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1960 Pirates

Here are a few items either from my most recent book, 1960: When the Pittsburgh Pirates Had Them All the Way (available only on Amazon), or from interviews I conducted while writing that book:

Dick Stuart was so poor on defense–in each of his full seasons except one he led the league in errors at first base–he was the target of much ridicule even though some was in good fun. He preferred to have nothing to do with a batted ball. Every time a pop fly came anywhere near them, Stuart would shout, “Plenty of room, Maz.” He earned nicknames such as Dr. Strangeglove and The Man With the Iron Glove. One blustery day when a hot dog wrapper blew near him, he snagged it and the crowd broke into enthusiastic (and sarcastic) applause.

Dick Schofield recalled, “He had a fielding disability, I guess you might call it. One time there was a man on first base and Elroy Face came in to pitch. Stuart went to the mound and said, ‘Now don’t go throwing the ball over here real hard cause I might miss it.’ He warned Face because he threw hard and he was quick over to first base. Stuart wanted no part of it.” 

That incident brought to mind a story Jim Bouton disclosed about Joe Pepitone in his book Ball Four. It began when he botched a throw in the 1963 World Series. He blamed the misplay by saying he had lost sight of the ball against a background of spectators’ white shirts. From then on, wrote Bouton, “He didn’t want to handle the ball anymore than he had to.”

In the 1964 Series Pepitone was holding Lou Brock at first base. Bouton, in an effort to keep the speedy Brock close to the bag, signaled to Pepitone that a pickoff throw would ensue. 

Amazingly, Bouton peered over to Pepitone who, wrote Bouton in his book Ball Four, was “standing there shaking his head, tiny shakes because he didn’t want anybody to see. It was the first time I ever saw anybody shake off a pick-off sign.”

Vern Law spoke highly of a few of his contemporaries. He stated of Musial, “Everybody really respected Stan. He wasn’t a griper, he didn’t give umpires a bad time, he was even tempered. If you did hit hit, he’d just drop the bat and go down to first base. He was kind of a man’s man, and just an outstanding personality.”

Law, nicknamed the Deacon for his devout religious (Morman) ways, said Jackie Robinson “was a better man than I was because I could not have taken the stuff that he took without question, without retaliating. He took it and Branch Rickey made sure that that was the case. He said [to Robinson], ‘You can’t respond to criticism, or swearing, somebody calls you names or anything like that. You can’t respond to that because if you do, you’re going to ruin the whole thing for Black people.’” 

There was cheating in baseball long before the Astros, of course. One player told me that years after retiring, Willie Mays told Carl Erskine that his Giants knew what pitches Erskine and other Dodger pitchers were about to pitch because they stole opponents’ signals by using a powerful telescope located in their clubhouse window in center field. The person stationed with the telescope signaled a teammate by using a buzzer system they had rigged up to their bullpen. Another player in the bullpen then waved a white towel to signal fast ball or curve to the batter. Those Giants of 1951 won the pennant after being 13 games out of first place on August 11th.

Law said that he’s often asked, “Who was the toughest hitter that I ever pitched against, and I’d have to go back and say that when I first got up [to the majors] it was Stan Musial because he hit to all fields. Those are the toughest guys to pitch to. Pitch it outside and they go with you, you pitch it inside and they pull it. Stan had the ability to do that, and he was one of the best at it. I just take my hat off to him. Every time I got him out was a line drive at somebody or something like that, but he was tough to pitch to.

“All of those guys who spray [the ball to all fields] were tough to pitch to. Even Richie Ashburn. Joe Morgan, when he was down in Houston, was tough to get out because he could do that. He read me like a book. 

Updated: My Two New Books ’60 Pirates and Wits, Flakes, and Clowns of baseball

Just to let you know, my two latest books are available now–they can be found on sites such as Amazon and Barnes and Noble or in bookstores. Here’s some info on them:

1960: The Year the Pittsburgh Pirates Had Them All the Way can be purchased only on Amazon. I got to interview most of the living Pirates who shared great stories and insights about that magical season and the wildest, most lopsided World Series ever. So the book has exclusive material (some controversial such as the issue of the season’s MVP voting) from Cy Young winner Vern Law, MVP Dick Groat, Roy Face, Bill Virdon, Bob Skinner, Hal Smith, Dick Schofield, Bob Oldis, and Bob Friend not long before he passed away. This book marks the 60th anniversary of that fantastic season. Plus, the book contains material from many other players of the day including Ralph Terry who gave up the Maz home run and Series MVP Bobby Richardson. The book was hard work, but fun to do.

The other book, another fun project, is entitled Wits, Flakes, and Clowns: The Colorful Characters of Baseball. It discusses such memorable topics as Casey Stengel, Jay Johnstone, Bill Lee, Yogi Berra, Roger McDowell, Moe Drabowsky, Trevor Bauer, Francisco Lindor, and LOTS more from the old days to now.

If you can think of a funny, wild, clever, or colorful baseball player, he’s probably in this book. For Pittsburgh and Cleveland fans, I can tell you that there are a ton of Pirates and Indians in the book such as Andy Van Slyke, Jerry Reuss, Bert Blyleven, Satchel Paige, Early Wynn, Jimmy Piersall and more.

Jan. NFL Items

Came across some good trivia in the book The Last Headbangers, which appropriately enough, features Jack Lambert making a rather savage tackle on the cover.

QUIZ:

  1. Who is the only player in NFL history (as of the book’s writing) to have his jersey number retired even though he never played a single game in the league?
  2. What record setting running back was being discussed in this quote: “Trying to arm-tackle _____ was like grabbing a truck.” Clue: In 1972, when a record 10 backs rushed for 1,000+ yards, this man led the way with 1,251.
  3. What bruising fullback was the only man to be penalized for unnecessary roughness while running with the football when he knocked out a tackler with a forearm to his chin. Clue: The book said that his U-shaped nose guard on his helmet made his resemble a rodeo bull. The book also said this runner “played football like a bully.” One year this Stow, Ohio, native who was born on Christmas Day in 1946, ran for 1,117 yards while a fellow runner hit 1,000 exactly.

GREAT QUOTE: In 1973, Steelers coach Chuck Noll was convinced his team was ready to prove they were the best in the business. When a writer asked him if the Steelers grueling schedule made him have doubts? Was he worried? “No. We have an easy schedule,” he replied, “We don’t have to play the Pittsburgh Steelers.”

Answers:  1. Ernie Davis. This Syracuse star was the #1 draft pick in ’62 (Washington). They traded him to the Browns where he and fellow Syracuse runner Jim Brown would have formed a dream backfield. However, stricken with leukemia, he became weak and died a year later having never appeared in an NFL contest.    2. O.J. Simpson. Now, I have no respect for the man, but I included this item to fill you in on another thing the book said about him. It quoted a defender as saying, “It took two or three guys to bring him down. Then he bounces up and gives you this crazy-eye stare, like, ‘Who the [expletive] are you, tackling me?’ We called it the death stare.” That “death stare” part and the maniacal eyes part sure conjured up image of Simpson as an alleged killer.    3. Larry Csonka. The other Miami runner was Mercury Morris and his story of how he hit 1,000 on the nose is another story for another day.

Basketball Items for Jan. 2020

Some basketball trivia:

  1. David Robinson grew from 5′ 9″ during his junior high days to 6′ 4″ in high school, but that spurt wasn’t his only one. By the time he reached the Naval Academy, he stood 7′ 1″!
  2. Bevo Francis scored 116 points in a game held between his Rio Grande College of Ohio (an odd name for a college outside–way outside–of Texas) and Ashland (Kentucky) Junior College. His scoring spree came back on January 9, 1953. He said of the outburst, “I’m 6′ 9″ and the other teams’ big men weren’t accustomed to coming outside to guard me.” He also pointed out, “There was no three-point line back in the 50s, but a lot of time, that’s where I was shooting from. The team from Ashland tried everything to stop me. They were pushing. They were shoving. They even put three men on me. All my shots were falling.” He was, as you’d guess, hot from the start. “By the third shot, I knew I was on to something special.”  Notice that in his era being 6′ 9″ or so made a player a BIG man.
  3. Bevo cont’d: The final score of the game was 150-85 with Francis clicking on 47 field goals and 22 free throws. His team went on to post a 39-0 record, but his record 116 points weren’t recognized by the NAIA or the NCAA because his team did not play all of their games versus four-year colleges. Ashland, as mentioned, was one such team, a JUCO.
  4. More on Francis: The following year, his team scheduled many big name schools even though they did not play a single game at home–that was due to their home gym’s capacity of a mere 200 fans. Their team was in such demand, they chose to play their games away from their normal home facility. That season Francis proved his 116 point game was no fluke as he poured in 113 versus Hillsdale College in Michigan.
  5. Did you know Ronnie Carr, a sophomore guard for Western Carolina is credited as sinking the first three-point basket ever in NCAA play? It came on November 29, 1980, during a season the three pointer was being used on an experimental basis in the Southern Conference. So, when Carr drilled a shot from beyond the 22 foot arc against Middle Tennessee State in a home contest (after a few other attempts were put up), he made history.
  6. More on Carr: He once said that a reporter told him that his historic bucket was like the first step taken onto the surface of the moon. Carr added, “I never thought of it like that. But it’s true when you consider the evolution of the game. One shot for Western Carolina. One giant leap for college basketball.” Incidentally, he said that the ball he used for that shot is now housed in the Hall of Fame.
  7. When Terry Holland was with Virginia and that college felt UNC was their big rival, he took a verbal shot at the Tar Heels coach, Dean Smith. Author Will Blythe said that Holland named his dog Dean. The reason? “. . . because, he said, the dog whines so much.”

All of the items above come from an excellent source, ESPN’s College Basketball Encyclopedia: The Complete History of the Men’s Game

If you have a preference as to whether I write more items about one sport over the others, feel free to leave a comment. I tend to favor baseball, but may be able to alter my approach a bit if readers show an overwhelming interest in some other sport(s). Thanks.