Read an Excerpt
The Jerome Holtzman Baseball Reader
By Jerome Holtzman
Triumph BooksCopyright © 2003 Jerome Holtzman
All rights reserved.
November 12, 1999
An old baseball soldier died last month. He was properly eulogized by the Minneapolis/St. Paul media, his home base, but his obit was buried nationally, crowded out by the World Series. His deeds were seldom acknowledged and he took his lumps, almost always without complaint.
This is what the late Bill Veeck said about him: "It's not just that he marches to his own drum. I don't even think he hears anyone else's. He doesn't identify with the fans — never has. He doesn't do things because they're good PR or politically smart. It's a strange thing to say, with that big, fat belly of his, but in a perverse way I find him gallant."
I agree, except he did identify with the fans. He was continually concerned about the gate and fielded the best possible baseball teams within the limits of his financial capabilities.
He was Calvin Griffith, who died at the age of 87, a baseball lifer, a majority owner who was his own general manager and operated the old Washington Senators and later the Minneapolis Twins. He had been a minor league catcher and manager and was the epitome of the common man.
Never a slick talker, he was the exact opposite and provided a bundleful of laughs because of his inability to come up with the appropriate word. And although he sometimes butchered the King's English, it was easy to understand what he was saying.
Late in his career after he was honored at home plate and greeted with cheers, he said, "The fans were really great. I've been hung in apathy before so I didn't know what to expect."
Calvin's malaprops, in addition to some of his more captivating (and truthful) bizarre meanderings were much enjoyed and delivered with such frequency that they were assembled in a 30-page pamphlet titled Quotations from Chairman Calvin — The Collected Wit and Wisdom of the Former Minnesota Twins' President and Chairman of the Board, published in 1984 by Brick Alley Press of Stillwater, Minnesota.
Some samples: "I can't tell you exactly what I intend to do, but I can tell you one thing: it won't be anything rational."
On his knee surgery: "They took out the cartridge."
When accused of having the lowest payroll in baseball: "If I do, it shows I'm not a horse's ass."
On Jim Eisenreich, then the Twins' rookie center fielder: "He's doomed to be an All-Star."
On the possibility of re-signing some of his high-priced free agents: "We ain't America's farm team. I think we're smarter than hell to get rid of some of those guys."
On his fellow owners: "They're all egotists. They've got so much money but nobody knew who they were before baseball. Who the hell ever heard of Ted Turner or Ray Kroc or George Steinbrenner?"
On how he hopes to be remembered: "As someone who did his best to give the people something they can be proud of. The ovations I have received at various places lately, like out at the airport the other night, have been most appreciative. It makes you know you're not too bad a guy overall."
Calvin Griffith was always a good guy. Because of his frumpy appearance, his lumpy speech, and general disdain for the changing times, most of his fellow moguls regarded him as a so-called dinosaur, a leftover from the previous age and beyond.
He was all of that. Born in Montreal, in near poverty, he was adopted when he was 11 years old by his uncle, Clark Griffith, a star pitcher at the turn of the century, then the majority owner of the Washington Senators.
Uncle Clark, who as a youth had watered Jesse James' horses, was a stern parent; he watched Calvin closely, and made him earn his way up the baseball ladder. Calvin was the batboy for the 1924 Walter Johnson Senators. He attended George Washington University for three years and left because, "They don't teach baseball there."
The elder Griffith made him make the minor league rounds. He was a catcher and later the manager and general manager of the Chattanooga Lookouts of the Southern Association. His first major league assignment was in the concessions department.
Calvin became the majority owner when Uncle Clark died in 1955. The bleak financial circumstances forced the team to move to Minneapolis/St. Paul in 1961; they were renamed the Minnesota Twins.
Despite his reluctance to pay huge salaries and his reputation as baseball's most penurious owner, Calvin, with the help of his few scouts, rebuilt the club with judicious signings and trades. The Twins won the American League pennant in 1965 and divisional titles in 1969 and 1970.
My favorite Calvin Griffith story was the night he brought his Chattanooga club to Kissimmee, Florida, for an exhibition game with the Houston Astros.
"Do you know what the gate receipts were for that game?" Calvin asked Minneapolis columnist Pat Reusse. "Twenty-five cents. That's what it cost to get into the game, 25 cents, and we had only one fellow who paid to get in. I walked over to him and gave him his quarter back."CHAPTER 2
January 7, 2000
Pitcher Brian Kingman, who had a brief and disappointing big-league career, has his priorities straight. Today, 20 years later, he is part owner of a Los Angeles financial services company and no longer embarrassed because he was a 20-game loser.
"At the time I took it real hard," he admitted last week. "There is no question it shortened my career. But my feelings have changed 360 degrees. What if I had lost 18 or 19? Nobody would have talked about it. I would have been a nonentity."
Instead, Kingman, who was 8–20 with the 1980 Oakland A's, is a footnote in baseball history: the last 20-game loser in the 20th century.
Sometime this year he plans to reward himself with a "Pud Galvin Memorial Trophy." Galvin is Kingman's hero. He lost 20 or more games in each of his first 10 seasons, from 1879 to 1888. But he also averaged 30 wins in those 10 seasons, and twice won 46 games. He retired with 361 victories, sixth on the all-time list, and in 1969 was elected to the Hall of Fame.
"It's really just an excuse to have a trophy with my name on it," Kingman explained. "Maybe I could give one to the next guy who loses 20, but he might hit me over the head with it."
In the two decades since, a half dozen pitchers have come close to matching Kingman's dubious achievement. But all were stuck at 19.
It happened to Jose DeLeon twice, with Pittsburgh in 1985 and again five years later when he was with the White Sox. The others were Scott Erickson, Minnesota, 1993; Kirk McCaskill, California Angels, 1991; Tim Leary, Yankees, 1990; Mike Moore, Seattle, 1987; and Matt Young, Seattle, 1985.
Last year's major league leader, with 18, was the Cubs' Steve Trachsel. In mid August, when Trachsel was 4–14, Kingman told Chicago baseball writer Dave van Dyck that he was rooting for Trachsel. "Tell him to keep going out and doing his best," Kingman advised. "He's making me very, very nervous."
Curious, Kingman has plowed through the record books and discovered there is no great stigma in a 20-loss season.
Eighteen Hall of Fame pitchers lost 20, some more than once. The legendary Cy Young was a three-time 20-game loser. So was Vic Willis. Walter Johnson, Steve Carlton, and Phil Niekro did it twice. Denny McLain, baseball's last 30-game winner, 31–6 in 1968, was 10–22 three years later. White Sox knuckleballer Wilbur Wood lost 20 in 1973 but also led the league in victories with 24.
"It's just something that happens," Kingman said. "If you tried to lose 20, I don't think you could do it. Anyway, the manager probably would take you out of the rotation."
Unless, of course, the pitcher has been consistently effective, which Kingman was. In five of his losses, Oakland was shut out. During the 30 games he started, the A's averaged 2.9 runs per game, almost two runs fewer than their season average.
"Losing 20 of 30 starts is no fun," Kingman said. But there were moments of satisfaction. On Friday the 13th (in June) he went the distance in a 4–3 win over the Yankees' Ron Guidry, who at the time had the highest winning percentage of any active pitcher.
Kingman was the hardest thrower in Oakland's 1980 rotation and was 7–11 in early August, certainly no indication he would lose 20. But he lost nine consecutive decisions in the next six weeks. His only regret is that it occurred in his first full season. Most of the other big losers were established pitchers.
"It marks you when you break in like that," he said.
Kingman had been brought up at midseason the year before and won eight games. He recalled that Tom Weir of USA Today, then with the Oakland Tribune, predicted that if he maintained that pace for a full season he was likely to win 20 the next year.CHAPTER 3
March 3, 2000
An MLB website client, Bill Ruhl of Miami, Florida, has asked if "there has ever been a pitcher who pitched with both arms? Kind of a switch-pitcher."
Greg Harris of the Montreal Expos, a natural right-hander, is the only pitcher in modern baseball history (since 1900) to throw with both hands in a major league game. It was on September 28, 1995, against Cincinnati in the final week of the season when the Expos were 24 ½ games out of the lead in the National League East.
The ambidextrous Harris worked a scoreless ninth inning in a 9–7 loss. Using a special reversible six-finger glove, which had two thumbs, Harris faced four batters, two right-handed and two left-handed. He allowed one runner, on a walk.
The play-by-play follows: pitching right-handed, Harris retired the lefty-hitting Reggie Sanders who swung at the first pitch and grounded to short. The next two batters were Hal Morris and Ed Taubensee, both right-handed hitters. Throwing with his left hand, Harris walked Morris on four pitches. Taubensee carried Harris to a full count and hit a nubber in front of the plate. Harris switched back to his right hand for the righty-hitting Bret Boone who grounded to the mound for the third out.
It was the next-to-last big-league appearance for Harris, who was with six clubs and had a l5-year career beginning in 1981. Used mostly in middle relief, he retired with a 74–90 lifetime record, 54 saves, and a 3.67 earned-run average. He appeared in 703 games, 605 out of the bullpen.
Talking about it last week in a telephone interview from his home in Newport Coast, California, where he operates a weekend pitching camp, Harris said he strengthened his left arm when he was a teenager. "I did a lot of woodworking," he explained. "I sawed and hammered with my left hand."
But it wasn't until he was in his sixth big-league season, in 1986 with Texas, after he got his left-handed fastball into the mid-80s, that he became confident that he could throw both ways against major league competition. But there were two strikes against him: (1) the belief that he would be making a mockery of the game, and (2) there was no need for him to throw left-handed because he was consistently effective right-handed.
Bobby Valentine, then the Texas manager, told Harris he would allow him to parade his wizardry in the final series of the 1986 season. The plan was scrapped because the Rangers were in first place and fighting for the division title. Harris was traded to Philadelphia where the management was indifferent to his desire.
His next move was to Boston prior to the 1990 season. The Boston writers, eager for a good story, pleaded each year for the next five years with the Red Sox brass to give him a chance in a spring-training exhibition game. General manager Dan Duquette refused to oblige. "We pay Greg to pitch right-handed," Duquette insisted.
American League president Dr. Bobby Brown, a one-time Yankee infielder who batted .349 in 17 World Series games, was aware a two-way pitcher would have a rare advantage and would neutralize and diminish the effectiveness of every batter. Unwilling to weaken his kinship with the offense, Dr. Brown prepared for the possibility by issuing a directive to his umpires:
a) The pitcher must indicate which hand he intends to use.
b) The pitcher may change arms on the next hitter but must indicate the arm to be used.
c) There will be no warm-up pitches between the change of arms.
d) If an arm is injured, the pitcher may change arms; the umpire must be notified of the injury. The injured arm cannot be used again in that game.
Harris' opportunity came in his last season, in 1995 when he was in his second term with Montreal. To be certain he would be ready, manager Felipe Alou alerted Harris in late August, a month before the event: "Felipe said he wanted to see for himself how I would do and that it would be good for the game."
According to the on-the-spot reports, Harris was baseball's first ambidextrous pitcher since Elton "Ice Box" Chamberlain in 1888. Chamberlain was with Louisville in the American Association, then a major league. He gave up a ninth-inning home run and lost 9–8.
It has since been established that Tony Mullane, with Baltimore in the N.L. against the Cubs, was Harris' immediate predecessor. Mullane, in 1893, worked the ninth inning and gave up three runs in a 10–2 loss. He also threw with both hands in 1882 when he was with Louisville. In 1884, Larry Corcoran, in a game when the Cubs were running out of pitchers, worked four middle innings, the record for longevity.
There were probably as many as a half dozen ambidextrous pitchers in the 20th century who threw on the sidelines but never in a game. Among them were Cal McLish, a 15-year veteran who was with six clubs; Ed Head of the old Brooklyn Dodgers; Dave "Boo" Ferris of the Red Sox; Tug McGraw, Mets; and Jeff Schwarz, who had a brief stay with the White Sox.
The ambidextrous Paul Richards, who later had a distinguished managerial career with the White Sox and the Orioles, claimed that when he was in high school, in Waxahachie, Texas, he was featured in Ripley's Believe It Or Not! after winning a doubleheader by pitching right-handed to the right-handed batters and left-handed to the left-handed batters.
When he was in the minors, with Muskogee in the Western Association, Richards was confronted with the ultimate dilemma: the switch-pitcher versus the switch-hitter.
Summoned in ninth-inning relief, Richards was ready to pitch right-handed Charlie Wilson, a switch-hitter. Wilson countered by crossing the plate and stepping into the left-handed batters' box. The amusement continued for several minutes as Wilson jumped from one side to the other.
Exasperated, Richards threw his glove on the mound and faced Wilson with both feet square on the rubber.
"I put my hands behind my back," Richards recalled, "and shouted 'I'll wait until you choose your poison.'"CHAPTER 4
April 15, 2000
In today's game of bullpen specialists, a manager often tells his starting pitcher "Give us six or seven good innings and we'll take it from there."
The complete game is a dinosaur. In 1995 the Colorado Rockies had only one completion. Last season and the season before the Milwaukee Brewers had two. The biggest rarity is the game when both starting pitchers go the distance — 12 last season, in an aggregate schedule of 4,586 games, 10 times fewer than grand slam home runs.
Excerpted from The Jerome Holtzman Baseball Reader by Jerome Holtzman. Copyright © 2003 Jerome Holtzman. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.