As some of you know, I’ve been writing a book for the past year…make that almost two. Yes, I may have underestimated how long this takes.
I interviewed 50 ball players and personalities, many of them Hall of Famers. There are three I’m the most proud of. Sitting with George Brett in the President’s box in Kauffman Stadium ranks up there. Interviewing my childhood idol, Dave Winfield also makes that top list, as does my interview with Cito Gaston. Ok, maybe I have more than three favourites. But this interview I hadn’t mentioned to many people. This one was very special, and I was planning on keeping as a surprise. Well, perhaps now is an appropriate time to say that it was Yogi Berra, and let us all take this time to say goodbye to a baseball legend.
Yogi was a man who beat the odds. What do I mean? Just like Pete Rose was told, Yogi was probably too small for baseball, at 5’7″ and 185 lbs. The Yankee catcher would go on to hit 358 HR’s over his 19-year tenure, being selected to the All-Star team 18 times! He was also a 13-time World Series Champ, and won the MVP 3 times. Not bad for 5’7″, eh?
I was talking to a seasoned veteran baseball writer back when my book was just an idea, and mentioned I wanted to interview Berra.
“You need to be more realistic”, he said. “Yogi doesn’t do interviews anymore”.
Well that was true, as I discovered. But I persisted, and Yogi agreed to an interview via his son Dale, who asked Yogi my questions for me. I asked Yogi to tell me the funniest conversation he had on a baseball field. This was his response:
In St Louis, playing against the Browns, the temperature was in the high 90’s and Casey made me catch both games of a double header. I started arguing every call the umpire made in an effort to get thrown out…the umpire said to me, “Yogi, you can curse me and call me every name in the book, but if I’m staying out here, you’re staying, so shut up!”
Shortly after my interview with Yogi had been completed, Yogi’s wife Carmen passed away. 18 months later, the great Yankee slugger has joined her.
Yogi was perhaps most famous for his hilarious stories and sayings. “It ain’t over ’till it’s over”, is perhaps one of the best known.
Well, it ain’t over Yogi.
Your legend will live on forever.
It was his final home game in Yankee Stadium.
Everyone wondered how he would be honoured. Would he be pulled off the field with two outs in the 9th, allowing the fans time to appreciate him? Nah, that’s not his style. Derek would have rather ended that inning by turning a double play, or maybe by making his signature jump-spin to throw out a runner one final time.
But Baltimore is gunning for home field advantage in the playoffs and had no intentions of letting up. Two Orioles home runs later and suddenly the game was tied. It took the air out of the crowd, but only momentarily once everyone realized what had just been set up.
One more at bat for The Captain.
The Yankees executed as they almost always do, and with a runner on second in the bottom of the 9th inning, Jeter did what everyone hoped – what everyone expected him to do.
He came up big, one more time.
As the AL East dominant force that often beat up on my hometown Blue Jays, I can honestly say this was the first time I found myself cheering for a Yankee win. Why?
Because baseball, is the easy answer.
Because Jeter played the game the way a true hero was supposed to play it. With passion, with pride, and with integrity. And it’s hard not to cheer for someone like that.
Thank you, Derek Jeter. Thank you for always respecting the game.
This week signifies two very important things: The first day of Summer (finally!), and the Induction Ceremony for the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame (which falls on the same day). What better way to kick of the season?
I had the pleasure of attending the induction ceremony last year, and interviewed Rob Ducey, George Bell, Tim Raines, who were all being inducted into the 2013 Class. I also connected with Shirley Cheek, who was accepting the induction award on behalf of her late husband, Toronto Blue Jays’ broadcasting legend, Tom Cheek. More on that here.
This year, the festivities span several days, offering something for the whole family. The Hall of Fame is proud to announce this year’s inductees: Tim Wallach, Dave Van Horne, Murray Cook, & Jim Ridley.
The events kick-off on Thursday, July 19th with a celebrity softball game, which I’m honoured to have been invited to participate in (obviously as media, not as a celebrity!). The teams will be represented by Tim Wallach, and Hall-of-Famer Fergie Jenkins. Other celebrities include Dave Van Horne, Murray Cook, Jim Fanning, Paul Spoljaric, Billy Atkinson, many other notable former professional players, as well as representatives from Team Canada Fastball. There will also be a Slo-pitch homerun derby.
I was discussing past celebrity games with the Director of Operations of the HOF, Scott Crawford, who outlined one of his favourite memories from just a few years ago being Larry Walker hitting a homerun out over right field corner wall. Last year Tim Raines and George Bell played. This year there will be even more celebrities. This is an event you don’t want to miss!
Friday (June 20th) is possibly the busiest day of the week. The day kicks off with the 4th Annual “London Salutes Canadian Baseball” fundraising breakfast, sponsored by Lerners Lawyers and the London Convention Centre. There with be a Q & A with the celebrities, a live auction, and O’Canada by Canadian legend Michael Burgess. Also in attendance will be George Bell, Devon White, and Duane Ward.
Later that morning is the 18th Annual Celebrity Golf Classic & Sports Banquet. The list of incredible celebrities is way too long to list, but include the likes of Tom Henke, Tony Fernandez, Paul Beeston, and Babe Ruth’s Granddaughter Linda Ruth Tosetti. There is a banquet following the tournament, and tickets can be purchased separately as well.
Finally, Saturday June 21st kicks off with a Baseball Family Street Festival from 9 am to Noon, with a variety of events for kids of all ages. The induction ceremony starts at 1 pm, with a Blue Jays Honda Super Camp following, at 3 pm, where youth will get the opportunity to receive baseball instruction from Duane Ward, Devon White, and George Bell. I attended the Guelph Honda Super Camp, more on that here.
If you needed any more reasons to attend, this year is very special in that the inductees cover all facets of the game of baseball. Tim Wallach played for the Expos for the majority of his career, Dave Van Horne was an announcer for the Expos for 32 years and now covers Marlins games, Murray Cook is a Canadian who was the General Manger of the Yankees, Expos, and Reds, and Jim Ridley was a scout from 1976 – 2002. The Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame continues to build and expand, and is well worth the drive to St Marys.
For more information click here, or call the Hall of Fame directly at: Phone: 519-284-1838, Toll-free: 877-250-2255
When discussing the importance of tradition in sport, baseball often tops the list, possibly being the most “traditional” of all. Yet in some cases, holding onto what is traditional can possibly hold the sport back, or even hurt it. Sounds and smells associated with the sport are, “the crack of the bat”, “the feel of the grass”, and “the smell of the glove”. That smell of course being a leather baseball glove. However, one man who has become a pioneer in the development of new baseball gloves is Scott Carpenter. His business is certainly located in a traditional baseball town, being Cooperstown, NY. That’s where the tradition ends though, as his baseball gloves that are made with synthetic materials are proving to be lighter, stronger, and superior to the traditional leather gloves used by most. But this isn’t just a gimmick or a fad. Many professional ball players are now starting to use Carpenter gloves.
So why are they better?
Most players are stronger and faster today than they were 20 or 30 years ago. While one can argue that performance-enhancing drugs are the cause of that, it is an argument for another day. It does mean that the balls are sometimes being hit harder, and players need to react faster. In baseball, timing and specifically reaction time right down to fractions of a second can be the difference between safe and out, a home run or a fly ball, and even be the difference between a catch with a glove, or taking a hard-hit ball of a body part or worse, the face. Baseball has seen some serious injuries over the past season or two, as a result of a pitcher taking a come-backer off the head, not getting the glove up in time to protect themselves. It makes sense then, that buy wearing a lighter glove, one’s reflexes can move the glove faster, which means more plays made and more balls caught.
Another advantage to using synthetic materials Scott mentioned, is that the gloves don’t “wear” or stretch as traditional leather gloves do. Carpenter gloves are not only lighter, but also stronger. That means the feel doesn’t change, and the comfort remains the same throughout the life of the glove.
Want proof they’re better?
As I mentioned, professional players are already using Carpenter gloves. Something more significant is that the Pro players are opting out (or are going to be opting out) of glove contracts (I didn’t even know that was a thing!) to wear Carpenter gloves. Scott stated in his interview with me that he doesn’t pay players to wear his gloves. So what does this mean? It means that players are choosing to wear Carpenter gloves over a glove they would be paid to wear. To me, that speaks volumes to the quality of the product.
Frank Viola III is the proud new owner of a Carpenter Trade glove:
If you’re looking to learn more, listen to my interview with Scott Carpenter here.
You can visit his web site at: www.carpentertrade.com
I rode the metro link from my hotel and got off right at the foot of the stadium. It was the night before the Cardinals home opener, as well as the official ribbon cutting for Ballpark Village’s Museum and Cardinals Hall of Fame. There’s something special about a baseball stadium at night. It could be the stories it holds. It could also be the excitement in the air, and the anticipation of another potentially successful season for the baseball-crazed city.
I took some time to admire the bronze statue of Stan Musial, then continued my walk and stopped to check out more statues honouring Cardinal greats, some of whom I would be interviewing the following day.
Upon approaching Ballpark Village, I heard a familiar voice. ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball was being broadcast on the giant outdoor screen, so of course it was Dan Shulman I was hearing. Dan was a guest on my show last year, you can listen to that here. What a terrific spot to watch ball games, especially when the weather is nice!
There was a brief press conference the following morning, and the official ribbon cutting for the museum. After being the first official group to tour the museum (along with the inductees), I had the opportunity to interview Tony La Russa, Lou Brock, and Ozzie Smith. I made friends with a local photographer, Robert Rohe, who was kind enough to snap these great shots for me.
I even managed to grab former Toronto Blue Jays pitcher, and Cardinals 2006 & 2011 World Series Champ Chris Carpenter for an interview. Following my interview, he bravely ventured downstairs and through a sea of Cardinals fans. Can you spot him? It’s like playing a giant game of “Where’s Waldo”.
Despite the steady rain that had been falling all day, the Cardinals home opener commenced. The “Cardinals Nation” boasts a strong following of some pretty serious fans. In St. Louis, baseball is #1. After what I witnessed, I would say it’s really a culture. Cards fans take their baseball seriously. One group of young fans I made friends with snapped this great shot for me from a balcony in Ballpark Village. You can see what a terrific view you get of the field from across the street.
Overall, I would have to put Busch Stadium & Ballpark Village toward the top of my list of “must-see” baseball destinations. Regardless of whether or not you are a Cardinals fan, touring through the museum and Cards Hall of Fame is a real treat, and you can grab a frosty beverage from any number of happening spots to watch the game live, or on any number of ridiculously large televisions.
In the off-season, baseball changed some rules. The changes were meant to improve the game. The collision rule at home plate was meant to prevent serious injuries such as the one that was the beginning of the end of Ray Fosse’s career at the hands (or should I say helmet) of Pete Rose in 1970, and more recently (2011) the collision that ended Buster Posey’s season. While catchers blocking home plate has been a part of the game for so long, I can see the upside to the new rule.
The other change was implementing video replay to help overturn blown calls at pivotal times in the game. Traditionalists might say that you’re taking away a natural part of the game – human error. This very same human error cost Detroit pitcher Galarraga a perfect game in 2010, and also cost the Blue Jays a triple play in the 1992 World Series.
What video replay has done for the time being, is take away an element of the game which if for no other reason provides fans with entertainment value. When an ump blows a call (or appears to) in the past the manager would fly out of the dugout and argue the call. Sometimes, these arguments would turn heated, complete with yelling, swearing (one magic word supposedly gets you tossed instantly), kicking of dirt, tossing of bases (Lou Piniella), and ejections from the game. While I’m not an advocate of abusing the umpires, some might even say that a manager getting tossed can be a ploy to fire up his team.
Will we ever see these arguments again?
Over the course of the past few games, baseball has seen many calls challenged via video replay. Some calls have been overturned, which means the rule change was a good one, right? Sure, but what we’re seeing now, is a manager taking a slow stroll out to the ump, and talking about anything non baseball-related while waiting for a signal from his dugout (who are waiting for the team in their video-control room to let them know if the call was blown or not).
This slows the game down even more, and let’s be honest: it’s a really slow game already.
Here’s what I propose: give the manager a challenge flag, like in football. Give them a time limit in which they are allowed to challenge a call (say, before the next pitch). And if a manager is still looking for a way to get tossed, they can argue balls and strikes. That way we’re not having more conversations about what to get Jimmy for his wedding, because you can only talk about candle sticks for so long before things get awkward.
It happened before Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech, in 1963. It happened before Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the bus, in 1955. It was in 1947 that Jackie Robinson broke the major league colour barrier, when he played baseball for the Brooklyn Dodgers. It was this single event that is said to have been the catalyst of the modern-day civil rights movement, paving the way for Parks, King, and many other great civil rights activists.
So who paved the way for Jackie Robinson?
It is hard to say that just one person was responsible for laying the foundation. Surely there are far too many to mention. In 1920 the Negro Baseball Leagues were formed, led by Rube Foster, owner and manager of the Chicago American Giants. One player/manager named Buck O’Neil was indeed instrumental in the development of players and talent, and eventually the formation of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. Buck, Jackie, and too many others to mention are celebrated in the Museum, and I discussed the history of the leagues and formation of the museum with the President, Bob Kendrick in an interview you can listen to here.
On April 12th, 2014 the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is launching an annual awards gala called the Hall of Game, to honour former Major League Baseball greats who exhibited the same passion, determination and swagger that the heroes of the Negro Leagues did. James Timothy “Mudcat” Grant will be recognized at the gala, receiving the Jackie Robinson Lifetime Achievement Award, and the inaugural class will also include Joe Morgan, Lou Brock, the late, great Roberto Clemente, and Dave Winfield. Surely Toronto fans remember Winfield’s heroic two-run double in the 11th inning of the 6th game in the 1992 World Series.
As a result of the kindness of many contributing to my indiegogo campaign for the book I am writing, I can say that I am fortunate and excited to be attending the Hall of Game ceremony in Kansas City in several weeks to cover the event and conduct interviews. I look forward to visiting this world-class establishment, expanding my baseball history knowledge, and sharing the stories of legends with all of you. The Hall of Game awards event and gala is April 12th, 2014, and you can learn more about the event here and purchase tickets directly here.
Follow the Negro Leagues Museum President, Bob Kendrick on twitter: @nlbmprez