1960 World Series – Game #2

A tale of two All-Stars that’s almost as long as something Charles Dickens would write.

The First Inning

ETHAN — The broadcast started with the first pitch, no pre-show, no Gillette commercials, so I looked up the line-ups on Baseball Reference and was immediately surprised. Yogi Berra was the starting left fielder. The three-time AL MVP and perennial All-Star was in left field.

Side note: Congratulations to Alex Gordon, the Royals left fielder, who was recently awarded his 7th Gold Glove. I’m still dreaming of playing catch with him and getting some pointers for my play in left field in the Grip‘N’Rip Baseball League.

I honestly had no idea Yogi played anything other than catcher. During his career, Yogi played 265 games in the outfield, as well as two at first base and one at third. This was Yogi’s first start in left field in a World Series game. He was in the outfield in Game 2 to give Elston Howard, who hit the 9th inning home run in game 1, more at bats. I spent almost the entire game reading stories about Howard.

It was noted that Pirates’ pitcher Bob Friend is the oldest player on the team. I know that feeling. I was the oldest player on the CY Sports Cyclones and probably the least experienced, too. Fantastic combination. But Bob Friend was only 29 years old. He didn’t turn 30 until after the Series concluded. Bob wasn’t yet born the last time the Pirates were in the World Series.

RANCE — Pittsburgh pitcher Bob Friend broke into the league in 1951. He faced four batters but foreshadowed some struggles coming up later in the day by going to a full count against three of the four men he faced.

E — The “senior” hurler struck out Mantle to end the first inning, which was among the top of the highlights for the Pirates in this game. In the bottom half of the inning, Virdon showed great plate discipline, working a 3 – 1 count before flying out to left fielder, Yogi Berra. He hasn’t offered at a first pitch yet which is something else I’m going to try and track.

R — Whitey Ford is still not pitching.

We learn that Casey Stengel’s “to be determined” starting pitcher is Bob Turley, who went 9 – 3 for the Yankees in the regular season and seldom pitched a complete game. “Bullet Bob” was a three-time all-star, the 1958 Cy Young Award winner and the 1958 World Series MVP. However, we are two years past Turley’s time as the most dominant fireballer in the American League.

Turley might have been a throw-forward, or whatever the opposite of throwback is. Turley is described as a former “a flamethrower, a fastballing right-hander,” who now relies on curveballs, “slow ones and quick ones, big ones and small ones.”

Maybe Chuck Thompson could have impersonated Dr. Seuss when narrating Turley’s pitching.

Oh, the curveballs he’ll throw.

Slow ones and quick ones,

Big ones and small ones,

Red ones and blue ones,

Snarkles and snoo-ones.

Also in the bottom of the inning, we meet Pirates first baseman Rocky Nelson. He sat out Game 1 and replaced Dick Stuart at first base the next day, and batted in the cleanup spot. Rocky Nelson had eight different stints with five different Major League teams. He played for three different teams twice. This was actually his second time with the Pirates, and it would be his longest and final big league stop in a journeyman’s career.

Nelson is, “the possessor of perhaps the most peculiar batting stance in all of baseball,” according to radio announcer Chuck Thompson, who went on try to talk us through it.

“If you’ve not seen it, I would ask to you assume the pose of a bare knuckles fist fighter from many years ago, and then you would have your feet about in the position in which Nelson faces the pitcher. His front foot, in his case the right, the toe of it is pointed right straight out to the mound,” Thompson said. “He looks like he is about ready to sit down as each pitch is thrown.”

The Second Inning

E — From 1948 to 1950, Elston Howard played for the Kansas City Monarchs. His manager was the inimitable and amazing Buck O’Neil. Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, thinks the museum contains a couple of pieces of Howard’s memorabilia, which means I’ll need to visit the museum again next time I head to KC. Also, it’s yet another reason I want a Monarchs jersey like Kansas City Chiefs’ quarterback Patrick Mahomes wore before the Sunday Night Football game against the Colts. Buck O’Neil, Satchel Paige, Jackie Robinson, Elston Howard, and Ernie Banks were all KC Monarchs. What a franchise.

In the top of the second, in his first at bat against old man Bob Friend, Howard struck out.

No score through two innings.

The Third Inning

E — In 1955, Elston Howard became the first African American to play for the Yankees. His first at bat came at Fenway Park, where he singled in a run.

With Ralph Wimbish, Arlene Howard wrote the book, Elston: The Story of the First African-American Yankee. In it, Arlene recalls a conversation she had with Jackie Robinson, “You know, in a sense, Elston had it tougher than me. At least I knew Mr. Rickey wanted me, but Elston didn’t know if the Yankees wanted him.”

R — The Yankees string together a 2 – 0 lead with an RBI single to center field from leadoff hitter Tony Kubek, who is now 2-for-2, and then a double into the left field corner by Gil McDougald that allows Kubek to come all the way around from first base to the plate to score. The ball apparently traveled just inside fair territory down the third base line, which sent Pirates catcher Smoky Burgess down to third base to talk to the umpire for the “first rhubarb of the series.”

I had to make sure “rhubarb” was the word that Thompson used, and it was. Rhubarb was apparently popularized by Brooklyn Dodgers broadcaster Red Barber, who may have drawn inspiration from a few different places. According to WordOrigins.org, radio actors from the “golden age of radio” used to repeatedly mutter the phrase “rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb,” to simulate the sound of a crowd causing a ruckus.

“This has been a rather calm ballgame compared to the explosion of 24 hours ago,” Thompson said. “It’s burning rather brightly now for the Yankees.”

Pirates’ manager Danny Murtaugh, “a battler all his life,” got into the rhubarb with the third base umpire for a moment, but returned to his own dugout with his Buccos trailing.

E — Berra ended the Yankees half of the third inning flying out to Virdon. The Yankees then scored for the next five innings, which gave me plenty of time to read about Howard.

The Fourth Inning

E — After playing for the Monarchs, Howard was drafted to the Army during the Korean War and spent two years in the service. Howard went overseas, but he never fought. He served in the Special Services and played baseball in Japan as a representative of the US.

R — As rough as it’s going for Bob Friend in this era before pitch counts, he’s throwing strikes. He got Bill Skowron looking for his fifth strikeout of the game, then rung up catcher Elston Howard swinging for K No. 6. That whole “pound the strike zone” thing didn’t go so well for Friend when he gave up an RBI single to his pitching counterpart Bob Turley, and the Yankees extended their lead to 3 – 0. In 13 years, the American League would adopt the designated hitter rule.

E — Pitchers who rake are awesome. This game, however, is in a National League park, so the DH is a moot point. “You know, a cow’s opinion,” as Joey Tribbiani said.

R — Don Hoak’s RBI double to score Gino Cimoli means that, of course, we get to see Casey Stengel go out to the mound to talk to Yankees pitcher Bob Turley. Stengel gets two relievers up in the bullpen after Turley gave up three consecutive hits. Unlike in Game 1 with Art Ditmar, Stengel elected to leave his pitcher in the game, apparently softening on his hair-trigger handling of starters. I can’t pretend I haven’t already seen the final score of this game, and I know Turley keeps battling, because, “Well, you can understand his determination.”

It’s actually Pittsburgh which pulls its starting pitcher first. Gene Baker, whose journey to the Major Leagues is as interesting as it was long, bats for Bob Friend.

Baker served in the Navy during World War II, then caught on the Kansas City Monarchs in 1947. He played in the Pacific Coast League with the Los Angeles Angels, then an unaffiliated minor league club. He was called up to the Chicago Cubs in 1953, six seasons after Jackie Robinson had already broken in with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Baker was 28 when he first appeared in a big-league game, and did so alongside another black player, Ernie Banks.

The Gene Baker we hear about in this series is on the downslope of a fine career, but is largely used in a reserve role with the 1960 Pirates. He would jump from playing into coaching in 1961.

Baker holds an interesting distinction in the footnotes of baseball history. Baker became the first black manager in affiliated baseball in 1961, when he served as a player-coach for the Batavia Pirates of the New York-Penn League.

He worked his way up to the Pittsburgh coaching staff. On Sept. 21, 1963, Pirates manager Danny Murtaugh was thrown out of a game for arguing with an umpire. Baker, a bench coach, took over, technically becoming the first African American to manage a Major League Baseball team, albeit for only two innings of one game.

The first full-time black manager was Frank Robinson, also a player-coach, with Cleveland in 1975.

E — Yankees lead 3 – 1.

The Fifth Inning

E — In 1955, Howard’s rookie season, the Yankees faced the Brooklyn Dodgers in the World Series. In his first World Series at bat, off Dodgers’ pitcher Don Newcombe, Howard homered.

Mickey Mantle once said, “We played together about 14 or 15 years, and I know that, if it hadn’t been for Elston, there’s about three or four pennants that we wouldn’t have been in. He helped win ‘em.”

R — Mickey Mantle’s first hit of the 1960 World Series was a home run to right field that scored Roger Maris. It was the Mick’s 12th World Series homer. Mantle hit an opposite field homer right-handed off of Pirates left-handed reliever Fred Green.

At the time, Mantle was three bombs behind Babe Ruth’s record of 15 career World Series home runs, but Mantle would go on to set the record of 18, and he still holds the record in 2019.

Just about everyone from northeast Oklahoma has some sort of Mickey Mantle story, even if they never actually met the Mick. I’m no different, I guess.

Once on a whim and with some time on our hands, my best friend Aaron Bates and I visited Mickey Mantle’s boyhood home in Commerce, Oklahoma. On Nov. 17, 2012, we drove from Ozark to Baxter Springs. According to an old song called “Choctaw Bingo” by James McMurtry, Baxter Springs is “one hell raisin’ town way down in southeastern Kansas.” It’s right next to where the state lines of Kansas, Oklahoma, and Missouri all intersect.

We were in Baxter Springs so that Aaron could be interviewed as part of a documentary on the Joplin Spooklight, also known as the Hornet Spooklight, that would air on Investigation Discovery. As a matter of fact, it still airs sometimes on Investigation Discovery. He and I had produced a short film on the glowing ghost light while we were in college, and successfully entered the film in a festival at the Moxie Cinema in Springfield.

But I digress, we were in the neighborhood with time to kill. Aaron suggested we look up the boyhood home of Mickey Mantle in Commerce to see what we could see. We drove past it once accidentally, which gives you an idea of how humble it is. There are about three main streets in the small town of Commerce, where lead miners settled and lived, and the house stands on one of them, Quincy Street.

Photo courtesy Rance Burger
Photo courtesy Rance Burger
Photo courtesy Rance Burger

No one lives there now. Everything is locked up, so you can’t go inside. However, we could read a big plaque on the wall, stand on the front porch, and walk in the side yard next to an old shed. That old shed is the real tourist attraction. That shed reportedly stood as the backstop for a young Mickey Mantle to learn to become the greatest switch-hitter of all time. A young Mantle was first handed a baseball bat at the age of 5 or 6, according to an inscription on the house.

“Mutt, his father would pitch righty and Mickey’s grandfather would pitch lefty while teaching (Mantle) the fine art of switch-hitting. Every day when his father returned home from the mines, he and Mickey would start batting practice that lasted until dark.”

Mickey Mantle hit the baseball toward the house, which would have gotten most kids into serious trouble.

“They made up games to add some fun to Mickey’s batting lessons. A ball hit below the windows was a single, above the windows a double, the roof a triple and over the house was a home run,” the inscription reads.

“The Commerce Comet,” which no one outside of Commerce probably calls Mantle anymore, once said, “I was the only kid in town that didn’t get in trouble for breaking a window.”

Aaron and I walked around, stood along the wall of the shed, observed some dings on the side of the house, got back into the car and headed for Missouri. There was something childlike, simple and a little bit magical about the short visit to the Mick’s boyhood home.

E — Through 5, Yankees now lead 5 – 1.

The Sixth Inning

E — On the last day of the 1960 season, three days before Game 1 of the Series, Elston Howard sprained a ligament in his right ring finger. Doctors said he was supposed to sit out until at least Game 3. Stengel pinch hit him in Game 1 and he caught in Game 2.

There is mention of the grounds crew dragging the infield in the top of the 6th. Before I had reconstructive ankle surgery, I thoroughly enjoyed my few weeks as part of the Grounds Crew at Hammons Field, which recently won its 6th MiLB Field of the Year Award. Brock Phipps and Derek Edwards know their stuff.

Howard was the lead-off hitter in the top of the sixth and Chuck Thompson described his hit. “Here’s the curve, well hit to centerfield! Bill Virdon on the run. He’s going back, he’s near the wall, at the light tower…he can’t get it. It’s off the wall and the right fielder Clemente is up with the ball. Howard’s around second on his way to third and he’s in standing up. Bill Virdon crashed into the wall at the 436 sign right next to the big light standard in right centerfield. He failed to come up with that ball and it was a long triple.”

R — Elston Howard hit the ball 436 feet into right center field. The ball crashed off the wall, and Pirates center fielder Bill Virdon crashed into the ivy vines and the outfield wall. Howard went to third base safely with no slide, then scored on the ensuing double to left field by Bobby Richardson.

The man who made a catch immortalized with baseball cards and a statue the day before could not rob Yankees’ catcher Elston Howard.

E — And then the Yankees offense exploded.

Triple, double, passed ball, ground out, error, single, walk, bases loaded for Mantle.

R — We enjoy another rhubarb as Pirates’ pitcher Clem Lebine struck out Mickey Mantle looking with the bases loaded. Mantle got involved in a verbal exchange with the home plate umpire before retiring to the dugout. It was Mantle’s second strikeout of the game.

Lebine promptly gave up a 3-RBI base hit to Yogi Berra and the Yankees’ lead extended to 9-1.

Yogi Berra is seeing the ball well, which makes the managing situation with him and Elston Howard interesting. I am of the opinion that Berra’s bat needs to stay in the lineup, so I’m actually seeing eye-to-eye with Casey Stengel on Berra. However, I think the smart lineup move is the move Stengel made for this game. He started Howard at catcher, Berra in left field, and Hector Lopez on the bench. It’s not an easy move, as Hector Lopez hit .284 in 1960 with 42 RBI. I think Stengel needed to go with the hot hand, and he needed to get Howard in the lineup.

Speaking of Howard, he stayed hot with his second hit of the inning, an RBI single that scored Yogi Berra from third base. What’s more impressive and maybe frightening is that Howard broke his bat during that plate appearance. He didn’t do it on the hit, but by slamming the end of the bat on the ground as a gesture of frustration after he swung and missed at a pitch from George Witt.

E — Hello, Bo Jackson.

R — Howard had to retrieve a new bat to replace the broken one, and got his RBI base hit on the very next pitch. New York scored seven runs on seven hits in a monstrous inning.

E — And then Turley becomes “that guy,” making two outs in the same inning, flying out to Virdon.  

The Seventh Inning

E — After the 1955 World Series, Howard went with the Yankees on a 25-game goodwill tour of Japan. He led the team with a .468 average during the tour. That is my dream job. To go to other countries and make new friends and play baseball. I probably need to get a passport. Howard was the hero of the 1958 World Series, winning the Babe Ruth award for the most outstanding player. In this World Series, Howard hit .462, leading both teams in batting average and OPS.

R — Mickey Mantle’s life story is one of many great examples of a person being emotionally unable to handle fame and hero worship without dire consequences.

In Mayes County, Oklahoma, where I grew up, Mickey Mantle is still revered as a hero. Though he grew up formidably in Commerce, nearly an hour’s drive to the northeast, he was born in Spavinaw. There really isn’t much for the 400-something people of Spavinaw to be proud of apart from the spillway at Spavinaw Lake, where you can catch fish with your bare hands, and Mickey Mantle.

Actor Thomas Jane’s portrayal of Mantle in the 2001 film 61* came as a shock to many northeast Oklahomans, except for those who actually knew the man. Mantle was a flawed hero. Most real-life heroes are. Billy Crystal idolized Mantle, as many baseball fans of a certain age in that era did. Mantle spent all 18 years of his career in Yankee pinstripes. It was a rare feat then and an almost unheard-of accomplishment today for one professional athlete in any sport to stay with one team for his/her entire career.

E — Hello, Alex Gordon.

R — Billy Crystal directed 61,* which depicted Mantle’s struggles with alcoholism in a way that Mantle’s sons would shrug off as mostly accurate.

“I felt so bad sometimes when we were shooting,” Crystal said in a piece in the Oklahoman by Barry Horn which originally ran in 2001. “This is what the story had to be.”

Even Mantle’s own sons acknowledged their father’s struggles with substance abuse and infidelity in the wake of 61*’s release.

“It could have been worse,” Danny Mantle was quoted as saying. “You know, that was the way dad lived his life.”

Mickey Mantle batted right-handed for the second time in the 1960 World Series, this time with two runners aboard against left-handed Joe Gibbon. Mantle hit his second homer of the game, a 450-foot blast over the wall in center field and over the head of Bill Virdon. Mantle now has five RBI in the game.

“I don’t have too much opportunity to see Mantle. I’ve heard about his tremendous tape measure shots, but there is one that’s gotta go down. They must drive a golden spike into Schenley Park out there. That one won’t be forgotten for a long time,” Jack Quinlan said on the broadcast.

“Tape-measure shots” would be an often-repeated phrase when it comes to the Commerce Comet.

Mickey Mantle robbed Roberto Clemente of a base hit (and helped out Yankees pitcher Bob Turley) with a catch on the run in center field to start the bottom part of the inning.

In this game, Mantle is every bit of the boyhood hero he was for so many for so many years.

Mantle’s struggles with alcoholism were not born in a vacuum. In “The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America’s Childhood,” author Jane Leavy revealed that Mantle suffered sexual abuse as a child. Mantle himself estimated that he abused alcohol for 42 years, according to Leavy’s book.

Alcoholism likely contributed heavily to memory blackouts, anxiety attacks, and scores of other issues Mantle likely never discussed with anyone, at least not openly. By the time the Mick got help in 1994, it was too late for his body to recover. Mantle died of complications from cancer and cirrhosis of the liver in 1995.

The Eighth Inning

E — Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Howard was the AL MVP in 1963. A 12-time All-Star, he won 2 Gold Gloves, four World Series as a player, and two as a coach. Like his former manager and friend Buck O’Neil, who was the first black coach in the National League for the Cubs, Howard was the first black coach in the American League, coaching first base for the Yankees. He was there in 1974, the year Virdon managed the team. Odd fact, the year Virdon managed, the team never played a game in Yankee Stadium. Great trivia question. Future Royals World Series champion manager Dick Howser was also a coach on Virdon’s Yankees team.

R — Mickey Mantle robbed another Pirate of a hit with a grab on the move, this time a one-handed grab against Don Hoak.

As a society, we’ve made great strides when it comes to openly speaking about addiction and the importance of help and treatment for those who suffer from it. In Mickey Mantle’s time, a tremendous stigma surrounded substance misuse. Remnants of that stigma still linger today. Many people still can’t comprehend that Mantle drank, partied, and womanized like he did.

Today, we’d probably call it “toxic masculinity” or “jock culture,” or even hero worship, but it simply wouldn’t be becoming for a man of Mantle’s stature to struggle so openly with a serious mental issue beyond his control. People loved Mantle for what he could do on a baseball field and for the way he could talk to reporters about his life while sounding like an everyman.

Ballplayers were thought to be hard playing, hard living, hard drinking, hearty men. Mickey Mantle was a standout among that crowd, and Americans loved him for it. Mantle’s identity was so wrapped in being an affable, personable baseball star that it destroyed him. He struggled on mangled knees to continue playing the game, and he struggled with personal demons of who Mickey Mantle was away from a baseball stadium.

It’s become increasingly common for me to read or hear someone defend an athlete who makes poor decisions (or gets arrested, or really hurts somebody) by saying, “(Fill-in-the-blank)ball is all he’s got. If you take (Fill-in-the-blank)ball away from him, he’s got nothing.”

I don’t care if you’re Mickey Mantle batting .317 for the Yankees in 1960, Collin Fraley hitting .348 for the Drury Panthers in Division-II or Ethan Bryan going 2-for-5 as a “rookie” in the Grip’N’Rip Baseball League… There must be more to the man than just baseball. If you don’t know what the “more” is, than you need to find it.

Mantle, as many who struggle with addiction do, tried to find his “more.” I think he found it in storytelling. No one told better stories of Mickey Mantle’s nightlife antics with friends Whitey Ford and Billy Martin than Mantle himself.

There were funny stories shared of sneaking into hotels past curfew and the watchful eye of Casey Stengel, of a brawl at the Copacabana night club that resulted in a lawsuit and a hilarious story of Mantle taking the witness stand in a courtroom, and about staying out all night in Kansas City on the night Billy Martin was traded to the Athletics, then playing a game the next day.

Those effects caught up to Mantle later in his life. What’s more, Mantle’s behavior damaged the lives of his wife and four children. Mantle recounted his sons taking after their father and having their own battles with addictions.

In a 1994 interview in Sports Illustrated, Mantle discussed partnering with his sons to run a baseball fantasy camp.

“They all drank too much because of me,” Mantle said. “We never played catch in the backyard. But when they were old enough to drink, we became drinking buddies.”

In 1994, Mickey Mantle went to the Betty Ford Center in California for treatment. David and Danny Mantle recounted in Men’s Journal a conversation with their father in the booth of a New York City restaurant.

“We were sitting in that booth there after Dad got sober and apologized for not being a father,” says Danny. “He said, ‘I should’ve been home more, should’ve been more attentive, given you boys direction. It wasn’t right that Mom had to raise you herself. I was selfish, and I regret it.’”

“I think it was also the first time he told us he loved us after writing the letter to Mutt,” says David. “One of the hardest things you do at the Betty Ford clinic is write a letter to your father, and when Dad did it, he cried for two days. He apologized for not being a better player, for not taking care of his body. I guess that confession kinda opened him up, ’cause he was never big on expressing himself.”

In 1960, the best way Mickey Mantle could express himself was by hitting baseballs. He was great at it.

“For a long, long time now, they’ll be talking about the batting of Mickey Mantle in this ballgame today,” Quinlan said.

We did. Mantle is baseball’s ultimate anti-hero, and we all loved him for it.

The Ninth Inning

E — At the end of his playing career, Howard was traded from the Yankees to the Red Sox. Some sources say he considered retiring instead of finishing out the season out of a respect for the Yankees, but his wife talked him out of it. Fans of Howard had to be happy he was still playing, but torn he was wearing the red stirrups of Bean Town.

I used to collect the baseball cards of Dan Quisenberry, side-arming relief pitcher for the Royals, and, at one point, had all of them. Then, he was traded to the Cardinals near the end of his career. That was quite the dilemma as a fan. I never collected his cards with the Cards or the Giants.

Joe Posnanski wrote an incredible column about the end of Elston Howard’s playing career and why he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. “In 1967, Elston Howard hit .178/.233/.244. That was a 42 OPS+. It made him worth roughly 1.3 wins LESS than a replacement player. Somehow, he got an MVP vote.”

I’d love to see both Howard and Quisenberry in the Hall of Fame.

The game is over. The Yankees won 16 – 3 and evened up the series.


E — Elston Howard impacted future baseball players, too. He invented the baseball doughnut. I have one on a practice bat that I swing on a regular basis.

The Yankees struck out 11 times. The Pirates didn’t strike out once.

A new record was set. The most hits in a World Series game between two teams — 32, breaking the one set by Cardinals and Red Sox.

1960 World Series – Game #1

The first time I had lunch with Bill Virdon, he told me about his Spring Training with the Yankees, the team who signed him after watching him at an open tryout in Branson, Missouri. The Yankees had young superstar Mickey Mantle as their centerfielder, the same age and position as Virdon, and Virdon was doing everything he could to make an impression on the renowned suit-wearing manager, Casey Stengel. This is the story Virdon told me.

“I was taking fly ball practice in the outfield, making throws, trying to impress somebody. Somehow, Mr. Stengel got between me and the relay guy. I hit him in the back and knocked him flat to the ground. When I saw what I’d done, I tried to mix in with the other outfielders. They are all laying on the ground, laughing, pointing at me, ‘He did it! He did it!’ I was traded two weeks later.”

Virdon was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals and, in 1955, would win the National League Rookie of the Year with them. In early 1956, the Cardinals traded Virdon to the Pirates. His wife, Shirley, was at the hospital with their daughter and learned of the news via the radio. In 1960, Virdon roamed centerfield for the Pirates as they faced Stengel’s Yankees in the World Series. Two years later, he’d win a Gold Glove with the Pirates.

RANCE — I really enjoyed the way Jack Quinlan set the stage at the start of the broadcast. We get some background on both teams and both managers, and we delve into an in-depth description of Forbes Field, including the weather that day in Pittsburg, the dimensions of the stadium and its date of construction. He describes some unusual characteristics of the outfield. The old radio adage, “theater of the mind,” holds up well with Quinlan taking a moment to describe the setting down to the ivy on the wall in left field and center field, and how that ivy affects the batter’s eye.

The Pirates don’t hit many home runs, and no wonder. Forbes Field had a center field depth of 457 feet. That would be absolutely unheard of in our modern cookie-cutter park era. I also took note of the in-depth starting lineups and then a reiteration of those lineups before the first pitch of the first at-bat. Lineups are one of my favorite parts of any sports broadcast. As a kid, I kept a journal in the living room, and I would scramble to write as many players’ names into that journal when announcers gave starting lineups. I wanted to know as many players on as many teams as possible in baseball, football, and basketball.

It frustrates me how the starting lineups are often presented in modern broadcasts. Especially on television, it seems like announcers speed through the lineups, and sometimes don’t fully give them. Networks have come up with new and “edgy” ways to introduce teams to audiences, usually relying on graphics. An informative and in-depth lineup is becoming a lost art.

The First Inning

E — With 2 outs and no one on in the top of the first, Roger Maris hit a home run to get the scoring started, a precursor to the historic season Maris would have in 1961 breaking Babe Ruth’s record, asterisk and all. I’ve read how the 1961 season took its toll on Maris, how he died young, at 51, due to lymphoma. In recent years, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading the stories of Andy Strasberg whose tales growing up as a fan and friend of Maris’ are filled with humor and wonder.

RANCE — That’s a professional and clean call of the Roger Maris home run by Chuck Thompson. You hear the excitement in his voice, but Thompson doesn’t oversell it either. He “lets it breathe,” as we say in broadcasting, and then recaps the Maris homer after we hear the Pirates crowd chatter.

E — Mantle flies out to Virdon to end the first. The centerfielders are now connected in the World Series scorebooks. In the bottom of the first, Virdon was the lead-off hitter for Pittsburgh and worked a walk. He stole second and advanced to third on an error by Yogi Berra. NL MVP Dick Groat doubled Virdon home to tie the game.

R — I’m going to spend a good deal of this series learning more about Pirates captain Dick Groat. It’s not a name that gets tossed around in baseball discussions anymore. I interviewed Virdon on the day he was named a Missouri Sports Hall of Fame legend, and the hall unveiled a statue of Virdon in its outdoor garden. The curators were playing up Virdon as the 1955 National League Rookie of the Year with the Cardinals, but the statue commemorates a critical catch made in center field when Virdon was a member of the Pirates. I only got three questions in my interview that day. Being the guest of honor, he was quite busy.

I decided to use one of my questions to ask him who some of his favorite teammates were from the 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates. As a reporter, I always try to avoid asking leading questions where I know the answer already. That’s lazy and boring. I fully expected Virdon to tell me something about Roberto Clemente.

Instead, he said his favorite teammate was Dick Groat. Admittedly, I don’t know much about Groat, but I’m ready to learn. I can see why Virdon would like being a leadoff batter in front of a man who hit .325, won a league batting title, and delivered a key RBI early in this game. “Forbes field is rocking,” and Groat is clutch.

E — Only two hitters in, and Casey Stengel visits the mound. There’s action in the Yankee bullpen and Ditmar’s barely broken a sweat. This is how the World Series begins.

On Friday 13, 2012, the Royals had their home opener against the Cleveland Indians. I was there with friends from church and incredibly excited, until Royals starting pitcher Luke Hochevar gave up 7 runs in the first inning. It was demoralizing. Even so, manager Ned Yost left him in and Hochevar completed 4 innings. In 2015, Hochevar pitched 10 innings out of the bullpen in the postseason and gave up no runs. He was the winning pitcher for Game 5 of the 2015 World Series. A true baseball redemption story.

Three hitters later, Ditmar’s pulled from the game. Five hitters, three runs. Day finished. The postseason changes everything.  

R — My understanding is that Casey Stengel was criticized by some for over-managing, but I’m slightly taken aback that the Yankees got a reliever up to get loose in a 1 – 1 game in the bottom of the first inning. I feel sorry for Art Ditmar lasting only a third of an inning, but I understand the decision to pull him.

I chased a rabbit trail trying to find out what happened to Art Ditmar after the 1960 World Series. Without giving too much away, it seems Ditmar faded slowly into the annals of baseball history. I found a chapter on Ditmar in a book called, “Yankees: Where Have You Gone?” by Maury Allen. Stengel’s decision to start Ditmar over Whitey Ford in Game 1 still draws criticism from historians, but Ditmar is quoted in the book as saying that Ford had a “tender arm” headed into Game 1, and that Stengel wanted to save Ford to pitch at Yankees Stadium in Game 3. Foreshadowing: this World Series is Art Ditmar’s ultimate undoing with the Yankees.

“After all, I won more games than anybody that year, and the Pirates looked like a club I could handle,” Ditmar is quoted as saying in Allen’s book. “I’d go along with Casey’s call any time. He was pretty damned successful.”

Yankees manager Casey Stengel was 70 years old during the 1960 World Series. By contrast, Pirates skipper Danny Murtaugh was 43.

Art Ditmar is still living at the age of 90. He is reportedly more apt to reminisce fondly about the 1957 and 1958 World Series, because he did not concede a run in either of those series. You can overhear the public address announcer at Forbes Field mention Ditmar’s 9 and 2/3 scoreless innings of shutout World Series baseball during the bottom of the first inning when Chuck Thompson pauses.

The Second Inning

E — Yogi Berra singled and so did Bill Skowron, putting the tying runs on base. And then Stengel calls for a pinch hitter. Really? In the second inning? Before Boyer ever got an at bat?

R — The Yankees have changed pitchers and used a pinch hitter already, and we’ve played an inning and a half. What in the name of Tony LaRussa is this?

E — Yogi Berra won 10 World Series rings. He played in 75 World Series games and will hit .318 in the 1960 series. But Game #1 was not his best. His throwing error in the first led to the Pirates first run, though Virdon would’ve scored easily from second on Groat’s hit. In the second inning, with two on and one out, Bobby Richardson hit a sharp line drive to left field which was caught by Skinner, who then doubled-off Yogi at second. I’m sure he had something witty to say about that in the dugout.

The Fourth Inning

R —I knew the Bill Virdon “statue catch” was happening sometime in this game, but I had forgotten the details. It came on a ball off the bat of the legendary Yogi Berra in the fourth inning of Game 1, on what Chuck Thompson described as a shot that was every bit of 400 feet toward the wall in right center field. Thompson first tracks Roberto Clemente, the Pittsburgh right fielder, turning and running for the ball.

“Virdon is back there,” Thompson said, almost interrupting himself.

Then Virdon makes the catch at the wall, a moment immortalized with a bronze statue at the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame.

“It was impossible for me to say which of them had caught the ball,” Thompson said. “Then, suddenly, Virdon spun away from the wall and rifled his throw toward second base.”

Manager Danny Murtaugh was quoted as saying that he wanted Bill Virdon to show the Yankees how center field should be played.

E — “The defensive play of the ballgame, so far, to the Pirates’ centerfielder Bill Virdon,” Chuck Thompson said. I listened to the call of the play multiple times, delighting in the roar of the crowd and Thompson’s description of trying to discern whether or not the ball had actually been caught.

Virdon told me a little about The Catch. “I heard Clemente yelling something, but I wasn’t sure. Going back, I felt that it was going to be tough to catch, but I also felt that I had a chance. I caught the ball up high, over my shoulder, and stepped on Roberto’s foot as I bumped into the wall.”

That catch was featured on a baseball card which sits on my writing desk, “Virdon Saves Game.”

R — I went down another rabbit trail, with the commercials included in this old WGN broadcast. While I’m well-educated when it comes to Gillette razors (and I use Gillette products even though I barely grow anything worth shaving), I had no idea what “Saratoga Vichy” was. I just spent the inning reading about mineral water.

The “Saratoga Vichy with the yellow label,” jingle was replaying in my head as Bill Mazeroski cranked a home run, the Forbes Field crowd went nuts and the Pirates widened their lead to 5 – 2.

“A line drive that went zooming out over the scoreboard,” Thompson said of Mazeroski’s blast.

E — I had no idea there was a World Series “inclusio.” I learned of the literary technique in seminary. Basically, an inclusio marks the beginning and ending of a passage, helping to alert the reader (and listeners) to important themes, phrases, and ideas. Mazeroski hitting a home run in Game 1 just elevated the entire series.  

R — Back to Gillette, Thompson started a live read after the third out with the opening line, “We give you the score as often as we can…”

There’s a lot of truth to that in radio. It’s a tip I picked up from reading a Dan Jenkins book when I was a 20-something announcing Camdenton High School football on 93.5 KMYK at Lake of the Ozarks. “You can’t say the score enough.” It’s true. There are no on-screen graphics in radio (nor are there on-screen graphics in the GRBL), so I do my best to say the score of the game often. It’s fundamental for sports broadcasting, yet often overlooked out of negligence and ignorance.

The Fifth Inning

R — Jack Quinlan did a nice job in the fifth inning summing up the significance of the World Series to Pittsburgh, where hotels were completely booked weeks in advance, tickets were almost impossible to come by, and thousands of fans reportedly turned out to attend a “college-type” pep rally for the Pirates. For many, that would be the closest any of them got to actually seeing the Pirates. Like Ethan and me, they relied on the radio broadcasters and their imaginations to picture the scenes.

I’m taking advantage of my 2019 technology and Google searching all kinds of stuff while I listen to this game. Baseball fans of 1960 had the radio and the big screen in their mind, and that was it.

E — It had been 33 years since the Pirates reached the World Series. I can completely relate to that. When the Royals made the Wild Card game in 2014, 29 years had passed in between postseason appearances. I bought a t-shirt celebrating my team, knowing they might only play in one game. (One of the best postseason games ever!) This Pirates team reminds me a lot of the 2014 – 2015 Royals. Speed, defense, put the ball in play, and a bullpen guy.

The Sixth Inning

R — I took a brief moment to read about Vern Law, or “Vernon Law” as he’s being called on the broadcast. The announcers kind of undersell Law, who won the National League Cy Young Award in this season. Law had the winningest season he ever had as a big leaguer in 1960, going 20 – 9. After Law struck on Mickey Mantle in the top of the sixth inning, Jack Quinlan gave him some love.

When Law comes to bat in the bottom of the inning, we learn that he is an ordained priest in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. After some quick research, I learned that Law was ordained at the age of 17. Vern Law learning is broken up by my man Bill Virdon hammering a double to right field that scores Bill Mazeroski from second base and the Pirates lead 6 – 2.

E — That RBI double solidified my vote for Bill Virdon as Player of the Game. Walk, stolen base, run scored, double, RBI, and the defensive play of the game. This Player of the Game Award is not sponsored by anyone and will not result in any financial gain whatsoever. 

The Seventh Inning

R — Bill Virdon’s favorite teammate Groat was a basketball all-American at Duke University. A Blue Devil going on to play Major League Baseball would be absolutely unheard of in the era of Coach K. Matter of fact, Groat played one season in the NBA, having been named college basketball’s player of the year in 1952. Groat reportedly left the Fort Wayne Pistons for military service in 1952. On cue, he makes a nice play at shortstop while I read his brief biography and listen to the top of the seventh inning. Dick Groat, 88 and still living, is apparently good at a lot of stuff. No wonder Bill Virdon values him so much as a teammate.

After Yankees reliever Ryne Duren plunked Bob Skinner, Thompson mentioned Duren’s glasses on the broadcast. Duren was known for his vision problems and “Coke bottle” glasses. In spite of the vision trouble and allusions to the idea that he was dangerous, Duren only hit 41 batters in his 10-year career. He struck out 630 in 589 innings. Duren hit seven batters in 1960.

By contrast, Ethan’s team, the CY Sports Cyclones, hit 11 batters in a single game in 2019. That’s a league record I think may never be touched again.

E — That was against the Shockers. It was so hot that day, I remember feeling like my feet were on fire standing in left field. I felt so bad for those getting hit, too.

Side note: Alex Gordon, my favorite Royals player, led the majors with 19 HPB this season and holds the Royals all-time record for being hit with 118. I was hit exactly once this season and hope it never happens again.

The Eighth Inning

R — Roger Maris is now 3-for-4, triggering Pirates manager Danny Murtaugh’s first mound visit with Vern Law. It’s a full-fledged conference on the mound, and yet another mention of Dick Groat being Pittsburgh’s team captain. On field captaincy is something rarely utilized and even more rarely discussed in today’s game.

I’m perking up for the entrance of Roy Face, who was a closer before we called them closers. I also enjoy the custom of Vern Law waiting for Roy Face to arrive to the mound from the bullpen before he exited for the dugout.

Face threw a forkball and a slider. Does anyone even through a forkball anymore? Doesn’t matter, Mickey Mantle fouls the first forkball he sees backward. Panamanian Hector Lopez is running at second for the Yankees, and Roger Maris is now on first. It’s worth noting that this is all happening a year before Roger Maris made history by slamming 61 home runs in 1961. Roy Face got Mantle swinging, and I will now devote the rest of this offseason to learning the forkball.

E — Twin brothers Shane and Shaun were two of my catch partners last year. We played catch in Chicago near The Bean and the two of them travelled to Springfield for a weekend where I conducted catch-playing tours of the Queen City and introduced them to cashew chicken and all the coasters at Silver Dollar City. Shane throws a forkball. It basically acts like a knuckleball. While we were in Chicago, I completely missed one of his throws. Didn’t even touch my glove. That is a very weird feeling, to think you’re going to catch something thrown at you and miss it. My hands aren’t big enough to throw a forkball, but it was awesome being on the receiving end, watching it jerk and jive. I would have no desire to try and hit it.

R — Jack Quinlan mentions that Roy Face works as a carpenter in the baseball offseason. I always try to mention players’ occupations when I’m calling Grip’N’Rip Baseball League games. I find it interesting, it helps people get to know the players and it illustrates the “all walks of life” population that the league draws its players from. Anecdotally, my dad tells me that learning what the players do for work is one of his favorite parts of following the action.

The carpenter struck out Bill Skowron with a slider to get Pittsburgh out of the jam and into the bottom of the eighth with a 6 – 2 lead.

E — Thanks to Tony’s creativity and generosity, whenever people ask me what I do, for the last few months, I’ve answered that I’m a ballplayer. I get really weird looks, but it usually leads to great conversations.

The Ninth Inning

R — Jack Quinlan briefly mentions that Roy Face learned to throw the forkball from “Fireman” Joe Page, who popularized the pitch as a reliever with the Yankees and then played together with Face on the Pirates in 1956.

Speaking of the forkball, the Yankees seem to have figured it out a little bit. Pinch hitter Elston Howard hit a two-run homer to right field, a distance somewhere north of 350 feet. I’m looking at photos and diagrams of Forbes Field to try to mentally picture the scene.

Swinging it back around to Bill Virdon’s favorite teammate, Pirates captain Dick Groat turns two off the bat of Hector Lopez. It’s Bill Mazeroski to Dick Groat to Dick Stuart, and it’s a 6 – 4 win for the Bucs.

E — I visited with Roger Bossard, third generation groundskeeper and the head groundskeeper for the Chicago White Sox. (His dad is getting ready to be the third Bossard elected into the MLB Groundskeepers Hall of Fame.) In the 1960s, once the game started, the infield would only have been raked once, after the last out of the fifth inning. The dirt, clay, and material was good, but not near as close-to-flawless as the infields of today. Also, today, infields are raked three times every game.

“The car Henry Ford made in 1908 was really good, but not near as good as the car he made in 1938. Things change, and that’s good,” Bossard said.

Funny bounces and tough hops were the norm toward the end of the game and scorers were brutal at assigning errors. That sounded like a tough grounder that Groat “turned into a marshmallow,” to borrow from Rex Hudler, to start the game-ending double-play dance. I think this might be a second World Series inclusio — a late inning ground ball to the shortstop that made the difference.

Side note: It’s when I worked for the grounds crew of the Springfield Cardinals and was running to do my very first infield rake during a Missouri State Bears game that I discovered my ankle was still broken.

The Postgame

R — Chuck Thompson notes his belief that Danny Murtaugh won the chess match between the managers and credits his move to lift starting pitcher Vern Law in the eighth inning to put in Roy Face with a four-run lead. It was a save situation for Face by modern scoring standards, because there were two runners on base and the would-be game-tying run was in the on deck circle.

I’m reminded of Henry’s Towing High Rollers closer Chris Matlock, who came on in an almost identical situation in the 2019 GRBL championship game. However, unlike Roy Face, Matlock didn’t cough up any runs. He got his five-out save and the Rollers won 4 – 0.

I’m researching forkballs during the postgame recap, and I think I’m ready to get some work in the bullpen. The forkball is basically the brother of the split-finger and a cousin of the sinker.

I’d imagine Casey Stengel was very, very unhappy about New York committing a pair of errors and stranding seven runners on base. It’s also ludicrous to me that Casey Stengel had not named a Game 2 starting pitcher at this point in the timeline.

Stengel absolutely had to have known who his pitcher was going to be at this point, he’s just being difficult. Kickapoo High School baseball coach Jason Howser used to pull similar stunts on me all the time when I was covering his team for the Springfield News-Leader. I knew, Howser knew, his pitcher knew and the other team knew who would get the ball for a big rivalry game against Glendale, but Howser told me the pitching decision was “to be determined.” Yeah, alright.

E — My postgame takeaway is this, I want a Bill Virdon Pirates t-shirt or jersey. Unfortunately, the Pirates didn’t put last names on jerseys until after his playing days were over. The #18 underneath his last name would be an anomaly. I’d have to look for a managerial jersey with the Expos or Astros.

Pirates lead the Series 1 – 0.

Sophie’s Shark Dive

“On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being, ‘This is the best day of my life,’ how excited are you for the Shark Dive?” I asked Sophie as we were driving for an early lunch at Chick-fil-A.

Sophie thought about her answer just long enough to make me wonder if I needed to repeat the question.


Her answer immediately made me think of the emergency room routine by Brian Regan and I started laughing as I drove.

“Do you think the sharks have any names?” I asked.

For the love of all things Nemo, one of the sharks needs to be named Bruce.

An underwater experience is perfect for Sophie the Hufflepuff, who is easily overwhelmed with loud noises, who seeks artistic inspiration from all parts of the natural world.

For her 15th birthday, Sophie was going to dive with the sharks at Wonders of Wildlife, the amazing aquatic and museum experience created by Bass Pro Shops founder, Johnny Morris. My family has a membership to the museum and I have several personal favorites.

The blue, humphead wrasse that shares a tank with the creepy, green moray eel.

The playful otters.

Athena the Octopus.

The albino alligator.

And the bears near the end, which are surely a tribute to Dwight Schrute.

I signed her up for the “feeding frenzy,” which meant we had to wait a couple weeks for her to suit up and descend in the cage. Considering the Washington Nationals World Series Championship and Baby Shark phenomena, thanks to Gerardo Parra, the timing for her dive was quite appropriate.  

While we were at lunch, I met Keifer and Meagan, two of the divers who would be leading Sophie’s underwater escapade.

“Any advice?” I asked.

“Does she like water?” Keifer asked.

I nodded affirmatively. In less than a week, Sophie will be practicing on her high school swim team.

“Tell her not to stick her hand through the cage and she’ll have a great time.”

* * * *

Last summer, in the middle of Catch 365, my family spent a couple days at the ocean, after playing catch with Aaron and the Daytona Tortugas. On one of the days, while we were first walking into the salty waves, I thought I saw something out of the corner of my eye that looked like a dorsal fin. I tried to ignore it, but drastically slowed down my entrance. Moments later, I saw it again. I made quick mention to Jamie that I wanted to go check in with the lifeguard, trying not to worry Kaylea and Sophie.

I stood at the foot of the lifeguard’s ladder and shielded my eyes from the sun. “I’m from Missouri, so I know this will sound stupid and ignorant, but I thought I saw a dorsal fin a couple of times. Do I need to be concerned?”

“No sir, you don’t need to worry at all. Those are just the dolphins hanging around. You won’t see the sharks.”

His answer did not alleviate my fears whatsoever.

Bethany was our guide for the day, meeting us at the glass elevator in the lobby, which surely is a tribute to Willy Wonka. Bethany is a level 5 diver, having been certified since 2013 and studied marine biology in college. Working at WOW has been a good fit for her, where she spends time educating others through her passion (and also cleaning the tanks before the museum opens) while being close to her younger siblings. In the spring of 2018, she dove off the coast of South Africa and swam with the sharks. In the open. Without a cage. I saw her video of the curious mako shark who bumped into her camera.

Sophie was joined by Colton, another birthday diver, and a manager from WOW I didn’t get to meet. I signed a waiver as Sophie’s legal guardian while she rinsed off and put on a wet suit, long string tied onto a zipper in the back. The entire dive crew had to watch the safety video, in which we learned the Sea Trek Helmet she would be wearing weighs 72 pounds out of the water, but only 15 pounds once she is completely submerged. We also learned six hand signals for underwater communication: Okay, Problem with ears, Problem breathing, Sitting on my knees, Going back up, Going down.

Sophie asked one question after the safety video. None of the sharks are named.

Sorry, Bruce.

While Sophie and Colton got situated in the tank, Bethany led Colton’s wife and me down below to the viewing area, where I was joined by Kaylea and her friend, Isaac. On the way, we passed the two-toed sloth, who I finally saw moving.  

There are five sharks in the tank at WOW, two sand tiger sharks and three brown sharks. The sharks have been living in this tank for about a decade and have been trained to target feed three days a week. On Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays the elasmobranch fish with a multitude of teeth eat when they see a rectangular sign placed in the corner of the tank. On the opposite side of the tank, the giant groupers feed at the same time.

On several different occasions, I have sat down to watch the peaceful meanderings of the large swimmers. Today, the tank was filled with frenetic activity.

* * * *

Sophie was handed a GoPro as she entered the cage and told to “Go crazy. Take as many pictures as you want.” In her twenty minutes, Sophie took 120 pictures. These are some.


She was given a flash drive with all of her pictures along with a t-shirt that says, “I Survived Out To Sea Shark Dive.”

I asked again. “On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being, ‘This is the best day of my life,’ how exciting was it?”

Sophie did not think long about her answer.


She’s now more excited about the thought of obtaining her license to dive much more so than her license to drive.

Which, honestly, is probably the safer of the two.

I’m certain WOW could find good use for the talents of a scuba-certified artist.

Off-Season Baseball

“People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.”

— Rogers Hornsby

None of the windows in my house have a good view.

— Me

Now that the Washington Nationals have celebrated winning the last game of the season and the Royals have hired Mike Matheny as their new manager, the only thing to wonder about until Spring Training is whether or not I’ll receive an invitation to chase down fly balls in the high skies of Surprise, Arizona.

I’m not placing any bets on me.

I woke up after my Saturday afternoon mini-coma with an idea. I’m not exactly sure what spurred the idea other than there is so much of baseball history that I’ve missed and I thought it might be fun to catch up on some of it during the off-season. Immediately, I thought of the World Series.

My earliest World Series memory is Game 3 from 1980 between the Phillies and the Royals. My parents were in attendance as the Royals won. I remember watching the 1982 World Series of the Cardinals against the Brewers with my dad as my family had recently moved to Springfield.

A couple searches and I, luckily, discovered the Classic MLB Baseball Radio Archive.

For free.

I asked Rance, my good friend and the broadcaster for the Grip ‘N’ Rip Baseball League, if he’d like to join me in listening to World Series games played before we were born.

Rance replied almost immediately.

How did I not know about this website? This will be a constructive break from watching pointless crap on YouTube. The earliest World Series I can really remember is 1990. The earliest World Series I can truly remember watching with any sort of meaning was 1992. I loved the Toronto Blue Jays teams of the early ‘90s. Roberto Alomar is still my favorite second baseman of all time. We’re going 30 years back from when I was 6 years old and peppered my dad with questions about the Cincinnati Reds and the Oakland Athletics before turning my attention back to my toys, drawings and children’s books. My dad was able to answer the question, “What is a Red?” by telling me that it was short for the Redlegs. That was just fine with me.

Rance and I agreed that it would be fun to listen to the 1960 World Series between the New York Yankees and the Pittsburgh Pirates in honor and tribute to our friend who played in that series — Bill Virdon. Under the leadership of Casey Stengel, the Yankees (97 – 57) won the Series in five consecutive years (1949 – 1953) and again in 1956 and 1958. They lost it in 1955 and 1957. On the other hand, the Pirates (92 – 62) last won the series in 1925.

In 1960, Babe Ruth was the career home run king, U.S. troops were sent to Vietnam, JFK was elected President, The Flintstones made their TV debut, and my dad was learning how to drive. I’ve only seen a few random highlights from that year’s final baseball showdown and almost all of the highlights center on the epic conclusion of the Series.

I’ve heard of some of the players from both the 1960 Pirates and the 1960 Yankees, and I have met exactly one of them: Bill Virdon. I’m excited to see how this quiet and unassuming fellow I know from church stacks up in a real-life situation with the likes of legends like Roberto Clemente, Mickey Mantle, and Yogi Berra.

I’ve met three of those ballplayers — Virdon, Berra, and Mantle — and had autographs of all, but only one actually knows my name. Virdon’s autographed baseball sits on my writing desk next to Buck O’Neil, Jim “The Rookie” Morris, and the ball Sophie gave me for Christmas in 2017 that says, “Dad, Wanna play catch?” I had to sell my Mantle and Berra autographed baseballs to help pay bills when I was in seminary. I still regret that decision.

I’m also psyched to dive a little deeper into the histories of players I want to know more about. There’s Roy Face, the pitcher who pioneered the role of the modern day closer, and Whitey Ford, who I first learned about from an episode of “The Simpsons.”

“The Simpsons” do solid baseball work. The “Homer at the Bat” episode is a riot.  

This is going to be educational and exciting, and I hope it also makes me a better radio broadcaster. I want to learn from the men who brought the game to life for baseball fans around the country. I’ll be listening closely to the manner in which Jack Quinlan and Chuck Thompson call the games. I firmly believe that baseball was a sport born for radio and radio was the born medium for baseball.

The story and observations from Game #1 will be posted on Friday, November 8.

Second Chances

Baseball Seams Company gives baseballs a second chance. Baseballs that are waterlogged, scuffed, lopsided, with torn laces or covers are given the opportunity to become something new — art, keychains, necklaces, cufflinks. I’ve carried around my keychain for more than two years, tracing the laces with my fingertips whenever I’m standing in line at the grocery store or bank. These second chance creations are filled with nostalgic beauty and profound meaning, echoing the words Paul wrote to his friends. The old is gone, the new has come.

My first baseball game, at the age of 4, George Brett hit for the cycle and the Royals won in the bottom of the 16th inning. Since that game, I dreamed of playing baseball for the boys in blue on the fountain-lined field. I gave up on my dream at the age of 16, mostly because I had yet to hit my growth spurt. It took me a long time to realize how much I missed playing the game.

Thanks to the Grip ‘N’ Rip Baseball League, I got a second chance to play. The fourth-oldest player in the league, with some parts of my body scuffed and torn and replaced, I got to be a kid again. It was a taste of heaven. G.K. Chesterton was right.[1]

Mike Matheny is getting a second chance to be the manager of an MLB team. A little more than a year after being fired from his position with the Cardinals, Matheny will be wearing blue, working with players at the highest of levels. Ned Yost got a second chance in KC after learning from his past mistakes and it led to the World Series twice, along with an insightful education into space exploration.

There’s about 101 days until Spring Training starts. Here’s hoping Mike Matheny makes the most of this second chance. I’ll be pulling for him.  

[1] “The true object of all human life is play. Earth is a task garden; heaven is a playground.”

September 8, 2020

Photo credit: dayoftheweek.org

I don’t really memorize anymore.

As a kid, I used to have the phone numbers of all of my friends memorized, along with random statistics of Royals players and various MLB league leaders. At one point, I had all the presidents memorized, an alphabetical listing of the states and their capitals, and extended scenes from multiple movies. It seemed I could memorize things without giving it much intentional thought.

Now, the list of what I have memorized is absurdly short.

The birthdays of my wife, daughters, sister, and parents.

My wedding anniversary.

The VIN of the first vehicle I purchased.

My library card number.

My statistics from the Grip ‘N’ Rip Baseball League.

Yesterday, I memorized something new.

* * * * * * *

September 8 is the birthday of Astros’ pitcher Gerrit Cole, Martin Freeman (Bilbo from The Hobbit), and Gaten Matarazzo (Dustin from Stranger Things.)

In 1966, it is the same date NBC aired the first episode of Star Trek.

In 1973, Hank Aaron hit the 709th home run of his career on this date and in 1998 Mark McGwire hit his 62nd home run of the season.

And, on September 8, 2020, the Catch 365 book will be published.

* * * * * * *


Leap year.

Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

Presidential election.

The return of Salvador Perez to the Royals.

My youngest daughter will turn 16.

The 5th season of the GRBL.

Throughout the year, I’ll be asking for pre-orders of the currently untitled book, because Joe Posnanski taught me how important that is to do in his launch of The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini. He mentioned his latest release two or three times a day for months and months. If Joe Posnanski can do it, so can I. You can pre-order from Byron of Hearts & Minds Books if you want to get it from one of the best bookstores in the country. I’m sure other places will sell it, too.

Maybe, in 2020, I could return to Cooperstown and play catch with friends at the Symposium.

Maybe, in 2020, I could head back to the Field of Dreams and play catch when the Yankees and White Sox head to Iowa.

Maybe I’ll make the cut in the GRBL again and spend an afternoon signing books after one of my games.

Maybe I’ll sign a glove deal with Wilson and head to Royals Spring Training and play catch with Alex Gordon, as long as he doesn’t retire this off-season.

On September 8, 2020, the Royals will be playing the Oakland A’s. Throwing out a first pitch at the K would be a fantastic way to launch a book.

G. K. Chesterton wrote, “The true object of all human life is play. Earth is a task garden; heaven is a playground.”

Heaven is a playground.

We could use a little more heaven on earth.

Grab your glove.

Let’s go celebrate.

And don’t forget: September 8, 2020.

Championship Sunday

Eleven weeks after tryouts.

Championship Sunday.

Photo courtesy of Doug Bryan

I spent time in the booth with Rance during the third-place game, playing Monty to his Harry Doyle. Dayne Shoff, the seniorest veteran in the league, drove in the go-ahead run as the Yogis beat the Naturals 7 – 5.

Photo courtesy of Doug Bryan

In between games were two home run derbies. Those kids had serious power!

Austin Kendrick, manager of the Shockers, singled to center to try and get a rally started.

The High Rollers pitchers shutout the potent Shockers offense.

Congrats to the GRBL Season IV champions – the Henry’s Towing High Rollers!