Class Behind The Mike
The Yankees offered a fitting tribute to the game’s best public address announcer over the weekend. By celebrating "Bob Sheppard Day" on Sunday, the Yankees paid homage to their long-time mike man, who is in his 50th season of announcing games at Yankee Stadium. In an age when even PA announcers try to incorporate ESPN schtick into what should be a minimalist art form, Sheppard has maintained the same dignified presentation that he first delivered in 1951. Speaking clearly with the elocution of a speech teacher (which had been Sheppard’s "other" career until his retirement three years ago), Sheppard has ably informed Yankee fans while never intruding on the game at hand... Sheppard’s statistics of longevity are astounding. He has announced over 4,000 major league games, including three perfect games, six no-hitters, and a total of 19 World Series... The Yankees surprised Sheppard by unveiling a plaque for him in Monument Park, making him only the 17th person to receive such an honor at the Stadium... Sheppard has announced the names of thousands of major league players over the years, but says he counts three monikers among his favorites. They are Salome Barojas, a right-handed pitcher with the White Sox, Mariners, and Phillies in the eighties; Shigetoshi Hasegawa, currently a reliever with the Angels; and Jose Valdivielso, a shortstop with the Senators and Twins in the late 1950s and early sixties... Other intriguing names that Sheppard has announced in the last 50 years include Fritzie Brickell, Eli Grba, Ron Klimkowski, Roger Repoz, Celerino Sanchez, and Dooley Womack, all Yankees at one time or another... For those who are wondering, Sheppard is not eligible for the Hall of Fame’s annual Ford C. Frick Award. That award is reserved for radio and television broadcasters who have announced major league games... Here’s a good Bob Sheppard-related trivia question. Who is Sheppard’s backup PA announcer at Yankee Stadium? The answer is Jim Hall (no, not that Jimmie Hall, the former power-hitting outfielder with the Twins and several other teams in the 1960s), who announced Sunday’s game while Sheppard enjoyed his own day in the sun.
The Readers Write
We’ve had some good contributions from readers to two of our most recent columns. As Willis Smith pointed out to us via e-mail, the death of former Angels coach Deron Johnson should be added to the franchise’s lengthy list of misfortune. Johnson, a longtime major league slugger who won the National League’s RBI title in 1965 with the Reds, died in April of 1992 while still employed as California’s batting coach. Johnson had been diagnosed with lung cancer the previous June, but refused hospitalization and treatment because he wanted to live out his remaining days at home... Johnson was so well-liked, by both players and front office types, that the Phillies once dealt him to Oakland as a way of helping him get a World Series ring. "I traded him to the A’s for a catcher named Jack Bastable," former Phillies executive Paul Owens once recalled in an interview with Bill Madden of the New York Daily News. "I could have gotten more for him, but I just felt so much of him, I wanted to get him a chance to be in a World Series." Johnson received his first chance at World Series glory that fall, when he batted .300 for the A’s in their 1973 world championship victory over the Mets...
On a lighter subject, reader Tim Basuino suggested several additions to our list of "samenames." He came up with the following: Johnny Ray (one was an infielder for the Pirates and Angels, the other the famed singer from the 1950s); Dan Wilson (one is currently the catcher for the Mariners and the other’s the lead singer of a contemporary musical group, Semisonic, performers of the hit song "Closing Time"); and John Kennedy (one being a utility infielder from 1962-74, the second an outfielder for the Phillies in 1957, and the third, of course, the U.S. President). Tim also reminds us about Hall of Fame pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander, who was named for the 19th century American President... Another reader, Mark Reichert, offered up the name of Jose Jimenez, the pitcher for the Rockies whose name is the same as the fictional Saturday Night Live character created by Bill Dana.
Commonly Asked Questions
While we’re on the subject of reader input, the Research Department at the National Baseball Hall of Fame answers thousands of questions and requests from fans, friends, and media in a typical year. We thought it might be fun to present three of the most commonly asked questions of the Hall of Fame staffers, and the answers the Hall provides.
1) Who holds the record for the least number of pitches thrown by a pitcher in a nine-inning game? Since pitch counts have become almost an obsession with the statistically minded (and with some pitching coaches and managers), the timing for this question seems especially good. The answer: On August 10, 1944, Charles "Red" Barrett of the Boston Braves set an unofficial record by throwing only 58 pitches in shutting out the Cincinnati Reds, 2-0. (The performance did not typify Barrett’s season; he won only nine of 25 decisions with an ERA of 4.06.) By the way, Barrett’s 1944 record is considered unofficial because pitch counts have not been kept for all games in major league history. Still, given pitchers’ tendencies to run deep counts (and the unwillingness of most umpires to call the rulebook strike zone), this may rank as the game’s most unbreakable record, perhaps even above and beyond Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak. A pitcher would have to average about six pitches per inning to shatter Barrett’s mark and we don’t see that happening anytime soon...
2) Did Fidel Castro ever play professional baseball? This one has come up a lot in the last year, especially since the Orioles played a Cuban all-star team in a two-game set last season. The answer: Although Castro was a standout amateur athlete in baseball, basketball, and track in his native Cuba, he never signed a contract to play professional baseball. Joe Cambria, a legendary scout for the old Washington Senators, saw Castro pitch in high school in Cuba, but never actually offered him a contract, either major league or minor league. Cambria told Castro, a right-handed pitcher, that he did not have enough of a fastball to pitch in the big leagues... On a related note, Castro once made an appearance in a game, but it didn’t count in the official records. During the winter of 1950-51, Castro entered a winter league game between Cienfuegos and Marianao__wearing civilian clothes, no less__and faced major league third baseman Don Hoak. Castro threw two pitches to Hoak before the home plate umpire ordered Castro to leave the field...
3) Who are the two people in the Hall of Fame who have nothing to do with baseball? Aside from the Pete Rose issue, this is probably the most frequently asked question at the Hall of Fame. The answer: All 249 elected members of the Hall of Fame do have a direct association with the game of baseball, either as major league players, Negro League players, managers, umpires, executives, or pioneers. The supposed, but false answer to this question is the comedic duo of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. Although their famous "Who’s on First?" routine is shown at the Hall of Fame, and is therefore part of the museum’s exhibits, Abbott and Costello have never been elected or inducted to the Hall of Fame... Stay tuned for more commonly asked questions in future columns.
If Rickey Henderson is released by the Mets (a report that we’re skeptical of, by the way), where will he end up? The leading contender may be the Tigers, who tried to trade for him in the spring (offering Bobby Higginson) and who desperately need a hitter or two who can reach base with a higher rate of frequency than Don Wert. The Tigers probably should be concentrating on youth, given their horrific start this season, but general manager Randy Smith and first-year skipper Phil Garner need to win games in order to preserve their future employment... Another team that may take a run at Henderson is the Mariners, who also talked to the Mets about a trade in the spring. The Mariners, who rightly believe they can win the American League West, might be willing to give up a middle-of-the-road prospect for the 41-year-old leadoff man... Although Henderson has gone through the motions with the Mets through the first six weeks of the season, his history indicates that he’ll play with a lot more verve if and when he changes teams... Will the Mets actually end up releasing Henderson? Perhaps, but it’s hard for us to believe that some team wouldn’t claim him off waivers or trade for him, what with the current dearth of quality leadoff men. In addition to the Tigers and Mariners, the Expos, Pirates, Rangers, and Rockies could all use veteran help in the batting order’s top spot... One team that can be scratched off the list of possible Henderson destinations is the Yankees. Manager Joe Torre has already indicated he doesn’t have much interest in Henderson, what with Shane Spencer and Ricky Ledee showing signs of emerging from early season funks. Torre has so much respect within the Yankee organization that not even George Steinbrenner will saddle him with a player he doesn’t really want.
A word of thanks to the folks at Hamilton College (Clinton, NY) for being such gracious hosts to my family at last week’s Jack Riffle Dinner for the school’s senior varsity athletes. The Riffle family also made us feel especially welcome. Jack Riffle, an alumnus of the college, was a terrific supporter of the school’s Division Three athletic programs right up until his unexpected death in 1986. Riffle often did volunteer work for the school without ever seeking publicity or attention in return. If Hamilton College athletics needed a boost, Jack Riffle was there to provide it.