Top 100 Baseball Blog

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Revisiting an Interview with Branch Rickey

An interview can reveal a lot about its subject as long as the right questions are asked. There is little more fascinating than coming across such sources that had largely disappeared into the ether. One of the most interesting men in baseball history was Branch Rickey, the forward-thinking Hall-of-Fame front office man (he also played and managed), who among other notable contributions helped paved the way to the major leagues for Jackie Robinson. This interview with Davis J. Walsh, which occurred around 1955, resides in the Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Branch Rickey Papers. I will share some of the parts I found most interesting, along with some of my own commentary in italics.

On his role in bringing Robinson to the majors:  “I am deeply gratified if it has had any effect at all upon solving even in the slightest detail our race problem in this country - it has come out I think agreeably and it's good that it was done - I'm glad I did it - but I don't know how to go into the matter to discuss it with any fairness at all - there were many questions involved there, in the solution of it and it’s a very long story - I think that the negro in baseball has come into a prominent place in the life of baseball in this country and I don't believe that there will be any League in the United States that will not be willing to employ negro players within the next year or so - I look for a complete break of the color line in the Southern Association in the year 1956.”

Pushing for Robinson to join his Brooklyn Dodgers was met by a lot of resistance—from fans, those on other teams and front offices, and even within their own organization. However, the reward was great, too.  Aside from the social implications, integrating baseball opened up new avenues of attracting fans and pools of talent with which to replenish “Dem Bums.” It was a slow push, but one that ultimately paid off and set the country and professional sports on a different course.

On whether he was relieved that Robinson turned out to be a good player: “I was very positive about that before I employed him - that I had to be sure about.”

Going against the grain the way he did, Rickey had to literally be certain about the ability and character of Robinson. Anyone who didn’t meet those criteria would have completely ruined the venture. With so many people desperate to undermine his inclusion, there could be no room for doubt.

On why he pushed to integrate baseball: “The utter injustice of it always was in my mind - in St. Louis a negro was not permitted to buy his way into the Grandstand - you know that - and it has only been in recent years that he has been permitted to go into the Grandstand and of course there was no negro player in baseball - I felt very deeply about that thing all my life and within a month after I went to Brooklyn I want to Mr. George McLaughlin (President of the Brooklyn Trust Company, who lent money to the Dodgers) and had a talk with him about and found he was sympathetic with my views about it.”

The Dodgers would have never been able to survive what it took to get Robinson on the team if it they didn’t have financial backing. Money is the name of the game, and the fact that McLaughlin was willing to back Rickey’s plan despite the distinct possibility that it could have cost him is significant. It’s interesting that today almost nobody knows the role he played in this.

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Sunday, March 4, 2018

Which Former Major League Players Have Become Stars in Korea?

Making it to the major leagues is a monumental task that is accomplished by a mere fraction of the players who are lucky enough to have professional careers. Getting there and staying there for any length of time is another matter altogether. For many, opportunity ends up being in other professional leagues.

Many know about the success some find in Japan, but fewer are aware that the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) is home to quite a few former major leaguers as well. Most recently, Eric Thames found success in returning to the majors after a wildly productive three-year stint in the KBO. Keep reading to for more information on some of the players who have moved across the ocean and are thriving in this lesser-known but popular baseball league.

Roger Bernadina, Outfielder: The now-33-year-old left-handed hitter batted a combined .236 with 28 home runs over parts of seven big league seasons with four teams. However, he seems to have hit his stride with the Kia Tigers, where he batted .320 with 27 home runs, 111 RBIs and 32 stolen bases in 139 games in 2017. He will be making more than $1 million in 2018, as he returns for another year.

Hector Noesi, Pitcher: The right-hander, who is a teammate of Bernadina, won 20 games with a 3.48 in 2017 after posting 15 wins the previous season. His 35-10 career record and 3.44 ERA in Korea is a far cry from his 12-31 mark and 5.30 ERA in parts of five major league seasons. Still just 31, it is a definite possibility that his work stateside is not yet done, but he will be back with the Tigers next season on a $2 million contract.

Nick Evans, Infielder/Outfielder: A classic “4-A player,” who hit .257 with 10 home runs in 177 games (2009-11; 2014) with two teams, he could never quite grab a starting job. Now 32, he has become a star for the Doosan Bears, for whom he hit .296 with 27 home runs and 90 RBIs that past year.

Michael Choice, Outfielder: A 2010 first-round draft choice, the 28-year-old right-handed hitter used to be one of the top prospects in baseball. However, his .188 batting average and nine home runs over three big league seasons; along with a propensity for striking out derailed his aspirations. He looked rejuvenated last year with the Nexen Heroes, swatting 17 home runs and 42 RBIs, while batting .307 in 46 games. He is under contract for $600,000 with them in 2018, but it would not be a surprise to see him return to the majors one day.

Xavier Scruggs, First Base/Outfielder: Similar to Choice, the right-handed slugger had plenty of power but not enough contact to stick in the majors. His .227 batting average and one home run in 50 games over three seasons did nothing to earn him a permanent job. However, he exploded on the scene for the NC Dinos this past year after signing a million dollar contract, hitting .300 with 35 home runs and 111 RBIs in 115 games.

Andy Burns, Third Baseman: Still just 27, the right-hander went hitless in seven plate appearances for the 2016 Toronto Blue Jays. With a regular big league job looking unlikely for 2017, he elected to take a $650,000, one-year deal with the Lotte Giants in 2017, which proved to be a shrewd decision. Appearing in 116 games, he hit .303 with 15 home runs and 57 RBIs; putting himself in a position to have potentially multiple options as he moves forward in his professional career.

Wilin Rosario, Catcher: The squat right-handed slugger hit .273 with 71 home runs in five seasons with the Colorado Rockies (2011-2015), but was a derailed by subpar defense—a must for any national League Catcher. His game has translated much better for the Hanwha Eagles, for whom he has been remarkably consistent the past two years. He hit .321 with 33 home runs and 120 RBIs in 127 games in 2016, and .339 with 37 home runs and 111 RBIs in 2017. Still just 29, he will be playing in Japan this season and could see himself back in the majors at some point because of his powerful bat.

Darin Ruf, Outfielder: Despite hitting 5 home runs in 286 games over five years with the Philadelphia Phillies, the right-handed slugger batted just .240 and whiffed in nearly a third of his at-bats. He immediately became a superstar upon joining the Samsung Lions in 2017, hitting .315 with 38 home runs and 124 RBIs in 134 games. He will be rejoining the team for the 2018 season, earning an impressive $1.5 million.

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Friday, March 2, 2018

Mickey Mantle's Forgotten Twin Brothers

In baseball, it’s rare for a player to be deified to the level of former New York Yankees outfielder Mickey Mantle, who could seemingly do it all on the field. However, few baseball fans are aware that he had two younger twin brothers, Roy and Ray, who also played professional ball, but never reached the same heights as the Mick.

Mantle was the idol of a generation of children that grew up watching the Yankees in the 1950s and 1960s. The five-tool talent hit a combined .298 with 536 home runs, while winning three MVP awards and helping his teams to eight World Series titles (in 12 appearances). If not for nagging injuries and a fondness for the nightlife, his numbers might have been even more impressive, as hard as that is to believe.

Thus, it is with little doubt, teams must have been extremely excited about Mantle’s twin brothers, who were five years his junior and were also prodigious on the baseball diamond as outfielders. Naturally, there was only one team they were probably ever going to go to, and that was the New York Yankees.

Both Roy (batted left) and Ray (batted right), who were born February 22, 1936, signed with the Bronx Bombers in 1954 after start turns playing ball for their high school in Commerce, Oklahoma. They were both also football stars, a sport that Mickey preferred they pursue collegiately, but it was not to be. Ray had attended Northeast Oklahoma A&M College but decided to give professional baseball a try. He hit .231 with five home runs in 97 games spanning parts of two seasons (1954-55) in the low minors before enlisting in the Army and giving up his baseball career. He moved to Las Vegas around 1970 and began a career in the casino industry while raising a son with his wife, Nancy.

Roy showed a bit more promise during his stint in pro ball. He played three seasons (1954-56) and hit a combined .273 with eight home runs. He made the 1955 All Star team as a member of the Monroe Sports, although his teammate Ray did not. In a classic case of what might have been he had to retire prematurely due to a leg injury. He also ultimately spent the bulk of his adult life in Las Vegas, working in the same industry as his twin.

Roy passed away from Hodgkins disease in 2001, while Ray died in 2013 from cancer at the age of 77. They did not achieve the same legendary status of their older brother, but did make a go at it in pro ball before deciding their futures lay elsewhere. It’s always a tall task to live up to an older sibling. While Ray and Roy started to follow in Mickey’s footsteps, it was an undertaking that would never have been possible, and the twins ended up making their mark on their world in other ways. 

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Monday, February 26, 2018

Curt Schilling Strikes Out with Conspiracy Theory Tweet

Former major league pitcher Curt Schilling has followed up a potential Hall-of-Fame playing career with a maelstrom of controversial statements, social media activity and political rhetoric that has endangered his legacy and lost him a high-profile job with media juggernaut ESPN. One area in which he has always been strong has been in the advocacy of children and intolerance of bullying. However, his recent actions are tarnishing that legacy too.

Those seeking the positive in Schilling could always point to his charitable work. From taking in displaced Hurricane Katrina victims, to a youth cancer charity, to being a tireless advocate for the causes of medical issues that have impacted his children, the right-hander has been a regular champion of good works.

Schilling also famously became the face of anti-bullying, when he publicly and forcibly came to the defense of his then teenage daughter who became the victim of vicious online trolls after he announced online her college choice to play softball. His unrelenting and fervent response to the tormentors resonated with fathers everywhere. It is thus a surprise to see his recent activity, which not only has targeted a teenager, but one who was just recently a witness to a horrible tragedy.

The Stoneman Douglas High school shooting in Parkland, Florida claimed 17 lives and left many others victimized by the senseless violence of a lone gunman. Many of the survivors have rebounded to use their powerful voices to lead the charge on gun control and gun law reform, which has not sat well with everyone. A baseless conspiracy theory that 17-year-old David Hogg, who has been one of the more vocal survivors, is not actually a student, but rather a “crisis actor” planted to incite sympathy for the side of anti-guns has circulated the interwebs. Schilling advanced this theory by re-Tweeting a post suggesting its possibility.

It’s irresponsible for anyone, especially someone with Schilling’s platform (he now hosts his own radio program for Breitbart Radio), to perpetuate such a patently false and misdirecting idea. Yes, he is a right-wing radio host. However, he’s also still a parent and a one-time advocate against bullying. He may not agree with the calls for gun reform but there are more appropriate ways to make that known.

Hogg is 17, meaning he is a minor. He is literally a child. The simple act of passing along the theory that he is a plant for a cause instead of a readily verifiable high school student is not only irresponsible, it’s literally sick. Regardless of your stance on guns, one should have the common sense to know such territory is way out of bounds.

The polarizing Schilling has been a tireless advocate for children. Although he didn’t provide any context with his Tweet, posting it to his more than 225,000 served as its endorsement. Social media is a powerful tool, for better and worse. The inherent lack of responsibility that many have when using their accounts has created a whole new landscape for us all to navigate and experience the consequences of.

I may disagree with Schilling on many things, but would at least respect his right to engage in a civilized dialogue on any topic. Peddling conspiracy theories that negatively impact a minor is not that. It would be nice to see the former pitcher put himself in the shoes of David Hogg’s father and recall back to not that long ago when he was defending his own daughter against attacks that bear striking similarities to what Hogg is experiencing now. There is no shame in admitting when you’re wrong but there certainly is when you can’t see the error of your ways.

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