Tagged: Giants

A Conversation With Orlando Cepeda

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Last weekend, the Hall
of Fame opened a new exhibit, Viva Baseball, which chronicles the history of
Latin Americans in the game. Hall of Fame first baseman Orlando
Cepeda, a native of Puerto Rico and one of 11 Latinos currently enshrined in Cooperstown, attended the exhibit opening. During a wide-ranging
conversation with Mark McGuire of the Albany-Times Union, Hall of Fame researcher
Bill Francis, and me, Cepeda talked about his father, Negro Leagues shortstop Perucho
Cepeda, his own experiences playing in San Francisco, and his relationship with
fellow Puerto Rican Roberto Clemente. Humble in discussing his own
accomplishments, Cepeda lavished praise on a number of lesser known Latino
standouts, including Minnie Minoso, Ruben Gomez, and Hector Espino.

 

 

McGuire: What do
you think, looking around this exhibit, seeing your dad’s stuff [on display]?

 

Cepeda: Awesome.
Awesome. Awesome. Incredible. You know, he never saw me play [in the major
leagues]. You know he died one day before I played my first pro game. He died.
I remember like in 1952, I was 15 and I got my knee operation. He had to talk
to the doctor and asked him, “Do you think my son will be able to play ball?”
My father always had it in his mind that someday I would be a ballplayer.

 

McGuire: Who was
better, you or him?

 

Cepeda: He was
better.

 

McGuire: When you
look at the state of Latin players, we think of them as one big group,
regardless of what country they come from. Do you notice different styles of [Latino]
players from different countries? Or is it pretty much the same?

 

Cepeda: The same.
Baseball is [played] one way. They [the Latino players] are the same. So many
great players, from the Dominican, Venezuela, from Cuba, they never had the
opportunity to play in the big leagues–they never made the Hall of Fame–but
they were as good as people who are in the Hall of Fame. So many great Latino
players, like Minnie Minoso, they opened the door for us. He was the first
Latino star in the big leagues, Minnie Minoso. There was also Vic Power, Ruben
Gomez, so many great players that never made it to the Hall of Fame, but they
were very good players.

 

McGuire: What do
you think of the idea that you’re part of an exclusive club here in the Hall of
Fame of Latino players, but it’s pretty much going be doubled [in membership] soon.

 

Cepeda: Yeah, it
is. We’re so proud that we were the first ones in the Hall of Fame. A day like
today will live forever. So that’s why I say thank you to Hall of Fame
president Jeff Idelson for thinking about putting this [exhibit] together. It’s
a great day for Latinos.

 

McGuire: It’s
kind of strange how you growing up couldn’t necessarily have dreamed of playing
in the major leagues [because of skin color], but with Albert Pujols, Jose
Reyes, Johan Santana now, you really can’t picture baseball today without
Latino players?

 

Cepeda: Al Kaline
told me last year that if it weren’t for the Latino player, baseball would have
been dead by now because there are just so many great Latino players today.

 

Markusen:
Earlier, Juan Marichal talked about how you and Felipe Alou helped him when he
first came to the big leagues with the Giants. Who helped you when you first
arrived in San Francisco?

 

Cepeda: Ruben
Gomez. Ruben Gomez. In 1958, I lived with him. You need somebody to work with
you. And that’s what we did with Juan in 1960. We made him feel welcome right
away.

 

Markusen: Of all
the major league cities you played in, which was the most receptive to Latin
Americans?

 

Cepeda: Oh, San Francisco. San
Francisco, because they had so many people from different backgrounds, so much
diversity. Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Central Americans. So they welcomed me
right away in San Francisco.

 

Francis: Can you
talk about how the Giants embraced the Latin American player? It seems like the
Giants had a lot of Latin Americans. Was it because of Alex Pompez [the scout]?

 

Cepeda: No, it
wasn’t Alex Pompez. The guy who signed me–his wife is here today– was Pete
[Pedrin] Zorrilla. Pedrin, he was very close to Horace Stoneham, the Giants’
owner.

 

At one time, the Giants had like 30 Latinos in the minor
leagues. Manny Mota, Jose Pagan, me. From 1954 on, a lot of Latinos.

 

Francis: Can you
talk about the Alvin Dark incident? Was that the worst experience you had in major
leagues?

 

Cepeda: Yeah,
about that, he told me a few years back that he was very sorry that happened.
He didn’t know the Latino heritage, that for a Latino to come here and do well,
was very difficult. He was very sorry for that.

 

Francis: That
must have been tough.

 

Cepeda: Yeah,
very hard, very hard. Because baseball is a tough game in all aspects, and now
you had to deal with Dark and you had to deal with the pitcher. You had to deal
with the game every day; it was very hard.

 

Markusen: How
close were you with Roberto Clemente?

 

Cepeda: Well, I
knew Roberto since 1950. He played for my dad, you know, for a couple of games,
but didn’t make the team. In 1955, we came here to the states. He came here in
1954, to Montreal.
In ’55, we flew together to Florida for spring
training to Fort Myers,
the Giants’ minor league complex. Yeah, very close. Still very close to the family,
his wife, Roberto Jr., who is here today.

 

Markusen: You
must remember very well where you were when you heard that he had died.

 

Cepeda: Oh yeah,
I was at my brother’s house, when I heard the news.

 

Markusen: Another
player prominently featured in this exhibit is an underrated player, Hector
Espino, who was called the “Babe Ruth of Mexico.” Did you ever play against
Espino?

 

Cepeda: Yeah, I
played against him in 1974. He came up, I believe it was in 1960, with St. Louis. He signed with St. Louis [but never
played in the major leagues]. I played against him in ’74, when he was in the
Mexican League.

 

Markusen: How
good was Espino?

 

Cepeda: Great.
Great hitter.

 

Markusen: Do you
think he would have starred in the majors.

 

Cepeda: Yeah,
yeah. He was a great low ball hitter. If you’re a great low ball hitter, you
can play anywhere.

 

Markusen: Thanks,
Orlando, for
your time.

The Sunday Scuttlebutt

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The Mets finally did the sensible thing in placing Carlos Delgado
on the disabled with a potentially career-threatening hip injury, but now they
face a bit of a quandary in trying to replace him. Do they continue to play
Gary Sheffield in left field every day, thereby freeing up Fernando Tatis and
Daniel Murphy to play first base? And why are they playing Jeremy Reed, a
mediocre hitter with limited experience on the infield, as part of a
three-headed monster at first base? I don’t know that Sheffield
will hold up, considering his age and the fragile state of his shoulder. A
better plan might be to play Murphy every day at first base, while switching
between Tatis and Sheffield in left field.
Tatis or Reed could then serve as defensive caddies for Sheffield,
replacing him in the late innings of games in which the Mets hold the lead…

 

Jerry Manuel’s Sunday night lineup against the Giants left
me scratching my head. Manuel put Reed at first base and kept Murphy in left
field, even though Reed hasn’t played the position fulltime since college and
Murphy is still a brutal defensive outfielder. Wouldn’t it have made more sense
to put Reed in left, where he is very good, and switch Murphy to first base,
where he has been working out in recent days? That way, the Mets would have had
only one player out of position, instead of two…

 

I’m simply amazed at the ferocity with which Raul Ibanez
continues to hit for the Phillies. So much for the theory that hitters need a
few months to acclimate themselves to a different set of pitchers in a new
league. Ibanez has obviously kept some good notes from his experience in interleague
play, because he is off to a career-best start in 2009, even though he’s 36 and
supposedly on the downhill climb. (He’s also enjoying the benefits of playing
his games in a hitter-friendly home part, in contrast to the pitchers’ parks of
Seattle (Safeco Field) and Kansas City (Kauffman Stadium). With 13 home
runs and a Babe Ruthian slugging percentage of .714 through the first six
weeks, Ibanez has been the Phillies’ clear-cut MVP, an impressive achievement
considering the presence of teammates Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Jimmy
Rollins. Now the Phillies just need to straighten out their starting pitching,
where everyone is underachieving, and their closer situation, where Brad Lidge
has reverted to the struggles of his latter days with the Astros…

 

As I watched the Giants’ Pablo Sandoval for the first time
this weekend, I immediately thought that Gates Brown had come out of retirement
to play third base for San Francisco.
(Brown, the old Tiger left fielder and DH, had the ultimate bad body, but was
one of the most dangerous pinch-hitters and part-time players of the sixties
and seventies.) Nicknamed “The Panda” by his teammates, the hefty Sandoval
carries the oddest physique (5’11” and 245 pounds) I’ve ever seen at third
base, a position that requires a degree of nimble dexterity. Sandoval is more
agile than his body would indicate, but it’s on offense where the switch-hitter
stands out. He can flat-out hit, and with his sizeable power to all fields,
he’s the Giants’ cleanup-hitter-in-waiting. He also brings the bonus of
versatility; Sandoval can catch, which gives the Giants some depth behind the
underrated Bengie Molina…

 

The Red Sox can still win the AL East without a vintage David
Ortiz, but his inability to hit with any semblance of power will make the chore
that much more challenging. With Ortiz at or near his peak, the Red Sox had
three hitters that struck fear into opposing pitchers. Now they’re down to two,
Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis, both right-handed hitters. The Red Sox say
that Ortiz will return to the lineup on Tuesday after being benched for three
games over the weekend, but they may need to make contingency plans if Ortiz
cannot regain his lost bat speed. The Red Sox could eventually turn to prospect Jeff
Bailey or veteran Rocco Baldelli to take up the slack at DH, but the lack of a
left-handed hitting platoon partner for either player remains a concern…

 

With three consecutive walkoff wins against the Twins, the
Yankees achieved something they had not done since August of 1972. That was the
last time that the Yankees posted three consecutive wins with game-ending
at-bats. Johnny Callison accounted for two of those victories with game-winning
singles, while old favorite Horace Clarke won the other game with a sacrifice
fly. Callison and Clarke now have company, as Melky Cabrera, Alex Rodriguez,
and Johnny Damon provided the more recent heroics with a single, a home run,
and another home run, respectively…

 

The Yankees are hoping to receive a triple-boost of talent
sometime this week. It’s possible that Brian Bruney, Chien-Ming Wang, and Jorge
Posada could all return from the disabled list within the next seven days.
Although he is the lesser name among the three players, Bruney’s return could
loom the most important. The Yankees have struggled to find pitchers who can
handle roles in the seventh and eighth innings; Jose Veras and Edwar Ramirez
have both flopped badly, while lefty Phil Coke has brought forth mixed results.
Without Bruney, the Yankees don’t have a single favorable eighth-inning option
among their current pitching contenders. With Bruney, the Yankees can continue
to resist the talk show calls for Joba Chamberlain to return to the bullpen.

Jackie Robinson’s Legacy: A History of Integration

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In commemoration of Jackie Robinson Day, we present an excerpt from my original manuscript The Team That Changed Baseball: The 1971 Pirates. Since this chapter did not make the final cut for the book, it is published here for the first time ever.

Jackie
Robinson’s entrance into the National League in 1947 did not signal the end of
racial bigotry in major league baseball. Nor did it lead to a stampede rush to
sign all of the best black and African-American talent available to major
league general managers and owners. Rather, the process of true racial
integration in baseball took place much more slowly–over a period that spanned
nearly two and a half decades. As a result, the major leagues could not boast
of a single significantly or truly integrated World Championship team during
the 1940s, fifties, or sixties.

           

On April 15,
1947, Robinson officially ended the practice of the color line when he made his
debut at first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Team president Branch Rickey had
promoted Robinson from the club’s top minor league affiliate, the Montreal
Royals, where he had played in 1946.  In
August, Dan Bankhead joined Robinson on the Dodgers’ roster to become the
majors’ first African-American pitcher. Earlier in the season, during the month
of July, Cleveland Indians owner Bill Veeck made news when he signed outfielder
Larry Doby, who became the first African-American player in the existence of
the American League.  That same month,
the St. Louis Browns purchased the contracts of Willard Brown and Hank Thompson
from the Kansas City Monarchs, one of the best teams in the Negro Leagues.  The five new African-American players joined
a handful of Latin Americans, including Mike Guerra and Jesse Flores of the Philadelphia
Athletics, who already held jobs in the major leagues.

 

Baseball’s integration proceeded at a snail’s pace over the
next three seasons.  In 1948, the Dodgers
promoted former Negro Leagues star Roy Campanella, who became the first
African-American catcher in 20th century major league history.  Only one other black player, venerable
pitcher Satchel Paige, debuted in 1948. Paige signed a contract with Veeck’s
Indians, drawing the wrath of such publications as The Sporting News, which railed against the wisdom of adding a
fortysomething hurler well past his prime. 
Meanwhile, the Washington Senators, one of the most progressive teams in
their pursuit of Latinos, added two Cubans to their roster: shortstop Angel
Fleitas and pitcher Moin Garcia.  The
Senators, who employed full-time scout Joe Cambria in Cuba, had
signed a number of Cuban players in 1944 and ’45, but by now, they had
disappeared from the roster. (Prior to Jackie Robinson’s entrance into the
major leagues in 1947, a number of Latin Americans–generally light-skinned–had
played in the majors.  Although some
baseball historians have argued that some
of these Latinos were also black in color, and that some so-called Cubans were
actually African Americans, none of the pre-1947 teams could be considered
truly integrated.  Major league teams
simply refused to sign black players who did not have Latino-sounding names, or
who did not at least contend they
were of Latin American descent.  These
men continued to be barred because of baseball’s most significant unwritten
rule: the color line.)

 

Although some baseball historians have contended that racist
motivation prevented a faster rate of integration, one of the most significant
writers of the time cited a completely different reason.  Wendell Smith, writing for the black
newspaper, the Pittsburgh Courier,
believed that a shortage of black players in 1948 had slowed the pace of
integration.  “The scouts are out there
snooting around like Scotland Yard detectives looking for talent,” Smith wrote,
“but having a difficult job uncovering it. The fact that Cleveland signed the 40-year-old Page
indicates that there is a definite shortage of talent, both white and Negro.”

 

Smith argued that the Negro Leagues had featured far more
talent during the 1920s and thirties. 
“It was better talent than we have today,” wrote Smith in the Courier, “and plenty of it.  That’s why there won’t be a large number of
Negro players in the majors for some time to come.” Smith believed that the
major leagues would have to wait several years for young black players to graduate
from American sandlots.

 

In ’49, only four African-American players were added to
major league rosters: Luke Easter and Minnie Minoso (Indians), Monte Irvin  (Giants), and Don Newcombe (Dodgers).  A few Latinos made their inaugural big league
appearances, including Mexican second baseman Bobby Avila with the Indians and
Cuban pitcher Enrique Gonzalez of the Senators.   In 1950, the influx of new African-American
players featured only one addition, Sam Jethroe, who debuted with the Boston
Braves.  As Wendell Smith reiterated in
the Pittsburgh Courier that summer,
the wellspring of black players continued to run dry. “When Brooklyn
signed [Jackie] Robinson in 1947, there was a wealth of Negro talent,” Smith
contended.  “Today, however, good Negro
players are hard to find.”  The solution?
Smith called for black colleges to do a better job of developing players. 

          

Among the Latino entrants, Venezuelan shortstop Chico
Carrasquel of the Chicago White Sox highlighted the newcomers, while the Senators
continued their Cuban infatuation, signing five pitchers from the island.  None of the five Washington
newcomers had a major impact in 1950, however, as Washington finished 67-87, 31 games out of
first place.

 

The annoyingly slow pace of minority integration quickened
significantly in 1951, when eight African-American players entered the major
leagues, including a young superstar named Willie Mays. Integration seemed to
be enjoying its first major breakthrough thanks to an influx of young black
talent from the college and high school ranks. 
“There are now 13 Negroes playing in the majors and twice that many in
the minors,” wrote Wendell Smith in the Pittsburgh
Courier
.  “In practically every
league, whether major or minor, it is possible to find an outstanding Negro
player.”  In addition, five Latin
Americans joined big league clubs, although Ray Noble of the New York Giants
and Luis Marquez of the Boston Braves were also included on the list of players
who could be called blacks.  At one point
or another during the season, the Indians featured four black players (Easter,
Doby, Minoso, and newcomer Bobby Avila). The Dodgers carried four African
Americans in Robinson, Campanella, Newcombe, and Bankhead, but no Latinos.  The Giants also carried four black players:
Irvin, Mays, Artie Wilson, and Noble, who was also Cuban.  The Senators added two more Cubans–Cisco
Campos and Willie Miranda–while dropping two of their Latino pitchers.  The St. Louis Browns promoted pitcher Tito
Herrera, of Mexico.

 

In 1952, the Dodgers added two more black players, Joe Black
and Sandy Amoros (a Cuban), but dropped Dan Bankhead from the roster. Amoros
played in only 20 games, so, in essence, the Dodgers’ total number of black
players remained at four. (Don Newcombe missed the season while serving in the
military.)  The Boston Braves signed Buzz
Clarkson and George Crowe, who along with Sam Jethroe, made for a total of
three black players.  Washington
imported hurlers Miguel Fornieles and Raul Sanchez from Cuba, adding
the duo to holdovers Connie Marrero, Julio Moreno, and Sandy Consuegra on the
pitching staff.

 

While the influx of new minority talent in 1952 ranked as
fairly unimpressive, the minor league picture brought some hope for the
future.  A survey by the Pittsburgh Courier showed that the St.
Louis Browns led all organizations with 22 black players in their farm
system.  The Boston Braves ranked second
with 14 black athletes in the minor leagues, while the Pirates followed suit
with 12 and the Senators with nine.

 

In 1953, major league teams reached double figures in black
newcomers, adding 11 to their rosters. 
The Chicago Cubs jumped into the integration business in that season,
promoting Gene Baker and Ernie Banks from the minor leagues.  The Indians added Al Smith and Dave Hoskins,
the Milwaukee Braves signed Billy Bruton and Jim Pendleton, and the Dodgers
promoted Junior Gilliam.  Yet, racism
still existed in terms of unstated and unpublicized quotas. While the total
number of minorities was rising in the minor leagues, individual ballclubs
continued to resist the idea of having too
many black players on their
team.  As baseball columnist Dick Young
wrote in a 1971 edition of the New York
Daily News
: “We are talking about 1953. 
Black ballplayers had been in the majors for only seven years, and there
was still a quota system.  I think the
stylish maximum for that year was four.  At least the Dodgers had four, and whatever
the Dodgers had was accepted as the maximum. 
Don’t laugh.  That was very
serious business in those days. ‘If you have more than four of them on the
field,’ I used to hear, ‘the people will quit on the club.  They’re not ready for it.’ ”

 

The quota system may have cost Brooklyn
the services of the dark-skinned Roberto Clemente. Since the Dodgers already
had three black position players and one African-American pitcher, they may
have been reluctant to sign Clemente to a major league contract.  Teams simply did not want more black players
than whites in their everyday lineup. Instead, the Dodgers signed Clemente to a
minor league deal in February of 1954, meaning they would have to expose
him to a draft of other major league teams after the season. That’s when the
Pirates swooped in, taking Clemente with the first choice.

 

In addition to the quota system, other problems existed. No
teams, including the Dodgers, made much progress in bringing Latinos to the
major leagues in 1953.  The Pirates did
sign their first two Latin Americans, both outfielders: Felipe Montemayor of Mexico and Carlos Bernier of Puerto
Rico.  The Giants added a
black Puerto Rican, Ruben Gomez, to their pitching staff. Hardly a new wave of
Latino talent.                                                                                    

 

Prior to 1954, only a few major league teams (the Dodgers,
Braves, Giants, Indians, and White Sox) had shown any real interest in signing
and promoting black players to the big leagues. 
In fact, most of the 11 remaining teams had yet to debut a black player
at the major league level.  Thankfully,
that trend began to change in 1954, when the St. Louis Cardinals (Tom Alston),
Cincinnati Reds (Nino Escalera), and Senators (Carlos Paula) all debuted their
first black on-the-field performers. The Senators also signed right-hander
Camilo Pascual, who would become the best of their Latino pitchers, but
retained only one Latino holdover from the previous season, Connie Marrero. The
Cardinals also added Mexican left-hander Memo Luna, albeit for one game.   Future Hall of Famer Hank Aaron joined the
Milwaukee Braves in 1954, as did an obscure African-American player named
Charlie White.  But since George Crowe
and Buzz Clarkson had already been dropped from the Braves, the club’s total
number of black players remained stagnant. 
All in all, 14 black players, several of whom were also of Latino
descent, made their major league debuts in 1954. 

 

Baseball’s rate of African-American integration remained
relatively steady over the balance of the decade, while the number of Latino
entries increased, and then dipped.  In
1955, 12 black players made their major league debuts, including a black
Latino, the Pirates’ own Roberto Clemente. 
In terms of Latino talent, three Puerto Ricans (including Clemente),
eight Cubans, and three Panamanians joined major league clubs that season.  Thirteen blacks entered the majors the
following season, including Curt Flood with the Cardinals, Bill White with the
Giants, and Frank Robinson with the Reds. 
Only seven Latinos debuted that season, including Venezuelan Luis
Aparicio. The 1957 season saw the number of black entrants drop slightly–to
10–and featured no major stars.  The
number of new Latino players plummeted to three.  The class of 1958 black newcomers totaled 13,
including African Americans Jim “Mudcat” Grant (Indians), Vada Pinson, (Reds)
and Leon Wagner (San Francisco Giants), and Latino standouts Felipe Alou and
Orlando Cepeda (also with the Giants). 
Alou and Cepeda represented the best of the eight Spanish-speaking
entrants.

 

The Giants were now challenging their fellow West Coast
transplants–the Los Angeles Dodgers–for superiority in the chase for black and
Latino talent.  The additions of Wagner,
Alou and Cepeda to a team that already featured Willie Mays, Bill White, Andre
Rogers, and Ruben Gomez gave San
Francisco an impressive mix of players.  But the Giants were not yet a championship
team.   The Giants’ 80-74 record put them
12 games out in the 1958 National League pennant race.

 

In 1959, major league clubs added a record number of 16
black newcomers, most of whom joined National League teams.  The new wave of black stars was laden with
impressive talent, including future Hall of Famers Bob Gibson (Cardinals),
Willie McCovey (Giants), and Billy Williams (Cubs), All-Stars like Tommy Davis
and Maury Wills (both Dodgers), and solid journeymen performers in Jose Pagan
(Giants) and Earl Wilson (Red Sox). 
Pagan, a native of Puerto Rico, and
Cubans Mike Cuellar (Reds) and Zoilo Versalles (Senators) highlighted the class
of five Latinos who debuted in ’59. 
While the Giants continued their aggressive integrative efforts by
adding both McCovey and Pagan, they also dispatched Bill White (to the
Cardinals) and Ruben Gomez (to the Phillies), leaving them with the same number
of minorities as the previous year.  The
Giants remained third in the National League standings, but did close the gap
to within four games of the first-place Dodgers.

 

The Reds also showed some aggressiveness in adding
minorities to their roster, including Frank Robinson and Vada Pinson to the
everyday lineup, and Cuellar, Luis Arroyo, Don Newcombe, and Orlando Pena to
the pitching staff.  But of that group,
only Robinson, Pinson, and Newcombe enjoyed a high level of impact, and the
Reds, as a team, enjoyed little success. In 1959, Cincinnati finished in a fifth-place tie, 13
games behind the Dodgers.

 

In 1960, both the Reds and Giants regressed in the
standings, although they continued to recruit and promote minority talent.  Dominicans Matty Alou and Juan Marichal
debuted for the Giants in 1960, while the Reds added Latinos Leo Cardenas, Elio
Chacon, Tony Gonzalez, and several other lesser players to their team.  Meanwhile, in St. Louis, the Cardinals improved from
second-division status to finish a strong third in the National League.  Although the Cardinals had not yet reached
championship level, their everyday lineup now boasted three minorities: Bill
White, Julian Javier, and Curt Flood.  
The bench included George Crowe and Leon Wagner, and the pitching staff
featured a talented but ineffective Bob Gibson. While the Cardinals, Dodgers,
Giants and Reds continued to lap their competitors in the integration race,
American League teams lagged well behind in the promotion of black and Latino
players to the major leagues.

 

Although baseball had stepped up its level of integration in
the mid-1950’s, none of the pennant-winning or championship teams from 1947 to
1960 could be considered heavily, or substantially integrated.  In 1947, and from 1949 through ’53, the New
York Yankees won the World Series.  The
Yankees, however, did not debut their first black player until 1955, when
Elston Howard earned a promotion from the minor leagues.  In four of those World Series, the Yankees
defeated the Dodgers, who had unquestionably led the way in the effort to
integrate major league baseball with black players.   Despite their impressive pioneering spirit,
the Dodgers numbered no higher than five black players on any of those National
League pennant winners.  Although the
presence of five black athletes on a 25-man roster (or 20 per cent) was
probably considered progressive at the time, it would hardly be considered a heavily integrated roster in the
contemporary context.  The Dodgers had
also signed very few Latino players during that span of years.

 

In 1948, the Indians defeated the Boston Braves four games
to two in the World Series.  The Indians
boasted only two black performers, Hall of Famers Larry Doby and Satchel Paige,
while the Braves featured nary a single African American or Latin American on
the roster.  The 1948 Dodgers, losers to
the Indians in the World Series, included Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella,
Latino outfielder Luis Olmo, and Don Newcombe.  
The 1950 Philadelphia Phillies, who lost four straight games to the
Yankees in the Series, possessed no black or Latino players.

 

That brings us to 1954, when the Giants and Indians squared
off in the Fall Classic.  With Paige no
longer on the team and Luke Easter reduced to six at-bats during the regular
season, only Doby and Dave Pope contributed significantly as minorities to the
Indians’ cause.  A Puerto Rican pitcher,
Jose Santiago, pitched in only one game during the regular season. Meanwhile,
the Giants found themselves down to two African Americans: Mays and Irvin, and
one Latin American, right-hander Ruben Gomez, who won 17 games.

 

The 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers made several major inroads on the
integration path.  For the first time, a
World Championship team featured as many as four black players in the regular
lineup: Junior Gilliam at second base, Jackie Robinson at third base, Sandy
Amoros in left field, and Roy Campanella behind the plate.  The team’s best starting pitcher, Don
Newcombe (20-5, 3.19), became the first black hurler to post two 20-win seasons
in the major leagues.  Yet, the Dodgers,
after trading pitcher Joe Black in mid-season, carried no other
African-American players on their pitching staff. Similarly, there were no
black players on the bench.  In total,
black players represented less than 20 per cent of the Dodgers’ roster.

 

In 1956, the Dodgers again faced the Yankees in October, but
lost to New York
in seven games.  Gilliam, Amoros,
Robinson and Newcombe continued to play key roles for the Dodgers, while Elston
Howard represented the Yankees’ sole black contributor.  In ’57, the pennant-winning Yankees added
Harry Simpson to the roster, while the World Champion Milwaukee Braves used two
African-American regulars, Hank Aaron and Billy Bruton.  The two teams met again in ’58, with the
Braves adding only Puerto Rican left-hander Juan Pizarro to their pitching
staff, and the Yankees trading away Simpson in mid-season.

 

In 1959, the Dodgers won their first World Championship
while in Los Angeles,
but by this time their roster composition had changed drastically.  Jackie Robinson and Don Newcombe had already
retired, and Sandy Amoros totaled only five games and five at-bats during the
regular season.  On the plus side, Maury
Wills and Tommy Davis made their major league debuts in 1959, although Davis received just one
at-bat, while Wills served primarily as a utilityman.  The Dodgers’ opponent in the World Series,
the Chicago White Sox, carried only two black veterans for part of the season,
Harry Simpson and Larry Doby.

 

In 1960, the Yankees returned to the World Series and faced
the upstart Pirates.  New York carried two African-American
players in Elston Howard and Jesse Gonder, and two Latin Americans in Hector
Lopez and Luis Arroyo. The Pirates featured Roberto Clemente in their starting
lineup; Gene Baker, Joe Christopher (a native of the Virgin
Islands) and R.C. Stevens off the bench; Cuban outfielder Roman
Mejias; and Benny Daniels and Diomedes Olivo on the pitching staff.  The racial makeup of the ’60 Pirates was far
different from the composition of their teams in the early 1970s.

 

Baseball entered a new era in 1961, when the American League
expanded by two teams. The National League followed suit with two expansion
clubs in 1962. In theory, the four new teams would provide additional
opportunities for minority players to make major league rosters.

In the early 1960s, the Dodgers once again set the trend for
signing, developing and promoting black stars to the major leagues. Maury
Wills, Junior Gilliam, Tommy and Willie Davis, and John Roseboro formed a large
percentage of the starting lineups employed by manager Walter Alston.  Yet, the Dodgers’ pitching staff, with no
black Americans and only one Latino on the 1963, ’65, and ’66 staffs, lagged
behind the progressiveness the organization had displayed in the development of
minority position players.

 

The Giants of the early 1960s featured a number of black and
Latino standouts.  The 1962 team, which
included eight minorities, won the National League pennant before bowing to the
Yankees in the World Series.  In 1963,
the Giants maintained their minority corps of Orlando Cepeda, Jose Pagan,
Willie McCovey, Willie Mays, Felipe Alou, and Juan Marichal, and added players
like Jim Ray Hart, Jesus Alou, and Jose Cardenal to the mix.  So with such an array of talent, why did the
Giants fall off to 88-74, 11 games behind the league-leading Dodgers?  The cause, in part, may have been the
handling of the team’s racial makeup by San
Francisco management. 
The front office discouraged Latino players from associating with each
other.  Manager Alvin Dark banned the
speaking of Spanish in the clubhouse and on the field, a decision that made
Latino players even less comfortable in unfamiliar environs.  “Alvin Dark segregated the team,” recalls
Orlando Cepeda.  “He [divided] the
whites, the blacks, and Latins.  We had
to strike against that, you know, being black and being Latin.”

 

Cepeda says that Dark regularly blamed Giant losses on the
team’s minority stars, including himself, Mays, and McCovey.  Such criticism affected the team’s morale and
performance. The Giants eventually traded off many of their best Latino and
black players, including Cepeda (to the Cardinals), Cardenal (Angels), Pagan
(Pirates), Matty Alou (Pirates), and Felipe Alou (Braves) in a series of
disastrous deals.  If not for those
regrettable decisions, the Giants might have become baseball’s first heavily
integrated championship team.

 

The compositions of teams like the Dodgers, Giants, and St.
Louis Cardinals throughout the 1960s displayed the National League’s
superiority in the quest to fully integrate the major leagues.  As Frank Robinson, a veteran of both the
American and the National leagues, pointed out in a 1972 interview with Sport magazine, the NL had outdone the AL from the start in the
effort to integrate.  “The National
League was the first to sign black players and it has remained ahead all of
these years,” Robinson told sportswriter Bill Libby.  “And so many outstanding players are black
that it’s hard to have an outstanding team without your share of black
players.” As a result, the quality of play in the National League had surpassed
that of the American League by the mid-1960s.  
“It seemed like the National League teams were willing to sign any
promising prospect, regardless of color,” said Robinson, “while the American
League was only interested in the outstanding, ‘can’t-miss’ black prospect.”

 

In 1969, the major leagues expanded by four teams, and
re-aligned into four divisions, with East and West factions in both the
American and National leagues. Both divisional winners, the Baltimore Orioles
and Minnesota Twins, exhibited some of the typical progress enjoyed during the
sixties, when several teams made strides in integrating their rosters.  But neither club’s level of integration was
particularly astounding. The Orioles, winners in the American League East,
featured Frank Robinson, Paul Blair, Don Buford, and Elrod Hendricks in the
starting lineup; Dave May, Chico Salmon, and Curt Motton off the bench; and
Mike Cuellar and Marcelino Lopez on the pitching staff, That gave the Orioles a
total of nine minorities.  The champions
of the American League West, the Twins, numbered five African-American and
Latino starters in their lineup: Rod Carew, Leo Cardenas, Tony Oliva, Cesar
Tovar, and John Roseboro.  Off the bench,
the Twins’ roster included Jim Holt and Herm Hill, while the pitching staff had
only one black contributor, Tom Hall. 

 

In the National League, the eventual World Champion New York
Mets featured Tommie Agee, Cleon Jones, Donn Clendenon, Ed Charles, and Amos
Otis as black position players, but only one African-American pitcher, Al
Jackson, managed to play a full season in the majors.  Another African American, left-hander Jesse
Hudson, pitched in only one game. In the West, the Atlanta Braves featured a
nearly all-black infield, with Orlando Cepeda, Felix Millan, and Sonny Jackson,
and an all-minority outfield of Hank Aaron, Felipe Alou, and Tony
Gonzalez.  In fact, it seems that only
the lack of an African-American or Latino catcher prevented the Braves from
fielding the major leagues’ first all-black starting lineup.   The Braves’ bench featured Rico Carty, Gil
Garrido, Tommie Aaron, Ralph Garr, Oscar Brown, and Dusty Baker.  Yet, the numbers on minorities on the bench,
which appear impressive at first, are deceiving. Of that group of reserves,
only Carty had any significant impact. 
Garr, Brown, and Baker, all young players recently promoted from the
minors, played very briefly that season. And in contrast to their everyday
lineup, the Braves’ pitching staff was completely white.

 

In 1970, the Orioles repeated as American League Eastern
Division champions, and returned all of their African-American and Latino
players from the previous summer.  The
Orioles added rookie outfielder and future star Don Baylor, giving them a total
of 10 minorities.  But, of that group,
Curt Motton had little impact off the bench, Dave May accumulated only 31
at-bats before being traded during the season, and Baylor played in only eight
games, batting just .235.  Out West, the
Twins repeated as divisional winners, after adding Latino utilityman Minnie
Mendoza and dropping veteran catcher John Roseboro.   The pitching staff included only two
minorities in Tom Hall and Luis Tiant.

 

In the National League, the Reds captured the West, kicking
off what would become one of their most successful decades in franchise
history.  The starting lineup featured
two American blacks, Lee May and Bobby Tolan, and two Latinos, Tony Perez and
Dave Concepcion.  Off the bench, the trio
of Hal McRae, Angel Bravo, and Pat Corrales (an American-born Mexican) provided
quality play.  The pitching staff
included an African-American starter, Wayne Simpson, who won 14 games, and a
Latino reliever, Pedro Borbon, who struggled in 12 appearances.  All in all, the 1970 Reds featured a decent
level of integration, but nothing that could be considered eye-popping.

 

In 1970, the Pirates won the first of three straight
National League Eastern Division titles. 
Danny Murtaugh’s regular lineup included Manny Sanguillen, Willie
Stargell, Matty Alou, and Roberto Clemente, while the bench boasted a number of
black and Latino contributors: Al Oliver, Jose Pagan, Johnny Jeter, Dave Cash,
Gene Clines, and Jose Martinez.  Dock
Ellis headlined a starting rotation that also included Bob Veale.  In the bullpen, Mudcat Grant, Orlando Pena,
Al McBean, and Eduardo Acosta each pitched for the Bucs during the season.

 

In total, 15 minorities played for the Pirates in 1970.  So why not consider them the first heavily integrated championship team in
history?  While Sanguillen, Stargell,
Alou, and Clemente all had an impact as starters, the Pirates did not feature
an African American or Latino who played the infield as a regular throughout
the season.  Dave Cash had not yet overtaken
Bill Mazeroski at second base, and Jackie Hernandez had not yet joined the
team.  Of the bench players, neither Martinez nor Jeter
enjoyed much success, while Gene Clines spent most of the season in the minor
leagues.  Of the relievers, only Mudcat
Grant pitched effectively, and he actually spent less than half the season in Pittsburgh.  Important role players like Vic Davalillo,
Rennie Stennett, and Ramon Hernandez had yet to make their Pittsburgh debuts.  Furthermore, the Pirates of 1970 were not a
championship team in the classic sense.  They won the division with a record-low 89
wins, but failed to win the National League pennant, losing to the Reds in
three straight games.

 

In 1971, the Orioles repeated as American League champions,
but their level of integration had once again remained stagnant, what with the
addition of Grant Jackson and the subtraction of Marcelino Lopez from the
pitching staff.  In the West, the Oakland A’s won the first
of five straight division championships with an interesting mix of black,
Latino, and white players.  Campy
Campaneris and Reggie Jackson served important roles as starters, while Tommy
Davis and former Pirate Angel Mangual headlined a productive bench that also
included George Hendrick, Felipe Alou, Frank Fernandez (an American-born
Spaniard), Dwain Anderson, and Ramon Webster. 
On the pitching staff, Vida Blue, Diego Segui, Blue Moon Odom, and
Mudcat Grant all contributed to a team that piled up 101 victories during the
regular season.  In total, 13 African
Americans and Latinos made appearances for the A’s that season.  On the down side, the ’71 A’s featured only
two African-American or Latino regulars in their lineup; Felipe Alou batted
only eight times before being traded to the Yankees; and Hendrick, Fernandez,
Anderson, and Webster had no impact.  The
’71 A’s, much like the Pirates of 1970, lost the playoffs in three straight
games, falling to a superior team from Baltimore.

 

The San Francisco Giants claimed the National League West in
1971, and featured a number of African-American and Latino standouts, including
Willie McCovey, Bobby Bonds, Willie Mays, Tito Fuentes, and Juan Marichal.  A young George Foster, veteran third
baseman-outfielder Jim Ray Hart, and three obscure players (Bernie Williams,
Frank Johnson, and Jimmy Rosario) saw playing time off the bench. Of that
group, however, Foster batted only 105 times before being traded to the Reds in
the infamous Frank Duffy deal, and Hart played in only 31 games because of
injuries.  Furthermore, the pitching
staff, outside of Marichal, contained no minority hurlers.

 

Quite clearly, a number of teams–beginning with the Dodgers,
Cardinals, Giants, and Reds in the early 1960s–had enjoyed substantial progress
in populating their teams with high-quality Latino and African-American
players.  These National League teams had
all succeeded in scouting and signing minority players, and promoting the most
talented ones to the highest professional level.  During this time period, the starting lineups
in Los Angeles, St. Louis,
San Francisco, and Cincinnati served as evidence of the National
League’s willingness to bring the American black and Latino player to the
forefront.  Yet, most of the minority
players on these–and other–teams played as regulars, particularly at first base
and in the outfield.  For example, the
1967 World Champion Cardinals included only three minorities on their bench:
Alex Johnson, Dave Ricketts, and Bobby Tolan. 
In general, very few African-American and Latino players made major
league rosters as utility players, lending credence to the theory that most
teams were operating under the following unwritten rule: If you were an African American or Latino in the fifties and sixties,
and weren’t considered a star, or at least good enough to make it as a starter,
you generally weren’t going to be included on the roster–at all.  The utilityman, backup and pinch-hitting jobs
would fall to the white players, unless you, as a black player, had shown that
you were far and away a superior player.

 

Much like the tendency to keep black and Latino players from
having bench jobs, many clubs discouraged the development of minority pitchers
and catchers. Even the most progressive National League teams of the sixties
had lagged behind in their development of African-American and Latino pitchers.  Black players like Bob Gibson and Don
Newcombe and Latinos such as Juan Marichal represented a minuscule percentage
of teams’ pitching staffs. 
Unfortunately, very few organizations exhibited trust in the mental
capacities of African Americans and Latinos as pitchers.  Therefore, those teams rarely recruited
minority amateurs as pitchers, but
sought to convert them to the so-called “athletic” positions of center field
and shortstop.  Secondly, only the most
dominant minority pitchers gained advancement to the majors.  Borderline black and Latino pitchers
competing for fourth starting spots and long relief roles often lost out to
white pitchers of similar abilities.

 

Thanks to the pioneering efforts of Jackie Robinson and
others, minority players had long since proven their worth to major league
teams, but only as everyday star players. Yet, most major league teams had
little interest in keeping African Americans and Latinos around in any other
capacity. In that way, some general managers and owners could maintain an acceptable
quota of dark-skinned players while still keeping the overall minority numbers
down. At the same time, they could continue to reinforce their own unfortunate
beliefs in the mental shortcomings of black and Latin American players.

 

Thankfully, those trends began to diminish by the late
1960s, when teams like the Pirates and Cardinals advanced their levels of
integration. By 1971, the idea of a racial quota received a severe blow when
the Pirates fielded the first all-black lineup in major league history. That
occurred on September 1. Less than two months later, those same Pirates became
world champions of baseball.

Bunts and Boots: Land of the Giants, Royal Flush, and Birdbathia

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For the first time in years, the Giants have become a team
of interest in the National League West. The Giants scored ten runs on Tuesday
in handing the Brewers a loss at AT&T Park/Pac Bell, which is an awfully
good sign for a team loaded with offensive question marks. If the Giants can
show any kind of offensive improvement this season, they will make a run at the
Diamondbacks and the Dodgers for a wild card spot that could be coming out of the West. Their
pitching, both in the starting rotation and the bullpen, is talented and deep. With
hard throwers Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, and Jonathan Sanchez forming the core of
the rotation, and free agents Bob Howry and Jeremy Affeldt providing some
short-term help in the bullpen, the Giants will have a very competitive staff
in ’09.

 

The Giants don’t possess enough of an offensive identity to
realistically win the division, which only makes their unwillingness to spend
big on an Adam Dunn or Manny Ramirez all the more frustrating. San Franciso’s
3-4-5 hitters in Tuesday’s game looked like this: Freddie Lewis, Bengie Molina,
and Pablo Sandoval. In a better world, those three would be batting sixth,
seventh, and eighth for Bruce Bochy, rather than occupying the middle of the Giants’
order. Additionally, their current infield represents one of the great
mysteries in today’s game; quick now, can you name the starting infield,
outside of veteran shortstop Edgar Renteria. Unless you’re a diehard Giants
fan, you’re probably scrambling for a newspaper to find the answer. (It’s
Travis Ishikawa at first, Emmanuel Burriss at second, and Pablo Sandoval at
third.) But at least the Giants are trying to find some long-term answers with
younger players, rather than merely saddling themselves with mediocre veterans
in their early thirties.

 

And for the first time since the early 2000s, the Giants are
worth watching for some other reason than Barry Lamar Bonds…

 

I’m also bullish on the Royals, despite their exasperating
4-2 loss to the White Sox on Tuesday. Kyle Farnsworth continued the highwire
home run act that he fashioned in the Bronx,
blowing a 2-1 lead in the eighth inning by coughing up a three-run homer. (Perhaps
we’ll see Juan Cruz the next time an eighth-inning lead presents itself.)
Farnsworth’s fireworks ruined the day for Gil Meche, who pitched seven innings
of one-run ball. With better relief and a defense that figures to be improved
with Coco Crisp playing center field every day, Meche could be a 15-game winner
this season. He’ll get some help from No. 2 starter Zack Greinke, and perhaps a
mid-season push from former No. 1 pick Luke Hochevar, who’s starting the season
at Triple-A Omaha.

 

The Royals also have the framework for a good offense, built
around homegrown products Alex Gordon, Billy Butler, and Mike Aviles and off-season
pickup Mike Jacobs. The Royals are still lacking in the area of on-base
percentage, and are probably still too young in too many areas, but like the
Giants, they find themselves pointed in the right direction after years of floundering
and flailing in the AL Central…

 

Finally, I have to give the New York Post credit for coming up with the eye-popping headline “BIRDBATHIA”
to describe CC Sabathia’s inauspicious Yankee debut against the Birds of
Baltimore. Just in case he hadn’t already realized it, Sabathia will learn
quickly that the New York
tabloids don’t treat underperforming superstars with big contracts very
sympathetically. If Sabathia struggles in his second start this weekend, I’m
sure the Post will deliver a creative
sequel to its longstanding legacy of harrowing headlines. Welcome to Hell’s
Kitchen, CC…

Releasing Sheffield, Remembering Franks

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“I didn’t see that coming.” Isn’t that what someone said in
a recent commercial for beer, or pizza, or chicken wings? Well, that’s what a
lot of us are saying after hearing that the Tigers had released Gary Sheffield.
The severing of a brand name usually carries some degree of shock, and it will
carry a cost for the Tigers, who still have to pay the $12 million salary due Sheffield in 2009.

 

The Tigers must think that Sheffield
40, is completely cooked to swallow that sizeable sum of money. An increasing
frequency of injuries along with a substantial loss of bat speed convinced the
Tigers that Sheffield would have been more of
a hindrance than a help. With Sheffield gone, the Tigers can feel more
comfortable in giving the majority of their DH at-bats to Marcus Thames, while
also sliding Thames into an outfield rotation
that features everyman Carlos Guillen in left, super stud Curtis Granderson in
center, and political lightning rod Magglio Ordonez in right.

 

I had always thought that Sheffield
would age gracefully because of his incredible bat speed, which was arguably
the fastest in the game at its peak. Even with some loss of bat speed, I
figured that Sheffield would retain enough to
remain a forceful hitter into his early forties. Unfortunately, Sheffield lost so much quickness in his wrists and hands
over the last year that it rendered him merely mortal at the plate. The lack of
bat speed became plainly evident this spring, as Sheffield
wallowed with an average under .200.

 

Is Sheffield done? The
Tigers obviously think so, but the odds are likely that at least one of the 29
other teams will take a flier on his right-handed power. The world champion
Phillies, who remain vulnerable to left-handed pitching, have already made
contact with Sheffield’s agent. Sheffield might fit the Phils as a platoon left fielder
(where he would share time with Raul Ibanez) and occasional first baseman
(where he could spot Ryan Howard against the occasional southpaw).  

 

In regards to Sheffield’s
milestone and home run issues, they need to be relegated to the back burner of
the stove. Outside of Sheffield’s most devoted
fans, no one really cares that he remains one short of the 500-home run club. (No
other milestone has lost more luster in recent seasons.) The Tigers obviously
didn’t care, either, knowing that no additional fans would show up to Comerica Park
to watch Sheffield pursue history.
Furthermore, writers need to stop referring to Sheffield
as a future Hall of Famer. He was always going to be a borderline case because
of his career-long crankiness and shoot-first-think-later approach to the
spoken word. Because of his association with the BALCO scandal, Sheffield now has about as much chance of winning 75 per
cent of the writers’ vote as Albert Belle does…

 

 

One of the most underrated managers in the history of the
expansion era died on

Monday. Herman Franks, the major leagues’ oldest living
ex-manager, passed away at the age of 95. At first glance, Franks’ managerial mark with the Giants and the Cubs might look pedestrian. In seven seasons, he
failed to take any of his teams to the postseason. With the lack of postseason glory, his record pales in comparison to contemporaries like Walter Alston, Dick Williams, and even Ralph Houk. That’s the cursory look, and
as usual, it tells us little about the man’s true accomplishments. So let’s
look deeper. In those seven seasons, Franks’ teams never finished worse than
four games below .500. And his teams always contended, never concluding a
season worse than five games behind the division or league leader.

 

In the late 1960s, Franks guided the Giants to three
second-place finishes. Unfortunately, the National League was stacked at the
time, with powerhouse clubs in place in Los Angeles
and St. Louis,
and the Pirates posing a threat as intermittent contenders. If only the league
had been split into two divisions prior to 1969, Franks likely would have
pushed one or more of his Giants teams into postseason play.

 

Franks, however, did his most impressive work a decade later
with the Cubs, where he lacked the talent of the Mays-McCovey-Marichal Giants.
In 1977, Franks led Chicago
to a record of 81-81, remarkable for a club that featured four of five starting
pitchers with ERAs of over 4.00. The Cubs’ lineup also had its share of holes, with
Jose Cardenal missing a ton of games in the outfield, and mediocrities like
George Mitterwald and the “original” Steve Ontiveros claiming regular playing
time at catcher and third base, respectively. Two years later, Franks did
similar wonders with a band of misfits, coaxing a career year out of Dave
Kingman and using an innovative approach with Bruce Sutter. Realizing that the
Hall of Famer’s right arm had come up lame the previous two summers, Franks
began to use Sutter almost exclusively in games in which the Cubs held the
lead. It’s a practice that has become the norm in today’s game (to the point of
being overdone), but Franks was the first to realize the benefit of reserving
his relief ace for late-game leads.

 

For his troubles, the Cubs unfairly fired Franks with seven
games remaining in the season. The following year, the Cubs finished 64-98,
nearly 30 games out of first place. They should have kept Franks.

Monday’s Bunts and Boots–Remembering Dobber

The baseball world continues to lose good people. First there was Buck O’Neil. Then came word of the unexpected passing of Joe Niekro. Then we lost Johnny Sain. And then last Wednesday, former major league right-hander Pat Dobson died just one day after being diagnosed with leukemia.

I never met Dobson, but I always enjoyed reading articles that quoted him. He was a legendary storyteller, an incredibly funny free spirit, and an incisively honest assessor of major league talent, both good and bad. He also happened to be a very good pitcher, a legitimate No. 3 starter for some excellent postseason teams of the 1970s. In today’s game, the younger Dobson would have merited a four-year contract worth $40 million, maybe more, on the open market. He was that good.

*Dobson is best remembered for being one of four 20-game winners on the 1971 Orioles, but he was previously an important part of a World Championship bullpen. He pitched in long relief for the 1968 Tigers, succeeding the likes of Denny McLain and Mickey Lolich on those rare occasions when those workhorses didn’t last through the eighth or ninth innings. Although the Tigers’ starters accumulated a ton of innings in 1968, Dobson did pitch effectively when called upon. He posted a 2.66 ERA in 125 innings, finished second on the team with seven saves, and even started 10 games as a spot starter. Dobson filled a role that is rarely seen in baseball today: that of the utility pitcher who can close, pitch middle relief, or start from time to time. Few guys do that anymore in this age of specialization.

*After struggling to find a niche with the Tigers and the Padres in the late 1960s, Dobson blossomed under the tutelage of manager Earl Weaver and pitching coach George Bamberger with the Orioles. At the time that Dobson joined the Orioles, he featured five pitches that he threw from several different angles and windups. Weaver simplified his approach, encouraging Dobson to adopt a single windup and concentrate on using his two or three best pitches. The approach worked; Dobson not only won 20 games in 1971, but also remained an effective starter in 1972 before the Orioles foolishly traded him to the Braves as part of the ill-fated Earl Williams deal. After the Braves gave up on him midway through the 1973 season (as if they had too much pitching to spare), he had effective seasons with both the Indians and the Yankees.

*Dobson featured a phenomenal overhand curve ball, which he couldn’t throw for strikes in Detroit but began to refine with more precision in Baltimore. It wasn’t as good as that of contemporaries like Bert Blyleven, but it was probably only a notch below. (Think Neil Allen or Rod Scurry from the 1980s in terms of similarly effective curve balls.) If Dobson had ever developed another pitch with remotely the same effectiveness as his curve ball, he would have likely been a 200-game winner and a borderline Hall of Fame candidate.

*After his playing days, Dobson remained highly successful. He became a respected pitching coach for several teams–he could diagnose a flawed pitching delivery almost immediately–and then a trusted scout and front office advisor for the Giants. Here’s what I really liked about Dobson: as a scout, he was very outspoken and colorful. He gave very honest opinions to the media, sometimes so honest that he got himself into trouble. I can remember a few years ago, he was heavily quoted in a USA Today Baseball Weekly article with some brutally honest assessments of various players. The Giants, his employers, were none too pleased and reprimanded him. I think they came close to firing him. Thankfully, they didn’t. It’s too bad that he never became a color analyst on radio or TV. He would have made a good one.

Either way, I’ll miss the likeable guy known as Dobber.