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"Yogi was Up with a Guy on Third ..."
Hall of Famers Recall Their Favorite Baseball Games Ever
By Maureen Mullen
Triumph BooksCopyright © 2009 Maureen Mullen
All rights reserved.
Robert William Andrew Feller
Born: November 3, 1918, in Van Meter, Iowa
MLB debut: July 19, 1936
Final game: September 30, 1956
Team: Cleveland Indians (1936–1941, 1945–1956)
Primary position: Pitcher
Bats: Right — Throws: Right
Hall of Fame induction: 1962
Vote: 150 of 160 ballots cast, 93.75%
After pitching for the Indians for six seasons and establishing his blazing fastball as the gold standard, on December 8, 1941, Bob Feller became one of the first ballplayers to enlist in the service, giving up nearly four full seasons to serve in the navy during World War II. He earned five campaign ribbons and eight battle stars.
Known as "Rapid Robert" and the "Heater from Van Meter," Feller returned at the end of the 1945 season and the following year appeared in an American League–high 48 games — one of three seasons he led the league in appearances — starting 42 with 36 complete games and 10 shutouts, and going 26–15 with a 2.18 ERA, 348 strikeouts, and 153 walks in 371 1/3 innings.
As a 17-year-old right out of high school, Feller struck out 17 Athletics in one game in his rookie year of 1936. He became the first pitcher to win 20 or more games in a season before the age of 21, going 24–9 in 1939 at the age of 20. He had already won 31 games before he turned 20. He led the American League in wins six times and in strikeouts seven times. An eight-time All-Star, in 1940 the right-hander won the AL pitching Triple Crown, with a record of 27–11, an ERA of 2.62, and 261 strikeouts. He was also named the Major League Player of the Year that season.
Feller went on to an 18-year career, with 266 wins against 162 losses, for a .621 winning percentage with a 3.25 ERA. In 3,828 career innings he had 2,581 strikeouts against 1,764 walks. In 1999 he was ranked No. 36 on The Sporting News list of 100 Greatest Baseball Players.
While he shares the record for one-hitters with 12, Feller threw three no-hitters, including the only Opening Day no-no, on April 16, 1940, winning 1–0 against the White Sox; July 1, 1951, in the first game of a doubleheader against the Tigers; and no-hitting the Yankees for the first time in almost 27 years.
* * *
My favorite game was the no-hitter in Yankee Stadium on April 30, 1946, 1–0. Neither team was going anywhere. The Yankees finished far behind. We were in sixth place. The Red Sox won it going away, then lost the World Series in seven to the St. Louis Cardinals.
That was my favorite ballgame. I had just come out of the service after spending four years in the United States Navy. That was not my first game back. I pitched in September 1945 when I was on inactive duty in the navy. That's when we concluded the war in the Pacific and the war was over.
I was in very good condition, and '46 was my best year. I got the win in the AllStar Game in Fenway Park in '46. And that was my best game in Yankee Stadium, the no-hitter. I had very good stuff, struck out 11. I don't recall if I shook off the catcher or not. Probably not. Frankie Hayes was very good at calling pitches. He hit a home run in the ninth inning with one man out. That's the only run in that ballgame. That was the first no-hitter pitched against the Yankees since 1919.
DiMaggio was my toughest out. He grounded out to shortstop with the tying run on second base, Snuffy Stirnweiss, he went to third base on that play. And when Charlie Keller grounded out for the final out, the tying run was on third base. And that was the largest crowd to see a no-hitter up until that date in time, almost 40,000. But Charlie Keller hit a nice ground ball to my second baseman, Ray Mack, who also made the last out of my Opening Day no-hitter in 1940 in Chicago.
It's difficult to believe how much time has gone by. It seems like it was just yesterday that it all happened, and you try to remember everything. Of course, you forget a lot of things and you have to have your memory refreshed. But I'm very proud of the fact that I'm still around to talk about my career and help the game of baseball if I can do so. It helped me a lot. Anything I may be today is due to what baseball has done for me.CHAPTER 2
Lawrence Peter Berra
Born: May 12, 1925, in St. Louis, Missouri
MLB debut: September 22, 1946
Final game: May 9, 1965
Teams: New York Yankees (1946–1963), New York Mets (1965)
Primary position: Catcher
Bats: Left — Throws: Right
Hall of Fame induction: 1972
Vote: 339 of 396 ballots cast, 85.61%
More than 40 years after his playing career ended, Yogi Berra remains one of the most popular figures in baseball. In his 19-year playing career, he was named to the American League All-Star team in 15 consecutive seasons, from 1948 to 1962, and was named the AL's MVP three times: 1951, 1954, and 1955. He had over 100 RBIs five times, including in four straight seasons from 1953 to 1956.
Yogi played on more World Series–winning teams (10) and pennant winners (14) than any other player in baseball history. Yogi holds the World Series record for appearances (14), games (75), at-bats (259), hits (71), doubles (10), singles (49), games caught (63), and catcher putouts (421).
At the plate, Yogi was known for both his bat control and bat speed. In five seasons, he had more home runs than strikeouts. In 1950 he had just 12 strikeouts, compared to 28 home runs in 597 at-bats. In 2,120 career games, Yogi hit .285 with 358 home runs and 1,430 RBIs.
Behind the plate, Yogi was known for his agility and ability to work with pitchers. He led AL catchers in games caught in eight seasons, six times in double plays, eight times in putouts, three times in assists, and once in fielding percentage. In 1958 he had a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage behind the plate, committing no errors in 88 games, 755 innings. He caught a then-record 148 consecutive games without committing an error.
In 1999 he was named to MLB's All-Century Team and ranked No. 40 on The Sporting News list of 100 Greatest Baseball Players.
Of course, Yogi is known for his "Yogi-isms," witty comments and malaprops that concisely capture a moment or thought, of which he once said, "I never said half the things I really said."
Yogi's playing days ended with the 1963 World Series, except for four games with the Mets in 1965. He went on to coach and manage. As a manager Yogi led the Yankees to the 1964 World Series and the Mets to the 1973 World Series and won the 1969 World Series with the Mets as a coach.
But, for all his accomplishments, it is one particular October afternoon when he was behind the plate that stands out for Yogi.
* * *
The no-hitter that Larsen pitched in '56 [the perfect game in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series, the only no-hitter ever pitched in the postseason]. It's never happened before. It was one of my biggest thrills, besides getting into the Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame was a big thrill, too.
He had good control. That's what he had. Anything I put down, he got over. He pitched to good spots. He only went to three balls on one hitter. That was in the first inning to Pee Wee Reese. He only threw 97 pitches [71 for strikes].
I didn't warm him up. But you never know. Some guys have good stuff in the bullpen and come in the game and not have good stuff. But he had good stuff that day. He threw hard. Of course, he pitched the second game [of the 1956 World Series]. We gave him a six-run lead and we lost. And then he came back and pitched a no-hitter. He really came back. But anything you put down, he had good control. Pitched to his spots.
All his pitches were great that day. Anything I put down, he got it over. Fastballs, sliders, everything. We didn't want to say anything to him, especially late in the game. But we knew what was going on. But we didn't think we had a safe lead. It was only 2–0. We were saying, "C'mon, let's go get a few more runs." You know, they get one guy on and then the tying run comes up. But all his pitches were great. That last pitch, it was right on the corner. It wasn't high at all.
I love this game. I really do. But yeah, that was my favorite.
How did I celebrate? I guess I went home and ate dinner.CHAPTER 3
Monford Merrill Irvin
Born: February 25, 1919, in Columbia, Alabama
MLB debut: July 8, 1949
Final game: September 30, 1956
Teams: Newark Eagles (1937–1942, 1945–1948), New York Giants (1949–1955), Chicago Cubs (1956)
Primary position: Left field
Bats: Right — Throws: Right
Hall of Fame induction: 1973
Vote: Elected to the Hall of Fame by the Negro Leagues Committee
Monte Irvin began playing in the Negro Leagues as a teenager with the Newark Eagles in 1937 as "Jimmy Nelson" to maintain his amateur status while at East Orange (New Jersey) High School and later at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. He won Negro Leagues batting titles in 1941 with a .395 average and in 1946 with a .404 mark.
A contract dispute with Eagles owner Effa Manley in 1942 sent him to the Mexican League for a short time. In 63 games with the Vera Cruz team, Irvin led the league in batting (with a .397 clip) and home runs (with 20) and was second in RBIs (with 79), earning MVP honors.
After returning from the army during World War II he led the Eagles to the pennant in 1946, capturing his second batting title, and then to a Negro League World Series championship, hitting .462 with three home runs against the Kansas City Monarchs. He was a five-time Negro League All-Star, playing in four Negro League All-Star Games, in 1941, 1946, 1947, and 1948.
Irvin was said to be the choice of Negro League team owners to be the player who would break Major League Baseball's color barrier, but while Irvin was in the service, Branch Rickey chose Jackie Robinson. Irvin was originally signed by the Dodgers, but Eagles owner Manley and the Dodgers could not reach an agreement on compensation. The Dodgers then withdrew their claim, allowing the New York Giants to sign Irvin.
In 1951 Irvin finished third in the MVP race and helped the Giants into the World Series, hitting .312 with 24 home runs, 94 runs, and a National League–best 121 RBIs, and finishing third in triples, with 11. Although the Giants fell to the Yankees in that Series, four games to two, Irvin led all batters, hitting .458, going 11-for-24, with three runs scored, two RBIs, two walks, one strikeout, and two stolen bases.
Monte teamed up with Hank Thompson and Willie Mays that season to form Major League Baseball's first all-black outfield.
Irvin broke his ankle in an exhibition game in April 1952, limiting him to just 46 games that season, when he hit .310, with four home runs and 21 RBIs. Although he was named a National League All-Star that year, his only All-Star selection, he did not appear in the game.
He returned to the World Series in 1954, as the Giants defeated the Indians in four games. In two Series, Irvin hit a combined .394.
In 764 games over his eight-season major-league career, Irvin hit .293 with 99 home runs, 443 RBIs, and 366 runs scored.
With all he accomplished, it's the first game of his first World Series he remembers most.
* * *
The first game of the World Series in 1951, when I was on third base with two outs, I stole home safely, and that was one of the highlights of my career. When I think about it now, I still get a thrill from it. It was the first time it'd ever been done in 30 years. I had stolen home that year five times. The secret in stealing home is to get a good lead, make sure you take, like, an extra foot so that you can slide in there safely. And I did. And when the umpire called me safe, I remember Yogi saying, "No, no!" I said, "Yeah, yeah, Yogi!" He said, "How do you know?" I said, "Tomorrow you'll see it on the front page of the Daily News and the Daily Mirror." And sure enough, it was there. Got in by about six inches. The pitcher was Allie Reynolds, the umpire was [Bill] Summers, and of course, the catcher was Yogi Berra [Right-handed hitter Bobby Thomson was at bat]. It was the first inning, 1951, Giants versus the Yankees, and it put us up 1–0. We won that game 5–1. Every run counted.
I wasn't on my own stealing home. I had to ask [Giants manager Leo] Durocher. I asked him if I could go, and he said, "Yeah, go ahead. Get a big lead and go ahead on the next pitch." And that's what I did. I had done it before, so he knew I had success at it. I had the technique of sliding in safely, you know. I had never been caught stealing home. I think every time I tried it, I made it. So I had some pretty good successes. You see, they didn't figure on it. Of course, like I said, the secret is to get a big lead. And they didn't know I could run as fast as I did. For a big man, I could do the 100-yard dash in 10 seconds, and that was pretty good back in those days.
Oh, yeah. I have a pretty good memory, and I can remember almost everything that happened in my career, particularly the outstanding things. So that is very vivid in my mind, even still today.CHAPTER 4
Edward Charles Ford
Born: October 21, 1928, in New York, New York
MLB debut: July 1, 1950
Final game: May 21, 1967
Team: New York Yankees (1950, 1953–1967)
Primary position: Pitcher
Bats: Left — Throws: Left
Hall of Fame induction: 1974
Vote: 284 votes of 365 ballots cast, 77.81%
A native New Yorker, Whitey Ford spent his entire 16-year career with the Yankees. While his blond hair may have been the reason for the nickname "Whitey," it was his big-game proficiency that earned him the honor of being called "Chairman of the Board," while his mound cunning led to another moniker: "Slick."
Ford won his first nine decisions, finishing his rookie year of 1950 9–1 in 20 games, 12 starts, with one save and a 2.81 ERA. He was named the Sporting News Rookie of the Year, finishing second to Boston's Walt Dropo in BBWAA balloting. An eight-time All-Star, he started three Midsummer Classics.
Whitey served in the army during the Korean War, in 1951 and '52, returned to the Yankees for the 1953 season.
Although the coveted no-hitter escaped him, in 1955 the left-hander pitched back-to-back one-hitters in starts against Washington and Kansas City (with one 1/3 hitless inning in relief against Washington sandwiched in between). Ford led the American League in many categories throughout his career, including complete games and wins in 1955; ERA and winning percentage in 1956; ERA and shutouts in 1958; shutouts in 1960; and games started, innings pitched, wins, and winning percentage in both 1961 and 1963. He earned the Cy Young Award in 1961, going 25–4 in 39 starts, with a 3.21 ERA.
In 498 games (438 starts) over his career, Whitey compiled a record of 236–106, a .690 winning percentage, best among all pitchers with at least 300 career decisions, and best among left-handed pitchers in the 20th century with 100 or more wins.
In 11 World Series, with the Yankees winning six titles, Ford has a combined record of 10–8 — more World Series wins than any other pitcher — with a 2.71 ERA. In 146 World Series innings, he allowed 44 earned runs, 132 hits, and 34 walks. His 94 career World Series strikeouts are still a record. In 1960, although the Yankees lost to the Pirates, Ford threw two complete-game shutout victories in Games 3 and 6. He followed that performance the following year, leading the Yankees over the Reds with a complete-game shutout in Game 1, and throwing five innings of a shutout in Game 4. He was named the Series MVP. He pitched a then-record 33? scoreless World Series innings.
Whitey has more World Series Game 1 starts — eight — than any other pitcher and more World Series innings, 146.
It's no surprise, then, that it's difficult for him to find just one favorite game.
* * *
I think when we won the five straight World Series games, that was special. There were a lot of great moments. But a favorite game? Not really. I pitched in a lot of World Series games, but I couldn't pick one out and say it was my favorite. I think there were too many of them.
I just go back to winning the five World Series games in a row [two in 1960, two in 1961, one in 1962]. It's not something I did, it's something the team did, but we had a lot of great moments. It was fantastic to win five in a row. There's nothing like that. There were good teams in the league too then — Detroit, the White Sox. It was great.
Excerpted from "Yogi was Up with a Guy on Third ..." by Maureen Mullen. Copyright © 2009 Maureen Mullen. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
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