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

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Tennessee Smokies

Tennessee is a state that just keeps growing on me.  I love getting down there whenever I can.

Even when it is not baseball season, this is just a fun neck of the woods. 

Not far from Smokies Park is the very nice and friendly Smoky Mountain Visitor Center.  They have a nice selection of postcards and lots of brochures about things to do in the area.  I love the friendly staff there- they always seem to know whats going on in the area.  They have helped me a lot with suggestions about other places to see near by.  Without prompting, they have drawn out maps for me more than once.

There is a great Bass Pro Shop close by too!  Then again, all Bass Pro Shops are great.  I get my shoes there.

Smokies Park is a very short drive from Gatlinburg and Knoxville.  Enjoying all of the fun things in Gatlinburg or hiking through the parks during the day and then going to a ballgame in the evening is a great way to spend a weekend.

I mentioned on my other blog that we visited the Bush Brother's Visitor Center not far from hear recently too.

We stay at the Hampton next to the park and I love that place.  I am more of a Hyatt fan in general, but this place is great.  They are walking distance from Smokies Park too!

Visiting the area, catching a game, and just enjoying the casual feel of the area is a treat.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Mark Cohoon

Mark Cohoon has played in the Mets system now for several years, making it all the way to AAA!

He recently sent me a great note.

He says that he often writes 1 Corinthians 15:10 under his signature.  That verse reads- But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace towards me was not in vain; Although I've labored more than the rest, it is not I but the grace of God which was with me.

Mark says that this is his life verse.

He says that of all of the parks he has played in, he enjoyed playing at the Brooklyn Cyclones Park in the NYPL the most.

His favorite sports team is the Texas Rangers.  He says that is because he is from the Dallas/Fort Worth area.
He says he enjoyed playing for the Bisons, as the IL is an incredible experience.

His favorite season was when he played in Savannah, noting that they had a winning Sand Gnats team and the city is fun and unique.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Ed Wojna

Ed Wojna played in the majors off and on between 1985 and 1989, mostly going between AAA Las Vegas and the Padres.

He also spent a little time in Cleveland in 1989.

Ed took the time to send me a VERY nice note recently.

He told me that he only has one real Kentucky story.

He remembers landing in Kentucky to go to Cincinnati.  He was on the Padres team that played the Reds the day Pete Rose broke Ty Cobb's hitting record.  He warmed up in the bullpen the night before, but he did not get in the game.

He says that it was a very memorable moment form his playing days.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Dave Cripe 1978 Royals

Dave Cripe played professional baseball for several years mostly holding down third base.  He did pitch 1 inning in 1980.  AND he played in 7 games for the Royals in 1978 earning the right to brag about a major league baseball career!

Dave sent me a very kind letter recently.

He recommends that I find the book "A Year in the Minors" which was about the 1973 San Jose Bees.  He played on that team and there are some interesting interviews with guys on that team in the book, including Dennis Leonard and Jamie Quirk.

He says he loved Jacksonville, but hated playing there as it was hot and humid with lots of rain.  It was a tough league with lots of travel and bad stadiums in the mid 70s.  The lights were bad too.

He says that for no reason but that he has hated the Yankees, and cheers for Boston, the Padres, and any team that plays the Cardinals.

I could not find a card of Dave, and I asked him about that.  He says there are some out there, noting that he saw one recently of him from when he played in Venezuela.  He suggests not paying much for a card of his though, joking that his picture and stats aren't worth too much.

He says that he loved managing in Asheville for the Astros in 1982.  He says it is a beautiful city.

When he played for Omaha, they went in to Evansville to play.  He thinks the town was "dry" on Sundays back then, so they had to go to Kentucky to buy beer!

Thanks for the great letter Dave!  I love stories about Kentucky and the unique town of Evansville Indiana!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Jim Pankovits

Jim Pankovits spent a lot of time playing in AAA and at the major league level between 1978 and 1991.Since then, he has spent his time managing in the minors.

He sent me a great note recently!

He tells me that his dad, Vince, managed a team in Pennington Gap, VA. in the early 50s.

That team had a huge rivalry with their Mountain State League rivals from Hazard Kentucky.

The rivalry was so fierce that Vince would sometimes spend the night in the local jail for protection!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Kurt Smith of ballparkeguides.com Q & A

I corresponded with Kurt Smith of ballparkeguides.com a lot over the last several days about his E-Guides, PNC Park, etc.  I really like what he has done with his site, and with his guides.  Plus, he knows a lot about parks!  I thought a quick question and answer session with him would be a lot of fun!  So, my questions are in bold followed by his responses.  Check it out!
So Kurt, quickly, don't give too much thought to it...... What is your all time favorite park, and why?
Even though I'm not the dedicated Orioles fan that I once was, I'm still partial to Camden Yards. It's beautiful, it doesn't overdo anything, it has a great atmosphere with outside vendors, Boog's barbecue and all of that, and the seats in the upper level are closer to the action than in most ballparks. That means a lot when you've been priced out of the better seats! I love PNC Park, Fenway Park and Wrigley Field, but Camden is still my favorite.

Do you have a favorite minor league park?
Well I never thought about that, I've only been to about five or six that I can think of. I think if you asked me to pick a favorite, it would be Waterfront Park in Trenton, where the Thunder play. It's got a nice brick facade, and the atmosphere and location are great. I would like Campbell Field in Camden more if it wasn't in Camden; that has the potential to be a great ballpark but Camden is not a great place to be at night.

What is the coolest experience you have had at a ballpark?
I can think of a few that really stand out; my first trip to Progressive Field (then Jacobs Field) which was kind of a spur of the moment thing but I got a great break with the weather and it turned out great. I managed to get into the ballpark for Derek Jeter's 3,000th hit last year, that was a great day. And two days from my youth stand out of course; my first Phillies game at Veterans Stadium where the Phillies scored 3 in the 14th to beat the Pirates, and a doubleheader at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore where the Orioles came from behind to win both games. All memorable.
And honestly, any trip to a ballpark for the first time is always a wonderful experience, I always remember those games!

Who is your favorite player? Why?
Well as a forty-something Orioles fan, of course I'm partial to Cal Ripken Jr. He was the Iron Man of course, and his breaking Lou Gehrig's record was one of baseball's greatest moments, especially in the state baseball was in at the time. But he was also a heck of a shortstop; was always among the league leaders in defensive stats, and 400 home runs and 3,000 hits is remarkable.
If you asked me to pick a favorite today, it would be tough. I like Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton has a great story, Andrew McCutchen is great fun to watch, and it's always a pleasure to see Roy Halladay or Justin Verlander pitch (except in that All-Star Game...yikes).

What is your favorite promotion/act/giveaway? Why?
Well anything that makes tickets cheaper is ok with me! But aside from cheaper tickets I always enjoy fireworks nights. You can grow up in South Jersey and see some okay displays in the local townships on the 4th, but baseball teams don't skimp on the pyrotechnics and I've never seen a bad show at the ballpark. Fireworks nights are often tough tickets but they're worth it.
I like that a lot of teams are having name acts perform after games; the Mets just had Daughtry at Citi Field and the Rays have had ZZ Top and quite a few others there. I wonder what they do if they have a 15-inning game before it though.

If I had to pick a last meal, and I had to pick it from one ballpark what would you suggest?
Something that takes a while to eat! Seriously, my favorite ballpark food is the Ben's Chili half-smoke at Nationals Park in D.C., and the Hard Times chili nachos are probably second. The Lobel's sandwich at Yankee Stadium is outstanding, and I like the Schmitter at Citizens Bank Park in Philly too.
Then again, you can always still get a hot dog; and I'd say the best ones are at Wrigley and U.S. Cellular in Chicago.
There is something almost supernatural about going to a game and visiting a park. Why do you think that is?
I think it's a community thing more than anything else. People gather by the thousands in a beautiful park, and no matter what their politics or their religion, they share a common appreciation for a game that is played outdoors with some wonderful history. It's also an escape from the hassles and pressures of every day life, and all of us need that. When you're at the ballpark on a beautiful summer evening and your team is winning, suddenly nothing in life seems so bad.

Why the focus on MLB parks? Have you thought about doing guides for the minors?
Well, mostly because I'm more familiar with the major league ballparks; I grew up close to Philly and in a family of Orioles fans, so we basically went to Philly or Baltimore for games while I was growing up. I don't think I saw my first minor league game until I was in my 20s. I would love to do guides for minor league parks, but I barely have enough time to manage the MLB ones, so unless I someday get to do this full time and hire some people, I don't know how I could.

I was reading on your site that you have contributed to Sports Illustrated! What did you do for those guys.... and how are they able to sell me a one year subscription for less than $30 AND throw in a shirt or jacket?
Ha! Well I don't remember doing much more than a piece or two for SI...they asked me to write about NASCAR fantasy league participation and I wrote some stuff for their website about how being in a NASCAR fantasy league turned me into a racing addict. I had been writing about NASCAR for a few years. As far as the great deals they offer, beats me...they must be getting better ad rates these days, and I doubt I've been much help there!

I know you are a family man, how does the rest of the family deal with your need to go to ballparks all the time? Do they enjoy going as much as you?
My wife has been incredibly supportive. We have a little one now, so I haven't been away this year, but in previous seasons the wife has been great about letting me take a ten day trip to see four ballparks. She used to go with me, but after I left her alone in the Turner Field parking lot for a half hour while I explored the nearby lots, she was none too happy! She's not into baseball at all, so she lets me fly solo, which is better for me anyway. It's a little bit more difficult now obviously, but I'm hoping to work some things out so I can add to the repertoire next year.

Any thoughts of trying to get the E-Guides published in book form? I do like the way you do it now though, you can updated them anytime the way they are.
Well that's the trick, and it's good and it's bad, because I would like for people to have more options reading them. There's a writer named Tim Shea who publishes a yearly Fenway Park guide; he updates it every season and as far as I know he's still doing it. I would have trouble going through all of that with 14 ballparks though. I am hoping that someday the technology of Kindles improves enough to read the guides in this format, currently it's pretty expensive to get it converted.
So I haven't really thought much about the book route, although if a publisher approaches me, who knows? I might be persuaded!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Kurt Smith's Ballpark E-Guide to PNC Park

I mentioned Kurt Smith's e-guides a couple of entries ago, and I picked one up myself!

I just finished reading the guide to PNC Park.

I picked this guide because I find myself at PNC frequently.  It is my personal favorite MLB park and I love Pittsburgh.  I wanted to see if the guide would be useful to someone who is familiar with it.

The guide is well written and is packed with facts.  I printed mine out and it is a pretty solid 40 plus pages of info.  There isn't any filler.

Kurt gives a little history and description of PNC Park, noting that it is near perfect.  In fact, he says that its only flaw is being so perfect.  People come to see it even though locals have NEVER had a home team with a winning season play at this park.  In some ways, it seems to keep ownership from being motivated to get a top quality team on the field.

After a pretty good description of the park Kurt discusses tickets.

If you go to a lot of games, you know this can be a problem.  You debate with yourself about the pros and cons of buying them early, choosing your seat location, etc.  Sometimes you even toy with the idea of trying to get something from a scalper.  You try to think about the best way to get the best deal.

Personally, I rarely buy a minor league ticket in advance (I have had tickets given to me by strangers before games in Charleston WV, Harrisburg PA, and I have bought extras for pocket change at some other locations).  MLB parks can be more difficult.

They take more planning.  It is more expensive.  I have parked, bought tickets, and snacked at a minor league game for less than $15 (for 2 people) on many occasions.  I would say that, for a game in the majors, you can multiply that by 10.

So, it helps to think about how to get the most for your money.

Kurt does a great job of this in his sections devoted to ticket buying.  I would describe his way of thinking about buying tickets (and food, and beer) as "strategic".  I especially appreciate his "Tightwad Tips" noted throughout the guide.

He notes that PNC does have some of the cheapest seats in baseball, mentioning that great lower level seats can be found for around $35! 

Kurt discusses the various seating options, ticket plans, third party sellers and dynamic pricing policy for some sections.  He goes over the pros and cons of each.

He mentions that the Pirates actually have a designated scalpers area.  It is the Pirates though, and as mentioned before, good affordable seats are almost always readily available from the team.

Kurt devotes a good amount of his guide to noting seating options and their prices.  This is something that you can find on the team website, however, this guide is a lot more descriptive.  And, this guide more objective.  Unlike the Pirates, Kurt has no agenda in recommending one seating option over the other.  He gives his well informed opinion about the dollar value of some of the more exclusive seating areas.

I've noticed the whole "all you can eat" ticket becoming a big deal at parks all over the place.  At first, this sounds great.  But, as Kurt points out, there is a good chance you will be getting lesser quality food and you will have to stand in long lines.  PLUS, you deprive yourself of the opportunity to sample the local signature items.  Kurt points out in his guide that a Primanti Bros. sandwich and an Iron City beer are needed for the Pittsburgh food experience.

Obviously the all you can eat ticket is a popular item (when I was at PNC a few weeks ago this was a hot ticket).  And- as to be expected, the lines were exceptionally long.  I did go on a fireworks night though.

The Ballpark E-Guide to PNC park gives a lot of advice on getting to the game and parking.  In fact, this is one of those areas I don't devote a lot of time to on a road trip.  I sort of drive around until something looks right.  It drives my friends crazy at times.

I like getting to the park early too- as early as possible so parking is usually not a huge problem for me.  I know of others who start driving to a game a few minutes before the first pitch.

Back to the food!  Kurt does a great job of listing each food vendor inside and near the park.  He gives a good description of what each one offers.  Again he is more honest than any club related site would be, mentioning that some have less than average service, smaller portions, etc.  He even suggests trying some of the local food away from the park for the best value, as the park has less variety and smaller portions.

I REALLY like the Ballpark E-Guide for several reasons-

There is a lot of information packed in the guide. 

Kurt Smith has spent a lot of time researching PNC Park, and making sure you know about the deals, promotions, and other values at the park. 

You can find some of the info in this guide on club sites, but it is going to all be positive.  This E-Guide is more critical. 

You can go to Kurt Smith's site (http://www.ballparkeguides.com/) to find a lot of information about the various MLB parks for free.  I think, if you were thinking about visiting a park like PNC for the first time, stopping by the ballparkeguides site would be a great starting point to get a feel for the venue.  Once you start making serious plans to visit a park, paying the $5 for the eguide would be a good investment once you know you are going to make that road trip.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Why Kentucky Is A Great Place For Ballpark Road Trippers to Live

When I first saw the title of Jim Ambs’s blog, the first thing that came to my mind was“minor league ballparks”. Despite that the Commonwealth of Kentucky is blessed with some great cities like Louisville and Lexington, Major League Baseball has yet to see fit to place a team in the Bluegrass State.

Not that there’s anything wrong with minor league games, of course. Maybe there won’t be 45,000 at the ballpark, but there won’t be massive traffic jams either, and you’ll definitely notice that you still have a wallet afterward even if you bring the kids. It’s still professional baseball—as my Dad says, if you hang a curve in this league, they’re gonna hit it.

But I got to thinking about it, and for baseball road trip geeks like me, Kentucky is an outstanding spot to start from.

As a South Jersey native, I do like being close to Wildwood and the “other” shore towns. And I am fortunate enough to be close enough to five major league ballparks—Nationals Park, Camden Yards, Yankee Stadium, Citi Field and Citizens Bank Park—that won’t require an overnight stay. If I really pushed it, I could probably manage that in Pittsburgh or Boston too, but that’s a lot of driving in one day.

But I’ve sort of been envious of people in states in or near the Midwest, where there are so many great ballparks. In Kentucky, a state that borders Missouri, Ohio, and Illinois, they’re in every northbound direction.

Suppose you live in Louisville, which was a stopping point on a trip to St. Louis I took some years ago. Coming from Louisville you could put together a road trip that would enable you to start four hours away in St. Louis taking pictures of the Arch from Busch Stadium, then take a five hour drive to Chicago, where you could throw a home run ball back on the field at Wrigley Field and cool off in the Rain Room at U.S. Cellular Field. From Chicago it’s only an hour and a half to Milwaukee, where you can bring some brats to grill in the biggest tailgating party in baseball at Miller Park.

From Milwaukee head back south through Chicago and a six hour drive towards Detroit and ride the Ferris Wheel at Comerica Park, and then it’s only two and a half hours to Cleveland, and Heritage Park and its monuments to Indians history at Progressive Field. Cleveland is just two hours from Pittsburgh and the breathtaking view approaching PNC Park from the Roberto Clemente Bridge. Stop five hours into the ride home in Cincinnati and wave to the boats going by on the Ohio River at Great American Ball Park, and from Cincinnati it’s only and hour and a half to get back home to Louisville.

29 hours of driving (on some scenic roads that for the most part aren’t overwhelmed by traffic and tolls, more than I can say about the East Coast) to see eight great ballparks…an average of just about four and a half hours per ballpark. Piece of cake. And if you wanted to pile on, it wouldn’t be too difficult to add Kansas City, Toronto or Philadelphia to the trip!

Here’s what the whole thing looks like on Mapquest: http://mapq.st/M1cxiE

And the best part is that once you get home and don’t have much money left, there’s still Bats, Hot Rods and Legends games nearby, until you plan your Texas trip.

I wouldn’t want to give up living so close to my favorite vacation spot at the Jersey Shore, but I am kind of envious of people who can hit a lot of ballparks on a road trip with nowhere near the traffic messes found in the Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, New York or Boston areas.

They’re all great ballparks too, but getting there isn’t half the fun!

Kurt Smith is the author of Ballpark E-Guides, PDF-format guides to 14 major league ballparks, including Fenway Park, Wrigley Field and Yankee Stadium. Ballpark E-Guides provide lots of detailed information on getting tickets, finding the best seat, how to get there and what to eat at the ballpark, all for just $5…click here to learn more!

Monday, July 9, 2012


Hey!  Check out Kurt Smith's site when you get a chance!

Kurt loves hitting the road and seeing some games too.  It looks like he sees a lot of them!

He enjoys games at the highest level.  Unlike us he focuses exclusively on MLB parks on his site.

In fact he has visited most of the MLB parks, and he has written a guide to each one!

When you go to his site, look to the left.  You can click on a link about each park that he covers.

Once you click the link, you can read some great tips about the park and things you might need to know on game day (and before).  Kurt covers getting tickets, hotels, parking, where the best seats are, food etc.

Kurt has a TON of great info on his site.  You can easily spend a lot of time just looking around and reading up on your favorite parks.

He also sells eguides about each park too (more on that later).  I printed off his guide to PNC Park and there is a lot to go through!

ALSO, Kurt has agreed to be a guest blogger on this site!  Look for that post tomorrow, and more on ballparkeguides soon!


Sunday, July 8, 2012

Kevin Kouzmanoff

I saw Kevin Kouzmanoff while he was coming up in the Indians system.
He was our favorite back then.  We saw him playing with the Mahoning Valley Scrappers, the Lake County Captains, the Akron Aeros, and the Cleveland Indians.
I watched him in his first at bat in the majors live on TV.  The bases were loaded and I remember thinking about how cool it would be if he hit it out.  he did.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

"A Bitter Cup of Coffee" by Douglas J. Gladstone Q & A

I mentioned the book "A Bitter Cup of Coffee" by Douglas J. Gladstone earlier.  He and I exchanged emails about his book, and about the situations with former MLB players who played before 1980 and are not eligible for certain benefits. 

One thing that really impressed me about Mr. Gladstone was the fact that I did not feel that he was pushing his book.  I certainly feel that he is proud of the great book he produced but I felt that his agenda was to push an awareness of these great older players who deserve more.  He cares about this issue and he has sincerely done something to promote it.

Doug Gladstone agreed to answer some questions for me about his book.  I really enjoyed his responses.  Please, read this entire exchange carefully.  I love Doug's discussion of how players today don't have to drive UPS trucks during the off season- thanks to men like Steve Grilli.  As Gladstone points out, the superstars of today can really enjoy the easy life because the guys before them sacrificed.

So- enjoy the discussion.  I sent Doug some questions and comments.  His responses are in bold.

Here ya go........................................

I think many people would love to brag about having a brief career as a MLB player. Some might even say that ANY baseball player has done something most of us can only fantasize about. Why should the average Joe be concerned about whether or not former pro athletes get a pension?

I think this story has resonated with people because we've all at some point or another in our lives felt the pain and sting of victimization, that other individuals or groups were getting the breaks that we perceive should have gone our way but didn't. That's a raw human emotion which is very powerful.

Also, and this might sound a bit hokey, but I was a huge fan of the television series "The Fugitive" growing up. All David Janssen, who portrayed Dr. Richard Kimble, wanted was to prove that he was the victim of a terrible error of our judicial system. As the narrator, William Conrad, reminded us week after week, the protagonist was a victim of blind justice.

Similarly, all I wanted to try to do was tip the scales of justice back into a level playing field so that these men could get the compensation I and a lot of other folks believed they were deserving of. In some small way, I hope my book helped focus attention on this issue to the point where MLB decided at long last to do right by these men.

Why do you feel this is a cause worthy of attention?

I saw an injustice being perpetrated against a group of senior citizens. Forget that they were ballplayers. They’re old people who were being taken advantage of and neglected. These were the men who gave me countless hours of entertainment growing up, they were the boyhood heroes of my youth. And I thought it was just tragic that their story wasn't being told.

You mention in your book the fact that many men who played in the Negro Leagues now receive a life annuity. Do you feel this was more of a publicity stunt by MLB to look good?

In 1993, MLB decided to award 34 veterans of the Negro Leagues and their spouses health insurance. And you know what? Props to MLB for doing that. The late Commissioner Giamatti was fond of saying, “in matters of race, in matters of decency, baseball should lead the way.”

And obviously, before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, during the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s, MLB was just a mirror institution for the social segregation that was going on in this country. So MLB did right by trying to remedy the injustices of the past.

Then, in 1997, MLB awarded 29 veterans of the Negro Leagues life annuities totaling between $7,500 and $10,000 per year. Again, I give a big thumbs up to MLB for doing that. They also awarded Caucasian men who played prior to 1947 — the year the pension fund was established — quarterly $2,500 payments.

And finally, in 2004, MLB awarded additional veterans of the Negro Leagues $40,000 for four years, or $350 a month for life.

What people fail to realize is that many of the men who are still being taken advantage of are persons of color. Herb Washington, Wayne Cage, Billy Harrell, Aaron Pointer, to name but a few....they're all African-Americans. That's why this issue is not a racial one for me. I've attempted to frame the debate from an employment benefits perspective, not a racial one. You magnanimously give health benefits to one group, you better damn well give similar and comparable benefits to those men who actually worked for you.

You bring up Jim Bunning early in the book- mentioning the fact that he did not get back to you when you requested some comments from him about the pension. Do you feel that he owes it to the players to comment on the pensions?

I would think that, as the former Chairman of the House Ways & Means SubCommittee on Social Security, Bunning would have been particularly empathetic to the needs of this group, given that fact that he was a Hall of Fame pitcher. So it's mind boggling that he didn't go to bat for his former comrades in arms.

Some of the players are very interesting characters! Have you been tempted, as a writer, to write more about these guys individually? Mike Colbern comes to mind......

Actually, the genesis of the book was as a result of an interview with Jimmy Qualls, the former Chicago Cub who broke up Tom Seaver's perfect game on July 9, 1969. I was doing a sort of 'Where Are They Now?' story on him for Baseball Digest when he just casually, very innocently, mentioned that he wasn't receiving a pension. And that's how the whole thing started.
Since then, I've done a number of articles or posts on a lot of these guys. Three that come to mind are David Clyde, Gary Neibauer and Carmen Fanzone.  They all have great stories to tell. And I'm trying to get as many as I can out there.

I love the quote from Camilli on page 90 about some current players feeling that these guys are looking for a hand out. He says that the current ones got the hand out when the older players set the table for them. Are there any current players really pushing for the pre-80 non vested players now?  It would be nice to hear about it if some of them are trying to be supportive.

Not to sound cheeky but, when you find one, he'll be the first.
The former infielder for the Milwaukee Brewers, Craig Counsell -- he retired after last season -- was on the players' union executive committee. Not surprisingly, Craig Counsell is a VERY pro-labor guy. I mean, unions advocate for all the hard-working men and women, and their families, who are paying the taxes in this country. I’ve got no problem with unions. They support us working stiffs.

However, while I commended Counsell last year for speaking out against attempts by Republican Governor Scott Walker to strip Wisconsin's public employees of their right to collective bargaining, he and the players union have clearly dropped the ball with respect to this issue. That's why the statement he made in the official press release announcing last April's agreement was such a joke. Counsell said that, as a current player, "it is truly an honor to be able to take this step and help pre-1980 players."

That's just lip service, plain and simple. And while Michael Weiner, the new executive director of the players' union, has done way more for these men than Don Fehr ever did while he was in charge, more can be done. And more should be done.

In my observation, it seems that the 80s was the time when ball players REALLY started making the big money- and it has snowballed from there. I remember reading one of Gary Carter's biographies where he talks about guys he played with (in the 70s) still having to have winter jobs to get by.

Sure, when I was growing up, all the ballplayers either sold insurance, ran restaurants or drove cabs to supplement their income. Perhaps most famously, Richie Hebner, of the Pirates, worked as a gravedigger. That's right, he dug ditches in cemeteries. Steve Grilli -- the father of current Pirate hurler Jason Grilli -- drove a UPS truck during the offseason to help make ends meet. You think we'll ever see A-Rod drive a UPS truck?  No, because he doesn't have to, because the Grillis and the Clydes and the Qualls' and all those other men who played between 1947 and 1979 were the guys who went without paychecks so that today's players can make what they're making. All those players who scored lucrative contracts the past season or two -- Carl Crawford, Jayson Werth, Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols all come to mind -- they owe the guys I wrote about a debt of gratitude. They were the ones who went without salaries, who endured labor stoppages, all so today's crop of players can command the ridiculously obscene salaries they're getting.
All I'm saying is that maybe it's about time that today's players recognize that sacrifice, and not be content with merely throwing 'em a bone. Cut these men in so that they can enjoy a slice of the pie. Baseball is an $8 billion industry -- there's certainly enough money to go around.

I did not know the story about Sam Jethroe trying to get his pension! Do you know of any other former Negro League players who tried similar tactics to get pensions and who may have also influenced the owners to pay the Negro leaguers their life annuity?

I know Wilmer Fields, who played for the Homestead Grays and was active in the Negro League Baseball Players Association, was a leader in the fight for compensation, as was Bob Mitchell, who pitched for the Kansas City Monarchs.

When players negotiated in 1980, there seemed to be very little concern for the pre-80 players. Even then, few noted this issue. You mention that even historian Charles Korr did not feel this was "on anyone's radar at the time." He did his research around 2000. Why do you think this was not as big of an issue at that time?

I don't think a lot of people really appreciated what happened when Ray Grebey presented Marvin Miller and Fehr with that offer during the strike negotiations in May 1980. Essentially, if the union agreed to soften its position on the direct compensation to the clubs of free agents, the league would allow all men whose careers began after 1980 to be eligible for health coverage after only one day on a major league roster and a lifetime annuity after only 43 game days of service. Goodness, that's only a quarter of a season. If you or I were called up to the Show in mid-August and just sat on a bench till October 1st, we'd be eligible for a pension! Now that's what I call a sweetheart of a deal.
But the problem was they either forgot or purposely didn't make this arrangment retroactive, and that's why all these guys I wrote about who played between 1947 and 1979 are on the outside looking in.
In the book, Mike Marshall, the former Dodger reliever who won the Cy Young Award in 1974, says that Mr. Miller used to keep a lot of facts and important information from the players. Whether that's true or not, I don't know. In my book, Mr. Miller strenuously objected to that allegation.

Why do you think some guys who would benefit from the pension, like Rod Gaspar, seem indifferent at this point?

A lot of these guys have told me that they're not young Turks anymore, that if they were still in their salad days, they'd fight harder to remedy the situation. Truthfully, after more than three decades, I think most are just grateful for any amount of money they get at this point.

Your book came out in 2010.  At the end of the book, you bring up talks that will happen in 2011.  What happened in 2011?

On April 21, 2011, announced with much fanfare that men such as Carl Bouldin would receive life annuity payments of up to $10,000 per year for their service credit and contributions to the game. Each affected player is guaranteed $625 per quarter of service, up to four years, or 16 quarters. The league and union later agreed to extend these life annuity payments through 2016.
That's not so bad, you're probably saying to yourself. Actually, it is. A guy like Kenny Wright, who pitched for the Royals and the Yankees, and who is credited with 3.25 years of service, got a gross check for $8,125 recently. After taxes are taken out, however, his net is only $5,900.

And remember, since it's a life annuity, when Wright passes, that payment passes with him. So his widow gets nothing. And that's not right; it's terribly wrong.

Am I elated that these men are at long last finally receiving some type of payment for their time in the game? Of course. This was a wrong that should have been righted years ago. In fact, I've said on numerous occasions that this whole disgraceful chapter in labor relations was a terrible inequity and injustice that stained baseball's history.

Significantly, I think the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association should share a lot of the fault here. Their leadership doesn't want to do anything more for these guys. If they really wanted to advocate on behalf of their constituency, they would. They would bang the drum...and loudly. But they're never going to. Sadly, the alumni association is the quintessential example of an old boys network, and they have no intention to rock the boat. They're just happy with this token gesture of support.

Also, towards the end of your book you bring up the Legendary Nellie King.  I think your book must have come out right before his passing.  I think we can all agree that he had a great long life…. But he is one of those guys that feels more like a pal than a celebrity baseball guy.  I loved his book too.  Any thoughts on Nellie and his situation relating to your book here in 2012?

Nellie died in early August 2010. And I'm very good friends now with both Amy and Laurie, his daughters. And I really believe that he went to his grave thinking that MLB and the union had turned their backs on him. But what is even more unseemly is that he served this country, he defended our nation's liberties and freedoms, in the Korean War. A guy like him deserved to be treated better if only for that reason and that reason alone. A lot of these men -- Frank Fanovich, George Yankowski, Nellie, to name but a few -- they all served our country in the armed forces. Yet this is how we're treating our veterans?  MLB and the union ought to be ashamed of themselves.

Monday, July 2, 2012

"A Bitter Cup of Coffee" by Douglas J. Gladstone

I have had more than one former player mention the book, "A Bitter Cup of Coffee" by Douglas J. Gladstone.  I finally got around to reading this one! 

This is a very nice, well researched book that discusses the fact that in 1980 Major League Baseball and the players' union worked out a deal where anyone who even makes one appearance in a game in the Majors is elligible for retirement benefits- STARTING in 1980.

Those guys that played before 1980 could only get benefits IF they played for the previously required 4 YEARS.

Gladstone makes a great arguement that those players before 1980 were really neglected.  Not only that, but this whole issue could be fixed easily.  He also feels that it really wouldn't cost any parties involved a lot to do the right thing and extend benefits to them.

At first, as you read the book, you might think that this isn't that big of a deal.  A lot of these guys should be happy to say that they had some sort of professional baseball career.

Gladstone makes a great case for the players who do not get a benefit.  He points out that those guys really paved the way for future players- influencing how nicely the players are treated in these modern times.

Not only that, but back in the 70s and earlier, players weren't making the kind of money they are now.  Some of the pre-80s players might need benefits more since many weren't making a lot by any standard at that time.

Douglas J. Gladstone's book is a very well done, and easy to read book about how these players have been cheated.  A lot of the benefits and comforts players enjoy now were built on the backs of the guys that played before them.  With very little effort and cost, MLB and current players could give something back to those earlier players.

I also want to mention that author Doug Gladstone VERY kindly agreed to answer some questions for me about his book!  I will get that Q &A up soon within the next couple of days!

Primanti Bros.


We visited a Primanti Bros. Restaurant (the one in Monroeville) on our recent trip to Pittsburgh!

Our friendly and full of character waitress refused to let us order anything but one of their famous sandwiches!  We started to look at other sections of the menu, and she insisted that we stop.

We figured she probably knows what she is talking about, so we ordered.  I had a corned beef- at her suggestion/insistence.

One of us asked for cole slaw on the side.  Again, our waitress said that would not be possible.  "Trust me." she said several times.

We did.  I can say that the next time we go, we will share a sandwich.  I can take a nice sandwich out pretty easily, but I could not finish this one.  In fact, I had to knock off the fries (slaw and fries are right on it).

I think one sandwich and two sides might be enough for most couples.

They had a lot of Pirates memorabilia on the walls too, which was VERY cool in my books.  It looks like legend Nellie King contributed to their collection!

They had free postcards (showing their giant sandwiches) too!  I thought this was a great promotional item for them to give out, AND I thought it was generous!

I sent out a couple of them to friends who will likely be in the area at some point in the future.