Tuesday, May 28, 2013

May 26- Boston Red Sox



I’m not sure how many of you have seen the film Inglorious Basterds, but there is a particular scene that comes to mind I write this. If you have seen this film, you might all ready know where I’m going. Anyway, there’s a character in the film named Donny Donowitz, played by cult horror film director Eli Roth. Throughout the film he acquires a new nickname during the war, the “Bear Jew.” What you later come to find out is that he acquired that nickname by beating Nazis to death with a baseball bat with little-to-no restraint. In the particular scene I’m thinking of, which is essentially the only scene in which Donowitz beats anyone with a baseball bat, he yells, “Teddy f---ing Williams knocks it out of the paaaahhk! Fenway Paaahhhk is on its feet for Teddy… f---ing… ballgame! He went yaaaaaahhd on that one! On to f---ing Lansdowne Street!” after he does his work. You know, writing that out really didn’t do it justice. Here’s the clip.

Now, I’ve already taken you in a weird direction from the start. It’s ok. There is a reason for all of this. I’ve seen a lot of war films, and by that I mean Hollywood produced ones. As I go back in my head I replay some of the more famous scenes in them al lot of them have a very common scene which has become such a cliché over the years that you’ll all know what I’m talking about. The scene is a bunch of soldiers sitting around, talking about going home. There’s always one soldier who talks about “Going back to Yankee Stadium or Ebbets Field to grab a hot dog and watch the home team win.” At some point in time while this is going on the soldier is usual shot and killed by the enemy. But, if you really go back and find a lot of these films with that scene, they’re almost always talking about going back to New York before they’re killed. Now, go back to the scene I talked about above and tell me what you see; the exact opposite over every war film ever made. Everything about Inglorious Basterds was a creative, but opposite retelling of World War II. Yes, all of it could have actually happened, but it didn’t, and it still made for an entertaining film. As a die-hard baseball fan, but an even bigger movie fan, I couldn’t go long without bringing it up in one of my posts. With that, I’d like to give my apologies to New Era and the Boston Red Sox for making such a weird, but accurate connection.

Time to steer this one back around… for anyone who is an ardent hater of the Red Sox, kind of like I used to be, you really need to look past the game and realize that the Sox are one of the biggest charitable contributors in professional sports. One of the programs they helped start, Home Base Program…
Provides clinical care and support services to Iraq and Afghanistan service members, veterans and their families throughout New England, who are affected by deployment– or combat–related stress or traumatic brain injury (TBI).
Offers clinical and community education about the “invisible wounds of war,” and the challenges of military families.
Conducts research to improve treatment and understanding of Post Traumatic Stress (PTSD) and TBI.
We strive to be a model partnership of academic medicine and Major League Baseball in service to our military veterans—and their families.
    In 2004 and 2007, following their historic World Series wins, Red Sox owners, management and players, along with representatives of Massachusetts General Hospital visited Walter Reed Medical Center and met hospitalized veterans of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Red Sox organization was deeply moved by the visit, and sought to make a deeper, sustained commitment to serve our returning veterans and their families. With guidance from their colleagues at Massachusetts General Hospital, the Department of Defense, the US Department of Veterans Affairs, Senator Edward M. Kennedy and others, the Red Sox Foundation and Massachusetts General Hospital Home Base Program was created.

    The Red Sox vigorously promotes Home Base services during New England Sports Network (NESN) broadcasts, and owners, team management, players and their spouses are active in promoting the program throughout Red Sox Nation.

    Home Base is generously funded through contributions from donors, and the philanthropic partnership of the Red Sox Foundation and Massachusetts General Hospital. The Red Sox Foundation hosts the program’s principal fund raiser, the annual Run-Walk to Home Base Presented by New Balance at Fenway Park. The Red Sox Foundation and Massachusetts General Hospital Home Base Program is generously supported in part by Welcome Back Veterans (WBV), an initiative of the McCormick Foundation and Major League Baseball. - HomeBaseProgram.org

    Since 1971 the Red Sox have gone and impressive 23-16 while only missing four games on Memorial Day. There are a few patterns that I found which are kind of interesting, and only one which makes me want to cry. I’ll start with the tearjerker. The best thing to keep in mind right now is that if you’re a fan of the Minnesota Twins, Cleveland Indians or the Oakland Athletics like myself, you can pretty much count on losing to the Red Sox on Memorial Day. The Red Sox are 3-0 against the Twins, 4-0 against the Indians and 4-0 against the Athletics. As for something ore comical, since ’71 the Yankees are 4-1 against the Red Sox with their one win coming in 2003, which only went to bite them in the ass in the American League Championship Series at the hands of Aaron Boone. Too bad. I was kind of hoping that there would be some kind of consistency in 2004 and 2007 in regard to their World Series wins, but alas, there wasn’t; the Sox lost to the Baltimore Orioles in ’04 and beat the Indians in ’07.

    When it came to picking out numbers to mark this cap with, I couldn’t help but go with the two biggest names to serve during the wars.

    #1- I had moved to Eugene, Oregon to attend school at the University of Oregon in April of 2007 through the middle of March of this year. In the six years that I lived there it wouldn’t be until the final week that I would find out that Bobby Doerr lived like 10-15 miles away from me in Junction City. He was born and raised in Los Angeles, California to Harold Doerr, a telephone company supervisor, and his wife, the former Frances Herrnberger. Bobby’s middle name, Pershing, was a tribute to General John J. Pershing, then the commander of U.S. military forces in World War I.

    He graduated from Los Angeles' Fremont High School in 1936, after having already begun his professional career with the Hollywood Stars of the Pacific Coast League in 1934. Doerr broke into the majors in 1937 at the age of 19 and went 3 for 5 in his first game as a second baseman. In 1938 he became a regular in a powerful Red Sox lineup that included Jimmie Foxx, Joe Cronin, and Dom DiMaggio. That season he led the league in sacrifice bunts with 22, and still managed to hit .289 on the season with 80 RBI. From 1937-1940 Doerr would put up solid numbers, but very few took notice.

    In 1941 Doerr had a breakout year along Ted Williams who was in the midst of his third and most historic season of his career. From then until his last season in 1951 Doerr made the All-Star team every year except two (1945 and 1949). Because of the war, Doerr missed the entire 1945 season. He had made his home in Oregon and so reported for induction in the United States Army in Portland. He was first assigned to Fort Lewis and a week later reported for infantry duty at Camp Roberts. After completing the months of training, word began to circulate within his outfit that they were being prepared to ship out to Ford Ord, and then overseas for the invasion of Japan. President Truman brought the whole thing to a halt by dropping two atomic bombs on Japan. After the war, Staff Sergeant Doerr changed back into his Red Sox uniform and returned to the 1946 edition of the Red Sox.

    From 1942-1950 Doerr finished in the Top-25 for the AL MVP every season, with the exception of 1945. His best finish was in third place in 1946, two spots behind his teammate Williams. Doerr hit .271 that season with 18 home runs and 116 RBI; however, Doerr still had a few more great years after that which became a confusing accomplishment based on where he finished in the AL MVP vote. In 1950 Doerr boasted a .297 average with a career-high in home runs (27), a career-high in RBI (120) and a career-league-high 11 triples and he was one hit shy of tying his career-high in that category with 172… and yet he finished 16th for the award that season. The element that makes this whole matter a bit more peculiar is that his teammate, Billy Goodman, finished in second place despite having significantly less of a total in every category with the exception of his batting average (.354). While that seems legit the reality is that Doerr played in 149 games that season compared to Goodman’s 110 games.

    Doerr finished his career with a .288 average, 223 home runs, 1247 RBI and 2042 hits in 14 years. He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1986 thanks to the Veteran’s Committee after getting only 25% of the 75% of the vote required to get in. Doerr’s #1 was retired by the Red Sox in 1988, but interestingly enough, it wasn’t the first number he wore during his career. In 1937 he wore the #9, but gave it up after once season. Funny how history may have shook out had he kept it.

    #6- Johnny Pesky played with the Boston Red Sox from 1942 through the middle of the 1952 season when he was traded to the Detroit Tigers as part of a nine-player deal which featured no one of particular note. Pesky was born in Portland, Oregon and attended Lincoln High School, and spent several years playing for local amateur teams, such as the Portland Babes, Bend Elks and Silverton Red Sox. The latter team was associated with the Silver Falls Timber Company, which was owned by Tom Yawkey, who also owned the major league Red Sox. A skilled ice hockey player, he once worked out with the Boston Bruins. Early in his playing career, Portland sportswriters would abbreviate his name to "Pesky" because it fit better in a box score. He would legally change his name to Pesky in 1947. His original last name was Paveskovich, which is Croatian.

    Pesky was signed as an amateur free agent by the Red Sox before the 1940 season and spent the next two seasons in the minor leagues. In 1940, he played for the Rocky Mount Red Sox of the Piedmont League, where he was a teammate of future Hall of Famer Heinie Manush, who was the team's player-manager. After hitting .325 with Rocky Mount, he moved up to the double-A Louisville Colonels, where he also batted .325. The next year, he was in the major leagues.

    Pesky finished in third place for the AL MVP that season, which would have for sure been a Rookie of the Year award had it been around prior to 1947. Pesky led the league with 205 hits, a rookie record at the time, as well as 22 sacrifice hits and a .331 average. This would be Pesky’s one, and only season until the end of World War II.

    Pesky, whose father had been an officer in the Austro-Hungarian Navy before World War I, served at Amherst, Massachusetts in 1942. He was later at Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where he played shortstop for the Cloudbusters, and Atlanta Naval Air Station, where he met his wife, Ruth Hickey, who was also serving with the Navy. On June 13, 1943, Pesky graduated as an ensign from the assistant operations officers’ school at Atlanta. In 1945, Pesky was in Hawaii, where he played shortstop and managed the Honolulu Naval Air Station baseball team. When the season closed in October 1945 he was runner-up Most Valuable Player in the 14th Naval District league. Pesky later said, "I think that if I didn't have baseball to come back to, I'd have stayed in the Navy because it was clean and I kind of liked the atmosphere."-Baseball in Wartime

    In 1946 Pesky picked up right where he left off. He again led the league in hits with 208 and hit a career-high .335. He made is one, and only All-Star Game appearance and once again finished as a runner-up for the AL MVP award, this time in fourth place. Pesky would again have the most hits in the league the following season with 207, and he once again came up short in the AL MVP vote, this time finishing in 18th place. 1951 would be the only other time where Pesky would finish on the MVP ballot. In Pesky’s final full season with the Red Sox he continued to put up solid numbers by today’s standards, which I can only assume were bottom of the barrel back then. Pesky finished his career in 1954 with the Washington Senators, two years after getting dealt to the Tigers. He finished with a .307 lifetime average, 1455 career hits and nothing else of real note sadly.

    Pesky attended the 2004 World Series and, after the Game 4 triumph, was embraced by Boston players such as Tim Wakefield and Curt Schilling as a living representative of star Red Sox players of the past whose teams fell short of winning the Fall Classic. He played a poignant and prominent role in the ceremony in which the World Series Championship Rings were handed out (April 11, 2005). With the help of Carl Yastrzemski, he raised the 2004 World Series Championship banner up the Fenway Park center field flagpole. Pesky also had the honor of raising the Red Sox' 2007 World Series Championship banner on April 8, 2008. On his 87th birthday, September 27, 2006, the Red Sox honored Pesky by officially naming the right-field foul pole "Pesky's Pole," although it had already been unofficially known as such. On September 23, 2008, the Red Sox announced that they would retire the #6 Pesky wore as a player to mark his 89th birthday and his long years of service to the club. Pesky's was the sixth number retired by the Red Sox; his number retired was the first to break the club's code to have a number retired: being in the Hall of Fame and having spent at least ten years with the Red Sox.

    Pesky was a longtime resident of Boston's North Shore, living in Lynn and then Swampscott, Massachusetts. He was a visible member of the community, making personal appearances for the Red Sox. For years, he was a commercial spokesman on television and radio for a local supplier of doors and windows, JB Sash and Door Company. The commercials were deliberately and humorously corny, with Pesky and the company's owner calling themselves "the Window Boys."

    On May 16, 2009 Pesky was given an honorary degree during Salem State College’s 199th commencement ceremony. On April 20, 2012, Boston Red Sox fans celebrated the 100th birthday of Fenway Park, and Johnny Pesky was a participant. He was wheeled out to second base in a wheelchair, aside Doerr, to join over 200 past Red Sox players and coaches through the decades.

    #9- Aside from the fact that Ted Williams was one of the few ballplayers to see combat during the war, it’s important to remember that he did it twice. Williams was born and raised in San Diego. At the age of eight, he was taught how to throw a baseball by his uncle, Saul Venzor. Saul was one of his mother's four brothers, as well as a former semi-professional baseball player who had pitched against Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Joe Gordon in an exhibition game. As a child, Williams' heroes were Pepper Martin of the St. Louis Cardinals and Bill Terry of the New York Giants. Williams graduated from Herbert Hoover High School in San Diego, where he played baseball as a pitcher and was the star of the team. Though he had offers from the Cardinals and the Yankees while he was still in high school, his mother thought he was too young to leave home, so he signed up with the local minor league club, the San Diego Padres.

    Williams played back-up behind DiMaggio's brother Vince DiMaggio and Ivey Shiver on the Padres. While in the Pacific Coast League in 1936, Williams met future teammates and friends Dom DiMaggio and Doerr, who were on the Pacific Coast League's San Francisco Seals. When Shiver announced he was quitting to become a football coach at the University of Georgia, the job, by default, was open for Williams. Williams posted a .271 batting average on 107 at bats in 42 games for the Padres in 1936. Unknown to Williams, he had caught the eye of the Red Sox's general manager, Eddie Collins, while Collins was scouting Doerr and the shortstop George Myatt in August 1936. Collins later explained, "It wasn't hard to find Ted Williams. He stood out like a brown cow in a field of white cows." In the 1937 season, after graduating Hoover High in the winter, Williams finally broke into the line-up on June 22, when he hit an inside-the-park home run to help the Padres win 3-2. The Padres ended up winning the PCL title, while Williams ended up hitting .291 with 23 home runs. Meanwhile, Collins kept in touch with Padres general manager Bill Lane, calling him two times throughout the season. In December 1937, during the winter meetings, the deal was made between Lane and Collins, sending Williams to the Red Sox and giving Lane $35,000 and two major leaguers, Dom D'Allessandro and Al Niemiec, and two other minor leaguers.

    Williams made his Major League debut on April 20, 1939. During his first season he hit .327 and led the league in RBI (145) and total bases (344). He finished in fourth place for the AL MVP which, once again, probably would have been a Rookie of the Year award had it existed. Williams would go on to make the All-Star team over the next three season as well as finish in second place for the AL MVP award in back-to-back season (1941-1942) despite leading the league in home runs each year, leading the league in runs three straight years since 1940, generating the most walks both years and, how could anyone forget, winning two batting titles at which he hit .406 in 1941. As much as I can yammer in about that one, I’ll save it for a later post. Also, he kind of won the AL Triple Crown without much issue in 1942, yet he was still relegated to being the #2 best player in the American League behind Yankees stars Joe DiMaggio and Joe Gordon respectively. Needless to say, Williams was quickly making a name for himself as one of the greatest players in the game’s history.

    In January 1942, Williams was drafted into the military. Williams had been classified 3-A due to the fact that his mother was totally dependent on him. When his classification was changed to 1-A following the U.S. entry into the war, Williams appealed to his draft board. The board agreed that his status should not have been changed. He made a public statement that once he had built up his mother's trust fund, he intended to enlist. Nevertheless, the press and the fans got on his case to the point that he enlisted in the Navy on May 22, 1942. Williams could have received an easy assignment and played baseball for the Navy. Instead, he joined the V-5 program and set his sights on being a Naval Aviator. Navy doctors were amazed when his eyes tested to 20/10 - a key to his hitting prowess. Since he had not attended college, Williams was first sent to the Navy's Preliminary Ground School at Amherst College, following the baseball season, for six months of instruction in various subjects including math and navigation. He achieved a 3.85 grade average out of a possible 4.0. The next four months were spent in the Preflight School at Athens, Georgia. From September to December 1943, Williams took primary training at NAS Bunker Hill, Indiana. He then went to Pensacola for intermediate training where he set records in aerial gunnery. Williams received his wings and commission in the Marine Corps on May 2, 1944.

    Williams then attended gunnery training at Jacksonville where he once again set gunnery records. He then returned to Pensacola where he served as an instructor at Bronson Field. He played baseball for the base team, the Bronson Bombers, which won the Training Command championship that year. Due to an excess of cadets, instructors were mandated to washout one third of their students. Williams refused to washout good students for the sake of statistics and was called on the carpet for it. He stood his ground and replied: "If I think a kid is going to make a competent flyer, I won't wash him." From June to August 1945, Williams went through the Corsair Operational Training Unit at Jacksonville. He was in Hawaii awaiting orders as a replacement pilot when the war ended. Williams returned to the States in December and was discharged from the Marines on January 28, 1946.
    – M.L. Shettle, Jr. California State Military Museum

    When Williams came back to baseball for the 1946 season, he was just as sharp as ever. He finally won the AL MVP award that had been just barely out of reach his previous two season. That year he hit .342/38/123 and continued his active streak of making the All-Star team, which he did every season for the rest of his career with the exception of 1952. In 1947 Williams won his second Triple Crown (.343/32/114), becoming the second player in MLB history and the first in the American League to accomplish the feat. He almost did it a third time in 1949. That year he hit .343 with 43 home runs and 159 RBI, the latter two he handily lead the league in; however, it was his batting average that came up short. Had Williams gotten two more hits throughout that season he would have tied Joe DiMaggio’s mark of .346. Williams still won the AL MVP that season, the second and final of his career.

    On May 2, 1952, Williams was recalled to active duty due to the Korean War. He was now 33 years old, married with a child, and had not flown in eight years. He resented being recalled and said so years later. Williams was not alone in his unhappiness - many other WW II veterans recalled for the Korean War had similar feelings. These veterans felt they had done their share in World War II and it was someone else's job to fight this war. Especially after they were well established in their careers and had families. Additional resentment was felt because the Navy and the Marines recalled members of the inactive reserves instead of active reserves. He flew 37 combat missions and had a narrow escape when he crash-landed a flak damaged aircraft. Several missions were flown with John Glenn. Among the decorations he received was the Air Medal with two Gold Stars for meritorious achievement. Williams returned to the States and relieved from active duty on July 28, 1953. – M.L. Shettle, Jr. California State Military Museum

    Williams missed four seasons as a result of both World War II and the Korean War. Given the fact that Williams was clearly in his prime for the first three years he missed, not to mention he was still kicking ass in ’52, Williams missed out on meeting or beating a lot of historical marks within the game. His .482 on-base percentage is still the highest in MLB history; however, he missed out on 3,000 career hits, tallying 2,654 for his career along with 521 home runs, 2,021 RBI and a legendary .344 career average. Williams easily made the vote for the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.

    Williams had a strong respect for General Douglas MacArthur, referring to him as his "idol". For Williams' fortieth birthday, MacArthur sent him an oil painting of himself with the inscription "To Ted Williams — not only America's greatest baseball player, but a great American who served his country. Your friend, Douglas MacArthur. General U.S. Army."

    Going back to my opening statements about Inglorious Basterds, I think the one thing I really wanted to stress is that everything in the movie world was essentially backwards, or told with a great deal of fabrication. Just imagine if in Quentin Tarantino’s world the Red Sox were the ones dominating history, winning multiple World Series titles without the “Curse of the Bambino” hanging above their heads. Kind of mind-blowing.

    And last, I really need to point this out. I started this post around 11:37 AM and finished at 3:02 PM  on the nose. I bring this up because my stepfather Robert went and got the mail at 3:05 PM and set this on my bed just after I had finished taking the photos for this post (which I always do last).

    I can’t help but laugh and keep a smile on my face. Until next time!

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