Category: Dullea of Game

Going, Going, Gone

They have been the two most moribund franchises in the last century, setting the standard for futility. He was the hometown wunderkind, hired to bring his beloved Red Sox to the promised land.  Theo Epstein has now resigned as the General Manager of the Boston Red Sox and has signed a five year, $15 million deal to run the Chicago Cubs. Herts expert analyst, Bruce Dullea, considers what it all means…

After assuming the GM role in Boston in 2002 at the age of 29, Epstein delivered on his goal twice, bringing World Championships to Fenway Park both in 2004 and 2007, exorcising the curse of the Bambino, which had hung over the franchise since 1918.

But in Boston, everything seems to have come full circle. The Red Sox are now a team in disarray, strongly resembling the dysfunctional, over-indulged franchise that personified the Tom Yawkey era. They held a 9-game lead in the wild card race on September 2nd, and then had an historic collapse, getting eliminated on the final day of the season.


There were subsequent reports that Manager Terry Francona, who had run a loose ship, lost all control of the team. When you treat players like adults often times they show their gratitude by becoming adolescents. Allegations surfaced that pitchers were drinking alcohol in the clubhouse during games. Other players refused to do their workouts.

Players complained about the schedule that would accommodate their appearances on national television. The team had turned into a cross between Animal House and the Bad News Bears. It came as no surprise that Francona became the scapegoat, and he announced his resignation on the 30th of September.

There were also unsubstantiated rumours that Epstein was looking to move as well. With one year left on his contract, what else could he accomplish in his hometown? He was lauded as a brilliant GM, combining a strong player development program with sabermetrics. Even though he landed some free agents who immediately brought dividends, including David Ortiz and Adrian Gonzalez, many other moves backfired, including the acquisitions of John Lackey, Mike Cameron and Carl Crawford.

Criticism and pressure

He did inherit a club that won 92 games and had Johnny Damon, Manny Ramirez and Pedro Martinez, so a major rebuilding job wasn’t necessary. But his player development program has helped establish bona fide young stars such as Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Jon Lester. Nonetheless, the criticism and pressure in his hometown is non-stop, with virtually every move being second guessed and scrutinized.

Pedro Martinez with the Red Sox in 2003
Pedro Martinez with the Red Sox in 2003

Epstein is very competitive, but maybe felt he had done everything he could in Boston and needed an even bigger challenge in Chicago. The only thing that may have prevented his departure was leaving after the collapse, but the club still has plenty of talent and a stable operations staff it looks likely that his assistant Ben Cherington will be promoted to take his place.
Owner John Henry and club president Larry Lucchino did not stand in the way and allowed negotiations to progress for the eventual move. All that remains is an agreement on compensation and what front office staff will be allowed to move to Chicago with Epstein.

‘Lovable losers’

Although the expectations have always been lower for the fans in Chicago, Epstein will face considerable challenges. The club finished 20 games under .500 and in fifth place each of the last two seasons. $50 of their $121 payroll is tied up in three players  — Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Zambrano, and Ryan Dempster — with minimal value. There needs to be a major overhaul of the team’s farm system.

The club has not won a World Series in 103 years and a pennant since 1945. Wrigley Field is in need of an upgrade. With the recent release of the ESPN documentary “Catching Hell”, it brought back vivid memories of the Steve Bartman debacle in 2003, which was the last time the Cubs were close to getting to the World Series.

Although Chicago is a two baseball town, and most Cubs fans are used to their “Lovable Losers” coming up short, owner Tom Ricketts has hired Epstein to duplicate what he did in Boston, and has given him total authority. What needs to be finalized is how many members of the Red Sox staff he will be able to bring with him to Chicago. Epstein was assured he will be on equal footing with President Crane Kenney, who was known to micromanage previous GM Jim Hendry.
If Epstein can bring a World Championship to Chicago, it will be an amazing accomplishment and he will go down as one of the greatest baseball executives of all time. The young genius has faced his share of criticism from Boston, but he does have two World Series rings. He is now the highest paid front office executive in the history of the sport. His challenges in Chicago will be extreme. He has exorcised the Curse of the Bambino. If he can do the same with the curse of the Billy Goat, it will be simply remarkable.


He came out of college as THE most heralded prospect in history.  His numbers his senior season at San Diego St. were extraordinary.  In 109 innings, he went 13-1 with a 195 strikeouts and a 1.35 ERA.  His repertoire included a triple digit radar gun, a 4 and two seam fastball, a 12 to 6 curve and, when mixed his fastball, a virtually unhittable changeup.  On top of his incredible stuff, he possessed a very competitive spirit, a commanding mound presence.  Stephen Strasburg had the whole package, and was the crown jewel that only comes along once a century.

The Washington Nationals selected Strasburg with the first pick in the 2010 draft, and rewarded him with a record $15.1 million contract, the highest in Major League Baseball history for a rookie pitcher, which far surpassed Mark Prior’s $10 million deal.  After the signing, the club prudently announced that their prize investment would be protected with a strict pitch and inning limit.  Every precaution would be made to insure that he would remain healthy and protect their investment.

After beginning the 2010 campaign in the minors, Strasburg was called up to the Nationals in June.  His debut, against the Pirates, was a gem.  In 7 innings, he struck out 14, issued no walks, gave up 4 hits in a 5-2 win.  He followed that up in his next home start with a 10 strikeout effort against the White Sox.  The kid was attracting a lot of attention, and there was a buzz all through MLB when the rookie phenom took the mound.  His starts at Nationals Park became an event.  The moribund franchise finally had something to brag about as tickets became a premium on his starts.

But there were dark days ahead.  Strasburg initially went on the 15 day DL on July 29 with a shoulder injury. He returned to the mound on August 10th against the Marlins, but there were to be only three more starts.  On August 21st, against the Phillies, he left the game in the 5th inning after complaining of a twinge in his elbow.  Later that week, after he received an MRI, everyone’s worst fears were confirmed.  He had suffered a significant tear to his ulnar collateral ligament.  His season was over, and his career was in jeopardy.  He later had Tommy John surgery, and then began his rehabilitation.

Despite all the precautions the Nationals took, it didn’t matter.  Two trips to the disabled list, a season cut short, and an ominous future.  Strasburg’s rookie numbers, albeit abbreviated, were excellent.  He finished with a 5-3 record in 12 starts, with a 2.91 ERA and 92 strikeouts.

The club really can’t be criticized for the precautions they took.  But what is troubling and what needs to be examined are the prevalence of arm injuries in the major leagues.  Despite the advantages in technology, training, and prevention, pitchers are much more fragile these days and break down much more frequently than they did in the past. 

In the 1960’s, four man rotations were the norm.  40 starts and 300 innings were the expectations for most pitchers.  Bob Gibson and Juan Marichal were two of the prominent pitchers in that generation that always picked up the ball every fourth day, gave quality outings, and never seemed to go on the disabled list.  Most of the pitchers in that era wanted to start what they finished, and considered it a personal affront to be pulled for a relief pitcher.  And the pitchers from that era definitely seemed much more durable.

The advent of the 5 man rotation and pitch counts also brought unwanted changes in the game, including specialty pitchers, repeated trips to the mound, continued delays, and three hour plus games.

The prevalence of pitcher injuries is a concern and a troubling question.  What are the causes?  Is it the reliance of the slider, which causes a lot of stress on the elbow?  Is it the year round regimen that pitchers are now expected to participate in?  In the past, most high school athletes were encouraged to play more than one sport. Nowadays, a pitching prospect is expected to work on his game 12 months a year.  This doesn’t permit any rest for the arms, which may be a considerable factor for the avalanche of arm injuries.

Everyone is holding their breath with regards to Strasburg’s long term prognosis.  Most pitchers come back stronger after Tommy John surgery.  The bigger concern is his shoulder.  Shoulder injuries for pitchers are much more problematic, and the long term prognosis seemingly more tenuous.

When he returns, all of MLB will be holding their breath every time Strasburg takes the mound.  It will certainly be great news if he comes back injury free and duplicates his success of 2010. 

Let’s hope that he becomes as durable as Nolan Ryan, and the next Walter Johnson for Washington D.C., rather than another Kerry Wood.


A year after the Yankees signed CC Sabathia and Mark Texeira to multi-year contracts exceeding $340 million, the Red Sox probably felt compelled to follow suit.  The annual winter league meetings are a pre-Christmas bonanza for the MLB GM’s, and this year was no exception.  Boston signed Devil Ray free agent Carl Crawford to a 7 year $142 million deal, and the rumour is that they have signed 1B Adrian Gonzalez to an extension that is worth $150 million, although this has yet to be confirmed.

The Yankees signings paid dividends, as they won the World Series in 2009, their second championship in the decade.  It remains to be seen how the Red Sox main investments will play out.  Theo Epstein is a very astute GM, but eyebrows must be raised, particularly with regards to the Crawford signing.

It took the baseball world by surprise that Crawford signed with the Red Sox.  He is very good friends with the Angels Tori Hunter, and everyone expected him to sign with Los Angeles.  It is also believed that he may not have the temperament suited to play in Boston, where the pressure cooker is intense.

Make no mistake, Crawford is an excellent player.  But there are discernible holes in his game.  He has never hit twenty home runs.  He’s only had one 90 RBI season.  He doesn’t walk very much, and has a very ordinary on base percentage.  And his numbers have been inflated in Tropicana field, which are much higher than his career numbers at Fenway Park.  He also doesn’t hit left handing pitching very well, a hole that will be magnified due to the fact that opposing teams will be throwing all of their southpaws against the likes of David Ortiz, Jacoby Ellsbury, J.D Drew, and Adrian Gonzalez

He does steal bases, and is a magnificent outfielder.  His weak arm will be protected in Fenway’s left field, but his range will be minimized due to playing in the smallest left field in the major leagues.

The $142 million contract he signed is the second highest in history for an outfielder.   That’s certainly a lot of money for a left handed slap hitter that doesn’t get on base a great deal.

With Cliff Lee eschewing both clubs overtures and signing with the Philadelphia Phillies, the Yankees big question mark entering the season will be pitching, particularly if Andy Pettitte retires.  That will leave the club with 3 proven starters (Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Phil Hughes) and two question marks.  The Yankees needed Lee a lot more than Boston, who have a surplus of proven starting pitching, including Josh Beckett, John Lackey, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Tim Wakefield.

Boston’s everyday line-up is relatively intact, particularly if Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury return from the injuries that plagued them in 2010.  With the Gonzalez acquisition, Kevin Youkilis will return to his natural position at 3B. 

The Yankees, having resigned Derek Jeter, will also go into opening day with their position players relatively set. Their bullpen is strong, and will need to carry them if the club is unable to fill their 4th and 5th starters with adequate replacements.

Boston and New York will continue to outspend everyone, and get most of the media attention.  It’s still a long way until spring training, but it will be a very interesting year, full of intrigue and speculation.

Stay tuned


In the 1950’s, baseball ruled in America, and New York City was the center of the baseball universe.  Every year of the decade (except one) the World Series was played in Gotham.  The Yankees were the dominant franchise, but the Giants and the Dodgers were always nipping at their heels. Those two National League clubs were bitter rivals, who were involved in many epic duels.

The most memorable battle occurred on October 3rd 1951, when Bobby Thomson homered off of the Dodgers Ralph Branca, propelling the Giants to the World Series.  The “Shot Heard Round the World” was culminated by the shouts of the Giants radio announcer Ralph Hodges, who screamed “THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT, THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT”.

The Giants then went on to the World Series, where they fell to the Yankees in six games.  Three years later, in 1954, they returned to the Fall Classic, and swept the heavily favored Cleveland Indians.

In 1957 the Dodgers left Brooklyn and moved across the country to Los Angeles.  The Giants followed them in 1958, and ventured west to San Francisco.

New York was left with one team.  The baseball landscape was about to change.  New York was no longer the center of the baseball universe, and the demographics of the sport were about to change, inexorably.

The City by the Bay welcomed their new team with open arms.  They played their first two seasons in Seals Stadium, and then moved to Candlestick Park in 1960, their home for the next 39 years until they moved to PacBell (AT&T Park) Stadium in 2000.

They had very good players, and very successful teams.  Willie Mays was a Hall of Famer, and one of the best center fielders of all time.  Juan Marichal won 238 games and had 244 complete games.  Willie McCovey hit 469 home runs.  There were other great players, including Gaylord Perry, Orlando Cepeda, Jim Ray Hart, Bobby Bonds, and Will Clark. Not to mention Barry Bonds.

Good players and good teams.  But one thing was missing.  No world championships.  Since 1954, the cupboard was bare.  What was even more galling was that the Dodgers, their hated rivals, had attained five World Series championships since moving west.  The former “Bums of Brooklyn” had repeatedly climbed the mountain top.  The Giants were perennially left behind.

There were many close calls.  There was the line drive that Willie McCovey hit in the 7th game of the 1962 World Series that was caught by the Yankees Bobby Richardson, robbing the Giants of the Championship.  Between 1965 and 1969, the club had 5 consecutive second place finishes. In 1971 they lost the NLCS to the Pittsburgh Pirates.  In 1993 the team won 103 games but finished second, one game behind the Braves.  There was the 1987 NLCS loss to the Cardinals with Jeff “One Flap Down” Leonard.  The club also came up short in the1989 and 2002 Fall Classics.

What is astounding about the 2010 Giants is that no one expected much of them.  The team had transformed themselves since the Barry Bonds years, deciding to rely on pitching and defense, but no one expected them to make the playoffs. Trailing San Diego by 7 1/2 games in the NL West on July 4, they meandered in the wild-card race until the stretch run, winning the division and finishing 92-70.

The team was a collection of cast-offs, with no marquee players.  They did have outstanding pitching and good defense, with a stellar bullpen, proving the adage that pitching and defense does indeed win games.

After defeating the Braves in the divisional playoffs and the Phillies in a very exciting NLCS, even the most ardent Giants fans were cautiously optimistic.  History was not on their side.  There was the 54 year drought.  There were the memories of the repeated failures.  However, the other franchises with extended droughts (Red Sox, White Sox) had exorcised their demons, so MAYBE it was to be their year.

And in retrospect, the details of the Giants World Championship are less important than the history of the clubs futility prior to this point.  Of course credit must be given to Tim Lincecum and Brian Wilson and Edgar Renteria and Butch Posey and Bruce Bochy and the rest of the club.  The team that FINALLY brought an end to the drought.

But to long time Giants fans, it’s more of a chance to reminisce.  One thinks of many things, including the horrid conditions of Candlestick Park.  Or John “The Count” Montefusco.  Or Herman Franks. And Jeff Kent and his motorcycle excursions as well as his battles with Barry Bonds.  Or the Juan Marichal/John Roseboro incident. Or Sal “The Barber” Maglie.  Or John McGraw and Coogans Bluff.  Or Bobby Bonds and his battles with alcohol and the press.  Or the 1983 All Star experience of Atlee Hammaker, when he surrendered 7 earned runs in 2/3 of an innings, including Fred Lynn’s grand slam.

The great Christy Matthewson also has to be mentioned.

As well as Mel Ott and his 511 home runs.

Also Carl Hubbell, his 253 wins and incredible screwball.

The Giants have an incredible history.  The fans that supported them through their drought now have reason to celebrate.  As does all of baseball.  Because in baseball, hope springs eternal.  Having said that, spring training is just around the corner.

Are there any Cubs fans in the house?



2007 Falcons Manager Bruce Dullea – now with the Sidewindersorganisation – has been following closely the on and off-fielddevelopments at Herts Baseball with the unique interest of anoutsider/alumni.  He offers his wise and candid perspective into theFalcons chances for success in the National League, some skepticismabout the future of the Herts franchise, and some praise for the club's”meteoric rise” of late.  Does this renewed interest in his formerfamily foreshadow Dullea's return to the fold… the prodigal son comehome again?  Or is it, simply, a message in the proverbial bottlewashed up from distant shores?

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

by Bruce Dullea

Forthose of us who didn’t sleep through our Greek mythology class, weshould remember the story of Icarus.  Deciding not to heed the adviceof his Father, he chose to fly too close to the sun, thinking that thehigher he flew, the more God-like he would become. Tragically, hisfeathers, which were made of wax, melted, and he fell into the sea.

Someof the more erudite members of the Herts Falcons may be aware of thelegend of Icarus.  Analogies do exist.  Their recent history is trulyfascinating, and is a lesson in perseverance, tenacity, and overcomingadversities.  After examining what they have endured, and where theyhave come from, it is apparent that the club has made a remarkableascent through the ranks of the British Baseball Federation.  (Givenwhat they’ve gone through, perhaps they should rename themselves thePhoenix).  After languishing for two years in the bottom of the premierleague, and then being subsequently relegated, they have made ameteoric rise.  Initially promoted to the then premier league in 2005,they found the competition very arduous.   In 2005 and 2006 theyfinished near the bottom of the league, and in September of 06 wound uplosing an epic extra inning relegation playoff game to the Burgess HillColts.   This meant that in just two mere years after gainingpromotion, they were then forced to take a major step back by beingrelegated to the division that they formerly had conquered.  At thetime, they more resembled the legend of Sisyphus than Icarus.  Ratherthan wallow in self-pity, the club made it their personal mission toretool, improve, and once again attain promotion. 

Since thatepic defeat, the club has experienced nothing but success.  In 2007they finished with an 18-3 record, won the Division I Southern pennant,and were the National runner-up in the Final 4.  They were thenrewarded with a promotion back to the Premiere (now called AAA)division.  Their performance in the 2008 campaign surpassed everyone’sexpectations.  The club finished with a 21-3 campaign, clinched aplayoff spot, won their division, and ultimately brought home thehardware by winning the AAA National Championship.  Perhaps what iseven more astonishing is that their accomplishments off the field haveexceeded their success on the diamond.  While baseball clubs have beenfolding all over the country, they have been a model for consistency aswell as how to develop the sport in the UK.  In 2007 they founded theirown Little League, which has prospered and proven to be verysuccessful.  They have the most impressive website and the most mediasavvy club in the UK.  They have grown to three teams with over 50members, can boast of a multitude of corporate sponsors, and haverecently received permission to build a second field at Grovehill Park,which has been their home since their inception in 1996.

Thecoup de grace came last Monday, when the BBF announced that the Falconshave accepted a promotion to the National League, the top tier leaguein the country.  To those of us who have followed British Baseball andin particular the trials and travails of the Herts Baseball Club, thisis a truly unbelievable accomplishment, and they must be commended.

Whatdoes the future hold for the HBC?  Since accepting the invitation tojoin the National League, they have announced that they are forming afourth team (the Eagles) which will take the place of the Falcons andcompete in the AAA division in 2009.  Are they growing too soon, toofast?  How much of a risk are they taking?  It is readily obvious thatalthough the club is capitalizing on their recent successes, they havemany challenges and questions in front of them.

Sources havesaid that the Falcons benefited from a “watered” down 2008 AAAdivision.  They no longer had to compete against the CambridgeMonarchs, the perennial power that had folded once their Americanmilitary base closed.  They didn’t have to play against any of theNational League clubs.  One club (Milton Keynes) disbanded during theseason and another (Bristol) was an expansion club.  The last time theteam was in the premier league they regularly faced pitchers who threwin the 90’s, including Glen Goodrich, Bob Runyon, and Derek Kelly, twoof whom pitched professionally in the US.  Long time observers feltthat the team benefitted from facing weaker pitching in 2008.  Evenagainst the diluted pitching, the team suffered a prolonged battingslump during the course of the season.    Their team batting average of.308 was more than 100 points lower than their previous (AA) season,and their home run total dropped from 14 to 4, even though GrovehillPark is very accommodating to right handed power hitters.

How will the Falcons hitters fare against the London Mets, who were 23-1 and gave up an average of 2.2 runs per game?

Will the club be able to hit against Richmond’s Cody Cain, a hard throwing right hander?

Theclub’s 21-3 record was impressive, but on closer inspection, 3 of thewins were by forfeit and 6 others were decided by one run.  Two otherclubs scored more runs and matched their run differential.  Are theyreally a legitimate NBL team, or do they need more time to grow andprove themselves?

The Falcons pitching was very strong in 08,and carried the team when they weren’t hitting.  Their top two pitchersare master craftsmen who rely on control rather than power.  It remainsto be seen how they will fare against National League batters.

In2006, the last time the club faced National League teams, they went 0-4and were outscored 66-9. Granted, the team struggled throughout theseason, and it was a totally different environment, but many of theteam’s nucleus were a part of that club.

The biggest questionmark is how the club will fill the roster for the newly formed Eagles. They will need a massive recruiting effort to ensure that the club iscompetitive and the talent from the three existing clubs aren’tdiluted.   Their two other clubs (Hawks & Raptors) will need tokeep the core of their rosters intact to remain competitive.  TheFalcons will need everyone to help them compete in the NBL.  In thelast three seasons, clubs have folded in Shropshire, Brighton,Liverpool, London, Windsor, and Cambridge.  There is also a rumour thatthe Northern National Baseball League will disband.  Baseball in the UKis dying, not growing.  Where will they find the extra players?

Ithas been reported that the HBC Executive Committee voted unanimously toaccept the promotion invitation.  However, a published report fromtheir website indicated that there was some internal trepidation aboutthe move.  What was the mood in the boardroom, and how much internaldissent was there?  Are there expansion plans overly optimistic, ordoes the club truly feel that they can field 4 competitive teams oneyear removed from AA ball?  Did they feel overly compelled to go forbroke, or should prudence have won out?

Another question to askis the BBF’s rationale in extending the invitation.  It is obvious thatthe sport is declining in the UK.  In 2004, there were 6 clubs in theNL south.  Three of those clubs (Windsor Bears, London Warriors, andthe Brighton Buccaneers) no longer exist.   With the recent disbandmentof the Liverpool Trojans, there are now only two remaining NL northclubs, and in all likelihood there will not be a Northern Division in09.  Given the current state of the NBL, something had to be done, butit remains to be seen as to whether the Falcons will be competitive,and what impact their promotion will have on the HBC.

In anyevent, the Falcons have made their decision.  It is risky, but you haveto give them credit.  They are ambitious and are one of the trulypositive stories about baseball in Britain.  Everyone is pulling forthem.  They are also now in the same position as Icarus.  Their wingswill take them up, up, and away to the NBL.  There will be no goingback.

Was Daedalus around to warn them of the perils of flying too high, too soon?

Are their wings made of wax?

Next year, we will find out.

I wish them all the best on their journey.


A Rat Named Sue


He was a painfully shy player in a very public arena.


Tall and powerfully built, he hit prodigious home runs.  442 of them, which is 34th all time.  One of them, which was hit in Wrigley Field on April 14, 1976, went over 600 feet, which is the longest ever recorded HR hit there.


He also struck out quite a lot.  1,816 times, which is 10th all time.


His fielding was atrocious.  Whether he played 3B, 1B, or the outfield, he had a great deal of difficulty catching and throwing the ball.  I seem to remember that he wore a batting helmet while playing in the field, which was probably done for safety reasons.  He was a tailor made DH, but unfortunately spent 13 of the 16 years of his career in the National League.


Dave Kingman was an enigma.  He only hit .236, he struck out quite a lot, but when he connected, the ball went a long, long way.  This was probably why he hung on in the big leagues for so long.  Signed out of college by the Giants, he also had stints with the Mets, Padres, Angels, Yankees, Cubs, Mets (again), and Athletics.


Everyone saw his massive potential, but no one could harness it.


Of all the major league ballplayers, he probably had the worst time of anyone with the press. Nicknamed King Kong, columnist Mike Royko of the Chicago Sun-Times derisively called him “Ding Dong”.  Columnist David Israel staged a sit-in in protest over having to deal with him.  One of his teammates on the Mets said “he had the personality of a tree stump.”


During his three year tenure with the Chicago Cubs, the press finally relented and decided to let him write his own column so that they didn’t have to talk to him.  His columns were a literary disaster, so this particular experiment didn’t last very long.  In 1979, still with the Cubs, he had his best season, hitting .288 with 48HRs and 115RBI.


Primarily due to the holes in his game, his longest tenure with any one club was three years.  Two years after his career best effort with the Cubs, they traded him to the Mets.


Extremely thin skinned and unwilling to accept any type of criticism, his second stint in New York was also short lived, again lasting only three years.


He finally reached the AL in 1984 with the Oakland A’s, and became a full-time DH, which was the perfect position for him.  He had three very productive seasons, averaging 33HR’s and 101RBI.  However, the ending was not to be a happy one.  He had a particular problem with Sue Fornoff, who covered the A’s for the Sacramento Bee.  They had a very rocky relationship, and Kingman objected to anything negative that Ms. Fornoff wrote.  It is a matter of conjecture whether the coverage was negative, but that’s the way King Kong perceived it.



He finally decided to get even.  One game Ms. Fornoff was sitting in the press box at Oakland Alameda stadium, and while covering the game, she received a box.  She opened it, and much to her horror and chagrin, she found a LIVE RAT.


The rat had a tag which said “My name is Sue”.


Unfortunately for Kingman, this practical joke backfired.  The 1986 MLB Collective Bargaining Agreement did not cover sending live rodents to sportswriters.


Kingman was released shortly thereafter, and never played MLB again.


He now lives in relative obscurity.


Because of King Kong, I’m always very judicious in my criticism of thin skinned ballplayers.


I thought I’d share this bit of baseball history to young, aspiring sportswriters.


Be careful with any gift wrapped packages from ballplayers, at anytime.


Enough said.




The Biggest Bully on the Block


Ennui.  That was my state of mind last night.  I was flopped down on the couch, feet up, glass of wine in hand, wondering what to do next.  I then turned on the TV to catch Baseball Tonight on NASN.  I could not believe who was in the studio with Karl Ravech.  None other than Bobby Knight!  Bobby Knight!  I thought I was hallucinating.


For those of you who aren’t aware, Bobby Knight is a BASKETBALL coach.  He is the all time winningest college coach in the history of NCAA basketball, but he carries quite a bit of baggage.  He is mercurial, combative, and has a hair trigger temper.  He has gotten away with all of his documented transgressions due to his enormous success, and it has enabled him to spend the majority of his career bullying and intimidating anyone who either didn’t agree with him or crossed him.  His primary targets have been the press.  Amongst other notable achievements, he has a) slapped a Puerto Rican policeman, b) stuffed an opposing fan in a trash can, c) threw a chair at a referee, and d) choked one of his own players.


Over the course of his 42 year career, he has kept his most brutal derision and contempt for members of the press.  Among other things, one of his most notable quotes was, “If there is reincarnation, I want to come back as a sportswriter because they have never used their brains”.


Well, he may have a point there.  


With Bob Knight, there is no in between.  You either love him or hate him.  Despite his shortcomings, he has won, graduated his players, and shown a high level of integrity and veracity.


One thing he has never been is a hypocrite.  That’s why I had a difficult time seeing him on the Baseball Tonight studio.  Over the course of his career, I always enjoyed his repartee with the press.  He was extremely clever, and always had the last word.  The press always played the part of the deferential whipping boy, and it made for good copy.  And in many instances, he was correct.  Many members of the press are indolent, ill-prepared, and biased.  Some of those who attempted to stand up to him   faced subsequent professional repercussions. 


Even though Knight always had the upper hand, his press battles were always very entertaining.


Knight recently retired from coaching after a stellar 42 year career.  I always assumed   he would walk away from the limelight and spend his retirement fishing and hunting, which seemed to be his main passions away from the court. 


I didn’t have a problem with him criticizing the press.  However, it did shock me to see him in the studio, in essence a becoming committed press member himself.


It was interesting hearing about his love for baseball, and his friendship with Tony LaRusso.  They also showed an interview with the late Ted Williams, who was effervescent in his praise for Knight.  Knight then stated the reason he admired Williams so much was that they both had an adversarial relationship with the press.


Am I missing something??  There he was, biting the hand that was feeding him.


This whole episode is very reminiscent of John Thompson, another highly successful basketball coach, who, throughout his career, was highly combative with the press.  At 6’ 10” tall, over 300 pounds, with a deep baritone voice, he was indeed very intimidating.  Now that he is retired from coaching, he to has joined the press corps, and has a highly successful radio and TV gig in the Washington DC area.  He’s transformed himself from a sullen, contemptuous curmudgeon who was constantly antagonizing the press to an amiable grandfatherly figure.  The transformation seems genuine.  While coaching, Thompson only allowed the public to access part of his personality


I guess if you are successful, you can recreate yourself in a positive manner


Knight has always been highly intelligent, and provides keen insight.   At 67, he seems to have mellowed.   His methods were always excessive and controversial.  He was the biggest bully on the block.


With age comes wisdom.  Knight has a lot to offer, even in baseball.


It’ll be nice to see him share his baseball insights with us on a more regular basis.



The Final Season


The Polo Grounds.  Ebbets Field.  Comiskey Park.  Tiger Stadium.  Forbes Field.  All of these venerable stadiums are relics from the past.  They are all part of baseball history, where great games have been played, championships have been won, and traditions have been created.


All of them are now gone.


There are only three left.


At the end of the season, the list will dwindle to two.


This is the final season that baseball will be played at Yankee Stadium.  Built in 1923, it has hosted 37 World Series.  The Yankees won their first championship during the Stadium’s inaugural season.  Three All-Star games have been played there.  This year, its final season, it will host the All Star game.


Ruth. Gehrig.  DiMaggio.  Mantle.  Maris.  Where does it start, and where does it end?


I’m definitely in denial, because it still hasn’t hit me that this is the final season.  I’ve been to Yankee Stadium three times, and each time was special.  The first was in August of 1966, when my Father took me and Danny Hollywood, who was my best friend at the time.  We sat behind the first base dugout, and saw the Yankees play the Detroit Tigers.  Al Downing pitched against Earl Wilson, and Mickey Mantle hit a massive home run.  I was 7 years old, and it was the first time I had ever seen a professional baseball game.  There were 14,856 spectators, and the Yankees won 6-5.  This occasion was truly the most special and memorable for me.


The 2nd occasion was 10 years later, in 1976.  I sat behind home plate with my Father and cousin, and watched the Yankees beat the Minnesota Twins.  It isn’t as memorable, because I don’t remember who pitched, but I do remember that we had fantastic seats.


The third and final occasion was in June of 1982.  I had just graduated from college, and three friends and I drove all the way to New York City from Atlanta, Ga.  We sat in the upper deck in right field and watched the Yankees play the Orioles.  The game went 15 innings and took 4 ½ hours to play.  The Yankees won 4-3. 


There are so many baseball fans that have similar memories of Yankee Stadium.    Change is inevitable, but for kids who grew up in New York City, it didn’t get any better than being taken to Yankee Stadium by your Father.


I guarantee you that something will be missing in 2009.  They plan on turning Yankee Stadium into a parkland.  I think that it’s a big mistake.  Yankee Stadium is THE CATHEDRAL for baseball.  It should not be torn down, and we will one day regret it.  There is too much history, and centuries from now, historians will only be able to point and say, “That is where the House that Ruth Built stood”.


I really hope that Fenway Park and Wrigley Field, the two other remaining baseball relics, continue to stay open and operate long into the future.




Is it a Promotion or a Lateral Move?


There is an unwritten rule amongst journalists that you never write about a colleague, but don’t tell that to Peter Vecsey of the New York Post, who is continually baiting Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News.


The newsroom of today is much different than the newsroom of yesteryear, which was filled with cigar smoke, old noisy typewriters, and the ubiquitous cantankerous editor, who was constantly screaming at us to get our copy in before the deadline.


Now it is much more of a virtual newsroom.  Given the advances of technology, I can write my column from pretty much any location.  That has its inherent advantages and disadvantages.  However, in this new environment we still constantly wonder about our colleagues.


I took a quick look at the Falcons home page, and noticed that my good friend and colleague Marty Cullen is no longer listed as a Syndicated Columnist. It now says he is “Voice of the Falcons”.


Does that mean that we are no longer colleagues?


Did I miss the inner office memo congratulating and offering him our best wishes?


Marty, we hardly knew ye!


I really enjoyed his column on the DH, and was waiting (and waiting, and waiting) for more, but it never came……


Now that he’s moved on from a print to an electronic correspondent, he’s open game.


Maybe now that he’s an electronic journalist, he’ll become really arrogant and won’t talk to us print guys!


Maybe he went on the DL with writer’s cramp?


Maybe I should quit while I’m ahead, because I’m ruining my chances of being his co-host on Falcons PTI!!


Was he paid by the column or did he get a flat fee?  If so, I’ve got to find out who his agent is.


Was he promoted based on the one column he wrote??  If so, what am I doing wrong??


Maybe with his new gig of bench coach, he was way too busy and didn’t have much time to write.


By the way, by being a bench coach and voice of the Falcons, isn’t that a conflict of interest??


Am I asking too many questions, and will I be unceremoniously beckoned to the Falcons front office, where I will be asked intrusive questions about MY latest column??


Ask him who get the biggest laughs at the Awards Night!!


I hope he finds this column entertaining!  Maybe he’ll enjoy it more than Profiles in Courage, which I hope someone read!


Who’s the Falcons HR director?  I’m thinking about going to a tribunal because my work here has been unappreciated and others are being promoted over yours truly.


Memo to Marty.  Congratulations on your promotion!


Both of them!


And please remember this humble scribe when you’re auditioning for Falcons PTI!


Anyway, it’s Bank Holiday Monday!! (I’m a dumb American, did I say that right?).

Enough silliness!  I look forward to Marty’s electronic contributions as Voice of the Falcons, and I hope everyone had a Happy Easter.




The Year of the Pitcher


The baseball establishment has always favoured the hitters over the pitchers.   Over time, the rules have been altered to give the hitters an advantage.  Presuming that the fans would prefer seeing a home run than a strikeout, a major rule change was implemented at the start of the 1969 season that has altered the game significantly. 


1968 has been dubbed the year of the pitcher.  Pitchers dominated that season.  Denny McLain of the Detroit Tigers went 31-6.  Five pitchers in the American League had ERAs lower than 2.00, and Bob Gibson won the NL title with an unheard of 1.12 ERA and 13 shutouts.  Juan Marichal of the Giants won 26 games and led the NL with 30 complete games out of 38 starts.   The team batting average in the AL was an anemic .230, and only one player in the league hit over .300 (Carl Yastrzemski, .301).


Fearing that a lack of offence would drive away the fans, the Rules committee lowered the mound from 15” to 10” and also graduated the slope of the mound.   The changes altered the game and fundamentally gave the advantage to the hitters.  The AL team ERA rose from 2.98 to 3.62.  It has risen consistently to its 2007 level of 4.50.


There has been one other major rules change that has discriminated against the pitchers.  The strike zone has shrunk.  It is supposed to be the armpit to the knee, but most umpires will not call anything above the belt a strike.


If those two obstacles weren’t enough, pitchers have other factors working against them.  Batters are now allowed to wear protective armour that enable them to crowd the plate and take away the advantage the pitchers had of throwing on the outside corner.  The balls are also livelier and the ballparks are smaller.  The game of today resembles softball more than baseball.


It is a bit specious to presume that fans prefer offence.  In the American League, the attendance in 1968 was the second highest between the years 1961 to 1971. 


There is always a buzz in the crowd when a power pitcher is on the mound.  I only saw Nolan Ryan pitch once in person, but I’ll never forget it.  He was 42 years old, and he was pitching for Texas against the Baltimore Orioles on August 5, 1989.  48,776 fans jammed into Memorial Stadium to watch him.  He threw 7 innings, struck out 8, and lost 2-1 to Bob Milacki.  Even though there were only 3 runs scored, the fans were on the edge of their seats the whole game.  I’ll never forget it.


Another game I’ll never forget was between the Yankees and the Red Sox on May 28, 2000 at Yankee Stadium.  Pedro Martinez vs. Roger Clemens.  Both pitchers pitched complete games.  Clemens struck out 13 and Martinez struck out 9.  There were only a total of 9 hits between the two teams, and the Red Sox won it in the top of the 9th on a two run HR by Trot Nixon.  The final was 2-0, and the 55,339 fans who attended were treated to a classic.  The millions who watched on ESPN did not soon forget it either.


Given the rules alterations, I never really respect the current era batting averages.    Todd Helton’s .372BA in 2000 or George Brett’s .390BA in 1980 were significant accomplishments, but what would they have hit if they had to face a 15” mound and a “normal” strike zone?  We’ll never know, but we can always speculate.