RIP

RIP Murray Olderman

Murray Olderman, longtime sports columnist and cartoonist, passed away yesterday at age 98. I’m aware of him because—in addition to his decades’ worth of stellar work—he was involved in a barely believable confrontation with Reggie Jackson during the 1974 World Series. The showdown was entirely on Jackson, who was upset about a feature Olderman had written about him for Sport magazine (an accurate portrayal), but Olderman held his own, in the process providing a great example of how not to be intimidated by a blowhard athlete.

I wrote about it in Dynastic, Bombastic, Fantastic. Here’s the excerpt:

As the Series moved to Oakland, Monday’s workout day at the Coliseum was supposed to be a low-key affair, a chance to get loose in the sunshine and give the national media access to players. The A’s, of course, had a poor history with workout days. The one in Los Angeles put Rollie Fingers in the hospital and Blue Moon Odom on crutches. A year earlier, the one in New York featured insurgent players wearing Mike Andrews’s uniform number on their sleeves. The one in Cincinnati the year before that was all about the reaction to Campy Campaneris’s bat toss in Detroit. It wouldn’t take long for this one to join the litany.

The drama’s genesis occurred back in mid-September, when Sport magazine published a cover story for which Reggie Jackson posed while wearing military regalia from the movie Patton. He had been interviewed for the issue by the film’s star, George C. Scott, and found the resulting copy to be entirely bland. He couldn’t say the same, however, for the second feature about him in the same issue. That one was by Murray Olderman, a Bay Area–based 52-year-old syndicated writer and cartoonist who had been desperate to schedule an interview with Reggie for his quick-turnaround piece. After doing a five-hour photo shoot for the cover, however, Jackson was in no mood to talk. He agreed only to let the writer informally hang out for a while at his condo in the exclusive Hiller Highlands neighborhood of Berkeley.

When Jackson saw the ensuing feature, he was miffed. Olderman described Jackson as “utterly charming or maddeningly harsh, depending on the situation,” and said that he “has more than a little ego, more than a limited belief in his own glorious destiny.” He spent close to a third of the space recounting Jackson’s fights with Epstein, Williams, and North.

For Reggie, though, the crux came in two parts. One was Olderman’s description of a Bible set next to a handgun atop the television, juxtaposed with copies of Penthouse and Playboy strewn around the apartment. In the player’s mind, this insinuated that holiness was subjugated by the baser aspects of his life. The other part was the depiction of former A’s ball girl Mary Barry, who was described as wearing a green bikini and spending hours in the apartment. (It did not explicitly say that the two were dating, but the notion was strongly implied.) Barry’s teenage employment with the team lent negative connotations to the description, but she’d graduated from high school by the time the story came out and was no longer in Finley’s employ. Both she and Jackson were single. “I don’t expect everyone to write nice things about me,” Reggie said after the piece was published, “but I don’t want a sarcastic treatment that makes me look like something I’m not. I’m not a hypocrite, but his story suggests it.”

Reggie’s teammates, some of them, anyway, were aware of his anger. He spoke openly of revenge fantasies, the most prominent of which involved telling Olderman off amid his journalist colleagues, returning some of the embarrassment Jackson felt. The reality, of course, was that Reggie was keenly aware of his public image and what such a plan would do to it. His teammates were somewhat less concerned.

As the A’s worked out, Blue saw Olderman on the field, pointing out various members of the A’s to his 16-year-old son, and got an idea. Grabbing the writer by the hand, he said, “Come with me, there’s someone who wants to see you,” and led him to Jackson. Reggie had decided weeks earlier that it was not in his best interests to pursue a confrontation, but with it thrust upon him, he reversed course. It was the only way to save face in front of teammates who had heard him talk repeatedly about what kind of trouble Olderman would be in the next time they met.

So Reggie began to yell. He profanely told Olderman what he thought of the article, and what he thought of the man who wrote it. And the more he yelled the angrier he became. What started as show became genuine hostility.

The scenario was just how Reggie pictured it. The field was littered with newsmen from across the country, and the moment he began to shout they gathered like pigeons to bread crumbs. Jackson was dressed for battle—batting helmet, batting gloves, dark glasses, windbreaker over his uniform—making him all the more intimidating. He screamed that Olderman was “a horseshit writer who had written a horseshit story,” told him that he didn’t want to see him again, and threatened to “punch him in his fucking mouth.” It was as if Reggie was trying to taunt the scribe into a physical altercation. Olderman did not bite.

“You better never get around me alone, that’s all I can say,” Jackson finally hollered, pointing his finger. “If you do, you’ll be in trouble.”

Olderman, wearing thick-framed glasses and a blazer, was an Army veteran and about the same size as Jackson. He was hardly cowed.

“Are you threatening me?” he asked coolly. Vida stood next to them, gazing sheepishly at the ground.

Jackson clenched his fists and told the writer he was not welcome in the Oakland clubhouse.

“Are you going to keep me out?” Olderman asked.

“Yeah,” Reggie said.

That was when Joe Reichler, MLB’s director of public relations, raced over to separate the men. “Walk away with me,” he sternly ordered Jackson. When Reggie refused, Reichler laid down the law right there: “Threaten him again, or lay a hand on him, and you won’t play the rest of the series.” Jackson backed down.

Things were quiet until the next day, when, prior to Game 3, Reichler approached Reggie as he warmed up in front of the A’s dugout. The Commissioner, he said, was “very disturbed” over Jackson’s behavior. If it happened again, Reichler said, “there’s going to be a problem, a very serious problem, and I think you know what I mean by that.”

Reggie smiled. “As far as I’m concerned,” he said, “everything is over.”

It was too early for everything to be over, of course. The A’s had already sent two players to the hospital, were still trying to make sense of their best pitcher’s claims that he would soon be playing elsewhere, had to fend off rumors of moving, tried to deflect questions about a lawsuit filed against their owner by one of their own, and lived down one of the most embarrassing pickoffs in big league history. Now they were also dealing with their star player verbally assaulting a member of the gathered media.

In passing, it seemed, the Series was tied, 1–1. It was easy to miss, but there was still some baseball to be played.

RIP

RIP Claudell Washington

Claudell Washington passed away far too young on Tuesday at age 65. He first gained notice as a teenage sensation on the Swingin’ A’s, the man for whom Charlie Finley predicted enduring greatness. I last saw him at an A’s reunion a couple of years back; he was wearing a thick sweater on a warm day, looked strong and conversed easily. The East Bay legend will be missed.

From Dynastic, Bombastic, Fantastic:

The 19-year-old Claudell Washington had been lighting up the Double-A Southern League with stats almost too good to believe: a .362 batting average with 11 homers, 23 doubles, 55 RBIs, and 34 stolen bases in only 73 games. The best part: he was a local kid—a Berkeley High School graduate—and a success story for part-time scout Jim Guinn, the Berkeley policeman who went on to sign Rickey Henderson. Washington didn’t even play for his high school baseball team; Guinn found him via local legend. The kid could dunk two basketballs in one leap, it was said, and was rated among the fastest men in the East Bay based on a single season of prep track. As if to give himself a character quirk, the six-foot, 190-pound Washington swung a comically heavy 42-ounce bat; among big leaguers, only Dick Allen’s had similar heft. “He’s the best player for his age I’ve ever seen or known,” admired Jackson upon taking a gander.

Washington’s first start was not an enviable matchup. It pitted the A’s against Cleveland’s Gaylord Perry, who, after losing his first start of the season, had won every time since. The right-hander was 15-1, one victory away from the American League record of 16 straight. That and half-price Monday tickets produced the Coliseum’s largest crowd of the season: 47,582.

Perry did not reach his mark. Vida Blue pitched ten innings of four-hit ball, and the A’s new prodigy—who had until very recently never heard of Gaylord Perry—made a quick impression. Starting at DH, Washington’s first major league hit was an eighth-inning triple. His second hit, a tenth-inning single off a still-strong Perry, drove in Blue Moon Odom to win the game, 4–3.

For a true feeling about what kind of impact Washington made on the East Bay scene upon his arrival, take a gander at the Oakland Tribune from July 2, 1975. It wasn’t a noteworthy day, per se, but it’s representative of the kind of whirlwind Washington inspired. (It’s also representative of the kind of gold that beat writer Ron Bergman spun daily.):

Claudell Washington has picked up an extra $10,000 on his way to the All-Star game, the Hall of Fame, possible sainthood, and, who knows, perhaps the seat of his own in the United Nations general assembly.

Nothing seems impossible for the 20-year-old, who raised his batting average to .306 with two hits last night, scored three runs, drove in another and stole bases number 30 and 31 as the A’s beat the White Sox, 10-1, widening their lead in the American League West to eight games.

In the seventh-inning, A’s owner Charlie Finley climbed up to the press box from his first-base box seat in White Sox Park and announced that he was giving Washington a retroactive $10,000 raise.

This marked the third midseason raise Finley has given his young star, who will reach one year in the big leagues in three days. Last year, Finley gave him a $2,000 raise for wrecking Gaylord Perry’s bid for a 16th straight victory, and $5,000 for going 5-for-5 in Detroit. That left Claudell well past $22,500, the figure for which he signed the past winter. Welcome to the land of $32,500.

Not one of the A’s players resented the raise. Not Vida Blue, who was given a Cadillac in 1971 as a midseason raise. Blue: “All I know is I’m going shopping with him tomorrow.”

No-Hitter Etiquette

Ten Years Ago Today: Armando Galarraga’s Would-Be Perfect Game

Ten years ago today gave us perhaps the most egregiously blown call in baseball history. With one out to go in a would-be perfect game, Tigers righty Armando Galarraga induced a soft tapper to the right side of the infield. First baseman Miguel Cabrera fielded it cleanly and fed the covering pitcher in time to beat the runner by a step.

Umpire Jim Joyce called him safe.

There were two primary reactions in the immediate aftermath. One was to blister Joyce over a terrible call. The other was to begin discussing, in depth and at length, the idea of universal instant replay.

Regarding the former, Joyce acquitted himself as well as anybody in his position might have. Upon watching a replay after the game, he tearfully proclaimed that “It was the biggest call of my career and I blew it,” and that “I cost that kid a perfect game.” Joyce apologized publicly, and Galarraga accepted. The class shown on both sides of the issue served as a beacon for those hopeful that grace and civility might be making a comeback to our society.

Oh well.

As for the latter reaction, instant replay was in use at that time, just not in a way that could have helped Galarraga. It had been implemented in 2008 with three express purposes: determining whether a ball was fair or foul; determining if a ball had left the playing field; and confirming possible fan interference on a home run. In 2014 the challenge system was implemented, and replay began to have significantly more effect. (I weighed in on the topic for The New York Times amid some pretty select company shortly after the game.)

My point at the time, which I reinforce now, is that there’s an unwritten-rules aspect to the call—this one covering umpires, not players—that could have prevented all of the ensuing trauma. Namely, that the first hit of a game must be clean.

It’s an easy one. Nobody—not the pitcher, not the opposition and especially not the umpire—wants a game to go into the books with the only hit allowed having been controversial … or, even worse, an incorrect call. This is especially pertinent late in the game, never mind with two outs in the ninth inning. Joyce himself said in the Detroit News that “This was a history call, nd I kicked the shit out of it.”

Had the runner that day, Jason Donald, actually beaten the throw by a half-step and been called out by Joyce, nobody would be talking about the call today.

At least it gives us some brief distraction while our country burns.

Retaliation

We Knew It At The Time, But Now He Confirms It: Brad Keller Meant To Hit Tim Anderson

With no baseball save for mishandled bargaining sessions and teams’ decisions about whether to pay their minor leaguers and other employees through these dormant months, it’s downright refreshing to hear a bona fide ballplayer discuss bona fide ball.

Even when the discussion topic is something he might rather forget.

Royals pitcher Brad Keller went on the Charity Stripe podcast on Monday and discussed last year’s incident in which he drilled Tim Anderson for flipping his bat.

Before we get into Keller’s comments, let’s revisit that day last April.

Anderson slugged a fourth-inning homer off of Keller, then … well, “flipped” is the wrong word for what he did with his bat. As I described it at the time, it was “less insouciant toss and more angry spike.”

“Did that somehow cross an ever-shifting line?” I wondered. “Had [Anderson] not turned toward his dugout—or, more pertinently, turned his back toward the Royals dugout—would it have been better received?”

It didn’t matter. In Anderson’s next at-bat, two innings later, Keller drilled him in the backside. Tempers flared.

At the time, it was confusing. Major League Baseball had just come out with its Let the Kids Play campaign, ostensibly aimed at fostering this very kind of behavior. The thing was, Anderson had some history with the Royals as pertained to his celebratory habits, which had already cleared the benches once, back in 2018. This is a vital piece. The conversations that had been circulating around the Royals clubhouse about Anderson for the better part of a year held unequivocal sway in the pitcher’s decision to act.

After Keller drilled Anderson, he didn’t say much about his motivation. This was smart, lest baseball swoop in with a punishment for intentionally targeting another player. Now, it seems, baseball has more pressing things on its agenda. So on Monday, on a podcast, Keller talked.

“It was like the first week of April,” he said. “I’m not going to say a meaningless game because every game in the big leagues means something. But the 12th game of the season doesn’t really define if you’re going to make the playoffs or not.”

Keller described how he was grinding, getting behind every hitter. Then Anderson battled him for six pitches before homering on a full count.

“How he acted afterwards, to me and my whole team, was just over the top,” Keller said. “It’s like, ‘Bro, you hit a homer. Congrats.’ This wasn’t a Game 7 homer. This wasn’t a playoff homer. This wasn’t even a homer to win the game. Ultimately, we won the game, 3-2, in the long run [Note: The Royals actually won 4-3], but that gets kind of lost in the whole transaction of everything. It just seemed like, at the time, it was an April home run. Why are you throwing your bat to the dugout? We had beefs in the past, as far as our teams, and that was just like fuel on the fire, basically, is what it seemed like. I was upset because I was grinding that day and I was already pissed off at myself, and then you pull some shit like that?”

Keller returned to the dugout angry, and found a bunch of teammates who felt similarly. He was a second-year pitcher trying to earn his place in the clubhouse hierarchy, and standing up for teammates’ feelings may well have played into his decision to act. Anderson’s blast gave the White Sox a 2-0 lead, but by the time he next batted, Kansas City had knotted the score.

“He had to know it was coming,” said Keller. “He was leading off the sixth inning, and he was literally a foot from the dirt when I was on my second warm-up pitch. I’ve never seen anyone get out to the box that fast in my life. … That was his first hit off of me in his career. That was your first hit off of me and you’re acting like you own me.”

It was indeed Anderson’s first hit against Keller in 14 career at-bats, a stretch that included five strikeouts and a double-play.  

“White Sox fans are like, Tim Anderson’s your daddy and shit, and I’m like, please. … we won the game,” Keller said. “It’s hilarious how it all transpired. I’m the worst pitcher ever. The White Sox own me. Tim Anderson owns me. I’m like, you guys don’t look at stats, do you?”

Okay, so Keller didn’t really tell us anything new, apart from confirming that the HBP was intentional. Still, it’s refreshing to hear a pitcher describe his mindset when it comes to things like this. We are in a new era of baseball, one in which celebrations like Anderson’s are ostensibly not only acceptable but encouraged. The days of angry pitchers exacting revenge on showboat competitors feels like a thing of the past, the province of old men shouting at clouds.

When Keller drilled Anderson, he was 23 years old. If the season resumes, maybe we’ll also get a chance to hear what he thinks about Letting the Kids Play.

[H/T NBC Sports]

The Baseball Codes

The Little-Known Story Of Hank Greenberg’s 250th Home Run

A few years back I wrote a feature about Hank Greenberg’s war service for a website called The National Pastime Museum. The site no longer exists, but today is a good day to dust the story off. On Memorial Day, this is for those who have served our country so well.

The feting of Hank Greenberg at Tiger Stadium on May 6, 1941, had little to do with his winning the previous season’s American League Most Valuable Player Award, or that he’d led Detroit to the 1940 American League pennant. The man was a bona-fide superstar, all but ticketed for Cooperstown after only six full big league seasons, but this was not about that, either—not directly, anyway.

The U.S. military had only recently begun its conscription process prior to entering World War II. Based largely on his being unmarried, Greenberg was among the first prominent athletes to qualify. It was known when the season began that he likely wouldn’t make it until June as a civilian; even as the Tigers played Cleveland in their second game of the season, Michigan’s local Draft Board 23 announced a Class-1A rating for Greenberg on the basis of a medical examination earlier  in the day. “I’ll ask no deferment,” the slugger told the New York Times after the game, “and will be ready when called.”

Sure enough, Greenberg’s number 621 was called shortly thereafter. Thus did he find himself on May 6, playing in his final game of the season before reporting, amid significant fanfare. Before the game, the Tigers presented him with a gold watch featuring the inscribed names of his teammates. The Briggs Stadium grounds crew gave him a pen and pencil set.

For all anybody knew, it would be the final game of Greenberg’s career. At age 30, he clearly understood the finite nature of athletic endeavors. He was also sitting on 247 career home runs, a number that a month earlier he seemed all but certain to have surpassed by then.

Early-season struggles, however, intruded. Greenberg went 0-for-3 in the season opener on April 16, and did it again in the following game. After 10 games he was batting .188. By the end of April he’d accumulated only 10 hits, only two for extra bases—neither of them a home run.

May, however, began differently. In the four-game stretch leading up to May 6, Greenberg raised his batting average 34 points, going 5-for-13 with three doubles. Home runs, however, remained elusive. It appeared that he would decamp for his indefinite war leave short of 250.

Perhaps if he had been at 249, it would have bothered him more. Even at 248 the number might have been within reach, but for all of Greenberg’s fabled power—he’d paced the American League in home runs three times, and set a record for right-handed batters with 58 during the 1938 season—he had never once connected for three in a game. Thus did he content himself on the evening of May 5—at a private party thrown by the Tigers at the Franklin Hills Country Club, which included members of the visiting Yankees—with the idea that careers do not hinge on the accumulation of round numbers.

Then, in his first at-bat of his last game, Greenberg led off the second inning by pounding a Tiny Bonham fastball into the left field stands. Now he was only two away.

An inning later, he did it again, this time with a man aboard. It was the 28th time he had gone deep twice in the same game. Now he was one away.

As Greenberg stood in the outfield the following inning, he couldn’t help but consider his circumstance. It was only the fourth inning. He imagined the drama of his first three-homer game propelling him to 250 as he went off to war. “All of a sudden,” he said later, as reported in The Second Fireside Book of Baseball, “I was intensely interested in hammering one into the stands.”

Greenberg had always been an unintentional home-run hitter, seeking only hard contact and accepting whatever followed. Now, however, he had a goal and very little time to reach it. His next at-bat, in the fifth inning, came against reliever Atley Donald. The Tigers were ahead, 5-1, and Greenberg aimed for the fences.

He fell short, lofting a fly ball to Charlie Keller in medium-deep left field.

His next time up, in the seventh, he popped up to catcher Bill Dickey. Things weren’t going as planned.

When Greenberg stepped to the plate with two outs in the eighth and the Tigers ahead, 6-4, he knew that it was almost certainly his final shot at the milestone. The bases were loaded, and Donald was still on the mound, in his fifth inning of work, pitching on fumes. The first three pitches to Greenberg sailed wide of the zone.

A walk was the outcome that nobody wanted. Taking the bat out of his hands with number 250 so close at hand, even unintentionally, would have been a profound letdown. “Even Bill Dickey was rooting for me,” Greenberg said later. “He kept pleading with his pitcher to whip in a fast one, letter high.”

Finally, Donald did, providing the meatball for which everybody was hoping. It was letter high, exactly where Greenberg wanted it. If ever there was a nod to history at the expense of personal statistics, this was it. Greenberg’s rocked back in his stance and uncorked his mightiest swing.

And missed.

At that point, Donald seemed entirely willing to accommodate the would-be war hero. His next pitch floated in as fat as the first. Again, Greenberg attacked. Again, he missed.

Now the count was full. Greenberg represented what was probably his team’s final out of the game. Unless he fouled it off, one more pitch was all he would get. Over the previous three seasons, only Red Ruffing had allowed more home runs than Donald among Yankees pitchers, and Ruffing was the defending league leader in the category. Greenberg knew exactly what he was going to get.

When Donald lolled another meatball toward the plate, served up to the slugger as if on a tee, Greenberg put everything he had into his swing, intent on giving himself and his fans the most sensational sendoff possible.

The ending, however, was familiar. There was no joy in Mudville—mighty Greenberg had struck out. Number 250 would have to wait.

***

The next day at the United States Army induction center, Greenberg gave out upwards of 1,000 autographs and posed for newsreel cameras while a 13-piece WPA orchestra blared what an officer called “morale building” music. At 1:30 p.m. he boarded a train for Fort Custer, Mich., headquarters of the 5th Infantry Division. Thus began his transition from baseball’s highest-paid player to lowly private, trading his $55,000 annual salary for $5.25 per week.

Greenberg spent 13 weeks in basic training before being assigned to Camp Livingston, La., where he joined the 32nd Division. Before long he was promoted to private first class, then to corporal in charge of a five-man anti-tank gun crew, then to sergeant of the machine-gun company of the 11th Infantry. All the while, he had baseball on the brain.

“As soon as I get out of the Army I’ll play ball again,” he told The New York Times. “It’s the only thing I can do.”

In November, the War Department issued a discharge order for selectees age 28 and older. Greenberg qualified. He’d be back with the Tigers before training camp opened.

He left the Army on Dec. 5, after 180 days of service. Heading home to New York, Greenberg told the Associated Press that he had little to do little but “wait for spring.”

Two days later Japan attacked Pearl Harbor.

For Greenberg the decision was easy. He re-enlisted immediately. Under the new circumstances, he said, “baseball is out the window.”

Thus began a three-year journey that saw the outfielder emerge from officer candidate school as a second lieutenant, get promoted to director of physical training of the Army Air Forces Flying Training Command at Ft. Worth, Tex., and ultimately end up as administrative commanding officer for the first B-29 overseas base of the 20th Air Force, in China, in charge of the cutting-edge Superfortress bomber. When the plane crashed on the runway during a testing run, Greenberg was among those who raced toward the wreckage, and was blown backward from 100 yards away when half of the ship’s bomb load exploded. Undeterred, Greenberg’s company pressed on to rescue five crewmen who’d disembarked just before the explosion and were huddled in a nearby ditch. As Greenberg circled the plane looking for others, the other half of the bomber’s payload went off, followed by exploding ammunition. As pieces of the aircraft landed all around him, Greenberg was pinned to the ground. Once things settled, he found the six remaining members of the crew in a nearby rice patty. Somehow, nobody was seriously injured.

These were not the adventures of a pampered ballplayer but of a bona-fide military man, doing everything possible to help the cause.

***

On June 14, 1945, two months before Japan officially surrendered, Greenberg received an honorable discharge. A week later, he was working out with the Tigers. On July 1, he trotted out to left field in Briggs Stadium for a game against the Philadelphia Athletics.

The number 249 had been hanging from the slugger’s neck for more than four years, across continents and job descriptions and military ranks. As the war drew on and his return to baseball seemed less likely, it had threatened to become a permanent fixture on his record.

But there he was, at age 34, again trying to reach the mark—four years and a lifetime away from where he had been the last time he attempted the feat. Now, he did not swing for the fences. This time everything was different. He wanted only to feel the dirt beneath his cleats and the bat in his hand, to feel like he hadn’t felt in forever—like a ballplayer again. Greenberg’s approach was easy, his expectations minimal.

In his fourth at-bat, he planted a fastball from lefthander Charlie Gassaway 375 feet into the left-field bleachers. Greenberg had his number, solid proof, finally, that he was home.

Bat Flipping, Korean Baseball Organization

Baseball Is Back (Sort Of) And Bat Flips Are Upon Us

Now that we have KBO baseball and only KBO baseball, the conversation has naturally come around to bat flipping. Koreans are wild for the practice.

This isn’t exactly news. We’ve turned to the Korean Baseball Organization for bat-flip grandeur for years now. Even as Major League Baseball has taken a more lenient—some might even say encouraging—attitude toward the practice, Americans are still light years behind the KBO curve.

In Korea, they’re called ppa-dun, a word combining the first syllables of the words “bat” and “throw.” We know about them to such a degree thanks to Dan Kurtz, whose name has come up frequently in recent days as the American voice of experience on the subject. Korean by birth and adopted to America when he was four months old, Kurtz went to school in Seoul, and started the website MyKBO.net back in 2003. He helped bring Korean bat flipping to the domestic fore in 2013 when he introduced us to a video of Jeon Jun-woo celebrating a blast that was ultimately caught on the warning track. “It was,” reported The New York Times, “Korean bat flipping’s first viral moment. It didn’t take long before there were more.

Kurtz has been repeatedly asked to address the bat-flipping phenomenon over recent days. Here’s what he told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

“Flipping your bat on a home run (or even a long fly ball) won’t get you beaned the next time up. But the benches will empty if you are a younger pitcher who unintentionally hits a veteran batter with a pitch and don’t immediately take off your hat and bow to show remorse.”

Guys flip ‘em for homers. They flip ‘em for flyball outs. They flip ‘em for singles and sometimes even grounders to short. Pitcher Josh Lindblom, who spent five seasons in the big leagues and now plays in Korea, described his introduction to the practice for ESPN.com. “I saw somebody do it and I was like: ‘What was that?’ Somebody told us it might happen. ‘Don’t freak out. Don’t get mad. It’s just what they do.’ ”

Lindblom also said: “I don’t even notice it anymore. It happens so much, I’m like, whatever.”

That same story explained some of the unwritten rules in Korea:

Most of [them] reflect the values of Korean society. … Takeout slides, recently banned in MLB, never existed here. Bench-clearing brawls are rare. Jee-ho Yoo, a sports writer with Yonhap News, says there are only a few dozen competitive high school baseball teams in Seoul, so “pretty much everyone knows everyone” in the KBO. “They don’t want to hurt each other,” he says. Yoo remembers an incident a few years ago when a foreign player on the Lotte Giants tore down the third-base line and slammed into the catcher. Fans were appalled.

Some of the country’s other unwritten rules have been covered in this very space right here.

It’s a different brand of baseball, but anybody watching games into the wee hours in the U.S. can attest that it can be wildly entertaining. Until Major League Baseball returns, this is the product we get to enjoy, bat flips and all.

RIP

RIP Bobby Winkles

Longtime Arizona State manager Bobby Winkles—who coached on Alvin Dark’s A’s staff in 1974 and 1975, and managed the team for Charlie Finley in 1977 and 1978, passed away last week at age 90.

Winkles’ impact on the A’s stretched far beyond his stints as coach or even as manager. It was at his collegiate position, in which he won three national championships over 13 seasons in Tempe, where he made the most impact. That’s because it was at ASU that Winkles shepherded Rick Monday, Sal Bando and Reggie Jackson toward the big leagues. (Monday and Bando were on the 1965 championship team.) In fact, Winkles planned to convert Bando to catcher for his senior season, but the player ended up signing with Finley’s Kansas City Athletics instead.

Winkles went 24-15 in 1978 with an A’s club that had lost 98 games the previous season and made no marked improvements while trading Vida Blue. Unable to stomach the requisite interference from Finley, however, he quit that May and never managed in the big leagues again. “Winkles was going nuts, and one day during the season he quit,” wrote his predecessor and successor as A’s manager, Jack McKeon, in his book Jack of All Trades, “We all tried to talk him out of it, but he wouldn’t budge.” (After Winkles departed, the A’s went 45-78.)

One player who especially appreciated Winkles was Oakland second baseman Dick Green, whose defense during the 1974 World Series was so spectacular that many said he would have won Series MVP had he gotten even a single hit. (He went 0-for-13.) Green attributes much of that success to Winkles.

“About middle of September, Bobby says to me, ‘Dick, the World Series is coming up and you’re going to have to start taking some infield practice,’ ” Green said in an interview for Dynastic, Bombastic, Fantastic. “I say, ‘I haven’t taken infield practice for months.’ He says, ‘I know you can catch the ball, but most people can’t turn it on and off and on again.’ So I started taking infield practice the last couple of weeks. Well, of course, I didn’t make any errors in that World Series, and that extra infield helped me.”

Leave the last word on Winkles to Reggie Jackson, who described him in his book, Reggie:

Bobby Winkles was an Army type guy, a tough little southerner from Arkansas with a crew cut who’d spit tobacco on your shoe if you didn’t watch yourself. He was very regimented. He was the boss, and he let you know that from the get-go. There was no swearing when Winkles was around. You didn’t give him any lip. Ever. And he worked us. If you played for Bobby Winkles, you had to run everywhere, run like an animal. Before we ever took the bat and ball at practice, we would run for 45 minutes every day. His favorite was something called the Floor Drill. Run. Stop. Put your arms straight up over your head and jump straight up into the air. Sprint now. Stop. Jump.”

And, of course he won. Three titles with ASU. One as an A’s coach. Unexpected success with a stripped-down roster several seasons later.

Bobby Winkles may have been wildly underappreciated by outsiders, but those who knew him—and especially those who played for him—are deeply feeling this loss.

RIP

RIP Al Kaline

I didn’t like pitching to (Al) Kaline. Nothing against Al. He was a hell of a guy. I just hated the way umpires gave him the benefit of the doubt on almost every close pitch late in his career. I once threw him five straight strikes and walked him. He took a three-and-two slider that started on the outside corner and finished down the middle of the plate. The ump gave it to him. As Kaline made his way to first, I yelled at him, ‘Swing the bat, for Christ’s sake. You’re not a statue until you have pigeon shit on your shoulders.’ Al laughed at me. After the game I complained about the call to the home-plate umpire. He said, ‘Son, Mr. Kaline will let you know it’s a strike by doubling off the wall.’
—Bill Lee, The Wrong Stuff

Hall of Famer Al Kaline, the man who came to define the Detroit Tigers in the 1950s and ’60s, passed away today at age 85. He was noteworthy for being esteemed within the game as much for his personality as for his ability, which is saying something given that he was one of the best players ever.

For me, the power of Kaline’s mystique was distilled in a story told to me by former pitcher Dick Bosman for The Baseball Codes. It took place in 1974, Kaline’s last year, when Bosman pitched for Cleveland. During the game in question, the pitcher’s Indians teammate, Oscar Gamble, got into a little bit of trouble.

“Oscar hit three home runs in Tiger Stadium,” Bosman said. “He hit them upstairs pretty good, and stood and watched them a little bit. I had a 7-0 shutout going in the eighth inning. Ralph Houk’s managing over there, and he brings in Freddy Scherman, who puts his first pitch right into Oscar’s ribcage. Oscar, he’s a little guy, and it hurt him, boy.”

Bosman, of course — as was the way in baseball those days, felt the need to retaliate.

“The inning gets over with, and I get back out there on the mound,” he said. “And guess who the first hitter is? Al Kaline. The thing was, Al was about three hits from 3,000 at the time. So I’m thinking, where am I going to drill him? I don’t want to break his hand or anything like that. If I hit him in the ribs, that might put him out. The guy was a legend. So I figured I’d hit him in the ass. That’s the way it was supposed to be done.”*

Bosman was duty-bound, but determined to execute his task as gently as possible owing to Kaline’s standing. He ended up merely brushing Kaline back.

Baseball has lost a legend.

* As with many baseball stories from the distant past, the details for this one are somewhat different than memory might suggest. Gamble hit only one homer that day, Sept. 9, 1974, the opener of a two-game series. When the teams had met for a three-game set less than a week earlier, however, Gamble homered twice in one game and once in another, so Detroit’s patience may have been tried. Also, it wasn’t Scherman who drilled Gamble, but Vern Ruhle, in his fourth inning of work. Scherman, who had spent the previous five seasons in Detroit, had been traded to Houston the previous winter. At the point Bosman brushed him back, Kaline was 15 hits from 3,000. He would finish the year, and his career, with 3,007.

Criticizing temamates, Pandemic Baseball

When You Have A Hall Of Famer In Left Field, You Want To See Him Out There

In lieu of actual baseball, I’ll be posting snippets that were cut from The Baseball Codes as a way of amusing myself and, hopefully, you. Today’s theme: Criticizing teammates.

Perhaps the most noteworthy example of a pitcher blaming one of his teammates for a defeat he suffered came when A’s Hall of Famer Lefty Grove was kept from winning his 17th consecutive game in 1931. Grove took the loss when left fielder Jimmy Moore, a second-year player, charged in for a ball that ended up sailing over his head, and allowed the winning run to score for the Browns with two outs in the seventh inning of a game that would end 1-0.

When Grove stormed into the post-game clubhouse he was ready to rip someone’s head off—but his target wasn’t Moore. Instead, Grove was steamed at Al Simmons, Philadelphia’s regular left fielder, who missed the game to go to Milwaukee for medical treatment on his infected left ankle. Simmons, a future Hall of Famer, would likely have easily made the catch.

“I didn’t say anything to Jim Moore, ’cause he was just a young guy just come to the team and he never played in St. Louis before,” said Grove in Baseball When the Grass Was Real. “It was Simmons’ fault. He’s the one I blame for it.”

“The sparks were flying off Grove . . .” said A’s outfielder Doc Cramer. “He was about three lockers down from me. I saw him stand up and take hold of the top of his shirt with both hands—we had buttons on our shirts in those days—stand like that for a second, and then rrrip! He tore that shirt apart so fast and so hard that I saw the buttons go flying past me, three lockers away. Then everything went flying—bats, balls, gloves, shoes, benches. He broke up a couple of chairs. He kicked in a couple of lockers. Nobody said a word.”

Criticizing teammates, Pandemic Baseball

‘If Someone Made An Error, Gaylord Would Stare Him Down’

In lieu of actual baseball, I’ll be posting snippets that were cut from The Baseball Codes as a way of amusing myself and, hopefully, you. Today’s theme: Criticizing teammates.

One guy who made no effort to hide displeasure with teammates—and got away with it because he was so good—was pitcher Gaylord Perry, who, for eight teams over 22 seasons, got demonstrably upset when his fielders made mistakes behind him.

“If someone made an error, Gaylord would stare him down,” said pitcher Dick Bosman, who played with Perry in Cleveland. “It was just his persona. I’m not sure that [his teammates] cared for it very much, frankly.”

“They did not like it,” said Larry Andersen, who played with Perry in Seattle. “I know there were guys who were not happy. It was tough to play behind him.”

When Perry’s Indians were playing in Milwaukee once, a batter hit a drive to deep right field. “Gaylord wanted you to play shallow because he had a lot of balls being dumped in front of you,” said Oscar Gamble, the Indians’ right fielder that day. “I ran about a mile—it seemed like I ran forever. I almost got to the ball, but if I’d caught it I’d have gone straight into this brick wall. I ended up pulling up because I couldn’t catch it.”

On the mound, Perry threw up his hands in frustration, an almost unheard of response for any other pitcher. For Gamble, the moment helped crystallize who Gaylord Perry was. “He just loved to win so much,” he said. “He was one of those guys who, if you slacked on a ball, he would let you know it. He was hard-nosed. He wanted every ball caught when he was pitching, and I had so much respect for that. If you don’t do right, if you miss a ball you should have caught, you expect the fans to boo you. And this fan—Gaylord—was a player. That’s the way I looked at it.”