Results tagged ‘ Gene Michael ’

The oldest major leaguer

Berowski_90.jpgBy Freddy Berowski

Art Mahan was born 13 months before Babe Ruth made his big league debut.

By the time Mahan died – on Tuesday at the age of 97 – Mahan had lived to see baseball evolve from a simple game to a national treasure.

Mahan, who played in 146 games for the Phillies in his only big league season in 1940, was the fourth-oldest living major leaguer at the time of his death. Ranking first on that chart is Tony Malinosky, who played 35 games for Brooklyn in 1937 and today stands at 101 years and 63 days old.

But Malinosky has a ways to go before he can lay claim to being the oldest major leaguer ever. 

12-09-10-Berowski_Hilltop.jpgThe Sept. 7, 1911 New York Times said of Chet “Red” Hoff’s major league debut against the Washington Senators: “Pitcher Hoff was in the game long enough to have his picture taken.”

This contemporary account is contrary to most published reports nearly 90 years later, largely based on the tales told by Hoff himself. But after a lifetime – the longest lifetime of any former big league player – Chet Hoff earned the right to tell a few stories.  

Chester Cornelius Hoff was born May 8, 1891 in Ossining, N.Y., and lived 107 years, 4 months and 9 days, making him the longest living major leaguer. He pitched in five games his rookie season, going straight from the sandlots of Ossining to the top of the hill in New York City, playing for the Highlanders who would become the Yankees in 1913. He even met up with Ty Cobb that season, but not in his major league debut. 

In the years shortly before his death, Hoff recalled his debut, getting the call from his manager Hal Chase in the ninth inning of a blow-out game, and striking out Cobb on three straight pitches. Hoff claimed he didn’t know who he had faced until the next day when he read the newspaper and was stunned when he read a headline “Hoff Strikes out Ty Cobb.”

12-09-10-Berowski_Cobb.jpgHoff’s actual debut came on Sept. 6, throwing a scoreless frame in a 6-2 loss against the Washington Senators. Hoff got his action against the Tigers 12 days later. The Sept. 19, 1911 New York Times stated, “Hoff pitched the last four innings and did good work.”

In his four innings of one-run ball, Hoff faced Ty Cobb and according to the Times, “fooled Ty with a roundhouse curve, which crossed the center of the plate for the third strike”. It was a rare two-strikeout day for the legendary Cobb, who also fanned in his first at bat of the day against Yankee ace Russ Ford.

Hoff pitched in 12 games for the Highlanders and Yankees over the course of three seasons and compiled an 0-2 record, with a 3.89 ERA. Hoff pitched one season for the St. Louis Browns, 1915, and went 2-2 with a 1.24 ERA. He retired from professional baseball in 1918, but his love for the game never diminished. 

He returned home to Ossining, where he went to work as a paper cutter for Rand-McNally, continued to play semi-pro ball on weekends and continued to follow the Yankees. Chet Hoff’s story made national news when he turned 100 and appeared on The Today Show in 1993. He followed up that appearance with some appearances for his old ballclub, including an appearance alongside Gene Michael and Willie Randolph at a ceremony dedicating a plaque on the site of Hilltop Park, the Yankees original home, where Hoff made his major league debut. 

Hoff passed away on Sept. 17, 1998.

Freddy Berowski is a library associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Grapefruit stories

Idelson_90.jpgBy Jeff Idelson

I’m sitting in Tampa International Airport awaiting the one non-stop Southwest Airlines flight back to Albany, having just concluded my Grapefruit League spring training jaunt. My Spring Training mission each year is to visit with those who are close to the Museum – current players and management, Hall of Famers, owners and supporters.

03-24-10-Idelson_DawsonPerez.jpgHaving spent eight years combined in the Red Sox and Yankee front offices before being hired in Cooperstown in 1994, my knowledge was limited to Florida Spring Training: the Yankees were in Ft. Lauderdale and the Red Sox in Winter Haven. Since, I have traveled to the desert, too.

The differences are stark: The air is markedly drier in Arizona, because of the elevation. The ballparks in Arizona are surrounded by mountains; most of the ones in Florida, by water. Thirteen of 15 ballparks in Arizona are within 60 miles of each other. In Florida, they span across the state. I spent seven nights in one hotel in Scottsdale, Arizona; I was in six different places in six nights in Florida and flew in and out of airports across the state from each other.

The one similarity? I had a game rained out in each state.

I had a chance to visit with a number of our Hall of Famers. Andre Dawson and I had dinner in North Miami Beach, near his home. He’s already made great progress on his speech and is getting ready for Induction. “I’ll try not to get too emotional,” the stoic “Hawk” told me. I let him know that if he did not get emotional, I would be worried. Almost every speech I have heard since 1994 has been emotional. 

Hall of Fame Chairman Jane Clark, Ken Meifert from the Hall, and I, saw Mike Schmidt and his wife Donna in Palm Beach Gardens. We talked about a variety of topics, from baseball to bull riding to music to living in Florida. Mike is very excited about our inaugural Hall of Fame Classic Golf tournament in June, in which he will participate. He was thrilled to know that a number of the 28 spots available are already filled.

03-24-10-Idelson_Jupiter.jpgLast Saturday, we hosted our Hall of Fame Champions in Jupiter. John and Kathy Greenthal became the first Champions in Hall of Fame history to attend events in both Spring Training states. Jim and Tina Collias made the trip over from Naples to Jupiter, and Dan Glazer also joined us. Hall of Fame Board member Bill DeWitt, owner of the Cardinals, was generous in hosting us for his team’s game with the Mets. Spring Training games are usually not that interesting, but this one featured the Mets scoring three runs in the 9th, the last on an Ike Davis game-tying home run, only to have Ruben Gotay lead off the bottom of the 9th with a walk-off home run.

Speaking of walk-off home runs, we dined with Dennis and Jennifer Eckersley after the game. I asked Dennis what he thought of Doug Harvey. “He was behind the plate for Kirk Gibson’s home run in the 1988 World Series,” Dennis reminded me, as I began to suffer the symptoms of foot-in-mouth disease. He still thought Harvey was an excellent arbiter. 

I headed across the state to Yankee camp and saw many old friends in the clubhouse before the game: Billy Connors, Ron Guidry, Goose Gossage, Steve Donohue, the team athletic trainer, Joe Girardi, Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter, whom we drafted when I worked for the team. The game was rained out as Gene Michael, his minor league teammate and Tigers broadcaster, Jim Price, and I had lunch. Also saw Tiger friends Dave Dombrowski and Al Aliva in the dining room and learned more about the Tigers.

Dinner that night was with Wade and Debbie Boggs and Reggie Jackson. Eddie Fastook, the team’s traveling security director and a long-time friend, also joined us. 

Unbeknownst to me, Boggs grew up a big Reggie Jackson fan, even wearing No. 9 in honor, the number Reggie wore early in his career in Oakland. Wade told the story of how in the mid 1980s, Reggie gave him one of his bats to use in 1985. “I used it for 33 straight games and hit five home runs,” said Wade. “I loved that bat and then I broke it on a Dave Stieb pitch,” a dejected Wade recalled.

03-24-10-Idelson_Zimmer.jpgThe next morning, I visited City of Palms Park in Fort Myers to see the Red Sox and the Rays. I met up with Don Zimmer, who is very bullish on the Rays this year. “The best club we’ve had in my seven years with them,” Zim said.

Zim told me how much he admired Dawson and Ryne Sandberg when he managed the Cubs. “Two guys who led by example,” he said. “The other players watched these guys and saw greatness in the making.”

I told Don I would be seeing Jim Rice and Bob Montgomery later that day. 

“Monty was the best hit-and-run guy I ever had,” recalled Zim. “I remember in a game with Cleveland, the bases were loaded. They had a sinker-baller on the mound so I rolled the dice and gave (coach) Eddie Yost the hit-and-run sign on a 3-2 count. Monty put the bat on the ball and we stayed out of the double play. Everyone looked at me like I was crazy, but I really thought it would work, and it did.”

Rice later told me that he believed Thurman Munson and Lou Piniella were among the best hit-and-run guys he saw when he played.

I concluded my trip with dinner at Carlton and Linda Fisk’s home in the Sarasota area. We had a wonderful visit and a great dinner. Pudge joked about how some of the evenings in Florida this year were as cold as those he experienced growing up in New Hampshire.

I’ve had my fill. Let the regular season begin.

Jeff Idelson is president of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

The new Yankee Stadium takes its bow

Appel_90.jpgBy Marty Appel

On Opening Day of the refurbished Yankee Stadium, April 15, 1976, it was nearly 90 degrees and of course, I had overdressed, deeming it appropriate to wear a suit and tie on this formal occasion. I was the PR director; I was the guy on the field trying to make order out of 50 photographers and a long list of VIPs, coordinating the introductions with hand signals to Bob Sheppard in the PA booth. All of my “assistance” from stadium security had vanished, dispatched to Mr. Steinbrenner’s office for his pregame party.

So there I was, alone on the field with Joe Louis, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Frank Gifford, Kyle Rote, Johnny Unitas, Weeb Ewbank and others with Stadium pedigrees. 4-17-09-Appel_OldYankeeStadium.jpgBob Shawkey, who pitched the 1923 opener, was on hand to throw out the first pitch, and he was surrounded on the mound by Mel Allen, the legendary “Voice of the Yankees;” by Pete Sheehy, the kindly clubhouse manager who had been there since 1927; by Toots Shor, the restaurateur whose eatery had been a second home to so many athletes; and by James Farley, former postmaster general, head of the Democratic Party, Haverstraw, N.Y. amateur baseball player, and season-ticket holder since ’23. Whitey Witt stood at the plate — he was the first Yankees batter in ’23.

Although recent publicity has called the remodeled Yankee Stadium inferior to the original, at the time, almost everyone had glowing approval for the project. Escalators, a video-replay scoreboard (which didn’t work on Opening Day), no obstructed-view seating, modern-dining facilities, luxury boxes and a new sound system all had kicked the aging park into modern times. The façade design, not yet held in iconic status as it is today, graced the top of the bleacher billboards. There wasn’t seating in the left-field bleachers until it was hastily installed prior to the ’76 ALCS, and thus the attendance of 54,010 was less than the eventual capacity.

These thoughts were in my mind as I boarded the crowded D train at Columbus Circle for the 15-minute trip to the Bronx. Today, you can always tell when it’s the right train, because everyone is wearing Yankees clothing — caps, Jeter T-shirts, etc. I always remember George Weiss, the GM in the ’50s, supposedly pounding on his desk in front of a promotion man who was touting Cap Day and saying, “Do you think I want every kid in this town walking around in a Yankees cap?” As if it would be sacrilegious.

Upon emerging from the subway Thursday, I the first view is not of the beautiful new Stadium, but of the old one, over there to the left, experiencing the early stages of demolition. I was very emotional when I attended the final game last September, and this is yet another tug at my heartstrings. Sledgehammers are doing their jobs along the bleacher walls, and within the next few months, the concrete will be down, and the reality will really set in. I’ve been going there since 1956. This is tough to see.

I was early enough to take a full walk around the new park. There are no statues, as other teams have included, but plenty of signage and banners remembering great Yankees: Ruth to Gehrig to DiMaggio to Mantle to Munson to Murcer to Jackson to Mattingly to O’Neill to Williams to Jeter to Rivera to Sabathia. Yes, to CC. Hey, he was going for his second Yankees win Thursday! And the first rule of promoting your product is to promote the current product more than the old.

It’s nice that Babe Ruth Plaza not only remains, but is also enhanced. It used to be just three words in broken tile in a patch of concrete breaking up traffic flow on 161st Street. Now it has a more formal presence, as the outside of the first-base/right-field side of the stadium. The inside complement is called the Great Hall. (I might have named it the Grand Concourse, after the nearby Bronx street.)

Everyone is in a festive mood, and there had been rumors in the last 24 hours of not Yogi, but of President Obama — or of Archbishop Dolan, newly installed just Wednesday, handling the honors. The paper this morning said it would be Yogi, which is just fine. He has been a loveable figure in this town since his 1946 debut 63 years ago. How do you stay so lovable so long? You have to be the real deal, and he is. He’s the most honorable, honest and genuine person you could ever know. It is wonderful that he is still with us, just short of 84, to perform this honor. Although he does move closer to home plate with each ceremonial toss!

I arrived about two hours early and spent a lot of time photographing exterior shots. I decided that the crossing of 161st Street by hundreds of fans coming off the subway will take on the look of a Yankees fashion parade in no time. And just a few days after New York’s traditional Easter Parade! It’s quite a sight to see this sea of Yankees blue swarm across the street towards Babe Ruth Plaza.

I’m in Section 212, sitting with Jeff Idelson, my pal for almost 20 years and the president of the Hall of Fame. Like me, Jeff is a former Yankees PR director. The late Anne Mileo was secretary to us both, and it’s a good day to remember Anne as well.

4-17-09-Appel_Berra.jpgAfter receiving an Opening Day pin (sure to be a collectors item), I continued taking photos inside, thinking, “What would we be wanting to see of 1923′s opener if we could?”

So I shot concession-stand price signs, the restaurants, the signage and the museum, complete with all its signed baseballs, statues of Yogi and Larsen and the World Series trophies since 1977. I took a photo of the signed baseball of journeyman catcher Sal Fasano, one of my son’s favorite players, and wondered why I have no recollection of Frank Tanana ever being a Yankee.

The opening ceremonies were less tear-evoking than the final game last year, but still a marvel. John Fogerty sang “Centerfield” (love it), Bernie Williams did “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” on guitar (love him) and Kelly Clarkson performed the national anthem. (She is a different person than Carrie Underwood, right?)

The old timers introduced were a mixed bag of memories — good for the Yankees to invite the much-maligned Horace Clark, and how good it was to see Jerry Coleman, Whitey Ford and Bobby Brown, who, beside Mr. Berra, were the senior citizens. The biggest hands were for the more recent players — Williams, O’Neill, Tino Martinez, David Cone, etc., probably because younger fans cheer louder. Some of my favorites were there: Bobby Richardson, Moose Skowron, Ron Blomberg, Luis Arroyo, Ralph Terry and Bob Turley. (I guess we’ll never see Jim Bouton at such a gathering.) I wish Gene Michael had received a louder ovation, if only for what he meant as a super scout in the early ’90s, building the Yankees dynasty of that decade.

To me, with a public-relations background, much of a fan’s experience should be about how many cheer moments their day at the ballpark provides. 4-17-09-Appel_Posada.jpgFor example, I was at the first exhibition game on April 3 against the Cubs. Jackson threw out the first pitch. I think the fans would have gotten a chill if the PA announcer had said, “And joining Reggie for the ceremonial first pitch … one of his teammates from those great Yankees teams of the ’70s … one of the most popular players to ever wear the Yankees uniform … here today as the manager of the Chicago Cubs … a warm Yankee Stadium welcome for … Lou Piniella!” It would have been a terrific moment.

Jeff and I then sat back and enjoyed a baseball game as two old friends should. We commented on Sabathia’s high pitch count and rolled our eyes at the leather-lunged fan ahead of us who chose to stand and yell “hip hip …” on every pitch to Jorge Posada, so that everyone would follow with “Hor-HAY!” Wasn’t it a supernatural act, that when Posada hit the first home run in the new ballpark, our hero was off in the men’s room or somewhere and missed it?

Jeff and I shared a lot of observations about the minutiae of the place — the placement of the monuments, the retired numbers, the out-of-town scoreboard, even whether the PR department was correct to omit the 1974 opener at Shea Stadium in the media packet that included Hilltop Park, the Polo Grounds, the original Yankee Stadium and the remodeled Yankee Stadium. (We thought Shea belonged.)

When the Indians got nine runs in one inning, the fans started to yell “We want Swisher!” after Nick had pitched a shutout inning in the 15-5 loss Monday. That was pretty funny, and I hope Nick heard it in right field.

Yankee Stadium traditions continued — YMCA, three-card monte, the subway race, Ronan Tynan doing “God Bless America,” the bleacher bums’ roll call, and of course, the captain, Derek Jeter, being The Man. The fans love him, and he’s worthy of it. As Mantle had been a hero to me, and then 4-17-09-Appel_Jeter.jpgDon Mattingly to my son, it’s wonderful that someone like Jeter has come along for this generation. Baseball perpetuates itself.

It was a Yankees loss, but every team is going to lose 60 games, so you sort of put that aside and move on if you’re a Yankees fan. Posada hitting the first home run was big. The ballpark is a winner. And watching the game with a friend is the best part of it all.

After the opener at new Yankee Stadium, the following items were donated to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum and will soon be on display in Cooperstown: a game-used ball signed by Indians starting pitcher Cliff Lee, the spikes worn by Yankees starting pitcher CC Sabathia and the bat used by Indians center fielder Grady Sizemore to hit a seventh-inning grand slam.

Marty Appel is a special contributor to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

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