Monthly Archives: September 2013

Indian Bob Johnson (stories from the minors)

Who is the best major league baseball playeryou never heard of?

I’m going to guess Bob Johnson, whose nickname was unfortunate but a sign of the times, would get a

Bob Johnson

few votes, except I’m not sure how you would vote for a player you never heard of. I guess we’ll figure that out.

Anyway, I’m continuing my blog series this week on major league baseball players who spent some time in Wichita playing minor league ball. And Bob Johnson did so, spending part of the 1929 season playing for the Wichita Aviators in the Western League, where he was a teammate of Woody Jensen, who would go on to become a long-time bowling proprietor in Wichita.

Johnson played in 66 games for the Aviators that season and hit 16 home runs while batting .273. It was a sign of good things to come for Johnson, a power-hitting corner outfielder who played 13 years in the majors.

He finished his career with 2,051 hits, 1,239 runs, 396 doubles, 95 triples, 288 home runs, 1,283 RBIs, 96 stolen bases and an OPS (combined slugging and on-base percentages) of .899. I found only six players in major league history who topped Johnson in all eight of those categories: Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Harry Heilman, Rogers Hornsby, Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth.

Johnson had a great set of tools and was a seven-time American League All-Star. There might be a legitimate excuse as to why you never heard of him. Perhaps you don’t follow baseball that closely.

I do and have since the mid-1960s. So there’s no excuse for me, but I confess to having no knowledge of Johnson, who finished his MLB career by playing a season with the Washington Senators and two with the Boston Red Sox.

From 1935-41, in the prime of his career, Johnson put up these offensive numbers with the Philadelphia A’s:

1935 – .299, 28 homers, 109 RBI

1936 – .292, 25, 121

1937 – .306, 25, 108

1938 – .313, 30, 113

1939 – .338, 23, 114

1940 – .288, 31, 103

1941 – .275, 22, 107

Not bad, huh?

Interestingly, Johnson didn’t stop playing when he stopped playing – at least in the big leagues. His last season in the majors was in 1945, when he was 39. But Johnson returned to the minor leagues, something that would never happen with a star player today. Then, though, the salaries weren’t as different as they are now between a big leaguer and a top minor-league player.

Johnson played for Milwaukee in 1946, two seasons in Seattle in 1947 and 1948, Tacoma in 1949 and finished up with a season in Tijuana, Mexico, in the Southwest International League in 1951, when he was 45.

A late bloomer, Johnson didn’t start his big league career until he was 27, having spent four years in the minor leagues. Yet he became one of the American League’s best hitters over a long stretch.

Playing in an era that included American League stars Lou Gehrig, Hank Greenberg, Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Bill Dickey, Earl Averill, Jimmie Fox and others, Johnson consistently ranked among the top 10 in various offensive categories.

A native of Pryor, Okla., where he was born in 1905, Johnson spent most of his adult life in the Seattle area and died there in 1982, at the age of 76.

His brother, Roy, had a productive 10-year major league career with the Detroit Tigers, Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and Boston Braves, during which he batted .296 and accumulated 1,292 hits.

I never heard of him, either.

 

Baseball thoughts

* I like Joe Maddon, the manager of the Tampa Bay Rays. I like that team, in fact. I’ll be watching tonight when the Rays play at Texas in the play-in for the play-in American League game that will determine the team that gets to travel to Cleveland for a chance to then travel to Boston. I like the two wild-card system in the big leagues, but it has the potential to be cumbersome. We’re witnessing that in the American League this week.

* Back to Tampa Bay. While I like the manager and the team, I can’t stand the fan base. It’s not a fan

A rare big crowd at Tropicana Field, the St. Petersburg, Fla., home of the Tampa Bay Rays.

base. And it’s certainly not a fan base that should be treated to winning baseball, which the Rays have given them for several years now. Tampa Bay this season ranked dead last in American League attendance at just 18,465 per game. That’s embarrassing. And while I understand that the ballpark in St. Petersburg, Fla., is outdated, how come Tampa gets to hold on to its MLB team?

* In the previous 12 seasons, from 2001 through 2012, Tampa ranked 28th, 28th, 29th, 29th, 30th, 29th, 29th, 26th, 23rd, 22nd, 20 and 30th among the 30 teams in average attendance. Baseball fans in Tampa obviously are few and far between. I’m for uprooting the Rays and sending them to Charlotte, Portland, Las Vegas or somewhere else where fans might actually show up.

* I’m surprised veteran Detroit manager Jim Leyland is going with Justin Verlander as his Game 1 starter in the American League Divisional Series against Oakland on Friday night. Verlander has had a down year, plain and simple. Yes, he’s been a dynamic ace for the Tigers for several seasons. But that role now belongs to Max Scherzer, a right-hander who was 21-3 this season. And the case can be made – a strong case at that – that Anibal Sanchez has been Detroit’s second most effective starter. Detroit does open on the road in the ALDS and Verlander has more big-game experience than either Scherzer or Sanchez. But I would prefer having Scherzer available for two games in the series.

* Getting home field advantage in the National League, especially, was a big deal. The St. Louis Cardinals, who ended up with a one-game edge over Atlanta for the best record in the National League, have been a very good home team this season. So have the Braves, who will now have to go on the road in the NLCS should they advance to play the Cardinals. Atlanta hasn’t been a great road team in 2013, so if those teams play that’s a big edge to St. Louis.

* The following rookie pitchers have made big contributions to the Cardinals this season: Shelby Miller, Michael Wacha, Trevor Rosenthal, Kevin Seigrist, Carlos Martinez, Seth Maness, Tyler Lyons. The following rookie pitchers have also contributed: Sam Freeman, Keith Butler, John Gast, Michael Blazek. Blazek was sent to Milwaukee at the end of July in the trade that brought veteran John Axford to St. Louis. But can any team in baseball history claim that 11 rookie pitchers made contributions?

* Predictions? You want predictions?

* OK, I say Tampa Bay beats Texas tonight in Arlington behind left-hander David Price. Then, with a depleted pitching staff, the Rays lose in Cleveland, which means the Indians play Boston in the NLDS. I’m so pulling for the Tribe if that happens, but suspect that the Red Sox win the series. Although there’s something about Cleveland that can’t be overlooked. Terry Francona’s return to playoff baseball in Boston, only this time as the opposing manager, will have a lot of intrigue. I think Detroit beats Oakland, even though the A’s are the best no-name bunch I can remember. It won’t be easy. And I like the Tigers over Boston in the ALCS.

* In the National League, Pittsburgh beats Cincinnati in the play-in game Tuesday night. Then the Pirates take on St. Louis, which for Cardinals fans like me means a whole lot of stress. Pittsburgh is a tough team and has given St. Louis fits all season. But I’ll pick the Cards, who have the home-field edge and are playing well. Plus, they would miss Pirates ace Francisco Liriano at least until Game 4 since Liriano is starting the play-in game against the Reds. Braves-Dodgers? Atlanta is at home, but LA is a better team. Close, but I’ll pick the Dodgers. St. Louis wins the NLCS in seven over LA, although it could be argued that’s a homer pick.

* St. Louis vs. Detroit in the World Series. Don’t make me pick. Please. My pick means nothing because I have to pick the Cardinals. It’s mandatory. OK, St. Louis in seven, since you insisted.

 

Friday musings

* I try to be a St. Louis Rams fan. I really do. I read about the Rams and I get excited about the players they draft. I used to think Sam Bradford would grow to be an outstanding NFL quarterback. The Tavon Austin pick this year excited me. Jeff Fisher is a proven head coach. But none of it seems to matter. The Rams don’t matter. They’re terrible and, as happens almost every year, I’m dumping them and going over to the New Orleans Saints. Sorry, it’s what I do. Go Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham. Doesn’t hurt that I have them on my fantasy team, as well.

* Bradford is toast. The Rams now have to find another quarterback.

* Frank Gore looked really good Thursday night, didn’t he? That’s how running backs normally look when they’re untouched.

* Enough Rams bashing, I guess. Although I’d like to bash some more. Would that franchise be better off now moving out of St. Louis to Los Angeles? That used to be a sacrilegious idea for me but now I’m not sure I care. Maybe I do care. Maybe I’m just miffed about the Thursday night game. Maybe I’ll come to my senses.

* But maybe I won’t.

* On to other things. I suppose I could get behind the Kansas City Chiefs. I’m a big Alex Smith guy and I like Andy Reid. But there are too many Chiefs fans around here and some of them – not all of them – irritate me. Especially when the Chiefs are off to a good start. I do think the Chiefs have it in them to win 11 or 12 games this season. Part of that is because they’re a much-improved team with a stacked defense and part of it is because they are playing one of the weakest schedules known to man. It’s true, Chiefs fans. You know it.

* The baseball playoffs begin next week and that’s where my focus will be. Nothing against football. But I’m with the St. Louis Cardinals. I watch games in my basement with the lights out and a bottle of tequila in my right hand. That’s a joke, of course. The lights are on.

* No tequila. Not for a long, long time. There were certainly times in my younger days when tequila managed its way into my blood stream, but I run from the stuff now.

* I do get tense during the playoffs. But I try not to let it spill over, although there are times when I scream suddenly and it causes my wife to jump out of her chair. A few years back I threw the remote and it hit a piece of antique piece of furniture my wife values. So I stopped throwing the remote. The other night, I did toss my shoes straight down on the floor. But mostly I do fine. I’m not a raving lunatic when I watch the Cardinals play meaningful games. Not all the time, at least.

* I thought the ending to “Dexter” was OK. It wasn’t great and it wasn’t terrible. It provided some closure, but with the possibility that Michael C. Hall will reprise this character at some point. I’m going to miss that show.

* I think all future television awards shows should be hosted by Tina Fey and Amy Poehler with a special appearance by Will Ferrell and his three boys.

* The Eagles will be at Intrust Bank Arena in 10 days, 12 hours, 40 minutes and counting. Not that I’m counting.

* I’ve had a lot of fun writing about Wichita’s past in affiliated minor league baseball this week and might continue it into next week. Sometime a guy’s gotta do what a guy’s gotta do. I’ve always been curious about how many major league players have passed through Wichita’s minor leagues (more than 750) so I went about doing the research. And in doing that research, I’ve discovered some interesting stories. At least they’re interesting to me. I will be writing later today about Bob Johnson. I’ll bet you never heard of him.

* I love autumn weather. I love autumn in general. As a sports fan, this is as good as it gets with the NFL and college football kicking into high gear and the baseball playoffs approaching.

* I kick myself every year I don’t make it to Hutchinson for the State Fair. This is one of those years.

* As I’m working on this blog, I just picked up my iPhone for no apparent reason and started spinning through the apps. Do you do that? It makes me angry how tied to my phone I have become. When I was a kid, I never hung around the phone on the wall of our house waiting for it to do something. I went outside and played. I never gave the phone a thought, really. But now I catch myself looking down at it (it just happened again). And heaven forbid I fail to keep it adequately charged. We’re all slaves to our phones (admit it) and that’s a terrible thing.

* Why do we call it a phone, anyway? I hardly ever get calls. Someone, please call me today just for the heck of it. You have my number.

* I got to spend some time Thursday with Bill Kentling, the former general manager of the Wichita Wings (in their heyday) and someone who learned the art of salesmanship and marketing from Hap Dumont, the founder of the National Baseball Congress. Kentling, who a sales manager at a Topeka classic country music radio station, also worked at the Wichita Eagle back in the day, even before I started there in 1974. It was enjoyable, as always, to reminisce and listen to his stories.

* I was in Lawrence on Wednesday for KU basketball media day. The Jayhawks are loaded and Bill Self knows it. Every time he was asked about an individual player, he gushed. And Self isn’t really a gusher. But this recruiting class along with the quality of some of the returning players is 100 percent gush-able. It will be interesting to see how the Jayhawks weave through one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the country and maybe the most difficult Kansas has ever played.

* Freshman Andrew Wiggins, of course, drew most of the media attention. I listened in as he was asked questions, but not for long. That’s a quiet kid. But I can’t wait to see him play.

* Thanks for reading. Check the blog later today for the Bob Johnson story. Have a great weekend. No KU or K-State football this weekend, so I’m headed down to the Chili Fest on Saturday, when the high temperature is expected to barely broach 70. That’s some good chili weather.

 

Red Faber: When spit was legal (stories from the minors)

Red Faber was a spit-baller and proud of it. Pitching at a time when rubbing some saliva on the baseball was accepted, Faber was a dominant right-hander with the Chicago White Sox. He won three games for Chicago in the 1917 World Series, which the Sox won in six games over the New York Giants.

Faber also lost a game in that World Series and is still the only pitcher to have been involved in four

Red Faber

World Series decisions.

He spent the 1911 season with the Wichita Jobbers/Pueblo Indians and was 12-8 with a 1.87 ERA. Faber debuted in the big leagues in 1914 and won 254 games, which is tied for 43rd in baseball history. He also ranks 39th in innings pitched (4086.2) and 59th in complete games (273).

And he attained much of his success with a spit ball that was outlawed by major league baseball after the 1920 season. At least MLB announced it was outlawed; many pitchers continued to use a more subtle spitter for years.

Faber reportedly went to the spitter after suffering an arm injury during the 1910 season, when he pitched in the Illinois-Indiana-Iowa League with Dubuque, his hometown. So it was as a pitcher for Wichita in 1911 that he first broke out the wet pitch.

Even after the spitter was banned, though, Faber had success. In fact, two of his best seasons with the White Sox were in 1921 (25-15, 2.48 ERA, 32 complete games) and 1922 (21-17, 2.81 ERA).

Faber was 23-13 for a 96-56 White Sox team in 1920 that included three other 20-game winners: Eddie Cicotte (21-10), Lefty Williams (22-14), and Dickey Kerr (21-9). A season later, the White Sox stumbled to 62-92 but Faber’s 25 wins were the most of his big-league career.

He was, typical of the era for pitchers, an iron man. In the 1917 World Series against the Giants, Faber won Game 2, 7-2, with a complete game. On three days rest, he started Game 3 and was beaten by New York, 5-0.

Faber returned for two innings of relief in Game 5 and got the win with two perfect innings.

And just two days after that, at the Polo Grounds in New York on Oct. 15, Faber again went the distance, allowing only six hits and two runs as the White Sox won a tight one, 4-3.

Legendary Giants manager John McGraw saw enough of Faber in that World Series to last a lifetime and expressed his admiration to reporters after one of the right-hander’s performances.

“That fellow has a lot of stuff,” McGraw said, according to baseballreference.com. “He’s got the best drop curve that I’ve seen along the line for some time. And his spitter is a pippin’, too.”

Two big leaguers and one who kept trying (stories from the minors)

In 1950, a young Filipino named Bobby Balcena played in the outfield for the Wichita Indians, a Class-A affiliate of the St. Louis Browns.

Minor league baseball was just returning to Wichita after a 17-year absence and Balcena held the interest

Bobby Balcena

of the fans, batting .290 with 32 doubles, 12 triples and 11 homers for a 77-77 team that included a pair of young right-handed pitchers who would go on to make their marks in the big leagues – Don Larsen and Bob Turley.

Balcena was 24 and caught the eyes of the Browns organization with a couple of spectacular seasons with Mexicali in the Sunset League, where he batted .369 and .367 in back-to-back seasons. It looked like he was on a fast track to the major leagues, but that fast track derailed.

Balcena did get a sip of coffee, not nearly a cup, with the Cincinnati Reds in 1956. Called up from the Seattle Rainiers of the Pacific Coast League, where batted .295 in 160 games, Balcena batted twice in September for the Reds. He failed to get a hit, but did score two runs. And he caught one fly ball in the outfield.

Two at-bats.

In the minor leagues, though, Balcena played in 1,948 games. He had more than 7,000 at-bats and 1,995 hits. He played 15 seasons in the bushes, six of those after his call-up by the Reds.

Balcena did get to play in some future major league cities, such as Toronto, Kansas City, Seattle and Dallas. He also played in San Antonio, Buffalo, Vancouver and Hawaii.

But he kept waiting for a call that came only once. The major leagues taunted and tease Balcena for many years. He was a .284 career hitter in the minors with enough extra-base pop to make him dangerous.

Balcena grew up in San Pedro, Calif., where he was a legendary high school athlete at Rolling Hills Prep. I’ve included a nice story on him here.

It makes you wonder what made Balcena so persistent in his quest to get to the major leagues. And it’s fascinating that 12 years after playing in Wichita, he was still bouncing around the minors in Vancouver, where he played parts of three seasons from 1960-62.

Balcena played more than 500 minor-league games in Seattle and, according to reports, is still fondly remembered there. He played in nine organizations: St. Louis Browns, New York Yankees, Cincinnati, Kansas City A’s, Baltimore, Philadelphia Phillies, Milwaukee, Los Angeles Angels and Minnesota.

Larsen and Turley, meanwhile, also spent more time than you might imagine in the minors, especially considering their success as big league pitchers.

Larsen, who pitched parts of nine seasons in the minors, hurled the only perfect game in World Series history, in 1956 for the New York Yankees. It came in Game 5 against the Brooklyn Dodgers. He will forever be an icon for that game, but otherwise his major league career was mundane, thanks to an 81-91 record and one of the worst/toughest luck seasons in big league history.

In 1954, the year the Browns moved from St. Louis to Baltimore and became the Orioles, Larsen was 3-21. But he didn’t pitch that badly and it was the only season of his 14-year major league career that he topped 200 innings pitched.

Larsen was just 20 when he pitched for the Wichita Indians and finished the 1950 seasons with a record of 6-4 and an ERA of 3.14 in 21 games.

Turley, meanwhile, was 11-14 as a 19-year-old in Wichita. He and Larsen were part of a trade from the Orioles to the Yankees in 1954 in what turned out to be a 17-player deal.

And also like Larsen, Turley had his best years in New York, winning the Cy Young Award in 1958 with a 21-7 record and an American League-leading 19 complete games. Turley also won two World Series games that season, including Game 7 against the Milwaukee Braves, 6-2. Ironically, Turley relieved Larsen in that game as the two former Wichita Indians teammates teamed up on a five-hitter.

 

 

 

 

Juan Pizarro’s Wichita re-appearance (stories from the minors)

When I was just a little boy, my father used to tell me stories about a hard-throwing left-hander who pitched for the Wichita Braves in 1957. His name was Juan Pizarro and to hear my dad tell it, Pizarro could throw a ball through three walls in a house and still have enough zip to leave a dent in the fourth.

Juan Pizarro’s 1960 Topps card.

Pizarro was only 20 years old when he pitched for the Braves, the Triple-A American Association club for Milwaukee’s major league club. Milwaukee had signed Pizarro as a 19-year-old out of Santurce, Puerto Rico, and in his first professional season in 1956, Pizarro was 23-6 for Jacksonville in the Class-A South Atlantic League.

He was regarded as one of the top prospects in baseball when he arrived in Wichita in 1957. He made five starts for the Braves before being called up to Milwaukee, where he was 5-6 with a 4.62 ERA. Pizarro was back with Wichita 1958, when he was 9-10 with a 2.84 ERA before earning another promotion to the big leagues. This time he stuck.

Pizarro pitched for seven teams: Milwaukee, the Chicago White Sox, Pittsburgh, Boston, Cleveland, the Chicago Cubs, Houston and Pittsburgh again. He had a 131-105 record, including a 19-9 season for the White Sox in 1964.

Here’s what one website had to say about Pizarro:

As a major league pitcher, lefty Juan Pizarro had two careers. For the first nine years of his career, he was a starter (and occasional long reliever, as even ace starting pitchers saw occasional double duty in the 1960s). During the second half of his 18-year career, Pizarro was primarily a relief specialist, whose blazing fastball would no longer hold up for nine innings but remained effective in spot relief situations, especially against left-handed batters.

Pizarro was signed by the Milwaukee Braves and was immediately a stand-out prospect in their minor league system, winning 23 games at Jacksonville in his first professional season. He spent the next 3 seasons pitching effectively in AAA but with limited success as a starter-reliever for the Braves. From 1957 through 1960, Pizarro had a combined record of 23-19 with a 3.93 ERA for Milwaukee.

In December of 1960, the Braves traded Pizarro and Joey Jay to the Cincinnati Reds for shortstop Roy McMillan. On the same day, the Reds sent Pizarro and Cal McLish to the Chicago White Sox for infielder Gene Freese. The trades that day were good for Cincinnati, as both Jay and Freese played critical roles in propelling the Reds to the 1961 National League pennant. The trades were also good for Pizarro, whose arrival in Chicago launched his career as a full-time – and highly successful – starter for the White Sox.

In 1961 for the White Sox, Pizarro achieved career highs in starts (25) and innings pitched (194.2). He struck out 188 batters on his way to a 14-7 season with a 3.05 ERA. After a 12-14 season in 1962, he followed up with 16-8 in 1963 (2.39 ERA) and 19-9 in 1964 (2.56 ERA). Pizarro and teammate Gary Peters (20-8 in 1964) were recognized as the two best left-handers in the American League. Pizarro was named to the American League All-Star team in both 1963 and 1964.

However, Pizarro’s success was starting to take a toll on his arm. All those innings, all those strikeouts, all those fastballs led to arm miseries and diminished performance in 1965 (6-3) and 1966 (8-6). The White Sox traded Pizarro to the Pittsburgh Pirates as the player to be named later in the acquisition of pitcher Wilbur Wood. Pizarro transitioned quickly to a relief role that meant more appearances – and fewer total innings – to take full advantage of his still explosive fastball.

From 1967 through 1974, Pizarro pitched for six different teams, going 33-39 with 20 saves in 206 appearances. His combined ERA for that period was 3.76. He retired after the 1974 season.

But there was an odd turn of events for Pizarro. In 1973, barely hanging on as a big league pitcher, Pizarro showed up back in Wichita. This time he was with the Triple-A Aeros, a farm club of the Chicago Cubs.

I remember my father taking me to Lawrence-Dumont Stadium to see Pizarro pitch in several of the nine games he started for the Aeros. A far different pitcher from the hard thrower my dad had seen 16 years earlier, Pizarro was now relying on his guile to get him through games.

In those nine starts, Pizarro was 6-1 with a 3.52 ERA. He would go on to pitch in 25 more big league games, but without success.

Pizarro has always been an important player to me because he made such an impact on my baseball-loving father. And it was an unexpected surprise when we got to see him pitch together in 1973, just as I was completing high school and my father was nearing retirement.

So much of my love for baseball is tied to my dad, Ray, who died in 1986. And Juan Pizarro, still living at 76, played a part in our shared love for the game.

 

 

Mort Cooper and Rube Marquard (stories from the minors)

You know how much I missaffiliated minor league baseball in Wichita. I pine for it day and night.

OK, that’s an overstatement. But I feel like a city Wichita’s size should have a minor league team that is affiliated with a major league team. Wichita has a long history of affiliated baseball, but for the past six seasons the Wichita Wingnuts have played independent league baseball. Nothing against the Wingnuts, who have consistently put a competitive team on the field under manager Kevin Hooper.

But I miss seeing players on the way up. I miss watching some of the game’s top prospects swing through town, not only with the local team but with visiting clubs.

Will we ever have affiliated baseball again? That’s a question for another time. I’ll address that issue later in the week in a column.

For now, though, I wanted to share some of the interesting stuff I came across while researching Wichita’s minor league past this week. Thanks to the great website baseballreference.com, I learned that more than 750 players who passed through Wichita in the minor leagues also played in the major leagues. They come in all shapes and sizes; from the great (Roberto Alomar) to the unrecognizable (too many to mention).

In my blog this week, I’ll be sharing some of the interesting stories I’ve come across. And we’ll start today with a tale from the 1933 Wichita Oilers, who played a few home games that season in Muskogee, Okla.

Two pitchers who had successful major league careers pitched for the Oilers that season.

One was Mort Cooper, who at the time was a 20-year-old right-hander just breaking into professional

Mort Cooper.

baseball. Cooper was 7-5 with the Oilers and his ERA soared to 6.06. But the right-hander eventually figured things out and went on to pitch for 11 seasons in the big leagues with the St. Louis Cardinals, Boston Braves and New York Giants.

Cooper won 125 games and had an ERA of 2.97. From 1942-44 with the Cardinals, Cooper 65-22. He was the National League MVP in ’42, when he was 22-7 with a 1.78 ERA.

In all three seasons, Cooper helped pitch the Cardinals to the World Series, and St. Louis won championships in 1942 and 1944, beating the St. Louis Browns and New York Yankees. The Cardinals lost to the Yankees in the 1943 World Series.

A native of Independence, Mo., Cooper died in 1958 at the age of 45. He was definitely on his way up when he pitched for Wichita’s minor league team 80 years ago.

That’s not the case with left-hander Rube Marquard, who was eight years removed from his big league career when he showed up to pitch one game for Wichita during the 1933 season.

One game.

Rube Marquard

In that one, he allowed seven hits and five runs, four earned, in just three innings, at the age of 46.

How did that one appearance come about? Hard to say. But Marquard, like Cooper, had three outstanding seasons consecutively during his major league career.

While pitching for the New York Giants from 1911-13, Marquard won 73 games and lost only 28 with ERAs of 2.50, 2.57 and 2.50..

Also like Cooper, Marquard was the best pitcher on three consecutive World Series teams. But the Giants came up short in all three, losing to the Philadelphia Athletics in 1911 and 1913 and to the Boston Red Sox in 1912.

Marquard won 201 games during his 18-year career and lost 177. He started the 1912 season by winning his first 19 decisions and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veteran’s Committee in 1971, although he looks like nothing more than a fringe Hall of Famer.

Marquard dabbled in an onstage career after he retired from baseball, but it never took off. He was married briefly to Blossom Seeley, a popular vaudeville performer at the time. Marquard died in 1980, at the age of 93 and is one of 21 members of the Hall of Fame to live into his 90s.

 

Friday musings

* I’ll be in Norman, Okla., tomorrow morning to write about Blake Bell’s debut as Oklahoma’s starting quarterback. As you know – or should know – Bell was beaten out during summer workouts by OU freshman Trevor Knight. But now Knight is banged up and the strapping Bell is getting a chance against Tulsa. I’m not sure what Bell would have to accomplish in this game to keep the starting job. Sooners coach Bob Stoops seems adamant that Knight, with his ability to run a faster-tempo offense, is the man. But Knight wasn’t all that during Oklahoma’s first two wins and Bell has a rocket arm. It’ll be interesting to see what develops. I suspect Bell will play well against Tulsa. How well might determine his immediate future in the OU program.

* Kansas has an interesting game at Rice on Saturday. The Owls aren’t world-beaters, but they do have a good offense and did beat the Jayhawks in Lawrence last season. Barely. I couldn’t glean much from watching KU beat South Dakota last week at Memorial Stadium. I knew going in that Kansas has a solid running game and that James Sims is an excellent back. I also knew the Jayhawks were questionable defensively, that they lacked a strong receiving corps and that transfer quarterback Jake Heaps was a wild card. Nothing has changed. The first true test for KU comes Saturday in Houston.

* Tom Brady went a little nuts on his young receiving corps Thursday night, didn’t he? The veteran New England quarterback, always regarded as a top-notch leader, chose the immature baby route as he time and again watched those young receivers run the wrong routes and drop passes. I understand Brady’s frustration, but he surely knows it’s going to take some time for Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins, both rookies, to develop. I thought Brady was over-exuberant in his hostile reaction toward those young guys. Give it time, Tom. Show them you believe in them.

* Brady did express regret after the game for being so harsh. Good. Imagine how thrilled those new receivers must be to be playing with the one and only Tom Brady. Bring them along, Tom. Show them love.

* Love the San Francisco-Seattle match-up on Sunday night. I’m also looking forward to seeing how my St. Louis Rams play at Atlanta on Sunday. I’m not expecting a St. Louis win but I am expecting the Rams to compete. I was really impressed with new tight end Jered Cook, whom the Rams signed as a free agent during the off-season. Cook caught two touchdown passes and looked like a beast – a BEAST, I say.

* Chiefs vs. Cowboys? What a great early-season match-up at Arrowhead, huh? No teams elicit more passion around these parts. If I had to guess, I’d say the NFL make-up in Wichita is probably 50 percent Chiefs, 20 percent Cowboys and 30 percent everyone else. Does that sound about right? I might be short-changing the Cowboys a bit. I think Kansas City finds a way to win Sunday. The Chiefs will have to open up the offensive playbook more than they did against lowly Jacksonville last week. My biggest question about Kansas City involves its wide receivers. Are there enough and are they good enough?

* I think the Chiefs will intercept Tony Romo multiple times Sunday. That could be two, it could be 20. OK, it probably won’t be 20.

* And who doesn’t intercept Romo multiple times?

* If you’re not aware of the season second baseman Matt Carpenter is having for the St. Louis Cardinals, you should look him up. Now I’ll get off my Cardinals soap box.

* I’m not a Royals fan, but it’s fun having that team involved in the wild-card race in the American League down the stretch. More people are talking about baseball, which is good. As America turns more and more to football, I just want people to acknowledge how wonderful the game of baseball is and how dramatic and frustrating it can be to those who follow it every day. Real men and real women are baseball fans. It’s a 162-game test of endurance.

* Sometimes I go on these sneezing binges where I’ll sneeze 15 or 20 times in a short period of time. I’m having one as I work on this blog, in fact. I just sneezed as I typed in that comma after “blog,” for those of you wanting exact details. And I’ve sneezed two more times since. I stopped to blow my nose, then sneezed again. And again. Weird. I go days without sneezing, then this.

* My must-see new fall network television shows: Hostages (Dylan McDermott, Toni Collette); Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Andy Samberg, Andre Braugher) looks funny; Mom (Anna Faris, Allison Janney); The Blacklist (James Spader).

* I think Robin Williams’ new sitcom, The Crazy Ones, is going to tank. Aren’t we kind of over Robin Williams? And I ask that as someone who respects much of his work over the years. It just seems like there’s not a place for him now. I’m sure these comments will come back to haunt me when his new series is the season’s biggest smash.

* My must-see fall movies: Rush (it’s directed by Ron Howard and it’s a movie about Formula One racing);  Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (even though I didn’t think the original was all that great); Thanks for Sharing (Mark Ruffalo, Tim Robbins, Gwyneth Paltrow); The Family (DeNiro, Preiffer, Jones, no first names necessary); Don Jon (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlette Johannson); Enough Said (Julia Louis-Dreyfuss and James Gandolfini in one of his last roles); Prisoners (although my wife hates these kinds of movies); Gravity (Sandra Bullock, George Clooney); Captain Phillips (Tom Hanks); The Fifth Estate; All is Lost (Robert Redford might win the Oscar, they’re saying); Runner Runner (Ben Affleck, Justin Timberlake); 12 Years a Slave; American Hustle (David O. Russell directs); August: Osage County (Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep); Inside Llewyn Davis (Coen brothers, need I say more?); Labor Day (Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin); Saving Mr. Banks (Mary Poppins meets Walt Disney); The Wolf of Wall Street (Leo, Marty).

* How many of those must-see movies will I actually see? I’m going to commit to seeing all of them. You’re reading it here first. I will see every one of those movies before the end of the year.

* The Eagles will be in Wichita in just 24 short days. If you haven’t seen this band, you should.

* The Royals start a three-game series in Detroit tonight against the AL Central-leading Tigers. Kansas City needs to win two out of three. Will it happen? It’ll be tough. Justin Verlander goes tonight for Detroit and Max Scherzer pitches Sunday. But the Royals have that certain something going for them right now. I’m not counting them out.

* I’m really looking forward to this weekend. Going to OU is always fun, even if the traffic is a nightmare getting to and from Memorial Stadium. And Rick Plumlee of the Eagle has penned a story about our League 42 project, which is scheduled to be in the paper this weekend. I’m not sure of the day yet. I hope you’ll all get involved in one way or another, even if it’s just as a cheerleader.

* Thanks for reading, everyone. Be safe.

 

Memories of a sports writer

From September through late February or early March, I do a lot of driving.

Many of my trips are just up the road to either Manhattan or Lawrence, obviously, since that’s where Kansas State and Kansas play their home games. Can I get a great big “Duh!” for that one?

Anyway, I enjoy these drives although I’m at the age now where I don’t see as well at night. Did I just actually admit that? How old does that sound?

Sorry, got distracted again. The point of this blog is to talk about the drives I make as I continue to toil away for the newspaper.

I almost always rent a car for these trips, so much so that I have a special relationship now with the men and women over at the Enterprise location at Central and Washington. Most of them know me by now, although the turnover in the rental car industry is quite high. And most of them treat me like I’m something of a big shot.

No, they really don’t. They don’t treat me like that at all and I’m not really sure why I tried to make you believe they did. I think it’s a low self esteem thing, quite honestly.

When I rent a car, I always ask for either XM-Sirius radio or a plug in for my iPod. On my best days, I’ll get a car that has both. But sometimes I get one that has neither, and those are the days I despise.

My route to Kansas State is almost always the same, although there are different ways to get to Manhattan. I prefer the Highway 15 route through Abilene. I rarely take the Highway 77 route through, but do sometimes go for the Highway 177 route through Cottonwood Falls. I got married once in Cottonwood Falls. That doesn’t necessarily distinguish Cottonwood Falls; I’ve been married in several cities. But I just thought it was an interesting tidbit.

My current wife, Debbie, to whom I’ve been blissfully married to for almost three years now and will be married to until she comes to her senses, will not find the previous paragraph to be funny at all. But that’s OK. Multiple-marriage humor is a slam dunk.

The options for the drive to Manhattan at least make it interesting. I often think about using other routes for that trip, but find it difficult to switch from the Highway 15 way because I so enjoy the town of Abilene. I stop at the Casey’s General Store there, then proceed on to Interstate 70 and the drive over to Exit 303.

Manhattan traffic is always difficult, but the improvements to the roads outside of that city have made things easier. And by late fall, I understand, those road projects will be finished.

Meanwhile, there’s really only one way to get to Lawrence. Oh, I suppose I could improvise and take the back roads, but I never have. I’m not sure why, because I’m a back roads kind of guy. Instead, I get on the turnpike at the El Dorado exchange and speed up to KU at close to 80 miles per hour. That’s great, because I remember when the speed limit was 55 and it took extra time to get to these places.

I’ve also done a lot of other driving in my newspaper career, especially down to Stillwater and Norman. In fact, I’m headed for OU on Saturday to cover Blake Bell’s start at quarterback for the Sooners, who play at 11 a.m. game against Tulsa.

Getting to Memorial Stadium in Norman is a nightmare, so I’m headed down the night before to spend the night. Then, to beat the traffic, I’ll head over to the stadium around 8 a.m. because I’m nervous about finding my parking spot.

Covering a college football game on Saturday is a mission, really. First there’s the drive, then finding the parking spot, then walking to the press box, then getting set up, then figuring out how to get online, then taking part in the pre-game meal, then figuring out to do with the two hours still left before kickoff.

After the game, there are the interviews downstairs, then the long walk back to the press box, then trying to come up with something to write, then packing up everything, then walking back to the car, then driving home.

Feeling sorry for me yet?

Nah, I didn’t think so. It’s a great job and covering college football games on Saturdays is a lot of fun. I’m fortunate to do what I do. Maybe that’s why I’ve been doing it as long as I have.

Have a great rest of your day, everyone.

 

 

The Oklahoma State situation

“Sports Illustrated” is one of America’s most trusted news sources.

I think. Although, honestly, I’m not sure how many of America’s news sources are trusted in this social media age. My head spins just as fast as the heads of others from a bygone era of journalism.

Don’t get me wrong – there are still many outstanding and ethical journalists working in today’s media. They have been trained to get to the truth of a story and we should all value their steadfastness because it’s not as common as it once was.

And if that sounds like some old guy who doesn’t think it’s necessarily journalism that is the focus of some news organizations these days, then so be it.

Which gets us back to “SI” and this scathing five-part report on alleged improprieties at Oklahoma State that involve money, sex, drugs and fraud.

First and foremost, anything that involves money, sex, drugs and fraud is going to get our attention. And “SI” definitely has our attention. It’s 10-month investigation into the Oklahoma State football program under Les Miles and Mike Gundy produced some salacious stuff.

It’s going to be fun to read, but what about the credibility. Already, people from near and far are attacking this work for its lack of depth and exposing one of its reporters, Thayer Evans, as an OSU hater who, as a huge fan of Oklahoma, would love nothing more than to take a whack at the Cowboys.

ESPN columnist Jason Whitlock, who says he worked with Evans at FoxSports.com, had this to say about his former colleague on an Oklahoma City radio station today:

. . . having worked with Thayer Evans at Fox Sports, having followed his work for some time, I am completely and utterly flabbergasted that a legitimate new outlet would allow Thayer Evans to be involved in some type of investigative piece on college football that tears down a program, and particularly one that tears down Oklahoma State when it is no secret what a huge, enormous, gigantic Oklahoma homer Thayer Evans is.”

Many former Oklahoma State players have taken to Twitter to attack the “SI” piece, the money part of a five-part series. Fraud, sex and drugs are yet to come.

Stories like this always elicit a lot of he-said, she-said responses. The journalism, though, is expected to go beyond that, to nail down the facts of a situation. It’s one thing to have multiple sources for a story like this, but it’s also important to determine that the sources are credible.

That requires tiresome and tireless work from the reporters.

The lead reporter of this “SI” series is George Dohrmann, who has been with the magazine since 2000. Just before joining the magazine, Dohrmann won a Pulitzer Price while working for the St. Paul (Minn.) Pioneer-Press in 2000 for a series of stories uncovering academic fraud within the University of Minnesota men’s basketball program.

Dohrmann has done exemplary work for “SI,” and was the lead reporter on the unraveling of the UCLA men’s basketball program under Ben Howland and his extensive work on the Barry Bonds trial in 2011.

While Dohrmann and others were making the rounds in support of the investigative piece and to convince a skeptical public that their work was accurate, many others took to the airwaves and Twitter and all of the other media outlets to claim the “SI” work is bogus. I heard several former Oklahoma State football players, some of whom were named in the magazine as having accepted money from coaches and boosters, deny having done so.

It will be impossible, really, for either side to prove their case. So the public is left to wonder about the truth. Do we trust journalism and these reporters? Of do we buy into the claims that “SI” must have a vendetta against Oklahoma State and that the reporting process it used over 10 months was sloppy and inconclusive.

With more to come on this story over the next week, I’m not sure what to think. I do believe that there are stories like this at almost every big-time college football school. That’s the cynic in me. It has to be impossible to control everything that goes on inside a football program no matter how hard you try. And when you don’t really even try, as I suspect is the case in some places, then what?

The underlying problem is that we’re still trying to pretend college athletics is what college athletics used to be. It’s not. Those days are gone forever. There is too much money floating around and too much pressure to keep jobs. And the only way to do that is to win.

There’s only so much coaches can do to “coach up” their players. But there’s a wide gamut of possibilities when it comes to recruiting and then rewarding those players.

The NCAA seems to have thrown up its hands in response to a lot of this stuff. Why? Because college athletics at the highest levels cannot be controlled. It can be given lip service. And exposes about the wrong-doing can be published in the most-respected magazines in the country.

In the end, though, does anything change? Will it ever?