professional baseball. Unlike his outgoing brother Clete, Ken was generally quiet and understated, so much so that teammate Joe Garagiola compared him to Gary Cooper’s character in the classic film, High Noon… Rocky Colavito enjoyed his best seasons with the Cleveland Indians, but made more trivial news after joining the lowly Kansas City A’s in 1964. Colavito sported the name “Rock” on the back of his jersey, becoming one of the first players in major league history to wear either his first name or his nickname on his uniform... Star right-hander Wes Ferrell owned one of the most ferocious tempers of any player in the 1920s and thirties. His manager with the Cleveland Indians, Roger Peckinpaugh, once fined him for refusing to leave the mound after he had been replaced by a relief pitcher. Later on, Ferrell became a manager himself, working in the minor leagues. Having failed to mellow with age, Ferrell once struck an umpire with his fist and also pulled his entire team off the field in protest of a bad call… Better known as a St. Louis Cardinal (and for refusing to accept a trade to the Philadelphia Phillies and a subsequent challenge of the reserve clause), Curt Flood actually began his career with the Cincinnati Reds. If the Reds had not traded him away after two short stints, they could have fielded an all-world outfield of Vada Pinson in left, Flood in center, and Frank Robinson in right for much of the 1960s. In addition to forging a reputation as one of the game’s best defensive outfielders, Flood was also a talented painter. A self-portrait appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated during the 1968 season… After a stellar career as a second baseman with the New York Yankees and Cleveland Indians, Joe Gordonbecame a journeyman manager in the American League. His resume included a stop with the Kansas City A’s, where he worked under intrusive owner Charlie Finley. Prior to one game, Gordon walked to home plate and handed the umpire his lineup card, which was inscribed with the words, “Approved by C.O.F” When the umpire asked him what the cryptic letters stood for, Gordon replied: “Charles Oscar Finley.” Finley wasn’t pleased… As manager of the Washington Senators, a heroic Gil Hodges once saved a player from suicide. Veteran pitcher Ryne Duren, who had been drinking heavily and was feeling depressed, walked onto a bridge and appeared ready to jump to his death. Hodges calmly talked to Duren, convincing him not to take his own life. Duren relented, and walked off the bridge unharmed… Prior to his celebrated career with the New York Yankees (where he became the first black player in the team’s history), Elston Howard starred for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues and roomed with Hall of Famer Ernie Banks on road trips. After his playing days, Howard was long rumored to become the first African-American manager in Yankee history, but such a promotion never came to the well-respected Howard…The Cincinnati Reds signed slugging first baseman Ted Kluszewski almost by accident. During World War II, the Reds trained at Indiana University to save on spring training expenses. Kluszewski, an All-American on the Hoosiers’ football team, decided to help the groundskeeper one day and then took a few swings in the batting cage. “Big Klu” hit several blasts into tape-measure territory, convincing the Reds to sign him to a minor league contract… A natural right-hander, former Detroit Tigers ace Mickey Lolich became a top-notch left-hander in an unusual twist of fate. As a child, Lolich suffered a broken left shoulder when a motorcycle fell on top of him. His doctor told him to throw left-handed repeatedly as a way of straightening and strengthening his arm. Lolich did so, becoming so enamored with throwing left-handed that he decided to become a southpaw on a fulltime basis. The decision paid off, especially in the 1968 World Series, when Lolich won three games for the World Champion Tigers… Former St. Louis Cardinals standout Marty Marion owned more than his fair share of nicknames, in part because of his graceful fielding at shortstop. New York Yankees catching great Bill Dickey called him a “Floating Ghost” because of his smooth, gliding style of play on the infield. The name didn’t catch on, as Marion became better known as “Slats” and “Octopus,” because of his lanky frame and long legs. Marion’s right leg was actually shorter than the other—the result of a childhood accident that saw him fall down a 20-foot embankment. The injury resulted in his knee popping out from time to time, and made him ineligible for service in World War II… Although he’s best known for his performance with the Yankees and Cardinals, Roger Maris began his major league career with the Cleveland Indians, the result of a successful workout under the watchful eye of the team’s general manager, Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg. Against their better judgment, the Indians allowed Maris to start out at Cleveland’s minor league affiliate in Fargo, North Dakota, where a young Maris had spent most of his childhood. Maris hit .325 in his Fargo debut… Perhaps the most surprising name on the Player Ballot, Mike Marshall began his professional career as a shortstop, which he played with pitchfork hands. In three out of four minor league seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies’ organization, Marshall led his league in errors. The Phillies then sold him to the Tigers, who wisely decided to make him a pitcher after he incurred back problems. Marshall went to spring training with the Tigers’ World Championship team in 1968, but was demoted to the International League and was then left available in the expansion draft, where he was taken by the dearly departed Seattle Pilots… Carl Mays, whose temper nearly matched his talent, once started a fight with the legendary Ty Cobb by intentionally throwing at him. Mays was a mere rookie at the time, while Cobb’s reputation for feistiness and fisticuffs had already been well-established…Bob Meusel was the Kevin McReynolds of the 1920s, a talented outfielder with speed and power who was often criticized for playing nonchalantly and lacking passion. Still, Meusel was a productive hitter who piled up five 100-RBI seasons, slugged nearly .500 for his career, and emerged as a key contributor for the New York Yankees’ “Murderers’ Row” World Championship team of 1927… The Cleveland Indians purchased the contract of Negro Leagues standout Minnie Minoso in 1948, based on the recommendation of legendary Harlem Globetrotters owner Abe Saperstein. Why did Saperstein’s opinion matter? He was a part-time scout for the Indians and was trusted by owner Bill Veeck. Saperstein’s advice proved cogent, as Minoso won The Sporting News’ Rookie of the Year Award on his way to a stellar career in the American League… Because of his non-athletic build, Thurman Munson was saddled with one of the most unattractive nicknames in baseball history. Yankee teammates called him “Squatty Body,” an apt description for the 5’11”, 190-pound catcher who was thick in the rump and the legs. Despite the less-than-appealing moniker, Munson’s teammates respected his leadership skills; Yankee management also recognized Munson’s character, making him the franchise’s first captain since Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig… After having seemingly retired from professional baseball, Don Newcombe made a comeback by signing a contract to play for the Chunichi Dragons of the Japanese Leagues. Newcombe signed on as a hitter and position player, however, not as a pitcher. One of the best hitting hurlers of all-time, the lefty-swinging Newcombe set a National League record for pitchers by clubbing seven home runs during the 1955 season… Tony Oliva, whose real name is Pedro Oliva Lopez, originally entered the United States from Cuba by using a “borrowed” passport. The passport actually belonged to his brother Tony; as a result, the Cuban star became known as “Tony” Oliva for the rest of his career. After his playing days, Oliva remained in baseball as a batting coach with the Minnesota Twins; he helped Kirby Puckett make a successful conversion from slap-hitting singles hitter to power-hitting Hall of Famer… When Vada Pinson started spring training with the Cincinnati Reds in 1958, one of the team’s coaches mistakenly believed he was of Latino descent. Jimmy Dykes, the former player and manager, tried to communicate with Pinson by using signs and a broken form of English. After awhile, Pinson informed that he could speak—and understand—the language just fine… Allie Reynolds became one of the greatest right-handers in New York Yankees history, but not before starring in both varsity football and track at Oklahoma State University. Reynolds played only baseball on the intramural level before joining the school’s varsity team on his way to signing a pro contract with the Cleveland Indians… In 1973, Ron Santo became the first player to invoke his no-trade privilege as part of the “10 and 5” rule negotiated by Marvin Miller and the Players’ Association. Under the rule, any player who had 10 years of major league service, including the last five consecutive years with the same team, thereby gained the right to veto a trade. A longtime member of the Chicago Cubs, Santo negated a deal that would have made him a California Angel, but later relented to a trade that sent him to the cross-town White Sox… As a star at St. Francis Prep in Brooklyn, Joe Torre played third base, but the Milwaukee Braves converted him to catcher because of the presence of Hall of Famer Eddie Mathews at third base. Later in his career, after joining the St. Louis Cardinals in a trade for Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda, Torre moved back to third base. The switch was necessitated by the retirement of veteran third baseman Mike “Moon Man” Shannon, who had been plagued by kidney disease… No relation to the current general manager of the Chicago White Sox who bears the same name, Ken Williams became the first American Leaguer other than Babe Ruth to surpass 30 home runs in a season. A left-handed hitter with a lifetime slugging percentage of .530, Williams also became the first AL player to hit three home runs in a single game. He achieved the feat in 1922 as a member of the old St. Louis Browns… Prior to making his big league debut with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1959, Maury Wills toiled for eight seasons in the minor leagues, playing every position on the diamond along the way. A struggling Wills was greatly helped by the suggestion of one of his minor league skippers, Bobby Bragan, who recommended that he take up switch-hitting. Previously a right-handed hitter, Wills accepted Bragan’s challenge, made the necessary adjustments, and moved up to the Dodgers’ roster the following season… Two players who had previously received some consideration from the old Veterans Committee didn’t make the final cut of 26. They are former Boston Red Sox center fielder Dom DiMaggio and the late Mel Harder, who passed away earlier this year… In the next column, we’ll take a look at the 15 men being considered by the Veterans Committee on the Composite Ballot, which features managers, umpires, and executives.

Random Ramblings: I guess we can call them the “Seinfeld Meetings,” given that most general managers did nothing during the recently concluded winter meetings in Nashville. There were only four trades of headline significance, with the A’s, Red Sox, Mets, and Cardinals emerging as apparent winners, at least in terms of immediate major league results. The ever innovative Billy Beane acquired Sabermetric deity Erubiel Durazo as part of a four-team swap with the Diamondbacks, Reds, and Blue Jays, landing a player who has the potential to hit .310 with 35 home runs and compile an on-base percentage of .420, provided he can stay healthy. Durazo, a first baseman with little defensive value, will need to improve his hitting against left-handers (a .298 on-base percentage and a .296 slugging percentage over the last three seasons) in order to remain in Oakland’s everyday lineup. In many ways, he’s the modern-day Oscar Gamble, but with more offensive potential… The Red Sox also added a Sabermetric favorite in Jeremy Giambi, a Durazo play-alike who can hit left-handers, but who carries personality baggage and questions of character. On the positive side, Giambi will be joining a good clubhouse in Boston and will have a patient players’ manager in Grady Little. Then again, Giambi had that same kind of manager in Oakland with Art Howe, but still ran afoul of too many members of the organization… The Mets made a great move by dumping Rey Ordonez on Tampa Bay. Prior to 2002, Ordonez was arguably the best defensive shortstop in the National League, but he showed major slippage last year, both in terms of hands and range. Even if Ordonez somehow regains his defensive skills, the Mets simply could not afford to carry his feather-light bat in an already undermanned lineup… The Cardinals became the latest team to attempt to tap the full potential of Brett Tomko, who joined the Redbirds in a deal for reliever Luther Hackman and a player to be named later. With a pitching coach like Dave Duncan, and a wonderful defense that includes Gold Glovers Edgar Renteria, Scott Rolen, Jim Edmonds, and Mike Matheny, there might not be a better place for Tomko than St. Louis. Assuming that the player to be named later is not a top-flight prospect, this trade could become a steal for the Cardinals—and might have more impact than any deal made at the winter meetings… The near criminal failure of Willie Randolph to land a managing job this offseason not only has resulted in Randolph’s return to the Yankees as their third base coach, but also means that former teammate Roy White will remain out of a major league uniform. If Randolph had won out on one of the previously open jobs with the Tigers, Brewers, or Mets, he would have brought on White as his hitting coach. Although White has served as a minor league coach with the Oakland A’s in recent years, he has not worked at the major league level since 1986, when he had a falling out with Yankee manager Billy Martin. Like Randolph, White was a very patient and disciplined hitter during his big league career and continues to preach those same attributes as an instructor. Hopefully, a bright, open-minded organization will see fit to bring in the team of Randolph and White in the near future… The announcement received little attention over the weekend, but I was more than a little surprised that the highly visible Peter Gammons placed only third in the voting for the Hall of Fame’s prestigious Spink Award. Gammons, who is arguably the most well-known of all current-day baseball writers, finished behind winner Hal McCoy, the longtime Cincinnati writer, and runner-up Murray Chass of the New York Times.

Bruce Markusen is the author of A Baseball Dynasty: Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s, a new release from St. Johann Press. The book can be special ordered at www.amazon.com.


by Bruce Markusen

 

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