Tag Archives: Milwaukee Brewers

Remembering George Scott

With sadness I learned last evening of the death of George Scott, who had a fine career primarily with the Red Sox and Brewers. I have a particularly clear memory of seeing Scott play third base for the Red Sox at old Municipal Stadium in Cleveland.

My dad played third base as a kid and as a teenager. I usually played shortstop with occasional stints at third. So whenever we’d go to see the Indians, Dad usually got us seats along the third base line so I could soak up pointers by watching Larry Brown and Max Alvis and whoever the visiting infielders were.

On this particular night, we had pretty good seats only a few rows back from the field and on a direct line to third, where Scott was stationed for Boston. I don’t recall the year, but I suspect it was 1966 or ’67 when Scott was in his first two years in the league.

As the game wore on, while I was content watching and keeping score, my dad grew increasingly agitated. Finally,  in one of the later innings, he got me up and said we were moving to different seats. That puzzled me a bit, because occasionally in late innings we’d move up to better seats in the sparsely populated stadium; here, we had been right where we wanted to be.

When we found new seats a section or two away, Dad told me why he had moved us. I had been oblivious, but a couple of fans nearby were hurling racial slurs at Scott. They were laughing and calling him a baboon, among other insults, all game long.

Scott, my father said, didn’t show any sign the taunting was getting to him. But I’m sure he heard it. In my head, I always figured that it was guys like Hank Aaron and Willie Mays continued Jackie Robinson’s legacy and helped drive racial hatred out of the ballparks after the 1950s. But this game was in the late 1960s, so there’s no disputing the hateful taunts continued well into my lifetime. As I think back on it, there were plenty of racist remarks at the stadium in the 70s and almost certainly beyond.

That’s a lamentable legacy for the game and our society, and I’m glad my father taught me to recognize the issue — and to feel a bit of shame for not picking up on what was happening.

May George Scott rest in peace, hearing only cheers.

O Holy Cow: The Baseball Solstice coincides with Christmas

The high priests have looked to the sky and determined that the Baseball Solstice will coincide with Christmas this winter, to be celebrated from sundown on Christmas Eve to sundown Christmas Day.

The Baseball Solstice, noted in this blog a year ago, marks the midpoint of the long layoff in play between the final out of the World Series and the first exhibition game of Spring Training.

Sergio Romo struck out A.L. MVP Miguel Cabrera in the bottom of the 10th inning of Game 4 of the series on Oct. 28 to complete a San Francisco sweep of the Detroit Tigers.

The next games between major league opponents begin Feb. 22 in Arizona and Florida.

As fate would have it, that makes the midpoint Dec. 25, the second most holy day in Christendom. (The first is Easter, which coincidentally marks the point at which fans of the Chicago Cubs traditionally abandon hope for the new season.)

It is a bit awkward for baseball’s midwinter ritual to come at Christmas, and we baseball fans mean no disrespect on such a sacred day that many of us will be observing. (We’re also a bit leery that fans in Philadelphia will boo Santa Claus.)

But there’s apt symbolism for the pairing: We baseball fans cherish the sport as one of the greatest gifts we have.

You can mark the days to the start of Cactus and Grapefruit league play on the terrific Countdown to Spring Training site on Facebook.

As for marking the solstice, we encourage all baseball fans to do so in a meaningful, fun way: break out the baseball cards and find your favorite players, get in touch with fellow baseball fans by phone or email or social networking or (and this may sound crazy in this era) around the dining room table. We encourage you to visit the nearest ballpark and look eagerly forward to warm, sunny days on the field or in the stands come spring (or July, if you’re a Brewers fan).

As a Giants fan, I’ll be savoring the memories of the 2012 season. As an Indians fan, I’ll be lighting a few candles. And as a baseball fan overall, I’ll be glad to know that the first cry of “Play Ball” is drawing nigh.

Paving the way for women sports writers in the locker room

The Baseball Hall of Fame saluted a pioneering female sports reporter the other day in noting that a couple of her press passes from the late 1970s will be on display in a new exhibit on women in baseball.

The reporter was Melissa Ludtke, who was writing for Sports Illustrated during the 1977 World Series between the Yankees and the Dodgers. The Dodgers were going to let her into the locker room to do her job interviewing coaches and players. But Major League Baseball said no. Sports Illustrated and its parent company, Time Inc., sued and won, giving female reporters equal access to reporting from baseball locker rooms.

That controversy caused a commotion back in the late 70s as I was entering grad school in journalism. Although I’ve written hundreds if not thousands of sports stories over my career, I only set foot in a pro locker room once. And that was enough.

I was helping cover a Raiders-Packers game at County Stadium in Milwaukee, probably in 1982, when I was sent down from the press box to catch some quotes after the game. My impressions? Hey – there are a lot of naked guys in here snapping towels at each other, and it doesn’t really smell too good.

I was part of a cluster of reporters huddled around Raiders (they were the L.A. Raiders then) coach Tom Flores, who — I still remember with relief — was fully clothed. I also got to chat with Jim Plunkett, which was cool. I remember watching the locker room interviews on TV that night and telling my wife something along the lines of: “See that guy? HE’S TOTALLY NAKED.”

Suffice it to say I was not a big fan of cruising a professional sports team’s locker room for quotes. But that’s where much of sports reporting happens, and it was absolutely right and proper for baseball and the other pro sports to grant access to reporters who happened to be women.

While I got the Raiders assignment, a colleague got the opportunity to run quotes from the Brewers’ locker room during the 1982 World Series.  I can’t recall if it was she who told me or one of the other guys on the staff who was there. But as the reporter arrived, one of the Brewers’ relief pitchers spotted her and, pointing this way and that, said, “There’s a naked one.”

As intimidated and somewhat repulsed as I was at setting foot in the locker room, I can only imagine what my colleague, Melissa Ludtke and other women who dared to enter these man caves must have experienced. They had more guts than I ever did.

Hank Aaron to be Marquette University’s graduation speaker

Via an alumni newsletter I learned today that Hank Aaron will be the commencement speaker at Marquette University on May 20. Aaron is a wonderful choice for the Milwaukee campus, which this time of year is preoccupied with basketball.

Aaron spent much of his Hall-of-Fame career in Milwaukee with the Braves and even returned there for the Brewers in his last two playing seasons.

Here’s a quote from Marquette’s president in a mid-February news release:

“Mr. Aaron is a superb role model for our graduates, someone we are proud to present as an illustration of the principles of leadership and excellence that Marquette exemplifies,” said Father Scott R. Pilarz, S.J., Marquette University president. “While his contributions to baseball are unparalleled, more importantly, his work on behalf of racial equality and civil rights continue to help youth achieve their dreams.”

I had the great pleasure of being in a relatively small audience of newspaper editors to whom Aaron spoke in Miller Park a few months ahead of its opening in 2001. Although I can’t recall the details of what Aaron said, he impressed me with his sincerity and intensity as he recalled his career and the challenges he faced on and off the field.

Good for you, Hank Aaron, and ring out a hoya and an MU rah-rah for old Marquete.

 

First Albert Pujols, and now Prince Fielder bolt the National League

At this hour, it appears Prince Fielder will be skipping over Lake Michigan from Milwaukee to play with the Tigers in Detroit, and that has to be a bit worrisome for the National League.

Earlier this post-season, Albert Pujols bolted from the Cardinals to the Los Angeles Angels. If the Fielder deal comes through, that will mean that the top two sluggers in the NL have jumped to the AL.

With free agency, there are no doubt a zillion reasons athletes consider when deciding to sign with a particular team. With Pujols and Fielder – both slugging first sackers – I have to think that the designated hitter position in the AL was a factor, and possibly a significant one.

Even if their legs give out, they’ll be able to keep coming to the plate in the AL longer than they would in the NL. An American League team can offer a slugger the DL and thus stretch that multi-million dollar contract a bit longer.

Remembering the Milwaukee Brewers post-World Series parade of 1982

It probably was an omen. Over the weekend, I found in our garage an old cassette tape. Onto the cassette was dubbed a recording I made for The Associated Press radio network after the 1982 World Series, in which the Brewers lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games.

This year, the Brewers lost to the Cards in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series. There will be no welcome-home parade for the Brewers.

Back in ’82, I recorded the audio report — a “voicer,” as we called it in the AP — in downtown Milwaukee as the Brewers rolled along Wisconsin Avenue in antique cars. It was either one or two days after the series ended on Oct. 20.

Here’s a link to the audio, in which I do a fairly good job of disguising how teeth-chatteringly cold it was, probably in the low 40s.

I recorded this report while standing in the street,  microphone in hand and tape recorder slung over my shoulder. In the 30 seconds or so leading up to the cut, I have the “natural sound” of the crowd cheering. Just before this recording, you can hear a couple of people yell “Vuke” for pitcher Pete Vukovich.

At the end of the recording, there are two sign-offs: a generic one for use by radio stations, and an “AP Network News” version for use by the network.

After I made the recording, I headed back to the AP bureau to send it over a telephone line to AP’s radio network in Washington. I unscrewed the mouthpiece of the telephone and using alligator clips attached a line from the recorder into a couple of metal prongs in the handset. That was the analog way of doing things back then.

The kicker to the story is that after work, either I picked up my brother-in-law or he picked up me. I can’t remember which – but I do remember we had WBBM from Chicago on the car radio.

As the sportscast came on, to my delight and to my brother-in-law’s surprise, the announcer reported that there were World Series parades in Milwaukee and St. Louis that day — and then they played my audio.

That’s one of the high points of my career.

In which I erect a shrine to the Milwaukee Brewers in my backyard prior to Game 6 of the NLCS

All the neighbors thought Ray Kinsella crazy when he plowed down a couple of acres of prime corn land and built a baseball field for Shoeless Joe Jackson in Iowa. If they could see through the cypress trees, my neighbors would undoubtedly think the same today as I erected a backyard shrine to the Milwaukee Brewers.

Rich in symbolism, the shrine has deep significance as I observe 24 hours’ devotion prior to the first pitch tomorrow of Game 6 of the National League Championship Series against the St. Louis Cardinals.

I picked up the batting helmet at a Brewers game at Milwaukee County Stadium years ago. Same for the bucket hat atop the 12 pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon, reverently purchased this afternoon for my purification-by-hops ritual. In my grad school days at Marquette University, I lived in an apartment complex on Frederick Pabst’s old hops farm on the west edge of the city.

The blue ribbons adorning the bills of the batting helmet and the modern Brewers cap, purchased a few years ago at Miller Park, are authentic ribbons from old Pabst bottles that my wife found for me at an antique store in Milwaukee.

Will this shrine make a difference? Will the Brewers win Game 6 and play on to win in a dramatic Game 7 to advance to the World Series? I think that’s worth contemplating over another beer.

And the most valuable player in major league baseball, 2011, is ….

The Baseball Bloggers Alliance, of which I am a proud member, bestows its annual Stan Musial Award on the best player in baseball by a vote of the group’s members. This is my first year casting a ballot for what is the equivalent of the Major League Baseball most valuable player awards, and it’s a tall order.

How on earth does anyone decide who’s the best player in the game? I’m giving it a go here with equal parts direct observation at the ballpark, heavy doses of TV and radio broadcasts, reading, statistics, coin flips and gut-level calls.

1. Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers –  The leader of the Brew Crew, high average, monster slugging percentage,  33 home runs and 33 stolen bases. One heck of a year, edging out:

2. Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers – Best average in baseball, formidable power, 108 walks and the driving offensive force for the AL Central champs, edging out:

3. Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers – This guy led the National League in homers and RBIs on a Dodger team with an otherwise anemic offense. Amazing.

4. Jose Reyes, New York Mets – Even in an injury-shortened season, this guy did his job getting on base, stealing and generally pestering the heck out of pitchers.

5. Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays – Led the game in homers. Again.

6. Robinson Cano, New York Yankees – Best overall performance in pinstripes, just nudging out:

7. Curtis Granderson, New York Yankees – A fine all-around year.

8. Adrian Gonzalez, Boston Red Sox – Powerful season squandered by the team’s stretch drive collapse.

9. Michael Young, Texas Rangers – Great year at the plate.

10. Hunter Pence, Houston Astros/Philadelphia Phillies  – He made a big difference with the Phillies in the second half of the season.

Let the kvetching and bickering begin. I’m leaving off Albert Pujols, for goodness sake, all pitchers, Joey Votto and Alex Gordon and on and on.

 

Revenge is sweet: Brewers defeat Cardinals in Game 1 of the NLCS

Twenty-nine years I waited for today, when the Brewers defeated St. Louis in Game One of the National League Championship Series. I’ve rued the Brewers’ Game 7 loss to the Cardinals in the 1982 World Series all this time, and it was sweet for the Brew Crew to win on a glorious fall day in Milwaukee.

Yet my enthusiasm is tempered by memories of Game 1 of the ’82 series, when the Brewers pounded out 17 hits en route to a 10-0 thrashing of the Cards. St. Louis won the series, though, and I never put too much stock in any opening series victory.

The Cardinals have plenty of firepower and good arms. I don’t see either team steamrolling the other this year, any more than what happened in the 1982 series.

Who were the best relievers in baseball in 2011? Jose Valverde and J.J. Putz

The Baseball Bloggers Alliance gives the Goose Gossage award each year to the best relievers in baseball, and here’s my ballot. I have nominations for the American and National leagues.

American League

1. Jose Valverde, Detroit Tigers – The best in baseball in 2011 based on number of saves, and I think that’s an accurate reflection of his performance. He had no blown saves, and that cinches it for me.

2. Mariano Rivera, New York Yankees – An astonishing season for anyone, let alone a player of his age. His numbers are better than Valverde’s in many categories, but he had 5 blown saves.

3. Chris Perez, Cleveland Indians – After Valverde and Rivera, there’s a gap, and Perez is the next in line with 36 saves.

National League

1. J.J. Putz, Arizona Diamondbacks – Putz was third in the NL with 45 saves, one behind John Axford and Craig Kimbrel. I like his low WHIP and low total of just 12 walks. He added an added aura of invincibility to the D-Backs and I also saw him more than the others, so he gets my top tally.

2. John Axford, Milwaukee Brewers – Great numbers, with only 2 blown saves. Did his blowing the save in last night’s NLDS clincher lower his value in my book? No. I’m sticking with the regular season for my picks.

3. Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves – Monster numbers for a rookie, tying Axford with 46 saves and an astonishing 127 strikeouts with only 32 walks. Eight blown saves, though, but I won’t worry about them when I make him my first closer pick in next year’s fantasy draft.