Baseball looked to speed up game 51 years ago

It seems a baseball season doesn’t go by without talk of speeding up the pace of play.  Who knew that 51 years ago the topic was a focal point at the annual winter baseball meetings being held in 1967 in Mexico City?  The stewards of the game were concerned over three-and-a-half hour ballgames and the fact fans were changing the dial to watch football.

At a joint meeting of managers and general managers, it was agreed – without players’ input – batters would no longer be permitted to step out of the box to request that the umpire put in a new ball; pitchers could not ask for another ball if they did not like the feel of a new ball put into play; pinch hitters would have to be on the bench ready to go and not summoned from the bullpen; and teams would be encouraged to use motorized carts to bring in relievers.  All this would supposedly speed up the game.

At the same meeting, the group also agreed to strengthen the ban on the spitball.

More than a half century later, at this year’s winter meetings, look for baseball to once again talk about speeding up the game.  Maybe more clubs should join Arizona and bring back the bullpen carts.

No special treatment for pols at Army-Navy game

This is the way it was supposed to be, right?  No special treatment for politicians, no admission to luxury boxes, sit among the common folk.

And so it was that on Nov. 26, 1960 at the Army-Navy game, there seated in the general admission seats were Vice President Richard M. Nixon – just off a razor thin election loss to Sen. John F. Kennedy for the presidency – Attorney General William P. Rogers and former Army coach Earl Blaik.

As for the game, a crowd of 98,616 jammed Philadelphia Stadium to watch Navy beat Army 17-12.  One of the primary side notes to the game was the size of the program printed for the contest.  It was 200 pages thick, the largest program ever published for an Army-Navy game.  One reporter joked fans did not have to bring seat cushions to the game, all they had to do was buy and sit on the program.

After the game, Navy received a bid to the Orange Bowl, where any pols attending the game would presumably have to purchase general admission seats, a system some would suggest should still be in existence today.

NFL’s Rozelle widely criticized 55 years ago

NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle was widely criticized 55 years ago for not cancelling the league’s games the Sunday after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.  The AFL wasted little time in announcing its games would not be played on Nov. 24, but Rozelle reportedly made the decision to go forth with the regularly scheduled games, even though rights holder CBS announced it would not carry the games.

“It has been traditional in sports for athletes to perform in times of great personal tragedy.  Football was Mr. Kennedy’s game.  He thrived on competition,” Rozelle stated in a press release.

The commissioner supposedly lobbied the team owners on whether the games should be played but there is no evidence to back up that claim.   What is known is that many fans protested, some who had tickets stating they would boycott the Sunday contests.  Philadelphia Eagles president Frank McNamee told the Associated Press: “Simply and flatly the game is being played by order of the commissioner.”  McNamee added he would not attend the Eagles-Redskins game but would go to a memorial service in honor of President Kennedy.

Meanwhile, the nation continued to mourn.  The president’s body was taken to the great Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol, where it would lie in state for 24 hours.  Among those who stood in line with his son and nephew was former Major League Baseball club owner Bill Veeck.  When members of the Kennedy family suggested he move to the front of the line, Veeck appreciated the gesture but declined, stating he was a “common man” who deserved no special treatment.  Standing for 15 hours on one artificial leg, Veeck’s pants became blood-soaked but he and his family endured.

As for Rozelle, years later he stated playing the games on that Sunday was his biggest regret as commissioner.  And for the record, the NFL was not the only sporting event to go forward on that tragic weekend.  The NHL continued with its slate – Boston at Toronto – as did the NBA.  And several college football games were played on the Saturday after the assassinaton, although others were cancelled.

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.  In case you’re wondering, as I write this from my home in Torrington, Connecticut this morning, it is 11 degrees – not counting windchill factor – or 13 degrees colder than Anchorage, Alaska.

Good luck to all my friends at the Manchester Road Race this morning.  I had the privilege of broadcasting that race for 20 years.  Where does the time go?  It is a great event.

Finally. thank you to our Veterans.  We have so much for which to be thankful, but their successful efforts to preserve our freedom to observe this day can never be repaid.

Vin Scully’s radio debut was a football game at Fenway

When Harvard beat Yale in “The Game” at Fenway Park last Saturday, I could not help but be  reminded that the iconic Vin Scully made his radio debut at Fenway.

The year was 1949 and in addition to his role as the “Voice of the Brooklyn Dodgers,” Red Barber was the Director of Sports at CBS radio.  In those days, college football was still king and every Saturday, during the season, CBS would host a football round-up of games.  Barber would assign broadcasters to the top five or six football games of the day and would switch back-and-forth to the various games, as key plays unfolded. 

Scully caught his big break, when another announcer fell ill and Ernie Harwell had to be reassigned to the Notre Dame-North Carolina game at Yankee Stadium.  That left a vacancy for the Maryland-Boston University contest at Fenway and Scully got the call.

Thinking he would be positioned in a broadcast booth for the November game, Scully did not bring an overcoat.  It turned out they located Scully on the Fenway rooftop on a cold afternoon, sans overcoat.  Scully impressed Barber by doing a superb job in his debut, and when he never complained about the accommodations – someone else told Barber he worked the assignment without an overcoat – that impressed Barber even more. 

When Harwell left the Dodgers to join Russ Hodges in the New York Giants broadcast booth for the 1950 season, that left a vacancy Barber had to fill.  Once again, Scully got the call.

“It’s interesting to note,” that 1950 marked the first of 67 seasons for the iconic broadcaster in the Dodgers booth.

I’m rooting for Condoleezza Rice for Browns coach

So the story broke on Sunday that former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice may be interviewed for the Cleveland Browns head coaching position.  Not only do I hope she interviews, I hope she gets the job.   The fact she might even be interviewed makes her the first female to be considered for a head coaching job in the NFL.

I believe that if the Browns think she checks all of the boxes to meet their qualifications as the club’s next coach, they should hire her.  Simple as that.

I am not going into Rice’s resume.  I’ll leave that for those conducting the interview.  But she loves football, loves the Browns and most importantly is a leader.  For those who say this is a publicity stunt being promoted by the club to gain attention, I say hogwash.  The Cleveland Browns were once a storied franchise, whose name still resonates beyond the most ardent fans.  In other words, they don’t need to pull publicity stunts to gain attention.  They just need to win games.

If a woman can do the job, as a player, coach, manager, broadcaster, etc., she should be permitted to participate at an equal level in a “man’s” game.  In other words, count me among those who believe, if a woman has the skills to participate in the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, MLS, etc., she should be allowed admission.  And she should be signed to perform at equal or more pay.

It seems the NBA is on the front lines in this debate, with a female assistant coach and other females working in administrative positions throughout the league.  And at the very least, Rice could end up working in the Browns’ front office, although I am rooting for her as head coach.

This Neanderthal thinking of a woman cannot participate in a high profile position in a game dominated by men needs to be swept under the rug.  And the notion that she would be a female giving direction to men also needs to be buried.  If it’s okay for a man to coach women’s basketball, then it should be okay for a woman to coach men’s football.

Good luck in your interview, Condi.  And I hope you get the job,

P.S. Nov. 19- Since I wrote this, the Browns and Rice have both denied she is under consideration for the head coaching position, but it does not change my opinion, that if a woman wants to be involved in a man’s game, she should be given the opportunity.

Happy Birthday Tom Seaver

Happy Birthday Tom Seaver.  The baseball Hall of Fame pitcher turned 74 on Saturday.

I always loved watching Seaver pitch.  He had that trademark delivery with his knee touching the front slope of the mound, after every pitch.  I remember listening on my small RCA transistor radio under the grapevine at my grandfather’s house the night he came within one out of pitching a perfect game against the Chicago Cubs.  (Seaver would later pitch a no-hitter, while with the Cincinnati Reds.)  That was part of the Mets’ magical 1969 season.

For a time, Seaver, who had a second tour of duty as a pitcher with the Mets, became estranged from the organization, but they have since patched things up.  I also enjoyed him as a member of the New York Yankees broadcast crew, especially when he teamed up with Phil Rizzuto.

“Tom Terrific” has had some health issues in recent years, but just like when he was a pitcher, he keeps batting.

Happy Birthday, Tom.  And many more.

Yogi Berra joined the New York Mets on this date

Yogi a Met

On this date, November 17, 1964, Yogi Berra joined the New York Mets.  The Amazins’ had engineered another public relations coup against their crosstown rival Yankees.

Berra had stitched together a Hall of Fame career with the Bronx Bombers, leading them to 15 World Series, 14 as a player and one as a manager.  He and Casey Stengel, the manager of the Yankees during most of his career, had collaborated to win seven World Series and 10 American League pennants.  When the Yankees gave Casey the pink slip, after New York lost the 1960 World Series to the Pittsburgh Pirates in seven games, the newly formed Mets came calling with their managerial position.  George Weiss, the architect of the Yankees dynasty, was let go by the Yanks and became president of the Mets, and one of his first moves was to recruit Casey.

Meanwhile, as the Yankees kept winning, attendance kept falling.  “Rooting for the Yankees was like rooting for U.S. Steel,” the famous line went.  As for the expansion Mets, the more they lost, the more their attendance grew.  Throw in a sparkling new stadium to go along with the charismatic Stengel, and the Mets were outdrawing the Yankees at the gate every season.  That didn’t sit well with Yankees co-owner Dan Topping, so after the 1963 season, manager Ralph Houk had been promoted to General Manager and Berra was named manager.  It was a move that was in the works since spring training, much to the shock of many of Berra’s teammates and to the media.  It was thought, however, that Berra would present a softer, likable image to the fans and serve as a counterbalance to Stengel in the public relations war between the two ball clubs.

That move lasted all of a year.  Berra lost the World Series in seven games to the St. Louis Cardinals and was removed from the manager’s job.  However, Houk kept him on board as a “field consultant” at $25,000 per season, with the proviso Yogi could leave, if he received a “better” job offer and keep the 25-grand.  (Many people at the time considered the job a “demotion,” but today general managers have numerous “field consultants.”  They usually are called assistants, have several college degrees and are well versed in analytics.)

Even though Yogi accepted the job, he really wanted to remain in uniform.  After much prodding from numerous people, including the sportswriters – according to Berra – Yogi called Stengel at his home in California and asked how he would feel if Weiss offered him a position on Stengel’s coaching staff.  Weiss added that he had also asked Stengel if he wanted Yogi on the staff and after Stengel took a couple of days to think it over, he phoned Weiss and answered “yes.”

That set the stage for a big press conference in Shea Stadium’s Diamond Club on the 17th.  Berra would return as a coach and also a part-time player.  (He played in four games with the Mets, before hanging up his playing spikes.) 

The Mets rolled out the red carpet for Berra with a news conference befitting the hiring of a manager rather than a coach.  Stengel even called from California, during the event, and expressed delight with Berra joining the Mets.

Even the Yankees weighed in with a statement: “The Yankees wish Yogi Berra continued success in his new post with the New York Mets.  Yogi has been one of the truly great Yankees and, while we were hoping he would continue in our organization, we can understand his desire to remain in uniform.  We are proud to have had Yogi as a Yankee since 1946 and all of us join in wishing the Berras the best of luck in the future.” 

Berra served as a coach for the Mets through spring training of 1972, when he was hired to be their manager, after Gil Hodges died of a heart attack.  The Mets dismissed him in 1975, leading to his return to the Yankees.  But in 1964 the Yankees took another public relations hit, after not only firing Berra but then watching him be hired by the Mets.  New York Times sports columnist Arthur Daley wrote: “…the impression grows ever stronger that the Mets are secretly thumbing their noses at the imperious Yankees.”

As for that Yankees money, well not only did Yogi have a new job, the Yankees lived up to their promise and gave him the $25,000.

Roy Clark performed at Mickey Mantle’s funeral

Country music Hall of Fame member Roy Clark died on Thursday.  He was 85.  An award winning singer and musician, Clark is best known for his role as the host of Hee Haw.  But how many people remember that he sang at Mickey Mantle’s funeral?

Mantle loved Clark’s music, and when he died in 1995, Clark sang “Amazing Grace” at his funeral in Dallas.

R.I.P. Roy Clark.