My kids built this baseball stadium out of blocks. I saw that they had their little plastic guys in an odd formation and I asked them what was up? My 6 year old explained that the group at home plate were the Giants celebrating and I said, “…who are these guys?” and he said, “…the Dodgers. They’re walking to the clubhouse in center field.” You can’t make this up. True story. I had read them the story of the 1908 “Merkle’s Boner” and shown them the footage of the “Miracle of Coogan’s Bluff” and of course grandpa regaled them with stories of 1951 and 1954. That’s what you get. Go Giants!
March 10, 2014
March 8, 2014
I thought that this was a put on; something from ooh, say, Spinal Tap. But it’s real. Wow. And this guy could play. I still get lost in his playing on Who Do We Think We Are on Place in the Line and Rat Bat Blues and Our Lady and of couse Lazy from another album. But, you can see how he might have been tough to work with!
March 4, 2014
Try out this guy. If you’ve never heard of him, you are in for a treat. Her too.
February 24, 2014
Listen to the commentators on this one-pocket pool match. I love these guys! I could shoot with them. The folks doing the over-the-top gushing on TV should take a page from these guys. It’s so honest. And they are ripping their friend George! It’s pretty funny actually.
I have no idea of the level of this or the stakes or anything. I just wanted to see some good one-pocket and this is the first thing I found. Now for non-pool types, one-pocket is the game most like chess as far as positioning is concerned. There will be lots of safeties. But it’s compelling in its own way.
In one-pocket, each player gets a single pocket into which to pocket balls that score for them. You get to 8 and you win. It can take time however. Most of the time, you are just pushing balls over towards your pocket, and trying to leave the cue ball in the maw of the other guy’s pocket. It can be boring to play, especially for those who aren’t real good, but, it will train you in certain things; one-rail banks and kick shots. It will make you THINK, which is always good and it improve your safety play for sure. I am enjoying listening to these two guys!
February 22, 2014
The last plot twist in the 1951 Giants Win The Pennant story, and why Bobby Valentine doesn’t want you to hear it
I am an artist who sculpts life size, solid wood statues of ballplayers. My Jackie Robinson statue is currently on display at the Yogi Berra Museum on the campus of Montclair State University in Little Falls, NJ. While checking their website recently, I found an event there that piqued my interest. It was a film called Branca’s Pitch with a Q&A with Ralph Branca, the Dodger pitcher who gave up the pennant-winning home run to Bobby Thomson of the Giants on Oct 3, 1951. We’ve all seen the film of Thomsom bounding around the bases at the old Polo Grounds and Russ Hodges screaming, “The Giants win the pennant, The Giants win the pennant…etc.”, so when I saw that Ralph Branca would be at the museum where my statue was, my wheels began turning. Since Branca was the last living 1947 Dodger, I thought, “…wouldn’t it be great for him to take a picture with the Robinson statue?” That would be a good shot for my art website, so I felt compelled to go and try and get the photo.
In preparation, I pulled out my copy of Josh Prager’s 2008 book, “The Echoing Green”, and ran some You Tube videos on the topic. In 1951, the Giants found themselves 13.5 games back of the Dodgers in early August. And then they got hot and put on the pennant run for the ages. It ended up with both teams having identical records at the end of the season and National League rules called for the teams to play off in a three game series to determine who would go to the World Series; “the pennant”, if you will. In those days, the pennant doubled most player’s salaries for the year. Grown men, playing for money; a zero sum game.
The Giants and Dodgers split the first two games and played the third and deciding game on Oct 3, 1951, at the Polo Grounds. On Ralph Branca’s second relief pitch, Bobby Thomson hit a three run homer to give the Giants the win, 5 to 4, in the bottom of the 9th inning. Since it was the first live, coast-to-coast baseball telecast in history, and since Russ Hodges broke all decorum by memorably screaming “The Giants win the Pennant”, four times over, this event became iconic, probably out of all reasonable proportion.
In January 2001, it came out publicly for the first time that the Giants had picked off the Dodgers’ signals. They had a man with a telescope out above the center field fence and he would see the catcher put down the sign and he’d use a buzzer that they had installed by an electrician, to signal the pitch to the bullpen and then on to the batter. Branca claimed that he had been told of this telescope system as early as 1954, by a team mate in Detroit when he was pitching for the Tigers. He kept silent about it, probably because if he was the one to break the story, it would look like he was trying to shift blame off of himself. So he wisely kept quiet until the article in 2001.
After that article, Branca came out swinging and did the talk shows and declared that the Giants had cheated; that they had stolen the pennant in 1951, and, he added, they had even stolen the 1954 pennant and World Championship as well, even though he was not involved in the 1954 pennant–he was pitching in Detroit. He demeaned the home run as “cheap” due to the odd dimensions of the Polo Grounds as well as claiming that it was based on a stolen signal and therefore should be invalid. He said that the Commissioner should retroactively award the 1951 pennant to the Dodgers and their heirs.
With all that said, there are some things that you need to know about the story if you’re going to get “judgmental” about whether or not someone was cheated. Most of these things have been written about, but one very material item, has not, to my knowledge, been written about in the proper context, and that is the question that I posed to Mr. Ralph Branca and his son-in-law, Bobby Valentine, in person, at the Yogi Berra Museum in Little Falls, NJ, Feb 19, 2014.
But before we go to the question, we need a little background on sign stealing. Just what is it?
In baseball, due to the velocity of the ball thrown from only 60 feet away, the catcher needs to know what the pitcher will throw so that he can catch it–I don’t think even baseball fans appreciate the sheer violence of a major league pitch. So the catcher puts down signs and the pitcher either accepts or rejects that suggestion and eventually, they both agree on what pitch will be thrown.
In baseball, stealing the signs ON the field is considered a skill and can make you a legend, while stealing them from OFF the field, is considered a cheat, but only anecdotally. It was considered something that was self-policing between the teams on the field. As early as 1898, a team was caught with a telescope-and-buzzer system that was discovered when the 3rd baseman noticed the 3rd base coach had his foot in a puddle of water–he dug and found a buried buzzer and traced an electrical line that went out beyond the center field fence. Even after this and similar events, there were no rules passed to prohibit this until 1961, so while Ralph Branca considers sign stealing from off the field to be “cheating”, it was not cheating by any rule of baseball. That is a stark, objective fact.
It’s pretty obvious what Branca is after–exoneration from giving up the most famous home run in baseball history. If Bobby Thomson knew the pitch was going to be a fastball, he could jump it, and that is Branca’s claim. Giant Sal Yvars admitted that, as relayer of signs from the Giants bullpen, he did, in fact, relay “the pitch” to Thomson. Whether or not Thomson used the info is open to speculation. Thomson himself said that while he took some signs that year, he did not take “the sign”. Branca laughs at this claim, but it’s not so far fetched.
It is well known that when these types of schemes have been implemented, some players WANT the signs while, curiously, others do NOT want them. There are some players who feel that it hurts them to know and they would rather react to the pitch naturally. Some players go back and forth. Bobby Thomson hit a home run off of Ralph Branca in game one of the three game set, in Ebbet’s Field, two days before the Shot Heard Round the World. He could not have had that sign. He homered. The first pitch of his famous at bat was such a middle-middle fastball, which he took, that the Giants bench erupted into shouts of, “…how could you TAKE THAT?” He actually homered on a much more difficult pitch to hit, an up-and-in fastball. If he was using the sign from Yvars, why wouldn’t he have offered at the perfect first pitch?
Other evidence that you may find interesting is that the Giants hit better ON THE ROAD, during the pennant stretch when the sign stealing was supposed to be winning them the pennant. A fair amount of Giants hit WORSE at the Polo Grounds during that spell, than before it. The thing that statistically jumps out off the page about the 1951 Giants is that the PITCHING, both home and away, turned from mediocre to LIGHTS OUT, for the pennant run. The numbers don’t lie: the “Miracle of Coogan’s Bluff” was Sal Maglie, Larry Jansen and Jim Hearn’s pitching, along with the obtuseness of the Dodgers’ manager, Charlie Dressen. (Dressen’s complicity is one idea on which Branca agrees whole-heatedly).
So where are we? Did the Giants install a telescope-and-buzzer system to read signs on or about the time the team began its historic pennant run in early August, 1951? Yes. Was it against any rule of baseball at that time? No. Did it cause them to win the pennant? Inconclusive, but the numbers infer a “no”. What did happen? The Dodgers played .500 ball while the Giants starting pitching turned to gold.
We should probably take a little more time to ponder the buzzer question. One of the odd things about sign stealing is that it might not be all it’s cracked up to be. Sandy Koufax is reputed to have tipped EVERY SINGLE pitch he ever threw out of the stretch. The whole league knew it and yet, he went to the hall of fame. The Giants hit better on the road than at home. In fact, the Giants hit better BEFORE the buzzer system was implemented! They lost the second game of the series, at home, 10-0. They got shut out by Clem Labine even with the buzzer system. Branca’s position is that if even one base hit turned one game, then they are tied and have to play the playoff series. He says surely it helped them flip one game from a loss to a win? And that’s all it would have taken. That’s a fair point. It’s indeterminate, but it’s very likely. Keep that in mind.
So what did I ask Ralph Branca that upset his son-in-law Bobby Valentine so? Well, in college, in the 1980′s, I had found my way in the library stacks to the old Sports Illustrated collection. I had just read a book about the Dodgers and the Giants and I gravitated to the 1950′s. I enjoyed reading an article by Dick Young written in 1955: “The Outlawed Spitball Was My Money Pitch”.
The article features Dodger starting pitcher Preacher Roe detailing how he, “threw spitballs the whole time I was with The Dodgers. Seven years in all”. Spitballs were against the rules of baseball in 1951. Preacher Roe went 22-3 for the 1951 Dodgers. And that was my question to Branca and Valentine and filmmaker Andrew Muscato. I asked basically: how can you call entire Giant teams “cheaters”, when, (1) they weren’t cheating by the rules of baseball and (2) you profited from a guy who admittedly cheated?
I had no sooner gotten the words out of my mouth when Bobby Valentine began speaking quite loudly and quickly. He nervously asked rhetorically whether I was not mistaken; that perhaps spitballs were not illegal in 1951? He continued talking and referenced that the spitball ban included some pitchers who were “grandfathered” and could legally throw them. Now I knew that the spitball was banned in 1920, and the last legal, grandfathered spitball, was thrown by Burleigh Grimes in 1934. Valentine was tap dancing; protecting his nice, old, father-in-law by spouting patent nonsense, but doing so very professionally so as to let everyone know, “…well, we’re not going THERE!”
And then Ralph Branca asked me somewhat patronizingly, “…you don’t know what a spitball looks like”, and I said, “spinless, or nearly so”. And he said, “yes…” and proceeded to describe how you hold it and squirt it out of your fingers and he then reminisced that Preacher Roe had this great spitball that would come in waist high and Campy would have to dive down and catch it almost off the ground. So while Bobby Valentine tried to completely squash the topic, there was 88 year old Ralph Branca basically telling us all, “yes, Preacher had a dandy spitball”, and insodoing, he made my point for me.
For the record, I immediately felt bad. I felt I gave an old man a hard time. But I couldn’t help myself because only minutes before, I was angry at this same old man and the film maker and executive producer Bobby Valentine, for leading people to a false conclusion; for sullying the reputations of people, living and dead; folks who could not necessarily defend their reputations.
It angered me that they were all making money off what are basically cherry-picked “facts”. I think what turned my annoyance into action was when he went after the 1954 World Champion Giants, because he had nothing whatsoever to do with them. In the end, while I know I’m tilting at 60 year old windmills, it is about fairness, and Ralph Branca is not being fair–neither are Andrew Muscato and Bobby Valentine. Here you have people weaving a false narrative and profiting by it. They have a good thing going and I wasn’t going to be permitted to spoil it.
But on the stairs on the way out, as folks were crowding around Branca and Valentine to get their autographs and handshakes, a guy turned to me and stage-whispered, “you are RIGHT!”, and I said quietly to him, “I know, but I feel bad for asking it”. And we talked a bit. He was a nice guy. Further down the stairs, I met a baseball writer who I know and I said the same thing, “I shouldn’t have opened my mouth” and he said, “no, it was a good question”.
At some point during the film, I decided that I would not hang around and try to get a photo with Ralph Branca and my Jackie Robinson statue. Sure he was the last living member of the 1947 Dodgers and had been instrumental in his acceptance. I had come to the simple, disappointing conclusion that I didn’t want it because I didn’t respect him. Sure, he helped integrate baseball and sure, I enjoyed his talk about Durocher vs Dressen and Jackie and Hodges and Pee Wee and “the era”. He’s a nice old man and he’s funny and his stories and place in history are great, but I just can’t reconcile it. He’s in one of the bigger glass houses and he’s throwing stones and I guess, hoping no one will notice. The trouble is, I noticed.
And I think the shame of it all is that Ralph Branca’s legacy should be that he was perhaps the first white ballplayer to accept Robinson and befriend him. Instead, the focus will be somewhat splintered with too much attention being drained off in the direction of his biased narrative of this single pitch.
February 14, 2014
You have to love this from Sidney Bechet; Dear Old Southland. He interpolates some St. Louis Blues (?) in the middle–I think that’s the tune, I’m not too good at remembering it. That wide vibrato is as distinctive as George Harrison’s slide work–you hear one bar of it and you KNOW who it is.
February 13, 2014
Read a little about this man.
You wonder (well, I do, anyway) if a guy like this devoted himself to something other than a game, would he have been Einstein or something? The guy could crack open a position. There a lot of game runthroughs on utoob.
February 12, 2014
Did I miss it? Is Ghandi retiring already? I don’t think there’s enough coverage. Really. We need more. Maybe a whole Ghandi-pay-channel?
February 6, 2014
Sad to hear of Ralph Kiner’s change of worlds today. I got his autograph through the chicken wire behind home plate at Shea Stadium in about 1975 or 76 with my brothers. It was a thrill–he was a Hall of Famer; he was our Ralph, the voice of Summer, along with Lindsay Nelson (my favorite) and Bob Murphy. I can not emphasize enough, how familiar these voices are to me. I have probably listened to more words from these men than anyone besides my closest family and it’s odd to think of it that way, but it’s true.
You want a factoid about Kiner? Ok, here’s one or two I picked up over the years. (1) He was one of the first players in the pre-pitching-machine-days, to hire his own personal batting practice pitcher and even brought the kid on the road at times, I believe. He picked it up from Hank Greenburg and he spent his own money on this “frill” and claims it did him worlds of good. Now? Anyone can take 1000′s of swings off the machines, but back then, you had to have someone humping that ball up to you, and I guess, if you bought a quality arm, he could throw you decent breaking stuff and try and fool you and it could get really intense. (2) When Keith Hernandez joined the Mets in June 1983, he sought out Ralph on the plane and sat with him and talked hitting. He could not believe that no other Mets wanted to do this. After all, here was the guy with the higher HR pctg than Ruth, sitting on the same plane on every road trip and no one availed themselves of the knowledge. Keith had the respect.
I saw a kid today at a baseball gym. He was in the weight room and he had on a brand-spanking new Led Zeppelin t-shirt. It was new. Not his uncle’s hand-me-down. I thought, “wow, it’s 2014!”. Zeppelin was at their peak in 1974. So > 84 > 94 > 04 > 14 makes that 40 years ago. That would have been like me in 1980, wearing a “Glen Miller” or “Artie Shaw” or “Tommy Dorsey” t-shirt! My dad’s era. NOT cool (even though I was listening to them–especially Artie). I would like to think I would have been cool enough to at least have a “Hot Fives” t-shirt from 1927. Or just the cryptic, “Pops”. Or for eateries, perhaps a “Toots Shor’s”…haha. wow.