Friday, June 22, 2012

Settle Down, Young Man: Bob Oldis Takes Down My Father-in-Law

Posting about ttm successes is cool, but I also just enjoy hanging out over beers and telling people stories that ballplayers share. Awhile back I was with my father-in-law and told him about my plans to write IA sports legend Bob Oldis. For context, Iowans tend to be sports nuts and when I'm out-and-about with family up there the people around me frequently do things like watch grainy footage of high school football games from the 1950s, attend jv girls basketball games at 4 PM on a Thursday, pay 5 figures for the local bar to bring in an Australian ringer for its men's fast-pitch softball team, and stay up until 3 AM following the LA Dodgers. In a sports-mad society like Iowa, it's no exaggeration to state that former major leaguer and baseball lifer like Bob Oldis really is a legend.

Despite this status or perhaps because of it, Oldis apparently did a lot of refereeing for high school sports in and around Iowa City. Coincidentally, the father-in-law was a coach in Iowa City during the 70s and 80s. The story goes that one year the father-in-law coached the freshman team to a victory over the sophomore team during the high school's annual intra-squad game. A big Saturday morning event, parents show up, the cheerleaders are there, and the school even hired refs. Like you can imagine, the freshmen upsetting the sophs was a big deal, and it helped that the father-in-law's 9th graders were led by Mark Gannon, one of the top 20 all-time basketball players from the state and future 8th Round pick of the now LA Clippers in 1983. With Gannon now a sophomore, the father-in-law had to prove it was his coaching, not Gannon's skills that led the freshmen team to victory the previous year.

So it was on. Screaming, yelling, trash-talking, riding the refs, all for a game played between members of the same team at the same high school on a Saturday morning in the late-1970s. The ref, however, was Bob Oldis, and after my father-in-law began calling for a lane violation after a certain play he blew his whistle, walked over to the bench, and said something like the following: "Now settle down, son. It's early on a Saturday morning and none these people came to see you." He then blew his whistle and play resumed.

You can imagine, of course, I typed all of this up and sent it to Bob Oldis.
For starters, he laid a sweet signature on his 1953 rookie card for me. Does the farmhouse beyond the OF wall say "I'm gonna make this guy look like he's from IA" or what?

I asked him about his one career SB attempt which came with the Phillies in 1962 and resulted in a CS. He responded that the hit-and-run sign was one but didn't name the name of the batter who busted the play (he's a consummate pro!).

He had a seven-year career, posting a career slash of 237/297/275, but one of the more feared defensive catchers of the day. For example, during Maury Wills's record setting 1962 season when he stole 104 bases in 117 attempts, Oldis gunned him down twice. The secret to throwing runners out, Oldis said, is "Being in position to throw the ball and quick feet." 

He also added the following note to the bottom of the page:

"Tell father-in-law, Dean, Hello--Those were great days and Dean was always great. Thanks, Bob Oldis"

Very, vey cool. 

Going fishing for the next few, so I hope everyone has a great weekend. And goodnight Pumpsie Green, wherever you are!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Last Game of Catch

While revising my manuscript I have several rituals I engage in to break my concentration, relax, and come back fresh in 15 minutes. My favorite is walking to the street to see if the mail is here. The mail came early today, so I spent some time throwing a baseball to myself in the backyard. This got me thinking back to last week and some time I spent with my dad.

My father has been legally blind for most of his life. During the Vietnam War he was classified 4-F for the draft, meaning he was exempted from service because he just couldn't see. At any rate, coke-bottle glasses and all, he taught me how to love and play baseball, and during the summer when I was a kid he'd come home from work and we'd frequently play catch in the backyard. Looking back I now realized he managed although the ball was something of a shapeless white blur for him. He managed because he enjoyed the game and loved being in the yard with me.

Looking forward to being home this summer, I thought a lot about how great to would be to play catch with the old man. As far as I can remember the last time we were out there together was about a decade ago. He's in good health but, realistically, he's about to hit 70. We've got more days behind us than are ahead of us.

So last week we went outside. He tossed me the ball from about 35 feet away. I threw it back and hit him in the chest. He picked it up, moved closer, threw it back. Realizing something was wrong I tossed it really soft and he kind of swatted at it as it went by, saying "I can't see it too well." He retrieved the ball, sent it to me again, and we repeated the process. I guess he could get it to me because I stood out against the landscape into which the ball, leaving my hand, simply disappeared. I don't know why but after no more than 4 throws the compa came out and said something needed fixing with one of the lights in the house. We kid that she's "The A#1 Best Wife in the World" for doing stupid things like going to the autofest with me yesterday, but what makes her special is, for example, how she bailed my father and I out of a situation neither of us could handle. My father and I both knew it was over, there will be no more games of catch in the yard, but because of the compa we didn't have to admit that to each other, maybe not even to ourselves. We went inside to look at a bum light, not because my dad can no longer see.

Garfoose (Dirk Hayhurst) has a similar enough story in his book, which makes me think this story happens more often to us than we commonly acknowledge. At any rate, Garfoose's story helped me get through this. Maybe some day someone else will come face-to-face with their father's mortality in a game of catch, come across this post, and take a bit of comfort from the fact we all do this, knowingly or unknowingly.  Life gives you the promise of an infinite number of games of catch with your father until there are no more and the number is frozen forever.

If you've got kids, go out tonight and play a game of catch. It's simple, it's stupid, but one day it'll mean the world to them.

Baseball, Apple Pie,...Bill Murray? SAL AS Fanfest

Yesterday I was fortunate to be able to head down to the Joe (where the Riverdogs play) for the official SAL AS fanfest. I will admit: I wasn't there for the video games, jump castles, or slides, just the autos and a chance to talk to a player or two.

The players came in on a parade led by bagpipers from the police department. Honestly, they really made a big deal of it, which was cool. I'm always shocked there aren't more folks at these evens, even if it's only A-ball, but the compa (who came with) reminded me that real people work. The point is well taken.

Anyway, there's a good local-news report here. At around the 38 second point there's even a clip of yours truly showing off my cards (at that point unsigned!) for the camera.

Here are some of the cards afterwards:
And yes, that bottom card IS Bill Murray, who was in attendance. He's part-owner and officially the Director of Fun. That mostly means he shows up and does Bill Murray things like this. When we met him he was singing Adele and encouraged us to go tarp sliding during a rain delay should the opportunity ever arise. I pointed out we'd get arrested, but he didn't seem to think that was a problem. In an alternate reality I'm already pondering how the "Bill Murray Defense" would hold up in court.

Other highlights: 
Telling Braves prospect David Filak I enjoyed watching him pitch back on May 20. That game was the Evan Rutckyj rules the world game (8K in 5 IP) and Filak only allowed 2 ER. Great pitching matchup.

Also got to chat up Riverdogs Mason Williams  for a sec and asked if he really is related to Walt "No Neck" Willams. Turns out he is. 

And finally, getting to tell Delino DeShields, Jr. how much I loved watching his dad back in the day. Having come of age in early-90s baseball, there were fewer guys this side of Rickey Henderson more exciting than Sr. He even signed one of my two AS balls right on the sweet spot. Very cool!

In total, with the compa's help I got signed Riverdogs cards for myself and the proprietor of The Lost Collector, as well as two AS Logo SAL balls that have the signatures of both North and South teams between the two of them. Overall a great day!

Have a good one everybody and goodnight Pumpsie Green, wherever you are!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Hellickson to the DL?

Oh no. I'll be off in a corner crying into my Miller High Life.

The SAL HR Derby was Where?

The rumors are true. It WAS on a decommissioned aircraft carrier. My hometown rag has a good write-up here. It was cool but also very strange. There was no way to tell what would/wouldn't count as a HR, and as it turns out it was only the first round. Who knew? But the event was incredibly well organized and, well, was on an aircraft carrier!

I'm obviously not one of the paid photogs, but this will kind of give you an idea. There were boats, jet skis, and Coast Guard out in the harbor to collect the balls.

The most awesome thing was just mingling with the players. I didn't try for any autos b/c there's a special fanfest tomorrow for that, but it was awesome to just see them hanging out. A lot of them were non-AS just there to support their teammates, there were a number of girlfriends and wives, a number of parents. After the derby we were all just kind of up there in the afternoon sky.

On the way out I grabbed this pic of players for the WV Power heading out. 
As you can tell, in single-A you gotta carry your own bats to and from the derby! Bet it's not like that in the majors.

Have a good one everybody and goodnight Pumpsie Green, wherever you are!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Happy Fathers Day

My Dad doesn't read the blog or know I have one, but:

We (Dad, friend Fernando, Mom, and I) just stayed up watching the SC-FL game. It's 1 AM, everyone has gone to bed, tomorrow we're scheduled to go to breakfast and watch Bang the Drum Slowly. Thanks, Dad, for always being there when it counted. Nobody is perfect, but you're a good approximation. Thanks for teaching me about baseball, the game, your memories, and the memories we've made together. Thanks for everything. Staying up WAY past the christian hour to go to sleep reminded me how much a stupid game can mean to folks and their kids.

Daddy D, thanks for being a stand-up father-in-law, I couldn't have gotten luckier as a son-in-law. looking forward to seeing you in a few weeks. Remember: I married her because her dad has a fabulous bb card collection!

And R., thanks to you, too. Not everyone follows baseball, but nobody is perfect (see above). Maybe I'll pay closer attention to football next year?!

And: props to all the players, dads and non-dads. Without you, what would the rest of us spend endless hours recounting and arguing about?

Again finally: happy father's day to all you bloggers out there!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

When cards were cards: Birdie Tebbetts

Been way too focused on ttms lately and want to get back to appreciating other kinds of cardboard. Cards like this 1952 Bowman Birdie Tebbetts (SABR bio here).
We've got two kinds of writing here: the Bowman "Birdie Tebbetts" facsimile signature and the note that Tebbetts went on to become manager of the Cincinnati Reds. The latter is written lightly in pencil, then traced over in pen. It kind of foreshadows the 1970's Topps Traded cards and recalls a time when cards were for keeping track of players and their stats. Guy changes teams and/or positions? Just add it to the card. What's curious (to me, anyway) is that there is no position listed on the front of the 1952 Bowmans, but this kid added it on between 1954 and 1958 (the years he managed the Reds). Kinda cool when you think about it. I mean, when was the last time you wrote on a card? Sometimes I think we could use a lot more of this in the hobby and our lives in general.

Trivia: Tebbetts was even on the cover of Time in 1957.

Have a good one everybody and goodnight Pumpsie Green, wherever you are! 

Monday, June 11, 2012

Ticket to ride: Going to some games

Just got a flight to Baltimore for the O's-Rays series in July. Lord, oh Lord am I excited!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Wait, you were hit twice?: TTM from Tom Saffell

As I revise my book MS the compa let me take on a special ttm project for the summer to keep my mind occupied: writing men listed in the list of the 100 oldest MLB players, limited to guys who have some sort of cardboard icon out there. It gives me a focus to obsess about, prevents me from drowning in the open-ended process of revisions that do not have an open-ended deadline, and gives me a solid excuse to walk out to the mailbox and clear my thoughts every hour or so.

The latest success came courtesy of Mr. Tom Saffell. He had a four-year MLB career with the Pirates and KC-A's, compiling a slash line of .238/.293/.216. However, he played in the minors until his 40s (even rambling through my neck of the woods in ND in 1962!) and managed into the 1970's. He's got a great bio up at the SABR project, so I'll let that speak for itself. Apparently he's also something of a baseball collector!

So, here's the 1951 Bowman Mr. Saffell signed for me. The scan is super-high res, so the actual card isn't as washed out as it looks:
And I was particularly excited to see if he'd write me after I read the back:
Yep, he spent time down here in Charleston, SC. And he DID write!

His best moment in the game was taking the field for the first time with the Prirates at Wrigley Field against the Cubs in 1949. 

And what does he remember most about his time down here in Charleston?
  • I was hit in the head twice in the same game - both times sliding into second base trying to break up a double play.

That must be a record of some sort, but it's certainly something memorable! And when you think about it, it demonstrates that Mr. Saffell was a tough-as-nails kind of player. Hit twice in the head breaking up double plays in the same game? That's a guy who's definitely putting winning above all else.

And speaking of hard-nosed baseball, he was a hard-nosed manager as well, incurring a 30-game suspension for not allowing his team to play the day after a bad call cost them a game there the night prior. Have you ever heard of that? I asked him why no one does that anymore:
  • Because it will cost them too much money in fines plus suspensions plus the loss of the game which the club loses 9-0, also the umpires today are much better. They go through much better training!

A great response on a lot of levels. Today's managers get ejected as a show, but I think he's right that the high salaries prevent them from really making a point. And the umpires? They're also better today! 

Thanks again Mr. Saffell!

Have a good one everybody and good night Pumpsie Green, wherever you are!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Post #501: News of Pumpsie Green

Now that I'm more settled I'm editing my manuscript for publication. This entails a set work schedule in which I've included time to blog and send out an obscene amount of ttms. Otherwise I'd go crazy. You know what they say about work, Jack, and being a dull boy.

I've had the addy for awhile, but recently took the plunge and wrote to the one and only Pumpsie Green. Despite the mythology I'd like to believe about Green, teammate Gene Conley, and an ill-fated attempt to reach enlightenment on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, the raw data of the matter concern two men stuck in traffic on a team bus and a desire to go AWOL and have a few drinks.

Pumpsie Green was and is a ballplayer who during a 5-year career with the Red Sox and Mets amassed a respectable .721 OPS and a 95 OPS+. His best season was perhaps 1961, when he had a slash line of .260/.376/.425 in 88 games for the Sox. Oddly, the next year he was shipped to the Mets. 

As you read the back of his 1961 card, you'll notice something is missing, namely the fact that when Mr. Green took the field for the Sox in 1959 he did so as the first black player in Sox history. (His 1960 card also omits this fact) Yep: over a decade after Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier, the Sox still had no African-American players. Rather than diss the Sox further, I'll just point you to a scathing 2002 NPR piece on the backstory. 

Green himself was characterized as a "reluctant pioneer" in this milb article, which I found a fairly straightforward reminder of how history is often thrust upon folks who really aren't that different from the rest of us. Indeed, all Pumpsie wanted to do was be a ball player, be accomplished as a ball player, a guy for whom baseball was fun and not so much a matter of professionalization. 

And so it is fun, hopefully a lot more today than it was 60 years ago. With that I'll get the day started. Have a good one everybody and goodnight Pumpsie Green, wherever you are (even though I know you live in El Cerritos, CA!).

Monday, June 4, 2012

Post #500: Jim Rice TTM auto

Starting with a big shout out to 30-Year Old Cardboard for sharing info on the signing in the post here.

For post #500 (something of a milestone in cardblogging I guess) I thought I'd roll out the Jim Rice auto I scored through the paid signing 30YO mentioned on his site. The price was WAAAY beyond what I usually shell out for autos because a) it was more than $5 and b) I can be tight with cash, but I got the compa's permission. I wanted this not because Rice is a HOFer but because he's from Anderson, SC, and being from SC myself I'm always on the lookout to connect with Carolina ballplayers. So, with no further ado:
The 500th post is a big deal, so who better to put up today than HOFer Mr. Rice? He gets a ton of crap from some analysts (not enough walks, only led the league twice in RBI, three times in HR, never THE man in the league, etc.), but he was a HELL of a ballplayer in the offensively challenged 70s and 80s. For me the legacy of those decades is skewed by the steroid era that followed them, so his accomplishments more than justify inclusion.

Back in the saddle around here. Have a good one everybody and goodnight Pumpsie Green, wherever you are!