Baseball Short Stories - 4
Foreshadowing Ray Chapman
1921: The Yankees, the Giants, & the Battle for Baseball Supremacy in New York,
Lyle Spatz and Steve Steinberg (2010)
It was no secret that [Yankees manager] Miller Huggins had a fondness for the Baltimore kid Chuck Fewster. Maybe Huggins identified with the skinny, almost gaunt, infielder. "Chick has everything," Huggins had said when he first evaluated Fewster before the 1918 season. "I have never seen a greater prospect." Fewster had many fans rooting for him as he was attempting a comeback from a near-fatal beaning in spring training 1920.

In an eerie foreshadowing of Ray Chapman's death, a fastball from Brook­lyn's Jeff Pfeffer had fractured Fewster's skull in a game in Jacksonville, Florida, on March 25. Like Chapman, Fewster had a reputation for crowding the plate. In both cases, the damaging pitches may have been strikes. In 1919 Fewster had been hit by pitches seven times. Like Carl Mays, Pfeffer was among those pitchers who hit many batters (he had hit fifty men from 1915 to 1917); they both had led their leagues in that category in 1917.


L-R: Miller Huggins, Chuck Fewster, Jeff Pfeffer

Originally, Fewster's injury was not deemed life threatening. Yet he could not talk, an indication that his vocal chords might have been paralyzed. The Yankee owners insisted that he return to Baltimore, his home and the home of Johns Hopkins, one of the nation's top hospitals. Doctors at Hop­kins diagnosed Fewster's worsening condition, operated to relieve the swelling and bleeding in his skull, and saved his life. While many newspa­pers predicted that his career was over, Fewster did return to play in 1920, albeit with only twenty-one at bats. Huggins planned to play him at second base and in the outfield in 1921, as he had in 1919 when Fewster hit .283.

Fewster was offered a few "head guards" made of cork and felt in the spring of 1921, but he refused them all. Observers were wondering if he would be plate shy, since many previously beaned players could not avoid the urge to pull out of their batting stance as the ball approached. Yet when he faced Pfeffer almost a year to the day after the beaning, it was the pitcher who seemed tentative, not his former victim. Fewster crushed Pfeffer's first pitch for a triple. "There are many kinds of courage in this world. Chick Fewster possesses all the kinds there are," wrote James P. Sinnott in the New York Evening Mail.
Dizzy Exhibition Game Pitcher
"The One and Only," Jack Sher, Sport Magazine (May 1948)

Dizzy Dean, Houston Buffaloes
The day was dry and hot, with just the whisper of a wind stirring the warm air. Big, white clouds moved lazily in the sky, traveling North over the land of Texas. The elements were at peace, but a man-made storm was occurring in a Houston ball park. For on this fine day in 1930 the name and reputation of one of the greatest pitchers of the 20th Century was being born.
The occasion was an exhibition game between the Hous­ton team and the Chicago White Sox. And the arm and antics of the 20-year-old Texas League pitcher were cau­sing wailing and gnashing of teeth in the White Sox dug­out.
The pitcher's name, when he went into the game, was Je­rome Herman Dean. But, before the contest ended, he was to be given a new first name. He was henceforth to be known as "Diz-zy." And the name of Dizzy Dean was to dominate the baseball world for a decade. The chatter and wisecracks he was dishing out were full of brash, confident, homespun humor.
"Well, lookee, now watta we got here? Jes' keep that ol' bat on the shoulder, fellah. I'm a gonna breeze this here one right a-cross the middle. Now don't get the catcher fussed up by swing-in' at it. Jes' save yer strength and watch 'er go by!"
Down in the Chicago dugout, manager Owen Bush was more than slightly steamed. His voice floated out to the batter, loudly and derisively.
"What's going on out there? You're supposed to be a ma­jor-leaguer! You're lettin' that dizzy kid make a fool outa ya."
Jerome Herman turned the big grin toward the White Sox dugout. Before facing the batter again, he delivered a few wisecracks to the manager, some derogatory words about the ability of the Chicago hitters.
"Listen to that!" Bush railed, jumping up and down in an­ger. "Are you guys gonna take that from this dizzy kid?" It was dizzy, dizzy, dizzy, all afternoon. The adjective was a better description of the batters than of the kid pitcher. They swung and missed until most of them felt as though they had their heads in a revolving door.
A name can be born in a moment. It takes action to make it mean some­thing, to breathe life and color into it. Diz gave it that life. A lesser man might have resented the name "Dizzy," but not a guy like Dean. Even then, this warm, lovable, uneducated (but wise) kid understood that baseball is more than mere auotmatons who can hit, catch, or pitch. He knew that the game is also the personalities of the men who play it, their diverse back­grounds and peculiarities.
As his onetime brilliant teammate, Pepper Martin, said: "When ol' Diz was in there pitching it was more than just another ball game. It was a regular three-ring circus and everybody was wide awake and enjoying being alive."
Even as Jerome Herman Dean, his big right arm undoubtedly would have made him a great winning pitcher. But as Dizzy Dean, he was more than that. He was a tremendous, exciting personality, a strictly screwy, magnifi­cently American character, an advertisement for baseball, an attraction that drew to the game those hitherto unfortunate people who didn't know a scratch hit from a double steal.
Mrs. Rickey Says No
Rhubarb in the Catbird Seat, Red Barber and Robert Creamer (1968)

GM Larry MacPhail had hired Red Barber to announce the Cincinnati Reds games,
then brought Red to Brooklyn with him in 1938.

About then - the fall of 1942 - Larry MacPhail announced that he was leaving the Dodgers to go into the Army. ...
I was no party to the high-level discussions by the Brooklyn board and I had no idea what was going to happen, but the next thing I knew Branch Rickey had severed himself from the job with the Cardinals in St. Louis and was installed as MacPhail's successor at Brooklyn. I was delighted. Rickey came east and with Mrs. Rickey took a furnished apartment in Bronxville ... only a few miles from where Lylah and I were living ...
He had not been in the apartment in Bronxville very long before he called up and asked us to come visit. Lylah had never met the Rickeys. ... We went down for Sunday luncheon and it was very pleasant. Unless you were around the warm magnetism of Mr. Rickey in the bosom of his family in his own home, you really don't know what charm is. Mrs. Rickey was a doll, a living, breathing doll. She was just as much a personality in her own right as he was. Rickey, with all his strength and ability, never got one step ahead of Mrs. Rickey in all of his life, never once. I think maybe one of the reasons why Rickey went so far and so fast was because he had to set a gait according to his wife, and that was a pretty fast pace.

L: Red and Lylah Barber and their daughter Sarah
R: Branch and Jane Rickey and their son Branch Jr.
Lylah and I were captivated by them. They were genuine human beings, people of sensitivity, gentle people. And wise. ... Certainly, the principal reason for the luncheon was that Rickey wanted to know me better. He wanted his wife to know me better, too, because I don't think he ever made a big decision in his life that he didn't talk over with Mrs. Rickey first. I remember hearing once that the two of them required very little sleep, that they used to sit up and talk things over late into the night. Mr. Rickey was very intelligently vocal. He didn't go to motion pictures, and I'm sure he didn't spend much time looking at television. He did not drink. He had his own life to live. He didn't have to be entertained. He liked to talk. He loved conversation.
So he would talk things over with Mrs. Rickey. She was his sounding board. She would listen, and then she would give her reactions. She had strong opinions, and she was not the least hesitant about giving them to this man. He did not always follow her advice or agree with her opinion. For instance, she told him not to start the Jackie Robinson thing. She told him that he had no business getting into that at his age, stirring up all of base­ball and all of the country and maybe getting into a thing he would never get out of until he went to his grave. As we used to say in Brooklyn, she left him have it about breaking the color line and bringing a Negro into baseball. She detailed the complications, the complexities, and ramifications, of what he planned to do. That was a long time before anybody knew Jackie Rob­inson's name - and I mean even in the Rickey household. Branch Rickey decided to bring Jackie Robinson into baseball two years before he knew who Jackie was. Jackie was the individual who emerged from the principle.
Mrs. Rickey was against the idea, and their six daughters and their only son asked Rickey to leave the thing alone, that he had enough going, that he was too old to take this problem on his hands. That was something, to have opposition, and reasonable opposition, from the people closest to him, the ones he loved, the ones whose opinions mattered beyond all others. But he went ahead anyway. Rickey wasn't headstrong much when he got that bit in his teeth, was he?
Ted's Frustrated
The Victory Season: The End of World War II and the Birth of Baseball's Golden Age,
Robert Weintraub (2013)
The Red Sox were having difficulty clinching the 1946 American League pen­nant. One of the reasons for their failure was that their main hitter was mired in a slump.
Boston had saved its worst for last. The celebratory champagne was being car­ried across half the American League, from Washington to Philly to De­troit to Cleveland, without being cracked open. There was no thought of an epic collapse (they still led the AL by fourteen games), but the wait at the precipice was get­ting on the nerves of everyone in Boston.
Williams was getting on people's nerves himself. Throughout his career, he would often wear down toward the end of the season due to illness. Even as a kid in San Diego, late-summer fevers plagued him, though he never did figure out why. Now he spent many a ball game in a fog, from either a head cold or the medication he took to treat it. "He practically had pneumonia, he was so sick," remembers Bobby Doerr. "He was real run down." "I'm tired physically," Williams admitted to the press late in the season. "I'm on the go all the time and I wish it were all over."
Meanwhile, his Triple Crown hopes had dissipated like a sneeze in the air. Once the leader in all three categories, he fell behind Mickey Vernon of the Sena­tors in the batting chase, and Hank Greenberg, Detroit's slugging star in the twilight of his fabled career, in home runs and RBIs.
Greenberg had suffered through a miserable 1946. He had been the first ma­jor league star to be called up for service, way back in 1940. He was honorably discharged on December 5, 1941. Two days later, he was back in the military, volunteering (the first major leaguer to do so after Pearl Har­bor) for the Army Air Corps. "We are in trouble," he told the Sporting News, "and there is only one thing for me to do - return to the service. This doubt­less means I am finished with baseball and it would be silly for me to say I do not leave it without a pang. But all of us are confronted with a terrible task - the defense of our country and the fight for our lives." ...
He came home in mid-'45 and proved he was far from "finished with base­ball." Greenberg walloped a homer "on a line as flat as old beer," in Red Smith's phrase, during his first game back, and hit a grand slam to clinch the pennant. Hebrew Hank then slugged a memorable three-run shot to win Game Two of the World Series, as the Tigers bested Chicago in seven.
But for most of the summer of '46, he was considered washed-up at age thirty-five, his 28 homers, 88 RBIs, and .268 batting average through Au­gust far be­low his standard numbers. Then a fellow Tiger, an even older one named Roger "Doc" Cramer, who at forty was fortunately still ex­tremely juvenile, slipped into the Sox clubhouse one afternoon at Fenway and stole one of Ted's bats. Cramer presented it to Greenberg, and Hank duly, in his words, "em­barked on his annual fall salary drive" with the new lumber. He smashed a dozen homers in three weeks with Splinter's splin­ter, until it shattered one day. Undaunted, Hank hit 5 more with his own previously uninspiring ash, to give him 16 for the month of September and 44 in all, good for best in the league. His 39 RBIs during the exceptional month gave him that title as well. Grantland Rice opined, "Greenberg's surge is one of baseball's greatest achievements." When the season end­ed, he gave Williams a fresh bat as a thank-you.


L: Mickey Vernon; R: Hank Greenberg presents a bat to Ted Williams after 1946 season.
Ted wasn't too happy about the whole thing. He suspected, as did some others, that Greenberg and Vernon were getting grooved pitches in an effort to deny Williams the Triple Crown. As Austin Lake wrote, "Rival athletes gradually grew sour at Ted for his aloof swagger and chill hauteur toward his fellow crafts­men." Pitchers, in the Williams worldview, were dubious characters who lacked morals. He could easily envision some of those snakes not coming high and hard at the popular Greenie so they could stick it to The Kid.

The Sox soon clinched the pennant. Ted did not lead the AL in any of the Triple Crown categories but was overwhelmingly voted MVP.
"I Decided to Cheat"
Slick: My Life In and Around Baseball, Whitey Ford with Phil Pepe (1987)
I felt I was nearing the end of my career. My slider was not as fast and I had lost a little off my fastball. ... I had to come up with a new pitch. I de­cided to cheat.
I had experimented with a spitball earlier in my career, even tried it a few times in games, but I never could perfect it. Joe Page taught it to me when I was just breaking in with the Yankees. ...
Lew Burdette had the reputation of throwing the best spitter in baseball. ... I went to Lew before a game one day ... I asked him if there was any­thing he could suggest. He was only too happy to help. "I'll show you how to throw it even though I don't throw it myself," Lew said with a straight face. ... Burdette showed me how to apply mud to the ball so it would dip and dart. I tried it on the sidelines and I couldn't believe the movement I was able to get on the ball. This was the new pitch I was looking for. All I had to do was perfect it and figure out how to do it so it wouldn't be picked up by the umpire or the opposing players and mana­gers.
What I did was spit in my left hand, which was perfectly legal, then pretend to rub up the ball. Also legal. But I wasn't really rubbing up the ball at all. Only one hand was moving, the hand that was dry. The hand with saliva on it was not moving, and saliva was being transferred from the hand to the baseball while the dry hand was rotating around the ball. ... Now the saliva was on the ball, and the next thing I did was reach down and pick up the resin bag with the hand that still held the baseball. As I grabbed the resin bag with my thumb and forefinger, I gently touched the baseball on the dirt on the mound. I had to make sure that the portion of the ball that was wet with saliva hit the dirt. What would happen is that the dirt would stick to the wet baseball. Now I was "loaded up" and ready to throw my "mud ball" or "dirt ball."
I threw it just like my fastball, as hard as I could. If I kept the dirt on the top when I released the pitch, the ball would have the action of a screw­ball. It would move away from a right-handed hitter and it would sink. It became a very effective pitch for me.
The hitter was never the wiser, because unlike the spitter, the mud ball would be rotating when it came up to the plate. A spitball comes in more like a knuckleball, with no rotation, and the bottom just drops out of it at the last moment. Since my "mud ball" had rotation on it, nobody ever sus­pected me of throwing a funny pitch. ...
 
L-R: Whitey Ford, Joe Page, Lew Burdette
I was never caught throwing the mud ball. ... If somebody asked the umpire to check the ball after I had "loaded" it up with mud and before I pitched, just as I was reaching up to throw it to the umpire, I would hit the ball on the side of my pants leg and the mud would come off. ...
Once I started getting away with the mud ball, I started experimenting with other things. I guess I got bored and I needed a new challenge. I found I could get the same action on the ball by scuffing one side of it, or by nicking the baseball on one side. All of a sudden I was getting pretty sophisticated in my cheating. I figured it didn't hurt a pitcher to have more than one pitch in his repertoire. Besides, if they ever caught on to one of my tricks, I had to have another one to take its place.
I had this friend named Joe Piser. ... I asked him if he could get his jeweler friend to make me up a ring with a rasp attached to it. I figured I could wear the ring and cut the baseball with the rasp. ... About two weeks later, Joe presented me with a stainless-steel ring. Welded onto the ring was a rasp ... It was exactly what I wanted. ...
I started wearing the ring when I pitched. I would put the part of the ring with the rasp underneath my finger. On top, I covered the ring with flesh-colored Band-Aids, so you couldn't tell from a distance that I had anything on my finger. Now it was easy to just rub the baseball against the rasp and scratch it on one side. One little nick was all it took to get the baseball to sail and dip like crazy. It was even more effective than the mud ball.
Elston Howard, my catcher, had a pretty good idea what was going on, but even he didn't know how I was doing it. Joe Pepitone, our first baseman, tried to help. One time I had the ball fixed just the way I wanted it. I threw the damnedest sinker you can imagine and the batter just barely got a piece of it and trickled it foul along the first-base line. Pepi picked up the baseball, looked at it, and tossed it to the first-base umpire. "Here," he said, "this ball's no good. It's all scratched up." Later when I retired the side and returned to the dugout, I went up to Pepi. "Listen, you jackass," I told him, "If you ever hand one of my balls to an umpire again, I'm going to hit you right in the head with it."
Once we were playing the Chicago White Sox and I was cutting baseballs with my ring, and Al Lopez, the Sox manager, started complaining to the plate umpire, Hank Soar. ... So Soar came out to the mound and said, "What have you got on your hand?" "It's just my wedding ring, Hank," I said. "I have it covered with a Band-Aid so it doesn't reflect in the batter's eyes." I was afraid he was going to ask to see it, so I tried to hide the cutting side as best I could. "Well, take it off," he said. ... Later Lopez was talking to the press about it. "He said he was wearing his wedding ring," Lopez said sarcastically. "Well, I love my wife, too, but I always take my wedding ring off and put it in a safe place when I put on my uniform." ...
Another time, we were playing Cleveland and Alvin Dark was their mana­ger. I noticed any time a foul ball was hit near the Indians' dugout, it would never be thrown back into the game. What Dark was doing was gathering the baseballs as evidence. Later in the game, he had collected about six baseballs, all with scratches on them in the same place, and he showed them to the umpire. The umpires never said anything to me, but after that I cooled it for a while and didn't cut the baseball until the heat was off. ... I used the ring until I retired. ...
I used to do a few other things, too, which also went undetected. Occa­sionally, I would quick-pitch a hitter, catch him between practice swings or when he wasn't ready. ... Another thing I found I could get away with and never be caught was pitching in front of the rubber. I did that a lot and nobody ever caught on. If you covered the rubber up with dirt, it was easy to do. It's just something nobody's ever looking for.
The Grand Illusion
The Road to Omaha: Hits, Hopes, and History at the College World Series,
Ryan McGee (2010)

Ron Fraser turned the University of Miami baseball program into a national power.
Fraser's '82 Canes blew into Nebraska with brutally ugly Houston Astro­style horizontally striped polyester pullover jerseys, shown in glorious orange and green on ESPN, who was televising all fourteen CWS games for the very first time. In Game One, the Canes beat Maine 6-1. ...

During a quiet off-day practice at Boys Town, Fraser huddled with his assis­tant coaches, Skip Bertman and Dave Scott, to try and figure out how they would counter the Wichita State Shockers and coach Gene Stephenson's legendarily aggressive running game.
The assistants had an idea. While scouting at a junior-college tournament earlier that winter, Scott had watched West Palm Beach Junior College run a complicated-looking yet actually very simple hidden-ball trick. He walked Fraser through it and Fraser immediately began to choreograph a version right there on Father Flanagan's old ball field. The Canes ran the play a few times on the high school diamond, each repetition bringing in another member of the team to amplify the sales pitch. The players soon had it down pat, and immediately wanted to know when they would get a chance to try it in a game.
The answer was simple - during the biggest game of their lives ... live ... on ESPN.

L-R: Ron Fraser, Skip Bertman, Gene Stephenson
With the score tied 3-3 in the bottom of the sixth, Wichita's Phil Stephen­son, younger brother of Gene, reached first on a walk. The first baseman was nothing less than the greatest base-stealer in college baseball history, with a single season record of eighty-six stolen bags in ninety-one at­tempts. When Miami pitcher Mike Kasprzak stepped off the rubber to check the runner, Stephenson dove back into the bag.
Kasprzak and first baseman Steve Lusby immediately looked to the dug­out. They didn't say or signal anything. They didn't have to. Their faces said it all.
C'mon, Coach ... this is the perfect time!
The assistant coaches looked at Fraser, who nodded back with a look of "Oh, what the hell?" Skip Bertman looked back at his pitcher and signaled by sticking his finger in his ear.
The Grand Illusion was officially in play.
"The conditions had to be perfect and they were," Bertman recalled in the Rosenblatt press box twenty-six years later. "It was dusk, so the light was kind of tough. Stephenson was all riled up and ready to run, which we learned when he dove back into the bag when all we did was take a step off the rubber. And they had a player coaching first, not a coach. As soon as I signaled for it, the entire team stood up, even down in the bullpen. Every­one was in on it."

Once again pitcher Mike Kasprzak stepped off the rubber, this time making a hand throwing motion toward first base. Once again Stephenson dove back and Steve Lusby dove over the runner, letting loose a curse word and taking off running for the right-field bullpen. Clearly, Kasprzak had over­thrown the ball, right?
The relievers sitting in the bullpen jumped up in reaction to the ball suppo­sedly heading their way. Second baseman Mitch Sloane and right fielder Mickey Williams took off running to join the pursuit. Miami fans seated behind the home dugout stood and pointed, trying to help their fielders locate the ball, but no one could spot it. Shortstop Bill Wrona, visibly an­gered by the turn of events, did his duty and moved over to cover second base.
Phil Stephenson might as well have had a fish hook in his cheek.
Reacting to the chaos around him, the speedster jumped up and rocketed toward second. As he looked back to the commotion over his right shoulder, he failed to see the pitcher calmly tossing the ball to the shortstop, who applied the tag as the runner arrived, very confused, at second base.
The Hurricanes tried not to laugh, but they couldn't help it.

Video of the trick play

Derailed and deflated from the play, the Shockers never recovered and lost the game 4-3. When the two teams met five days later for the champion­ship game, Wichita was still complaining about what had happened and Miami won its long-sought first CWS title in a come-from-behind victory ...

That summer, for the first time in its thirty-six year history, the College World Series led every sportscast in the nation, every talking head anxious to give his or her take on the Grand Illusion. The play placed The Blatt prominently on SportsCenter, This Week in Baseball, and Fraser's big-stage gamble immediately became a staple of every baseball coaching clinic from coast to coast.
Life with Charlie O.
No More Mr. Nice Guy: The Life of Hardball, Dick Williams and Bill Plaschke
The 1972 Oakland Athletics got off to a sizzling start, winning 21 of their first 32. That excited owner Charlie O. Finley and posed a problem for manager Dick Williams.
Charlie's daily phoning became even worse. He began using phones like they grew on trees, calling me more than twice a day. He began calling me so much that when we went on the road, I was forced to share an adjoining room with another club employee so that we could make arrangements for one of us to be in the room to answer the phone. Not that Charlie couldn't find me even if I'd disappeared. One off-day I was playing golf, about to putt on the eighth green, when a pro shop worker brought out a phone message. Guess who? I told the kid I'd call Charlie when I made the turn at the ninth hole. The kid said Char­lie wouldn't wait, and gently begged me to get in his cart and drive with him to the phone.
"Hey, Dick," Charlie belched when I picked up the phone, "how's the club?"
"Which club do you mean?" I asked Charlie. "I'm standing here holding a bag full of them."

L-R: Charlie Finley and Dick Williams; Allan Lewis; Dick Green
Charlie also turned my clubhouse into a hotel lobby. One day I arrived at the park and spotted this tall skinny black guy sitting in the back. I figured he was just another new batboy until he knocked on my office door.
"Dick, I'm Allan Lewis, your new player," he said, sticking out his hand. "Allan," I exclaimed, "nice to meet you."
I stood up, smiled, asked him to wait outside the office a second, closed the door behind him, and then picked up the phone. "Charlie!" I nearly shouted when the old man got on the phone. "Who in the hell is Allan Lewis?"
Turns out he was our new pinch runner, a sprinter from Panama whose lack of baseball knowledge Charlie considered incidental. "Just call him 'The Pana­manian Express.'" Charlie kept saying. I protested: "Charlie, we have no uniform for The Panamanian Express. No equipment. No locker."
Charlie just laughed. Dick wait until you see this guy run," he said. And so we saw. A few days after he arrived, The Panamanian Express took off from first base on a long fly ball, head down, arms and legs pumping, great form. And if only the ball had fallen in for a base hit. But the ball was caught, as Lewis learned upon arriving at third base. What's a Panamanian Express to do? He shrugged and ran across the diamond, across the pitcher's mound, back to first. Playing in parts of six seasons, all for Charlie, Lewis appeared in just 156 games and batted exactly 29 times. But hey, the guy could run.
And I shouldn't complain about just him. Charlie made 62 transactions that year, which has to be close to a record. All told, we put uniforms on 42 players. The worst part was that 12 of them played second base. Yes, Charlie didn't just try to influence my roster, he began trying to jimmy with my lineup, asking me to get a pinch hitter every time our second baseman batted. He figured that none of our second basemen could hit anyway, while all of them could field for a couple of innings. This was his rotating second baseman maneuver, Charlie's only in-game order that I felt compelled to carry out. After it cost us several wins by having the great-fielding Dick Green on the bench after three innings, and ultimately made a mockery of a playoff game, I finally ignored the order and prayed for my job. By then Charlie didn't notice, but only because he was too busy counting wins.
Charlie's eccentricities were visible everywhere. In the spring of 1972 he de­cided to schedule us in an exhibition against a Japanese team in which a batter would strike out on two strikes and walk on three balls. So what if baseball had used different rules for 75 years? Charlie really thought this one would catch on, until our pitchers walked about 20 Japanese hitters and they beat the hell out of us. Call it an invention defeated by defeat.
That spring he also decided to start fooling around with an orange baseball, which he actually used in an exhibition game in 1973. I'll never forget how former A's outfielder George Hendrick, who we'd just traded to Cleveland, hit three homers for the Indians with the orange ball but afterward almost single-handedly killed the idea by telling then-Commissioner Bowie Kuhn that he couldn't pick up the spin on the ball. I think he just did that to get back at Charlie. Call it an invention killed by a grudge.
Charlie also acquired a fetish for mules. Don't ask me why. Ask the mule. I'm referring to Charlie's trademark, appropriately named Charlie O. In 1972, after letting him clomp around in the background of the organization for years, Charlie decided the fucking mule should join the team. He let him graze in the hospitality suites underneath the Coliseum during playoff games and even allowed him to lick the ice sculptures. He let him graze on the field throughout the left field foul territory. One problem. Before every game the mule had this habit, probably nerves, of taking a big crap down the left field line. It got so bad that I'd have to explain things to the opposing manager during our pregame meeting at home plate. "The mule shits out there, and we can't always be cleaning it," I'd tell him. "So if a ball rolls in the shit, it's still in play." Right about then the opposing manager would shit.

L-R: Catfish Hunter, Reggie Jackson, Rollie Fingers
Charlie also suddenly had a thing for nicknames. He was the one who first referred to Jim Hunter as "Catfish" and who threw the "Blue Moon" in John Odom's name. But now he began begging Vida to call himself "True" Blue. Vida wouldn't do it.
Then there was Charlie's most noticeable promotion, a gimmick so unusual that some of us have been reminded of it every morning in the mirror for nearly 20 years. Late in July 1972 we were on a charter flight from Boston, and the team, as usual, was pissed off about something. This time it was Charlie's rule about no facial hair. It wasn't that they disagreed with it but that one highly visible member of the team was ignoring it. Reggie [Jackson] had started growing a beard and mustache and refused to shave it, and the guys were mad that he seemed to be having so much fun. Catfish finally decided to address the issue in proper Oakland A's fashion. He decided to rat on him.
Catfish walked to the front of the plane where Charlie was sitting. "Charlie," he announced, "Reggie Jackson has facial hair. Lots of facial hair. And we don't think it's fair." Finley looked at Catfish and then gazed into space. "Oh, really?" he said.
By the time we landed in Chicago to drop Finley at his home, he'd concocted his solution. If facial hair had caused such a stir among the team, think what it would do for the fans. Not only didn't Finley reprimand Reggie, he offered $300 to anyone who would grow a mustache in the ensuing month and show it off at a promotion ingeniously called "Mustache Day."
And so the Mustache Gang was born - a baseball team that came to look like a protest march. The players were so confused by Charlie's edict that most of them also decided to grow their hair long. We became one messy group of players, which only helped to cultivate our image as a free-wheeling team. But we weren't that free-wheeling. A month later, as soon as he gave us our checks for $300 following the successful Mustache Day, about half the team ran into the clubhouse to shave. he other half - well, some of us kept our mustaches for the rest of the season. And for the next season. And the next.
To this day, as far as I know, several of those A's have never permanently shaved their mustaches. I'm one of them. You may have noticed another - a guy named Rollie Fingers. No, he didn't always own the most conspicuous mustache in sports. Like a lot of things with our team, his style started with Charlie.
Dark Takes Over in Oakland
When in Doubt, Fire the Manager: My Life and Times in Baseball,
Alvin Dark & John Underwood (1980)
Alvin Dark became manager of the Oakland A's in 1974 after Dick Williams, who had led the A's to back-to-back World Series championships, left because of the meddling of owner Charlie Finley.
Charlie Finley warned me he didn't want any of my "stupid fines." He said, "I don't want you to have any rules, I don't want any of those golf-ball fines. Just let the boys play baseball." I had always had fines - for missing curfews, for being late to meetings, for taking pills, for needing haircuts. I had a $1,000 fine for long hair, so I never had any trouble with hair. For the small stuff - a guy missing a cutoff, a missed sign - it might be two dozen golf balls. What made that embarrassing and therefore effective was that the balls went to the other players. ...
But Charlie said no fines, no rules, and then one day Reggie Jackson came late for practice. It got to be near eleven, and I began hearing little barbs. "What time does the Ten o'Clock Club start?" "Anybody here seen Reggie?"

L-R: Charlie Finley, Alvin Dark, Reggie Jackson
When Reggie arrived I didn't say anything, and after the workout he came to my office and apologized. "Skip, I'm sorry. Fine me fifty dollars, let people know I didn't get away with anything."
Well, I couldn' fine him, but Reggie Jackson was one guy I wanted on my side. Like Sal Ban do and Catfish Hunter, he was a leader. I did not need him to be a poor leader. I said, "Reggie, don't worry about it. I know it was unintentional. I know it won't happen again. As far as I'm concerned you're a star everybody looks up to, so it's natural they would say things."
"What? Did they say something?"
I said, "Sure. Wouldn't you if Rudi or Bando had been late? Don't worry about it. But how about coming out tomorrow and taking some extra hit­ting?" Tomorrow was an off day.
He said, "Okay. Sure." And he did, and the players knew it. By the end of spring training he was crushing the ball.

Then, two days before we broke camp, we were scheduled to bus over to Tucson for our last spring game. I decided it was time to start living on a timetable - you have to when the season starts - so I said, "I want every­body on the bus at nine. Anybody who misses, it's two hundred and fifty dollars."
At nine o'clock, we were all ready to pull out. All except Reggie Jackson. Reggie was nowhere in sight. Breakfast rolled in my stomach. It is an hour and forty-five minutes from Mesa to Tucson and all the way I'm thinking, "What do I do now? I have to fine him if he was goofing off. But how can I without losing him?" Reggie is a proud man, justifiably, with a reputation of doing what he wants, when he wants.
He had already put me out on one limb. On a previous Sunday I had let him off to play golf with then-Vice-President Ford, and five days later Charlie Finley called - information channels were sluggish that week - and said, "Who gave you permission to let Reggie Jackson play golf with the Vice­President? All you did was give Gerald Ford one hundred thousand votes in the Oakland area." A Democrat, Charlie considered it a political matter. He told me not to let anybody else off from practice. For any reason. And after that I had to turn down Rollie Fingers and Joe Rudi, which made it worse because they were aware of Reggie's golf date with Ford.
Reggie knew I had defended him with Charlie, and I thought it might help cement a bond between us. He had now returned the favor by missing the bus. I thought, "Boy, am I gonna have to put up with this all year?"
Naturally, the first thing the writers wanted to know when we got to Tuc­son was, "Where's Reggie?" If there is one thing more obvious than Reg­gie Jackson present, it is Reggie Jackson absent. One said, "What are you going to do when Reggie gets here?"
"I'm going to listen to him," I said.
Reggie finally showed up, in street clothes, and came over. "Skip, my car broke down. I just got it yesterday for being Most Valuable Player in the World Series, and the fan belt broke three blocks from the motel. I got it fixed and it broke again on the way here."
I said, "Fine, Reggie. I have a Chrysler product myself. I've had troubles, too. Go get dressed."
Dick Green, the second baseman and an old favorite of mine, was standing there, grinning. He said, "If you buy that, you'll buy anything." Other play­ers were watching.
Well, I knew if I fined Reggie it would be calling him a liar, showing him dis­respect. I certainly wanted him to be telling the truth. But if he weren't, and I didn't fine him, it could be worse.
I didn't fine him. Ron Bergman of the Oakland Tribune asked me why. I said, "I have a verse for you, Ron. Out of Corinthians. 'Love endureth all things, believeth all things.' I'm going to believe Reggie." (By the time he got to know me better, Ron Bergman would begin almost any subject with "You got a verse for this one, Alvin?")
After the game, Herb Washington and Billy North asked if they could ride back to Mesa with Jackson. I said sure. The next morning Herb came to me at breakfast and said, "Skip, that car of Reggie's is a dog. It broke down on us again on the way back."
I was very glad to hear it.

Wash Your Mouth Out with Soap
You Can't Make This Up: Miracles, Memories, and the Perfect Marriage of Sports
and Television
, Al Michaels with L. Jon Wertheim (2014)

Al Michaels was in his second year as the Cincinnati Reds radio broadcaster
with former Reds P Joe Nuxhall as his sidekick.
There are bloopers, and then there are bloopers.

In May 1973, Joe Nuxhall and I bused with the Reds to Indianapolis, where we would play an exhibition game that night at the old Bush Stadium against our Triple-A affiliate, the Indianapolis Indians. ... Per usual, I taped my pregame show, The Main Spark, with [manager] Sparky Anderson in his clubhouse office. Our standard procedure was for me to tape the Sparky show with a cassette recorder, and then hand the recorder to Joe, who would tape his pregame show, called Turfside, in one of the dugouts with a player. We had a regular engineer who worked every game at Riverfront, and on the road there were regular engineers who worked with different teams, and were experienced in dealing with different formats and work­flows.

Al Michaels and Joe Nuxhall in Reds broadcasting booth
So, that night, Joe taped his Turfside show with one of our minor-league prospects in the Indians dugout. I was out by the batting cage and as he taped his segment maybe ninety minutes before the game, I noticed seve­ral of the Reds' players gathered in front of the Indians dugout. There was a little commotion, and a lot of laughter. I thought nothing of it - but as I look back now, I remember one of the players tossing pebbles in Joe's direction to distract him.
I took the tape machine back from Joe, went back upstairs to the broadcast booth about an hour later, and gave it to the engineer, whom we'd never worked with before - he was on loan from a local station in Indianapolis. I told him each of our segments began on tape the same way - with Joe or I saying "Five, four, three, two, one" as a cue to let him know he could then hit playback. Then I went out on a carwalk to get the last rays of the after­noon sun. I had in my hand a transistor radio to listen to the show and make sure everything went smoothly. Indianapolis is barely one hundred miles from Cincinnati and our station, WLW, came in clear as a bell.
I listened to The Main Spark, and everything sounded fine. But when Joe's pregame show came on, this is what I heard out of my transistor radio: "Hi everybody, this is Joe Nuxhall. The Reds are in Indianapolis tonight playing their Triple A - get our of here, get out of here - you son of a bitch, you cocksucker ... Five, four, three, two, one. Hi everybody, this is Joe Nuxhall ..."
I looked down at my radio as if it were a hand grenade that had been tossed into a crowd.
Joe had forgotten to erase the original recording before starting over. I thought and hoped I was dreaming. Now Joe comes bounding up the stairs to the broadcast booth, and as he sits down, I have to break the news, "Joe, we've got a big problem."
I explained what had happened. Joe turned bedsheet white. Remember, Joe had started his career pitching for the Reds in 1944 when he was fif­teen years old. Now he was sure he was going to get fired. On the broad­cast that followed that night, he might as well have been catatonic. We bused back to Cincinnati after the game. The players, who'd all heard about it from their wives, were in hysterics - but poor Joe looked as if he was ready for his own memorial service. Back home the next morning, we both got calls from Dick Wagner [an assistant to the GM]. ... Wagner wanted us both in his office in midafternoon. Nuxie was preparing for the worst.
When we entered Wagner's office together, Dick had a very stern look on his face, but he also had a slightly perverse sense of humor, and I could sense that deep down, he understood the other side of this. But at this juncture, this was not exactly a laughing matter. "Tonight," he told Nuxhall, "when you go on the air, you're going to apologize."
At this point, it was clear that Joe was not going to be fired - and he was relieved beyond comprehension. That morning, a local newspaper columnist had written, "How about that Reds broadcast team? Al Michaels does the play-by-play. Joe Nuxhall handles the off-color." We left Wagner's office and started getting ready for the broadcast. Nuxie went about his regular pregame routine. The players were still ribbing him, but he was in decent spirits - he'd avoided death row. Still to come, though, was the on-air apol­ogy that Wagner had demanded. And when Joe got up to the broadcast booth, about twenty-five minutes before he game, I could tell he was ex­tremely nervous - in fact, he was sweating profusely. I looked over at him and asked what was wrong. With the clock ticking down, he explained, "I have to deliver this apology. I don't have any idea what to say."
I tried to get Joe to relax. I wanted to lighten the mood, so I said, "Look, Joe, it's simple. Just say, 'Ladies and gentlemen, I'm very sorry I said 'cock­sucker.' And it won't happen again."
My attempt at humor was an abject failure. I thought Joe was ready to pop me. But then I was able to get him calmed down, and help him work out what to say. He got through it, and we moved on. And he'd keep his job with the Reds another three decades, until 2004 - sixty years after his pitching debut.
"Baseball and Beer Both Begin with 'B.'"
The Road to Omaha: Hits, Hopes, and History at the College World Series,
Ryan McGee (2010)

In the dark dawn hours of Saturday, June 9, 2000, Jeff Hyde and Stan Evans had no idea where they were going or what they were doing. They just knew they wanted to go to Rosenblatt Stadium.
Five days earlier, their beloved Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns were inexplicably one game away from earning their first invitation to the College World Series, pitted against the hard-hitting South Carolina Gamecocks in Columbia, South Carolina. They had a freshman pitcher on the mound and on the road against the number-one team in the nation. Evans made Hyde promise that if the Cajuns won, they would drive from Lafayette to Nebras­ka to root them on.
"Sure," the oil-field worker said as he agreed to the proposal, "but it'll nev­er happen."
The Cajuns beat the Cocks 3-2.
Thursday night after work Evans was sitting in Hyde's driveway leaning on the horn of his wife's Toyota Camry, packed with little more than some maps, a duffel bag, and one small cooler. Without tickets, a hotel room, or a single friend west of Texas, they hit the road, arriving at The Blatt on game morning to watch 2000's version of The Underdog. The Cajuns bleached their hair in an act of unity and upset Clemson to reach the semifinals, com­ing to within one game of facing in-state nemesis LSU for the champion­ship.


Rick Haydel scores winning run for ULL against Clemson.

"It didn't matter that they lost," Hyde remember while standing over a boiling pot of some sort of alien-looking, yet delicious-smelling crustaceans. "We were hooked."
Hooked by the games, sure. But what really won their hearts was The Neighborhood.
Two years later they were back, this time with a friend, a pickup truck, a barbecue pit, and enough meat on ice to eat for a week. They circled the stadium looking for a parking spot, finally spotting an empty space along Bob Gibson Boulevard, located at the bottom of the hill behind the Rosen­blatt outfield.
Randy Workman and Larry Berray, Nebraska natives and drywall subcon­tractors, were already preparing a stack of Omaha steaks when Hyde jumped out and asked if the empty space was reserved. "They noticed our license plate and said, 'You guys from Louisiana?' When we said yes, they were like, 'Well then, you boys come right on in.'"
Soon Evans and Hyde were serving up boudin, gumbo, and chicken sau­sage to what quickly became a growing number of Omaha locals. Before their friend Doug Guidry left Lafayette to come up on day four, they called and told him to load up on as much food as the airline would let him pack because they had already run out.
That week the two camps hit the golf course together for a little two-man scramble, one player from Louisiana matched up with one player from Ne­braska. They dubbed it in the Boudreaux Thibodaux Classic. In 2008, they played the Classic for the seventh consecutive year. Only now Evans and Hyde made the trip up with a couple of trucks and a tandem axle trailer packed with eleven 100-quart coolers and enough tents and cookers to feed anyone and everyone who came along, from their friends to the police department, from the firefighters to the bomb squad to the employees of the zoo. People don't just hope that the Cajuns are cooking their dinner. they're counting on it.
"At first we'd throw some Cajun food down and everyone would say, 'What the heck is that?' Now they don't even ask. They just eat it."
Decade-long friendships forged over 1,000 miles, thanks to baseball, strange foods, and a thin strip of grass, all leading to laughter and lies be­neath a mixture of Husker, Ragin' Cajun, and LSU Tiger flags that looks like the outside of the United Nations.
From the north end of The Neighborhood, they sent up a smoke signal. On the south side, they were more than happy to reply.


CWS Tailgating
Mark Samstad was born and raised in Omaha, but eventually landed in Fort Lauderdale. For thirty years he'd returned home for the College World Series. For the last twenty-five he'd occupied the same parking spot, at the bend in the road where College World Series Boulevard becomes South Tenth Street.
Like Evans and Hyde, Samstad was serious about his tailgating. Very se­rious. Hanging from the trees as traffic crawled by was a giant white ban­ner, decorated with a stylish green alligator, a bright red baseball, and the unavoidable lettering that read, CWS TAILGATERS. As Samstad cooked up bacon and eggs for a couple of dozen friends and a few nameless stran­gers drawn to the scene, he sipped a 10:00 A.M. Newcastle, and handed over a business card with the 'Gator logo (which is trademarked) and the address of his soon-to-be-launched Web site ...
Told you he was serious.

LSU tailgaters in Omaha
Samstad's followers gathered 'round their giant bearded leader, each wearing a different Tailgater T-shirt, which connected the dots of their years together. This year's edition read: BASEBALL AND BEER BOTH BEGIN WITH "B." COINCIDENCE? I DON'T THINK SO. They sipped suds from cus­tom-made Tailgater cozies.
The decor of alligators was outshone only by the endless number of pink flamingos. They hung from trees. A FLAMINGO CROSSING sign dangled from a street post. One woman wore a hat fashioned after a flamingo's head. And lined along the road were eight plastic flamingos, each bearing the logo of a CWS team. One of the birds sat a few feet away from the other seven, separated from the flock with a black cloth bag tied over its head and a handful of dead flowers at its feet.
"That's Florida State," Samstad said, pointing to the tiny black-and-white Seminole insignia taped to its back. "They're gone, so that bird is dead."
Thirty minutes after a team was eliminated, the CWS Tailgaters gathered around the birds for the "Hooding Ceremony," when Samstad would say a few words about the deceased, place the flowers on the ground, pour a beer over the bird's head, and tie on the hood. "It's surprisingly emotional," explained Bill Nash, a Chicago resident with a Rollie Fingers mustache who, along with wife Diana, had parked alongside Samstad for nine years. "Then again, after a dozen beers about anything will make you cry, won't it?"