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Sunday, November 23, 2014

Pokey Reese Perseveres: The Baseball Historian's Notes for the Week of November 23, 2014

Baseball free agency kicked off in high gear with catcher Russell Martin inking a lucrative long-term deal with the Toronto Blue Jays. The signing not only indicates that the Jays are in it to win it in 2015, but that there should be plenty of cash flowing around over the next few months. It used to be that only a few select teams would be serious spenders, but these days there is much more parity when it comes to who dips into the available talent pool.

Now, let’s move on to the notes for the week.

*Unbelievably, former pitcher Dwight “Doc” Gooden recently turned 50. A teenaged phenom who came up with the New York Mets in the mid-1980s, the right-hander had an excellent career, but one that was stunted because of off-field issues. The Studious Metsimus Blog takes a look at how he was able to persevere despite his troubles.

At the age of 20, Gooden was an incredible 24-4 with a 1.53 ERA with the Mets in 1985, winning the Cy Young. While he had other strong seasons, he never approached that level of dominance again. His career spanned 16 years with five teams, and he accumulated a 194-112 record and 3.51 ERA. However, given his struggles with substance abuse, the way he finished out strongly (including winning the 2000 World Series with the New York Yankees in his final season) is a testament to his redemption.

*Sadly, it seems every week there is at least one death of a current or former ballplayer to report. Most recently, Ray Sadecki passed away at the age of 73. During an 18-year major league career that spanned 1960-1977 with six different teams, the left-handed pitcher was a combined 135-131 with a 3.78 ERA. His best season came in 1964, as he went 20-11 with a 3.68 ERA for the St. Louis Cardinals. That culminated in him winning one of his two starts in that year’s World Series, as his team edged the New York Yankees four games to three.

Sadecki was perhaps best known for being traded in 1966 by the Cardinals to the San Francisco Giants straight up for slugging future Hall-of-Famer Orlando Cepeda, who at the time was at the peak of his career.

*Moe Berg was a nondescript journeyman backup catcher for 15 major league seasons from 1923-1939. He hit just .243 with six home runs during that time in just a total of 1,813 at-bats. He was better known for his intellect, multiple Ivy League degrees and later his reputation as an international spy. That’s right; he was literally an international man of mystery in addition to his work on the baseball diamond. This podcast is an hour of all things Moe Berg for anyone wanting to know about this fascinating character from the game’s past.

*During an eight-year major league career, infielder Pokey Reese was best known for his cool name and super slick glove. He hit a combined .248 with 44 home runs, 271 RBIs, 144 stolen bases and two Gold Glove Awards for the Cincinnati Reds, Pittsburgh Pirates and Boston Red Sox. Interestingly, his last game as a big leaguer was the clinching Game 4 of the 2004 World Series, as the Red Sox took home their first championship in 86 years.

Despite his commendable career, nothing has come easy for Reese, who has experienced a good deal of tragedy. Now ten years removed from a major league roster, he is the subject of an excellent profile by The State’s Neil White.

*Hall-of-Famer Paul Molitor was recently hired as the newest manager of the Minnesota Twins. Prior to that, he was one of the best hitters baseball has ever seen—no thanks to the umpires. Following a disputed call in 1995, he was ejected by Al Clark, who filed the following mandatory report detailing the incident. It’s quite an interesting read, but if you really like it, you can actually buy it through an auction. It’s never too early to be on the lookout for holiday gift ideas!

*A hat tip to @RonJuckett for the following tidbit. A recent piece in Golf Digest by W.G. Ramirez details golfer Jeff Flagg winning the 2014 World Long Drive Championship at the Las Vegas Paiute Golf Resort. What brings this back to baseball is that prior to smashing drives down the fairways, he was crushing balls as a professional ballplayer.

Flagg was a 2008 27th-round draft choice of the New York Mets. He played a total of five seasons as a first baseman in the minors and with independent league teams, hitting a combined .247 with 58 home runs. His best season was his last, as he hit .248 with 20 homers and 83 RBIs in 96 games for the Traverse City Beach Bums of the Frontier League in 2012.

*Here’s a really classic black and white photo of Mickey Mantle at old Yankee Stadium.
*And here are some photos of old baseball stadiums back when they were in their glory. It is worth a watch, especially for anyone who reminisces about the “good old days.”

*The 125th anniversary of the formation of the Players League, an attempt at a player-run professional baseball league that folded after its lone season of 1890, just passed. Deadspin’s W.M. Akers nails a profile of the efforts of players, led by shortstop and lawyer John Montgomery Ward, to create something that would allow them to play the game professionally, but not under the thumb of penny-pinching owners.

Ward, who is enshrined in the Hall of Fame, is one of the most interesting yet relatively unknown figures in baseball history. In addition to being an outstanding player, he was also an intellect and social figure (even marrying a Broadway actress). In 1885 he founded the Brotherhood of American Base Ball Players, in an attempt to unionize players. Although it eventually petered out, it was a genesis for the powerful MLB players’ union that operates today.

*Slugger Dick Allen was known for his prodigious power, cracking 351 home runs in a 15-year major league career. The right-handed hitter could park them no matter where he was playing. What made his feats all the more impressive was the tree trunk-esque bats he swung. This short video clip is of Allen describing the 42-ounce lumber he would bring to the plate. The kind of torque it takes to turn around a 90+ MPH fastball is one thing, but it is another thing entirely altogether when doing it with such a heavy cudgel.

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

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