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The Other Griffey, His Dad, and Ichiro

The last blog featured some info on Ken Griffey Sr. This one begins with a story about a young Ken Griffey Jr. from an interview I did with Seattle sportswriter Larry Stone, a man who did a piece on Griffey and Donora, Pa. some years back.

Stone covered the Mariners when Ken Griffey Jr. was a rookie. “He was 19-years-old and fighting to make the team. At first the Mariners didn’t want him to make the ball club because they thought he needed more seasoning, but he was the best player in all of Arizona. So he was going to make the team. 

“The manager, Jim Lefebvre, called him into his office on the last day of spring and told him that the Mariners had just traded for Dale Murphy and he was going to play centerfield. He said he was sorry to tell him this, but he had to go back down to the minor leagues. Junior was crushed, almost in tears.

“Lefebvre said, ‘Do you know what day it is today?’ Griffey goes, ‘No,’ so Lefebvre said, ‘Open the door.’ When he opened the door to the office, the entire team was out there. They yelled, ‘April Fools.’”

Quick item about Senior from a recent interview: Western Pennsylvanians who were around in 1960 remember that as a landmark season for the Pirates and most of us still remember where we were when they clinched the World Series versus the dynastic Yankees.

Griffey Sr. is no exception. He was in sixth grade (along with me) at Sixth Street School in Donora when Maz ended the Series. He recalled, “I was walking back home. I remember either our principal Miss Kelly or one of the teachers said that Mazeroski won the game on a home run. I wasn’t really into baseball all that much in ’60 except for [playing youth ball].”

How could he have known that 15 years later he’d be on a World Series winning team. That clash versus Boston went the full seven games and featured one of, if not THE most exciting Series games ever. Furthermore, the year after that, he helped propel his Reds into another World Series, one that they’d also win (this time in a sweep of the Yankees) by hitting .385 in the NLCS versus the Phillies.

Ichiro: This next story is fitting in that Ichiro retired just the other day: Stone has covered the Mariners for decades now. He said Ichiro, a man he feels is highly intelligent, had “some memorable quotes. There was one, my all-time favorite, actually, about the first time he was going to face Dice-K [Boston pitcher and fellow Japan native Daisuke Matsuzaka]. Through a translator he said, ‘I hope he arouses the fire that’s dormant in the inner-most recesses of my soul. I plan to face him with the zeal of a challenger.’” Hardly a quote bandied around in most locker rooms.   stone said look up other funny quotes on line

Stone added that “on the list of unique players that I’ve covered, he’s probably at the top. I mean, he could hit a ground ball to second base and beat it out. He believed that his bat had, like a soul, a spirit, so he treated his bats and equipment with more care and respect than anyone I’ve ever seen. He also had like a velvet bat case that he carried his bat around in—almost like a humidor type thing that a lot of the players sort of copied after him.” That’s not unlike a great pool player with a special case for his cue.

“He got mad at a Mariners coach who inadvertently sat on one of his gloves because that was just sacrilege to him. He would clean up after himself in the dugout and he just had a different ability and hitting style than anyone else I’ve ever covered.”

March Item: Ken Griffey Remembers

I recently spoke with my old Donora High School classmate, Ken Griffey Sr. who had some interesting stories to share.

Griffey related a time he was in left field for the Yankees and fellow speedster Rickey Henderson was in center (probably in 1995). “The ball was hit in the gap by Damaso Garcia,” began Griffey, and I’m backing Rickey up, going behind him. Rickey threw the ball, but he threw it behind him, right at me. When he went back to cock his arm, it just came out of his hand and went right over my head. I thought he was throwing at me. I’m wondering, ‘Where the heck you throwing the ball.’ He fell on the ground laughing, couldn’t even get up—I had to help him up he was laughing so hard.

“After the game, [Yankee manager] Yogi Berra comes in to me and he says, ‘You gotta’ come in tomorrow and take ground balls and [make] throws back into the infield.’ I said, ‘For what?!’ He said, ‘That throw you made out there.’” Griffey reminded him that he had not made the wild throw and he said, “To be honest with you, I didn’t go in because it wasn’t me that threw it. I told him, ‘You need to go talk to Rickey.’”

Merv Rettenmund, who was a teammate of Griffey’s in Cincinnati, said he believed the Big Red Machine’s lineup would have been somewhat improved if Griffey, and not Pete Rose, had been the leadoff hitter. In that spot Griffey’s blazing speed would have better been utilized. As it was, Griffey wound up with 200 career stolen bases for a lofty success rate of 71%. He enjoyed a single season high of 34 in 1976, the year his Reds won their second consecutive World Series–this one with a sweep of the Yankees. In that four-game set, Griffey hit a lusty .385. When Griffey hit in front of Joe Morgan, he rarely got the green light to steal because Morgan found it distracting to have runners in motion while he was at the plate. Who knows how many additional bases Griffey would have stolen if he hadn’t been shackled at times.

Griffey also felt he could have wound up with a lifetime batting average of .300 (he ended his long career at .296) if he hadn’t been required to hit against some of the toughest left-handed pitchers around at one point when he was with the Yanks. Instead of having a right-handed hitter face the likes of Mike Flanagan, Bob Ojeda, Tippy Martinez, and Scott McGregor, Berra inked the left-handed hitting Griffey into the lineup. Conventional baseball thinking would have had fellow Yankee outfielder Omar Moreno face such pitchers.

Feb. Items

ODDITY: When the Cleveland Indians had to forfeit a 1974 contest due to the mayhem which broke out during their “Beer Night” promotion, their opponent, Texas, had Fritz Peterson on the hill as their starting pitcher. Now, the last time an American League game was forfeited prior to the Cleveland debacle was when the old Washington Senators faced the Yankees on September 30, 1971. In that contest the Yanks had Mike Kekich as their starter.

Peterson and Kekich were linked by another infamous occurrence when they swapped wives and the rest of their family (including, I believe, their dogs). Another minor oddity about the two men–they were teammates with the Yankees and later both were traded to the Indians and to the Rangers (although they weren’t teammates again–good thing!).

Forfeits are very rare. In fact, before the 1971 forfeit by the Senators, the last forfeited game also featured the Senators (against the Red Sox) and that game took place way back in 1941.

QUIZ: Which Yankee pitcher has the lowest ERA ever in the history of OLD Yankee Stadium, a record which will stand forever since that park is now gone. Your choices: Kekich, Peterson, Ruth, Ford, Sabathia, Guidry. Remember this is only based on all-time home games–games pitched by Bronx Bomber hurlers in old Yankee Stadium. (answer at bottom of blog).

DUKE ITEM: Having two freshmen who both average 20 or more ppg. on a Division I team is something special and it may happen this year with the top contenders to do this being Zion Williamson and R. J. Barrett. As of this writing, Barrett’s average is at 23.6 while Williamson is good for exactly 22 ppg.

DODGERS ITEM: Last season not one Dodger threw 162 innings, the minimum amount of innings required for a pitcher to qualify for league leadership in stats such as ERA. Clayton Kershaw came tantalizingly close at 161 1/3, just two outs shy of the 161 IP level.

The Dodgers became the first team ever to make it to postseason play without a single pitcher reaching 161 (or more) innings pitched.

Kershaw’s 2.39 ERA ranks first among all active pitchers and is 27th all-time. Had he have pitched an extra 2/3 of an inning in 2018, he would have had the fourth best ERA in the N.L.

QUIZ ANSWER: According to a book Peterson wrote, he holds that distinction at 2.52, just ahead of Ford (2.55) and Ruth.

 

January 2019…Quiz/Trivia for New Year

DID YOU KNOW?  Back when the New York Jets were still called the Titans, their team colors were not green and white. They were blue and gold.

QUIZ:  1. Who was the last Twin to lead his league in homers?  2. In the 1950s there were only seven no-hitters thrown by National League pitchers and two were turned in by the same man. Or, narrowing things down, over an eight-year span from 1952 through 1959, the man in question threw two of the five NL no-hitters. This pitcher, a Dodger, threw two of them. Name this player.  3. Although the Pirates have had a rich history of producing great hitters from Wagner to Clemente and so on, they never had one of their players win the Rookie of the Year Award until this Canadian born player won it in the early part of the 21st century. Name this man who was originally drafted by the Montreal Expos.  4. The Red Sox traded future Hall of Famer to the Astros for a decent, but far from spectacular reliever known for his wit as much as for his pitching prowess. Name him.   5. Who was the first Astro to have his uniform number retired? Like a fellow Astro, Doug “The Red Rooster” Rader, this man had a unique nickname.

NFL TRIVIA: Not positive, but I think the first time an NFL team played a Super Bowl game in either their usual home arena or, at the least, in their home city, was the Rams when they took on the Steelers.

PERSONAL PICK FOR THE NCAA’S MOST FASCINATING PLAYER: I don’t watch tons of college hoop, but Duke’s Zion Williamson is amazing, at times possessing moves of a playmaking guard, at times looking like a behemoth of a power forward. He can make a pretty bounce pass, tear down a rebound, carve space under the bucket for stick backs, and, as a crowd pleaser, he can dunk as forcefully as just about anyone, and he’s only a freshman. I’m not overly impressed with dunks like I guess I was when I was a lot younger, so Williamson’s other skills really appeal to me (like his many pivot moves). In short, he is a unique talent.

MY NEXT BOOK (DUE OUT IN 2020) will cover colorful baseball characters. The working title is Baseball Colorful Characters: The Witty, The Flakes, and The Clowns. If you have any funny stories about such characters, drop me a line. I will cover the obvious guys such as Yogi, but also some obscure and very funny players. Here’s one sneak peak example.

Rocky Bridges was asked why he wouldn’t eat snails. He cleverly replied, “I prefer fast food.” He joked that he played for so many teams he had more numbers on his back than a bingo card. He once finished second in a pre-game cow milking contest then explained, “I didn’t try too hard. I was afraid I’d get emotionally involved with the cow.”

Perhaps his funniest line came when he spoke about shortstop Jose Gonzalez who was traded in 1985. Between the time the deal was consummated and the time he reported to his new team, he had his name legally changed to Jose Uribe (because he said there were too many Gonzalezes in the majors). That prompted Bridges to quip, “Jose truly was the player to be named later.” 

Jan. 2019 Quiz and More

Mixed Quiz:

1. This coach was hired by Indiana State just four days before practices began in 1978, just in time for Larry Bird’s senior season. Although he would be fired after the 1981-1982 season, this former golf coach at a small college made it to the Final Four to face Magic Johnson & Co.  After he was fired, he became an insurance agent, a teacher, and, for six years, a basketball coach at Mercer Univ. Who is he?

2. T or F: Cy Young is one of the original members of the Hall of Fame.

3. An ESPN college basketball publication mentioned several programs which weren’t highly touted but somehow obtained a superstar. For Indiana State they mentioned, of course, Bird. Who did they mention for St. Bonaventure and for Jacksonville in 1970?

4. Guess within three years either way– what year did this Rose Bowl take place: it was the one which featured Texas star Vince Young versus USC with Matt Leinart throwing for 365 and LenDale White running for 124 yards and three TDs. Young scored the game-winning TD to make the final score 41-38.

5. What Dallas Cowboy receiver from long ago was billed as the World’s Fastest Human.

Answers:

1. Bill Hodges

2. False. Only five players became charter members of the Hall: Mathewson, W. Johnson, Ruth, Cobb, and Wagner.

3. St. Bonnie’s star was Bob Lanier and Artis Gilmore was the big gun for Jacksonville. The two teams met in the Final Four but, according to one publication, neither team has won a game in the big tourney since. Through 2008 data, those two schools were the second and third smallest ones to make it to the Final Four–Holy Cross was the smallest one to do so. The Bonnies were 25-1 when they took on Jacksonville, then 26-1.

4. That Rose Bowl game was held in 2006.

5. Bob Hayes, an Olympic runner who set world’s speed records.

 

Last Blog? Need Your Help Dec. 2018

FEEDBACK:

This is the month I need to decide if I want to pay for another year of keeping my web site. I’m not getting a whole lot of “views” and the blogs are somewhat time consuming (considering the number of people reading them). Here’s where I need your help.

If you don’t find the blogs all that interesting, let me know and tell me what could be done to make you want to visit the site each time a new blog is posted.

If you have the time, could you go on social media to spread the word, especially to good sports fans, about the website.

Any other ideas on how to get more exposure, please feel free to contact me. You can leave a comment or email me at wstew@roadrunner.com.  Thanks!

DEC. ITEMS:

BRIGHAM YOUNG UNIV. ITEMS: Looking through an old book (so some of these stats, facts, and records may be outdated) I came across some interesting items. The Brigham Young record for passing yards in a game belongs to John Walsch (619), but Ty Detmer owned the season and career records. He also won a Heisman and set 62 NCAA records. He finished first or second in QB efficiency from 1989-1991.

Other QBs out of BYU who weren’t exactly slouches: Marc Wilson, Jim McMahon, and Steve Young to name three who come quickly to mind…From 1922-1971, BYU got shutout 72 times. From 1972-2000, under LaVell Edwards, they were blanked just once while averaging 32 points a game over a span of 361 contests.

In 1923, the school went with Cougars for their nickname and they obtained a live cougar and her two cubs. Throughout the latter part of the 1940s live animals were on the field’s sideline and they lived on campus. However, according to my copy of the ESPN College Football Encyclopedia, one time the cougars got loose and killed two dogs. The school then decided to change their mascot from those live animals to using students wearing Cosmo the Cougar costumes.

OPINION ON NCAA— The hypocrisy of some of the things the NCAA does gets to me. They insist that the media, for example, call college players “student-athletes” when I’ve heard that many of, say, the football players actually quit their colleges after their season is over. Not sure if that still holds true, but I did read that some time ago. Of course, many of these kids are far removed from being true scholars, and we know there have been many instances where cheating has gone on to help kids get into and stay in college.

It also bothers me, even though I live in Ohio, that a team like the Buckeyes can play poorly and, for instance, nearly lose to Maryland, but still be in the running for the national title. Again, this is based on things I’ve heard, but I believe the committee craves having teams like the popular Ohio State squad to make it to big bowl games and/or the playoffs. Just my opinion on all of this, but to me an early season scare to one of those weak teams in a sort of tune-up game or a near-defeat to a team like Maryland should count against a major team A LOT.

Rip Sewell was the most famous pitcher of the ephus ball in baseball history. The pitch was basically a lob, one which attained heights of around 25 feet in the air. Batters had to supply their own oomph when hitting the ball and many whiffed as they tried to deposit the ball over distant fences. Ted Williams famously is the only man to homer off the gimmick pitch (in the ’46 All-Star Game, a blow that traveled 20 rows deep into the Fenway Park right field bleachers). The next batter got an ephus, too. He popped it up to end the inning and Sewell was showered with a standing ovation. By the way, prior to his homer, Williams had missed on an ephus, but asked Sewell to throw him another one–that time, he didn’t miss.

Sewell knew his pitch (often called a blooper pitch) frustrated hitters. He said they often popped it up no higher than a living room ceiling and he said sometimes “they’d miss it by two feet.” He joked in an old Baseball Digest article that, “If I pitched today, I’d make Catfish Hunter look like a pauper. Sewell was much more than a man who threw a gadget pitch. He won 21 games in 1943 and 1944 and in 1948, he went 13-3.

Dizzy Trout threw a blooper to Sewell once, only to see Sewell blast a double down the left field line. Another frustrated player was Whitey Kurowski who spit at the pitch every time Sewell threw him one. The 1975 BBD article said Ernie Lombardi once fanned on three straight ephus balls then begged the umpire to give him one more strike. Eddie Miller of the Braves hated the pitch and he used to scream at Sewell that he was going to get him. Sewell recalled that one day Miller snapped. ” . . . he just reached out and caught the ball as it came over the plate. He threw it up into the air and lined it right back at me. I caught it . . .” The umpire did not allow the play or the catch to stand. Instead, he called a strike on Miller.  [from Baseball Digest’s “Remember Rip Sewell and the ‘Ephus Ball’?” by Joe Falls from July 1975]

Sewell threw the pitch up to 15 times per outing and only one National League player ever got an extra base hit off it. That man, and this will make Donora, Pa. natives glad to hear, was The Man— Stan Musial.

APPEARANCE:  On Dec. 15th I’ll be signing some of my books at Mindfair, a book store inside the Ben Franklin store in Oberlin, Ohio, located at 13 West College Street (from 1:30 until 3 pm).