Wednesday, May 22, 2013

May 22- Los Angeles Dodgers


It’s come to that time; the time when these Stars and Stripes posts get a little bit longer and way more in depth. I don’t mean that as a bad thing by any means. I purposely withheld a lot of these teams until the very end for the reason that there is way more to talk about, and the Los Angeles Dodgers are certainly a team riddles with history when it comes to our country’s military. I will apologize ahead of time if I jump around a lot. I’ll do my best to keep it all time relevant and concise, but I can’t make any promises.

I should probably start with my stepfather Robert. Last summer I found myself in a very interesting place. I had been kicked out of the MLB Fan Cave the day after Memorial Day and went back home to Oregon to stay with my parents in Portland for a few months before I had to head back to Eugene in the Fall to finish up my schooling. I was struggling to come to terms with what had happened. From my standpoint I had done everything I could to interact with every fan possible. I made every guest, whether they were a ball player, musician, actor or even just a regular person taking a tour feel welcome. Most important, I represented more than just the Oakland Athletics; I did my damndest to represent everyone and every team who didn’t have a place in the Fan Cave. And for all I did, or tried to do, I was sent packing. Only one time in my life had I ever felt so helpless; the biggest difference between then and now was that this time around my career was in jeopardy. I had truly sacrificed everything, including my appearance to be in the Fan Cave. I didn’t know what to do. Over the next few weeks I literally sat around the house and continued watching baseball. My brain was still locked in Fan Cave ode and I didn’t know how to stop it. My mother did her best to try and help me through it, but it was my stepfather who really jumped in and rung my bell.

Robert was orphaned around the age of 16. His father had died and his mother had walked out on him and his younger brother. He did what he could to support himself, but never let his situation get in the way of taking time to have fun. Of all the stories he’s told me over the seven years we’ve known each other, his time as a freelance photographer for Rolling Stone has never left my mind. Quite a few of the photos from concerts he caught at the LA Forum he still had in his possession (all slides) had graced the magazine in one form or another. Concerts like: The Rolling Stones, Jethro Tull, Led Zeppelin and every other rock band from that era I routinely listen to today. Robert also took time to catch Dodgers and Los Angeles Lakers games when he could, all while finishing school and working at the local Carl’s Jr. in Torrance. When he was old enough he joined the Army and sought a place within Special Forces. He made it. When the time came and he wanted to be a paratrooper his vision was too poor for the program and he was sent to the doctor for approval or dismissal. Not wanting to miss his chance he forged the doctor’s signature for approval. I never knew him during his time in the military, but I’ve done my best to piece together what I could from that part of his life without asking too many questions. When it comes to war, and those who have been an active participant in it, I know there are certain questions I should and should not ask; even though I am a journalist. The few things additionally I can tell you is that he spent a lot of his time doing extraction work in South America and Southeast Asia. Yah, hardcore stuff. He worked in the White House in Intelligence during the Jimmy Carter administration. And, he was a paratrooper instructor for years while he was stationed at Fort Bragg. The day that part of his life came to an end was when he did a jump and his parachute didn’t open.

The last time I took a physics class was probably well over a decade ago when I completed by two-year degree at Clark College in Vancouver, Washington. Of all the things I will never forget from that class is the speed of terminal velocity; 9.8 meters per second squared. That’s how fast he was traveling when he luckily hit a body of water from over 10,000 feet which only managed to break a little more than 75% of his body. It took over two years for his body to heal, in which time his wife at the time divorced him and kept his only son from seeing him. After hearing all of this any worry or complaint I really ever had in my life ceased to be. During my lull he sat me down and, in so few words, told me to get off my ass and not wallow around.

The last time I had been in such a deep depression I got over by traveling around. I started with the Oregon versus Ohio State Rose Bowl in 2010 and then backpacked through Western Europe by myself later that summer for two-and-a-half weeks. He reminded me of this. He told me that I had to pick myself up and start from scratch. It took me a few days to put something together, but I finally set my place to travel across the country to visit all of the Major League ballparks. Before I did so I bought Robert this hat a few days before Father’s Day.

Over the last couple of years I’ve gotten to a point of giving my parents really amazing gifts that I’ve kind of backed myself into a bit of corner. I’ve never been one to settle for the mundane; everything I give has to have a deeper meaning behind it. I was out shopping around when I decided to stop by Just Sports (@JustSportsPDX) to say hello to my friends who worked there and had been supporting me through my Fan Cave experience. I think I spent an hour just letting loose with all of my stories over the last few months before I finally took the time to actually look around the store for anything interesting. I hadn’t picked up the Athletics Stars and Stripes hat so I made sure to grab one in my size before it was too late. As I walked over to the front of the store to pick it up I saw the Dodgers one sitting next to it. I thought about it for a brief second and figured, “what the hell?” and picked up Robert’s size. When I got home I handed it over and gave him a hug. He’s never really worn hats so there was a slight awkward moment when we both looked at each other and knew that part about him, but he still thanked me nonetheless for at least being thoughtful.

From time-to-time we still talk about his military past, but it is what it is, in the past. Much like my time with the Fan Cave, it’s in the past. I’ve done what I can to move forward; reinvent myself, so to speak, as a writer. Honestly, prior to this last summer I had a horrible habit of writing, as in I never really did it unless it was vital. Now, I don’t want to go a day without writing about something.

I’ve never really thanked him enough for everything he’s done. For some odd reason as emotional and outspoken as I am I’ve always done a horrible job of conveying it with spoken word. Put a piece of paper and a pen in front of me and I can turn into Charles Dickens. Once of these days I’ll pass this story his way. He doesn’t actually read my work. I’ll actually have to email this to him. It doesn’t bother me. It’s just the way we are.

I have to tip my cap to the Dodgers. This season they’ve invited astronaut, and Homer Simpson rival, Buzz Aldrin to lead the hand salute during the National Anthem on Memorial Day. This on top of the number of years the Dodgers have done outreach work with veterans in and outside the United States.

Since 1971 the Dodgers have gone 21-18 on Memorial Day with four games missed due to travel/off days. As far as any patterns are concerned the Dodgers’ best record against any opponent is 3-0 against the Colorado Rockies and 1-0 against the Arizona Diamondbacks, while their worst is 1-3 against the New York Mets. The one bit of information I found interesting is that the Dodgers had a weird run of games against the Cincinnati Reds around or on Memorial Day from 1976-1981. In ’76 they played a doubleheader against the Reds they day before they lost to the San Francisco Giants on that Monday. In ’79 they lost to the Reds by the score of 3-2 and the following year they played a doubleheader on Memorial Day in which they split with the Dodgers winning the early game. Last, in ’81 the Dodgers best the Reds 14-6 a week after they played another doubleheader against one another. After that, the Reds were no longer seen around the Dodgers on Memorial Day.

There were just too many names and players that I could have paid tribute too for this cap… so I figured, why not put them all on there?

#1- Harold H "Pee Wee" Reese was born in Ekron, Kentucky on July 23, 1918. He was signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1938 and played with the Louisville Colonels in the American Association. When the Pirates' minor league agreement with the Colonels came to an end after the 1938 season, Reese was obtained by the Boston Red Sox, who sold him to the Brooklyn Dodgers for $35,000 and four players. Reese made his debut with Brooklyn on April 23, 1940. He played 84 games his rookie season and batted .272, sharing the shortstop position with player-manager Leo Durocher.

By 1942, the 24 year-old was a National League all-star but that was to be his last season in the major leagues for the duration of the war as he joined the Navy. Reese was stationed at Norfolk Naval Air Station in 1943, where he regularly played baseball. In 1944, he was sent to Hawaii and played for the Aiea Hospital team. He joined the Third Fleet team for the US Navy's Pacific tour and was then assigned to Guam where he was shortstop and assistant coach for the 3rd Marine Division baseball team.

Throughout Reese’s 16-year career he made the National League All-Star team 10 times, the first coming in 1942 before he shipped off to the Navy. Upon his return in 1946 he made the All-Star team nine consecutive times. From 1946-1955 Reese also found himself in the Top-25 voting for NL MVP, eight of which came with the Top-nine. His best season arguably came in 1954 when he hit .309 on the season, the only year in the Majors that he ever hit .300 or better. That year he also hit 10 home runs, eight triple and brought in 69 runs. He won one World Series ring in 1955 and played one year in Los Angeles in 1958 for a total of 59 games. Reese was inducted into the Hall of Fame by the Veteran’s Committee in 1984. He passed away on August 14, 1999.

#2- There’s something to be said about a guy who can get out of a bad situation with a smile on his face, and Tommy Lasorda has been doing it for well over 60 years as a member of the Dodgers. Before his playing career took off, so to speak, he spent two years in the Army at the tail end of World War II in 1946-1947. He only played in the Majors for a total of three seasons (1954-1956), the most notable of which came in 1955 when he pitched in four games with a 13.50 ERA and a 0-0 record. Despite his poor showing, the man still got a World Series ring. Lasorda spent a numbers of years in the Minor Leagues, one year in particular I wrote about on January 23rd when he was with the Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League.

Lasorda's first off-field assignment with the Dodgers was as a scout from 1961–65. In 1966, he became the manager for the Pocatello Chiefs in the rookie leagues, then managed the Ogden Dodgers to three Pioneer League championships from 1966–68. He became the Dodgers AAA PCL manager in 1969 with the Spokane Indians (1969–71) and remained in the position when the Dodgers switched their AAA farm club to the Albuquerque Dukes (1972). His 1972 Dukes team won the PCL Championship. Lasorda was also a manager for the Dominican Winter Baseball League team Tigres del Licey (Licey Tigers). He led the team to the 1973 Caribbean World Series Title in Venezuela with a series record of 5 wins and 1 loss. A lesser-known fact about Lasorda is that he is fluent in Spanish, which has helped swimmingly throughout his career.

In 1973, Lasorda became the third base coach on the staff of Hall of Fame manager Walter Alston, serving for almost four seasons. He was widely regarded as Alston's heir apparent, and turned down several major league managing jobs elsewhere to remain in the Dodger fold. Lasorda became the Los Angeles Dodgers manager September 29, 1976 upon Alston's retirement. He compiled a 1,599-1,439 record as Dodgers manager, won two World Series championships (1981 and 1988), four National League pennants and eight division titles in his 20 year career as the Dodgers manager. His 16 wins in 30 NL Championship games managed were the most of any manager at the time of his retirement. His 61 post-season games managed ranks fourth all-time behind Bobby Cox, Casey Stengel and Joe Torre. He also managed in four All-Star games. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1997 as a manager in his first year of eligibility. The Dodgers retired his uniform number (2) on August 15, 1997 and renamed a street in Dodgertown as "Tommy Lasorda Lane". Lasorda came out of retirement to manage the United States team at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney. He led the Americans to the gold medal, beating heavily favored Cuba, which had won the gold medals at the two previous Olympics. In doing so, he became the first manager to win a World Series Championship and lead a team to Olympic Gold Medal.

This last Spring Training Lasorda showed how great of a motivator in life, let alone baseball, he is by encouraging a disabled war veteran by the name of Daniel Jacobs to try out for the Dodgers. Seven years earlier, Jacobs was on a battlefield in Ramadi, Iraq when an IED exploded beneath him, killing the Marine with him and shattering his body.
Jacobs underwent more than 50 surgeries, including an amputation of his left leg below the knee. Within years, he became the first amputee to return to active duty in the Navy. One of his lifelong dreams was to play professional baseball. Lasorda, upon hearing his story at a California Disabled Veterans Business Alliance meeting, talked with Jacobs, did what he could for him and convinced him to attend an open tryout. He did.

Love him or hate him, Lasorda is one of the biggest class acts the game has ever known. One of the unfortunate blights to occur in his heralded career took place this last fall before Game 2 of the World Series in San Francisco as the Giants hosted the Detroit Tigers. During a pre-game ceremony the Giants paid tribute to veterans who had fought and served during World War II. Lasorda would be the only person booed during the presentation. And not a light boo either. The reaction from people watching the game lit up social media networks; however, Lasorda, being the guy that is he is, took it all with a smile. Like I said, class act.

#4- Edwin D "Duke" Snider was born on September 19, 1926, in Los Angeles, California. “My Dad started to call me Duke when I was just five years old,” he told The Sporting News on July 27, 1949. “But he never did tell me why. I guess it was just one of those things that stick.” Like a lot of players of his era, Snider was a gifted athlete in every sport. He played tailback for the football team; however, baseball and softball were his main focus. By the end of his high school days he was getting scouted hard by the Dodgers, Reds and St. Louis Cardinals, but he waited to sign with anyone until after he graduated. The Dodgers were the first team to visit him after he finished school and signed with them that day.

Snider was 17 years old when he reported to the Montreal Royals of the International League in April 1944. He made just a couple of appearances with the Royals and played the remainder of the season with the Newport News Dodgers in the Piedmont League. Snider got off to a great start at Newport and was hitting .342 in his first 19 games. He was later hit on the elbow by a pitched ball and finished the season with a .295, which was still fourth best in the league.

He returned home to California after the season, turned 18 on September 19, and reported to the pre-induction center in the Watts section of Los Angeles for his military physical on October 19.

"They checked us just enough to make sure we were warm and upright," he explained in his autobiography The Duke of Flatbush, "and a guy handed me some papers I didn't want to know about and screamed 'NAVY!' in my face at the top of his lungs. I was headed for the high seas. I wondered why they took me if they thought I was deaf."

Snider served as a fireman, third class on the submarine tender USS Sperry at Guam. Snider used to win bets against other sailors and servicemen by throwing a baseball the length of submarines that arrived at Guam, that's about 300 feet. "I'd throw the ball the length of their sub, my crewmates would win $300 or so, and I'd pick up my guarantee - $50," he recalls.

“We played lots of baseball and basketball on Guam. Pee Wee Reese was stationed there, too, but I never bumped into him.” Snider moonlighted for the 2nd Marine Division team while on Guam as well as playing for the USS Sperry team.

In between playing baseball, Snider's main duty on the USS Sperry was dishwashing detail. "There was a porthole behind the sink and any time we came across a chipped glass or dish that wouldn't come clean in less than a second we fired the sucker into the Pacific Ocean."

Snider felt he had a very comfortable and safe war while his father - also serving with the Navy - was involved in many of the island invasions in the Pacific. "There was one close call when it looked as if I was going to find myself in combat after all," he explains in The Duke of Flatbush. "I was on watch duty on the number one 5-inch gun when we sighted an unidentified shop ahead. The command came down from the bridge to load the gun with a star shell that would be fired if the ship did not respond to our signal requesting identification.

"No World Series moment ever scared me as much. I was no authority on loading or firing shells. All I had been told in our drills was that you press this lever, a shell comes up, you put it in and press another lever, and the shell goes 'Boom!' I pressed the first lever, the shell came up, and I put it into the loading chamber. I was actually shaking while waiting for the command to fire. Two ships might start firing at each other in the middle of the Pacific Ocean as a small part of World War II, and I was going to be the one to start the firing.

"Seconds before the command to fire would have come, the other ship identified itself as friendly. I needed an immediate change of underwear."

Snider was later stationed at Long Beach Army Air Base in California, and while playing for the base team Babe Herman offered him $13,000 to sign with the Pirates, but Snider had his Brooklyn commitment to fulfill. The Duke of Flatbush

After serving 19 months in thee service Snider returned to the Dodgers for another season in the minors. On April 17, 1947 Snider made his Brooklyn Dodgers debut. Snider played for 18 seasons; his last two came with the Giants and Mets for a season each. Snider made eight All-Star Game appearances for his career. His lifetime average was .295 with 407 home runs, 1,333 RBI and 2,116 hits. He won two World Series rings in 1955 in Brooklyn and in 1959 in Los Angeles. The Dodgers won the World Series in 1963; however, Snider was playing for the Mets that season. Snider never won an NL MVP award; the closest he came was a second place finish to his teammate Roy Campanella in 1955, a decision that was marred with controversy for years. In 1980, his 11th year of eligibility, Snider was elected to the Hall of Fame with 86.5% of the vote. He passed away on February 27, 2011.

#42- No offense to Jackie Robinson, but I all ready did an extensive piece on his back on April 15th. In that post I didn’t say much about his time in the military so I’ll use this time to focus on it. In 1942, Robinson was drafted and assigned to a segregated Army cavalry unit in Fort Riley, Kansas. Having the requisite qualifications, Robinson and several other black soldiers applied for admission to an Officer Candidate School (OCS) then located at Fort Riley. Although the Army's initial July 1941 guidelines for OCS had been drafted as race-neutral, practically speaking few black applicants were admitted into OCS until after subsequent directives by Army leadership. As a result, the applications of Robinson and his colleagues were delayed for several months. After protests by heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis (then stationed at Fort Riley) and the help of Truman Gibson (then an assistant civilian aide to the Secretary of War), the men were accepted into OCS. This common military experience spawned a personal friendship between Robinson and Louis. Upon finishing OCS, Robinson was commissioned as a second lieutenant in January 1943. Shortly afterward, Robinson and Isum were formally engaged.

After receiving his commission, Robinson was reassigned to Fort Hood, Texas, where he joined the 761st "Black Panthers" Tank Battalion. While at Fort Hood, 2LT Robinson often used his weekend leave to visit the Rev. Karl Downs, President of Sam Huston College (now Huston-Tillotson University) in nearby Austin, Texas; Downs had been Robinson's pastor at Scott United Methodist Church while Robinson attended PJC.

An event on July 6, 1944, derailed Robinson's military career. While awaiting results of hospital tests on the ankle he had injured in junior college, Robinson boarded an Army bus with a fellow officer's wife; although the Army had commissioned its own unsegregated bus line, the bus driver ordered Robinson to move to the back of the bus. Robinson refused. The driver backed down, but after reaching the end of the line, summoned the military police, who took Robinson into custody. When Robinson later confronted the investigating duty officer about racist questioning by the officer and his assistant, the officer recommended Robinson be court-martialed. After Robinson's commander in the 761st, Paul L. Bates, refused to authorize the legal action, Robinson was summarily transferred to the 758th Battalion—where the commander quickly consented to charge Robinson with multiple offenses, including, among other charges, public drunkenness, even though Robinson did not drink.

By the time of the court-martial in August 1944, the charges against Robinson had been reduced to two counts of insubordination during questioning. Robinson was acquitted by an all-white panel of nine officers. The experiences Robinson was subjected to during the court proceedings would be remembered when he later joined the MLB and was subjected to racist attacks. Although his former unit, the 761st Tank Battalion, became the first black tank unit to see combat in World War II, Robinson's court-martial proceedings prohibited him from being deployed overseas, thus he never saw combat action.

After his acquittal, he was transferred to Camp Breckinridge, Kentucky, where he served as a coach for army athletics until receiving an honorable discharge in November 1944. While there, Robinson met a former player for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro American League, who encouraged Robinson to write the Monarchs and ask for a tryout. Robinson took the former player's advice and wrote Monarchs' co-owner Thomas Baird.

VS- As if this post wasn’t long enough, I felt it would be a disservice if I didn’t talk about another one of the longest tenured employees in Dodgers’ history. Vin Scully, the voice of God for Dodgers and baseball fans has spent 64 seasons with the Dodgers (1950 – present) and is the longest tenure of any broadcaster with a single team in professional sports history, and he is second by one year to only Lasorda in terms of number of years with the Dodgers organization in any capacity. After serving in the Navy for two years, Scully began his career as a student broadcaster and journalist at Fordham University. While at Fordham, he helped found its FM radio station WFUV (which now presents a Vin Scully Lifetime Achievement Award each year), was assistant sports editor for Volume 28 of The Fordham Ram his senior year, sang in a barbershop quartet, played center field for the Fordham Rams baseball team, called radio broadcasts for Rams baseball, football, and basketball, got a degree, and sent about 150 letters to stations along the Eastern seaboard. He got only one response, from CBS Radio affiliate WTOP in Washington, which made him a fill-in.

Scully was then recruited by Red Barber, the sports director of the CBS Radio Network, for its college football coverage. Scully impressed his boss with his coverage of a football game from frigid Fenway Park in Boston, despite having to do so from the stadium roof. Expecting an enclosed press box, Scully had left his coat and gloves at his hotel, but never mentioned his discomfort on the air. Barber mentored Scully and told him that if he wanted to be a successful sports announcer he should never be a "homer" (openly showing a rooting interest for the team that employs you), never listen to other announcers, and keep his opinions to himself.

In 1950, Scully joined Barber and Cornelius (Connie) Desmond in the Dodgers radio and television booths. When Barber got into a salary dispute with World Series sponsor Gillette in 1953, Scully took Barber's spot for the 1953 World Series. At the age of 25, Scully became the youngest man to broadcast a World Series game (a record that stands to this day). Barber left the Dodgers after the 1953 season to work for the Yankees. Scully eventually became the team's principal announcer. Scully announced the Dodgers' games in Brooklyn until 1957, after which the club moved to Los Angeles.

Scully's view of the game was always wider than what was happening on the field in front of him. In a game in Ebbets Field in 1957, an odd series of game-related events required the Dodgers to use their third-string catcher, Joe Pignatano, in the middle of the game. Scully knew that Pignatano's wife had recently had a baby and she was not at the game – she might not be listening to the broadcast. Not wanting her to miss her husband's major league debut behind the plate, he suggested that any listeners who might know the Pignatano family should pick up the phone and alert them.

Little mentions like that, and especially the long stories that we’ve heard from Scully for years are what separate him from any other broadcaster most of us have heard throughout our lives. Scully has the ability to establish a connection with not only the players, but the audience as well to transcend what is merely seen on the baseball field, he humanizes the game.

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