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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.

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.