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Sunday, March 22, 2015

Casey Stengel Asserts Life Cereal Really is for Adults: The Baseball Historian’s Notes for the Week of March 22, 2015

A big change is coming to the MLB All-Star Game, as it was recently announced that the paper ballot will be no more and all votes cast will now be exclusively online. But why stop there? How about using this as a catalyst to breathe new life into an event that could stand a more extensive makeover?

The inaugural All Star game (mirroring the current model) was in 1933. It was a brilliant way to allow fans to experience players they may have otherwise never had an opportunity to because of media and travel impediments. Now that we live in a high-flying digital age, that is no longer a true benefit. Some suggestions that it would be difficult to imagine baseball fans not relishing include having a skills competition; splitting the teams into United States versus the world; and a futures game. Really, the possibilities are endless.

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

*Al Rosen, a former All-Star third baseman and later a major league front office figure, has passed away at the age of 91. He played from 1947 to 1956 with the Cleveland Indians, hitting a combined .285 with 192 home runs and 717 RBIs. A four-time all Star, he also won the 1953 American League MVP, hitting .336 with 43 home runs and 145 RBIs, losing the Triple Crown by finishing .001 behind Mickey Vernon in batting average.

In later years, Rosen served in the capacity of general manager and president for the Houston Astros and San Francisco Giants.

*In 2002, Ian Ferguson was a top pitching prospect for the Kansas City Royals. That year, splitting time between two levels, the 22-year-old right-hander was a combined 18-3 with a 2.48 ERA. Unfortunately, as’s Anna McDonald details, his promising career was derailed because of a struggle with anxiety. Although he ultimately left the game without ever having made the majors, it’s stories like his that have inspired teams like the Boston Red Sox and Washington Nationals to hire staff to specifically work with players on such issues. Hopefully, the level of support and understanding will only continue to grow over time.

*Fox Sports’ Dan Epstein posted a terrific piece on musician Warren Zevon and former pitcher Bill “Spaceman” Lee. Both were eccentrics who rose to prominence in their respective fields in the 1970s, and wound up becoming great friends. The result was a lot of entertainment and a catchy song not surprisingly titled “Bill Lee.”

*Willie Stargell was one of the greatest players to ever step on a field, compiling a .282 batting average and 475 home runs during a 21-year Hall-of-Fame career with the Pittsburgh Pirates. However, bumps in the road came before the success, and this video explains how he got some valuable advice as a young man from fellow Pirates legend Pie Traynor  that very well may have gotten him on track.

*Some baseball teams are so great that they not only win games, they can inspire songs. Such was the case of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who were the subject of this popular ditty by Danny Kaye, which rose to prominence during the 1962 pennant race.  Although the team won an impressive 102 games that year, they unfortunately finished a game behind the San Francisco Giants.

*Moe Berg carved out a 15-year major league career as a journeyman backup catcher from 1923-1939. He was also Ivy League educated and occasionally served as an international spy. Needless to say, he was incredibly intelligent and well-spoken, which he put on display in this 1941 article he wrote for Atlantic Monthly about the inner workings baseball.

*During spring training in 1973, one of the oddest things to ever come out of a team camp occurred when New York Yankees teammates Mike Kekich and Fritz Peterson announced they had decided to trade families. Apparently, the two pitchers had fallen in love with each other’s spouse, so they agreed to the swap. The story obviously garnered big attention, and is still remembered today. Ben Affleck and Matt Damon are currently producing a film about baseball’s oddest trade.

*Sometimes one comes across a picture that inspires wonder in what exactly was going on when the shutter clicked. This photo of pitching legend Satchel Paige is a perfect example of that phenomenon.

*The forgotten hero of a team is often the mascot. They can light a fire under the crowd, heckle the opposition and provide entertainment during breaks in the action. One of the most iconic of these masked men and women is Mr. Met. Here’s the behind the scenes story of the mascot when portrayed by A.J. Mass (now a popular fantasy sports writer) in the 1990s.

*Baseball History Daily has the story of the “Next Babe Ruth,” which was a distinction bestowed on a number of young players after power outbursts in the low minors. Of course, there was only one Ruth, and living up to him and what he eventually accomplished was essentially impossible. 

*Baseball cards have long been an important part of the game. Being a medium for displaying player pictures and stats has evolved into an expansive hobby that is now geared more towards adults than children. Michael Pollack of The New York Times has an interesting look at the first mass-produced card, which appeared all the way back in 1869.

*One of the greatest questions humanity has ever pondered is whether Life Cereal is for kids or adults. Casey Stengel, the Hall-of-Fame manager, once took a stab at trying to provide the answer, debating with a precocious Little Leaguer named Jimmy in this vintage commercial.

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

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