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Uncle Andy's Blog Archives for 2014-02

Dodging the Spotlight


 

 

Some guys cry on demand, not Derek Jeter.  On February 12, 2014, “Mr. November” announced on Facebook his retirement at the end of this coming season.  After watching his pals (Bernie Williams, Jorge Posado, Mo Rivera, and Andy Pettitte), leave the table, one at a time, I guess he figured he was up next.  Why Facebook?  Jeter, who wears #2, has mastered the art of dodging the spotlight, while basking in the glory.  Then he called for a gathering.  The reporters called it a press conference, but it was far from it.  It was vintage Jeter, lots of notes but no real meat.  He talked about team, winning and competing.  Not all heroes wear capes.  Baseball is a grind.  For twenty years Jeter has represented tireless effort, hard work, and Yankee baseball.  Umpires loved him, fans loved him, and other teams’ players loved him, because he was able to continue to do the little things that made him great.  No doubt he was one of the positive faces during the turbulent steroid era.  Get your tickets now as the Yanks open their season in Houston. 

February and Spring Training is like chicken soup for baseball; everybody feels good about where they are.  Pitchers and catchers just reported.  We are just getting started and as long as no one screams “My elbow, my elbow,” it’s a good day.  This was not about farewell gifting like Mo Rivera received in 2013, but then again maybe Jeter needs a ten-gallon hat.  This was about being the first to be elected to Cooperstown on a unanimous ballot by the baseball writers.  Will it happen?  Just maybe!  If anyone has this all figured out, it could be Jeter.   

So, where does Jeter stack up against the greatest of all Yankees?  First, I need you to know that Derek Jeter became my favorite player after Mickey Mantle died.  Interesting, Mantle died on August 13, 1995, during the dog days of summer, just as Jeter was beginning his twenty year run with the Bombers.  My Yankees top-five list would look like this:  “Babe” Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, “Yogi” Berra, and Derek Jeter.  Yes, I would place Jeter number six; not in my top five.  You see, Jeter was not the longest hitter, nor the fastest runner.  He was not a good base stealer, and his range at shortstop waned in his last several years.  He only made the spotlight for the good things he had done, not the bad.  But, that does not mean he wasn’t a great player; he was greater than the sum of his parts.  In the near future, Jeter’s #2 will be retired for all-time by the New York Yankees.  That will leave only the #6 left of the first ten numbers not to have been retired.  Can you name the other eight?  Graig Nettles name comes up when the #6 is spoken about being retired.

According to the Baseball Reference.com, 582 players have worn the #2 while playing in the Major Leagues.  Several of them are Hall of Famers; like Jim Bottomley, Earl Averill, Leo Durocher, “Sparky” Anderson, Nellie Fox, Jimmie Foxx, and Roberto Alomar.  There are a few others but you get the picture.  There are 23 current players wearing the #2 and some of those names of the more popular are, J.J. Hardy, Aaron Hill, Troy Tulowitski, B.J. Upton and Jacoby Elsbury, who will have to receive a new number now that he has joined the Yankees.  Even our very own Corpus Christi treasure, Bart Shirley, wore #2 when he played with the 1966 World Champion Los Angeles Dodgers. 

I’m not going to bore you with Jeter’s numbers.  My grandson would say “they are ridiculous.”   I will share with you an interview done by my radio partner, Dennis Quinn, in August of 2013.  When an athlete loses his skill, it’s like a slow death.  It shows in his eyes and sometimes on his face.  I think Dennis could sense the end was near for Jeter and spoke about how he had become one of the Yankee greats.  Dennis explained how his partner had been a lifelong Yankees fan and that Mickey Mantle had been my childhood hero, but now it had become Jeter.  “How does that make you feel,” asked Dennis.  “I fooled him,” laughed Jeter.  Then he went on to say how special it made him feel to be held in the same company with players like “The Mick.  Dennis even got Jeter to say “Hello Andy” on tape.  I was thrilled and will treasure his words always.  Dennis continued the interview and finished with this question, “How do you want to be remembered?”  Jeter answered, “I just want to be remembered as a Yankee.”  I will always remember that answer.  It was like Derek Jeter, nearly perfect. 

Mickey Charles Mantle and Derek Sanderson Jeter were once-in-a-lifetime players.  They were riveting to watch play baseball on the field and polar opposites off the field.  One lived in the spotlight, while the other dodged the insanity.  How lucky I am to have seen both Mantle and Jeter play baseball in person.  

 

Andy Purvis is a local author.  His books "In the Company of Greatness" and "Remembered Greatness" are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble, at Beamer's Sports Grill 5922 S Staples, and online at many different sites including Amazon, bn.com, booksamillion, Google Books, etc.  They are also available in e-reader format.  Contact him at www.purvisbooks.com, or purvis.andy@mygrande.net.

Foul Ball


 

Have you ever wondered what the record is for foul balls in one at-bat?  I guess I just enjoy baseball too much not to wonder.  Even though I personally enjoy the pace of the game, others complain because they think baseball is too slow.  I’ve often responded to that criticism with, it’s slow only because you don’t know enough about the game and the game should be seen in person.  The more you know about this game called baseball, the better the game becomes.  There are many games within the game of baseball and the hitter versus the pitcher is the primary one. 

I once read where there are as many as one thousand hand signals given by the two teams in one game of baseball.  The manager gives a pitching sign to the catcher, catcher to the pitcher, the pitcher back to catcher and so one.  This cycle occurs on every pitch.  The shortstop and second baseman communicate with each other on every pitch as to whether the pitch agreed upon will be a fastball or breaking ball, and its location.  This info determines where these two defenders will play that hitter for the best chance to record an out.  Then there are the signs relayed from the first and third base coach to the hitter, depending on whether the hitter is left handed or right handed.  These two base coaches also communicate through signs to any of their players that are currently on-base as to whether there is to be a straight steal, a delayed steal, or hit-and-run play.  Sometimes when opposing players are on-base, a catcher will step out in front of home plate and signal signs to his entire team if they think the other team has discovered their set of signs.  Bench coaches will also give signs to their outfielders as to where to play each hitter.  So, as you can see, there is a lot going on during any one pitch.  This part of the game cannot be seen on television. 

On October 1, 2013, Dennis and I were joined by Hall-of-Fame broadcaster Milo Hamilton for more than thirty minutes on our radio show.  Towards the end of the interview I asked Milo, “After sixty-plus years in baseball what would be the one thing you would change in baseball?”  His answer, “That the umpires enforce the 12-second limit between pitches that is already on the books.”  Interestingly, here’s a guy who has spent his life announcing baseball agreeing that the pace of the game may be too slow.  In May 2008, MLB addressed to all 30 clubs that rule 8.04 would be strictly enforced by the umpires.  This is the rule that allows a pitcher only 12 seconds between pitches.  Rule 6.02, principally involving the batter’s movement around the plate, would also be enforced.  This rule involves the batter stepping out between pitches.  As most of us will confirm, neither rule is being enforced. 

So, when I ran across this story about Harry “The Hat” Walker, I decided to investigate.  Harry Walker, a two time World Series champ (1942 and 1946), and National League batting champ (1947), was a fine player who starred for four different teams between 1940 and 1955.  He later managed three different clubs, including the Houston Astros, from (1968-1972).  Walker was instrumental in bringing players like Joe Morgan, Don Wilson, and Jimmy Wynn to the big leagues in Houston.

On July 1, 1949, Walker was playing outfield for the Cincinnati Reds.  The score stood 9-2, in Cincinnati’s favor, in the seventh inning.  Walker stepped into the batter’s box against Ted Wilks of the St. Louis Cardinals.  Walker, a lifetime .297 hitter, took the first pitch low, for ball one.  Walker then fouled off the next two pitches.  The fourth pitch was high and called a ball.  Walker then fouled off two more pitches then stepped back on ball three, a pitch that was thrown high and inside.  Walker then proceeded to do the unthinkable.  With the count full, he fouled off nine consecutive pitches in a row before hammering a double high off the right-centerfield wall for a hit.  Walker was later replaced by rookie, Lloyd Merriman.  The Reds beat the Cards 10-2, but the story was Walker and 13 foul balls in one at-bat.  Walker’s at-bat lasted nearly ten minutes.  Is it the record?  I don’t know.  Records for number of pitches during an at-bat and foul balls hit during an at-bat were not kept continually until well into the 1980’s. 

There is a verbal account of Red Sox Dustin Pedroia having an 18 pitch at-bat while fouling off 14 pitches and then hitting a home run, but I can’t find corroborating evidence.  I did hear a story told by Harold Reynolds about Pedroia.  The Red Sox are in Minnesota playing the Twins and Pedroia has fouled off ten pitches when Twins catcher Joe Mauer says, “I don’t know what to throw you.”  Pedroia responds, “That’s ok Joe, no one else in this league does either.”  Pedroia got a hit on the next pitch.  I also learned that baseball author Bill James, has stated that Roy Thomas, who played well over one-hundred years ago in the National League, once had a 22 pitch at-bat. 

It is interesting to note that after every pitch, Harry Walker stepped out of the batter’s box, removed his cap, took his left hand, and smoothed back his hair, before replacing his cap.  Maybe that’s why he received the nickname “The Hat.” 

One other amazing story concerning foul balls:  Hall-of-Fame outfielder Richie Ashburn was also well known for lengthening an at-bat by fouling off pitches until he got one he could hit.  It is written that during one at-bat, Ashburn hit a foul ball into the stands, on the first base side, that hit and broke the nose of a middle-aged lady.  Ashburn stepped out of the batter’s box as the ushers ran down to her seat with a stretcher.  After she was placed onto the stretcher, play resumed; and on the next pitch, Ashburn fouled another ball into the stands near the same seat, hitting the same lady on the stretcher and knocking her off.  What are the chances? 

I have often said there is a good chance you will see something happen that you have never seen before, at a baseball game.

 

 

 

Andy Purvis is a local author.  His books "In the Company of Greatness" and "Remembered Greatness" are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble, at Beamer's Sports Grill 5922 S Staples, and online at many different sites including Amazon, bn.com, booksamillion, Google Books, etc.  They are also available in e-reader format.  Contact him at www.purvisbooks.com, or purvis.andy@mygrande.net.

 

Incoming


 

“Incoming.”  That’s how it must have felt in the beginning as issues were constantly being lobbed like mortar shells into the game.  But like a good soldier, located behind enemy lines, he adapted and moved forward.  The National Basketball Association was a complete mess in the late seventies and early eighties.  Lack of respect was rampant.  The league was full of drugs, and violence had permeated a game of grace and skill, in the locker-room and on the court; even the NBA Finals were tape-delayed.  The league was just trying to survive as Larry O’Brian stepped down at the end of the 1983 season. 

Enter David Stern, a Manhattan New York Knicks fan who had grown up to be a lawyer.  Stern always loved the game.  Stern reminisced about going to the Knicks games with his dad at the original Madison Square Garden.  The cost of seat in the upper deck was fifty cents.  “It was a time when you could improve your seats by tipping the usher,” said Stern.  As a lawyer, one of his firm’s clients was the NBA.  “In 1978, my job became to protect the client,” laughed Stern.  In 1984, Stern eventually became the Commissioner of the NBA.  His body of work speaks for itself.  On February 1, 2014, at the age of 71, Stern stepped aside as he completed his 30th season as commissioner.

When David Stern came into the league, there were 23 teams valued at 400 million dollars total, and the league office employed 24 people.  Today, the current 30 teams are valued at 19 billion and there are 1,100 employees in 15 different offices around the globe.  There are also an unprecedented 92 international players on the rosters.  The secret to Stern is that he understood that this sport was capable of influencing people worldwide.  The NBA is truly a global game.  “There was no such thing as sports marketing until Michael Jordan came along,” said Stern. 

Stern is also very proud of the diversity of his sports players, coaches, owners, and front-office people.  He jokes that his nickname is “Easy Dave,” but don’t tell Mark Cuban that.  “In sports, our product is the players,” said Stern.  “My job is to grow the game so the players and owners of all 30 teams make money.”

 

When you ask him about his favorite player he defers to a list.  The names of Oscar Robertson, Elgin Baylor, and “Dr. J” come up.  His least favorite and most favorite memories both include Magic Johnson.  “When Magic announced he was HIV positive, I thought he was going to die,” said Stern.  “We were so uneducated about HIV at the time.”  His favorite memory occurred in Orlando at the 1992 NBA All-Star Game.  Stern allowed Magic to play and of course Magic had a huge night, hit the last shot of the game and became the MVP.  I was there, center court with my friends from Miller Brewing Company.  Bob Lanier sat in front of us.  Buddy Ryan sat to our right about four seats away, and Jerry West sat behind us.  I was in basketball heaven.  All-Star Tim Hardaway had offered to let Magic Johnson play in his spot.  Commissioner Stern gave the okay.

Stern loved draft night except when he had to pronounce names of overseas players.  “I loved being a part of these kids’ journey and the accomplishments of these players and their families,” stated Stern.

“It has never been personal with Mark Cuban.  I have never been upset with him; he just has his own way to communicate,” said Stern. “And I have mine.”  In fact, it was Stern who cast the deciding vote to approve Cuban as an owner.  Ted Turner was one of Stern’s biggest thorns in his side.  “He would break things for fun,” laughed David.  

“You do not enter the stands,” said David Stern.  The display of violence in The Palace at Auburn Hills by players and fans was embarrassing.  Stern had no problem being judge and jury with fines and missed games handed out like candy on Halloween.  He has worked hard to remove the fisticuffs from the games.

“My most prize possession is an autographed book sign by ‘Red’ Auerbach,” said Stern.  “It says, ‘To the best commissioner in my lifetime and a fan of the NBA.’”  “I loved him, he was a complete gentleman, a fiercest competitor and a good friend,” stated Stern.  Stern also has one of the original posters commemorating the Fifty Greatest Players in NBA History hanging in his home.  It is signed by all except “Pistol Pete” Maravich, who had passed away earlier.  “It was like we still had Ruth, Gehrig, and Cobb still alive,” said Stern.  “I really don’t have much stuff at my house,” said Stern, “Just the memories.”

I met David Stern in Phoenix, Arizona, at a luncheon during the 1995 NBA All-Star Game.  He signed my program and let me take his picture.  One of the things he said that impressed me, “The best seat in sports is courtside at a basketball game.”  I believe that to be true.  “He leaves a footprint that is much bigger than his shoe size,” said Coach Mike Krzyzewski.  Stern has excelled as an ambassador, judge, marketer, and fan.

David Stern will be replaced by Adam Silver who has worked side-by-side with Stern for 22 years.  “Incoming!” 

 

Andy Purvis is a local author.  His books "In the Company of Greatness" and "Remembered Greatness" are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble, at Beamer's Sports Grill 5922 S Staples, and online at many different sites including Amazon, bn.com, booksamillion, Google Books, etc.  They are also available in e-reader format.  Contact him at www.purvisbooks.com, or purvis.andy@mygrande.net.

 

Forty Years Ago


 

“He’s sitting on 714.”  Most baseball fans believe it’s one of the top five calls of all-time.  These two guys are forever joined in baseball lore by less than forty words, spoken into microphone one early evening on April 8, 1974, by Braves broadcaster Milo Hamilton, forty years ago.  It was the first game of the new season.  The Atlanta Braves were at home against the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Here’s how the call sounded as Henry Aaron settled into the batter’s box.

“He’s sitting on 714!  Here’s the pitch by Downing, swinging, there’s a drive into left centerfield, that ball is gonna beee…OUTTA HERE!  IT’S GONE!  IT’S 715!  There’s a new home run champion of all-time and it’s HENRY AARON!”    

 It was “pure” Milo Hamilton.  For some of us, baseball is life.  I still wonder about the places he’s been, the players he’s interviewed and the scores of fans he’s entertained.  For most of us, he’s Uncle Milo.  He was family; he came into our homes 162 times a year, until these last couple of years.  I even listened to his call when I was at the Astros game.  He always stirred my imagination.  One of the secrets of baseball is that you play almost every day.  Therefore redemption was only hours away.  Milo used the game to help people discover themselves.  They could use those discoveries to confront anything in their life.  Baseball is a teacher; it reveals your heart and soul and the game is designed to reveal it to you. 

There will never be another like him as far as I’m concerned; I love the old man.  As he got older, he began to look tired, frail, and almost sickly until he found his way into the announcer booth or onto the field of play.  It was like flipping a switch.  A microphone made his eyes light up like lanterns.  The game simply turned him on.  Milo could sing “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” and make you laugh.  He walked every day into his radio booth intoxicated by the promise of that day’s game.  He didn’t like being surprised; he studied and saved his information in a satchel that may have been as old as him.  He loved baseball so much; even his computer wore batting gloves.  No one wanted to talk to Milo Hamilton about another announcer or player; they wanted to talk about Milo Hamilton.  The longer an announcer stays with the same team the more the fans identify with that team.  Fathers, sons, and sons of sons, we all become a part of his history.  

His educated eyes could fill books with the magic of the grand old game.  Most of us know about his calls of eleven no-hitters, the grand slams, and historic home runs.  For sixty-seven years, he opened his scorecard and charted baseball history.  He taught us how to figure batting averages, told us how players got their nicknames and why.  He described routine double-plays, the importance of a bunt single, why stealing third increases the chances of scoring by nine, and the reason so many players strike out looking.  He taught us about Uncle Charlie, twin killings, chin music, and frozen ropes.  Seeing-Eye singles, right down Kirby and “Holy Toledo, what a play!” became his signature calls.  Every play reminded him of days gone by, when only the player, the city, and the circumstances were different.  I would love to see through his eyes, if only for a moment.  Listening to him call a game made me feel like a hundred dollar bill in a two dollar wallet.  Writer Phil Hirsh once wrote, “Baseball is the only game you can see on the radio.”  Milo made it easy for all of us.  His canyon deep voice was unmistakable.  He was always “in” the game.  You could never tell by his tone of voice whether his team was behind or ahead.  Everybody wanted to be connected, to be a part of him.  Let’s call that a professional. 

Baseball looks so easy to play from your seat.  It is, in fact, the hardest of them all.  The game moves at a pace where a grandfather can talk about what’s happening on the field with his grandson.  They see and experience virtually the same game.  Milo taught me how to score a game, what to look for, how to anticipate a great play.  He gave us a history lesson every night and allowed us to dream about what it would be like to play Major League baseball.  All words seemed better to me when spoken by Milo Hamilton.   

What you saw was what you got with Milo.  Not many of us find our true place in life; that does not hold true for Milo Hamilton.  I can’t imagine him doing anything else.  Milo has been a part of the Dennis & Andy’s Q & A Session radio show for almost twenty years.  Twice every year he joins us on the air, live from Houston, Texas.  My partner Dennis Quinn always referred to our interviews as “Milo unplugged.”  On two different occasions, we took our show on the road to Minute Maid Park, and Milo was nice enough to join us there, in the booth, talking baseball.  We talked old school baseball; from “Stan the Man” and “Hammerin’ Hank” to “The Ryan Express.”  We covered everything from the disappearance of the hook slide to the tragedy of steroids and everything in between.  There is never a time I did not learn something.  It has been said that the greatest classroom often lies at the feet of the elderly.  How true.

Milo was inducted into the Broadcast Wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1992.  He was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2000.  He has been an announcer for 67 years.  His first job in Major League baseball started in 1953, with the St. Louis Browns.  He has also announced for six other Major League clubs. 

I once told him how much he was loved as I was leaving his company.  I think it may have surprised him.  He didn’t know how to respond, but he smiled.  I’m absolutely sure he knows he’s loved, but does not hear it enough.  We are always more appreciative of something we had and have now lost. 

Milo visited Corpus Christi, January 24, 2014, with the Astros caravan.  I couldn’t wait to see him.  When he walked into the room he was surrounded by the TV guys like Custer at the Little Big Horn.  We sat and laughed and talked about the call.  He and Hank still speak with each other quite often.  Milo looked good as he is winning his battle with cancer.  I’ve never met a more giving individual.  There will never be another Milo Hamilton.

 

Andy Purvis is a local author.  His books "In the Company of Greatness" and "Remembered Greatness" are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble, at Beamer's Sports Grill 5922 S Staples, and online at many different sites including Amazon, bn.com, booksamillion, Google Books, etc.  They are also available in e-reader format.  Contact him at www.purvisbooks.com, or purvis.andy@mygrande.net.

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