Tuesday, November 19, 2013

August 12- Toronto Blue Jays

I think the first thing that I need to point out is that it’s obviously not August 12, 2013. I’m not even sure why I’ve continued to keep up with the charade that I’ll be able to get back on pace of doing one blog post per day. When I started this mission back on January 1st it seemed like it was going to be an easy thing to do. After all, the first month-and-a-half consisted of posts that were barely two pages long. Don’t get me wrong, I love researching, learning, writing and educating, and I am not throwing in the towel anytime soon. I didn’t feel I was doing you (the reader) or myself any favors by half-assing my posts. I’ve always been more of the longwinded type of writer, cramming in as much information that can possibly be conceived for the sake of not leaving anyone in the dark on even the smallest detail. My journalism professors at the University of Oregon can back me up in that assertion too.

When I started expanding my stories, adding in my personal details and stopped worrying about if it was too long I started to notice that I was enjoying myself more and connecting with a larger audience. What I didn’t expect was that after four-and-a-half months of doing that every single day I would break physically and mentally. I can pinpoint the exact moment too, it was right after I post my June 15th story about LaTroy Hawkins that I quickly started to unravel. My follow-up post was a San Francisco Giants post on June 16th for Father’s Day, a story that dealt with the hardships my dad and I went through for well over a decade, my bouts with depression and thoughts of suicide and then the resolution of the two of us patching things up in the summer of 2012. The hard part wasn’t really writing it as much as it was the personal struggle of whether or not I should post it. After all, something that raw could potentially be a red flag for employers. But, like a lot of my posts after the middle of February, it was met with a lot of positive feedback, the kind of stuff that motivates me to keep going and keep improving upon what I do.

I don’t feel that I’ve thank you all enough for taking the time to read these posts that I care about so much. Even though I’m well over 100 days behind, I will be surpassing 100,000 total views on my blog within the next two days. I find that kind of funny because I thought writing every single day was going to be the key to achieving anything close to that. Turns out that re-posting at the right times was a huge factor, but also spacing things out, allowing people to fully-appreciate each post instead of cramming them down your throats every single day. It’s all a learning process I suppose. Most importantly though in the thanking department, I haven’t thanked you all enough for the experiences that you’ve shared with me. I love sharing New Era Cap stories, baseball stories and just stories about life with all of you. I’ve always been kind of a social butterfly, but I don’t really know how to show it sometimes. I love to laugh and joke, but sometimes I don’t know how to share my feelings unless I write it out. All of your relatable stories and appreciation for what I do is the best reward I take from my blog. Without all of you, this would be nothing. From the bottom of my heart I thank you all for sharing this journey with me. I promise to quit being a blubbery bitch now.

One person who has been a wonderful treat to meet and get to know is my friend and fellow #CrewEra13 New Era enthusiast and die hard Toronto Blue Jays fan Andrew Mitchell-Baker (@AMitchell_416). 

Andrew was born and raised in Toronto and has been an avid visitor of the Sky Dome/Rogers Centre since he was old enough to walk. He’s one of the few people I had the luxury of meeting during my trip to New Ere headquarters in Buffalo, New York. Like the rest of the gang, we met in the lobby of the hotel we were staying at, but we didn’t really hit off until we took the first leg of our trip to Niagara Falls. Andrew had been to the falls before, but only on the Canadian side, so it was a pretty cool new adventure for him. One of the first comments that Andrew bestowed upon me was that I look a lot like RA Dickey, something that I will leave up to y’all to decide with the photo above and below as your frame of reference. 

He is also not the first, nor the last person to make this assertion. On the inverse though, I said he looks a lot like Tim Duncan. You be the judge.

As we toured around the Falls we swapped stories about how we came up with our respective baseball teams. His story was a little bit more intriguing as he was there in the early days of the Sky Dome and was going to games during the Blue Jays’ most dominant years. I was six-years-old when the Oakland Athletics won the World Series in 1989, but I was living four hours away in Bakersfield when it happened. Andrew was getting introduced to the game in full on the back of the back-to-back World Series wins in 1992 and 1993. From there, it was a birthright. For the past 15 seasons he’s been in house for every season opener and almost every series against the New York Yankees because, well… everyone has an enemy. His shining moment at a game came on June 2, 2001 when Chris Carpenter; yes, THE Chris Carpenter, gave up an absolute muderstroke to Manny Ramirez that hit the wall at the top of the upper deck. Oh, and when I say upper deck, I mean upper deck. Watch this. Just to give you a little perspective of how far away that is, here…


I’ve been to four games at the now-named Rogers Centre, but I know I’ll be back for more, shooting the breeze with my friend, and sipping on only the finest Alexander Keith’s they have to offer.

Today marks a crazy day in Major League Baseball history as one year ago today one of the biggest trades in the history of the game was finalized between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Miami Marlins. The deal technically took place on November 13, 2012, but it took until November 19th for MLB commissioner Bud Selig to approve it. The deal consisted of the Blue Jays acquiring shortstop Jose Reyes, pitchers Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson, catcher John Buck, and infielder/outfielder Emilio Bonifacio from the Marlins in exchange for shortstop Yunel Escobar, pitcher Henderson Alvarez, catcher Jeff Mathis and four minor-league prospects including Adeiny Hechavarria. Cash was also sent to the Jays in the trade. Well, as you all know, the Blue Jays weren’t done yet. On November 16, 2012, they signed outfielder Melky Cabrera to a two-year, $16 million deal. On November 20, 2012, it was announced that the Blue Jays had re-hired former manager John Gibbons for the same position signing him to a two-year deal after the team had sent then-manager John Farrell to the Boston Red Sox along with pitcher David Carpenter for infielder Mike Aviles. Finally, on December 17th the Blue Jays acquired the 2012 National League Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey in a trade with the New York Mets that sent prospects Travis d'Arnaud, Noah Syndergaard, minor leaguer Wuilmer Becrra and catcher John Buck to New York. Toronto also received catcher Josh Thole and minor league catcher Mike Nickeas in the trade. As part of the transaction, the Blue Jays signed Dickey to an extension worth a total of $29 million over 3 years with a $12 million fourth year option. In short, things went batshit insane in Toronto in a very short period of time. The crazy part in all of this is that I had predicted it seven moths earlier.

Ok, maybe I didn’t predict the exact specifics of the deal, but the exchange between the two parties was on the money. See, back in the early days of my MLB Fan Cavery I had been involved in a discussion about where the league was going over the next two-to-three years. This of course was right after the Marlins had “spent” a boatload of cash on new talent, Ozzie Guillen as the manager and was getting ready to open the door to their new stadium in the heart of Little Havana. One of two things were going to happen in 2012: the Marlins were going be incredibly successful OR they were going to fall apart; and not just fall apart, but have one of the worst meltdowns in MLB history. During the interview process in Arizona for the Fan Cave a question about the Marlins had come up from one of the executives as they were curious how I thought they would finish. My close-to-exact words were, “Based on the history of the Marlins I can totally see them making a solid World Series run because every time they reload their roster they’ve won the World Series (1997 and 2003). But, if they don’t even make the playoffs this year, expect the team to abandon ship and deal as many players as they can to one team who needs the talent and has the money to afford the contracts; someone like the Blue Jays.” I know, it all sounds like bullshit in retrospect, but I have yet to lie to any of you in these posts, and I sure as hell am not about to start. The reality in all of this is that it was a lot easier to predict than you might imagine.

The Blue Jays haven’t made the playoffs since they last held the Commissioner’s Trophy above their heads at the end of their second World Series victory in a row in 1993. 18 years, the second longest drought next to the Pittsburgh Pirates who finally broke their streak after 20 years in 2013. The Blue Jays may not have the biggest payroll in MLB, but they do have quite a bit to spend, especially when you have to consider that they play in the American League Eastern Division with the Red Sox and New York Yankees. With the emergence of Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Brett Lawrie, the Blue Jays were on the cusp of being able to assemble a star-studded team that would finally revive the glory days of the early 1990s. The only thing that had been missing was they key person to make such a deal a reality….

AA: Alex Anthopoulos, a native of Montreal, Quebec who is fluently bilingual in English and French, became interested in baseball in the early 1990s after seeing the Montreal Expos play at Olympic Stadium. He attended McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario where he studied economics. After his father's passing, he realized that he wanted to do something that he loved for a living. He proceeded to call several Major League organizations, looking for a foot in the door. His chance came when he got a direct line to the Expos GM Jim Beattie's office in Florida. He offered to work for free doing something he loved, and he was given his chance. He worked in the media relations department with the Expos, and moved to their scouting department in 2001. In 2003, when the Expos' days in Montreal were numbered, he accepted a lower-paying job with Toronto in order to remain in Canada. The job was as the scouting coordinator.

Anthopoulos quickly climbed the ladder. By the end of 2005 he was promoted to the position of assistant General Manager by then GM J.P. Ricciardi, which was then complimented with the title of Vice-President of Baseball Operations following the 2006 season. In 2004 he was a major reason why the Greek National baseball team was assembled for the Olympics which took place in Athens, Greece. For three years Anthopoulos waited in the wings, keeping an eye on how to conduct himself with the hope that he would move all the way to the top, either with the Blue Jays or another team who showed interest. When October 3, 2009 came rolling around Anthopoulos found himself in an interesting position as his mentor, Ricciardi, was fired after the team went 75-87 in former World Series-winning manager Cito Gaston's first full year back as the manager. Anthopoulos was promoted to General Manager, and got to work immediately.

On December 15, 2009 Roy Halladay was traded from the Blue Jays to the Philadelphia Phillies for minor league prospects Travis d'Arnaud, Kyle Drabek, and Michael Taylor. Hell of a way to break into the new role. Needless to say, Blue Jays fans were pissed, but Anthopoulos was just getting started. Soon afterwards, he sent Michael Taylor to the Athletics for Brett Wallace, and in July 2010, traded Wallace to the Houston Astros for center field prospect Anthony “Space” Gose. On December 22, 2009, Anthopoulos traded reliever Brandon League and minor league outfielder Johermyn Chavez to acquire Brandon Morrow from the Seattle Mariners. The move brought in a little bit of faith, but the reality was that the team was now down their ace and closer. On July 14, 2010 Anthopoulos made a deal with the Atlanta Braves to acquire Yunel Escobar, and Jo-Jo Reyes in exchange for Alex Gonzalez, and two minor league prospects: Tim Collins, and Tyler Pastornicky. The end result, the Blue Jays went 85-77 in what would be Gaston’s final year as manager. Bautista launched a franchise-record 54 home runs, Encarnacion was looking solid and he pitching was coming around. Things were certainly looking bright, but once again, Anthopoulos wasn’t done yet.

On January 21, 2011, Anthopoulos completed a blockbuster trade, shipping another longtime face of the Blue Jays franchise Vernon Wells and the remaining $86 million over the next four years to the Los Angeles Angels for slugging catcher Mike Napoli and veteran outfielder Juan Rivera. He then sent Napoli to the Texas Rangers for pitcher Frank Francisco and Rivera to the Los Angeles Dodgers for cash considerations. On July 28, 2011, Anthopoulos made two successive trades to acquire center fielder Colby Rasmus from the St. Louis Cardinals. In the first, the Blue Jays traded pitching prospect Zach Stewart and veteran reliever Jason Frasor to the Chicago White Sox for starting pitcher Edwin Jackson and infielder Mark Teahen. Jackson was then traded with relief pitchers Marc Rzepczynski and Octavio Dotel, outfielder Corey Patterson, and cash or three players to be named later to the Cardinals for Rasmus and relief pitchers Brian Tallet, P.J. Walters and Trever Miller. This of course all went down in the-manager/current Red Sox manager Farrell’s first season at the helm. Oh, but Anthopoulos still had one more major deal to make. On August 23, 2011, Anthopoulos traded infielders Aaron Hill and John McDonald to the Arizona Diamondbacks for second baseman Kelly Johnson. Even with all of these players getting swapped the Blue Jays finished 81-81. Before the 2012 Major League Baseball season, he was known to make trades in order to acquire supplemental draft picks. The most prominent example was when he acquired Miguel Olivo, a Type B free agent, and declined his club option the next day making Olivo a free agent. The Blue Jays gained a supplemental first-round draft pick when Olivo signed with the Mariners.

With Anthopoulos, the wheels were always turning. His days with the Expos taught him how to be sharp as the team was slowly being picked apart and eventually relocated. Anthopoulos loved the Expos, and vowed to bring a winning team back to Canada. In 2012 the Blue Jays went 73-89, their worst finish since Ricciardi’s final season in 2009. With his back against the way, so to speak, Anthopoulos took the call from the Marlins, talked to the higher ups and approved the blockbuster trade on November 13, 2012 (finalized on November 19).

Now, some of you may still be a bit confused as to how I could possibly know these two parties, of all the other teams in the league, could make that deal happen. It all lies within the Expos, the team Loria had first bought a 24% stake in back in 1999 until becoming the principle owner prior to 2002, right before he sold the team to MLB. So, for those of you playing at home, Anthopoulos worked for Loria for 2 ½ seasons. I’m not sure how strong their relationship is, but in the baseball world relationships like that are deep. Based on their history and Anthopoulos’s willingness to make the Blue Jays a winner, it was the only deal that ever made sense if it were to happen. Needless to say, when it did, I felt like a God damn genius… but I still don’t have a job working for ESPN or MLB. Drat!

’13: I had marked up the cap the day the deal was finalized and couldn’t think of anything better to capture the craziness that was my prediction and the season to come for the restored faithful Blue Jays fans. This cap especially is a memento of where the Blue Jays and their fans have gone in the last 19 years, a fixed mistake that never should have been altered in the first place. When this cap was introduced in 2012 it brought back a lot of warm feelings for die hard Blue Jays fans like Andrew and my other good friend and 2012 Fan Cave hopeful Dave Barclay. As Dave said, “It was like starting over again, getting back to the winning ways of the former Jays. Would you like a hot dog?” Those were his exact words. 

I still have quite a few Blue Jays posts to go, and if you learn anything from these posts, as I always mention in the Blue Jays posts, if you’re a team on the bottom and y’all decide to change the uniforms, be sure to expect good things. When you’re on top, expect some dark years. The Blue Jays finished the 2013 with a record of 74-88, only a one win improvement. Perhaps good things will be in store for Anthopoulos and the Blue Jays in 2014. Hopefully. 

As for the Marlins, they made out like bandits, but not because they made a ton of money on the deal. They only finished seven games worse than they did in 2012, but they got stellar showing from the players that the Blue Jays had dealt them. Hechavarria played in 148 games, hitting .227 with three home runs and 42 RBI and boasts a dandy glove. As for Alvarez, he went 5-6 with a 3.59 ERA and 57 strikeouts in 17 starts. He also had one shutout and one complete game, which both came on the final day of the season when he no-hit the Detroit Tigers. I don't want to elaborate too much on that story though. Patience.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

August 11- New York Mets

The New York Mets have been an on-going joke in the New York metropolitan area as well as on social media for the better part of the last 20 years or so. It’s come in the form of subway signs

television shows

and even if the form of logos created by the team which resemble that of Domino’s Pizza.

Nonetheless, a lot of it comes in the form of good fun while other times it appears to be a cyclical internal habit by the Mets themselves. One moment in particular I wrote about on May 4th with now infamous “ice cream” uniforms. At the end of the day though, the Mets should be given a lot more credit. After all, they did win two World Series titles in 1969 and 1986 and they’ve also drafted, brought up, traded for and signed a lot of talent over the years.

And of course there’s also that time Bobby Bonilla became the smartest man to ever sign a Major League contract.

I for one will admit that I haven’t been the most pleasant person to critique the Mets and financial decisions, but I assure you that none of it is done with malice as the intent. The Mets will always have a soft spot in my heart because of Gary Carter and their title run in 1986, my first conscious memory of watching a Major League Baseball game on television. For me, it’s hard to watch a team with so much money and talent come up short every year, even if it is a New York team. Hell, for the last 20 years of my life I’ve had to deal with heartbreak coming from a team who has no money and a vast crop of talent every season, only to see it broken down and rebuilt year after year. That team of course is the Oakland Athletics. The Mets are different though. There are elements of their decisions that are reminiscent of the Athletics teams of the late 1980s and early 1990s in that they have a lot of money, but work with a lot of homegrown talent on top of a few key signings. Unfortunately for the Mets, most of their signings haven’t really panned out. But there is a more specific reason why the current Mets team reminds me so much my beloved A’s teams, their general manager Sandy Alderson. Only time will tell if Alderson can right the slowly sinking ship in Flushing, but his first few major moves are definitely an indication that he’s in it to win.

One deal in particular that is a reflection of the Mets’ willingness to win took place on December 5, 2012 when the team re-signed their 2001 draft pick and multiple All-Star spot-winning third baseman David Wright for an additional eight years on top of his then-current contract. The most interesting aspect of this announcement, for me at least, came during the winter meetings when the Mets took the opportunity to unveil their new All-Star Game uniform patches, a few new jerseys and lastly, this cap.

When I first saw it I didn’t now what to make of it. I either had missed the formal announcement and the unveiling of the cap or the Mets didn’t say anything at all as Wright sat up on the stage to field questions while it sat on his head. The 2013 batting practice cap photos hadn’t been released yet so I just assumed that’s what he was wearing. Not at all. The new Mets hat that Wright was sporting is in fact the Sunday/special event alternate cap that the team has been rocking all season long, and to be honest, I actually dig it.

I was super bummed that the Mets decided to retire their road cap at the end of the 2011 season, but they certainly made a strong effort to make up for it with this cap. The color combo is kind of interesting as it has the same appearance as the Citi Field logo up above, but that’s not exactly a bad thing. Orange is an odd color to work with, especially when it comes to the bill, but it works swimmingly against the royal blue crown. Also, the addition of the orange over the white on the “NY” logo helps keep the focus off of one specific area. Even though it didn’t get much play in 2013 it was still one of the better additions for any team over the last six or seven years.

I’ve written many times about how uniform changes can make or break a team and unfortunately for the Mets this was one of those times where it broke them. They finished with the same record as they did in 2012 under Terry Collins (74-88), but they got a lot of performances out of Wright and a few other up-and-coming stars. I did my best not to pick favorites, but the obvious choices were right in everyone’s face. 

#5- Wright was born in Norfolk, Virginia and raised in Chesapeake where he attended school at Hickory High School and worked extensively with Coach Gregory Friedman of Bellmore JFK. Wright was the 2001 Gatorade Virginia High School Player of the Year and earned All-State honors in 1999, 2000 and 2001. He was also named Virginia All-State Player of the Year in 2001. Over his four-year career at Hickory, Wright hit .438 with 13 home runs and 90 RBIs. Upon graduation Wright planned to attend Georgia Tech and major in engineering, but the opportunity to make the pros stepped into the light.

Wright was chosen 38th overall by the Mets in the 2001 amateur draft during the supplemental round as compensation for the Mets' loss of Mike Hampton to the Colorado Rockies in free agency. Wright was selected after future teammate Aaron Heilman who had been selected with the 18th overall pick. Wright progressed steadily in his first three years of minor league play, winning the Sterling award for best player on the class A St. Lucie Mets in 2003. In 2004, he quickly rose from the AA Binghamton Mets, to the AAA Norfolk Tides, to the Majors when he made his short-awaited debut on July 21st.

I’m still not sure why, but Wright somehow managed to not even receive a vote for the 2004 National League Rookie of the Year Award despite hitting .293, 14 home runs and 40 RBI in 69 games. Granted, the winner, Jason Bay, did have a great season for the Pittsburgh Pirates, but he also played in 120 games. Either way, over the next six years Wright flourished. He made the All-Star team five years in a row from 2005-2010, won back-to-back Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Awards in 2007 and 2008 and finished in the top-10 for the NL MVP three years in a row from 2006-2008.

Wright had a bit of a down year in 2011, mostly due to injury, but bounced back in 2012 with a sixth place finish for the NL MVP and another nod to the All-Star team. For his career Wright has a .301 average and could potentially be a member of the 3,000 hit club if he’s able to grind out a few 200+ hit seasons along the way. The most impressive thing about Wright is that he holds the franchise record for 11 offensive categories in only 10 seasons of work including hits (1558), runs (853), doubles (345), RBI (876), walks (671) and sacrifice flies (60). He is also a substantially wealthy individual, most of which didn’t come on the baseball field. See, back in 2007 Wright became a spokesman for Vitamin Water which was a product of the Queens, New York based company Glaceau. Rather than receive one paycheck, Wright negotiated a 0.5% ownership of the company. It may not seem like much until Coca-Cola bought Glaceau for $4.1 billion. Athletic AND business savvy!

#28- Just like Wright, Daniel Murphy is a homegrown talent who was plucked from the swamps of Jacksonville University in Florida in the 13th round of the 2006 amateur draft. Murphy’s time in the minors only lasted two years, the first of which was spent in St. Lucie where hit .285 with 11 home runs and 78 RBI in 135 games in 2007. The following season Murphy played at all three levels but made a jump to the Majors on August 2nd after an injury to Marlon Anderson made room for him as the most viable replacement. In his first major league at-bat, against three-time All-Star Roy Oswalt, Murphy hit a single. Later in the same game, he made a difficult catch against the left field wall, throwing out Hunter Pence at second base for a double play to end the inning. As of August 9, 2008, Murphy was only the 5th Mets rookie to record 10 hits in his first 20 at-bats. Murphy hit his first home run in the bottom of the 6th inning against the Florida Marlins at Shea Stadium on August 9. According to Major League Baseball rules, players are no longer considered a rookie if they have had more than 130 at-bats in a single season. Murphy had 131 at-bats for the Mets during the 2008 season, thus making 2008 his rookie season by a single at-bat. He finished the season batting .313, with 2 home runs and 17 RBI.

Murphy, a natural third baseman, moved around in the field, getting a few starts in left field and other in the infield. Since 2009 Murphy has been a regular fixture in the Mets lineup with the exception of 2010 when he missed the entire season due to a MCL tear while trying to turn a double play during a rehab game with the then-AAA affiliate the Buffalo Bisons. Murphy had hurt his knee during a Spring Training game. In 2011 Murphy’s season ended after 109 games after injuring the same MCL that had been repaired. In 2012 he came back at full-strength as the full-time second baseman. His .290 career average is one of the best on the team over the last few years including his 2011 campaign in which he was hitting .320 before his injury.

While I didn’t have the opportunity to meet Wright during my time in the MLB Fan Cave (missed it by two days), I was able to meet and have a few words with Murphy. That day in particular was kind of interesting because Murphy inadvertently violated one of the biggest rules of the Fan Cave: no clothing items from any of the other professional leagues allowed… ESPECIALLY THE NFL.

Even though I knew it would cause beef with the executives I just had to snap a photo, which I was told to never post on social media. In the mean time, one of the interns was sent downstairs immediately to grab a jersey for Murphy out of the “supply closet,” a room full of MLB gear including hats, shirts, autographed baseball and other cool trinkets. 

After that, the mood was a bit more relaxed. Murphy kicked it on the couch for a social media interview while we all waited for our second special guest, Arsenio Hall.

If there’s anyone who I have ever met that wasn’t built with an off switch, it’s definitely Arsenio, and I don’t mean that as an insult. With every question asked him he had a fantastic joke. He was genuine and polite with everyone who came up to talk to him, but he was honest and humble anytime someone asked him about coming up in the comedy game. The concept that the production crew had brought the two of them in for was a fishbowl Q&A, where basically there was a fishbowl filled with strip of paper with questions on them that the two asked one another. The responses were pretty natural, which made for a good segment. Unfortunately most of the best footage was left on the cutting room floor due to language and subject matter. Does that surprise you?

Monday, November 11, 2013

August 10- Philadelphia Phillies

From May 10th to May 30th I cataloged and wrote about all of the 2012 Major League Baseball Stars and Stripes New Era caps I was able to get my hands on in honor of the men and women who served their country in the United States military and the ties they have to each team I wrote about. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to find all 30 teams, but I did promise to continue on as I was able to track down each of the remaining teams. Lucky for me, a few of the teams were issued multiple caps which all corresponded with how many game caps each team used on the field. This would explain why I wrote two posts on the Oakland Athletics on May 21st and May 30th. Nonetheless, my original plan was to buy all of them because I loved the concept so much; however, with time being a years removed from when they were worn I’ll be lucky if I’m able to find the remaining teams. As it stands I have nine teams left to go: San Diego Padres, Houston Astros, Kansas City Royals, Tampa Bay Rays, Texas Rangers, Washington Nationals, Minnesota Twins, Los Angeles Angels and the Chicago White Sox. There’s no telling when or if I’ll be able to find them, but the hunt and the stories that follow will be more than worth it.

You can go ahead and file this story under one of the more unusual, yet tragic stories that I have written about. Unusual in the sense that one man’s life path had so many close calls, but tragic because so many lives were lost along the way. Some of you may know this story, but I assure you I will do my best not to screw it up. I have my good friend Jason Cobb (@JasonMCobb) to thank for bringing it to my attention as my mind was really more focused on finding this Philadelphia Phillies cap as opposed to any good stories surrounding it. It was near the end of May when it was brought to my attention, right around the time when I was wrapping up on my Memorial Day posts. Jason had asked when teams I had upcoming as he is an avid reader of my blog. I rattled off the few caps I had and he asked if I had ever heard of Jack “Lucky” Lohrke. The name rung a bell, but I could put my finger on why. He then asked if I had a Phillies cap on order to which I said no. “That’s too bad,” he said. “If you get one you have to do a story on this guy,” he followed. I was intrigued. Jason has always been good about dropping some serious baseball knowledge on me and he would be the only person I’d humbly admit to knowing way more about the game than me. It was kind of a slow day at work so I was able to get a pretty thorough story before I went home and conducted my own investigation.

.190/0/1- Jack Wayne Lohrke was born Feb. 25, 1924, in Los Angeles, the second of three sons of John and Marguerite Lohrke. His father was employed by Fluor Corp, a global engineering and construction firm. Jack attended South Gate High School in LA where he dominated on the school’s baseball team. By the time he graduated (1942) he was playing semi-pro ball. His first minor league team was the Padres, but he played only seven games for them before joining a minor-league team in Twin Falls, Idaho, the Cowboys, a then-affiliate of the New York Yankees in the Pioneer Baseball League. He was named Twin Falls' most valuable player during his first year and met his future wife, Marie, who was the sister of another player. But, like a lot of his colleagues, when the time came to serve their country, Lohrke was not one to hesitate as he enlisted with the National Guard. Lohrke would soon find himself within the company of the 35th Infantry Division.

Lohrke was sent to train in San Luis Obispo, California. One day while riding on a train through California to ship off to war, the train Lohrke was on jumped off the tracks, killing three people around him while many more were severely burned by steaming water that rushed through the train car. Lohrke walked away without a scratch like Bruce Willis in Unbreakable. As a member of the 35th Infantry Division, he fought in the D-Day invasion of Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge, one of the costliest of human lives. On four separate occasions solders on both sides of him were killed in combat, yet he emerged unscathed. In 1945 Lohrke had fulfilled his duties and he was sent back to the States. Lohrke's good fortune continued when he returned to the US. A colonel had bumped him at the last moment from the passenger list of a military transport plane that was scheduled to fly from Camp Kilmer, New Jersey to his home in Los Angeles. Less than an hour after the plane took off it crashed in Ohio, killing everyone on board.

After the war, and following his transition back to civilian life, Lohrke resumed his baseball career. The summer of 1946 found him playing for the Class B Spokane Indians of the Western International League. On June 24, 1946, Lohrke was a passenger on the team bus carrying the team as it traveled toward Bremerton, Washington, to begin a road trip. At the time, Lohrke was the team's third baseman and was batting .345 in 229 at bats. His performance had earned him a promotion to the AAA Pacific Coast League's San Diego Padres but the team was unable to contact him as he was in transit between cities. The Indians’ business manager contacted the police along the route and asked that they relay the message to Lohrke, which they did when the team stopped for dinner. Lohrke, under orders to report immediately to the Padres, removed his gear from the bus, said goodbye to his teammates, and hitched rides back to Spokane. Later that evening, the team bus broke through a guard rail on a mountain pass, plunged down a hill, and crashed. Of the 15 players on it, nine were killed, including player/manager Mel Cole. The six survivors were badly injured.

"When the bus took off . . . I bummed a ride back to Spokane," Lohrke said in a 1990 interview with the Los Angeles Times.. "When I got there I found out both of my roommates had been killed." Although he was accustomed to being lucky, Lohrke said, war had conditioned him to deal with disaster. "Having been in combat, what's going to shock you?" Lohrke said in 1990. "I'm a fatalist. I believe the old song, that whatever will be will be."

From the time he joined the Padres after the accident, Lohrke was called, for obvious reasons, "Lucky"-Lucky Lohrke, the ballplayer who got off the bus in the nick of time, the soldier bumped from the plane that crashed. The name stuck. Who else, after all, had more right to be called Lucky? He's in the Baseball Encyclopedia that way: Lucky Lohrke. An amiable man, he lived with the nickname, but he never liked it, never wanted to be reminded of how close he had come to riding that bus into oblivion. But what could he do about it? Sports Illustrated 1994

Lohrke played for seven years in the Majors, five of which came with the New York Giants from 1947-1951. From 1952-1953 he played in 37 games over two years with the Phillies, amassing a .190 average zero home runs and only one run batted-in. Lohrke’s time with the Giants was definitely more worthy of note (.244/22/95), but I already wrote about them.

After retiring from baseball in 1958, Lohrke worked in security for the Lockheed Missile and Space Co. in Sunnyvale, California and a few other companies all while living in San Jose. In April of 2009 Lohrke passed away, two days after suffering a stroke at the age of 85. Any bit of the legacy that he left behind is carried out in the few interviews he game to whomever came calling. Most notably, he lived and died by a quote he told Sports Illustrated in 1994 for a story headlined: "O Lucky Man" about the nickname he had bestowed upon him. He was known to have an aversion to storytelling or bragging about anything from his past. "My father didn't want heroes in our family." "When you're the age I was back then, you haven't got a worry in the world. You're playing ball because you want to play-and they're giving you money to do it. And then...well, sometimes those names spring back at me. I'll tell you this: Nobody outside of baseball calls me Lucky Lohrke these days. I may have been lucky, but the name is Jack. Jack Lohrke."

August 9- Seattle Pilots

I realize that today’s actual date is November 12th, so just humor me when you read it. I’ll make more sense if you actually think it’s August 9th.

There was one game that stood as “the one game I NEEDED to attend in 2012,” but an unfortunate series of events thwarted my efforts. Today the Seattle Mariners played host to the Milwaukee Brewers, a game that most casual baseball fans would chalk up as “another interleague matchup,” but to the borderline psychotic fans like myself, it’s a “Haley’s Comet” of matchups. See, interleague first started in 1997 as a method to not only make the game more entertaining, but it also gave fans a chance to check out teams who they would not normally see at their local Major League stadium, unless of course you lived in Los Angeles, New York, the Bay Area or Chicago. At that time the Brewers were still members of the American League and played the Mariners at least six times a season; typically one three-game series at home and the other on the road since they were in different divisions. Well, all of that changed at the end of the ’97 season as I cataloged in my Brewers post from two days ago. So, with the Brewers now members of the National League their impending visit to Seattle was bound to happen somewhere down the road. What few realized is that “somewhere down the road” turned out to be 16 years later.

Back in 2002 my best friend Sam Spencer and I had talked about this chance meeting while we were sitting in the first base side seats of Safeco Field watching my Oakland Athletics beating the piss out of his Mariners. One thing that never felt right to us was that with every interleague matchup each team had their “rivalry” team. The Athletics have the San Francisco Giants (Battle of the Bay), the Los Angeles Dodgers have the Los Angeles Angels (Freeway Series), the Kansas Coty Royals have the St. Louis Cardinals (I-70 Series), but there are even seemingly odd matchups like the Pittsburgh Pirates versus the Detroit Tigers (dates back to 1909) and the Boston Red Sox versus the Atlanta Braves which makes sense because they both started in Boston. However, the rivalry teams for both the Mariners and Brewers have huge question marks over them. Yes, I understand that the Brewers and Minnesota Twins are rivals, but their series name (I-94 Series) is what they call their matchups with the Chicago Cubs. As for the Mariners, I understand that they share their stadium in Peoria, Arizona with the San Diego Padres and that they both play on the West Coast, but they are the furthest away from one another. How do you call that a rivalry? Sam and I were both intent on the Mariners and Brewers being a legitimate rival for the same reason that the Braves and Red Sox were rivals, except for the fact that the Mariners and Brewers are way more connected than any other rivalry. And of course, Bud Selig is involved.

Back on June 21st I laid out the specifics as to how the Brewers became a team so I will give you the Cliff’s Notes version in just a moment. First I have to talk about the team that started it all, the Seattle Pilots. Actually, it started with the Athletics. Charlie O. Finley, the former owner of the Kansas City/Oakland Athletics had originally bough the team in 1960 under the guise that he wanted to keep the team in Kansas City. Unbeknownst to everyone else, he had been shopping the team around almost immediately after signing the team into his control. Finley had been pressing the city to build him a new baseball stadium, but when the voters finally agreed and a bond measure was put in place, it was too late. Finley and the Athletics were gone. Former Missouri Senator Stuart Symington caused a massive uproar and threatened legal action against Major League Baseball, challenging the antitrust exemption after the AL teams and their presidents Joe Cronin formerly approved Finley’s move of the team. The timing truly couldn’t have been any better/worse, depending on how you look it at, because MLB was in the market to expand the game in order to preserve baseball as the “national pastime” as the National Football League was starting to take over the public interest in 1967. Needing to add two teams to each league in spread out portions of the country, MLB added the Montreal Expos and Padres to the NL and for sure the Royals to the AL to appease Symington and the state of Missouri. The only question left was who the other team was going to be in the AL.

By the 1960s, with Seattle's population growing, the city became the largest to host a Pacific Coast League team, the Seattle Rainiers. The league's stature also declined with the move of the Brooklyn Dodgers to Los Angeles and the New York Giants to San Francisco, which caused those cities' PCL teams to fold. In 1964, the city purchased Sick's Stadium for $1.1 million. In 1965, the Rainiers were sold to the Los Angeles Angels, who renamed it the Seattle Angels. The city made several attempts to lure a Major League Baseball team. In 1964, William R. Daley visited the city when searching for a new home for the Cleveland Indians. He was unimpressed with the stadium, citing it as the primary reason to terminate his quest to move his team. Finley also found the stadium inadequate during a 1967 visit, and so rejected Seattle as a potential target for moving the Athletics. Because of this, the city instead tried to lobby for an expansion franchise at the 1967 owner's meetings in Chicago. The delegation also had support from two Congressmen, Henry M. Jackson and Warren Magnuson, the latter of whom was the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, a committee which has "jurisdiction over the Major League’s business activities". Coupled with Symington's threats related to the move of the Athletics, the political influence swayed the AL owners. However, they were reluctant to expand in 1969 without a Seattle stadium bond issue. The Seattle delegation assured the owners that Sick's Stadium could be renovated in five months to fulfill the minimum requirements until a new stadium was built; with this, the owners agreed to a 1969 expansion, and approved the team in Seattle along with Kansas City. In December 1967 at the Winter Meetings in Mexico City, the franchise was officially awarded to Pacific Northwest Sports, which received $5.5 million in funding from Daley, who thus had 47% ownership of the venture. Other owners included Max and Dewey Soriano. The award was contingent on renovation of Sick's Stadium to increase its seating capacity from 11,000 to 30,000 by the start of the 1969 season. The Sorianos persuaded notable athletes to advocate for the $40 million King County stadium bond issue, including baseball players Mickey Mantle, Carl Yastrzemski, Joe DiMaggio, and football player Y. A. Tittle; the bond issue was approved by 62.3% of the electorate. The "Pilots" name originates from the owner's part-time job as a harbor pilot and the city's association with the airplane industry.

The front man for the franchise ownership, Pacific Northwest Sports, Inc. (PNSI), was Dewey Soriano, a former Rainiers pitcher and general manager and former president of the PCL. In an ominous sign of things to come, Soriano had to ask Daley to underwrite much of the purchase price. In return, Soriano sold Daley 47% of the stock, the largest stake in the club. He became chairman of the board while Soriano served as president. However, a couple of factors were beyond the Pilots' control. They were originally not set to start play until 1971 along with the Royals. The date was moved up to 1969 under pressure from Symington who wanted the teams playing as soon as possible. Because the AL didn’t want just one team to enter the league, causing an odd balance, the Pilots were forced to start way ahead of schedule. Also, the Pilots had to pay the PCL $1 million to compensate for the loss of one of its most successful franchises. After King County voters approved a bond for a domed stadium (what would become the Kingdome) in 1968, the Pilots were officially born. California Angels executive Marvin Milkes was hired as general manager, and Joe Schultz, coach of the NL Champion Cardinals, became manager. With the front office, a stadium in the process of being refurbished and a brand new stadium in the future, the Pilots were finally starting to look like a professional ball club.

Schultz and Milkes both optimistically stated that they thought Pilots could finish third in the newly formed, six-team AL West. However, to the surprise of almost no one outside Seattle, the Pilots experienced the typical struggles of a first-year expansion team. They won their very first game, and then their home opener three days later, but only won five more times in the first month. Nevertheless, the Pilots managed to stay in reasonable striking distance of .500. The Pilots were only 6 games back of the division lead as late as June 28. But a disastrous 9–20 July (and an even worse 6-22 August) ended even a faint hope of any kind of contention, though they were still in third place as late as August. The team finished the season in last place in the AL West with a record of 64-98, 33 games out of first. However, the team's poor play was the least of its troubles. The most obvious problem was Sick's Stadium. The longtime home of the Rainiers, it had once been considered one of the best ballparks in minor league baseball; by the 1960s, however, it was considered far behind the times. While a condition of MLB awarding the Pilots to Seattle was that Sick's had to be expanded to 30,000 seats, only 19,500 seats were ready by Opening Day because of numerous delays. The scoreboard was not even ready until the night before the season opener. By June there were finally 25,000 seats in place. Water pressure was almost nonexistent after the seventh inning, especially with crowds above 8,000. Attendance was poor (678,000) and the Pilots lost hundreds of thousand of dollars in their first season. The team's new stadium was slated to be built at the Seattle Center, but a petition by stadium opponents ground the project to a halt.

By the end of the season, the Pilots were gasping. However, Daley refused to put up more financing. It was obvious that they would not survive long enough to move into their new park without new ownership. It was also obvious that such a move would have to happen quickly, as Sick’s' Stadium was inadequate even for temporary use. During the offseason, Soriano made contact with car salesman and former Milwaukee Braves minority owner Bud Selig, who was leading the effort to bring major league baseball back to Milwaukee. They met in secret for over a month after the end of the season, and during Game 1 of the 1969 World Series, Soriano agreed to sell the Pilots to Selig for $10.8 million. Selig would then move the team to Milwaukee. The remaining owners of the Pilots turned it down in the face of pressure from Washington State's two senators, Warren Magnuson and Henry M. "Scoop" Jackson, as well as state attorney general Slade Gorton. Local theater chain owner Fred Danz came forward in October 1969 with a $10 million deal, but it fizzled when the Bank of California called in a $4 million loan it had made to Soriano and Daley to finance the purchase of the franchise. In January 1970, Westin Hotels head Eddie Carlson put together a nonprofit group to buy the team. However, the owners rejected the idea almost out of hand since it would have devalued the other clubs' worth. A slightly modified deal came one vote short of approval.

After a winter and spring full of court action, the Pilots reported for spring training under new manager Dave Bristol, unsure of where they would play. The owners had given tentative approval to the Milwaukee group, but the state of Washington got an injunction on March 16 to stop the deal. PNSI immediately filed for bankruptcy, a move intended to forestall post-sale legal action. At the bankruptcy hearing a week later, Milkes testified there was not enough money to pay the coaches, players, and office staff. Had Milkes been more than 10 days late in paying the players, they would have all become free agents and left Seattle without a team for the 1970 season. With this in mind, Federal Bankruptcy Referee Sidney Volinn declared the Pilots bankrupt on April 2, five days before Opening Day, clearing the way for them to move to Milwaukee. The team's equipment had been sitting in Provo, Utah (possibly with Alan Stanwyck’s parents) with the drivers awaiting word on whether to drive toward Seattle or Milwaukee. The move came so late that Selig had to scrap his initial plans to change the team's colors to navy and red in honor of the minor-league Brewers of his youth. Instead, the Brewers were stuck using old Pilots' uniforms, with the team name replaced. One legacy of the Brewers' roots in Seattle is that to this day, their colors are still blue and gold, although the shades have been darker since 2000.

Well, much like what happened with the Royals at the end of the 1967 season, MLB found themselves in hot water again after allowing the Pilots to be relocated after Selig’s purchase. The City of Seattle, King County, and the state of Washington (represented by then-State Attorney General and later U.S. Senator Slade Gorton) sued the AL for breach of contract. Confident that MLB would return to Seattle within a few years, King County built the multi-purpose Kingdome, which would become home to the NFL's expansion Seattle Seahawks in 1976 and the eventual co-habitation for the Mariners when they were introduced in 1977.

In short (way beyond that), it would be way more fitting if the Mariners and Brewers were actually rivals. But getting back to the matter tat hand, today is the day I should have been at Safeco Field for the historic return, but unfortunately not having a car, money or any of the other creature comforts that would have facilitated that dream. It’s very rare that a moment like this comes along. By that I mean having knowledge of a special event, as opposed to it happening by chance. I didn’t cry or anything, but it was certainly a huge disappointment. I was looking forward to wearing this cap to the game, the one symbol that connects both teams to the one that fizzled out before it could take off.

The cap until itself was truly historic as it was the first to feature graphics on the bill as opposed to just within the confines of the front panels. Even though it was only around for one season and one Turn Back the Clock Night on July 9, 2006, this cap is still as popular because of its exclusiveness and short lifespan. One thing that should be noted is that the typeface for the “S” was taken from the Seattle Turks whom I wrote about on July 3rd.

As for the marks, you’d be surprised what I can pull based on a team that was around for one season.

#12- Of all the players to find themselves on the Pilots, Tommy Davis holds the most unfortunate story. See, back in 1956 Davis was singed by the Brooklyn Dodgers, the year after they won their first World Series title in franchise history. Davis bummed around the minors for a bit which included a new team every year as the Dodgers were in the process of relocating to Los Angeles. The move to LA also meant that the team needed minor league facilities closer to Dodgers in case you were wondering what that entailed. On September 22, 1959 Davis made his MLB debut as a pinch hitter. Luckily for Davis he was brought back full-time in 1960 where he would hit .276 with 11 home runs and 44 RBI in 110 games. His effort was good enough to warrant him a fifth place finish for the NL Rookie of the Year. 1961 was a so-so season, but 1962 and 1963 were hands down the best of his career, and no I’m not just saying that.

In 1962 Davis hit .346, the best in the league. He also happened to lead the league in hits (230) and RBI (153), but he only knocked 27 pitches over the wall because some clown named Willie Mays hit 49 that season. But even with his incredible numbers, Davis still only finished third for the NL MVP behind Mays and his teammate Maury Wills who finished the season with a .299 average, six home runs and 48 RBI. Oh! And 104 stolen bases. You might be thinking that Wills also cleaned up in run. He did, with 130; however, that was only 10 more than Davis. Davis should have been the outright MVP that season. The same thing happened the following year when Davis once again won the batting title behind his .326 average, but that year he finished in eighth place for the award. Davis did make the All-Star team both seasons and won his only World Series ring of his career in 1963, but still, he deserved a lot more credit than he got then, AND for the rest of his career.

Davis had a mediocre (by his standards) season in 1964, was hurt in 1965 and picked things back up in 1966. At the end of the 1966 season Davis found himself on 10 different teams in 10 years. Crazy, right!? He was dealt to the New York Mets first for the 1967 season, then to the Chicago White Sox for 1968 only to be thrown into the list of names for the expansion draft where he was selected by the Pilots with the 16th overall pick. 

Davis was a solid choice. His .271 average was the best amongst anyone who played in over 100 games for the Pilots, but he was dealt to the Houston Astros around the trade deadline. Davis played for seven more seasons and ended his career with a .294 average and 2,121 hits having played in an era that especially favored pitchers. Borderline Hall of Famer for sure, but never got beyond one vote as he received 1.8% in 1982.

#24- Born and raised in Holguin, Cuba, Diego Segui holds the unique distinction of having pitched for both of Seattle's major league baseball teams, the Pilots and the Mariners, in the first game ever played by each franchise (earning a save for the Pilots in 1969, and absorbing the opening-day loss for the Mariners in 1977). Segui played for 15 seasons; his time with the Pilots came after his seventh year in the league as a member of the Athletics as he found his name of the expansion draft list. Segui was picked 14th overall. His most productive season came in 1969, for the Pilots, when he posted a career-high in wins, with 12, and 12 saves, against only 6 losses. Segui was also the only pitcher to start at least eight games and finish with a record above .500.  At the end of the season, his teammates voted him the Pilots' Most Valuable Player.

His final season was in 1977 as a member of the Mariners. Segui was the starting pitcher in the Mariners' inaugural game in 1977, earning him the nickname "the Ancient Mariner." Although he set a Mariner record against the Boston Red Sox with 10 strikeouts early in the season, he failed to get a win. After compiling a 0–7 record with a 5.69 ERA, he was released at the end of the season. He continued pitching in the Mexican League for another 10 years, tossing a no-hitter for the Cordoba Coffee Growers in 1978. His son David played in the Majors as well from 1990-2004, playing with seven different teams including the Mariners.

#50- Clearly the most notable name of the bunch, Jim Bouton was a well-known relief pitcher and World Series champion with the New York Yankees in 1962. He was also one of the most consistently used pitchers in the league when he was a starter in his first few years before his arm began to wear down. In 1965, an arm injury slowed his fastball and ended his status as a pitching phenomenon. Relegated mostly to bullpen duty, Bouton began to throw the knuckleball again, in an effort to lengthen his career. By 1968, Bouton was a reliever for the minor league Seattle Angels.

In October 1968, he joined a committee of American sportsmen who traveled to the 1968 Summer Olympics, in Mexico City, to protest the involvement of apartheid South Africa. Around the same time, sportswriter Leonard Shecter, who had befriended Bouton during his time with the Yankees, approached him with the idea of writing and publishing a season-long diary. Bouton, who had taken some notes during the 1968 season after having a similar idea, readily agreed. This was by no means the first baseball diary. Cincinnati Reds pitcher Jim Brosnan had written two such books, about his 1959 and 1961 seasons, called The Long Season and Pennant Race respectively. Those books were much more open than the typical G-rated and ghost-written athletes' "diaries", a literary technique dating at least as far back as Christy Mathewson. Brosnan had also encountered some resistance. Joe Garagiola made a point in his own autobiography, Baseball Is a Funny Game, to criticize Brosnan for writing them.

Bouton chronicled his 1969 season with a frank, insider's look at a professional sports team, eventually naming his book Ball Four. The backdrop for the book was the Pilots' one and only operating season, though Bouton was traded to the Astros late in the season. Unlike previous sports publications, Ball Four named names and described a side of baseball that was previously unseen. Bouton did this by writing about the way a professional baseball team actually interacts; not only the heroic game-winning home runs, but also the petty jealousies (of which Bouton had a special knowledge), the obscene jokes, the drunken tomcatting of the players, and the routine drug use, including by Bouton himself. Upon its publication, baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn called Ball Four "detrimental to baseball," and tried to force Bouton to sign a statement saying that the book was completely fictional. Bouton, however, refused to deny any of Ball Four‘s revelations. Many of Bouton's teammates never forgave him for publicly airing what he had learned in private about their flaws and foibles. The book made Bouton unpopular with many players, coaches, and officials on other teams as well, as they felt he had betrayed the long-standing rule: "What you see here, what you say here, what you do here, let it stay here." Although his comments on Mickey Mantle's lifestyle and excesses make up only a few pages of the text, it was those very revelations that spawned most of the book's notoriety, and provoked Bouton's eventual blacklisting from baseball. Oddly, what was forgotten in the furor is that Bouton mostly wrote of Mantle in almost reverential tones. One of the book's seminal moments occurs when Bouton describes his first win as a Yankee: when he entered the clubhouse, he found Mantle laying a "red carpet" of towels leading directly to his locker in Bouton's honor.

Bouton retired midway through the 1970 season after the Astros sent him down to the minor leagues. He immediately became a local sports anchor for New York station WABC-TV, as part of Eyewitness News; he later held the same job for WCBS-TV. Bouton also became an actor, playing the part of "Terry Lennox" in Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye (1973), plus the lead role of "Jim Barton" in the 1976 CBS television series Ball Four, which was loosely adapted from the book and was canceled after five episodes. Decades later, Bouton would also have a brief one-line cameo as a pitching coach in the James L. Brooks film How Do You Know. By the mid-1970s, a cult audience saw the book Ball Four as a candid and comic portrayal of the ups and downs of baseball life. Bouton went on the college lecture circuit, delivering humorous talks on his experiences.

Bouton launched his comeback bid with the Portland Mavericks of the Class-A Northwest League in 1975, compiling a 5-1 record. He skipped the 1976 season to work on the TV series, but he returned to the diamond in 1977 when Bill Veeck signed him to a minor league contract with the White Sox. Bouton was winless for a White Sox farm club; a stint in the Mexican League and a return to Portland followed. In 1978, Ted Turner signed Bouton to a contract with the Braves. After a successful season with the Savannah Braves of the AA Southern League, he was called up to join Atlanta's rotation in September, and compiled a 1-3 record in five starts. His winding return to the majors was chronicled in a book by sportswriter Terry Pluto, The Greatest Summer. Bouton also detailed his comeback in a 10th anniversary re-release of his first book, titled Ball Four Plus Ball Five, as well as adding a Ball Six, updating the stories of the players in Ball Four, for the 20th anniversary edition. All were included (in 2000) as Ball Four: The Final Pitch, along with a new coda that detailed the death of his daughter and his reconciliation with the Yankees. After his return to the majors, Bouton continued to pitch at the semi-pro level for a Bergen County, New Jersey team called the Emerson-Westwood Merchants, among other teams in the Metropolitan Baseball League in northern New Jersey, while living in Teaneck, New Jersey.

Once his baseball career ended a second time, Bouton became one of the inventors of "Big League Chew," a shredded bubblegum designed to resemble chewing tobacco and sold in a tobacco-like pouch. He also co-authored Strike Zone (a baseball novel) and edited an anthology about managers, entitled I Managed Good, But Boy Did They Play Bad. His most recent book is Foul Ball (published 2003), a non-fiction account of his unsuccessful attempt to save Wahconah Park, a historic minor league baseball stadium in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

Although Bouton had never been officially declared persona non grata by the Yankees or any other team as a result of Ball Four’s revelations, he was excluded from most baseball-related functions, including Old-Timers' Games. It was rumored that Mantle himself had told the Yankees that he would never attend an Old-Timers' Game to which Bouton was invited (a charge Mantle subsequently denied, especially during a lengthy answering-machine message to Bouton after Mantle's son Billy had died of cancer in 1994. Mantle was acknowledging a condolence card Bouton had sent). Things changed in June 1998, when Bouton's oldest son Michael wrote an eloquent Father's Day open letter to the Yankees which was published in the New York Times, in which Michael described the agony of his father following the August 1997 death of Michael's sister Laurie at age 31. By juxtaposing the story of Yogi Berra's self-imposed exile with that of his father's de facto banishment, Michael created a scenario where not only were the Yankees placed under public pressure to invite his father back, but the article paved the road to reconciliation between Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and Berra. In July 1998, Bouton, sporting his familiar number 56, received a standing ovation when he took the mound at Yankee Stadium. He has since become a regular fixture at Yankees Old-Timers' Games.

I read Ball Four for the first time around the age of 14 and once again during my time in New York while I was a member of the MLB Fan Cave, but never in between. Both times I felt a sense of duty surging through me. The first time it was after really understanding my gift of writing. Everything I wrote I wanted to mimic the same honest and tone that Bouton displayed during his time with the Yankees and eventually the Pilots and Astros. When I read it again in New York it motivated me to speak from the heart and not hold anything back in my day-to-day experiences, something that inevitably turned around and bit me in the ass on multiple occasions with the powers that be. In any event, I didn’t care. There’s a part of my banishment from the Fan Cave that came as a result of not knowing when I should have kept my mouth shut. While some would ponder of it for the rest of their days, wishing they had done things different, I take the exact opposite approach. I take solace in what I did. The Fan Cave wasn’t just supposed to be about the nine of us that were brought on to watch all the games and interact with the guests, it was about swapping stories and sharing the experience with anyone who is a fan of the game, a reality that no one else past or present seems to understand with the exception of season one Cave Dweller Mike O’Hara. Without Bouton, I doubt I would be the writer, let alone the person that I am today.

Friday, November 8, 2013

August 8- Seattle Mariners

Back on March 4th I tackled the original trident cap that the Seattle Mariners wore from 1977-1980, but I purposely left out one particular detail as it pertains to the cap that I’m writing about today. The 1979 Major League Baseball All-Star Game was the 50th playing of the midsummer classic between the All-Star of the American League and National League and it took place at the four-year-old Kingdome in Seattle, Washington. The game is perhaps most remembered for the play of Dave Parker in the outfield, as he had two assists on putouts at third base and at the plate. With Parker receiving the MVP award for this game, and teammate Willie Stargell winning the NL MVP, NLCS MVP, and World Series MVP, all four possible MVP awards for the season were won by members of the Pittsburgh Pirates. The game was also notable for the play of Lee Mazzilli, the lone representative from the then-lowly New York Mets, providing the 7-6 margin of victory. In his only All Star appearance, Mazzilli tied the game in the eighth inning with a pinch hit home run off of Jim Kern of the Texas Rangers, and then put the NL ahead for good in the ninth, drawing a bases-loaded walk against Ron Guidry of the New York Yankees. This would be the only time the Kingdome would host the All-Star Game. When it returned to Seattle for a second time in 2001, the Mariners had moved to their new home at Safeco Field. The other important detail from this game is that the Mariners inadvertently created one of the most iconic logos in All-Star Game history which they would ultimately don as the primary logo for their caps and uniforms.

Since the All-Star Game was first played in Chicago at Comiskey Field in 1933 it had become customary for the host team to come up with some sort of a cool logo when advertising for the game. You’re probably thinking that my math is off based in the year of the first game played and how the 50th game took place in 1979. Well, from 1959-1961 the All-Star Game was played twice per year, typically one in June and the other in July. In 1961, the final double-dip, the second game, hosted at Fenway Park, ended in a tie. Now where have we seen that happen?

Anyway, the point I’m trying to make is that the logos created are usually only meant for their one-time use at the All-Star Game; however, the Mariners and their fans took quite a liking to the logo they had created for their midsummer classic and decided to make it their official logo for their game caps from 1981 through 1986. With the exception of a few of the teams who incorporated the cap logo into their All-Star Game logos, the Mariners are the only team to do it the other way around.

One of the unfortunate things about this cap is that not a whole lot happened for the Mariners while they wore it with the exception of the players strike which took place in 1981. I don’t know how many times I’ve said it or listed it, but changing uniforms does have a tendency to bring success for a lot of teams, but when it doesn’t, all Hell breaks loose. Besides the strike, this bit of bad fortune befell upon the Mariners: On April 25, 1981, Mariners' manager Maury Wills advised the Kingdome groundskeepers to enlarge the batter's box by a foot. A's manager Billy Martin noticed. Martin showed umpire Bill Kunkel that the batter's box was seven feet long instead of six feet. Martin felt that batters being able to move up a foot in the box could cut at pitches before a curveball broke. Wills was suspended for two games and fined $500. In May, while in Arlington, Texas to play the Texas Rangers, the Mariners' uniforms were stolen. 

On May 28th, this happened...

In the sixth inning, Amos Otis of the Kansas City Royals topped a ball down the third-base line. Lenny Randle, the Seattle third baseman, charged the ball, fell on his stomach and appeared to blow the ball into foul territory. Larry McCoy, the home plate umpire, ruled the ball foul, but manager Jim Frey protested. After a discussion, the umpires awarded Otis first base, ruling Randle had illegally altered the course of the ball. Two days later in a game against the Rangers, the Mariners wore their batting practice jerseys, Milwaukee Brewers' caps, and Rangers' batting helmets. The Mariners purchased the Brewers caps at the Rangers' souvenir-stand; the Rangers did not offer Seattle caps for sale.

The only other notable moment came in 1985. On July 9th, in a game between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Mariners at Seattle, Jays catcher Buck Martinez executed a double play by tagging out two runners at home plate. In the third inning, Phil Bradley was on second when Gorman Thomas singled. Bradley was tagged out at home, on a throw from Jesse Barfield to Buck Martinez. There was a collision between Bradley and Martinez; Martinez broke his ankle. Martinez was sitting on the ground in agony and threw the ball to third base in an attempt to tag out Gorman Thomas. The throw went into left field and Thomas ran towards home plate. Toronto left fielder George Bell threw the ball back to Martinez. He was still seated on the ground in pain but was able to tag Gorman Thomas for the second out.

Despite having stars such as Hall of Fame pitcher Gaylord Perry (nicknamed the "Ancient Mariner"), 1984 AL Rookie of the Year Alvin Davis, two-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glove winner Harold Reynolds, three-time American League strikeout leader Mark Langston, and shortstop and team captain Spike Owen on their rosters, the Mariners teams of the entirety of the 1980s were characterized by perennial non-achievement, gaining a reputation for poor performances, low attendance, and losing records. Moreover, the team's ownership again changed hands after the 1988 season, as then-owner George Argyros sold the club to a group headed by communications magnate Jeff Smulyan. However, the 1989 rookie season of center fielder Ken Griffey, Jr., acquired with the first overall pick of the 1987 amateur draft, gave fans hope that a change of fortunes might be on the horizon.

The Mariners since wore the caps for their Turn Back the Clock nights on June 25, 2010 against the Milwaukee Brewers and July 1, 2011 against the San Diego Padres. With all that in mind, it made my markings a bit of a challenge, but I’m pretty happy with my selections and their place in Mariners’ history.

#12- Born and raised in San Diego, California Mark Langston was a second round draft pick by the Mariners out of San Jose State in the 1981 amateur draft. From then until the end of the 1983 season he came up through the ranks of the Mariners’ minor league system, but bypassed AAA altogether when he made is MLB debut on April y, 1984. His most notable season in the minors came in 1982 when he was with the Class-A Bakersfield Mariners and went 12-7 with a 2.54 ERA and 161 strikeouts in 177 1/3 innings.

Langston served as the team’s ace his rookie season, going 17-10 with a 3.04 ERA and a league-leading 202 strikeouts. He ended up finishing in second place for the AL Rookie of the Year Award thanks in part by his jerk of a teammate Alvin Davis who had a great offensive showing. Either way, the important thing to note from the two finishing one-two for the Rookie of the Year Award is that they both beat out Kirby Puckett and Roger Clemens. 1982 proved to be a pretty rough sophomore season for Langston, but he picked his game back up in 1983 when he led the league in strikeouts again with 245. Unfortunately he also led the league in earned runs with 129 as well. Yikes!

In 1987, of course the first year not wearing this cap, Langston had his best year in Seattle, going 19-13 with a 3.84 ERA and once again leading the league in strikeouts with 262. He also made his first All-Star Game appearance and won the first of his back-to-back Gold Gloves. Langston would win seven for his career. But not to sell him short, Langston also finished fifth for the AL Cy Young Award, the highest finish he garner for his career.

Langston went 15-11 with 235 strikeouts in 1988, but got off to a mediocre 4-5 start in 1989 when he found himself on the trading block in July where he was sent to the Montreal Expos along with Mike Campbell for Gene Harris, Brian Holman and Randy Johnson. Langston pitched for 10 more seasons, eight of which came with the California Angels from 1990-1997 when they changed their name to the Anaheim Angels. In 1998 he was a member of the NL pennant-winning San Diego Padres. Noted for his pickoff move to first base, his 91 career pickoffs were, at the time of his retirement, the most in baseball history. Today, he has the fourth-most pickoffs in baseball history, behind only Kenny Rogers, Terry Mulholland and Andy Pettitte, all of them also left-handed pitchers. Currently, Langston serves as a radio color commentator for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim during Angels home games. Starting in 2013, Langston does radio color commentary for all games and is also a co-host of the Angels post-game call-in show Angel Talk on radio station KLAA. He also appeared as himself in an episode of “Sabrina, the Teenage Witch.”

#29- Speaking of players most of you have probably never heard of, Phil Bradley is arguably one of the greatest hitters in the history of the Mariners’ organization. Bradley played high school baseball in Macomb, Illinois for the Macomb High Bombers. Due to his success there, the Macomb High School baseball field was later dedicated in his name. Also a talented football player, he played college football at the University of Missouri in Columbia, Missouri and was their starting quarterback from 1978 through 1980. One of the most decorated athletes in Mizzou history, Bradley lettered in football from 1977-81, and in baseball in 1979-81. Bradley quarterbacked the Tigers to three bowl games. He was a three-time Big Eight Conference "Offensive Player of the Year" and set the conference total offense record at 6,459 yards which stood for 10 years. In baseball, he starred as an outfielder on Mizzou teams that won the Big Eight championship in 1980, and went to the NCAA Tournament in 1980 and 1981.

Bradley was selected in the third round of the 1981 amateur draft by the Mariners and made his Major League debut on September 2, 1983, as a pinch hitter against the New York Yankees. Bradley became Seattle's regular left fielder in 1984, batting .301 in 124 games. In 1985 he hit .300 with career-highs in home runs (26) and RBI (880 in 159 games and was selected to the AL All-Star team. He also finished 16th for the AL MVP that season. On April 29, 1986, Bradley was Roger Clemens' 20th and final strikeout as the pitcher set a major league record for strikeouts in a game. In December of 1987, the Mariners traded Bradley and Tim Fortugno to the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for Mike Jackson, Glenn Wilson, and minor leaguer Dave Brundage.

Bradley hit a respectable .264 in his only season with the Phillies. Almost one year to the day since arriving from the Mariners, the Phillies, desperately in need of pitching help, dealt Bradley to the Baltimore Orioles for Gordon Dillard and Ken Howell. Back in the more familiar AL, Bradley's batting average rose to .277 in his first season in Baltimore. In mid-season 1990, he was traded to the Chicago White Sox for Ron Kittle. His final major league appearance came on September 29, 1990, as he drew two walks and scored a run in a 5-2 White Sox win over the Seattle Mariners. For the Mariners Bradley his .301 lifetime with 52 home runs, 234 RBI and even stole 107 bases.