Cooperstown Confidential -Regular Season Edition - 06/12/2003
Super Balls At The Stadium
Call it the day that the “Super Balls” went flying. In the aftermath of the Sammy Sosa bat-corking affair, a number of newspapers and internet sources have published chronologies of batsmen who have been caught red-handed with corked or otherwise illegal bats. Almost all of those lists begin with the infraction committed by former Yankees third baseman Graig Nettles, who was found to be in possession of a rather unusual bat on September 7, 1974. Unlike the other offenders, Nettles’ bat was not filled with cork, but with the kind of bouncy rubber Super Balls preferred by young children. Although the Nettles episode is usually the first incident mentioned in the chronology, he was not the first to have been caught using an illegal bat—and certainly not the first to have a bat filled with an illegal substance—but his transgression provides a neat and tidy starting point for such nasty incidents since 1970.
So what exactly happened that Saturday afternoon at Yankee Stadium, as Nettles and the New Yorkers hosted the Detroit Tigers? The two teams actually played a doubleheader that day, with the first game taking place without incident. Nettles did hit a home run in the lidlifter, but his bat didn’t break and he was not charged with—or even suspected of—having used a doctored bat. His two-run shot, however, couldn’t prevent the Yankees from dropping an 8-3 decision to the Tigers, who pounded Yankee starter Rudy May for six runs in three and one-third innings. Detroit’s Bill Freehan hit a home run of his own, part of a 2-for-5 effort as the Tigers’ cleanup man.
The real fun didn’t start until the second game, as left-handers Woodie Fryman and Larry Gura (in perhaps his lone highlight as a member of the Yankees) engaged in a compelling pitchers’ duel. With the game scoreless in the bottom of the second, Nettles stepped to the plate against Fryman, who was usually brutal against left-handed hitters. On this occasion, Nettles found his way against Fryman, connecting on a home run. Once again, the bat did not break, and the Tigers expressed no suspicion that Nettles had done anything to alter or doctor the bat.
Well, those suspicions finally began to bubble during Nettles’ next at-bat, which came in the bottom of the fifth inning. Nettles took a swing and nicked one of Fryman’s pitches with the end of his bat, blooping a single into the outfield. While Nettles stood at first, thinking he had picked up his second hit of the game, he also realized that something was wrong. At the moment of contact with the ball, the top of his bat had come flying off the barrel, which was unusual way for a bat to break into two pieces. Bill Freehan, the Tigers’ catcher, also noticed something out of place, specifically with the larger piece of discarded wood that lay near home plate. Freehan recognized that the inside of the stained brown bat contained a foreign substance, a fact to which he alerted home plate umpire Lou DiMuro. After inspecting the bat, DiMuro called Nettles out for using an illegal bat.
Curiously, some of the newspaper reports of the day (including one in the New York Times, which has far more egregious errors in recent months) claimed that Freehan and DiMuro had found cork in the bat, but it was actually pieces of Super Balls that had been inserted into the center of the bat, which had been hollowed out with a drill. Although cork has always been the illegal substance of choice when it comes to filling a bat, any substance other than wood qualifies as illegal, making Nettles a clear-cut “criminal” in this case.
Nettles offered a rather curious explanation when asked about the offending bat. “I didn’t know there was anything in the bat,” Nettles told Murray Chass of the New York Times. “That was the first time I used it.” Nettles went on to explain that the bat was not one that he ordinarily used. “Some Yankee fan in Chicago gave it to me. He said it would bring me luck. I guess he made it,” Nettles claimed, maintaining a straight face throughout his convoluted explanation. According to Nettles, he had previously been using a bat owned by teammate Walt “No-Neck” Williams over the past three days, and selected the “fan’s bat” by accident. “I picked this one up by mistake,” said Nettles sheepishly, trying to maintain some semblance of innocence during the reporters’ interrogation. “It looked the same [as Williams’ bat] and felt the same. As soon as the end came off, I knew there was something wrong with it.”
While most of the New York and Detroit writers covering the doubleheader viewed Nettles’ explanation with skepticism, Tiger players showed little willingness to give Nettles the benefit of the doubt. “I’m sure that was the same bat he used when he hit the homer,” said Freehan, who knew all about illegal at-bats from his association with Tigers’ teammate Norm Cash, an admitted bat-corker throughout the 1961 seasons. “I used to see Norm Cash do it a lot,” Freehan told Jim Hawkins of The Sporting News. “Actually what it does is give you better wood. You get better wood in a heavy bat than you do in a light one.” (Ironically, Cash didn’t play in either end of the doubleheader against the Yankees, sitting out against left-handers May and Gura in favor of a young right-handed hitting first baseman named Reggie Sanders.)
In contrast to Cash, Freehan pointed out that Nettles seemed to use a unique process in putting together his tampered bat. “Nettles did it differently than I’ve ever seen it done before,” Freehan told The Sporting News. “It looked like he had sawed the end off, drilled a hole and put the cork in, then glued the two pieces back together. It came apart because he hit the ball on the end.”
Like Freehan, Tigers manager Ralph Houk didn’t seem to believe Nettles either, while at the same time defending his own team. “We never cheat,” said Houk, perhaps temporarily forgetting about Cash’s presence on his roster. “I don’t know if [Nettles] used it for the home run, but I assume he did.” Yet, according to baseball rules, the umpires had no power to take away Nettles’ home run because of suspicion that he might have been using an illegal bat at that point in the game.
The umpire’s reaction to the fifth-inning discovery of the illegal bat provides some interesting discussion for debate. Although DiMuro called Nettles out and nullified his bloop single, he did not eject Nettles from the game. That ruling differed from almost all other subsequent illegal bat incidents, in which the player received an immediate ejection from the premises. The response of the American League proved even more curious. The league chose not to suspend Nettles—not even for a single game—even though he had clearly been caught with the incriminating goods. Unlike Albert Belle, Wilton Guerrero, Sammy Sosa and the rest, Nettles was allowed to continue playing out the American League schedule uninterrupted. Perhaps it was a kinder and gentler time in baseball history—or perhaps baseball officials were far more gullible than they are today when it comes to listening to players’ excuses for using illegal equipment.
More On Nettles
In a story unrelated to the Super Balls incident, the Yankees considered trading Nettles just three months later, as part of the swap meet that once was baseball’s winter meetings. According to a story that appeared in the New York Daily News on December 7, 1974, the Yankees gave serious consideration to a trade that would have sent Nettles to the Cincinnati Reds for Hall of Fame first baseman Tony Perez. According to the article, penned by longtime baseball writer Phil Pepe, the Reds wanted Nettles and another player for Perez, who had hit 19 points higher and slugged six more home runs than Nettles during the 1974 season. In order to make the trade, the Yankees would have needed to make a separate deal for another third baseman, since they had no one in line to take Nettles’ place at the hot corner… What was the reasoning behind the proposed trade? Dissatisfied with the lack of power production from Chris Chambliss (only six home runs in 400 at-bats) and the frequent injuries to Ron Blomberg, the Yankees sought a first baseman with the durability and power of Perez. They also wanted to balance a lineup in which only one right-handed hitter (Thurman Munson) reached double figures in home runs (with a mere 13)… From the Reds’ perspective, they hoped that the acquisition of Nettles and the departure of Perez would enable them to move Dan Driessen, an awkward third baseman, to a more comfortable position at first base. Such a trade would have also helped the Reds balance their lineup, which had only one left-handed power bat in Little Joe Morgan… Of course, the trade between Cincinnati and New York never happened—and that turned out to be a good thing for both the Reds and Yankees. Despite continual floggings from the Sabermetric community, Perez served the Reds well as their patented No. 5 hitter behind Johnny Bench, a capable everyday first baseman, and keep-‘em-loose clubhouse leader. As for the Yankees, it’s doubtful they would have visited three consecutive World Series without Nettles’ Gold Glove defense and latent left-handed power, which made him an ideal sixth and seventh-place hitter behind the likes of Thurman Munson and Reggie Jackson. Yes indeed, sometimes the best trades are the ones that never do take place… One other note on Nettles: for those wondering why Nettles first name is spelled “GRAIG,” instead of the conventional “GREG,” here’s the story. According to Wayne Nettles, Graig’s father, it was Nettles’ mother who came up with the idea for the unusual birth name. Mrs. Nettles wanted to name him Greg, but she hated the longer version of that name, which is Gregory. So she found a way around that conventional trap by coming up with the alternate name of Graig, so that once others realized how his name was spelled, they would never try to lengthen it to the more formal version of the name.
Major League Morsels
Tony Cloninger’s unfortunate battle with bladder cancer has forced him to take an indefinite leave of absence, leaving the Red Sox without one of the game’s better pitching minds. Yet, in Cloninger’s absence, the Sox have done well in finding an interim coach to work with their struggling staff. He’s former Mets pitching coach Dave Wallace, who had been working most recently in the Dodgers’ front office. Wallace is that rare pitching guru who has enough smarts to be a general manager while also owning the proper communications skills to succeed as a pitching coach. If Cloninger can return to duty later this season, the Red Sox would be smart to find a front office position for Wallace… One of Wallace’s first projects will be to work with Ramiro “El Brujo” Mendoza, who has looked nothing like the pitcher that once made him so valuable in the Bronx. Mendoza’s arm strength is fine—he’s still able to throw in the low nineties—but he hasn’t been able to sink his fastball the way he did in New York… The Yankees’ rumor mill has been working overtime in recent days, with all sorts of talk ranging from All-Star outfielders Brian Giles and Carlos Beltran to All-Star pitchers like Curt Schilling. More realistically, the Yankees are likely looking at lesser deals that could strengthen their bullpen and their bench, two major areas of weakness. The Yankees have had talks with the Pirates, not so much about Giles, but about underrated left-hander Scott Sauerbeck, who would look pretty tasty coming out of the Bronx bullpen. An effective reliever like Sauerbeck, who excels against left-handed hitters (who have batted .200 against him this year with an on-base percentage of .289), would allow Joe Torre to use Chris Hammond in blocks of one or two innings, rather than in an unsuitable role as a lefty specialist. Hammond, with his devastating fadeaway changeup, remains a much more effective pitcher against right-handed batters than left-handed swingers… Another Pirate drawing interest is first baseman Randall Simon, who once played in the Yankees’ farm system before moving on to the Tigers a few years back. Simon is young, makes only $600,000, and would give the Yankees another option at first base. That’s an option they’d like to have, with Nick Johnson making another one of his curiously slow recoveries from a hand injury and with Jason Giambi’s physical problems forcing him to DH more and more… The Yankees, who have already dealt with Texas for Ruben Sierra, continue to have conversations with the Rangers about other players. They’ve talked about ace reliever Ugueth Urbina, whose arm is sound and who still hasn’t turned 30 years old. The Rangers would willingly trade Urbina and his $4.5 million contract for the Yankees’ top pitching prospect, Brandon Claussen, who has made a remarkably rapid comeback from Tommy John surgery. Yet, the Yankees probably won’t give up Claussen, especially now that fellow Triple-A pitching prospect Danny Borrell has been sidelined for the season. Instead of Claussen, the Yankees would rather trade disappointing outfielder Juan Rivera, who has maintained a nasty habit of bailing out against both right-handed and left-handed pitchers. Simply put, Rivera has looked overmatched since his early-season recall from Triple-A Columbus… One other note on the Yankees: they no longer consider Rolando Arrojo a possible band aid to their bullpen problems, not after the organization elected to suspend him for unspecified reasons. Arrojo had been pitching for Columbus before suddenly being placed on the inactive list… The Mets are thrilled with their No. 1 draft pick, fleet-footed high school outfielder Lastings Milledge of Bradenton, Florida. Based on his defensive skills, specifically his ability to read the ball off the bat and get a quick jump on fly balls and line drives, Milledge has already been compared favorably to Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente. Of course, such a comparison needs to be taken with a grain of salt, given that it comes from his agent, Tommy Tanzer. Thankfully, Tanzer did admit that his client “doesn’t have the arm that Roberto had.” Then again, who does?… Milledge recently concluded his scholastic career at Lakewood Ranch High School, where he played for former major league outfielder Dave Moates, who played for the Rangers in the 1970s. A high school coach for over 20 years, Moates has overseen the development of several future major leaguers at Lakewood Ranch, including the Devil Rays’ Lance Carter and the Padres’ Brian Tolberg.
Re-Living The Swingin’ A’s
On June 9, 1973, in an historic Charlie Finley-esque moment, the Oakland A’s debuted their distinctive, if not aesthetically pleasing, all-green uniforms. In 1972, the A’s had debuted solid green tops, but always wore them with traditional white pants. The new green pants, yet another Finley innovation, gave the A’s a surreal, softball-like appearance. In an amusing interview, A’s captain and third baseman Sal Bando claimed the matching green tops and bottoms actually provided a helpful, camouflaging effect against Oakland’s opponents. “The batters can’t see us,” Bando explained tongue-in-cheek to The Sporting News, “because we blend in with the grass and they hit it right at us.”
Ably assisted by their new Irish look, the A’s won their next two games against the Detroit Tigers. In the June 10th game, left fielder Joe Rudi made a catch strikingly similar to his dramatic, spider-like snare against the Reds’ Denis Menke in the 1972 World Series. On this occasion, Rudi deprived Willie Horton of extra bases with a sprawling grab, helping to preserve Catfish Hunter’s 5-0 shutout win.
The A’s finished the homestand with a mediocre record of 7-5, despite a boom period at the plate for Reggie Jackson. Reggie powered six homers and totaled 17 RBIs during the home stretch, putting himself on pace for a 100-RBI season. In one of the games against the Brewers, Jackson drove in five runs, but still heard boos from the Oakland faithful when he misplayed three catchable fly balls in right field. “I had that one bad game [defensively],” Reggie conceded in an interview with The Sporting News. “But that’s like striking out four times in one game. Those things happen.”
Ever since his record-breaking home run streak during the first half of the 1969 season, some members of the national media had been tempted to label Jackson a superstar. While some writers debated that assessment, few players in either league matched his combination of power, raw speed, and rifle-like throwing arm. “His strength is just unbelievable,” said former Athletic Dave Duncan in an interview with Bay Area sportswriter Glenn Dickey. “He should be able to hit 30 home runs a year just by accident.” Yet, Jackson had reached that single-season milestone only twice in his first five full major league seasons. His home ballpark, the pitcher-friendly Oakland Coliseum, had certainly played a part in hindering his power. There were other reasons, too. Reggie’s lack of patience at the plate, coupled with his tendency to overswing, had limited his home run totals while creating too many strikeouts and too few walks. “It’s no secret what they get [Jackson] out on,” Duncan explained later in the interview. “He strikes out on pitches over his head or in the dirt. When the pitch is in the strike zone, he hits it.”
Some observers also felt that Jackson had suffered from an identity crisis. During spring training, some of the A’s players and media had whispered about Jackson’s tendency to model himself after controversial Chicago White Sox slugger Dick Allen, whom he had known from his days growing up in the Philadelphia area. Revered for his immense power and pure hitting ability, Allen had become a kind of guru to a number of black ballplayers throughout the majors. Although as talented as any power hitter in the game, Allen’s strained relationships with managers and fans had undermined his reputation, calling into question his desire to win. “I like Allen as a person and admire him as a ballplayer, but I’m not trying to be like him,” Jackson insisted in a discussion with Dickey. Still, others in the Oakland clubhouse saw a resemblance. “There’s a little of Dick Allen in him. A little of Frank Robinson,” said Sal Bando. “He has to learn to be Reggie Jackson.”
His strikeouts and insecurities aside, Jackson had played well enough—and shown enough improvement in his game—to merit election to the American League All-Star team. The same could not be said of Jackson’s outfield partner, Joe Rudi, who remained mired in a season-long slump. When Rudi’s average fell to a season-low .217, manager Dick Williams placed him on the bench for five straight games. Dubbed “Gentleman Joe” by the Bay Area media, Rudi usually handled such adversity with a calm, even demeanor. On this occasion, however, the benching angered him. “I know what I can do,” Rudi lashed out in an interview with Sports Illustrated, “but I can’t prove anything on the bench.”
Jackson wasn’t happy with his manager either. Williams had decided to sit his right fielder for a couple of days, saying that Reggie needed to be “rested.” Jackson refuted Williams’ reasoning. “Why should I need a rest?” Jackson asked a writer from Sports Illustrated. “I just had a birthday, but I’m 27, not 37. I’m not tired. What’s he thinking of? What did I do wrong? I’m hitting .285 and driving in runs.”
On the A’s, the voicing of complaints wasn’t restricted to stars and near-stars like Jackson and Rudi. Even bench players joined in the discord. One incident involved Angel Mangual, who had moved into Rudi’s spot in left field, in what amounted to his last chance to resurrect his career in Oakland. In the late innings of one of the games that Mangual started, Williams sent up the “rested” Jackson to pinch-hit for the light-hitting outfielder. Mangual reacted by throwing his helmet. An observant Williams reacted by fining Mangual $200. While that might not have sounded like a substantial amount, it represented the largest fine that Williams had doled out during his tenure as Oakland’s manager.
Mangual said Williams misunderstood his gesture. “I wasn’t tossing my helmet because Reggie pinch-hit for me. I did it just to relax,” Mangual told The Sporting News, employing a rather unconvincing argument. Mangual then allowed his feelings of frustration with the manager to truly show. “If Williams no like me, why doesn’t he trade me?” Williams and Charlie Finley faced a basic problem: who would give up anything of substance for Mangual, given his poor 1972 season and continuing struggles at the plate and in the field in 1973?
In addition to the dilemma presented by the enigmatic Mangual, the A’s had other concerns with their 25-man roster. During the offseason, Charlie Finley had pushed his fellow owners to adopt a rule allowing a “designated runner,” a player who could be substituted at any time for the slowest batter in the lineup. Although American League owners had ratified the rule change, the National League had refused to go along. In a compromise, National League owners had agreed to allow the American League to use the new designated hitter innovation, but had turned their noses against the designated runner and the concept of inter-league play. In protest of the decision, Finley refused to vote in favor of the DH, saying that the designated hitter and designated runner should have been packaged together. Even though the rules wouldn’t allow a “designated” runner, Finley still believed in the importance of carrying a player whose only value was his ability to pinch-run. Given that roster philosophy, Finley called up pinch-runner Allan Lewis from Double-A Birmingham, while demoting pinch-hitting specialist Gonzalo Marquez to Triple-A Tucson.
The decision to promote Lewis to the major leagues angered several of the players, foremost Sal Bando, who publicly criticized the 31-year-old pinch-runner’s baseball skills. Bando became even more incensed when Lewis made his 1973 debut on June 18, pinch-running for Bando himself in the seventh inning of a 9-5 win over the Royals. The fact that Lewis scored a run did little to soothe Bando, who resented being replaced by an inferior ballplayer during a close game. Bando probably became more infuriated when he watched his replacement at third base, Rich McKinney, commit a late-inning error in the same game.
Other Oakland players publicly expressed their opposition to Lewis’ presence on the roster. The resentment grew after a game on June 20, when the A’s played the Royals in Kansas City. On this occasion, Dick Williams used Lewis as a pinch-runner for designated hitter Deron Johnson. One inning later, with a chance to break a 4-4 tie in extra innings, the A’s loaded the bases with one out. It was now Johnson’s turn to bat. Yet, Johnson had already been removed for the pinch-running Lewis, and was now out of the game. Needing a more capable hitter than Lewis, Williams sent McKinney up as a pinch-hitter. McKinney failed to deliver the game-tying run, and the A’s went on to lose the game in the bottom of the 12th.
The strategy left Oakland players incredulous. Although Williams had used Lewis as a pinch-runner in two earlier games, the A’s had managed to win both times. In this most recent instance, the use of Lewis had cost the A’s their best chance to win in extra innings, at least according to most of the players in the clubhouse. Why did Finley insist on carrying Lewis on the 25-man roster, the players thought out loud, and why did Williams insist on playing him?
As team captain, Sal Bando expressed the most vocal opposition to Lewis’ presence. Bando’s problem with Lewis had everything to do with baseball—and nothing to do with personality. “At that time, it was kind of new to us to carry a player who would not have made the team based on his baseball skills,” Bando explains. “I don’t think it was anything personal against Allan as much as it was we were carrying somebody who really, all he could do was pinch-run. It’s like putting somebody on the club, that when other guys are competing who have more skills to hit or field, couldn’t make the club.”
The majority of Lewis’ teammates agreed with Bando, feeling that the pinch-running specialist had no business wearing a major league uniform. “It was quite [difficult] for those guys,” says Mincher, “to understand that here you have a guy who never had a major league at-bat, as far as I know [Lewis actually came to bat 29 times during parts of six seasons], and he was making the same kind of money as some of the guys on the club, getting the major league treatment, and he never earned it. He [Lewis] never earned the privilege; all the guy’s gotta do is run [the bases] one time during a game.”
In retrospect, Bando says Finley’s decision to include a player like Lewis on the roster made some sense. “As you look back, I think there’s a lot of merit to having the 25th man on your club being able to do something like that. Especially once you had the DH in place, you really didn’t need all 25 players.” Like it or not, Dick Williams had received a mandate from his boss to use Lewis in pinch-running situations. “I think Dick Williams probably put up with it [at first],” Bando says, “but then saw some merit to it.”
Several days later, another controversy infiltrated the A’s, though this one did not involve the players. Television play-by-play man Monte Moore, who had long been reputed to be a Finley house man, and who allegedly served as a snitch for the owner at the ballpark and in the clubhouse, became involved in a conflict with several longtime sportswriters.
Some players and writers believed that if someone made negative comments about Finley in the presence of Moore, those remarks would eventually find their way to the all-knowing owner. Did Moore really betray the confidence of the Oakland clubhouse? “We really felt so,” said Jack Aker, a member of the A’s from 1964 to ‘68. “Every meeting that we had—and at this time you have to remember that this was the years that the players’ union was getting organized, and we even shut out the manager and the coaches whenever we had a meeting to try to organize this thing—for some reason, Monte Moore seemed to know what went on in the meetings. Either he was close enough by to overhear some of the comments, or in the clubhouse, [where] some of the players would be talking among themselves. So we really felt that this was something that should have been just between the players. I think there was a lot of animosity on the club against Monte Moore.”
Others suspected that one of the A’s’ players was serving as a “messenger” to Finley. In Curt Smith’s acclaimed book, Voices of the Game, former A’s broadcaster Jim Woods pointed the finger at shortstop Campy Campaneris. Even after his playing days, Campy maintained a connection with the owner by annually sending Finley a Christmas card, the only former A’s player to do so. So was Campaneris acting as an unspoken liaison with Finley? “Without any proof, I’d hate to say anything,” says Aker. “There were two players that we felt were very close to Mr. Finley. I couldn’t say right now for sure if Monte Moore ever said anything to him; I couldn’t with the two players, either. It was very obvious to us that someone was going up to Mr. Finley. Being player representative, a lot of times the meeting would be over, and someone within five minutes would be summoning me to his office. He could tell me right away what had gone on in the meeting, word for word in some cases.”
At the time, most players suspected Moore, rather than Campaneris, of acting as the conduit to Charlie Finley. Moore knew about the allegations and realized that some of the accusations came from baseball writers. On that front, Moore would soon enjoy some payback. In late June, the A’s played the White Sox in a weekend series in Chicago. During one of the games, Billy North reached first base on what official scorer and longtime writer Edgar Munzel deemed an infield error. Moore, broadcasting the game back to Oakland, disagreed with Munzel’s’ decision. Moore felt Munzel should have credited North with a base hit. Moore took his criticism a step further when he accused newspaper reporters, in general, of not paying attention to the action on the field. Several writers resented Moore’s accusation. “You newspaper men are so sensitive,” Moore told a reporter after the broadcast. “A lot of newspaper men have criticized me, and if they’ve got a right to criticize me, then I’ve got a right to criticize them.”
While most writers probably didn’t want to admit it, Moore had a legitimate point. Although one might have questioned his motives, he did have every right to criticize writers, provided that he could back up his accusations. Moore also proved to be right in his assessment of Munzel’s scoring decision, and played a part in having the ruling changed. To his credit, The venerable Munzel asked all of the players involved on the play whether it should be scored a hit or an error. Munzel collected all of the testimony, and two days after making his original decision, changed the scoring of the play. Munzel gave North a hit, drawing the praise of Dick Williams in the process. “Edgar Munzel,” said Williams in an interview with The Sporting News, “showed me a lot of class.”
Johnny “Hippity” Hopp(Died on June 1 in Scottsbluff, Nebraska; age 86): A .296 career hitter, Hopp participated in five World Series during a notable major league career. After making his debut with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1939, the young outfielder went on to play for three National League pennant winners in St. Louis. Well-liked by fans and teammates, Hopp was voted the Cardinals’ most popular player in 1941. Three years later, he put together his most productive big league season, batting .336 with 11 home runs and 72 RBIs for the wartime Cardinals. Hopp remained with the Redbirds until 1946, when he was traded to the Boston Braves. He later played with the Pittsburgh Pirates and Detroit Tigers before moving on to the New York Yankees. With the Yankees, Hopp won World Series rings in 1950 and ’51, as part of New York’s uninterrupted four-year run as World Champions. After his playing days, Hopp served as a coach with both the Cardinals and the Tigers before completely retiring from baseball in 1957.
Bill Buhler (Died on May 17; age 75): The longtime trainer of the Los Angeles Dodgers for nearly four decades, Buhler was regarded as one of the most innovative medical men in baseball. He helped develop a special throat guard for catchers shortly after the Dodgers’ Steve Yeager was speared in the neck by a broken bat. Buhler also helped devise special equipment to help pitcher Tommy John with his rehabilitation efforts after arm surgery. In 1989, Major League Baseball recognized Buhler by naming him Trainer of the Year. Two years later, he was named the National League’s trainer for the All-Star Game.
Steve Shilling (Died on May 7 in Medford, New Jersey; age 44; cancer): Shilling was the owner of the Camden Riversharks, a team in the independent Atlantic League. After playing a major role in the building of the team’s 6500-seat Campell Field, Shilling oversaw the team’s improvement from also-ran expansion club to perennial playoff team.
Bruce Markusen is the author of that OTHER book on the A’s, A Baseball Dynasty: Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s (ISBN number 1-878282-23-9), which is available at www.amazon.com and at many major bookstores, including Borders Books. Markusen, who has also written The Orlando Cepeda Story and Roberto Clemente: The Great One, appears regularly on MLB Radio (MLB.com) each Friday from 12 noon to 1:00 pm Eastern time.
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