Sunday, August 28, 2016

Dodgerland: Decadent Los Angeles and 1977-78 Dodgers- A Review

The Los Angeles Dodgers are one of Major League Baseball’s flagship franchises, going all the way back to when the team called Brooklyn, New York its home. For years, relying on flashy players and sometimes even flashier managers, they have traditionally been in the national spotlight. In particular, the 1977-78 teams were among the most entertaining and talented, and yet unfulfilled. Author Michael Fallon has dived in with a deep examination with Dodgerland: Decadent Los Angeles and the 1977-78 Dodgers (University of Nebraska Press, 2016).

The story of these two Dodgers teams isn’t just about the players and the wins and the losses. Fallon frames it all by talking about what was going on in the city, the country and also his own family, which was finding its way in the area at the same time. It’s a perfect example of the way baseball so often deeply ingrains itself in a community and becomes an integral part of the society.

These Dodgers were iconic to say the least. Just to name a few, there was All-American hero Steve Garvey; mercurial veteran Reggie Smith; future Hall of Famer Don Sutton; and Tommy John, the aging pitcher who was rediscovering himself after a revolutionary and significant arm surgery. They were all led by first-year manager Tommy Lasorda, a Dodgers lifer whose mouth and personality were both larger than life.

With a squad full of such big stars and personalities, there were bound to be plenty of stories, both good and bad. Fallon peppers his book with a liberal dose of such anecdotes, including a physical scuffle between Garvey and Sutton over a newspaper quote.

Of course Lasorda, who may have contributed more one-liners than anyone besides Yogi Berra, is prominently featured.  Having already dedicated decades of his life to the organization, he finally got his shot manning the team, but in doing so had to follow legendary skipper Walter Alston, who was let go rather unceremoniously after 23 glorious seasons with the team, including four World Series titles.

The additional “non-baseball” stuff that finds its way into Dodgerland is nice window dressing. Fallon’s own family serves to show the way that Los Angeles and the surrounding area were expanding and growing in leaps and bounds. Additionally, he discusses politics, race relations and popular culture (like the explosion of Star Wars) and how they all came together to create the environment in which the Dodgers existed.

If this was a movie, the talent of these two Dodgers teams and the backdrop on which they played would have led to ultimate glory. While they made the World Series both years, they were thwarted each time by the powerful New York Yankees, who were every bit as talented and in the midst of their own drama mill back on the East Coast.

Dodgerland is a fine baseball book. Fallon is a talented writer, who is able to effortlessly weave together a number of major storylines in order to make the enormous tapestry that this story is ultimately part of. He has also dug deep with the research to provide an impressive array of statistics, stories and newspaper quotes to help bring it all together.

The late 1970s was a turning point for baseball and in America in general. As is so often the case, in order to understand one, you have to be able to understand the other. Fallon recognizes this and has created a book that details this team and its place in a tumultuous and important time.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a free advanced copy of this book, but received no payment or other consideration for this review.


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You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Minor League Baseball Announces Joe Bauman Home Run Award Leaders

Reading duo Fightin’ it out for annual home run crown 

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — With two weeks of play remaining in the 2016 Minor League Baseball season, two Reading Fightin’ Phils sluggers are battling for the annual Joe Bauman Home Run Award, presented by Musco Sports Lighting. The top regular season home run hitter in the domestic-based leagues wins the Joe Bauman Award, which is presented at the Baseball Winter Meetings, as well as a check representing $200 for each home run he hits. 

Reading outfielder Dylan Cozens leads Minor League Baseball with 37 home runs, while teammate Rhys Hoskins is second with 35 homers. Cozens is tied with Baltimore’s Mark Trumbo for the most home runs in all of professional baseball. 

Cozens hit 38 home runs over his first four professional seasons, before exploding for 37 long balls so far in 2016. Cozens has four multi-homer games in 2016 and homered in three consecutive games twice (May 10-12 and Aug. 14-17). He had a two-game stretch against Bowie from Aug. 3-4 in which he went 7-for-9 with five homers, two triples, seven runs scored and 12 RBI. Cozens was selected in the second round of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft out of Chaparral High School in Scottsdale, Arizona. Cozens, 22, is attempting to be the fourth consecutive player under the age of 23 to win the award, following A.J. Reed (22) in 2015, Kris Bryant (22) in 2014, and Joey Gallo (19) in 2013. 

Hoskins, 23, has homered in consecutive games eight times in 2016, including three-game homer stretches from June 22-24 and August 20-22. He homered 26 times in his first two professional seasons before his breakout 2016 campaign. Hoskins was selected by the Phillies in the fifth round of the 2014 First-Year Player Draft out of Sacramento State University. 

Rochester’s Daniel Palka (32 home runs) is the only other minor leaguer with 30 or more home runs in 2016. Palka launched 21 homers for Chattanooga in the Southern League before adding 11 more for the Red Wings. Palka, 24, posted consecutive multi-homer games on June 1-2 before being promoted on July 7. Palka was originally selected by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the third round of the 2013 First-Year Player Draft out of Georgia Tech. He was traded to the Minnesota Twins on Nov. 10, 2015, in exchange for Chris Hermann. 

Hoskins and Palka each homered 13 times in June, the most in one month in professional baseball since Tacoma’s Jabari Blash hit 14 in August of 2015. 

Classification leaders, provided they are not the overall winner, receive a $500 cash award. El Paso’s Hunter Renfroe and Reno’s Kyle Jensen lead the Triple-A level with 28 home runs. Three sluggers are battling for the Single-A home run crown as Carolina’s Travis Demeritte and Rancho Cucamonga’s Johan Mieses lead with 27, one ahead of Lynchburg’s Bobby Bradley. 

Missoula’s Eudy Ramos and Ogden’s Cody Thomas (13 homers) are tied for the Short Season-A and Rookie-level lead, while Pulaski’s Dermis Garcia and Helena’s Ronnie Gideon are just one home run behind. 

Minor League Baseball will announce the 2016 Joe Bauman Home Run Award winner Sept. 6. The recipient will receive his trophy and monetary award Monday, Dec. 5, at the Baseball Winter Meetings Awards Luncheon in National Harbor, Maryland. 

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Sunday, August 21, 2016

How Jake Powell Exposed Baseball's Racism

Baseball is no stranger to having those connected to the game being called out for insensitive and/or inappropriate comments. From the 1999 John Rocker Sports Illustrated feature and ensuing suspension, to the more recent termination of Curt Schilling from ESPN, among others, there is an unfortunate history. One of the first such incidents that rose to national attention occurred in 1938 when New York Yankees outfielder Jake Powell caused wide-spread furor over racist comments he made on the radio while doing a live dugout interview prior to a game.

Between 1930 and 1945 Powell played parts of 11 seasons with three different teams (Washington Senators- two tours, the Yankees and the Philadelphia Phillies). A .271 career hitter, he was a starter for his first two full seasons but a platoon player thereafter, as the right-handed batter handled southpaws well but was much less lethal against righties. He was also frequently injured due in part to an aggressive style of play and standard hazards of the day. He was known for having a hot head, including staging a one-day walk-out in 1945 while a member of the Senators. At a time when most players worked in the offseason, he was no different, finding employment as a policeman.

If it weren’t for his inappropriate radio remarks, Powell would likely be best remembered for his heroics in the 1936 World Series as a member of the Yankees; collecting 10 hits in 22 at-bats and scoring eight runs, which went a long way in beating the New York Giants in six games.

On July 29, 1938, the Yankees were in Chicago to play the White Sox. Prior to the game, Powell sat down with WGN White Sox announcer Bob Elson to give a “dugout” interview. When asked what he did in the offseason to keep in shape, Powell responded, “I’m a policeman in Dayton, Ohio, and I keep in shape by cracking n-----s off the head with my nightstick.”

Although the United States and Major League Baseball were deep in the throes of segregation at the time, it was something that was not talked about in such direct terms. The radio station cut the broadcast after Powell uttered the shameful words but a large number of people were listening. In fact, the station was barraged by angry callers, leading to a half-dozen on-air apologies, including pointing out that they could not control what was said during live segments.

A group of black leaders visited baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, whose office was in Chicago, and demanded Powell be suspended for life. They didn’t get what they asked for but action was swift, as the outfielder was suspended on July 30th for 10 games. However, it can be surmised that the punishment was more to quell the outcry than as a punishment for a wrong. This was reflected in Landis’s official announcement of the suspension. "Jake Powell of the New York Yankees made an uncomplimentary reference to a portion of the population. Although the commissioner believes the remark was due more to carelessness than intent, player Powell is suspended for 10 days."

To make matters worse, Powell denied what he said, claiming the next day that “To the best of my knowledge, I said I was a member of the police force in Dayton during the winter months, and simply explained my beat was in the Negro section of town.”

His manager, future Hall-of-Famer Joe McCarthy, was wishy washy about the decision, originally telling reporters, “There is nothing I can say. The commissioner’s decision is alright with me.” However, he later expressed his frustration over how it was handled, explaining, "Perhaps he just meant to get off a wisecrack. So the radio people ran off cold with apologies, and I'm out a ballplayer in the thick of a pennant race."

The galling part of the decision to suspend Powell was that it was a public display of condemning the man for his racist words, while the sport he played for continued to refuse to employ people of color for nearly another decade. When Landis famously said, “If a Negro player was ever to show the kind of talents necessary to play in the Major Leagues, there is no rule to stop it,” one must wonder how he was able to spout such hogwash with a straight face.

When Powell returned in a game versus the Senators, the matter was not forgotten, as fans bombarded him with soda bottles while he was manning his position in the outfield. That didn’t stop McCarthy from vowing he would continue to play the disgraced outfielder even “if they throw 1,000,000 pop bottles at him.”

Coming as no surprise, there was an extensive effort to downplay Powell’s comments. The Sporting News issued a weak excuse: “The player’s mind, naturally, is on the game in which he is about to participate, and his ‘ad lib’ comments in these interviews frequently lead him to indiscreet remarks, which he would not make, if given an opportunity to think, or if furnished a script”.

The Yankees ownership group also owned a brewery, and there was talk that bars in predominantly black areas of New York might boycott their suds. Powell was ordered to go on an apology pub crawl to keep the kegs tapped. Acclaimed baseball writer Red Smith later detailed in his book, To Absent Friends, that attempted apology. "The next time Powell got to New York he went up to the top end of Harlem. He went alone, after dark. He worked down from north to south, stopping in every saloon he came across. In each, he introduced himself. He said he was Jake Powell and he said that he had made a foolish mistake and that he was sorry. Then he ordered drinks for the crowd and moved on to the next joint."

He also issued a horrible public apology shortly after his suspension ended, stating, “Honest, you can believe me when I say I regret the slur as I had no intention to hurt anyone, or their feelings”.

“Members of the Negro race have helped to earn my bread and butter and no one knows that better than I do... I have two members of your race taking care of my home while myself and wife are away and I think they are two of the finest people in the world. I do hundreds of favors for them daily.”

Not all the writers let him off the hook. He was taken to task by Westbrook Pegler of the Pittsburgh Press, who likened baseball’s treatment of blacks to how Adolph Hitler was treating Jews. He went on:

“Powell was only giving expression in crude, brief wordage to the unspoken but inflexible policy of the organized baseball industry. Moreover, his remark was thoughtless and probably untrue, whereas the men who employ him and Judge Landis have given solemn study to the problem and confirmed their decision by their conduct…”

“But the baseball business does nothing at all about this discrimination, and Jake Powell can argue plausibly that he got his cue from the very men whose hired disciplinarian has benched him for an idle remark.”

“The Yankees or one of the Chicago teams easily could try the experiment of using a star Negro player from one of the semi-pro clubs. The customers would suffer no shock, and the Southern white boys (of which there were many in the majors at the time) would find after a few games that it didn’t hurt them much after all.”

The following winter, Yankees President Ed Barrow was asked if the team was going to bring Powell back. The legendary front office man was incredulous he was being asked such a question, telling reporters that he was under the impression from his black friends that all had been forgiven and there were no lingering hard feelings. “There has been no outburst of resentment anew,” said Barrow. “Why keep stirring the matter up?” Despite his controversial presence, Powell remained with the team through the 1940 season before being sold to the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League.

As it turned out, Powell had an even stranger past that most fans had no idea about. He was not truthful about himself and was no stranger to the law.

In 1933, while playing in the minor leagues for the Dayton Ducks, he was caught trying to steal the fan, draped and bed spread from the hotel room he was staying in.  Because the items were returned, charges were not pressed, but as his manager Ducky Holmes said, “He probably would have taken the mattress if he could have got it in his suitcase.”

It also turned out that Powell was not a police officer. He had unsuccessfully applied for a job with the Dayton force but was not hired. Subsequent reports indicated that he may have passed a civil service exam but never got further than being added to a wait list for a possible future position.

Little more than 10 years after his unfortunate turn on the radio, Powell was dead at the age of 40. After passing bad checks to a hotel in Washington, D.C., he and his mistress Josephine Amber were taken into custody on November 4, 1948. She explained that they were to be married the next day, until she called it off after finding out he had written $300 worth of rubber checks over the previous several days. Their marriage would not have been legal since he was still married to his wife Elizabeth at the time.

In the midst of his interrogation, Powell asked to speak with his paramour, which was granted. He gave her fare for taxi and sent her away, but while she was within earshot, he suddenly blurted out, “To hell with it—I’m going to end it all.” He then whipped out a revolver from his pocket and shot himself in the chest and head before officers could reach him. He died almost immediately, leaving behind the two women in his life and a 15-year-old daughter.

The Dayton Daily News printed a very apropos obituary; "He died in Washington, D.C., not as a cop as he often dreamed of being, but as a man arrested on a bad check charge, the last of a series of his madcap adventures."

The Powell incident was shocking not only for what the player said but also because of the blatant hypocrisy that ensued from baseball. While it’s a shame that is ever happened, it can at least be remembered as a starting point where intolerance and hatred slowly began to lose its entrenched position in the American pastime.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Minor League Baseball Holds Inaugural FIELD Program

Press Release

Twenty-Five Students From Diverse Backgrounds Converge to Learn About the Business of Baseball

ST. PETERSBURG, FL--(Marketwired - August 16, 2016) - Last week, Minor League Baseball (MiLB) held its first annual FIELD (Fostering Inclusion through Education and Leadership Development) Program, a new project under the Minor League Baseball Diversity Initiative.

The event was held August 8-12, at the Minor League Baseball headquarters in St. Petersburg, Florida, and featured a select group of 25 diverse college students from across the country. The purpose of the event was to provide an opportunity for continued personal and professional growth. It allowed students to interact with baseball industry executives in a structured learning environment and inspired them to pursue careers in professional baseball. Travel, lodging and meals were provided by Minor League Baseball, and students paid a registration fee to attend.

"Breaking into the world of professional baseball can be challenging when you haven't had the opportunity to interact with our industry," said Minor League Baseball President & CEO Pat O'Conner. "We wanted to provide as much insight into our industry as possible in order to prepare these students to pursue a career in baseball."

The program included a variety of sessions, including guest speakers and workshops focused on career skills such as resume building, interviewing, networking and professional sales. Participants got hands-on experience at Minor League Baseball games by shadowing team employees as they completed their gameday tasks.

"This was the first time I've ever been to a baseball game and I'm excited to learn more and pursue a career in sports," said Alexyss Scott, a senior at Hampton University. "I came to the FIELD Program expecting to learn more about baseball and hear about career opportunities, but I didn't expect to personally grow as much as I did in such a short period of time."

Students also received an in-depth analysis of the business of baseball from Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball team executives and representatives, as well as the Minor League Baseball office staff. Presenters shared their own paths to success and explained why diversity in business is crucial.

Miami Marlins President of Baseball Operations, Michael Hill, served as the event's keynote speaker. His career in professional baseball includes stops with the Tampa Bay Rays and the Colorado Rockies before joining the Marlins as the Assistant General Manager in 2003. Hill, of Cuban/African-American descent, is the only person of color holding a president title with a Major League Baseball team.

"Diversity is important because it gives you a variety of everything," said Hill. "It allows people from different walks of life to share experiences, which I think creates a more complete sense of what our society truly is."

In addition to Hill and the Minor League Baseball office staff, the roster of speakers included:
  • Tyrone Brooks, Senior Director of Major League Baseball's Front Office & Field Staff Diversity Pipeline Program
  • Trevor Gooby, Pittsburgh Pirates Senior Director of Florida Operations
  • Harold Craw, Jacksonville Suns General Manager
  • Lara Juras, Atlanta Braves Vice President of Human Resources
  • Kelvin Scott, Atlanta Braves Senior Manager of Human Resources
  • Greg "Kool Papa" Bell, Stockton Ports Sponsorship and Ticket Sales Executive
  • Amanda Koch, Clearwater Threshers Promotions and Community Relations Manager
  • Bobby Mitchell, Clearwater Threshers Sales Manager
  • Jessica Lack, Tampa Yankees Digital/Social Media & Community Relations Manager
  • Kelsey McIntosh, Dunedin Blue Jays Manager of Sales and Promotions
As a continuation of the program, participants will attend the PBEO® Job Fair at the Baseball Winter Meetings in National Harbor, Maryland, in December.
For downloadable materials from the 2016 FIELD Program, including photos, videos and interviews, visit http://bit.ly/2aUFLgu.

About Minor League Baseball
Minor League Baseball, headquartered in St. Petersburg, Florida, is the governing body for all professional baseball teams in the United States, Canada, and the Dominican Republic that are affiliated with Major League Baseball® clubs through their farm systems. Fans are coming out in unprecedented numbers to this one-of-a-kind experience that can only be found at Minor League Baseball ballparks. In 2015, Minor League Baseball attracted 42.5 million fans to its ballparks to see the future stars of the sport hone their skills. From the electricity in the stands to the excitement on the field, Minor League Baseball has provided affordable family-friendly entertainment to people of all ages since its founding in 1901. For more information, visit www.MiLB.com.

Follow Minor League Baseball on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.

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