Top 100 Baseball Blog

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Ken Griffey, Jr. Gets a New Job: The Baseball Historian’s Notes for the Week of January 18, 2015

The 2015 baseball season is nearly here. The reporting dates of pitchers and catchers are literally just a month away. Once those players start arriving in camps, things start happening rapidly. But until then, there is still much work to be done around the majors.

Although many free agents have signed their new deals, there are still a number of available players who could be real difference makers, including highly coveted pitchers Max Scherzer and James Shields. Waiting this long to sign in the offseason can be a risky move but it can also pay off big time—for the players and the teams. What is certain is that there will be a flurry of activity in the coming weeks, and until spring training actually starts it will be difficult to get a true sense as to where each team really stands.

Now, on to the notes for the week…

*Wrestling legend Randy “Macho Man” Savage is becoming a member of the WWE Hall of Fame. The boisterous grappler, who passed away in 2011, was one of the best of all time but it wasn’t his first love. Before he became famous, he was Randy Poffo, a minor league player for the St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds in the early 1970s.  This Sports Illustrated piece details his desire to become a professional ball player and some of his exploits on the diamond before he moved on to the ring.

*The 1985 Cardinals were one of the most unique teams in baseball history. Although they hit just 87 home runs as a team, they stole an astounding 314 bases. Led by Hall-of-Fame manager Whitey Herzog, they won 101 games in the regular season before succumbing to the Kansas City Royals in seven games in the World Series. In this article by the St. Louis Post-Dispatches’ Rick Hummel, the old skipper fondly recalls that squad being the best he ever managed.

*Speaking of Hall-of-Fame managers, Sparky Anderson is right up there with the greatest to ever lead a team. He could also act a little and rock a suit so plaid it would make a frat house’s couch blush. This 1979 episode of WKRP in Cincinnati shows all those talents rolled into one tight performance.

*Steve Garvey enjoyed a lengthy career as a first basman who could hit and field—and boy did he have great hair! He was also a prolific pitchman, including these vintage commercials for SegaVision televisions and Chevy, which both ran in the late 1970s.
*Negro League star Herb “Suitcase” Simpson has passed away at the age of 94. Playing first base and outfield, his successful career was altered by his military service and the segregation of the major leagues.

Although he played three minor league seasons from 1952-54 and hit a combined .324, he was never given a chance at the big leagues, as already being in his 30s and gradual  integration of the majors prevented him from being seen as a legitimate prospect. In later years he worked in maintenance and served as an ambassador for the game and his Negro League brethren.

*Carl Long, the man who broke the Carolina League color barrier, also recently passed away at the age of 79. The former Negro Leaguer still holds the circuit’s record for most RBIs in a season with the 111 he posted in 1956 with the Kinston Eagles. Despite hitting .275 with 57 home runs over four minor league seasons, the outfielder/third baseman never broke into the majors.

*Los Angeles Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully is a true baseball treasure. Working for more than half a century, he has helped countless fans fall in love with the game because of his butterscotch-smooth voice and ability to describe the action. The Transistor Kid was a 1964 article by Robert Creamer in Sports Illustrated that followed the legend in the earlier stages of his career. Even then, he was as essential to baseball as a glove or ball, and finding out about some unique aspects of his work (including an unusual way to wish happy birthday to an umpire) makes one appreciate him all the more.

*Turns out New Hall-of-Famer Randy Johnson isn’t the only Seattle Mariners legend to take up photography as a major interest following his playing career. “The Kid,” Ken Griffey Jr., has begun doing sideline shooting for college and professional football games for ESPN. Simon Pollock has the story. It’s an intriguing turn for the legendary former outfielder. It seems a safe bet he will need to put his equipment down for a little bit next in the summer of 2016 when he should be enshrined in Cooperstown if everything goes the way most expect.

*Warren Spahn was one of the greatest left-handed pitchers in baseball history, compiling 363 victories in 21 major league seasons. Raised in Buffalo, New York, and spending his career pitching in major hubs like Boston and Milwaukee, he wound up settling in the small burgh of Hartshorne, Oklahoma. The Oklahoman’s Jenni Carlson wrote about what led the southpaw to this place he ultimately called home.

*Here’s an announcement that should make all fans of baseball history happy. The entire Ken Burns Baseball documentary series is now available for free on YouTube. It’s a great opportunity for those who have never seen the terrific series before, or for those wanting a second or third pass through.

*Bob Feller was a dominant pitcher, winning 266 games during an 18-year career with the Cleveland Indians. In his right arm, “Rapid Robert” was also know to possess one of the best fastballs the game has ever seen, estimated at over 100 MPH during its peak. Playing before the age of advanced measurement equipment, there were attempts made to measure exactly how fast he threw, including this elaborate test against a policeman’s motorcycle.

*Baseball History Daily has the curious story of Homer Hausen, who was blacklisted from the Western league following a 1900 incident where he nearly killed catcher Bill Wilson with a bat because of their competing affections for a woman.

Hausen got the girl, Wilson lived and both players ultimately resumed professional careers. However, in a bizarre twist, Hausen was himself attacked with a bat during a game just a few years later. Another tremendous find by BHD.

*Left-hander Bill Lee was known as much for his personality as his hurling ability during his 14 years in the majors with the Boston Red Sox and Montreal Expos. This brief set of clips from his younger days is just as eclectic as the southpaw, and definitely worth a look!

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