Former Yankee Captain Don Mattingly reflects on Derek Jeter

July 30th, 2016

Miami manager Don Mattingly spent his first 23 years in professional baseball in the New York Yankee organization, first as a player, then as a coach. In 1995, his final year as a player, the team called up a 20-year old shortstop named Derek Jeter. Jeter went on to become the Yankee’s all-time hit king, the first in franchise history to eclipse the 3,000-hit mark. When Jeter went 5-for-5 on July 9th, 2011 to enter the exclusive club, Mattingly sent him a text to congratulate his former teammate. “I feel that special connection with him after watching come out of high school and seeing him progress,” Mattingly said. The Marlins skipper was asked if he could predict greatness for Jeter when the shortstop first came up. “Honestly, it was impossible to see when he broke in,” Mattingly admitted. “I did see a quick progression. It seemed like a short period of time, but it was like 2 ½ years and you’re like, ‘Wow, he’s made some big jumps!’.” Big jumps indeed. After his initial cup of coffee in the big leagues, Jeter began 1996 as New York’s regular shortstop, hitting .314 and winning the Rookie of the Year Award. From there, his career took off. Over […]

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MLB’s best record wasn’t enough to keep a selfish Barry Bonds happy

July 30th, 2016

Imagine the salary a free agent could demand coming off of an All-Star year in which he led the league in walks and on-base percentage while slugging 28 homers. Teams would line up for his services, hoping to add that rare combination of offense to their lineup. There was one such a free agent available in the off-season of 2008, but nobody signed him that winter. In fact he never played another inning in the major leagues. Such is the life when you’re Barry Bonds. Stories abound about of his black lounge chair and extra locker in his corner of the clubhouse at Pac Bell Park. His trial for obstruction and lying to a grand jury started last week with an admission of taking steroids and a far-fetched defense of never knowingly doing so. With his prickly personality, and prima donna attitude, Bonds can be a tough guy to like. He was no fan of the media. And as it turns out, he wasn’t always a fan of official scorers either. During his playing days, Bonds pulled the ball with such consistency that teams employed a defensive shift. The Dodgers adjusted by placing their second baseman in short right field, a position sometimes […]

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Jackie Robinson inspired future MLB player Ed Charles

June 15th, 2016

Jackie Robinson once said, “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.” By that measurement, Robinson’s life may be the most important the game of baseball has ever known. Though it’s easy to see the cultural impact of Robinson breaking baseball’s color barrier, the individual stories sometimes get lost in the bigger picture. For former Major Leaguer Ed Charles, Robinson emergence was a turning point, not only for the United States, but perhaps more importantly, for an entire segment of its population. “The emergence of Mr. Jackie Robinson as the first black to play modern day organized baseball had a monumental impact upon my life, and I’m sure, the lives of other Americans as well,” Charles wrote in a letter 1984. An eight-year big league veteran, Charles was aware of Robinson at an early age. Charles believed that Robinson’s impact was felt by the nation and its individuals. “Jackie represented to me, given the social climate of the nation at that time, hope, courage, and a new faith in a system that had been grossly neglectful of providing equal participation for its minority citizens,” Charles wrote. “His presence stirred me, as well as others, to redirect our goals […]

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Dodgers pitch in $250,000, restore pride at Jackie Robinson’s high school

April 20th, 2016

In what can only be described as a sad state of affairs, the baseball field at Jackie Robinson’s high school alma mater fell into severe disrepair. A sloping outfield, dusty infield full of pebbles, and poor dugout areas gave the field at John Muir High School in Pasadena, California a look of neglect and decay. It wasn’t always this way. Robinson and older brother Mack brought prestige and honor to John Muir. The elder Robinson was a track star there and eventually earned a silver medal in the 1936 Summer Olympics, while Jackie lettered in baseball, football, basketball, and track. Over the years Muir produced many professional baseball players including a member of the 400-home run club in Darrell Evans who graduated in 1965. Evans was selected in Major League Baseball’s inaugural first-year player draft upon graduation. Over the first five years of the draft, MLB franchises took six Muir Mustangs. Over the next three decades 14 more Mustang players were drafted. As the 1990s ended, so too did the Mustangs’ baseball success. With the school’s declining enrollment and the emergence of basketball and football as Muir’s best sports, baseball became an afterthought. As interest in the sport waned, the […]

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Many call it the greatest draft in the history of pro sports

August 20th, 2015

In 1968, the Dodgers drafted nine players who would go on to play a total of 148 seasons in the Major Leagues, appear in 23 All Star games, total over 11,000 hits, and club more than 1,100 home runs. The two pitchers from the draft tallied 305 big league wins. Add in six Gold Glove Awards, a batting championship, an All Star MVP award, a regular-season MVP award, a World Series MVP award, and the N.L. record holder for consecutive games played, and it’s easy to see why many believe it’s the greatest draft by any team in the history of professional sports. “The draft of 1968 was historical,” said Ron Cey, one of the players drafted that year. “97% of the cream of the crop each year is supposed to fail. That draft might be the best draft in history with a bunch of guys who played 15 years or so, Bobby Valentine, Billy Buckner, Davey Lopes, Tom Paciorek, Doyle Alexander, Steve Garvey, Joe Ferguson, myself. That’s a lot of guys right there.” Cey failed to include 111-game winner, Geoff Zahn, a Dodger teammate for three seasons. The selection of those players laid the foundation for continued excellence in Los […]

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Absent from Cooperstown, former Cy Young and MVP Don Newcombe made a US President’s Hall of Fame

August 4th, 2015

By Jim Smiley Don Newcombe’s baseball resume reads like a history lesson, spanning from the pre-integration era of the 1940s to the present day. The first player to win Rookie of the Year, Cy Young, and Most Valuable Player awards, “Newk” won 20 games and hit .359 in the Brooklyn Dodgers’ only championship season. Despite his accomplishments, Newcombe never received more than 15.3% of the writers’ vote in elections for Baseball’s Hall of Fame. Though Cooperstown has yet to beckon, Newcombe may very well be in a more prestigious Hall of Fame — one that requires presidential approval for admission. To understand the accomplishments that warrant inclusion into such a Hall of Fame, one must peer into Newcombe’s groundbreaking baseball experiences. Two seasons after beginning his professional baseball career with the Negro Leagues’ Newark Eagles, Newcombe played for the Nashua Dodgers, America’s first racially integrated baseball team since the color line was drawn in 1888. By 1949, Newcombe, with teammates Jackie Robinson, and Roy Campanella, and Cleveland outfielder Larry Doby was among the first African-Americans to be named to a Major League All-Star team. Apparently aware of Newcombe’s role in breaking baseball’s color line, it was President Obama himself who included Newcombe in the […]

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Dodger press box can be a lonely place — just ask Don Hartack

August 1st, 2015

Many boys dream of making it to the major leagues, hitting balls over the fence and into a crowd of wildly cheering fans.  They picture toeing the pitching rubber with the crowd hushed in anticipation of the pitch.  The big league dream is strong for many, but elusive for all but the special few. Don Hartack, a former high school shortstop, realized early his ability to cleanly field grounders and stay back on a curve ball would not carry him to  baseball’s zenith. It’s Hartack’s other skills that would take him all the way to The Show. You’re watching a baseball game and a hard hit one hopper glances off of the infielder’s glove.  Quick — is it a hit or an error?  The pitch that made its way to the backstop.  What do you think, is it a wild pitch or a passed ball? There’s only one person whose opinion matters. With his precise knowledge of the rule book and keen decision-making skills, Hartack got to the majors as Major League Baseball’s official scorer at Dodger Stadium. The uniformed men play and umpire the game, but it’s Hartack who interprets the plays and decides how they will be statistically recorded.  When he’s […]

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Eric Smith PA Announcer: The man with the voice from above

July 15th, 2015

When Eric Smith talks, people listen. As public address announcer for theDodgers, Smith’s commanding voice is a sound as familiar to fans attending Dodger games as the organ music of Take Me Out to the Ball Game. For the last ten years, Smith has been the voice from above, announcing the players to the fans who come through the turnstiles each season – all three million of them. “That’s an intimidating number when you think about it,” Smith says. “There’s certainly responsibility that comes with that.” Perhaps Smith’s biggest responsibility is announcing players into the game. When a player is on deck as a pinch hitter, he becomes a part of the game when Smith announces him. Before that happens, the manager tells the umpire he’s making the change. The umpire then gestures to the press box in Eric’s direction to alert him to announce the player. In a preseason game in Smith’s first year, he learned this procedure in dramatic fashion. Jim Tracy, the Dodger manager at the time, instructed a player swing a bat in the on-deck circle. Tracy had no intention of actually having the player pinch-hit. “He was hoping the other manager would see the on-deck hitter and change […]

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Orel Hershiser’s Cy Young Soundtrack

June 26th, 2015

Music has a way of making memories come to life. All it takes for a return to childhood is to hear the lullabies mom sang, or the songs of our youth on the radio. Baseball has its own soundtrack. Take Me Out to the Ball Game brings smiles to the faces of baseball fans no matter where it’s heard. For Dodger faithful, there’s a song that evokes images of Cy Young Award winner Orel Hershiser and the team’s last championship in 1988. Master of the House, a song from the musical Les Miserables, was played each time Hershiser warmed up before home games. Fans at the stadium soon associated the song with Hershiser’s goosebumps-producing performances that featured a Major League record 59 consecutive scoreless innings, and a World Series championship. So how did the tune become Hershiser’s own private song? Turning back the clock to ‘88, we find Nancy Bea Hefley, then in her first year as organist at Dodger Stadium. A poised, classy figure, Hefley fondly recalls watching Les Mis at the Shubert Theater, hearing Master of the House for the first time early in the 1988 season. “Even though it was a rowdy number, I thought it was catchy,” Hefley said. But it wasn’t Hershiser she had in mind when she decided […]

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"Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball…"

~Jacques Barzun, 1954