|Bob D'Angelo's Books & Blogs||
Here is a review of "Shea Stadium Remembered" I wrote for Sport In American History:
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about a collector who opened a retail pack at target 17 years ago and found a rare Michael Jordan card that will fetch six figures at an auction this week;
Harley Race was the kind of guy you wanted next to you if trouble broke out in a bar. Not only was he a star in professional wrestling for nearly three decades, but he was also a tough customer outside the ring.
Former pro wrestler Tom Prichard tweeted Thursday that Race was “the toughest man on God’s green earth.”
He had to be. Race, who died Aug. 1 at the age of 76, overcame adversity many times during his life. Professionally, he earned plenty of accolades. But he was always known as a tough guy.
How tough? On Feb. 12, 1965, Race saw 25-year-old Jack LaRue slap a woman during an argument outside the Chestnut Tree restaurant in Minneapolis. Race then intervened, and knocked LaRue out with one punch, the Minneapolis Star reported. A friend of LaRue’s then stabbed Race, who was taken to a hospital and had to miss a tag team title defense with Larry “The Axe” Hennig against Dick the Bruiser and the Crusher.
Race won the NWA world heavyweight title seven or eight times — pick one: His three-day reign in 1984 after beating Ric Flair in New Zealand has been alternately disputed and acknowledged. He also held numerous regional titles as a singles star and a tag team competitor. Race and Hennig held the AWA tag team titles three times.
Race competed in the AWA, the NWA and the WWF (now known as WWE). He has been acknowledged as one of the greats. He is one of only six men in the NWA, WWE, Tragos/Thesz, Pro Wrestling and Wrestling Observer halls of fame. He also belongs to the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, the Stampede Wrestling Hall of Fame and the St. Louis Hall of Fame. When he joined what is now the WWE, he was billed as “The King.” He wore a crown, and after beating his opponents bow and kneel in front of him.
Real-life reverence came from Race’s peers after his death was announced.
Flair, who won the NWA heavyweight title nine times, called Race “a great personal friend” and in his estimation, “the one and only real world champion.”
“Without Harley Race, there was no Ric Flair,” Flair tweeted. “I tried my hardest every day to live up to his standard in the ring.”
“Everything about Harley Race commanded respect,” Triple H tweeted.
Race was an unorthodox performer in the ring, and his wrestling promos were menacing. Race did not have to yell or gesture when cutting a promo. His words were slow, methodical and seething.
“This (title belt) is symbolic of being everything that any human being ever wanted to be,” Race said in one of his more memorable promos. “That man is Harley Race.”
Race faced challenges practically since his birth in Quitman, Missouri, on April 11, 1943. When he was 15 months old, on July 1944, Race injured one of his eyeballs when he fell on a wire, according to a report in the Maryville Daily Forum.
Race was popular in school and was elected Quitman High School’s freshman class president in 1957. But a year earlier, he attended a pro wrestling match with his father and brother near Quitman. It changed his life.
“I told them both that’s what I was going to do,” Race told Wrestleville.com in 2017.
Race told the website he purposely picked a fight with the principal at Quitman High School when he was 15.
“I punched him I the mouth and I got kicked out of school,” Race told Wrestleville.com. “Once my parents realized that wrestling was what I wanted to do, they let me go down and train.”
By his 16th birthday, Race was wrestling in St. Joseph, Missouri, training under the watchful eye of promoter Gus Karras. He wrestled in carnivals, and within a year his matches at arenas were being shown on television.
According to Cuyahoga County records, Race married a widow, Vivian Jones Thompson, on Nov. 14, 1961, in Ohio. Tragedy struck a month later, however.
Race was driving his 1958 Chrysler on U.S. 71 toward Maryville on Dec. 26, 1961 (many sites have incorrectly listed the year as 1960), when he hit a tractor-trailer that was headed in the opposite direction. According to the Stanberry (Mo.) Headlight, Race and the driver of the truck, Leonard Clark Fowler, had slowed down on the highway, which had been narrowed to 17 feet because of snow piles. Fowler pulled to the right, his truck hit a snowbank and the truck jackknifed. Race’s car hit the rear wheels of the truck and his car was demolished. His wife was killed.
According to her death certificate, Vivian Race suffered a brain laceration after receiving a blow to the head. She was 23.
Race broke his left arm and right leg and suffered cuts on the left side of his head.
“I have had a half dozen screws in my right knee since then,” Race told Wrestleville.com. “The left forearm worked out pretty good because I’m left-handed and after it healed, it worked well with cracking somebody in the jaw.”
Doctors talked about amputating his leg, but Race told them rather pointedly to forget it. Race had another scare in May 1962 when a truck rear-ended his car a half-mile north of St. Joseph, according to the Maryville Daily Forum. Although his car was demolished, Race was not hurt.
Race wrestled in Tennessee and other territories under the name of Jack Long before deciding to use his real name.
Race reached the pinnacle of his profession May 24, 1973, in Kansas City when he defeated Dory Funk Jr. in a best-of-three falls NWA title match. He only held the title for 57 days before losing it to Jack Brisco on July 20, 1973, in Houston. But Race regained the title Feb. 6, 1977, defeating Terry Funk—brother of Dory Funk Jr. — in Toronto. He would lose and regain the NWA crown five more times — in 1979 (twice), 1980, 1981 and 1983. Throw in the 1984 title change, and that’s quite a record.
Another wrestling legend is gone. Harley Race was a hard and tireless worker. Flair has called Race “a man’s man.” And, as Jeff Jarrett tweeted Tuesday, Race was “a champ’s champ.”
Ring the bell 10 times.
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about the collection of Dr. Goodman B. Espy III, which will be auctioned off in November. As a preview, some collectors can view the items on a cruise aboard the Queen Mary 2:
Here's my review of "Corked" that ran on the Sport in American History website:
OK, I confess. Like most kids who collected baseball cards during the 1960s, I made fun of Don Mossi’s picture, especially on his 1966 Topps card. Mossi didn’t even play in 1966, but he spent his final season (1965) with the Kansas City Athletics.
Mossi, who died July 19 at age 90 in Nampa, Idaho, was a fine left-handed pitcher for 12 seasons. He played for the Cleveland Indians, Detroit Tigers, Chicago White Sox and the Athletics from 1954 to 1965. He was known as “The Sphinx” or simply “Ears.” He had prominent ears and a large nose (hey, I’m of Italian descent, so I can sympathize with the nose), and although he ran a hotel later in life after baseball, his dark complexion and five o’clock shadow made him look like your town’s friendly undertaker.
Jim Bouton, writing in Ball Four, noted that Mossi “looked like a cab going down the street with its doors open.” More charitably, Brendan C. Boyd and Fred C. Harris, in their book, The Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Trading and Bubble Gum Book, described Mossi as having “loving cup ears.”
But forget the ears — Mossi was all heart, as a player and as a man.
He had a 101-80 record with a 3.43 ERA and saved 50 games. He made 165 career starts and had 55 complete games, and only made three errors.
During his rookie season in 1954, Mossi teamed with Ray Narleski to give the Indians a lefty-righty one-two punch out of the bullpen. It would have been hard for Mossi to crack the Indians’ starting rotation in 1954 since it contained future Hall of Famers Early Wynn, Bob Lemon and Bob Feller.
Nevertheless, Mossi went 6-1 with a 1.94 ERA and seven saves. He also made three appearances in the 1954 World Series and did not allow a run.
Mossi never had a great fastball, but he got by with guile and pinpoint control. He was traded to Detroit, along with Narleski, for Billy Martin, in November 1958. Mossi blossomed as a starter in Detroit, going 17-9 in 1959 and 15-7 in 1961. He had 15 complete games in 1959 and 12 in 1961.
On April 11, 1963. Mossi flirted with a perfect game, retiring the first 19 Cleveland Indians he faced before Tony Martinez had an infield hit. Gene Green was the only other Cleveland batter to get a hit, singling in the ninth. Mossi won, 6-1. Lou Mio of the News-Herald in Mansfield, Ohio, wrote that Mossi summoned “his four evangelists — Fast, Change, Slider and Curve”— to dispatch the Indians in 2 hours, 22 minutes.
Some players get a dinner held in their honor after retirement. For more than 40 years, Mossi has been celebrated annually on his birthday.
In January 1974, Doug Bureman, an assistant in the Cincinnati Reds’ public relations department, was sitting in his apartment with some friends, looking through baseball cards and drinking beer.
“We wanted to have a party but we needed an excuse to have one,” Bureman told Bob Hertzel of the Cincinnati Enquirer in 1977.
Bureman happened to see Mossi’s card and flipped to the back. He saw that Mossi’s birthdate was Jan. 11, 1929. Bingo. The first annual Don Mossi Birthday Party was born. More than 80 people, paying a dime apiece, showed up for the party. Some of Bureman’s friends baked a birthday cake “that looked just like Don,” and the group made a telephone call to the bemused Mossi at his California home.
The second annual party was even bigger. Among the 280 guests attending the party at the Disabled American Veterans hall in Clifton, Ohio, were Reds catcher Johnny Bench and Cincinnati broadcaster Marty Brennaman. Entertainment was provided by the aptly named Don Mossi Blues Band.
Mickey Mantle didn’t get this kind of love.
At Jefferson High School in Daly City, California, Mossi not only was a baseball star, but also a quarterback for the Indians (a nice coincidence with the team nickname). Described as “a triple threat,” Mossi was named a first-team quarterback to the Peninsula Athletic League in 1946 and 1947. He also kicked extra-point attempts.
Mossi was signed by Cleveland and worked his way up the minor league chain, starting with Class C Bakersfield of the California League in 1949. He advanced to Class A ball, and by 1953 was in Double-A with Dallas and Tulsa in the Texas League before breaking into the majors in 1954.
His biggest moment in the minor leagues came on Aug. 27, 1950, in Bakersfield, when Mossi married Eunice Bedford at home plate before the Indians’ game against the San Jose Red Sox. Mossi then pitched no-hit ball for 7 2/3 innings in the Indians’ 13-1 victory. He allowed a home run to Sheriff Robinson in the eighth inning but finished with a two-hit victory.
Don and Eunice were married for nearly 45 years. Eunice died in June 1995. She was 62.
I belong to several online baseball card trading groups. Several years ago, in one of my groups, we had an online discussion about homely looking pictures of players on baseball cards, and Mossi’s name invariably came up.
Shortly after that, we received an angry (and profane) letter from one of Mossi’s granddaughters, who admonished us for our lack of sensitivity. If she had seen a photo of us card collectors, she would have realized that we were a homely looking bunch. Kindred spirits, if you will. But we all got her point.
After Eunice’s death, Mossi moved to Idaho in 2000 to be closer to his large family. According to his obituary in the Idaho Statesman, Mossi remained busy in his final years by hunting, camping, woodwork and gardening. Above all, he was a family man, cherished by his three children, 12 grandchildren and 25 great-grandchildren.
I still have that 1966 Don Mossi card from Topps — actually, two of them. One of them has his autograph on it. It remains one of my favorite cards, but now, for a different reason.
Mossi deserved a loving cup — not for his ears, but for his heart and the life he led.
SummerSlam has been a staple of World Wrestling Entertainment since its debut in 1988. It has been the perfect pro wrestling event to keep interest lively during the doldrums of summer, and this year’s event in Toronto on Aug. 11 should be no different.
Looking at the present and remembering the past is the focus of the 2019 Topps SummerSlam set. With 100 cards in the base set and a nice sampling of inserts, the set provides a colorful look at the WWE’s top performers.
The 100-card base set is divided into two parts: a 50-card set of stars that competed in last year’s SummerSlam event in Brooklyn, New York, and 50 cards of key matches from the 2018 event.
As usual, I bought a blaster box, which included 10 packs. There are seven cards to a pack, and there is a pack that includes either a relic, autograph, or even an auto-relic. In addition, there is a pack containing four Women’s Evolution insert cards.
In the blaster I opened, I pulled 25 cards of the individual stars and 22 cards of the SummerSlam Leadup. The design for card Nos. 1-50 shows the wrestler in a posed shot, with the Topps logo in the upper left-hand corner and the WWE logo in the top right-hand corner. The background behind each wrestler is splashy and bold, with vivid orange and yellow tones. The SummerSlam logo dominates the card beneath the photo of the wrestlers.
The card backs include a 10-line biography, with side notes that diehard WWE fans will recognize. So, fans can learn more about the Phenomenal One (AJ Styles), the wrestler whose fans sang a version of “Seven Member Army” (Elias), the Boss (Sasha Banks) and The Lone Wolf (Baron Corbin).
The SummerSlam Leadup is more action-oriented on the card front, highlighting big matches from 2018. The card back includes a seven-line summary of a key match.
Topps continues its yearlong Ronda Rousey Spotlight series with a third installment in the SummerSlam product. Previous cards can be found in the 2019 Topps’ WWE Road to WrestleMania and the 2019 Topps Raw sets. There was one Rousey card in the blaster I opened.
The nice part about this product is getting a hot card, even from a blaster. The card I pulled was SummerSlam 2018 Event-Used Mat relic card that featured Seth Rollins on the front.
The inserts are vivid and show some imagination. The SummerSlam Posters Spotlight is a four-card series that highlights reprints of the promotional posters for previous Summer Slams. I pulled two of these cards from the blaster box I bought. One featured a reprint of a 2015 poster that featured Brock Lesnar and the Undertaker, while the other was a 2018 reprint that featured Lesnar, Alexa Bliss, Rousey and Roman Reigns.
The Greatest SummerSlam Matches & Moments insert comes as advertised, with 40 of the biggest moments in the event’s history. I pulled 10 of the 40 inserts in the subset, and those cards included the 1991 “wedding” between Randy Savage and Miss Elizabeth, Ric Flair’s “I Quit” victory against Mick Foley in 2006, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin winning the Intercontinental title in 1997, and Dusty Rhodes’ victory against the Honky Tonk Man in a 1989 SummerSlam bout.
I pulled 10 of the 25 SummerSlam All-Star inserts, including cards of Lesnar, Bret Hart, Edge, the Hart Foundation and D-Generation X.
As advertised, there were four Women’s Evolution cards in a special pack. There are only six different ones, and the cards I pulled included Bliss, Banks and Charlotte Flair, a solo card of Flair and a Smackdown Women’s Championship card.
Topps — and the WWE — continue to see the value in promoting the women wrestlers in the company, and that’s a good thing.
Topps and the WWE continue to have a successful partnership with its rotating sets of cards each year. The cards include action, big stars, and plenty of inserts. The inclusion of relics and/or autographs in blaster boxes make this set fun to buy and collect.
“Luck is the residue of design” is a quote that has been attributed to baseball executive Branch Rickey. “The Mahatma” stressed that things worthwhile “generally don’t just happen,” and that “luck is a fact but should not be a factor.”
Author-poet Natasha Josefowitz might have said it better, though. Luck, she said, “is being in the right place at the right time.” But, “location and timing are to some extent under our control.”
Joe Wessel fits those descriptions.
Wessel, a Tampa businessman, has been an athlete and a coach. He is a family man and has a knack for networking. He also has a wonderful story to tell.
Wessel enjoyed playing golf, and, as luck would have it, roomed with Steve Nicklaus, the son of PGA Tour immortal Jack Nicklaus, while he attended Florida State University during the early 1980s.
A round of golf that resulted in a broken putter led to series of events that allowed Wessel and his father to play a round of golf with Jack and Steve Nicklaus — and not just at any course.
They played at Augusta National Golf Club.
How Wessel got to play the fabled course that hosts The Masters is a key element in White Fang and the Golden Bear: A Father-and-Son Journey on the Golf Course and Beyond (Skyhorse Publishing; hardback; $19.99; 181 pages). Wessel, with some collaboration from veteran author (and former Tampa Tribune sportswriter) Bill Chastain, crafts a nice tale while paying tribute to his father, Louis Wessel, who gave him “the ultimate lesson” on how to be a leader. The elder Wessel did that by his passion and work ethic, simply leading by example.
It’s a powerful story, and much of it has to do with Wessel’s relationship with his dad. Wessel quotes snippets of letters he wrote home and chronicles the life and career of his father. Louis Wessel enlisted in the Army during World War II when he was 15 and led a life whose purpose “always seemed to come to him effortlessly and with clarity.”
The elder Wessel also had a catalog of favorite sayings, which his son mentions in the book’s appendix. One even had hunting overtones.
“Keep your eye on the bird,” Louis Wessel would tell his son. “You haven’t shot it dead yet. Keep your focus. Eliminate the distractions.”
That’s a perfect philosophy for concentrating in golf. The best players have it.
Jack Nicklaus was always focused, and the tale surrounding White Fang is a good example.
It is the name given to a putter Jack Nicklaus used to win the 1967 U.S. Open at Baltusrol. The putter, a Bull’s Eye brand painted white, became lost in the shuffle of clubs the Golden Bear used to win his 18 major golf championships. It ended up in the hands of Steve Nicklaus during his time at FSU, and the younger Nicklaus gave the club to Wessel when he broke his own putter while tossing it in the air after a particularly frustrating shot.
Wessel kept the club, not knowing its significance until years later.
Wessel was Steve Nicklaus’ teammate and roommate at FSU, and a special teams demon during his senior season with the Seminoles. He blocked five kicks during the 1984 season, converting three of them into touchdowns, an NCAA record.
Wessel tells the story of meeting Jack Nicklaus for the first time in 1983. The Golden Bear grabbed Wessel by the arm and pulled him into a back room and without missing a beat, asked him a question about his son, Steve.
“How are you two getting along?” Nicklaus asked.
Wessel thought it was an odd question since he and the younger Nicklaus had only been roommates for a month. “We were still on our honeymoon!” Wessel wrote.
Looking back, Wessel realized what had happened. “I realized his thought process began with caring about his kids,” Wessel wrote. “That spoke volumes about how ingrained he was in his family life.”
A quick diversion for a personal story.
Was Nicklaus devoted to his children? Most definitely. It was common to see Nicklaus at his sons’ football games and his daughter’s volleyball matches and softball games. As a sportswriter during the early 1980s at The Stuart News, I’d seen Nicklaus stalk the sidelines at football games to encourage his sons. He might have been famous, but during his kids’ games, Nicklaus reacted as most parents did.
It also was not unusual for Nicklaus' wife, Barbara, to work at the scorer’s table when her daughter, Nan, played volleyball.
The Benjamin School in North Palm Beach is where the Nicklaus children attended high school. In the early 1980s, the Buccaneers ventured to John Carroll High School in Fort Pierce. Barbara Nicklaus was at the scorer’s table, and Jack Nicklaus was in the stands to watch Nan as Benjamin prepared to play a traditionally powerful Golden Rams squad.
My boss at The Stuart News, J.T. Harris, approached Jack Nicklaus, who initially waved him away, saying, “I don’t want to talk about golf.”
Harris was prepared, however, telling Nicklaus that he wanted to talk about Nan’s progress as a volleyball player.
That did the trick. Harris got the interview, a different angle and a nice exclusive.
Wessel’s involvement in sports as a youth was helped by the friendships of his mother — and his own friend-making ability — with the sons of Miami Dolphins head coach Don Shula and his assistant Howard Schnellenberger. Wessel would help out at the Dolphins’ training camp, and that got him special time with players like quarterback Earl Morrall.
Wessel even got to meet one of Schnellenberger’s neighbors at a party, a young musician named Harry Wayne Casey. Casey was at the height of his popularity as the lead singer for KC and the Sunshine Band, but Wessel regarded him as a regular guy and even got the musician a deal on a slalom ski.
Wessel’s college playing career ended after the 1984 Citrus Bowl (a 17-17 tie with Georgia), but he stayed in athletics as an assistant coach. He worked at LSU and Notre Dame, then jumped to the pros to work for the Cincinnati Bengals and Philadelphia Eagles.
Wessel’s renewed his connection with White Fang after talking with his father, who noticed the putter and vaguely recalled Jack Nicklaus was looking for two of his famous clubs. White Fang was one of them.
In April 1983, Wessel attended Steve Nicklaus’ 40th birthday party. He told Jack Nicklaus, “I may have a club that might be yours.”
Intrigued, the six-time Masters champion wanted to see it. When he realized it was White Fang, he asked to have it back. Wessel obliged, but when Nicklaus offered to send him a set of clubs as compensation, he realized he was in the right place at the right time.
“You’re not getting off that easy,” Wessel told Nicklaus. “You get Steve, and I’ll get my Dad. Let’s go to Augusta, and we’ll call it even.”
Nicklaus agreed, and the match was on.
The book is sentimental and sweet. Chastain’s role was to fill in the gaps by speaking with some of the main characters Wessel encountered during his athletic career. Chastain, who is a fine storyteller in his own right, did the necessary research on White Fang, but steps back and allows Wessel to control the narrative.
Jack Nicklaus wrote the foreword to White Fang and the Golden Bear. He notes that Joe Wessel “had a special relationship with his dad,” adding that setting up the foursome at Augusta was “a small part in their life together” that nonetheless brought him “pure joy.”
White Fang and the Golden Bear is a brief story, but a special one. It’s a story filled with pure joy, good advice, funny stories — and some extraordinary luck.
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about Ted Patterson, the former Baltimore sportscaster whose massive collection is heading to auction this summer.
Jim Bouton’s diary entry 50 years ago in Ball Four, on July 10, 1969, recounted a prank played on Seattle Pilots pitcher Fred Talbot.
I went back and reread that entry after learning that Bouton had died Wednesday at his Massachusetts home at the age of 80.
The prank the Pilots played on Talbot, where he got a letter from a fan promising $5,000 after the fan won a contest, was hilarious, and so was Bouton’s narrative.
It was the kind of insider stuff that, as a 13-year-old in 1970, I craved to read about. Baseball players were my heroes, but it was fun to learn these guys weren’t saints. Ball Four showed the locker room as it really was, with young men who not only were talented athletes, but also drinkers, pill poppers and skirt chasers. Players could be mean, crude, profane, tough or silly. They could play cruel jokes, kiss each other on the lips, yell lewd things to women while riding on the team bus and grumble about their lack of playing time.
Managers and coaches could be distant or simply out of touch.
Those players and coaches also could be thoughtful, political and intelligent.
Bouton was a decent pitcher for the New York Yankees, but it was his keen eye for detail and his groundbreaking book, Ball Four, that made him a baseball legend. Certainly, the baseball establishment did not take too kindly to Bouton’s revelations — in fact, he was vilified and shunned by players and raked across the coals by sportswriters.
New York Daily News columnist Dick Young wrote that Bouton was a “social leper,” and unwittingly gave the budding author the title for his second book, I’m Glad You Didn’t Take It Personally. Much of the invective leveled at Bouton came because he violated the unwritten code of the baseball clubhouse, an athletic sort of omerta: “What you see here, what you hear here, what happens here, stays here.”
Well, Bouton opened his mouth, and the baseball establishment was upset. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn tried to get Bouton to recant his book, but he refused. What Kuhn did not realize was that every bit of ink written about his efforts to squash Bouton’s book helped sell more copies of Ball Four.
Looking back, here’s what I think. I believe many of the writers who followed the teams even into the 1960s had an agreement — unwritten or otherwise — to keep personal items out of the newspapers. How else to explain how many of Babe Ruth’s indiscretions never became public — and he was no saint, by any means.
There had been some sportswriters emerging in the 1960s — Leonard Shecter, who helped Bouton write Ball Four, was one — who was part of the new breed of sports journalists referred to as chipmunks, because of their incessant chattering and pointed questions. These younger writers dug deeper and asked tougher questions.
When Bouton wrote Ball Four, suddenly all bets were off — and the old guard of sportswriters was forced to become reporters and journalists.
Never mind that Bouton, nicknamed the Bulldog early in his career, won 21 games in 1963 and a pair of World Series games in 1964 after winning 18 games that season. He was persona non grata in the eyes of the baseball establishment after writing Ball Four.
I was always surprised by Dick Young’s reaction to the book since he was the prototype of the sportswriter who went into the locker rooms and asked questions without dewy-eyed awe. His work during the 1940s and ’50s with the Daily News was the gold standard for future beat reporters.
So why the animosity? Who knows — maybe Young wanted to write the “tell-all” book about baseball, and Bouton beat him to the punch.
Ball Four was inspired to a degree by another pitcher’s diary — The Long Season, published in 1960 by Jim Brosnan. While Brosnan kept the locker room details to a minimum, Bouton used a no-holds-barred approach.
Some of the portraits he painted were tremendous. Pilots manager Joe Schultz, who would tell his players to go out and win “and pound that Budweiser” after the game. Or Gary Bell, whose response at a pregame meeting about every opposing hitter was “Smoke ’em inside.”
"Gary Bell is a beautiful man," Bouton wrote.
Younger players like Steve Hovley and Mike Marshall were blossoming into men who would not follow the old guard blindly.
And what lines. Hovley came up to Bouton in spring training and told him that “to a pitcher a base hit is the perfect example of negative feedback.”
The talk about “greenies” — amphetamines — was prevalent throughout the book. At one point, Bouton asked teammate Don Mincher how prevalent greenies were. Did half of the player take them? More than that?
“Hell, a lot more than half,” Mincher said. “Just about the whole Baltimore team takes them. Most of the Tigers. Most of the guys on this club. And that’s what I know for sure.”
The biggest controversy that came out of Ball Four was Bouton’s portrayal of his former teammate, Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle. Mantle’s retirement in March 1969 sparked memories from Bouton — some good, others that were revelations to many fans.
“On the one hand I really liked his sense of humor and his boyishness,” Bouton wrote. “… On the other hand there were all those times when he’d push little kids aside when they wanted his autograph.”
It was only a few pages of memories, but it caused anger among players and fan who were not used to seeing their heroes, warts and all. Mantle was my favorite player when I was growing up, but Bouton’s revelations did not offend me in the least. It made The Mick more human, in my view.
Read The Last Boy by award-winning author Jane Leavy. There is more detail in that book about Mantle — good and bad — than Bouton ever published in Ball Four. Leavy also gives Babe Ruth the same no-holds-barred treatment in her latest book, The Big Fella.
Bouton turned out to be a better author than a pitcher, and baseball never really forgave him for breaking the code of silence. He reconciled with Mickey Mantle before the slugger’s death in 1995, and the Yankees invited him to an Old Timer’s Game in 1988 after his son, Michael, wrote an editorial in The New York Times on Father’s Day that year, telling the team to let bygones be bygones.
The cruelest fate for Bouton is that a man of his wit and intelligence was felled by dementia. He suffered a stroke in 2012 and was plagued by a brain disease that was discovered in 2017.
One of baseball’s great voices has been silenced, but Bouton’s legacy lives on through Ball Four. His love for the game was deep, as he wrote in the final paragraph of that 1970 bestseller.
"You see, you spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time," he wrote.
RIP, Jim Bouton. Your final pitch was a strike, and the baseball establishment whiffed.
The 2019 Bowman Platinum baseball card set is a retail-exclusive set that offers prospects, rookies and current major league stars.
And if you like shiny cards, this one will shimmer for you.
You can buy the cards at your local Walmart, or from the store’s website.
I bought a blaster box, contains seven packs, with four cards to a pack. There is an extra pack that includes four ice parallels.
The base set consists of 100 cards of MLB stars and rookies, plus four short printed cards of Pete Alonso, Eloy Jimenez, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and Fernando Tatis Jr. The short prints take the place of four common cards in the base set.
In the blaster box I bought, I pulled 16 base cards.
The card design has the Bowman logo in the top left-hand corner, with the player’s name and team beneath an action photo of the player. The player’s position is situated in the lower right-hand corner of the card front.
The photos are sharp, and the backgrounds are purposely blurred to make the player’s image pop. The right-hand side of the cards is adorned with silver parallelograms (very narrow ones) that stretch vertically from top to almost the bottom.
The card backs are clean, with records showcasing a career-best season, 2018 statistics and career totals. Beneath that is a “Platinum Batting Moment” — or “Platinum Pitching Moment,” a six-line highlight from a 2018 performance.
There are more parallel lines and crisscrossing lines in varying shades of gray that frame the white box containing the statistics and biographies.
In addition to the base cards, there are 100 Top Prospect cards.
The design is slightly different on the card front, with the Bowman logo in the top right-hand corner and the player’s position in the lower left-hand corner. The parallel lines are there, too, but form a different pattern.
The card backs also have a six-line biography, with 2018 and career statistics above them.
I pulled eight of these cards.
The ice parallels I pulled were Astros star Jose Altuve, Astros prospect Freudis Nova, Mets prospect Shervyen Newton and Athletics outfielder Ramon Laureano.
The parallels are very shiny, with a glittery background that looks like twinkling lights. The scan of Altuve included in this review really does not do the card justice; it looks much nicer in person.
A nice addition to this blaster box was a sticker autograph card of Cubs pitching prospect and former Auburn University star Keegan Thompson.
I also pulled three inserts: A Renowned Rookies card of Michael Kopech, a Platinum Presence card of Rhys Hoskins, and a Prismatic Prodigies card of Nick Madrigal.
If you love shiny cards, Bowman Platinum is a nice product to collect. The design is crisp and clean, with no gaudy embellishments. In a word, tasteful.
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about possible legal action that could be taken against "card doctors."
There is reverence attached to the New York Yankees dynasty of the late 1990s and early 2000s. And deservedly so. From 1996 to 2003, the Yankees went to six World Series, winning four of them.'
The “Core Four” of Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada exemplified the “Yankee Way” that originated in the 1930s when another dynasty under manager Joe McCarthy won five World Series during the 1930s.
But several postseason disappointments — including the meltdown in the 2004 ALCS — made it clear the old guard needed some new blood.
That is what happened in 2009. The Yankees opened a new ballpark, and the team opened its wallet to bring in some key players. The result was the Yankees’ 40th American League pennant and 27th World Series title.
Authors Mark Feinsand and Bryan Hoch take a fresh approach and connect solidly in Mission 27: A New Boss, A New Ballpark, and One Last Ring for the Yankees’ Core Four (Triumph Books; hardback; $27.95; 287 pages).
Feinsand covered the Yankees during the 2009 season for the New York Daily News and currently is an executive reporter for MLB.com. Hoch, meanwhile, has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007.
The Yankees traditionally have won pennants in bunches, so the 2009 flag represented a season that stood by itself. Certainly, the Yankees believed they had the personnel for another run, but it didn’t happen even though the team reached the postseason after the ’09 season.
What makes this book such an interesting read is that Feinsand and Hoch widen their focus beyond the Core Four. That’s because there are so many interesting, free-wheeling characters — Nick Swisher (who wrote the book’s foreword), Mark Teixeira, Johnny Damon, CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, to name a few.
There were many key moments in that season, but one of the biggest happened before spring training ever began. General manager Brian Cashman’s ability to convince Sabathia to come to New York was huge, not only because of his pitching ability, but also because of his knack for creating a convivial clubhouse. Feinsand and Hoch note that Sabathia was not sold on signing with the Yankees, but Cashman convinced him because the pitcher was “a strong, team-first personality” who could help “mend a clubhouse in need of a makeover.”
Sabathia was concerned because he’d heard the Yankees had a broken clubhouse, and Cashman did not mince words.
“That’s one of the reasons we’re talking to you,” Cashman told Sabathia. “Not because of who you are as a player but someone who brings people together.”
Swisher is the unsung hero of Mission 27, a player with a strong, bubbling personality that fit in well with a winning team. It was easy for Cashman to pry Swisher away from the White Sox, where the first baseman did not mesh with manager Ozzie Guillen and the Chicago coaching staff.
Teixeira, meanwhile, was a surprise acquisition. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, it’s on!’ That was huge,” hitting coach Kevin Long told the authors. “This was a big piece, and we knew it. We knew how valuable Tex was.”
Signing a new group of free-spirited players allowed Alex Rodriguez to relax and bond with players outside the Core Four. Whether he was ever accepted in the Core Four axis is open to debate, but Rodriguez realized he could bond with other players who could pick up the team. A-Rod could relax, and that would be the difference.
Rodriguez had a rocky start before the season, holding an awkward news conference during spring training to address steroid use. No one was comfortable, and although the team leaders stood behind Rodriguez, their body language made it clear they did not necessarily stand with him. An injury that hampered Rodriguez early in the season also was a concern.
Feinsand and Hoch excel at bringing out details that led to the Yankees meshing as a group. In the chapter called “A Visit From the Principal,” Cashman makes an unannounced trip to Atlanta in late June and reads the Yankees the riot act — in a calm, effective tone.
“His missive cut straight to the point: You’re better than this. Prove it,” the authors write of Cashman, who never raised his voice “from its usual peppy monotone” during the meeting.
“There was no need to; the results spoke volumes,” the authors write.
“You don’t have to yell to get your point across,” Teixeira said. “Some guys just have a look, a tone. Cash had both.”
The second key event was a birthday party Rodriguez threw at his mansion in Rye, New York. It was a swanky affair, with A-listers like Kate Hudson (A-Rod’s girlfriend at the time) and rapper Jay-Z. What made the party notable was the move away from elegance to just plain fun. Rodriguez, on a suggestion from Sabathia and Burnett, blew out the candles to his birthday cake and then jumped, fully clothed in his expensive threads, into his Olympic-sized swimming pool.
Even manager Joe Girardi jumped into the pool.
“For Rodriguez, the acceptance he felt on the night of birthday party offered another indication that he was moving past his early season drama,” the authors write.
Feinsand and Hoch compare A-Rod to the Andy Dufresne character from The Shawshank Redemption, “who crawled through a river of sewage and came out clean on the other side.”
Amazingly, the Cashman dress-down and A-Rod party were not discovered during the season; imagine what fun the New York tabloids would have had with that. Feinsand and Hoch, both fine reporters, did not have an inkling, and it was only through their research for Mission 27 that these fascinating nuggets came to light.
There are some good anecdotes about Burnett, who smashed whipped cream pies into the faces of players who were being interviewed on postgame shows for their heroics during the game. That helped puncture the myth of the haughty Yankees and injected some fun into the equation.
Guys like Burnett and Damon kept the clubhouse loose. “Johnny Damon was a guy I always tell people took us from being the uptight Goldman Sachs executives to more of a kind of college frat house,” Rodriguez tells the authors.
Still Burnett had his issues with Posada, and the two battery mates could never work smoothly together. Now, Burnett speaks with regret about Girardi’s decision to have Jose Molina catch him, instead of Posada. The emotional catcher remains bitter about it.
“I felt like he stabbed me in the back,” Posada tells the authors. “It hurt me deeply.”
Molina, for his part, said he did not feel sorry for Posada and basically said the catcher needed to get over it. “Posada’s griping behind closed doors rubbed Molina the wrong way,” the authors write.
“I wasn’t mad; I was just kind of disappointed because a teammate is a teammate in the good times and the bad,” Molina told the authors.
“We’re all tough athletes, but everyone’s got a heart,” Burnett told the authors. “I could tell his was hurt and I hope he knew mine was.”
The book opens with an oral history, with players, coaches and personnel recalling the Yankees’ World Series-clinching win on Nov. 4, 2009. The biggest takeaway from that chapter was the injury Rivera was fighting. The all-time saves leader had a strained left oblique, and no one — reporters, and especially the Philadelphia Phillies, trying to save alive in the Series — knew about it.
“Every time you throw a pitch, it feels like a knife,” Rivera tells the authors. “That was pain. That wasn’t soreness. That’s pain.”
The authors were blessed with cooperation from most of the players and executives from that 2009 squad. Jeter is a notable exception, although he is quoted in several places. But the other three Core Four players were happy to speak with Feinsand and Hoch, and it helps give the reader a unique perspective about the pressure that follows players who don the pinstripes.
Rodriguez was also particularly candid, which gave the book more heft.
It’s not an easy job.
Mission 27 is a detailed, behind-the-scenes look at the most glamorous franchise in the major leagues. Feinsand and Hoch present an engaging narrative, rich with detail and firsthand perspective. Even if you are not a Yankees fan, you can still appreciate the hard work and attention to detail.
Here is a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about Luis "Louie" Morales, the new promoter for the monthly Orlando Area Card Show. Luis is a former NYPD detective and runs a charitable organization to help feed hungry children in Central Florida:
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about Bernice Gera, the first woman umpire in professional baseball:
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about former New York Mets first baseman Ed Kranepool, who is having a private sale at his home this summer to sell some of his memorabilia. The money will help pay Kranepool's medical bills, which he incurred while receiving a kidney transplant in May.
Even before it was officially called Wrigley Field, the Chicago Cubs’ ballpark at Clark and Addison streets had its own mystique.
“In All the World No Park Like This,” an advertisement in the April 19, 1923, edition of the Chicago Daily Tribune blared.
Or, as Chicago Tribune columnist Daniel Israel noted a half century later, “If baseball is the moral equivalent of war, then Wrigley Field is the moral equivalent of Belgium.”
Either description suited the “Friendly Confines,” which could be pure hell for pitchers. No lead ever seemed safe at Wrigley, especially when the wind was blowing toward the ivy covered outfield walls.
A Thursday afternoon game at Wrigley 40 years ago fit both descriptions. The Philadelphia Phillies’ 23-22 victory in 10 innings on May 17, 1979, included 50 hits, 11 home runs and 22 total extra-base hits.
Kevin Cook brings that craziness to life in Ten Innings at Wrigley: The Wildest Baseball Game Ever, With Baseball on the Brink (Henry Holt and Company; hardback; $28; 253 pages). Cook gives the reader a “you are there” feel thanks to his research, which included watching the Cubs’ telecast and listening to the Phillies’ radio broadcast.
Cook, a former senior editor at Sports Illustrated whose earlier works include Tommy’s Honor (2007), The Last Headbangers (2012) Electric October (2017), combines his flair for storytelling with vignettes about the players and fascinating facts about that game at windy Wrigley Field.
I enjoyed the tidbits. For example, Randy Lerch and Bob Boone became the first pitcher/catcher duo to homer before taking the field, as both connected during the Phillies’ seven-run outburst in the top of the first inning. Or, pitcher Bill Caudill would become the first client for super-agent Scott Boras. And for people who love numbers, Ron Reed and Dave Kingman marked the first time in the 1979 season in which the pitcher and batter totaled 13 feet tall.
Things were odd outside the ballpark, too. Cook writes about a sanitation truck chugging down Waveland Avenue suddenly bursting into flames during the bottom of the second inning.
The Phillies had high expectations heading into 1979, coming off three straight National League East division titles. Philadelphia had veterans like Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton, Pete Rose and Larry Bowa, along with Bob Boone and Tug McGraw. The Cubs, on the other hand, were going nowhere fast, which was not surprising. Their two top hitters, Kingman and Bill Buckner, could not stand one another. No wonder manager Herman Franks “invented grumpiness,” which is a stretch. Franks cut his teeth in baseball under the managerial eye of Leo Durocher, who was much more combative and demonstrative.
Still, it’s not a bad description.
Cook tells the story of Cubs starter Dennis Lamp, who only got one out in the first inning and lasted 10 minutes on the mound. Lamp’s wife, Janet, arrived late to the game and asked about her husband: “Where is he? How’s he doing?”
“Nobody wanted to tell her,” Cook writes.
When Donnie Moore finally got the Phillies out to end the first, Philadelphia shortstop Bowa posed a question to Lerch.
“Seven runs. That enough for you?” Bowa he asked.
As it turned out, no. While the Phillies took later leads of 15-6 and 21-9, the Cubs did not roll over and play dead. Lifted by a 17 mph win that produced three Kingman home runs and a grand slam by Buckner, Chicago pulled to within 21-19 and then tied the game, 22-22, with three runs in the bottom of the eighth inning.
Ashburn was not exaggerating when he told his listeners, “We might see grown men cry on the mound."
Schmidt’s second homer of the game, in the top of the 10th inning, ended the scoring and left both teams frazzled.
“What a wacko game,” Schmidt would say.
Cook divides Ten Innings at Wrigley into three parts. The beginning deals with the history of both teams, while the second part goes into the game itself, with each chapter representing a half inning. A graphic at the top of the page of each new chapter in Part Two is a scoreline with the game’s inning-by-inning breakdown to that point.
The final part of the book is an afterward, where Cook writes about legacies of the Phillies, who would win their first World Series in 1980; Kingman’s prickly relationship with the media; Buckner, “a pro in the best sense”; the tragedy of Moore, who was always on the edge but became even more dangerous after allowing a home run to Dave Henderson in Game 5 of the 1986 ALCS, with the Angels sitting one strike away from going to the World Series; the legacy of the Boone family (Cook co-wrote a book with Bret Boone in 2008); and Wrigley Field itself.
Cook’s short vignettes about each participant are lively, interesting, and at times downright funny. In describing Cubs center fielder Jerry Martin, Cook notes.
Cook interviewed players, sportswriters, fans at the game and Cubs historian Ed Harig. He also immersed himself in the archives at the National Baseball Hall of Fame, and his bibliography is well-rounded.
Ten Innings at Wrigley is a fun, quick read. In terms of crazy games at Wrigley Field, this 1979 is definitely among the weirdest. Cook does a nice job conveying that to the reader.
Here are the highlights of the game, preserved on YouTube. You've got to love some of Cubs' announcer Jack Brickhouse's calls. To say he was flabbergasted at times would be an understatement.
Click to set custom HTML
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about the 1960 National Bank of Washington Tacoma Giants, which featured the first baseball card of future Hall of Fame pitcher Juan Marichal:
Here's a review I wrote for Sport In American History about legendary Kentucky basketball coach Adolph Rupp:
“A man’s life is a tapestry,” Norman L. Macht writes. “Not a chart.”
The prolific baseball author, who turns 90 in August, weaves a fine collection of player memories in his latest book that rival Lawrence Ritter’s “The Glory of Their Times. In They Played the Game: Memories from 47 Major Leaguers (University of Nebraska; hardback; $29.95, 308 pages), Macht allows 47 players to take a wistful, candid and, in some cases, critical look at their baseball past.
Macht’s reliance on primary sources in his previous works is admirable; his interviews with scores of baseball players and executives helped produce his three-volume biography of Connie Mack that was published in 2007, 2012 and 2015. What “began as a 350-page biography” of a legendary baseball manager took 30 years to complete and totaled more than 2,000 pages.
But for this compilation, Macht switches gears and allows the players to comb through their memories.
“If you wish to do the research to verify or question their facts or versions of events, do so,” Macht writes. “I didn’t.”
This type of book works well; baseball is a sport that dwells on its history, and former players can be marvelous storytellers. Macht, who calls himself “an ancient typewriter tapper,” is content to let the players tell the story. Other than a brief introduction, editing for clarity and some questions sprinkled in parts of the text, the book belongs to the players.
Macht used the same formula as Ritter: Criss cross the country in search of players and tape his interviews. Like Ritter, Macht transcribed the conversations. Unlike Ritter, who limited his player interviews to men who played during the first 25 years of the 20th century, Macht broadened his base, speaking to former major leagues who played from the deadball era into the 1970s.
From Joe Adcock to Don Zimmer, Macht interviews the greats, players who were stars, and players who had the proverbial cup of coffee. He spoke with six Hall of Famers: Richie Ashburn, Travis Jackson, George “High Pockets” Kelly, Ted Lyons, Hal Newhouser and Ted Williams.
In a recent podcast with Marty Lurie, Macht said his favorite interview was with former Philadelphia Athletics first baseman Ferris Fain. It’s easy to see why. Fain was an “aggressive, hot-tempered” player who won two American League batting titles and was a five-time All-Star. He also served 18 months in state prison for growing marijuana at his California home during the 1980s for medicinal purposes (his contention) or to sell it (the authorities’ contention).
Fain was a competitor who “didn’t so much play the game as attack it,” Dwight Chapin of the San Francisco Examiner wrote in 1986 when Fain received his sentence.
Fain, speaking with Macht, punctured the legend of Connie Mack, his manager, questioning his leadership and his ability to run a ballclub. Fain respected Mack, but disagreed with him and used language few players ever did with the Athletics’ manager.
In one colorful exchange, Fain told Mack he was not going to throw the ball again after attempting a difficult play; instead, he would stick the ball where the sun didn’t shine, so to speak (Fain’s language was much more colorful).
Fain picks up the story: “And (Mack) says, ‘Young man’ — now this was a senile old man that we thought had lost it — ‘Young man, I’d like you to know that that’d probably be the safest place for that ball.’”
That “floored the 22 guys in the dugout,” Fain told Macht. “It was the most apropos response I ever heard in my life, even if I was involved.”
A fascinating interview.
Each interview has something for everyone. The reader discovers how Dave Ferriss got the nickname “Boo,” and how the Red Sox pitcher would watch Ted Williams stand out in left field “taking those imaginary swings.”
Ralph “Putsy” Caballero was the youngest third baseman in major league history, making his debut at 16 years, 10 months. He tells Macht about his first home run, straight down the left-field line at the Polo Grounds in 1951.
Macht’s introductions to each player interview also spice up the book. In writing about pitcher Carmen Hill, who played from 1915 to 1930, Macht notes that if you made a bar graph of the right-hander’s career, “it would look like a Kansas wheat field with two tall silos side by side in the middle.”
Shortstop Mark Koenig tells a story about Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig that is almost Yogi Berra-esque. Koenig, Gehrig and Gene Robertson were sitting on top of the dugout before a game in Waco, Texas. When Robertson noted the fans “can really hurl epithets at you,” Gehrig looked back and answered, “They can’t throw ’em through that screen,”
Former catcher John Roseboro spoke about “what you want to accomplish when you call a pitch.” He also expressed his frustration of not being chosen as a manager — Do you want to manage? Macht asked. “Like I need air,” Roseboro said. “As a catcher you are almost managing anyway.”
Macht’s interview with Mike Marshall promised to be a good one, and the former reliever did not disappoint.
Mike Marshall said when it came to pitching, he listened to Isaac Newton. “He never won a game, but he helped me set some pitching records.”
A side note: The Newton reference originally came up in Jim Bouton’s 1970 best-seller, Ball Four. Marshall had been telling players the lower mound in 1969 helped pitchers because it had to do with “the hypotenuse of a right triangle decreasing as either side of the triangle decreases,” Bouton wrote.
After Marshall was hit hard in an intrasquad game in March 1969, Bouton wrote that Marshall “just ran into Doubleday’s First Law, which states that if you throw a fastball with insufficient speed, someone will smack it out of the park with a stick.”
Marshall’s interview was full of insights — “I’m still persona non grata in major league baseball” he said, referencing his role as a player representative. He had glowing praise for managers Gene Mauch and Walter Alston.
He gave Mauch “every credit for the success I had in baseball,” while noting that longtime Dodgers manager Walter Alston, who used Marshall in a record 106 games in relief during the 1974 season, was “a beautiful human being.”
“He understood more about people and how to get the most out of them,” Marshall said.
Don Kessinger laments the 1969 season, when the Chicago Cubs swooned and allowed the New York Mets to win the National League East.
“We had the best talent in baseball, and we didn’t win. I don’t know why,” Kessinger tells Macht. “If we had won in ’69, we probably would have won the next two or three years.”
Macht visited John Francis Daley on the former player’s 100th birthday (May 25, 1987), and the former shortstop talked about the phrase he coined — claimed by others, but Daley insisted he said it first — “You can’t hit what you can’t see.” That was Daley’s comment to his manager, George Stovall, after taking a called third strike against Washington Senators pitcher Walter Johnson.
There are other great stories and storytellers, too — Bobby Thomson, Harvey Haddix, Woody English and Joe DeMaestri, to name a few. And then there is Ted Williams, who Macht said “spoke in capital letters, sometimes 60-point headlines.”
They Played the Game speaks to fans of baseball history in capital letters, too. Macht’s mixture of player interviews works well, and he is planning a second volume, drawn from other taped interviews.
I can’t wait.
Here's a story I wrote for Cox Media Group about a classic Charles Conlon photograph of Ty Cobb that was sold to a private buyer for $250,000. Crazy.
Today is the 75th anniversary of D-Day, the beach landings by the Allies on France’s Normandy coast that turned the tide of World War II.
June 6, 1944, was the “longest day,” the largest air and sea invasion in history. More than 150,000 Allied troops, transported by 7,000 boats, landed on the five beaches, code-named Omaha, Utah, Juno, Sword and Gold.
More than 9,000 Americans died in the water or on the beaches. Many who survived were never the same again.
I put Forest K. Ferguson Jr. in that latter category. “Fergie” was a star multi-sport athlete at the University of Florida and had a promising career ahead of him in professional football if he survived the war.
Ferguson survived, but barely. He suffered a serious head wound from shrapnel while ascending a draw at Omaha Beach and died from his wounds 10 years later. What Ferguson did that day on the Normandy coast was heroic and is a tale worth retelling.
But first, some background.
Ferguson was the Pat Tillman of the Greatest Generation, although Fergie was not struck by friendly fire. Residents of Martin County, Florida, where Ferguson grew up and lived, compare him to the hero in the 1998 movie, Saving Private Ryan.
Ferguson was a strapping young man who stood 6-foot-3 and weighed 205 pounds. He was 15 days shy of his 25th birthday, a second lieutenant serving with the 29th Infantry Division, 116th Regiment. He cut an imposing figure in uniform and looked like a hero.
But make no mistake: Every Allied soldier who landed on the beaches or parachuted behind enemy lines was a hero on D-Day. There will be many speeches made today, with leaders from the Allied countries, including President Donald Trump, in attendance. Heroism and patriotism will be the themes, and deservedly so.
The speakers will recall the valor of the soldiers and the cleverness of the Allies, who signaled the invasion was imminent by sending a coded message to the French underground via a BBC radio broadcast, using three lines from Paul Verlaine’s poem, “Chanson d’automne”:
“Blessent mon Coeur/D’une langueur/Monotone.”
That translates (loosely) to “My heart is drowned/In the slow sound/Langurous and long.”
The solemn D-Day a75th anniversary ceremonies began Wednesday, with a 97-year-old veteran reenacting his parachute jump and U.S Rangers scaling the Normandy cliffs.
There are thousands of heroes that day, but I will focus on Ferguson because I knew the man — not personally, since he died in 1954, three years before I was born. However, I researched his life and in 2015 published a book about him, “Never Fear: The Life and Times of Forest K. Ferguson Jr.”
I felt like I knew him after combing through records and newspaper clippings. And I am still learning more.
Shameless plug: You can buy the book on Amazon or from my Sports Bookie website.
Ferguson led Stuart High School’s football team to a 9-1 record and became the second football All-American in University of Florida history. In the spring of 1942, he threw the javelin 203 feet, 6 ½ inches to win the 1942 AAU national junior outdoor meet in New York, tossing the spear seven feet farther than the runner-up John G. Adair of the Norfolk Naval Training Station.
While in training with the Army, Ferguson played for the Western Army All-Star football team and played in several exhibitions, including one game at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California
Ferguson was commissioned as a second lieutenant July 9, 1943 and joined his unit in southern England five months later. While in England he played football for the 29th Division Blues, who went unbeaten between January and March 1944.
But the real business was at hand. The Allies were preparing to launch an invasion across the English Channel, and when the troops hit the beach on the overcast morning of June 6, it was chaos.
“As our boat touched sand and the ramp went down, I became a visitor to hell,” said Harry Parley, private from the Bronx.
“It was chaos,” said medic Marion Gray of Tennessee. “The bowels of hell, and it continued through the day.”
As he moved from the beach toward the draws, or rises, that rose to the cliffs of Omaha Beach, Ferguson noted the maze of barbed wire that crisscrossed the path, making any soldier an easy target for German sharpshooters in the pillboxes atop the bluffs.
Ferguson convinced three men to follow him, and “with complete disregard for his safety,” moved forward under fire with a Bangalore torpedo. The Bangalore was an explosive charge placed within one or more connected tubes. The charge was put at the front and a blasting cap or fuse was closest to the soldier.
Fergie crawled forward under intense fire, put the Bangalore under the wires and exploded the weapon, creating a gap for soldiers to pass through. Ferguson and his unit surged forward up the draw, but Fergie was hit in the side of the head by a piece of shrapnel from a high explosive shell.
He would be unconscious for nearly two months before awaking in a hospital in England.
Ferguson would be awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions on D-Day. His citation read, “The personal bravery, initiative and superior leadership of Second Lieutenant Ferguson exemplify the highest traditions of the military forces of the United States and reflect great credit upon himself, the 29th Infantry and the United States Army.”
He also received a World War II Victory Medal and a Service Lapel Button. There is no record of a Purple Heart, although Ferguson certainly would have qualified. Longtime residents of Stuart believe Fergie should be in line for a Congressional Medal of Honor, which has been awarded to 464 members of the U.S. military — 266 posthumously.
Four soldiers received a Medal of Honor for their actions at Normandy, including Theodore Roosevelt Jr., son of the 26th president. That seems like a low number, considering the bravery exhibited by so many soldiers.
With a metal plate in his head and his speech affected because of his wartime injuries, Ferguson would never play sports again. He helped coach a semipro football team of veterans and was an assistant at his high school alma mater.
Ferguson died May 15, 1954, a month shy of his 35th birthday. His memory has been kept alive by his university, which awards an annual award in his name to honor the Gators’ most courageous player. In his home county, the three high schools there vie annually for the Fergie Ferguson County Football Championship Trophy.
In 2015, the City of Stuart dedicated a bandstand in Ferguson’s name on Memorial Day in the city’s Bandstand Park.
As we look back and reflect on D-Day, we should remember the sacrifices made by soldiers such as Forest K. Ferguson Jr. And everyone else. The number of D-Day survivors is dwindling daily, but our gratitude should never wane.
Any baseball fan who attended a game at Shea Stadium had a story to tell.
It rarely had to do with the charm of the place, which was basically sterile. Shea did not generate the nostalgia associated with Ebbets Field in Brooklyn or the Polo Grounds in upper Manhattan.
But oh, what memories. The Ol’ Perfessor. The Amazin’ Mets. You Gotta Believe. The Fab Four. Broadway Joe. From 1964 until 2008, there were countless memories in Queens.
Those moments are what Matthew Silverman pulls together in his tribute to the old ballpark in Flushing Meadows, Shea Stadium Remembered: The Mets, the Jets and Beatlemania (Lyons Press; hardback; $29.95; 232 pages). The book contains 61 chapters and an appendix, and plenty of fun facts and sentimental journeys.
Silverman has plenty of Mets-related books under his belt, including Mets Essential: Everything You Need to Know to Be a Fan (2007), 100 Things Mets Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die (2008), Mets by the Numbers (2008), Shea Goodbye, with Keith Hernandez (2009), New York Mets: The Complete Illustrated History (2011) and Best Mets (2012).
Silverman certainly knows his stuff when it comes to the Mets, and he is equally knowledgeable about Shea Stadium. He confessed he has nostalgia about the old structure, “which is imagination backwards.” Who can blame him?
So, indulge me for a few paragraphs as I contribute my own nostalgia.
My first trip to Shea Stadium was June 17, 1967, and the Mets (19-37) were hosting the Chicago Cubs (31-26). My father was the Cubmaster for Pack 222 in Brooklyn, and he got the bright idea of taking his Cub Scouts on a field trip to Shea Stadium.
My dad was always coming up with field trips — to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, West Point (our bus broke down in the snow just past Yankee Stadium), Coney Island, Consolidated Edison in Manhattan (we had lunch at a Horn and Hardart automat), the Gil Hodges Bowling Lanes in Brooklyn, Sagamore Hill in Oyster Bay and the Vanderbilt Museum in Centerport.
But Shea Stadium was his most ambitious project, because he, along with maybe five or six chaperones, was taking 30 kids on the subway from Brooklyn to Queens. Miraculously, nobody got lost. We sat in the third deck by the right field foul pole. Miraculously, nobody fell out of the stands.
The Mets lost, not so miraculously, 9-1, with Bill Denehy taking the loss. Denehy, who is a footnote for baseball card collectors because he shares a 1967 Topps rookie card with Hall of Famer Tom Seaver, is now blind and living in the Orlando, Florida, area, where in March he said his caretaker allegedly stole more than $17,000 from him.
That’s a sad footnote.
Silverman’s book, on the other hand, is upbeat. The early Mets were lousy, but they “offered fun.” There was Banner Day, when Mets fans would parade around the stadium with bedsheet banners, and the ultimate sign-maker, Karl Ehrhardt, who told the Journal News of White Plains in 1970 that he had 705 different signs in his inventory. One could say these fans traced their ancestry from the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Sym-Phony Band and the cowbell-clanging Hilda Chester.
There was Mr. Met, the team’s mascot, and Mets manager Casey Stengel, who doubled as the team’s cheerleader, talking in circles but promoting the team with every fractured bit of syntax.
The Beatles, who played at Shea Stadium on Aug. 15, 1965, performed 30 minutes of music before 55,600 fans, who began screaming from the first notes of “Twist and Shout” until the final strains of “I’m Down” (does anyone remember John Lennon playing the organ with his elbow near the end of the song?).
Silverman bounces off some good lines in his prose, comparing Mets fans’ attendance at Dodgers and Giants games — the former teams they rooted for — to “going to dinner with your ex at your neighbor’s house.”
He gives the reader some fun facts, too. For example, Shea Stadium’s first chief electrician, Lou Beal, estimated the candlepower of Shea Stadium’s lights were 2,341,000 — making the field “bright as day,” even at night. And despite the constant planes flying over Shea into nearby LaGuardia Airport, there was only one fatality — in 1979, during the halftime of a New York Jets-New England Patriots game, when a radio-controlled plane — in the shape of a lawn mower — went out of control and struck two fans. One of the fans, John Bowen, died several days later from his injuries.
“Though sad, it is ironic that of the countless thousands of planes of every size and shape that flew over Shea, the lone fatality involved a radio-controlled flying lawnmower,” Silverman writes.
There were so many great memories: Tom Seaver’s near perfect game in July 1969; the miraculous catches by Ron Swoboda and Tommie Agee during the 1969 World Series, and the sight of Cleon Jones taking a knee (reverently) when he caught Davey Johnson’s fly ball to end the ’69 Fall Classic; the Mets rallying from two runs down with two outs in the 10th inning of Game 6 in the 1986 World Series; the return of Willie Mays to New York; and Mike Piazza’s emotionally charged home run when baseball resumed in New York after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
There was the Kid, Mex, Doc and Straw. Jesse Orosco throwing his glove skyward after the final out of the 1986 World Series (did it ever come down?), and the Subway Series returning to New York in 2000 after a 44-year hiatus.
There was Joe Namath throwing for a heavenly 4,007 yards for the Jets in 1967, and evangelist Billy Graham looking toward the heavens as he preached in 1970. The New York Sack Exchange that could cleave an offense, and Tug McGraw, who made you believe. There was a 23-inning loss to the Giants on May 31, 1964, and Jim Bunning’s perfect game three weeks later on Father’s Day, the first National League perfect game since 1880. And, don’t forget Bud Harrelson and Pete Rose rolling in the dirt during the 1973 NLCS.
The only real glitches in this book are Silverman’s erroneous labeling of the popes who came to Shea. He writes that Pope John Paul XVI became the first pontiff to visit the United States in 1964 (it was Pope Paul VI) and Pope John II came in 1979 (it was Pope John Paul II).
Through good times and bad, Shea Stadium weathered it all.
“The Mets at Shea were 44 acts in a very long Greek tragedy,” Silverman writes.
Silverman documents all the comedy, tragedy, drama — and lots of fun — in Shea Stadium Remembered. The only thing missing is Basement Bertha, but she was a cartoon drawing immortalized by Bill Gallo. Bertha and Shea had a lot in common — kind of homely, but well-loved.
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about Anthony Weston, a Nebraska collector who has made a few coffee tables adorned with sports cards:
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about Panini America's Gold Standard Football set, which will be released in July:
I love to blog about sports books and give my opinion. Baseball books are my favorites, but I read and review all kinds of books.