August 25, 2011
Since it was our 47th wedding anniversary, Pat and I went to dinner Monday night at that great Italian place in Clinton. We ate on the patio. In the opposite corner was a family of four — parents and a teenager of each gender. Before we got there, some guy who was riding a bike along the sidewalk recognized the family and stopped to talk. In fact, he parked the bike and sat down on the brick wall and made himself comfortable. The father in the family act, pretty much ignoring everyone else at the table, spend the time shooting baseball trivia questions at the visitor. I found this a little off-putting, both because he was talking loud enough for us to hear and because of the quality of the questions. What left-handed pitcher won the most games lifetime? Puh-leez! Give me something I can work with, will ya? (By the way, that was Warren Spahn with 363, which is also the greatest number of wins by any pitcher who spent his entire career in the live-ball era.)
Now, me? I would have asked him about Allen Travers, capisce? I was thinking about Travers the other night when the announcers on the Yankee broadcast were obsessing over the fact that Phil Hughes had thrown 106 pitches in a game for the first time this season.
Besides making me worry that Hughes might have to spend the rest of his life with a prosthetic arm, that conversation got me to thinking about all the great performances that would never have taken place if the pitch count had been a part of baseball from the beginning.
I was thinking, for example, about Eddie Rommel — later an American League umpire — who spent 12 years pitching for the Philadelphia Athletics and supposedly invented the knuckle ball as we now know it. In 1932, Rommel came in in relief against the Indians in the second inning, behind 3-2. He pitched 17 innings, gave up 29 hits and 15 runs, and won the game 18-17. The 29 hits allowed is still the single-game record.
Travers was a different matter. He was a student at St. Joseph’s College in Philadelphia in 1912 when Ty Cobb of the Detroit Tigers went into the stands at Hilltop Park in New York to pummel a New York Highlanders fan who had been verbally abusing him during a game. It turned out that the fan had lost one hand and several fingers from the other hand in an industrial accident. Ban Johnson, president of the American League, suspended Cobb indefinitely. When the Tigers were supposed to play the Athletics in Philly a couple of days later the team announced that they wouldn’t take the field until Cobb was re-instated.
The League told the Tigers they faced a $5,000 fine and would forfeit every game until there were players. To avoid the penalties, the Tigers enlisted Allen Travers — non-playing manager of the St. Joseph baseball squad — to round up a team off the streets and sandlots of Philadelphia. The nine guys were signed by the Cardinals. Travers was on the mound, and no one counted his pitches. He pitched eight innings and gave up 24 runs, which is still the major league record. The Athletics won the game, 24-2.
Travers later became a Jesuit and taught in college and high school in New York and Philadelphia. The 24 runs allowed wasn’t his only record. He was also the only major league player to become a Catholic priest.
But who’s counting?
You can read a fuller account of Father Travers’ experience by clicking HERE.
I don’t think many journalists ever interviewed Pete Sheehy, but I was among the few who did. Pete, who was the clubhouse man at Yankee Stadium for about seven decades, didn’t like to talk, and I suppose that accounts for the fact that he made only rare appearances in print. I arranged an interview through a mutual friend, and I wasn’t with Pete for very long before I realized what a challenge I had taken on. In fact, Pete was forthright about it — in his way. He told me that he figured he had kept his job for so long, being in the confidence of members of the Yankees and, for a time, the football New York Giants, because he knew how to keep his mouth shut. Whatever he knew about Babe Ruth, Billy Martin, and Mickey Mantle, he kept it to himself.
He didn’t have to say any more. “Joe” meant DiMaggio, and his choice didn’t surprise me. My father had been a Yankee fan since the Ruth era, too, and although I never asked him, I am confident that he would have said “Joe” too — despite a reverence for Lou Gehrig.
DiMaggio had an outstanding career. He was among the very best hitters, baserunners, and outfielders of his time or any time. Not the very best, necessarily, but one of the best. As Kostya Kennedy mentions in his book, 56: Joe DiMaggio and the Last Magic Number in Sports, a poll taken in 1969 named DiMaggio the “greatest living baseball player.” DiMaggio believed it; he was that kind of a guy. But there were skeptics who noted, for instance, that Ted Williams, DiMaggio’s contemporary, outstripped the Yankee in every major hitting category and had a longer career, despite combat duty tours in two wars.
If there is an inequity in the way DiMaggio is regarded, it may be attributed at least in part to the fact that he played for the New York Yankees while they were the preeminent team in baseball if not in sports in general. DiMaggio appeared in 10 World Series in his 13 years in the majors.
But the primary reason for the aura around Joe DiMaggio may be the record he set 60 years ago this season — the record that was the occasion for Kennedy’s book. In the 1941 campaign, DiMaggio got a base hit in 56 consecutive games.
To put that record in context, Kennedy points out that more than 17,000 men have played Major League baseball, and only DiMaggio has achieved it. The only others to come close were Willie Keeler, who hit in 44 straight games in 1897 in the dead-ball era, and Pete Rose, who hit in 44 in 1978. (Keeler’s streak began on the first day of the ’97 season, so the hit he got in the last game in ’96 puts his official record at 45.)
The subtitle of Kennedy’s book refers to the fact that while DiMaggio’s record once formed a holy trinity with Babe Ruth’s single-season and lifetime home run records, Ruth’s marks have been exceeded several times and in some cases under questionable circumstances. DiMaggio’s 56 is the only individual record of its kind still standing.
Kennedy describes in his very literate book the atmosphere in which the streak occurred. It captured the attention of the whole country — and even folks in some other countries. DiMaggio’s sizable family, people who were tight with him, baseball fans, and people who didn’t know anything else about him or the game were all caught up in his day-day-progress. Everywhere, Kennedy writes, people stopped to ask each other: “Did he get a hit today?”
And, as Kennedy artfully shows, this didn’t happen in a vacuum. In 1941, there was something far more ponderous on people’s minds — the increasing aggression of Nazi Germany. The idea that the United States could stay out of the war seemed more and more like wishful thinking as American plants turned out material to assist the European allies and as more and more American men were drafted into military service. DiMaggio’s streak was a fortuitous respite in such an atmosphere — the counterpart, in a way, to Susan Boyle’s triumph on Britain’s Got Talent in the midst of worldwide recession and seemingly pointless wars.
The streak served another purpose, too. It was something for Italian-Americans to cling with pride as they — thanks to Benito Mussolini – came under the same kind of suspicion that was being directed at Americans of Japanese and German background. Even at that, DiMaggio’s own father, Giuseppe, who had made his living as a commercial fisherman, was placed under wartime restrictions that kept him from approaching San Francisco Bay.
In telling this story, Kennedy carefully constructs a portrait of DiMaggio that isn’t at all endearing. DiMaggio was a cold fish. He was known from his youth for his spells of silence. Kennedy writes a lot about DiMaggio’s relationship with his first wife, movie actress Dorothy Arnold, and that isn’t a happy tale. DiMaggio — in spite of the girls he invited to his hotel rooms — missed Dorothy when he was on the road. But when he was home, he stifled her, resented her, and often subjected her to his emotional and sometimes his physical absence.
This book is peppered with the interesting characters who played large and small parts in DiMaggio’s life — his relatives, including his major league brothers, Don and Vince; his somewhat “connected” Italian-American friends in Newark; his fans — not the least of whom were the boys Mario Cuomo and Gay Talese; and, of course, his fellow ballplayers: Gehrig, Phil Rizzuto, and DiMaggio’s wacky road-trip roommate, Lefty Gomez.
On the field, DiMaggio appeared impassive as the streak progressed. If a pitcher had boasted that he would stop DiMaggio, and DiMaggio got a hit off him, there would be none of the fist pumping that cheapens the game today. Inside, however, Kennedy writes, DiMaggio’s stomach was often in knots. And, of course, if he didn’t have to talk about the streak, he didn’t:
” ’You nervous about the streak?’ a reporter would call out and it would be Lefty who would turn and reply, ‘Joe? Nah, he’s fine. Me? I threw up my breakfast.’ “
April 30, 2011
I get that. Ruth may not have had it all — he wasn’t much of a base stealer — but he had more of it than anyone else. There’s no point in arguing about it. I love Aaron, Mays, Banks, and Mantle as much as the next fellow, but none of them went 94-46 with a 2.16 ERA before becoming one of the best hitters in history and a fine outfielder to boot. In addition to that, his bombastic personality and his enormous charity revitalized a flagging game in a way that no one else could have done, making his name familiar to people around the globe — down to our own time — no matter how much or how little they know about baseball.
I get that. John McGraw didn’t get that. McGraw was the manager and a part owner of the New York Giants, and he was by reputation one of the best skippers ever. He believed in “scientific baseball,” which was the only way to play the game successfully in the dead-ball era. McGraw was all about place-hitting, bunting, stealing, studying your opponents and taking advantage of their weaknesses.
McGraw was not about the long ball — especially not the home run — which was coming into vogue at the beginning of the 1920s. As Robert Weintraub explains in this lively and entertaining book, Babe Ruth – the first home run hitter par excellence - represented to McGraw the ruin of the game. McGraw, by Weintraub’s account, despised Ruth, called him a “baboon” and a “bum,” and predicted that he would hit into a hundred double plays a year.
Weintraub’s book covers the 1923 season, the Yankees’ first season in the original Yankee Stadium – not the knockoff they play in now. The team first appeared in the city when three New York guys bought the minor league Baltimore Orioles franchise and moved it north in 1903. The Highlanders, as they were known for most of the first decade, played in Hilltop Park — the present site of the Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center — until 1913, when they moved into the Polo Grounds as tenants of the Giants. At the point at which Weintraub picks up the story, McGraw was fed up with the Yankees in general and Ruth in particular.
McGraw, as Weintraub recounts, was accustomed to being the toast of the town, and he became increasingly agitated as the Yankees gained in popularity. By 1921, he engineered the Giants management’s decision to tell the Yankees to move out of the Polo Grounds. This, it turned out, was a serious error, because it spurred Jacob Ruppert and Cap Huston — whom McGraw had inspired to buy the Yankees — to build Yankee Stadium just across the Harlem River.
McGraw had a brief period of satisfaction left to him, because the Giants and Yankees won their respective pennants in 1921 and 1922, so that the whole World Series was played in the Polo Grounds, where Giants pitching made a monkey of Ruth. After the ’22 affair, there was widespread talk that the Babe was through.
In the ’23 season, though, Ruth — seriously chastened by his failures — made at least a show of curbing his appetites — sexual and otherwise — and he tore the league apart, winning the Most Valuable Player award. The rest of the Yankees, led by their dour little manager, Miller Huggins, had an outstanding year, and the momentum carried them to a World Series win that finally took the wind out of McGraw. McGraw was so bitter that he made the Giants dress at the Polo Grounds for the away games and cab it over to Yankee Stadium. The manager himself walked across the Macombs Dam Bridge.
The only bright spot for McGraw in that ’23 series was his reserve outfielder, “Casey” Stengel, who hit two game-winning home runs, one of them inside the park. During the off season, McGraw traded the aging Stengel to the Braves. “It’s a good thing I didn’t hit three home runs,” Casey said. “McGraw might have sent me out of the country.”
This is a colorful book, loaded with the characters of the ’20s – Warren G. Harding, Charles Chaplin, Damon Runyon, Fanny Brice. And, of course, all those ballplayers – Frankie Frisch, Bob and “Irish” Meusel, Everett “Iron Man” Scott, George “Highpockets” Kelly.
The real heart of this book, though, is found in the stories of McGraw and Ruth, two low-born, hard drinking, brawlers who clawed their way to the top where their lives intersected at a pivotal time in baseball in general and in New York baseball in particular.
March 10, 2011
But to put that story in context, Scolari told me that his father — attorney Art Scolari — had played baseball at East Side High School in Paterson (this would have been long before Joe Clark got there) and then was an All-American shortstop at Drew University. Paterson? I was born in Paterson. My dad, who was about 13 years older than Art Scolari, went to Central High School where he ran track — particularly relays — and later managed a semi-pro baseball team that played all around the Paterson area.
I haven’t told Peter Scolari this yet, but after our conversation, my web browser stumbled on a story in a 1939 issue of the old Daily Record of Red Bank, N.J., reporting that a teenager named Lawrence Mahoney, who was from Lincroft, had successfully defended his state horseshoe pitching championship for the fifth time in a row. It was no snap, according to the story: breathing down Mahoney’s neck was 15-year-old Art Scolari of Paterson. Mahoney was 9-0 in the tournament; Scolari was 8-1.
I could have talked about baseball all night — it’s one of my many excuses to talk too much — but I was at the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick to talk to Peter Scolari about his current project, a production of Ken Ludwig’s new play, “Fox on the Fairway.” This play, with a golf theme, had its world premiere last year in Washington, D.C. It’s a farce, and that’s a word that sends up the skyrockets, because farce done badly — or even done “all right” — is a painful experience for an audience. I’ve been there. Scolari, who knows a lot more about it than I do, made that point: “I don’t like to see a farce in which folks do an okay job. I’ll watch ‘The Sunshine Boys’ or ‘The Odd Couple’ and have a great time if everybody does a ‘good’ job. If I go to a farce and everybody does a ‘good’ job, I think, ‘Why did you do this?’ “
I’ve read Ludwig’s play, but reading farce is like reading a recipe. It lays out the parts and the moves, but it can’t even hint at the reality. I have also read at least one negative review of the Washington production, but the fact that a farce doesn’t work with one company doesn’t mean it won’t work with another. Ludwig, after all, is the author of “Lend Me a Tenor” and “Crazy for You,” both of which won him Tony awards. And Scolari knows a thing or three about playing comedy in general and farce in particular.
Scolari first drew national attention in 1980 when he co-starred with Tom Hanks in “Bosom Buddies,” a TV sit-com about two young men who dress in drag so they can live in a women-only hotel where the rent is dirt cheap and about what they can afford. The show, which lasted a couple of seasons, was indirectly inspired by the Billy Wilder movie “Some Like it Hot.” Since then, Scolari has put together a long resume of television and stage appearances, mostly in comedies, including 142 episodes of Bob Newhart’s second hit series, “Newhart.”
Talking to Scolari, who is witty, thoughtful, and articulate, was an entertainment in itself. If I weren’t aware that I was keeping him from his train after he had spent a full day of rehearsal, I would have prompted him to talk for another hour, just so I could listen. If I had had unlimited time and he had had unlimited patience, I would have steered him back around to baseball, because no sport lends itself to talk as well as baseball does, and my guess is that Scolari appreciates that as much as I do. I asked him which New York team he roots for now that he is living on the East Coast again after his sojourn in California. He could have simply said that he roots for the Yankees, but this wasn’t a guy answering questions. This was a guy talking baseball:
“I follow the Yankees. I make no apologies about it, but they’re not the Yankees. For me the Yankees who owned my heart ended with the captain, with Thurman Munson. I never got over that, to be honest with you, as a fan. So you come back, and they’re your team, and they’re in the Bronx, and that’s really important — but it’s not quite the same.”
December 1, 2010
While I wasn’t paying attention, Gil McDougald slipped away. The news got away from me over the weekend, and I did not hear until this afternoon that the former Yankee infielder had died on Sunday.
I saw Gil play many times in the 1950s, when my father used to take me to Yankee Stadium as often as three times a week. We looked at ballplayers differently then. We admired players like Gil, of course. How could we not have admired a guy who played second, short, and third at a championship level? But, aside from their prowess on the field, we didn’t think of them as being remote from our place in the world. They were celebrities, but not in the way that term is understood today.
McDougald had a business on the side; I think it was called Yankee Maintenance Service. One of his clients was the bank around the corner from our house, and we’d often see the blue Volkswagen bus parked outside while the crew was cleaning the place. Once in a while, Gil would stop by to make sure his customer was satisfied with the service. It wasn’t the sort of thing Alex Rodriguez does with his time.
The news stories about Gil’s death have reported that he played on a bunch of championship teams with Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, and Yogi Berra. But he also played with Hank Bauer, Bill Skowron, and Andy Carey — just guys playing ball, like Gil.
I went to see Gil at his place of business long after he had retired from baseball. He told me that at the end of his ten-year career with the Yankees, Gene Autry offered to double his annual salary if he would play two more years with the fledgling Angels in California. Autry wanted names on the roster. Gil — a family man par excellence — said he wouldn’t disrupt his household for that price.
Gil McDougald was an All-Star at three infield positions. The only other man who can make that claim is Pete Rose. When Casey Stengel said, after the Yankees had beaten the Braves in the 1958 World Series, “I couldn’t have done it without the players,” he was talking about Gil as much as about anyone else. And when I remember those hazy afternoons in the Stadium that greed has torn down, the guy out there gunning one over to Joe Collins, that’ll always be Gil.
July 12, 2010
I spent a Yankee game in 1972 sitting next to Bob Sheppard in the booth from which he announced the players and sent other pertinent information rolling through the stadium like summer waves rippling along a shore. He was, as many have been saying in the wake of his death, a gentleman. He began his career at Yankee Stadium in 1951 – the same year that my father took me there for the first of many times. That means something to me, because Bob, with his courtly manners, his precise diction, and his John Barrymore tone, fit right into the atmosphere in the stadium at that time. As it turned out, he worked long enough to be the last vestige of the mood of those days, when many men came to the ballpark in suits and ties and many women in objects of finery from that now nearly extinct artisan — the milliner.
Bob, who taught speech at the university level, had a great respect for words, including proper names, and he didn’t understand people who didn’t share that feeling. He told me that when Mark Belanger of the Baltimore Orioles made his first appearance at Yankee Stadium – probably in 1965 – Bob approached him and asked whether the name was pronounced Bel-ANN-zher, BEL-un-zher, or Bel-un-ZHAY. Belanger, who was to become one of the great defensive shortstops in American League history, said that some people pronounced the name one way, some another. Bob persisted, asking how Belanger wanted it pronounced, and was scandalized when the young man didn’t seem to care. Belanger himself pronounced it Bel-ANN-zher, so that’s the pronunciation Bob used.
Bob was known for several traits, including his religious devotion and his dependability. He told me, though, about an incident in which the Yankees had scheduled a 5 p.m. start for a twi-night double-header to make up for a rainout. Bob had forgotten to put the change in his date book. The phone rang at his Long Island home, and the caller — a member of the Yankee staff — asked what Bob was doing. “I’m just putting a steak on the grill for dinner,” Bob said. “That’s nice,” said the caller. “We’re in the second inning.”
There has been a lot published today about how various baseball personalities regarded Sheppard. My favorites were from Oscar Gamble, who used to refer to Bob as “the man upstairs” and from Reggie Jackson, who said that when Bob said “44,” he made it into a bigger number. You can read Bob’s obituary by clicking HERE.
One of the wonderful things about baseball is that it provides players with so many ways to be remembered — and many of those ways have little or nothing to do with success on the field.
Herm Doscher was an example. So was his son, Jack. In fact, together they constitute one example, because they were the first father and son combination to play the major leagues. Herm played third base for five different teams in the National Association and the National League from 1872 to 1882 – a spotty career for which there don’t seem to be a lot of statistics – and he was later a major league umpire. He was reputed to be hard-nosed in that role. He once ejected Rochester Broncos outfielder Sandy Griffin for arguing a call and, when Griffin wouldn’t leave the field, Doschler forfeited the game to the St. Louis Browns — who were leading 10-3 in the eighth inning anyway.
Jack Doscher (actually John Henry Doscher Jr.) was a pitcher from 1903 to 1908 with three teams including the Brooklyn Superbas, appearing in only 27 games. Doscher died in 1971 at the age of 90 and was at one point recognized as the oldest surviving player for the Brooklyn Dodgers, successors to the Superbas.
The Doschers come to mind today because Major League Baseball announced this evening that Yankees outfielder Nick Swisher had been elected to the All Star Team. Whatever one thinks of the wacky manner in which those players are chosen these days, Swisher last season and this has made a good case for himself on the field. This is the first time Nick Swisher has been named to the All Star team, and it puts him in an exclusive baseball group — fathers and sons who have made the team. Swisher’s dad, Steve – a National League catcher for 10 years in the ’70s and ’80s – was on the 1976 team when he was with the Cubs, although he didn’t get to play. One of Steve Swisher’s colleagues on that ’76 team was Ken Griffey Sr., whose son also became an All Star — many times.
Altogether, 195 men who have played in the majors had sons who followed. A handful had two sons make it to the bigs. Three men — Sammy Hairston, Ray Boone, and Gus Bell — sent sons and grandsons to the majors. The Hairstons hold the record for multigenerational families with five major league players, although the Delahanty family had five of the same generation.
The Swishers are the tenth family to have a father and at least one son on the All Star team. (There have been three such families in the World Series.)
I was introduced to baseball by my father, who had managed a semi-pro team and knew a lot about the game. I would like to have been a better baseball player for his sake, but that gene went missing. Dad never expressed any disappointment about my weak performance; he wasn’t cut out that way. We made up for it with the many hours we spent together watching the Yankees in the Bronx and on TV or listening to them on the radio in our grocery store. We did other things together, but baseball provided the strongest bond. Dad’s been gone for more than 30 years, but I still watch baseball with him in mind. Meanwhile, it’s fun to speculate about the satisfaction Steve Swisher must be deriving from Nick’s success in general and from this benchmark in particular.
On April 19, I wrote about a 22-inning baseball game in 1962 in which the Yankees beat the Tigers, 9-7, thanks to the only home run of Jack Reed’s career. I mentioned in that post that Tigers outfielder Rocky Colavito went seven-for-ten in that game. That attracted a response from Gloria, who is a member of a group that is campaigning for the Veterans Committee to elect Colavito to the National Baseball Hall of Fame this year.
It’s well known by now that the Hall of Fame is not the Hall of Justice. I have commented here, for example, on the fact that Pete Rose — an obnoxious SOB, but one of the best hitters of all time — is ineligible because he gambled on baseball, but Adrian “Cap” Anson stares smugly from his plaque despite his critical role in keeping two or three generations of black players out of the major leagues. So if Rocky Colavito hasn’t been elected, there is no reason to be surprised.
I have a good perspective on this question, because I saw Colavito play at Yankee Stadium many times. I was fortunate enough to have a father who was devoted to both baseball and the Yankees, and at one point in the 1950s and 1960s, we attended an average of three games a week when the Yankees were home. We saw Colavito through most of his career.
Colavito’s stats as a hitter and as a fielder speak for themselves. They are readily available on the Internet, so I won’t recite them all here. I will mention that in 116 years, only 15 men have hit four home runs in one game; Colavito was one of them. That in itself doesn’t qualify him for the Hall of Fame, but in the context of the career he had at the plate, it can’t be ignored. The feat was first accomplished by Bobby Lowe of the Boston Beaneaters in 1894. Lowe was playing in the dead-ball era, but he was also playing in Boston’s Congress Street Park, which had a short left-field line. All four of his homers were hit to left. The only other player in the 19th century to hit four home runs in one game was Ed Delahanty of the Phillies, who did it in 1896. Records are incomplete, but it is known that at least two of Delahanty’s homers that day were inside the park.
Another thing that distinguishes Colavito’s share of this record is that he is one of only six men in major league history to hit four home runs in consecutive at-bats in a single game. The others were Lowe, Lou Gehrig, Mike Schmidt, Mike Cameron, and Carlos Delgado. As rare an accomplishment as that is, it was typical of Colavito in the sense that he always brought excitement to the game; he put derrières in the seats, as it were, and it’s hard to calculate the value of that. It’s unusual for the fans at a baseball stadium to jump to their feet because of an outfielder’s throw, but Colavito’s arm was a high-caliber gun, and I was often among those who bolted out of our seats when he uncorked one toward the infield.
Rocky Colavito belongs in the Hall of Fame. If you want to read more about Colavito or sign a petition to the Veterans Committee, you can do both at THIS SITE.
April 19, 2010
The 20-inning game the Mets won on Saturday got me to thinking about a 22-inning game between the Yankees and the Tigers in June 1962. I was watching that game at home, but I left, drove about 10 miles to visit a friend for several hours, and then drove home and found my brother watching the Yankees and the Tigers. That was long before VCRs and the YES Network’s “encores,” and I was dumbfounded when Tony told me it was the same game I had been watching before I left. It ended exactly seven hours after it had started. The Yankees won, 9-7.
As if the game wasn’t enough of a curiosity in itself, the way it ended was one of those delightful surprises that baseball is so good at providing. For a few years back then, the Yankees carried on their roster an outfielder named Jack Reed, whose job was to play center field in the very late innings so that Mickey Mantle, near the end of his career, could rest his battered and diseased legs.
Nothing more was expected of Reed, and usually nothing more was forthcoming. But the young man from Silver City, Mississippi, picked the top of the 22nd inning in that game to hit the only home run of his career, providing the Yankees with the runs they needed to win. Reed, incidentally, may not have spent much time in major league baseball, but he is one of a handful of players who can boast of appearing in both the World Series and a college bowl game – three games with the Yankees in the 1961 fall classic, and the 1953 Sugar Bowl with Ole Miss.
Yankee third baseman Cletis Boyer had hit a three-run homer in the first inning off Tigers starter Frank Lary, who was usually hard on the Yankees.
And while Rocky Colavito probably would have said that he’d rather the Tigers had won, even if he had gone hitless — ballplayers always say things like that — he had one of the biggest days of his career, collecting seven hits in ten times at bat. Meanwhile, the Tigers pitchers held the Yankees scoreless for 19 consecutive innings in that game — two shutouts, end to end.
Another note: Yogi Berra, who was 37 years old, caught the complete game.
The news that Chan Ho Park has signed to pitch for the Yankees got me to thinking about men from other countries who have played in the Bigs. Players from the Spanish-speaking Americas and from the Caribbean have been around the majors for a long time, but the signing of Park shows that there are still frontiers to be crossed: He is the first big-league player to have been born in South Korea — or in any Korea, for that matter.
The first player from outside the United States was probably Andy Leonard, who was a native of County Cavin, Ireland. Leonard broke in in 1876 as a second baseman and left fielder with the Boston Red Caps and appeared with that team until 1878. In 1880 he played shortstop and third base with the original Cincinnati Red Stockings.
Although Leonard was born on the Auld Sod, he was raised in Newark, N.J., and got some of his early playing experience with a club in Irvington. In ’76, when he broke into the majors, five other players from Ireland appeared with major league teams, along with five from England and one from Germany, which means that England and Ireland had more representatives in the big leagues than all but four states of the Union — New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and New Jersey.
Other than the United States, the Dominican Republic has contributed the most players to the Major Leagues — 494 through the 2009 season. Venezuela is second with 246 and Canada is third with 225. Puerto Rico, which is part of the United States, has chipped in with 228.
Considering all the Italian-Americans who have played Major League baseball — not the least of whom were the three DiMaggio brothers — it’s curious to find that there have been only six players who were born in Italy. The first of these was Lou Polli, who was born in Baveno, which is up there in the Piedmont region. Polli pitched a few innings of relief for the St. Louis Browns in 1932 and didn’t appear again until 1944 — a war year in which a lot of guys who otherwise wouldn’t have been in baseball got a crack at it while the regulars were Over There. In ’44, Polli pitched almost 36 innings for the Giants.
The most successful Italian-born player was Reno Bertoia, who might as well have been a Canadian inasmuch as his family moved there when Reno was a year old. He was born in St. Vito al Tagliamento in the comune of Udine, which is near the border of Slovenia. He played in the big leagues from 1953 to 1962, the first six and last two of those years with the Tigers. He was an infielder — a second and third baseman — and he had a lifetime batting average of .244 over 612 games. After he retired from baseball, he was a Catholic-school teacher for 30 years in Windsor.
The Baseball Almanac has a lot of stats about foreign-born baseball players at THIS LINK.