Saturday, March 25, 2017

MEMORABLE OPENING DAY HAPPENINGS



Opening day of the major league season is among the most anticipated events in all of sports. It marks the arrival of spring and the beginning of a new chapter in baseball history. It’s a day filled with hope and promise. Even the worst teams start out with a clean record. And the most obscure players can have a major impact. As a collective unit, the American and National Leagues will celebrate their 114th anniversary in 2017. To honor the occasion, I’ve compiled a short list of remarkable opening day events.




1907

With the Giants trailing the Phillies 3-0 at the Polo Grounds, fans begin to wander onto the field while the game is in progress. Other unruly spectators participate in a massive snowball fight, forcing umpire Bill Klem to declare a forfeit in favor of Philadelphia. Another point of interest, Hall of Famer Roger Bresnahan becomes the first major league catcher to wear shin guards during a game. He is widely ridiculed for it.

 

1915

A’s southpaw Herb Pennock holds the Red Sox hitless for 8.2 innings. With two outs in the ninth, Boston’s speedy right fielder Harry Hooper beats out a high chopper for an infield hit, spoiling Pennock’s no-hit bid. The Hall of Fame hurler settles for a 1-hit shutout.    



1923

After sharing the Polo Grounds with the New York Giants for a decade, the Yankees open their new stadium for business. Fittingly, Babe Ruth is the first player to go deep, thrilling the crowd of 74,000-plus with a moon shot off of Red Sox starter Howard Ehmke. For Ruth, it’s the 198th home run of his career. Including the postseason, he’ll add 530 more before he retires.  



1940

Bob Feller picks up where Herb Pennock left off 25 years earlier, going 8.2 innings without yielding a hit to the White Sox. With two-outs in the bottom of the ninth, former batting champ Luke Appling draws a walk. But Feller bears down and retires right fielder Taffy Wright on an easy grounder to second base. It’s the first opening day no-hitter in history. The feat has not been duplicated since. 



1946

In preparation for their home opener, the grounds crew at Braves Field applies a fresh coat of red paint to the outfield bleachers. Unfortunately, damp weather prevents the paint from drying completely. Hundreds of disgruntled fans go home with crimson stains on their clothes, obligating the Braves to cover dry-cleaning costs. The game ends well for the hometown crew as they walk away with a 5-3 win.



1947

Ignoring multiple death threats, Jackie Robinson appears at first base for the Dodgers, officially breaking the Major League color barrier. More than 26,000 fans at Ebbets Field watch the “Bums” beat the Boston Braves, 5-3. Robinson scores the first run of his career and handles 11 chances without an error.  



1974

On his first swing of the season, Hank Aaron takes Reds starter Jack Billingham deep, tying him with Babe Ruth for the all-time home run lead. Four days later, Aaron will club #715 off of Al Downing, becoming baseball’s reigning home run king.  

Friday, March 10, 2017

MY UPCOMING BOOK RELEASE



For years, I have felt that the contributions of Latino ballplayers have been largely overlooked. My latest book gives more than 140 Latin American standouts due credit for their accomplishments. It's called Latino Stars in Major League Baseball and is scheduled for a June release. I'm posting the introduction here to give potential readers a feel for what it's all about. 



Some of the best players in major league history were born outside the United States. According to an ESPN article, Latin American ballplayers held twenty-seven percent of all major league contracts and forty percent of all minor league contracts in 2013. In fact, Latino players represent one of the fastest growing ethnicities in baseball. But the road to “The Show” has not been easy for many.
            MLB’s dreaded color barrier prevented many of the greatest players of all time from competing on baseball’s grandest stage. Though Cuban luminaries Cristobal Torriente, Martin Dihigo and Jose Mendez were all elected to Cooperstown, none of them saw major league action. The abolishment of the color barrier did little to alleviate other problems faced by Latin American ballplayers. Many grow up in poverty using improvised materials (such as milk cartons for gloves and tree branches for bats) to learn the rudiments of the game. Language barriers leave many feeling isolated and misunderstood once they reach America.
            Recognizing the depth of the talent pool in Venezuela, major league teams began establishing training camps there during the 1990s. At one point, twenty-three major league clubs had set up operations. But by 2016, only four camps remained. Economic troubles, political unrest, food shortages and rising crime rates have made it difficult for the surviving facilities to function.
            An entirely different dilemma is faced by players from Cuba, where the communist government prohibits prospects from signing with major league teams. Desperate to realize their dreams, many players risk life and limb escaping the country. Dodger outfielder Yasiel Puig was held hostage by the criminals who smuggled him out of Cuba. White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu nearly drowned in fifteen foot waves.  
            The struggles faced by numerous Latin American players make their stories all the more triumphant. And as the diversity of baseball continues to grow, the quality of play is enhanced exponentially. At the time of this writing, there were ten Latino players enshrined at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Many others have played on major league All-Star teams, led their respective leagues in various statistical categories, won prestigious awards and guided their clubs to the postseason. The most succesful Latino stars are profiled on the pages that follow.