A GREAT view of the field at AT&T Park in Chattanooga during their pre-season open house!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

BOOK: "Color Him Father" by Norman Delaney Bass III

After getting a note back from Norm Bass several weeks ago about his sports careers, I knew I had to pick up this book by his son about his life.

I must say there are a couple of reasons one may not want to buy this book. One reason is that it is big! It is a 500 page book, jam packed! You really have to commit to this book! You get your money's worth out of the volume, but you will be busy reading it for a LONG time!

Norm Bass III says openly in the book that he will not sugar coat the story of his father's (Norm Bass Jr.) life. The author is not kidding. No punches are held back. There are some graphic moments- they are honest, but they are graphic.

Those are the only 2 reasons someone might want to pass on this book. There are, however, many reasons to dive in and enjoy.

So many books about athletes give a great account of a players days playing their sport, and maybe some info before their career gets going, and after retirement. Bass covers 3 generations of his family.

In fact, this book is a bit of a history of the the Bass family and their lives pretty much going back to Norm Bass Sr. In some ways, the book feels like three separate biographies tied into one, as many details of each Norm Bass' life are covered. Norm Bass III also talks a lot about his Uncle, football legend Dick Bass, and he covers a lot of history relating to pro football in the 60s.

Something I really appreciate about this book is it's honesty. Norm III obviously admires his father and his grandfather, but he writes about their flaws and hang ups. There was abuse in the family. Norm III had to deal with a violent father, and he had to deal with his father pushing him to be athletic, though he wanted to pursuit art.

The focus of the book, Norm Bass Jr. does have a nice, but too short baseball career, enjoying a successful rookie season with the Kansas Cit Athletics, but things fall apart a bit after that. He hangs on in baseball, but not for long. He plays football very briefly for the Denver Broncos in 1964, then tries to get back into Major League Baseball. He plays in the minors, and after realizing that he likely won't get the call up again, he leaves baseball.

Norm has his sports career after dealing with a very scary episode of meningitis as a kid, almost killing him. Later in life he deals with rheumatoid arthritis. In fact, he sort of finds out after the fact that this had influenced his declining athletic abilities.

Interestingly, Norm Junior and his father become very interested in the church as they get older, and seem to mellow out.

Norm Jr. deals with a failed marriage, a tough relationship with his kids at times, and his health issues. As he matures he still has that competitive athletic drive. He satisfies his need to compete by getting involved in table tennis. Norm practices and joins a group of players, learning everything he can to really compete in this sport.

Norm's obsession with this new sport, and his domination in competition helps eventually get him involved with the 2000 Paralympics, where he won a bronze medal.

Norm III talks a lot about his efforts in acting, trying to get involved with the movie "Ali". Norm III ends up teaching, which he finds rewarding.

Norm Jr.'s baseball career is covered, but it becomes somewhat secondary to the book. The book is so descriptive of the entire Bass family, and many other relatives are discussed. The book comes off more as a social study of the Bass family, with a loose focus on the two pro athlete brothers. This is one of those books where, after reading it, I kind of want an update on the various members of the Bass family!

"Color Him Father" is very detailed. Author Norm III talks extensively about social issues and pop culture occurring at certain times, placing family events into a broader context.

Norm Bass III does an admirable job of giving history lessons. I did not know about the AFL football league in the 60s, and its competing with the NFL. I think I have a pretty good idea about the league now thanks to this book.

Also, I did not know that some black churches would not allow darker members in. Norm III covers all of the race issue stuff you might expect in a book about a black athlete in the 60's while digging deeper than other studies. He compares his father's young attitude about race relations to that of Malcolm's. Later, as Norm Jr. becomes older, he compares him to Martin.

The Bass family crosses paths with many other athletes, musicians, and other characters. Oddly, some of the more interesting stories in the book do not involve 2 generations of the family hanging out with the greatest boxer ever, one meeting a president, or of dates with a legendary singer. The stories about the Norms dealing with church politics, and of Norm III teaching a student some James Brown moves are the ones that you walk away remembering.

In fact, by the end of the book, you forget that you bought it because it is the biography of a baseball player, but you won't care. You just read a good book.


Monday, March 29, 2010

Atlanta Baseball before the Braves

On a recent trip to one of the greatest bookstores in the state, Poor Richard's in Frankfort, I found this Summer 1993 issue of the Atlanta History Journal. I don't know much about the magazine, but that's fine. I am not particularly interested in the history of Atlanta, but I am interested in the history of minor league baseball.

Atlanta Cracker's owner Earl Mann and the legendary Joe Engel are pictures on the cover. The photo is from the 1954 All Star Game.

Inside of the journal, there is an informative article, titled, "Southern Bases:Baseball Before the Braves."

The article coincided with an exhibition at the Atlanta History Center.

This was a great time in Atlanta baseball history, as the Braves were kicking some major post season tale the previous 2 years.

The article gives a great intro to baseball history in Atlanta, dating back to 1885. The origins of the Southern Association are discussed, and some of the early teams are mentioned. The names should still sound familiar to baseball fans: the Birmingham Barons, the Chattanooga Lookouts, and the Mobile Bears.

Ponce de Leon Park and it's rich history is discussed. The article really makes me want to research this park more, as it really saw a lot of great baseball history, while displaying its own character. The original park featured a full grown magnolia tree- in fair territory!

The Atlanta Crackers had a lot of fans. They had a strong following in the black community too, and their games were covered in the black publication, the Atlanta Daily World. The Atlanta Cubs were the area's black team. They were informally called the "Black Crackers" so much that they formally took the name in 1920.

The financially struggling Negro Southern League used 4 balls per game (each team supplied 2 balls). Games were often stopped to retrieve balls.

All leagues struggled with players. The Southern Association continued playing a full schedule using underage and 4-F players

In 1949 Jackie Robinson and the Brooklyn Dodgers played three exhibition games against the Atlanta Crackers at Ponce de Leon Park.

The first time that seating was integrated at Ponce de Leon was opening night in 1962.

In the mid-60s Ponce de Leon was demolished after a new park was built (the article notes that the magnolia tree still stands!). In 1966 the former Milwaukee Braves replaced it's triple A farm team as they moved to Atlanta!

Wally the Watertower

The Frontier League's web site is reporting on the new Florence Freedom mascot, Wally the Watertower. He looks cool to me! He has a bit of a Zooperstars look to him, and his head is obviously modelled after the regionally legendary "Florence Y'all" water tower.

Belle, the Freedom's newer mascot is great. I didn't think they could one up her, but this looks to be a really cool third mascot for them!

Oddly, at this time, there is no mention of wally at florencefreedom.com

Friday, March 26, 2010

Indianapolis Indians Blog

I have been pretty open about my love for Indianapolis. I am always looking for an excuse to get out there. It might be my favorite city outside of Kentucky, and it is probably my favorite major city.

I love downtown Indianapolis. There is a lot going on, and the town has pride.

We took a road trip to Indianapolis with our friend Jessica from Cleveland once. We were walking down some steps holding on to the rail. Our friend Jessica commented that normally, she wouldn't feel comfortable touching a hand rail in a downtown, but she did in Indianapolis.

That is not an insult to other major towns- it is a compliment to Indianapolis. Our germ phobic friend Jessica was OK with using the hand rails.

This is a clean, well maintained and happening town. It is an attractive town too.

Not to sound sappy, but I am a fan and an admirer of this town. I also feel like the town is a friend. See my other blog to read me go on and on even more about how much I love Indianapolis.

For the sake of this blog, let me focus a bit. In addition to my admiration for the city, I love the towns baseball team.

Victory Field is a short walk from most of the downtown hotels. The walk is pleasant and the streets are nice.

The park itself offers a great view of the skyline. It is such a great setting for a game.

Luckily, the team also has a great blog. Scott McCauley does a great job of covering the team during the season. Check out some of his older posts, as he is great at getting shots of the parks the team visits.


Lee Pfund 1945 Brooklyn Dodgers

Lee sent me a very friendly note about his playing days. He says that he grew up in the Chicago area as a Cubs fan, and that he still follows them closely.

"My favorite current player is Yankee Derrick Jeter" he mentions.

"I'm reminded often of my short career with the Dodgers. I pitched in 15 games, started 10. We won 6 of the ten I started. My record fro the season was 3-2."

"I was the starting pitcher for the Dodgers vs. the Washington Senators in a Red Cross benefit game. It rained after warm ups. I slipped on wet grass and had a season ending knee injury. Red Cross games were played throughout the Majors July 17, 1945 in place of the annual All Star game."

Lee goes on to say that he pitched 2 more years in AAA ball, and one in AA. He says that he never made it back to the majors.

"My baseball career led to a college coaching job in baseball and basketball at Wheaton College in Illinois for 27 years and for 12 more as Director of Alumnus Relations."

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Old Postcard: Municipal Stadium, Cleveland 2

Here is another postcard of the old Municipal Stadium in Cleveland.

"Cleveland's Municipal Stadium from the Lake Erie side. It is an iron and concrete structure seating 78,000 persons and costing $2,500,000."

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Old Postcard: Shea Stadium, New York

This is not a linen postcard like the previous ones I have put up, but it is still very cool. The scan did not pick the edge detail up, but there are wavy lines cut around it for a neat look. Also, this card is copyrighted, 1961, 1963 and 1964-1965. "OFFICIAL World's Fair Post Cards by Dexter."

"The stadium seats 55,000 for baseball and 60,000 for football. It will be used during the summers of 1964 and 1965 for sports attractions presented in cooperation with the World's Fair."

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Old Postcard: Municipal Stadium, Cleveland

And another great old postcard. This is one that I feel a bit of a personal connection to, having spent a lot of time in this area. The new Browns Stadium and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame occupy the area where Municipal Stadium used to be in Cleveland. A lot of the town is still similar.

"The Cleveland Municipal Stadium has a seating capacity of 85,000. The 52 story Terminal Tower is the skyscraper to the right. In the center is the Cleveland Mall development."

This card is postmarked 1950 with a three cent stamp attached.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Old Postcard: Polo Ground, New York City

Here is another great postcard that I was thrilled to find at my favorite stamp shop. There is a small thumb tack hole in it, but who cares?

"Home of the New York Giants, 155th St. and 8th Ave. Seating Capacity 45,000."

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

St. Patrick's Day and baseball

There is a GREAT article today at mlb.com about the Reds wearing green uniform's to celebrate St. Patrick's Day back in 1978. Check it out!


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Old Postcard: Wrigley Field, Chicago

I found this amazing old postcard of Wrigley at a stamp shop recently. I think it is the same image used on a stamp several years ago. Anyway, I love the look and texture of old postcards.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Jim Bunning and unemployment benefits

I have no desire to get political with this blog in anyway, but Jim Bunning is a Kentucky Senator AND a baseball Hall of Famer. Since this blog is called "Kentucky Baseball" I should mention him, especially right now.

I had a conversation recently with a friend who is dealing with unemployment. Lets call my friend Heather. She and her family are struggling, as many are right now. She said that she was worried about Senator Bunning making it so she could not continue getting her unemployment benefits.

My friend Heather talked about not being very happy with Jim at the moment.

"You are aware that he pitched a perfect game, right?" I mentioned.

For some reason, this did not change Heather's feelings.

"I don't have a job right now" was her response.

"You know he is also in the baseball Hall of Fame?"

Still, Heather seemed unmoved by my pro Bunning argument.

Sports Illustrated had a "Scorecard" section on him this week (cover shown). The guy has put his time in for Kentucky, and for baseball (SI gives him credit on that). SI gives a short but thorough recap of his political ups and downs.

Otey Clark 1945 Red Sox

Yes, the 95 year old veteran of the 1945 Red Sox, Otey Clark was very kind enough to send me a quick note about his playing day!

"I pitched several years at Louisville as that was the Red Sox club in the American Association."

"I follow the Red Sox and the Twins."

WOW! Thanks Otey!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

BOOK: Dave Baldwin "Snake Jazz"

"Think how snake piles in the outfield might add excitement to major league baseball today. They could also make golf, soccer, and modern dance more interesting."

After getting a note back a few weeks ago from Dave Baldwin, I decided to check out his book, "Snake Jazz".

Dave starts out talking about playing baseball as a child in Arizona. He mentions that there wasn't a lot of grass, and the "fields" were often hard like clay.

His dad designed a "box" for him to throw to. He has a picture in the book, and the box is actually pretty brilliant. This isn't an old freezer box or some other 10 minute set up like most of us probably had. The description of the box alone is worth the price of the book.

Dave spends a lot of time in the first hundred or so pages talking about his time in school and college baseball, then going in to the minors. He takes his time giving info about his teams, mentors, teammates, etc. He talks about his deciding to play ball in college before going pro, and then going pro.

I love hearing stories about the minor leagues, and Dave really gives a good description of working his way up. He talks about going to Spring Training and then getting shuffled to a team. He has a lot of fun and success in Williamsport. He also spends time with the higher level Buffalo team. Dave talks about the competition with the other teams, and the competition within the teams for players to advance.

Dave also addresses race issues in baseball. He mentions that his Chattanooga Lookouts team was totally segregated. In fact, the league he played in during that time refused to allow blacks to play even after others were integrating. Some members of one of his teams would go out to the parking lot around the 7th to remove racist leaflets put on cars during games.

Baldwin talks about his fears as he grows older in the minor leagues (25 is a mature age to be playing at that level he says). He describes his getting cut by a manager, and looking through the Sporting News to see if any other team might be in need of pitching. Doing this lands him jobs with the historic Durham Bulls and the York White Roses.

As he gets older in the minors, and still thinking about trying to hold on to a baseball career, he takes a summer to reinvent himself. He works on developing a different pitching style, giving a lot of thought to deceiving the hitter. He spends a lot of time thinking about speed, delivery, etc.

Dave covers how others in baseball try to one up each other, and secure the most advantages. Hitters file and cork their bats, pitchers put substances on balls, and field crews alter the field. Greenies were pepping players up (and in Dave's view, bringing batting averages down).

"Dirty Dave" admits that he used a little powder on a ball a time or two. He even discloses that he wishes he had done more of this sort of thing.

After reinventing his style some, and improving his stats, he gets the call to play in Hawaii. He has a great time here, at different times over 5 seasons, developing a great respect for the jovial fans in the area. Baldwin gives some great stories of eating chicken in the bullpen and kids asking for a baseball. Oh, and little gnome like people live under the stadium there, wagering on baseball games (read Dave's book- that last sentence makes a lot more sense coming from him).

Dave does FINALLY get the call to "the show". He spends some time with the Senators and then with the Brewers. He misses getting his 4 years of Major League experience needed for a pension by under 40 days. A few years later he gets to spend the exact number of days needed with the White Sox to get his pension.

Dave runs in to some interesting characters along the way. Dave spends some time pitching for a team managed by Ted Williams. Dave, being a bit of a guy with some intelligence, tries to explain some technical stuff to Ted about how a pitch moves. Ted and Dave have some great dialogue. I'm not bleeping. Again, read Dave's book.

I really like stories about guys shifting around the minors and majors. I can read this stuff all day. Dave's personal story about making it in baseball for a while, during a time when contracts weren't nearly as inflated as they are now makes for a great read. His sense of humor adds to the book too.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Ray Daviault 1962 Mets

Canadian Ray Daviault sent me a great note about his playing days. Ray let me know that he did not learn English in school but picked it up when at Vero Beach, after signing with the Dodgers in 1953.

Ray mentions that he played for a great Tacoma team . He note the many great teammates he had at that time: Gaylord Perry, Manny Mota, Tom Haller, Charlie Hiller, Dusty Rhodes, among others. Ray notes that this team won the pennant!

Ray lets me know about his playing career.

In 1953 he was sent to Cocoa in the Florida State League. He was 10-9. In 1954 he was 15-4 in the PONY League. In 1955 he spent 1 month in Pueblo and was then sent to Asheville, 7-6. 1957 saw 1 month in the International League, and then he went home sick. Ray spent 1958 with Montreal for 3 months, and the rest of the season in Des Moines.

Ray spent 1959 with Macon in the Sally League and went 9-15. He was a starter the entire time. He says that he had a good fast ball, but no control of it.

In 1960, Ray says that he got a break, and was drafted by the Giants. They turned him into a reliever. He was 13-4 and saved over 25. He says that he was the number 1 pitcher in the All Star Game.

In 1961 he got a Major League contact with the Giants. After Spring Training he was sent to Tacoma.

In 1962 he was picked by the Mets, which led to his time in the Majors.

Concerning Kentucky, Ray says that it might be the only state that he never played in! He does say that in "1953 at Dodger Town there was a baseball team from Hazard Kentucky in D ball".

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Cliff Lee

It is hard to be a specific fan of a given Major League team at times. Still, I did become a fan of the Cleveland Indians during my time in Cleveland. As with all teams, the line up changes. The Indians that took the field when I first moved to Cleveland were not the same players when I left the area.

So, you sometimes start to admire a player on your team. Just because the team's management decides the player no longer deserves a spot on the team, or because they feel the need to trade him, you still have an interest in their career.

Even though Jim Thome received cheers and boos when he returned to Cleveland, he is still considered a good guy. He is still a personal favorite.

Casey Blake is another favorite. I always liked the way he handled himself with the Tribe. I met him once too and he was very pleasant. I will cheer for him with whatever team he plays for.

Cliff Lee is another guy like that. I am a big fan of weird lefties (being one myself). So Cliff is my guy. I actually got to meet him a couple of times in Cleveland, and I thought he was just a real pleasant pro. He very kindly signed a couple of cards and photos for me. I know he had some issues with the Indians, leading to his brief demotion to the AAA club, but he came back and won the Cy Young award and Come Back Player of the Year the next year!

It was great seeing him play in the World Series. I will be cheering for Cliff while he is with the Mariners this year.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Bobby Wilkins 1944-1945 Philadelphia Athletics

I sent a letter to Bobby Wilkins in late December of 2009. The very kind former Athletic sent me a very nice signed card a few days later.

Sadly, I recently heard that Bobby passed away on January 3rd of this year, 2010.

Then, just the other day, I received a letter in the mail from lawyer Arthur R. Carmody, Jr. of a law group. Mr. Carmody very kindly took the time to send me a note saying that he found my letter, and he was not sure if Bobby ever acknowledged it.

Mr. Carmody took the time to tell me a bit about Mr. Wilkins and his career. Arthur paints a great picture of his friend in writing his letter. I hope he does not mind my quoting most of the note.

"Bobby was a highly intelligent, kind and gentle person who left a legion of friends and supporters from his baseball career and, after 1950, was employed by the Caddo Parish Sheriff's Office as a deputy. He qualified as a forensic investigator and prospered in that career. He was soon named the Chief Forensic Investigator and received state and national recognition in that fastly evolving field."

"In the late 40's Bobby was the shortstop for the Texas League Shreveport Sports. He was small of stature but quick as a cat and had a strong arm which let him easily go deep in the hole on balls hit to his right. He was a quick and alert base runner and always a threat to steal home, as he did in one of his first games with the Athletics. He was several times voted to the Texas League All Star team, his principle competition coming from Chico Carresquele of the Fort Worth Cats, who, unfortunately, was always behind Peewee Reese of the Dodgers."

"Bobby enjoyed talking about his days with the A's during World War II. He was signed by Mr. Mack before he was 18 years old and one of the teenage players who played during the war. Bobby's intelligence was recognized by Mr. Mack, who had him sit next to him on the bench. Bobby observed the manager used his straw hat to give players the signs and signals. Bobby had a clear recollection of the bad weather in Hot Springs, Virginia where the A's did spring training, in lieu of Florida, because of wartime conditions."

Mr. Carmody told me that he has a very strong connection to Kentucky and Kentucky sports himself. He is the grandfather of Art Carmody IV. Carmody was a kicker for the University of Louisville football team! He broke many NCAA scoring records and was the 2006 Lou Groza Award recipient!

"During his years there we made many wonderful trips to the great state of Kentucky and the town of Lexington, both of which I came to admire very much."

This is one of the few responses I have received not from the person I sent it to, but from one of their friends. It is very touching that Arthur wanted to make sure my letter to Bobby was acknowledge, and he wanted to make sure I knew a little about Bobby's career. I think that speaks volumes about Bobby and Arthur both.

I really appreciate Arthur Carmody Jr. writing to me about Bobby Wilkins, and about his own grandson.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Gil Blanco 1965-1966 MLB

Gil sent a nice little note about his Kentucky connection to me recently.

"My best friend on the '65 Yankees was Steve Hamilton from Morehead Kentucky. A GREAT person. He helped me to grow up a lot, I was very saddened by his passing. He loved to shoot woodchucks and crows back home."

Gil also mentioned that Mickey Mantle was his favorite player!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Moe Savransky 1954 Redlegs

"In 1954 with the Reds I was in a game pitching relief against the Phillies. That was a strange game. Robin Roberts was pitching. The first batter for the Reds was Bobby Adams. The 1st pitch he hit a homer in the left field bleachers."

Moe says that after that he, "proceeded to retire the next 27 batters." Moe says he pitched 3 perfect innings.

"I played in the American Association in 1955 against Louisville Kentucky. I also went to Ohio State University and played basketball and baseball in Columbus Ohio."

"In 1947 I pitched my high school team to the Ohio High State Championship!"

Monday, March 1, 2010

Jacke Davis 1962 Phillies

Concerning playing in Kentucky, Jacke Davis tells me, "when I played for Buffalo New York in 1961, we won the Little World Series from Louisville but that was a long time ago."

Jacke also mentions that he hit one home run in the majors against Sandy Koufax!