Monday, July 31, 2006

Honoring An Era Brings Closure

Buck O'Neil addresses Hall of Fame audience
By Claire Smith
Inquirer Staff Writer
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. - On a sun-splashed, sultry day, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and the major leagues shone a light, perhaps for one last time, on the racial chasm that once divided a sport and a nation.

And judging by the celebratory air that surrounded the induction of not only relief ace Bruce Sutter but 17 luminaries from the era of Negro league baseball, closure was very much at hand.

"It is an awesome responsibility to stand before you and try to explain to you how important this day is to us," Jackie Robinson's daughter, Sharon, told the audience gathered to salute the Hall's largest induction class ever as well as Houston Astros announcer Gene Elston (Ford C. Frick Award) and baseball writer Tracy Ringolsby of the Rocky Mountain News (J.G. Taylor Spink Award).

Hall of Famer Monte Irvin, speaking after the ceremony, agreed. "This was a momentous day," he said, "because something you never thought would happen did happen. It's a great, great day."

It was made all the more special because of what was lacking. For there was no bitterness to be found despite the many heartfelt examinations of one of the nation's most divisive eras.

Despite his surprising exclusion from the latest group of Negro league-era inductees, Buck O'Neil, the legendary Kansas City Monarchs manager, warmed the audience with his grace and sheer joy for those who were selected.

"I want you to light this valley up today," said O'Neil, who also brought some Southern black preaching to the outdoor setting when he had the audience join hands and sing a repeated refrain: "The greatest thing in the world is loving you."

Love was not a theme exclusive to the distant past. Sutter, the Lancaster native and revolutionary split-fingered fastball specialist who pitched for the Cubs, St. Louis and Atlanta, was brought to tears when speaking of his deceased parents, his sons and his wife, Jamie, who is battling illness.

"I wouldn't be here without you," a choked-up Sutter told sons Josh, Chad and Ben.

"And," Sutter said, addressing the woman who has been his wife since he was in the minor leagues, "I know we have challenges to face, but we'll meet them as we always do - together."

The many family members of the Negro league-era honorees completed the sense of family. The new enshrines included:

Frank Grant, considered the preeminent black player of the 19th century, whose career in the integrated minor leagues was sidetracked when the notorious "gentlemen's agreement" made by white team owners segregated the game in the 1890s.

Standout centerfielder Pete Hill, who graced the Philadelphia Giants among other teams in the early 1900s.

James Raleigh "Biz" Mackey, the legendary player-manager who led Philadelphia's Hilldale club to a Colored World Series crown in 1925 and the Newark Eagles to the Negro League World Series crown in '46.

Louis Santop, the starting catcher for the Hilldale teams that won three straight Eastern Colored League pennants from 1923 to '25.

Effa Manley
, a Philadelphian noted for her innovations as Newark Eagles co-owner, her civil rights work - and the distinction of being the first woman enshrined in the Hall.

Also enshrined were pitching ace and pennant-winning manager Andy "Lefty" Cooper; Alex Pompez, Jose "The Black Diamond" Mendez, and Cristobal Torriente, who were legends in both their native Cuba and black baseball; innovative club owners J.L. Wilkinson and Cumberland Posey Jr.; and prolific power hitter George "Mule" Suttles.

Homestead Grays pitching ace Ray Brown, slugging Monarchs centerfielder Willard "Ese Hombre" Brown, defensive first-base standout Ben Taylor, player, manager and historian Solomon White, and Ernest "Jud" Wilson also now reside among their fellow baseball immortals.

What the Hall started in 1971 with the election of Negro league legend Satchel Paige and continued with the selection of 17 other stars from the league over the years may now be compete. But Irvin, for one, is not ready to say that. Not when O'Neil still patiently awaits at age 94.

"I have no clue as to why he wasn't selected," said Irvin, adding his voice to a list of Hall of Famers now actively campaigning for O'Neil's inclusion, including Joe Morgan, Lou Brock, Ernie Banks and Henry Aaron. "I'm just hoping he might live long enough that he might get some consideration."

Cooperstown & A Classic Cowboy

Tracy Ringolsby, Hall of Famer.

Could there ever be a more fitting and accurate statement?

This past weekend in Cooperstown, the National Baseball Hall of Fame simply made official what peers, friends and family have always known: the gentleman from Wyoming is a consummate baseball reporter and writer.

Tracy was honored as the 2005 J.G. Taylor Spink award winner during the Hall's annual induction ceremonies in Cooperstown, N.Y., Sunday.

The award which leads to entry into the writers' wing of the Hall of Fame, is not tossed around lightly. The Baseball Writers Association of America votes it into the hands of only a select few based on their "meritorious contributions to baseball writing."

There was no better candidate than Tracy to take his place alongside such past Spink recipients as Murray Chass, Peter Gammons, Ross Newhan, Phil Collier and Jerome Holtzman.

Tracy's contributions to his profession have been many as his distinguished resume suggests. Yet the readers of the Long Beach Press Telegram, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Kansas City Star, Dallas Morning News and now the Rocky Mountain News were not the only beneficiaries of Tracy's skill, dedication and passion for his craft.

We fellow writers gained immeasurably, as well. Working alongside Tracy is like going to school. If you're smart you listen, watch and learn - about journalism, ethics, fairness and humanity.

Last but not least, Tracy teaches you about friendship and loyalty.

Topped off by a big stetson and an even bigger heart, Tracy Ringolsby is the complete package and, as most every veteran baseball writer has long suspected, also a bona fide Hall of Famer.
Want to read Tracy Ringolsby's Hall of Fame acceptance speech? Click on this link.

"In closing, I'd like to say there's an announcer over at the National Western Stock Show Rodeo, Brad Paulhomaus, he closes the evening by saying God's gift to us is that we are here today and our gift to God is what we do while we are here." - Tracy Ringolsby

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Manley: Pioneer, Hall of Famer

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. - When the late Effa Manley is inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum today, emotions will flow among the family present to see the Philadelphia-born pioneer of the Negro League era honored.

The family contingent is led by Manley's niece, Connie Brooks, a wonderfully proud proponent of the era, its pioneers and their legacies. Especially Effa Manley.

Even when I was young, I knew that she was very special," said Brooks, a self-described "70-something" year-old retired social worker who lives in Jersey City. "But, to be truthful, I knew that the Hall did not put in all the people that should have been in. But I knew that somebody somewhere had to put her in, because she was definitely before her time."

"I'm extremely proud of her because, No. 1, she's a woman and this is a man's thing here," said Brooks. "And I know she would have been proud. And I know if my grandmother was living, or any of the seven siblings, they would say 'it's been a long journey for all of us, but Effie, yo made it" and rally around her like I don't know what."

Manley will join not only Irvin in the Cooperstown, N.Y., hall, but other greats who played for her, including Larry Doby, the first black player in the American League; and Negro league luminaries Leon Day, Roy Dandridge and Willie Wells.

Player-manager Biz Mackey, who led Manley's Newark Eagles to the 1946 Negro League World Series crown;, and another Eagles all-star, Mule Suttles, also will be inducted. They enter the Hall as part of a group of 17 African Americans selected by a committee of former players and historians that Major League Baseball put together in 2001 to recognize the contributions of black players to the sport's early days.

Relief pitcher Bruce Sutter also is entering the Hall, through the regular annual voting process.

To read the full Effa Manley story that appeared in today's Philadelphia Inquirer, click on this link: Queen of Baseball.

Wolf Set To Return

Randy Wolf of the Phillies was told he'd miss a year and the doctors were right. The lefthander who underwent Tommy John surgery on July 1, 2005, today will make his first start since the reconstruction effort to save his career.

How excited is he? Well, read all about it in a Randy Wolf one-on-one interview today's Philadelphia Inquirer.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Classy Buck O'Neil

The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum will honor the largest - and perhaps the last - class elected from the ranks of Negro League baseball.

Buck O'Neil will not be among the luminaries selected from black baseball. But the legendary manager of the Kansas City Monarchs of the old Negro American League will be there.

His attendance, alone, is a testament to a gracious man and speaks to baseball's good fortune that he is part of the game.

Never a slash-and-burn militant, O'Neil never showed bitterness about the era in which he was denied an opportunity to play in the majors because of segregation. Nor has he shown bitterness about his continuing to be excluded from Cooperstown.

O'Neil could have latched onto the controversy that arose when when a special committee recommended 17 Negro League-era players, managers and owners be enshrined, but did not include him. Many, many others did. Players, members of the media, historians, even Hall of Famers.

O'Neil, like always, left the vitriol to others. By doing so, he remains what he long ago became - the thoughtful public face of an important, often troubling period in American history.

So when he addresses the assembly that gathers to honor the Hall's Class of 2006, give him an extra round of applause. For Buck O'Neil may not yet be enshrined in Cooperstown, but he is a Hall of Famer in every other sense of the phrase.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Agony and the Ecstasy: The Sequel

In the 1965 movie, The Agony and the Ecstasy, Michelangelo has an on-running exchange with Pope Julius II about his seemingly endless tinkering with a little paint job called the Sistine Chapel.

Pope Julius, portrayed by Rex Harrison, kept asking where there would be a finish to which Mick, ie. Charlton Heston would respond it would be done when he was done.

Back and forth they went, alternating trigger words. Something along the lines of "when will there be a finish? When I am done. ... When will it be done? When I am finished."

Think Barry Bonds knows how Pope Julius felt?

I mean, waiting for the federal government to do something, anything to determine if the slugger is going to the slammer for steroid abuse/perjury/tax evasion/passing Babe Ruth's 714-home run total/being ill-mannered has become worse than a war of attrition.

It's like watching paint dry.

Today, the feds revealed that they are not done. But they also gave no clue as to when there will be a finish.

Instead, the feds who have been investigating Bonds, his tax returns, his truthiness - or lack thereof - in previous testimony about alleged steroid use, declined to indict Bonds. But they also declined to say they wouldn't indict him somewhere down the line.

What the feds will do is seat a new grand jury in order to keep on, well, keeping on. The new panel's obviously thankless chore? Determining if Bonds' bad taste in trainers, chemists and mistresses and love affair with the long ball are criminal - something the previous grand jury did not and apparently could not do.

Chances are the only people happy with this turn of events yesterday were the jurists whose grand jury assignment mercifully expired.

For them, there finally was an end.

For Bonds, baseball and the feds? There is no finish yet. Only the certain knowledge that not matter how this all finally plays out, no timeless work of art will be the result. Just a scandal that will rank among the game's biggest, dirtiest and most embarrassing of all time.

Managing his mouth off

From my notebook to today's Philadelphia Inquirer...

NEW YORK - Ozzie Guillen, holed up in his South Florida home, was as angry as he'd ever been, so much so that the man who aspired to manage in the majors was about to quit baseball. For good.
The year was 2003 and Guillen, then the Florida Marlins' third-base coach, was fuming because the team had just fired its manager and his mentor, Jeff Torborg.
Guillen, going so far as to order the clubhouse staff to pack his belongings and ship them home, was through - that is, until the man who had managed him as a player and given him his first coaching job telephoned to ask one burning question:
"What are you doing?' " Torborg demanded. "You can't quit, Oz. You're going to manage one day!"
How right he was.
Guillen, who didn't quit, not only is one of baseball's most successful managers - he led the Chicago White Sox to a World Series crown a year ago in just his second season. The former shortstop from Venezuela also is one of the game's most provocative.
Unapologetically outspoken and combative, at times both profane and politically incorrect - that's Ozzie Guillen on a quiet day.
Mix the always-ready-to-tap emotions with situations in which he simply cannot resist shouting the unvarnished truth, and Guillen, 42, becomes one of the biggest characters and outspoken quote machines in the game.
If you think this "can't miss" entertainment from the 2005 AL manager of the year is something on nightly television highlight reels, imagine the view from the dugout.
As White Sox designated hitter Jim Thome wryly told reporters at the All-Star Game last week in Pittsburgh: "It's a lot of fun on his bench."
Sometimes the fire that is Guillen singes. That's OK, he says.
"I don't expect anybody to like me," Guillen said before his team played at Yankee Stadium Saturday. "I expect them to respect me and play for me."
The Sox, who had been without a World Series title since 1917, certainly have played for him: The 2005 world championship was won with an 11-1 run through the postseason. Much the same cast owns baseball's second-highest winning percentage despite suspect pitching this season.
As for liking him...
"He's different than what the media make him out to be," A.J. Pierzynski said. "I'm not going to say there haven't been run-ins, but the players like coming here every day and like playing for him."
The reason is simple, the all-star catcher said: "He treats his players as something special. He knows how to deal with everyone, communicate with everyone."
Just not always with a velvet touch, right?
"Well, he's not even-keel," Pierzynski said with a smile. "He does get emotional. But he doesn't change. He brings the same energy every day, win or lose.
"When he gets upset, he tells you, puts it behind him, and moves on. Sure, sometimes it's told in the newspapers, but often, when it is, you've already ironed it out and gotten it out of the way, and that's great."
Such a clearing of the air may have been in order before the White Sox ended their three-game weekend series here against the Yankees. Guillen, just off his stint as manager of the American League all-stars, was asked Saturday why he had chosen to use Yankees closer Mariano Rivera to save the AL comeback victory last week in Pittsburgh instead of his own bulldog closer, Bobby Jenks.
Rivera "is the best in the history of baseball," Guillen said Saturday, the day before Rivera nailed down career save No. 400 at Chicago's expense.
And if Jenks wasn't quite OK with that?
"I don't care if he's OK with it," Guillen said, defiance ringing in his voice. "I'm the manager. I'm the one that makes the moves. If he don't like it, play for someone else."
Guillen then laughed, as did the reporters he was addressing, a reminder that the package is complete only when the rapier wit is revealed.
That doesn't mean that serious missteps don't occur. They often do when a personality is in perpetual overdrive.
Earlier this season, Guillen, in full rant, used a homophobic phrase to describe a Chicago-based columnist to reporters. For that he was reprimanded by baseball commissioner Bud Selig and ordered to undergo sensitivity training.
A day after slurring the writer, Guillen said: "The word I used, I should have used something different. A lot of people's feelings were hurt, and I didn't mean it that way." Then, choosing different words, he unleashed another profanity-spiced opinion of the writer.
On Saturday, Guillen suggested that the incident was nothing personal, and was blown a bit out of proportion because of who he is. Still, he said, "that story was not the media's fault. It was my fault."
Torborg had predicted there would be such moments during a 2003 telephone conversation with Jerry Reinsdorf, the White Sox team owner for whom he had once managed. And that was during a call he made to recommend his former star shortstop and White Sox team captain as a manager.
"I told Jerry, there's no question about his work ethic, his knowledge, his enthusiasm, his love for the game, or his ability to communicate," Torborg said. "But I said, 'You will have to possibly be making some apologies for some of the things he says!' "
Reinsdorf laughed and so did Torborg. But the conversation did not end.
"I told Jerry that Ozzie is so honest; that's why he is so good with the players," Torborg said. "They know where he's coming from.
"And he won't put up with not playing hard or playing the right way. He'll get in their faces, no matter where - on the field, in the dugout, in the middle of the clubhouse. Then, the next thing you know, he's got his arm around the guy, taking him out to dinner... unbelievable!"
And absolute.
"I'm never going to change," Guillen vowed Saturday. "One thing about me - I'm always going to say the truth."

Foaming About Froemming

Phillies fans really responded to a recent package I wrote about umpire Bruce Froemming, who is approaching his 5,000th major-league game. One went so far as to day Froemming's call in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Phillies at a packed Veterans Stadium on Oct. 7, 1977, "ruined" his life.

"Tell Bruce that the next time you talk to him," the loyal reader said.

Just goes to show that baseball is the sport built on personalities - and how those personalities transcend time and keep even the most fleeting moments alive and well for years, if not decades, in the hearts and minds of the fan.

To read why Froemming still raises the blood pressure of Phillies fans, click on the above link. To read about his great career - 36 years in the majors, 12 in the minors, click on Bruce Froemming's story.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Wild Insinuation

Derek Jeter looked like something had literally been lost in the translation.

Someone had actually suggested that the Yankees had to win the American League East to advance to the 2006 postseason since everyone was saying that the wildcard berth will obviously go to a team from another division.

"I don't know who's been saying that. I haven't been saying that," the Yankees' shortstop said Saturday.

Afterall, he said, the Yankees were four games back of the front-running Chicago White Sox in the AL wild-card standings after winning the first two games of their three-game series at Yankee Stadium. Jeter said that with 70-some games left, that four-game difference was not enough.

"You can't just punch a team's ticket and say the wild card is coming out of here, or this team is automatically in the playoffs. Four games with 70 some games left? I don't think that's too big of a lead."

Thing is, Jeter isn't really thinking about the wild card as a vehicle to help the Yankees extend their decade-long postseason streak alive. "We want to win the division," said this 10-year vet who's never not played in the postseason.

Yankees-Red Sox. That does have more of a ring to it than Yankees-White Sox.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Saw This Freight Train Coming

The Detroit Tigers, possessors of the best record in baseball, might be the surprise of the year to most people.

Not Ozzie Guillen. The manager of the defending world champion Chicago White Sox saw this freight train coming at his team in the American League Central two years ago.

"Back in spring training, even last year, too, I said the team that is going to give problems is the Detroit Tigers," Guillen said today at Yankee Stadium. "When you looked at their pitching in 2004, looked at their pitching, you knew they were going to be good in a couple of years. Then, when the general manager [Dave Dombrowski] got the job, I said, watch, the Detroit Tigers in a couple years, they're going to win.

"Because, if you know Dave, he will do anything in his power to put a good ballclub together."

Dombrowski, Tigers GM since 2002, has put a string of gems together on offense and defense when he acquired free-agent catcher Ivan Rodriguez, shortstop Carlos Guillen and centerfielder Curtis Granderson.

Still, the difference-maker is the Tigers' pitching - and Dombrowski's prints are all over this very artistic rendering, much the same way they were on the two world championship teams he crafted for the Florida Marlins in 1997 and 2001.

He engineered the trade for Jeremy Bonderman in 2002. Justin virulently was came into the organization on Dombrowski's watch as a first-round pick in baseball's amateur draft of 2004. Those two starting pitchers are a combined 19-8 going into today's games.

Young reliever Joel Zumaya, a valuable setup man for veteran stopper Todd Jones (24 saves) was a plum Dombrowski's people found in 11th round in '02. And he found another, most surprising morsel on the free agent market in the form of veteran starter Kenny Rogers.

People scratched their heads when Dombrowski spent $16 million on a two-year deal for the 41-year-old pitcher. But Rogers' second straight All-star selection - and the starting assignment for the American League last week in Pittsburgh, combined with an 11-3 record, quieted doubters.

Add veteran manager Jim Leyland to the mix and the Detroit Tigers become a poignant as well as a plausible success story.

Most important, thanks to Dombrowski, they are no longer a doormat but rather armed, dangerous and poised to continue as baseball's winningest team. One poised to fulfill the grudgingly admiring Guillen's worst fears.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

From Jackie Robinson to ... Ryan Howard?

Could it be that the Philadelphia Phillies will finally produce their first bona fide black superstar?

That is, a superstar in the sense of bigger-than-life personality so widely accepted, marketable and beloved that he not only could be the centerpiece of a franchise, but a bridge to a still-elusive fan segment — and untapped revenue source — the black Philadelphia.

Ryan Howard, the 2005 rookie of the year and powerful first baseman who won baseball’s home-run hitting contest during the All-star celebration this month, could be that player.

Howard’s shoulders seem that broad, his heart seems that willing, his sense of the mission to promote something larger than himself seems right on.

In Pittsburgh, Howard went toe-to-toe with the Mets’ vibrant shooting star, David Wright, in the finale of the nationally televised derby. And he not only held his own at the plate but also in the Q ratings.

His luminous smile and personality lit up the Pittsburgh skyline, all but defying anyone not to include him in the next generation of marketable baseball stars.

That night Howard said on national TV that his home-run derby win finally gave the Phillies — one of the major disappointments of the 2006 season — something to cheer about.

He also gave the organization more evidence that he just might finally be the guy the Phillies can count on to close a gap that has existed since, well, 1947.

That’s the year Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier and became baseball’s first ambassador to black America. And black America responded, welcoming and worshipping the heroic figure who helped the game shed, at long last, its segregation policies. One by one, most every major league team reinvented Robinson in the form of their own homegrown superstar players of color.

Larry Doby in Cleveland. Henry Aaron in Milwaukee/Atlanta. Willie Mays in New York/San Francisco. Ernie Banks and Billy Williams in Chicago. Joe Morgan in Cincinnati. Frank Robinson in Cincy and Baltimore. Willie Stargell and Roberto Clemente in Pittsburgh.

Even St. Louis, the seat of rebellion against Robinson in ’47, eventually gave us Bob Gibson and Lou Brock.

The Phillies? They neither couldn’t or wouldn’t plug that caliber of superstar into their mosaic. And that gaping hole assured to this day that the Phillies’ major contribution to the story of baseball and race remains the fact that Philadelphia was the one stop most hostile to Robinson in ’47.

That legacy, and the lack of a major black presence in Phillies’ history is why I contend blacks in Philadelphia remain indifferent, even suspicious, of the franchise to this day. Al Downing, who grew up in Trenton and went on the pitch for the Yankees and Dodgers, agreed with that perception in a conversation long ago. When with L.A., Downing also noticed how few black fans turned out. And those who did came to root for the Dodgers.

Jackie’s team.

That allegiance, Downing contended, directly resulted from the Phillies never having given black Philadelphians someone to replace Robinson in their hearts. Not that there weren’t Phillies of color.

Richie Allen was a talent, to be sure, but one who often played the role of the angry black man — not so popular in blue-collar Philly during the racially volatile 1960s.

Sad fact is, Philadelphia never got Richie Allen. And the moody Allen never got Philly. And it cost Allen, who should have gotten much more of a bounce, popularity-wise, given his enormous talents.

Then there was the introspective Garry Maddox. A class act, Maddox often did more in one month, community-relations wise, than some 25-man rosters did in a season.But Maddox was quiet and introspective. And, to borrow a phrase from Reggie Jackson, Maddox was never seen as “the straw that stirred” the winning Phillies’ teams of the 70s and 80s. Not with Hall of Famers Mike Schmidt and Steve Carlton, pepperpot shortstop Larry Bowa and Dallas Green, the larger-than-life manager of the Phillies’ 1980 championship team, around.

Tony Taylor? Oscar Gamble? Gary Matthews? Davey Cash? Good citizens and good players, all. But they, too, played in the shadows of larger stars.

Of the current Phillies, Jimmy Rollins seemed on the cusp of being the breakthrough guy, but the ebb and flow of his game often seem to conspire to keep the shortstop and town at arm’s length from each other. Rollins is more willing to step up than, say Pat Burrell or Bobby Abreu. But to be a Frank Robinson, Pops Stargell or Ernie Banks requires not just talent, but a larger-than-life presence that never shrinks from the spotlight.

Jackie Robinson has waited a long time to hand off the baton to such a figure here.

Ryan Howard, it’s there for the taking. Grab it and go the distance.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Things we never saw coming

  • Cubs pitcher Kerry Wood, who was on the disabled list three times last year and missed the 1999 season after elbow surgery, is back on the DL because of a partial tear in his right rotator cuff. Surgery might be in order. In the least he's out a month. If he's cut, again, he's gone for the season. Staff ace going down with such an injury means just one thing in Chicago, of course - Cubs manager Dusty Baker's IQ just dropped, again.
  • Jose Canseco is writing yet another tell-all about steroid use in Major League Baseball, vowing to name more names in his effort to convince baseball fans that its Baseball's Club Medicine Cabinet had more than one member. Oh, yeah, the guys he named in his last expose, Juiced, never did sue for libel. What's up with that, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro and Co.?
  • Manny Ramirez who, on Friday, bowed out of the upcoming All-star game because of a sore knee, doubled twice, hit a single and drew a walk in the Boston Red Sox win over the Chicago White Sox Saturday.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Dusty in Trouble. Of Course.

It is absolutely amazing how the Chicago Cubs can dumb down a manager.

Both Dusty Baker and Don Baylor - the last two Cubs' managers not considered interim - brought manager of the year credentials with them to the Windy City. Oddly, neither could figure out a couple things - how to keep players like Kerry Wood, Mark Prior, Bill Mueller, Nomar Garciaparra, etc., on the field (should have had MD degrees instead of manager of the year plaques, I guess).

Nor could Dusty keep an otherwise sophisticated city from fixating on one fan interference play in the 2003 NLCS series loss to the Florida Marlins - and equating that bit of bad luck to his managing ability.

Let's see, what did he do wrong in '03? Baker had the Cubs' two top pitchers (Prior and Wood), set up to pitch Games 6 and 7 against the Fish. The Cubs were up, 3-0, and within five outs of their first World Series since 1945 when fan Steve Bartman flagged a foul ball hit in the stands rather than let leftfielder Moises Alou reach in to snare the ball. Alou freaked. The Cubs fans immediately went into their best woe-is-us, we're doomed imitation of the persecuted act perfected by Boston Red Sox fans.

Forget the fact that the team had an ace in hand - Wood. Chicago moaned, groaned before and after a Game 7 loss. Never mind that the Marlins - the eventual world champs - were a pretty darned good team. Baker had officially transformed from coveted manager/genius to village idiot. He never was allowed a shot at redemption. Couldn't overcome Bartman, the breastbeating fans nor the fact that he has never, ever been able to count on having the injury-prone Prior and Wood as a 1-2 punch for any length of time, since.

What a dope!

But don't worry, Dusty. If and when the Cubs fire you, your IQ will improve in direct proportion to the distance you put between youself and the city of Big Shoulders - and Bigger Second Guessers. Get on with your life, and leave the Cubbies' fans to cry in their beer while wishing their team could figure it out like the White Sox - the defending champion White Sox - did. Who knows. Maybe some of the Cubs' fans have MDs. Maybe they can fix broke-down pitchers and all else that ails this terminally underachieving franchise.

Monday, July 03, 2006

True journalist at work

Stepping away from baseball a moment, let me tell you about Jon Pessah, my former editor at The Hartford Courant.

Jon taught me and so many others so much about being a good reporter with the emphasis on professionalism and the honoring of the craft. He still does teach, and lead by example; witness the outstanding work Jon and a staff of writers did last fall in an eye-opening series on the roots of the steroid scandal in baseball published last fall in ESPN, The Magazine.

Now Jon is doing the reporting, on the allegations of rape at Duke and the scandals ramifications for the university and the surrounding community, for ESPN, The Magazine, and

It's a story that has everything, and will eventually go a long way in narrating America's next chapters on race, class, privilege and the media's approach to sensational stories.

If you want to see it interpreted well, check out Jon's work, beginning with his article on ex-Duke lacrosse player Matt Zash of the Philadelphia Barrage. I did - because I will always want to continue to see one of the good guys - and great journalist - do this job the right way.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Talk radio

At 3 p.m., July 1, 1987, WFAN the nation's first 24-7 sports talk radio station, went on the air in New York City - and sports coverage hasn't been the same since.

The change has often been detrimental to the newspaper industry, thanks to the pressure to mimmick in print the shrill, voice that never lets issues run a natural course, burn bright, then die out.

Instead, as former major league manager Jeff Torborg once said, controversies just keep going on and on, 24-7, as commentators, working in "three-hour shifts," to quote Torborg, beat issues to death in order to fill air time.

That said, let me add that here on the NY-NJ-PA. corridor, WFAN remains without peer. Its imidators are just that, and poor ones, at best. In Philadelphia, the WIP crew makes WFAN's roster seem Pulitzer Prize-worthy as they presume to be the stars that drive sports. Though WFAN's hosts are celebrities even by New York standards, they allow the sports, the athletes and coaches they cover remain the station's primary focus.WFAN talks to the likes of Larry Brown, Joe Torre and pro athletes from around the world.

Other stations who eschew the "guest" spot, too often prefer to mock the pro games and players - and fellow members of the media, often from the safety of their studio desks. Feel free to read that as an apt description of WIP in Philadelphia, if you will.

Though some of WFAN's on-air personalities are more famous than others, special kudos are reserved here for Steve Somers, a very witty on-air commentator who never stoops to insulting or carving up his callers, sports fans or the teams and athletes he covers. Wish they could clone him and franchise him out to the stations that still do a lot of talking without really understanding what "talk radio" should be about.

Suzyn Waldman, Pioneer

When WFAN first went on the air on that July 1, 1987, the first voice heard was that of Suzyn Waldman.

A strong, brave woman in the often unforgiving male-dominated environments of media and professional sports, Suzyn has perservered, more than holding her own in the toughest media town in the nation.

A former Broadway musical star, Suzyn remains a headliner and trailblazer in second distinct career, serving as a color commentator for the New York Yankees on that team's radio broadcasts. She is only the second woman to ever hold such a position in Major League Baseball (the first was Betty Caywood of the Kansas City A's in the 1960s, according to

Suzyn was the first woman to do play-by-play on televised Major League games when, in the mid-1990s, she worked Yankees games on that team's local broadcasts. She remains the only woman with that distinction.

So, on a personal note, it always has been and continues to be a privilege to work with Suzyn. It is not easy to often be one of the precious few, if not the only woman in the male bastions of the Major League press box or pro clubhouse or locker room. I have seen Suzyn not only survive, but thrive as we lived through such things as the World Series earthquake in 1989 or navigated the treacherous waters surrounding the Yankees beat in the 1980s and 1990s.

So when you think about Suzyn, think about more than just the journalist who won the 1996 NY Sportscaster of the Year, by The National Sportscasters and Sportswriters, and the American Women in Radio and TV's Star Award for Radio in 1999, the WFAN and Yankees' broadcast pioneer.

Think about the grace, the professionalism and the courage. These are the core of the legacy still being artfully written by Suzyn Waldman to this day.