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Sunday, February 8, 2015

Carl Erskine and His Harmonica: The Baseball Historian’s Notes for the Week of February 8, 2015

It’s finally just about here. By the time next week’s version of these notes post, pitchers and catchers will have begun reporting at Arizona and Florida locales en masse. It’s been a long and cold winter (especially if you are on the East Coast), but the start of spring training represents a connection to spring that no rodent and his shadow can take away. It’s been a busy offseason, so there’s plenty to digest as teams take stock of where they are to start a new season.

And now, on to the notes for the week…

*Sad news to report in the passing of former Detroit Tigers player Dave Bergman. The first baseman/pinch hitter extraordinaire hit .258 during 17 major-league seasons. Known for his popularity as a teammate and for his charitable endeavors, he fought illness in recent years. He was 61.

*Former all-star infielder Rocky Bridges has also passed away, at the age of 87 on January 27. Starting his career as a backup for the legendary Jackie Robinson and the Brooklyn Dodgers, he ultimately played for seven teams over 11 seasons, hitting a combined .247. The very definition of scrappy, he earned an All-Star berth in 1958 with the Washington Senators, despite hitting just .263 with 28 RBIs.

*The occasion of what would have been Robinson’s 96th birthday just passed. Baseball History Daily had a nice little piece celebrating the trailblazing player, who died in 1972.

*I recently had an opportunity with my friend Ron Juckett to talk with two very interesting people related to baseball. The first was with author and mayor of Cooperstown, New York, Jeff Katz. The other was a conversation with former Boston Red Sox hero Bernie Carbo. Both are definitely worth a listen if I do say so myself.

*Salaries seem to be ever on the rise in baseball. Compensation has certainly come a long way since the days when pretty much any player on a professional roster had to get an offseason job in order to make ends meet. SB Nation’s Grant Bisbee had the fun idea of taking some sample players from the past and speculating what kind of contracts they might garner obtain if they played in the current era.

*Mike Axisa of River Ave Blues thinks that former long-time New York Yankees second baseman Willie Randolph was a much better player than many people remember or realize. An outstanding defensive player, he hit .276 with 2,210 hits in 18 seasons, most of which were spent during a time when middle infielders were generally not looked to for their offense. Have to say, there is no argument from me on this one.

*Going back to 1987, T. Nicholas Dawidoff had this touching piece about former Negro League player Ray Dandridge finding out that he had finally made the Hall of Fame—at the age of 73. Already in his 30s when the majors were integrated, he never got a shot at the majors. However, he had a number of highly successful seasons in the minors and should still be considered one of the finest third basemen to ever play the game.

*Carl Erskine won 122 games pitching for the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers from 1948 to 1959. Along the way, he played with some of the best players to ever put on a uniform, and for some of the best teams to ever take the field. Now 88, he is still going strong. Check out this recent article talking about his amazing life and how he has found a new calling playing the harmonica.

*Second baseman Ron Hunt had a nice 12-year major league career from 1963-1974 playing for a handful of teams. He hit a combined .273 and was a two-time All Star but certainly was never what would be termed a star. However, he continues to be remembered long after he retired because of his uncanny ability to get on base via the hit-by-pitch. He led the league an incredible seven times, and his 243 career plunking is good for sixth all time. He was most prolific in 1971 when he was hit an amazing 50 times, which is still the modern record. Five Thirty Eight Sports’ Jonah Keri took an in depth look at that unusual season, and the player’s painful but underappreciated skill.

*The United States isn’t the only country with its own baseball hall of fame. Surprisingly, there is also one in Great Britain where the game is not nearly as popular but still has a following. Recently, they named the inductees for their sixth class, and will hopefully only continue to grow in the future.

*Finally, check out this cool black and white home movie footage taken by a fan at a Chicago Cubs game in the late 1930s. It may have been nearly 80 years ago but it’s still easy to pick up the electricity the team brought to their fans at historic Wrigley Field.

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