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.

“8.”

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.

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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.

“9.5”

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.

* * * * * * *

2020.

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!

The Living Art of Sophie

Sophie’s first breath took my breath away.

As she entered this bright and big world just a few miles west of Kauffman Stadium, Sophie took a deep breath of amniotic fluid. I cut the umbilical cord at the doctor’s instruction and he immediately rushed her to an emergency crew where she was placed on some kind of portable, miracle cart of lights and heaters. The scrubs-clad crew surrounded her, talking in hushed tones, and I didn’t know what was happening. I held Jamie’s hand and didn’t know what to do.

Sometimes in the movies, when everything is chaotic and crazy, the cameras spin around and all sounds cease except for the breathing or heartbeat of the main character. This is exactly what it was like on Sophie’s birthday.  

Minutes later, the amazing crew returned a big-eyed, cheeky, and cleaned-off Sophie to us. She made no noises and seemed to be closely watching, observing this new place. Wrapped tightly in a blanket, Sophie wore the blue and pink striped hat common at hospitals. I wore a light blue t-shirt that said The Message, referencing the Bible translation of Eugene Peterson. That t-shirt is one of 25 currently being transformed into a quilt.  

Sophie was born on a day the Kansas City Chiefs were playing and I told her about a few of the players and we watched a few snaps together. We were both asleep when the game ended, waking up to discover the Chiefs had lost. I could not have cared less about that defeat.

* * * * *

On October 17, 1980, the first World Series game was played in Kansas City, with the Royals facing the Philadelphia Phillies of Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton, and Pete Rose. In the bottom of the tenth inning, Willie Aikens hit a line drive over the center fielder’s head driving in Willie Wilson to win the game. My parents were at the game. Sophie’s birth date has historic connections to Royals baseball.

“Mmm. That’s nice,” she says.

* * * * *

Sophie spent almost a year of her life as a puppy. On multiple occasions, she was overheard saying “Woof” in her sleep. It got to the point where grandparents were concerned. Jamie and I had to ban puppies from the dinner table and going to church.

* * * * *

I am so grateful for the Harry Potter series because it has helped me better understand and know Sophie. Sophie is the truest Hufflepuff I’ve ever seen.

Hufflepuffs are the most hospitable of people. They deeply value hard work, justice, and loyalty. The head of the house is the professor of herbology, which makes sense as Sophie has spent the summer trying to nurture multiple plants and herbs on our back deck, much to the delight of our rabbits, possums, and squirrels. She took a trip to Costa Rica this past summer, learning about the rain forest and sustainable ways of life. She took exactly one selfie the entire time she was gone and that only because her mother requested to see her face. Sophie has already had her artwork published and won multiple awards — from pumpkin-decorating contests to gourd art — but she remains quite modest of her accomplishments.

“It’s not that big a deal, really.”

Sophie lives in her own imagination, in a peaceful world filled with raw beauty and in relationships where Truth and Life and Hope and Justice are frequent conversational topics. In this world, all animals can be trusted. In this world, there is never a need to hurry.

* * * * *

Taken by Ami Henry, this is one of my favorite pictures of Sophie.

Sophie feels with every fiber of her being. From the six babies she toted around everywhere as a toddler — one named Texas — to her family of pine cones, she has understood the importance of community and friendship her entire life. She has strong emotional connections to gifts from friends and family.

For a couple years, Sophie had two parakeets — Buckbeak and Luna. Much like a Disney princess, she wanted to hold them, train them, befriend them. Buckbeak bit her pretty hard one day, hard enough to bring tears. She sobbed in her room and asked me, “How can I show them I just want to be their friend?”

Sophie asks questions I can’t answer, because the answers aren’t simple baseball statistics or straightforward facts. She’ll take a breath and take her time carefully forming her phrases and words, then wait her turn to speak because she despises being interrupted.

She’ll come home from school, jump on the trampoline, then grab a snack and hide in her room for a couple of hours, slowly recharging her introvert battery. At bedtime, she’ll settle into the covers, and just think.

“Dad, why…?”

Questions about school hours going against human biology.

Questions about the inefficacy of standardized tests or homework or computers in school.

Questions about unjust business practices or ridiculous politics or economic inequalities.

The heart behind every question is the desire for real peace, the hope that we can take better care of this irreplaceable planet, and a place for all people to truly call home.

I rarely ever have answers that aren’t dripping with sarcasm and attempts at humor.

“Dad, I’m being serious…”

I hug her and kiss her forehead and say prayers, trusting that God can guide and guard her heart.

* * * * *

Sophie started creating art by sitting in on her sister’s art lessons. She gripped pencils and crayons and markers with her whole fist. Steve, the beyond-patient art teacher, welcomed Sophie into the lessons and created space at our small, round kitchen table.

“She is, by far, the best artist I’ve ever seen who holds a pencil like that,” he once said.

As a second grader, for an art class at school, Sophie drew a picture of a cup of water. The level of the water inside the cup was not represented by a straight line, as I would have drawn. The water level was circular, which surprised me. But what really caught my eye was she drew the refraction of items seen through the glass in the background.

I showed the drawing to a friend of mine.

“You need to do whatever you can to encourage her to be an artist for the rest of her life.”

Wherever she goes, Sophie has art supplies with her. Sometimes it’s ink and a pen, sometimes watercolors, sometimes acrylics. She walks through the world quietly in wide-eyed wonder, observing and thinking, seeing the way colors and shapes interplay.

She was commissioned to create her first car art this summer. It was a large, acrylic painting of an all-black Mustang GT. I watched the process closely and was confused as she painted layers of whites and blues and grays and very little black. One day, when she was gone, I sat and compared the photo she was using as a model to her art in progress. At first, I saw a black car and a not-black painting. And then I noticed the reflections of the sky and grass and the concrete driveway in the mirror-like finish. I caught a small glimpse of what Sophie sees naturally and I was amazed.

* * * * *

What good is art in this world?

In these days of chaotic and crazy, where too few people pretend to be puppies or befriend Hufflepuffs and (maybe) place too much emphasis on the wins and losses of the Royals and Chiefs, art makes us stop and take a breath.

Sophie has been taking my breath away her whole life.

Happy birthday, Sophie.