Remembering Ted Williams on Veterans Day

Sunday is Veterans Day, a time to remember those who have served and died to preserve our freedoms.  The day got me to thinking about Ted Williams, one of the greatest hitters to play baseball. He was the last regular season .400 hitter – batting .406 in 1941 – and finished with a lifetime .344 average with 521 home runs.

Williams, who died at the age of 83 on July 5, 2002, served his country not once but twice in World War II and the Korean War.  No telling what his baseball statistics would have been had their been no wars in which to serve, but Williams answered the call and nobly served the USA.

Born in 1918 and named after President Theodore Roosevelt, Williams was recruited by the New York Yankees and St. Louis Cardinals as a 17-year-old, but his mother thought he was too young to leave home and insisted he begin his professional career in his hometown with the minor league San Diego Padres.  Imagine how history might have changed had Williams gone with the Yankees and not the Red Sox?  Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio in the same outfield would have been worth the price of admission.

Williams’ duty to his country got off to a rocky start, after being classified as 1-A, placing him at the top of those eligible to be drafted.  An attorney suggested he fight to be reclassified, because he was the sole supporter of his mother, and after an appeal, Williams successfully won the case.  That led to a public outcry, however.  Quaker Oats dropped Williams as an endorser of their products, and he never again ate anything associated with that company.

However, Williams’ patriotic fervor burned brightly and in 1942 he enlisted in the Naval Reserves, eventually being assigned as a second lieutenant to the United States Marine Corps as a naval aviator.  The rest is history.  

After serving in World War II, Williams was called to action again in the Korean War, serving in the U.S. Marine Corps as a pilot along side John Glenn, who eventually became the first American to orbit the earth.

When you see a Veteran thank him or her for their service.  And also remember Veterans no longer with us, including Ted Williams, a true American hero.

New York Jets and AFL proved they were real on this date

Nov. 8, 1964, the New York Jets and the upstart American Football League proved they were not going away.  As much as the National Football League was the established pro football circuit, the AFL, launched in 1960, was gaining traction.  But if the league hoped to mount a direct challenge to the NFL, it would have to make it in New York, as the old song goes.

Fifty-four years ago, the New York Jets were slated to host the Buffalo Bills at new Shea Stadium.  Kick-off was slated for 1:05 p.m.  The Bills were in first place in the AFL East with an 8-0 record, while the Jets stood in third at 4-2-1.

Across town, the New York Giants were hosting the Dallas Cowboys at Yankee Stadium.  The Giants, coming off of a victory, were trying to resurrect a disappointing season.  The defending Eastern Division champs were in last place with a 2-5-1 record.  Dallas, coached by former Giant Tom Landry, was 3-4-1.  Kick-off was slated at 2:00 p.m.  In other words, the Giants and Jets were going head-to-head;  something that could never happed today, since the NFL absorbed the AFL in a merger 50 years ago and both clubs now share one stadium.

Yankee Stadium was sold out for the Giants game, with 63,000 expected to attend.  Because the NFL had a 75-mile TV black out rule, the game would not be televised to homes and establishments within 75 miles of the stadium.  However, five movie theaters  in New York City were charging admission to a closed circuit telecast of the game, making another 20,000 seats available.

But what would the Jets draw, going head-to-head with the Giants?  That Sunday’s New York Times reported the Jets had sold 48,000 tickets for the game and a big walk up was anticipated, bringing the projected crowd to 60,000.  Turns out that 61,929 people attended the game, setting a new AFL single-game attendance record.   At Yankee Stadium, meanwhile, 63,031 watched the Giants and the Cowboys.

Both New York teams lost, the Cowboys beating the Giants 31-21 – the first time the Giants had lost six games in a season since 1953 – and Bills rallied to beat the Jets 20-7.  But the lead in the next day’s New York Times was the fact 124,960 people attended two pro football games on the same day in the nation’s largest city.  In fact, the Times ran two six-column wide pictures on top of each other, of a packed Yankee Stadium and a packed Shea Stadium.

The next season, Joe Namath would join the Jets, changing the New York football landscape forever. But 54-years ago today, the AFL and the Jets proved they could make it in New York and that they were not going away.

Before MNF there was almost Monday Night Baseball

Before there was Monday Night Football – the most popular prime time sports program in TV history – there was almost Monday Night Baseball.

Fifty-four years ago this week, when Major League Baseball owners were meeting in Phoenix, AZ, officials were pushing the television networks hard for a Monday night baseball package.  The plan was for one of the major TV networks to pony up $20 million – $1 million for each club – to carry two games each Monday night.  There would be a west coast feed and an east coast feed and the package would start in the 1965 season.

The idea was eventually tabled, however, when both NBC and ABC said they did not have enough time to clear programming for the games.  CBS, which had recently purchased the New York Yankees, said it was not interested.  Owners hoped to revisit the issue in time to launch a package in 1966, but it never came to be.

Of course, in September of 1970, Monday Night Football debuted on ABC.  Coincidentally, ABC Sports President Roone Arledge considered preeminent baseball broadcaster Vin Scully for the play-by-play job, only to change his mind, when he determined the verbose Scully would not fit well in a three-man booth, a relatively new broadcasting concept.  The PBP job went to Keith Jackson, as he joined Frank Gifford and Howard Costello in the booth.

MNF became so popular in its early days, many city and town councils across the USA, which scheduled Monday night meetings, moved them to other nights or scheduled them earlier on Mondays, so that board members could get home in time for the 9:00 EST kick-off.

As for baseball, it eventually launched a less-than-successful Monday night package in 1976 on ABC.  Baseball’s presentation, however, lacked the panache  of MNF, leaving one to wonder what might have been, had MLB beaten the NFL to the punch, more than a half century ago.

Baseball saw its future 54 years ago today

54 years ago today Major League Baseball owners and their general managers stared at the future of their game and blinked.  As it turned out, more than a half century later, much of what they wrestled with would become the norm.

On Nov. 5, 1964, the baseball entourage met in Phoenix, AZ.  The confab was held two days after President Lyndon B. Johnson won a landslide victory over GOP opponent Barry Goldwater.  Presidential politics was not on their mind, however.  Owners were more concerned with a ballot measure that failed by a nearly 3-to-1 margin in California.  
Proposition 15 would have permitted “pay-TV” in the Golden State.  Hollywood stars, Henry Fonda and Dana Andrews among them, campaigned for the measure that was resoundingly defeated.  The initiative was mostly promoted by and entity known as “Subscription Television,” which already had more than 6,000 subscribers committed to the concept of paying to view their television.
Two investors in Subscription TV were the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants.  One of the reasons Walter O’Malley hightailed it out of Brooklyn was the potential of a lucrative pay-TV market in Southern California.  It’s easier than a Sandy Koufax fastball to see where this issue was heading.   If O’Malley and Giants owner Horace Stoneham were about to reap millions for their product, other owners – who were giving their product away for free on over-the-air television – wanted in.  All of this came to a screeching halt, however, on Nov. 3, placing the owners back at first base on the concept of selling their games on television.

Of course, within a few years, games on cable TV would become the norm, with the Dodgers leading the way.  In 2014, the club signed a controversial 25-year, $8.35 billion TV contract with Time-Warner.

MLB owners had other things on their mind at that meeting, among them the baseball schedule.  Because of expansion in the early 60s, the season had gone from 154 to 162 games.  Some owners thought it excessive.  The 162-game season lives to this day.

Interleague play also dominated the agenda and of all clubs the New York Yankees were the leading proponent.  Coming off their fifth consecutive American League championship, who would have thought the snobbish New York Yankees would be pursuing a regular season matchup against their crosstown rivals, the “lowly” New York Mets?  Turns out, the Yanks were 30 years ahead of their time.

Who knew, more than a half century ago, owners would be meeting to discuss issues that are considered the norm in baseball today?  Now if only they could do something about that 162-game schedule. 

Before Trump, there was John McGraw

John McGraw

President Donald Trump stirred up a hornet’s nest with another one of his tweets, this time second guessing Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts Saturday night.  Trump took Roberts to task for lifting starting pitcher Rich Hill in Game 4 of the World Series.

But long before there was Donald Trump, there was John McGraw, Hall of Fame manager of the New York Giants.  Nicknamed “Little Napoleon,” McGraw managed the Giants from 1902 to 1932, winning three World Series and 10 National League pennants.

McGraw, however, was not averse to criticizing managers of other clubs.  And so it was, in the Oct. 9, 1927 edition of the New York Times, on the day after the vaunted 1927 New York Yankees completed a four-game sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates in the World Series, McGraw was out there criticizing Bucs manager Donie Bush.  Down 3-0 entering the seventh inning of the fourth game, the Pirates placed runners at first and second with nobody out.  That’s when Bush ordered future Hall of Farmer Lloyd Warner to bunt, illiciting McGraw to criticize the strategy.

“John McGraw was much upset when Lloyd Waner was ordered to bunt with men on first and second and nobody out in the Pirates seventh,” noted the Times.  “The Pirates got only two runs out of it and McGraw thought they might have made more if Waner had been allowed to hit.”

So 91 years before Trump, there was McGraw, quoted in the New York Times.  Presumably “Little Napoleon’s” Twitter account was not working that day.

You had to drive to Connecticut to watch Giants

Back in the day – long before the television-saturated era in which we now live – not every NFL game was on television.  For example, in the early 1960s – when the New York Giants were of championship caliber – their home games at Yankee Stadium were not televised in the New York market.

How to follow the Giants home games?  Well, there was radio.  The medium was around back then too and even in 2018 it is still a great way to follow a football game.   But Giants fans wanted to watch their favorites like quarterback Y.A. Tittle, no matter how much fun it was listening to a game on the radio.  (In 1962, by the way, the “Voice of the Yankees,” Mel Allen, broadcast Giants games on radio and Ballantine Beer was the sponsor.). If you lived in New York, however, and didn’t have a ticket to a home game at Yankee Stadium, you were out of luck.

Enterprising hotels and motels came to the rescue – especially those located in Connecticut.  As one ad in the Oct. 26, 1962 edition of The NY Times implored, take the short drive to Connecticut to watch Big Blue.

And many people did.  Some in New York, even went so far as to erect “high-powered” TV antennas atop their apartments in the hope of pulling in Hartford’s CBS affiliate, which televised the games.  Most of their attempts, however, ended with interference.

These days the New York Giants – who play in New Jersey – are readily available to watch on brilliant HDTV both home and away.  However, with another poor season droning on, there’s not much to see, when it comes to “Big Blue.”  Better that interference return to the screen, when a Giants game is televised.

Red Sox are relentless

The Boston Red Sox are relentless. They are, as their record reads, the best team in baseball. The Red Sox are showing the Los Angeles Dodgers what the rest of the American League has learned, when you score against them, they answer right back. That is the ultimate sign of a winner.

 I don’t know who is going to win this World Series, but I do know this, the Red Sox are the best team in baseball, until proven otherwise.

Welcome to my new website

After an absence on the web, I am back.  Welcome to my new website, featuring sports commentary and my podcast “The Baseball Beat.”

I have published various websites and podcasts in the past, including commentary on non-sports topics.  However, this platform will feature sports – with a focus on its rich history – especially baseball, and my podcasts.

I hope you enjoy it.  Your input will be welcomed.