Results tagged ‘ Gil Hodges ’

Dodger Blue vs. Yankee Pinstripes

I ran into an old pal on the way into Yankee Stadium Wednesday for what was the beginning of a long day with a split-admission doubleheader courtesy of Tuesday night’s rainout. None other than Tommy Lasorda had come to the Stadium to make the Yankees-Dodgers match-up official.

In his 21 seasons as manager of the Dodgers, Lasorda was a baseball writer’s best friend. He enjoyed the byplay with the press and filled out notebooks with material while he preached bleeding “Dodger Blue.” Still hearty at 85, Lasorda was looking forward to a day at the Stadium. In the lobby of Gate 2, he watched a video of Hall of Fame pitcher Red Ruffing pitching against the New York Giants in the 1937 World Series.

Lasorda, who was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1997, and I have worked together on a couple of Veterans Committees for the Hall. We were on the committees that elected managers Billy Southworth and Dick Williams and third baseman Ron Santo. Tommy and I campaigned hard for former Dodgers first baseman Gil Hodges, but he fell three votes short.

Tommy is also a major proponent for the election of former Yankees manager Ralph Houk, the only major-league skipper to win pennants in his first three seasons on the job (1961-63). “He was a great manager,” Lasorda said. “Unfortunately, he was here when the franchise was going through a transition, but Ralph was an important link in the years between Casey Stengel and George Steinbrenner.”

Lasorda was involved in my favorite singular memory of spring training. The year was 1990. The Yankees still trained in Fort Lauderdale and the Dodgers in Vero Beach in those days. The Yankees were in Vero, and Tommy invited me and three other New York writers – Moss Klein, Bill Madden and Joe Donnelly – to have dinner with him after the game.

I got stuck in a lengthy interview with former Mets outfielder Darryl Strawberry, who was in his first spring with the Dodgers, and told the other writers that I would catch up with them later. We would need a designated driver anyway for the 2 1/2/-hour trek home, so I volunteered.

By the time I joined them, Tommy had explained that then Dodgers owner Peter O’Malley was throwing a luau for a contingent from Mexico and that he wanted the manager to stay on the premises.

“You can invite the writers to the luau,” O’Malley told Lasorda.

We were delighted. Vin Scully joined us, and we sat on a veranda with plenty to eat and drink (coffee for me) and listened to two of the great story tellers in the major leagues for several hours. Spring training doesn’t get better than that.

Don Mattingly’s return to the Stadium was celebrated by the bleacher creatures who added the Dodgers manager to the roll call in the first inning. Donnie acknowledged them with a tip of his cap. He did so again in the second inning when a video of his Yankees career was shown on the center field screen.

There was a sizeable number of Dodgers fans in the afternoon crowd, many cheering Korean pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu, who started for Los Angeles in an all-Asian pairing with Hiroki Kuroda, the Yankees’ Japanese righthander. Yankees fans got their first chance to drown out Dodgers fans in the bottom of the second when Lyle Overbay doubled over center fielder Andre Ethier’s head for a two-run double.

Yankees fans also got their first view of Cuban right fielder Yasiel Puig, who is off to a strong start in the majors. In the first two innings, Puig evoked the memory of two former Brooklyn Dodgers favorites from the 1940s and ‘50s, Jackie Robinson and Carl Furillo.

Puig singled with one out in the first and bolted for second as center fielder Brett Gardner fielded the ball. Puig was out trying to stretch the hit into a double, but it took a perfect throw from Gardner and a perfect tag by shortstop Jayson Nix to get him.

Thomas Neal led off the New York second with a single to right. Again not taking anything for granted, Puig noticed Neal jogging to first and rifled a throw there that skipped by first baseman Adrian Gonzalez but no advance for Neal. That was a favored ploy of Furillo, particularly when pitchers got a rare hit and occasionally would get a 9-3 putout.

This is the sort of stuff long promised by inter-league play but rarely on display.

Yanks go silently, like their bats

Not to be flippant about it, but the Yankees saved their worst for last. Their season ended with a thud Thursday as Detroit completed a four-game sweep of the American League Championship Series with a convincing 8-1 victory. It marked the second consecutive season that the Tigers eliminated the Yankees from the postseason, becoming the first team to do that since the New York Giants in the World Series of 1921 and 1922. A year later, the Yankees won the first of their 27 championships, so maybe this will be a good omen.

Nothing feels good to the Yankees now. Getting swept in a postseason series is something the franchise is not used to. It had not happened to the Yankees since the 1980 ALCS when they lost in three games to the Royals back when the series was still a best-of-5. The Yankees had played 36 postseason series without getting swept before Thursday.

It is not at all that difficult to analyze what went wrong for the Yankees. They simply did not hit. They scored in only three of the 39 innings of the series and only six runs total. They never had the lead for a single inning in the series, something that happened to them only once before, in the 1963 World Series when they were swept by the Dodgers.

Actually, the Yankees’ offense was pretty scarce throughout the postseason, but they were picked up by their pitching staff. The remarkable work of the rotation also ended Thursday as CC Sabathia, who got the Yanks into the ALCS with a complete-game triumph over the Orioles in Game 5 of the AL Division Series, came apart.

But what the Yankees needed more than a big game from CC Thursday was a big game from the lineup. Nick Swisher came up with his first run-scoring hit with a runner in scoring position in this postseason with a double in the sixth inning, but that was it as the team that set a franchise record with 245 home runs this year continued to falter in the postseason. A team that averaged 1.5 home runs per game during the regular season had only seven home runs in nine postseason games.

Raul Ibanez supplied most of the muscle with three dramatic home runs, but the Yankees got no homers from their usual sluggers – Swisher, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano. It was not just a power outage, either. The Yankees’ team batting average was .157 in the ALCS and .188 overall in the postseason.

Ibanez’s heroics pinch hitting for Rodriguez in Game 4 of the ALDS unfortunately created a media circus around A-Rod, who had been rendered helpless against right-handed pitching in postseason play (0-for-18 with 12 strikeouts) and was benched in the final game of the ALDS and the last two games of the ALCS. Rodriguez has taken the blunt of the blame for the Yanks’ ouster, which is unfair.

He was part of the problem but by no means all of it. Eric Chavez, who replaced Rodriguez at third base, was hitless in 16 at-bats and made two costly errors in the ALCS. Curtis Granderson, who hit 43 home runs during the regular season, homered in Game 5 of the ALDS but was 0-for-11 in the ALCS. He had only two hits other than the home runs in 30 postseason at-bats and struck out 16 times. Swisher hit .167 with 10 strikeouts.

Then there was the strange case of Cano, who endured one of the cruelest postseasons for a New York player that brought to mind the struggles of Yankees right fielder Dave Winfield (1-for-22 in the 1981 World Series) and Brooklyn Dodgers first baseman Gil Hodges (0-for-21 in the 1952 World Series).

Cano entered the postseason as the hottest hitter in baseball with a streak of nine multi-hit games in which he went 24-for-39, a .615 tear. The All-Star second baseman managed only three hits in 40 postseason at-bats (.075), including 1-for-18 (.056) against Detroit pitching. Cano went 29 at-bats without a hit over one stretch, the longest postseason drought in club history, which covers a lot of ground. This was the Yankees’ 51st postseason covering 73 series.

As it turned out, 2012 was a season in which the Yankees peaked too soon. They were running away with the AL East by mid-July with a double-digit lead and then had to fight and claw to finish in first place at season’s end. The same Baltimore team that hounded them in the regular season pushed them to the full five games of the ALDS. A talented Detroit staff headed by the game’s most talent pitcher, Justin Verlander, kept the Yankees’ bat silenced.

Now silence is all there is left of the Yankees’ season.

Yanks mourn ‘family’ loss

The Yankees lost two members of their extended family in recent days, one of whom was truly a tragic case. It was a shock to discover that the 9-year-old girl who was among those gunned down in the attack in Tucson, Ariz., was Christina Taylor Green, the granddaughter of former Yankees manager Dallas Green and daughter of John Green, who had pitched in the Yankees’ minor-league system in 1989 and ’90 and is now the Dodgers’ supervisor of East Coast amateur scouts.

Young Christina had recently been elected to the student council at her school and because of her newfound interest in politics was brought to the town meeting to get an up-close look at U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), who was mortally wounded by an assailant who killed six people in a shooting barrage. Her grandfather managed the Yankees for most of the 1989 season and later managed the Mets in the early 1990s. In 1980, he guided the Phillies to their first World Series championship.

Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner issued a statement saying, “The Steinbrenner family and the New York Yankees organization join the entire nation in mourning Christina and send our deepest condolences to Dallas Green and his family as they deal with this tremendous loss. This is a tragedy that is beyond words and our thoughts and prayers are with the Green family, as well as all of the affected families.”

Last Thursday, one of the Yankees’ most faithful alumni, Ryne Duren, passed away. The former relief pitcher fought a long battle with alcoholism that shortened his career, but he eventually sobered up to live a productive life that took him to age 81.

Unlike baseball’s current era in which closing relievers are revered (where would the Yankees have been the past 15 seasons without Mariano Rivera?) not to mention well paid, Duren pitched at a time when those who inhabited the bullpen did so primarily because they weren’t consistent enough to be trusted as starters. Duren’s problem was lack of control.

The righthander found a spot in the Yankees’ bullpen and became a favorite weapon of Casey Stengel. Yankees fans of a certain age surely remember the terror Duren inflicted on opposing batters with a fastball that came close to 100 miles per hour.

An imposing figure at 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, Duren also wore thick glasses and went looking toward the plate seemed to have trouble locating it. Not too many batters dug in hard against Duren, who on occasion would throw a warmup pitch to the backstop.

His old catcher, Yogi Berra, said the other day, “Ryne could throw the heck out of the ball. He threw fear in some hitters. I remember he had several pair of glasses, but it didn’t seem like he saw good in any of them.”

“Everyone agreed that it was a dangerous combination: a guy wearing glasses that thick and throwing a pitch that fast,” Duren wrote in his 1978 memoir, The Comeback. “But what everyone didn’t know was that there was another dimension that made me even more dangerous than they thought I was. I had a drinking problem.”

Duren had great impact on Yankees’ World Series teams of that late 1950s. The save did not become an official statistic until 1969. Had it been kept earlier, Duren’s 20 saves would have led the league in 1958 when he had 87 strikeouts in 75 2/3 innings. The next year, Duren fanned 96 batters in 76 2/3 innings, and in 1960 had 67 strikeouts in 49 innings.

He was traded in 1961 to the expansion Los Angeles Angels in a deal that brought outfielder Bob Cerv back to the Bronx. Duren’s career went on a downward path as he moved on to Philadelphia, Cincinnati and Washington and finished with a career record of 27-44. His drinking became so severe that Senators manager Gil Hodges had to talk him down from a bridge in the middle of the night after a game in which Duren was pounded by the Yankees.

Several years after his 1965 retirement as a player, Duren responded positively to treatment and got off the bottle. He devoted the rest of his life to drug and alcohol counseling to athletes and was a regular visitor to Yankee Stadium on Old Timers Day.

He never made it to the Hall of Fame, of course, but his name did. Duren was one of only two players in major league history with the surname Ryne. The other is Ryne Sandberg, who was born in 1959. Sandberg’s father was a Yankees fan and named his son after Duren. Sandberg was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2005 with Wade Boggs.

The Phillies executive who originally signed Sandberg to a pro contract later became the general manager of the Cubs and traded for him. That executive was Dallas Green.

Whitey learned from Casey


Whitey Herzog will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame Sunday as a manager, alongside outfielder Andre Dawson and umpire Doug Harvey. Herzog made his reputation managing the Kansas City Royals in the 1970s and the St. Louis  Cardinals in the 1980s, teams that won six division titles, three pennants and one World Series.

His pennants were all in St. Louis because the Yankees denied his Kansas City clubs entrance into the Series by beating the Royals in the American League Championship Series of 1976, ’77 and ’78. Yet Herzog has not only a connection with teams and people in Missouri but also the Yankees. Although he never played in a regular-season  game for the Yankees, Herzog originally signed with them in 1949 right out of high school in New Athens, Ill. That was long before the amateur draft when players could sign with any team they wanted, and most of them wanted the Yankees.

 “They signed me for a $1,500 bonus and $150 a month,” Herzog recalled recently. “They signed Mickey Mantle the same year for $1,100 and $150 a month. It should have been the other way around.”

It wasn’t until 1956 that Herzog, a left-handed outfielder, made it to spring training with the Yankees and began a relationship with Kansas City native Casey Stengel that helped set the young player’s course to managing.

“For some reason, Casey believed I was going to manage in the big leagues,” Herzog said. “He knew that before anyone else.”

Herzog’s aggressive style, particularly the way his players ran the bases, was derived directly from Stengel. During that 1956 spring training, Herzog said, “I’ll bet Casey walked me down the third-base line 75 times a day teaching me that good base running boils down to anticipation and knowledge of the defense. You can steal a lot of runs.”

Just before camp broke, Casey told Herzog that the Yankees’ outfield was stacked and he was going to send him to a team where he could play. The Yankees owed the Washington Senators one more player to complete a trade, and the player was Herzog, who later also played for the Kansas City Athletics, Baltimore Orioles and Detroit Tigers over a career that spanned eight seasons.

Herzog and Stengel were reunited with the Mets in 1966. Stengel was no longer managing but recommended Herzog as a third base coach to his successor, Wes Westrum. Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner, the Mets broadcaster, said at Jane Clark’s party Friday night that Herzog was the best third base coach he ever saw. Yet Whitey only did the job for one year.

The Mets promoted him to director of player personnel, a position in which he signed many of the players that were part of their World Series teams in 1969 and ’73. Herzog was annoyed when some of those players were traded out of the organization, particularly a switch-hitting slugger from Westchester named Ken Singleton, now a Yankees telecaster on YES.

Herzog might have succeeded the late Gil Hodges as manager after his death in the spring of 1972, but the Mets went with Yogi Berra instead. Herzog had brief managerial stints in Texas and Anaheim before hitting it big in Kansas City, Stengel’s home town.

Whitey finally figured out that Stengel’s taking him under his wing may have been due to a misunderstanding. Herzog was reading a book about legendary New York Giants manager John McGraw and saw that the Giants had an infielder named Buck Herzog.

“I think Casey thought I was his grandson, which I wasn’t,” Herzog said. “He never said anything like that to me, but I kind of think that’s what he thought and why he spent so much time with me.”

Herzog not only regretted not getting the chance to manage the Mets but also the Yankees. On a conference call the other day set up by the Hall of Fame, Herzog said he would have liked to have managed the Yankees under George Steinbrenner.

Whitey noted that Steinbrenner frequently sent him congratulatory notes after winning a pennant and thoroughly enjoyed the one the Boss sent him when an injury-riddled Cardinals team made it to the 1987 World Series with utility infielder Jose Oquendo as his right fielder. The note read, “How in the world can you win a pennant with Joe Oquendo in right field, and I can’t win it with Dave Winfield?”