’60 Bucs, Baseball Clowns, and More

Here are a few items from my latest two books–first, from Wits, Flakes, and Clowns. For some reason, this book has a whole lot of funny stuff on former Pirates and Indians.

One of the most colorful characters ever was former Rookie of the Year Joe Charboneau. His stories are legendary–take the times he drank beer through a straw he inserted in his nose. In order to save money when he was in the minors– and this is not for the squeamish– he performed an act of amateur dentistry, extracting one of his teeth with pliers, a razor, and finally vise grips. Somebody, I think his manager at the time, said Charboneau’s crazy stuff didn’t bother him, explaining his thinking by saying, “I figure as long as he don’t go pullin’ someone else’s teeth more power to him.” 

Once Joe was stabbed by a mentally disturbed fan—stabbed by a Bic pen of all things. Joe later said, “That’s just the type of crazy stuff that seems to happen to you.” I thought, yeah, if your name is Joe Charboneau, that is.

One time Jerry Reuss and a few teammates dressed up in some grounds crew outfits and, before a game, went onto the diamond and dragged the infield while driving a cart. He kept at it until his manager finally spotted him. Another time he and Ken Brett drove a cart by Cincinnati’s dugout before a game and Reuss shot a moon at the Reds players. Yet another time he was flying in a helicopter over his team’s spring training complex. He then bombarded teammates with a supply of water balloons, laughing as the soaked players scattered.

Some material could fit into the Wits book OR the book available on Amazon entitled 1960: When the Pittsburgh Pirates Had Them All the Way:

Dick Stuart was such a poor defensive player, he told Roy Face to be careful with his effective pickoff move. He warned Face, “Don’t throw over real hard, I might miss it.” That reminded me of a story I love about Joe Pepitone which Jim Bouton disclosed in his book Ball Four. It began when Pepitone 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 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.”

Johnny O’Brien had an identical twin, Ed, and both were on the Pirates. One day during spring training, Ed wasn’t scheduled to play so he was permitted to go fishing. Johnny played the early innings and did well. Later in the game manager Bobby Bragan decided to pull a trick—he had Johnny wear his brother’s uniform and pinch hit, reporting in to the ump by telling him that he was Ed.  That night when the brothers ate supper together, Ed asked Johnny how he had done. Johnny replied, “I did pretty good, but you went 0-for-1.”

Here’s a trivia question I struck out on from Baseball Digest. Who is the all-time leader for the Giants franchise in the following categories:  a) homers b) runs c) hits and d) RBI. Now, the first three were easy, and I thought the RBI leader would also be the same answer, but that’s not the case. Scroll down for answer.

Also from Baseball Digest: The 2019 explosion in baseball was crazy. The Twins blasted a record 307 HR. Incredibly, they AVERAGED 34 homers and 101 ribbies for EACH slot in their lineup!

Before ’19, there were just 47 teams ever to swat 226 or more HR over a full season, BUT last year the average amount of homers for each of the 30 MLB teams was 226! Plus, hitting 30 or more homers as a player used to be considered a lot–in 1965 the World Champion Dodgers hit a major league low of 78 HR, a total two teammates could reach nowadays. That season, it took just 32 HR to lead the AL, and from ’65 through ’76, four times a man with exactly 32 HR topped the AL.

Further, in ’65 only 10 men hit 32 or more home runs and only around a dozen reached the 30 HR plateau. However, in 2019, a new record was set for men with 30+ HR– a staggering 58 players did this, nearly five times as many as was the case in 1965. Too much home run derby for me. I miss the frequency of, say, hit and run plays– and the squeeze play is just about extinct.

Quiz Answer: While Mays remains the #1 Giant for homers, runs, and hits, but Mel Ott drove in more runs than the Say Hey Kid with 1,860.  Mays total as a Giant was exactly one less than Ott who spent his entire 22 years in MLB with the New York Giants while Mays, who also lasted for 22 seasons, was with the Mets for part of ’72 and all of ’73, seeing limited at bats (44 RBI).

This and That Sports Items

First of all, asking for help. If you like reading my sports items, could you please do two things for me: 1) click on FOLLOW to get notifications of my new material  2) pass the word to friends, as I could really use more Followers. Thanks.

I’m not a big believer in some of the newer stats such as WAR. It’s a tool, but it can be flawed. In the Jan./Feb. 2020 issue of Baseball Digest there’s an example of that. Jim Leyland was managing the Tigers when Miguel Cabrera won the Triple Crown in 2012, the first such winner since Yaz in ’67. One version of WAR that season had Darwin Barney (a name which most fans would react to by saying, “Who?”) with a better WAR rating than Cabrera! Defense was a factor, but, come on– Cabrera hit .330, blasted 44 HR and drove home 119 while Barney hit .254 with a mere 7 HR and 44 ribbies! Leyland clearly saw a huge flaw in WAR.

That same issue of BBD listed the top players for the 2010-2019 decade. Cabrera led the way with a .317 batting average to Jose Altuve’s (tainted?) .315 mark. Who topped all players for: Homers, RBI, Wins, K’s, and ERA? Answers below image. Scroll down.

Here’s a good look at the cover of the new book on the amazing 1960 Pirates–hard to believe their incredible win over the Yankees in the wild World Series happened 60 years ago! This book is only on sale through Amazon. It was endorsed by Vern Law and Ken Griffey, Sr.

1960 Pirates Cover

Most HR: Nelson Cruz, 346. RBI: Albert Pujols, 963. Wins: Max Scherzer, 161, Strikeouts: Scherzer, 2,452. ERA: Clayton Kershaw, 2.31.

The book The Last Headbangers states that only one man has made All-Pro at three different positions. Can you name him? Answer at bottom of this blog.

Stupid trick question: I love the challenge of a good trivia question and detest these kinds of items– What was the first score Terry Bradshaw ever recorded? Don’t waste time guessing–his first score was, technically, I guess, a safety when he stepped on the end line of his end zone during his NFL debut. That prompted Chuck Noll to replace him in that game with Terry Hanratty.

Bradshaw had it rough at first. As a rookie, he completes just 83 of 218 passes and had six TD strikes versus a whopping 24 interceptions. One book I read stated that when Pittsburgh punter Bobby Walden got hurt in the final game of Bradshaw’s rookie season, Noll punished Bradshaw by inserting him into the contest to punt. The punt was blocked and returned for a score. Even after his second season, he owned 19 TDs through the air and a staggering 46 interceptions, something most fans have long forgotten. Four Super Bowl wins later and he’s a Hall of Famer. By the way, as a trivia note, I found eight men named Bradshaw who played in the NFL.

Frank Gifford was an All Pro at three positions.


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.