The Best of Hal Lebovitz: Great Sportswriting from Six Decades in Cleveland

Overview

“A Hall of Fame writer at the top of his game.” — The Beacon Journal

The best sports writing of Hall-of-Fame sportswriter Hal Lebovitz, longtime dean of Cleveland sports journalists.

Several generations of sports fans grew up reading Hal Lebovitz on the sports pages. Hal covered just about every major sports event over 60 years, reporting on each with honest, straightforward words and firm opinions—and most likely a scoop on the competition. He...

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Overview

“A Hall of Fame writer at the top of his game.” — The Beacon Journal

The best sports writing of Hall-of-Fame sportswriter Hal Lebovitz, longtime dean of Cleveland sports journalists.

Several generations of sports fans grew up reading Hal Lebovitz on the sports pages. Hal covered just about every major sports event over 60 years, reporting on each with honest, straightforward words and firm opinions—and most likely a scoop on the competition. He wrote about the greats—Jim Brown, Bob Feller, Ted Williams, Woody Hayes . . . and the great moments—the Indians’ 1948 playoff game, the Browns’ 1964 championship season, Rocky Colavito’s four consecutive home runs. His writing was featured 17 times in the annual Best Sports Stories and selected for numerous other anthologies. He won countless writing awards and been inducted into 12 halls of fame—including the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Always, Hal has written for the fans. And for as long as anyone can remember, fans have been reading Hal for his particular take on events. His constant, steady presence in the local sports pages for so many decades has made Hal Lebovitz a legitimate icon in Cleveland sports—a guy who, with his typewriter, has been as remarkable and consistent and rare as a .400 hitter.

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Editorial Reviews

News Herald
If you love reading about the history of Cleveland sports, there is no better way to do it than through the words of Hal . . . widely regarded as Cleveland’s greatest living sportswriter.
Akron Beacon Journal
I strongly endorse this book for anyone who loves Cleveland sports, or who simply wants to read a Hall of Fame writer at the top of his game.
— Terry Pluto
Currents
A unique opportunity to become better acquainted with a brilliant writer, a keen observer of truths and lies, and a true Clevelander. This one shouldn’t be missed.
— Les Roberts
Bedford Times-Register
Sports fans and casual fans will enjoy Lebovitz’s honest and straightforward style.
— Phil Keren
Call & Post
An educational walk through Cleveland sports history. Lebovitz gave fair, honest and genuinely warm treatment to some of Cleveland’s greatest Black athletes, among them Luke Easter, Satchel Paige, Jim Brown, Paul Warfield, Jesse Owens and even George Hendrick.
— Thomas Mulloy
Akron Beacon Journal - Terry Pluto
I strongly endorse this book for anyone who loves Cleveland sports, or who simply wants to read a Hall of Fame writer at the top of his game.
Currents - Les Roberts
A unique opportunity to become better acquainted with a brilliant writer, a keen observer of truths and lies, and a true Clevelander. This one shouldn’t be missed.
Bedford Times-Register - Phil Keren
Sports fans and casual fans will enjoy Lebovitz’s honest and straightforward style.
Call & Post - Thomas Mulloy
An educational walk through Cleveland sports history. Lebovitz gave fair, honest and genuinely warm treatment to some of Cleveland’s greatest Black athletes, among them Luke Easter, Satchel Paige, Jim Brown, Paul Warfield, Jesse Owens and even George Hendrick.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781598510232
  • Publisher: Gray & Company, Publishers
  • Publication date: 5/1/2006
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 338
  • Sales rank: 996,579
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.88 (d)

Meet the Author

Hal Lebovitz was inducted into the writer’s wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2000. He was a sportswriter for more than six decades. He got his first job covering high school sports for the Cleveland News in 1942 and soon became a beat writer covering the Cleveland Browns and Cleveland Indians. He was hired by the Plain Dealer in 1960 to cover baseball and was that paper’s sports editor from 1964–1982. “Ask Hal, the Referee,” his popular column on sports rules, began in 1957 and also appeared in the Sporting News. A former college athlete, he also coached baseball, basketball, and football and officiated all three sports, including a stint as a referee traveling with the Harlem Globetrotters. His sportswriting continued to appear regularly in the News-Herald (Lake County, Ohio), the Morning Journal (Lorain, Ohio), and several other newspapers, until his death, at age 89, in 2005.

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Read an Excerpt

Outwitting sign stealers is constant battle January 23, 1958

Bob Feller’s fast ball traveled at the rate of approximately 100 miles per hour, which means that in less than one-half second it rocketed from Bob’s arm to Jim Hegan’s glove.

Furthermore Bob’s manner of delivery, with his foot kicked up high, made it difficult for the hitter to pick up the ball until it was almost on top of him. And some of them admitted they never saw it at all.

Yet Hegan never had any trouble catching Bob, not even in Mr. Robert’s prime.

Jim explains this: “I knew what was coming. The hitters didn’t.”

As the Indians’ catcher, Jim is the team’s quarterback. He calls the signals.

All clubs use the same signals, reveals Jim. “When I show the pitcher one finger I’m asking for his fast ball. Two fingers indicate the curve and three fingers mean a slider.” By wiggling his fingers he asks for the change-up and a clenched first signifies the knuckleball.

Obviously if Hegan’s signs could be seen by the opposition the pitcher’s advantage over the hitter would be nullified. So Jim must hide them carefully. He places his fingers high up against his thigh, and because he has such long legs coaches along first and third find it impossible to see them, no matter how hard they try.

Yankee catcher Yogi Berra, in contrast, is at a disadvantage. His short legs often permit a runner on first to see his signal. When a runner gets to second Berra is more careful, but apparently not until he reads this—if he does—will he realize his fingers often are visible from first base.

Not only does Hegan call the type of pitch, he also gives the location. He may do this by motioning up, down, in or out, with his bare hand, or he may quickly flash a target with his glove.

And he is forever attempting to foil the sign-stealers.

To make it as difficult as possible for the thieves, Jim always flashes three signs before each pitch. In sequence, he may rapidly show the pitcher one finger, then two, then three.

In this case, if the battery had decided in advance that the second signal was the official one, the pitcher would know he was to throw a curve.

In the next inning, perhaps, the third signal would be the official one. Sometimes the official sign is determined by the number of outs. With no outs, for example, the wanted pitch would be given on the first sign. After one out the second sign becomes official. After two outs only the third sign would be regarded.

If this sounds complicated—it is. And when Hegan rapidly flashed the signs at us by way of illustration, it seemed extremely difficult to select the correct one, and we were much closer to him than 60 feet.

“It’s not hard to do after a little practice,” Hegan assured us. “We don’t get crossed up very often.”

Feller crossed him up more than any pitcher he ever caught, Hegan discloses. It may have been because he often blinked nervously when he first came up. “I remember once in Boston in ’47, I called for a curve,” the catcher recalls, “and Bob threw his fast ball. I waited until the last split second for it to break. The ball hit me right here.” Hegan pointed to his wrist, adding, “It’s lucky for me that by ’47 his fast ball and slackened up a little.”

Instead of having a broken wrist his was only black and blue for a week.

Teams have employed all sorts of sign-stealing devices. “We were sure that Detroit and Boston were getting our signals for a while but we didn’t know how,” Jim reveals.

“In Boston we suspect somebody in the center field bleachers must have been using binoculars. When a pitcher has real good stuff and the hitters get a good toe-hold and stay right up there with a solid swing we know something’s wrong. We keep switching our signs on every pitch, using the same basic signs but we change the code.

“Just a couple of years ago in Boston during a game Lemon was pitching, we were so positive the Red Sox were getting the signs somehow, I told Bob to call the pitches simply by the position in which he held his glove. The Red Sox immediately stopped hitting.”

The Tigers, Hegan later discovered, employed binoculars to steal the Tribe’s signs, particularly in 1940 when Detroit beat out Cleveland for the title. “When Al Benton joined us in 1949 he admitted he was the one who sat in the Tigers’ bullpen in center field and picked off our signs through binoculars. Another pitcher out there, by shifting his position, would telegraph the sign back to the hitter.”

Not until Chico Carrasquel and Jim Busby joined the Indians in ’56 did Hegan learn that the White Sox , too, had been stealing Tribe signs successfully.

“They did it from their scoreboard,” he discloses. “They’d get the sign through powerful glasses and then relay it to the batter simply by blinking Sherman Lollar’s number, which is “10.” When they flickered the “1” it meant a fast ball was coming. If the “0” flickered it meant the curve. None of us ever thought to study the board that carefully but after we found out we were on the alert. They don’t try that method against us any more.”

The Indians have been accused of stealing signs via the scoreboard during pennant-winning ’48. In fact, some ex-Indians have so confessed, but Hegan refuses to comment.

“I will say this,” he offers. “Boudreau, Keltner and Gordon really could rack the pitchers when they knew what was coming. They were great at stealing signs for each other from second base. It’s easy to see the catcher’s signal from second. After all, he must make it visible to his second baseman and shortstop so they can anticipate which way to break when the ball is hit.

So if a runner’s out there he sees it, too.

“Often when the catcher walks out to talk to the pitcher there’s a man on second base and we want to change our signs so they can’t be stolen. Occasionally I’ll tell the pitcher verbally what the next two or three pitches should be and then I’ll go back behind the plate and give a fake sign.”

Hegan says he’s never gone to the mound to ask a pitcher where he’s going to eat dinner or to crack a joke. “I go out there either to slow him up, or to switch our signs or, if a newcomer comes in to pinch-hit, to ask the pitcher if he knows what his weakness is.”

Some pitchers tip off their pitches. “We always suspected Tommy Henrich was able to tell what Feller was going to throw,” reveals Hegan. “Mel Harder was able to call Mel Parnell’s pitches. Red Kress has had good luck calling Whitey Ford’s pitches from the first base coaching box.”

But for the most part the hitters have to guess. “And they usually try to outguess the catcher not the pitcher,” according to Jim.

“Some catchers follow a pattern in calling signals. The studious hitters catch on to those patterns eventually. I’m not the pattern type. I study the hitter, watch his stance and I try to discover as quickly as possible which pitches are working best for my pitcher on that given day.

“But the real secret of callin ’em, as I see it, is to mix ’em up. Sometimes I may use a pattern for the first three innings just to fool the hitters in the late innings.”

All the Indians’ top pitchers will tell you they have Hegan to thank for much of their success. “He gives you so much confidence when you look at him crouching back there,” says Herb Score. “If he wants me to throw a curve on a three-two pitch I don’t hesitate. I say to myself, ‘If he thinks I can do it I guess I can.’”

A pitcher, of course, has the right to pitch his own game. “After all,” says Hegan, “the final responsibility is his. He can shake off a pitch at any time.”

Often however, when a pitcher appears to be shaking off a sign he does this merely to confuse the hitter. “Score may shake off a sign,” says Hegan, “and come right back with the pitch I originally called for.”

For the past six years, Lemon has never second-guessed Hegan. “Once he called for a curve and I shook him off,” relates Lemon. “I wanted a slider and the batter hit it for a home run. After that Hegan called all the pitches.”

“Wynn has shaken off Hegan’s signals more than any other pitcher he’s ever caught. “Early devised a set of switches,” Jim reveals. “If he held his glove in a certain position before I gave the sign, it meant that if I called for the fast ball he would throw the curve, and vice versa. He had another switch after I gave the sign. In this way the hitter found it almost impossible to steal pitches from him.”

Hegan is sure now that Wynn will continue the same switches with the White Sox. “But knowing them won’t help us unless we can see what the catcher is calling,” he adds.

Virtually the only time Wynn shook off Hegan was when the catcher called for a fast ball with the count in the hitter’s favor.

“When Early is behind it seems he just hates to give in to the hitter,” explains Hegan. “That’s all right, except the hitters are starting to get wise. They know if the count is against Early they’re not going to get a fast ball.”

Except for one short, unhappy period in his career, Hegan has been the Indians’ quarterback. In August of 1947 Lou Boudreau, the manager, told Hegan, “I’ll call the signals from shortstop. Watch my glove for the signs and relay them to the pitcher.” Boudreau told no one else on the team that he had taken over, not even the pitchers. But he did tell the sportswriters, whom he swore to secrecy until the end of the season.

Even Al Lopez, the Tribe’s second-string catcher, didn’t know. Lopez remembers, “Once I substituted for Jim and in the fifth inning Boudreau called ‘Time.’

“He said to me, ‘I called for a fast ball and Lemon threw a curve. How come?’

“You called for a fast ball?’ I asked. “Since when are you calling the signals?’

“Lou then told me, ‘I’ve called every pitch for the past month.’”

The story of Boudreau’s master-minding broke publicly at the end of the season and it cut Hegan deeply. To this day it bothers him.

“I didn’t appreciate it. I’ll admit it bothered me and I said so to reporters afterward. It was the most unpleasant period of my baseball life. Many times I’d call a pitch, the pitcher would shake me off and I’d have to go out to the mound and say, ‘The man says throw it.’

“It’s the manager’s prerogative to call the pitches. But I don’t think he should call every one. It takes all initiative away from the catcher and makes nothing but a messenger boy out of him.

Aware that Hegan was perturbed, Boudreau called Jim into his office at the start of ’48.

“Let’s forget what happened,” the manager told Hegan. “You call all the signs from now on.”

That year the Indians won the pennant.

[Excerpted from The Best of Hal Lebovitz, © Hal Lebovitz. All rights reserved. Gray & Company, Publishers.]

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Table of Contents

Foreword

Preface

STRONG WORDS:

Did you ever cut a boy?

Whose game is it?

A conflict of interest?

What about Brown’s book?

From another planet?

Doesn’t baseball owe us one?

Will the cheating ever stop?

Hall of Fame for a cheater?

The void at City Hall

Feel sorry for Schlichter?

Mackey deserved his last hard kick

How gamblers move in on baseball

GOODBYES:

Cobby . . . Cobby . . . Cobby . . .

Wasn’t he amazin’?

The most unforgettable characters

A memorial for big Luke?

Remembering Jesse Owens

Someone missing at Browns’ games

The phone has stopped ringing

There’ll never be another Bill Veeck

End of an era brings bitter tears

Loss of Harder is great one for Tribe

EVENTS:

Colavito is “for real” pitcher now

Rocky Colavito: “Can’t believe it!”

Jim Brown quits football

Did the bus ride do in the Browns?

What if Lombardi’s gamble had failed?

10,000 six packs

Once in a lifetime?

Was it fiction . . . ?

Hayes self-destructs . . . a sad day

Puppets at the Olympics

Eric Heiden, the greatest athlete

Were you at Joe’s party?

The last Dieken-Kuiper show

Here’s how Jordan got so wide open

Only Belle knows the real truth

THE GAME:

Outwitting sign stealers is constant battle

Are you friend or foe?

Should rain decide score?

What’s a George?

Who’s at fault?

How important is fear?

Is baseball such a simple game?

Phenom of the future—the Big A

“Can’t miss” kids easy to find in spring

NFL admits error, what can be done?

Whatever happened to basketball?

Laughing on the inside

Is the Maven ravin’?

Why must pitchers be babied?

Change in sports is inevitable

PEOPLE:

Mr. Robert, Master Herbie

Piersall fractures me

Paul Warfield: Cleveland’s prize rookie

Is there a greater coach than Collier?

Should the Browns retire Lou Groza?

Little boy lost

Will the talent bloom?

A doctor’s diary?

Would you bet on Paige’s age?

How did he turn out this way?

Playing tennis to stay alive

What’s behind a big leaguer?

Who is Lou Boudreau?

Why did Sudden Sam go wrong?

LOOKING BACK:

’48 season wrapped up in one game

And then there was Satchel Paige

Do you remember wonderful 1954?

Was he really a bonehead?

Nice guys finish last?

Their moment of glory

21 years ago today

What goes into a streak?

A treasure in the trash

Remember the glad/sad season?

A home run into the bleachers?

How could we forget the 50th anniversary?

Did he or didn’t he?

Trip to Hall evokes memories

Ah, the memories of Tucson . . .

No appreciation for former heroes

Recalling Williams’ milestone home run

A SPORTSWRITER:

Anybody want satisfaction?

What is a sportswriter?

What is a father?

Browns game stirs emotions

Throwing out the first pitch

Sept. 11: another day to live in infamy

In this case, a little bug . . .

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