Baseball on Boxing Day

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You wouldn’t think we’d need a special edition of this column on Boxing Day. You might think I’d write a piece for my boxing site, unless you knew that Boxing Day is nothing whatever to do with boxing matches. Rather, the name comes from the days when men went fox hunting.

There are enough baseball men celebrating birthdays on this day that they need a full column. Two are Hall of Famers-Carlton Fisk and Ozzie Smith. A few are active now and a number of men born today were historical footnotes worthy of a little space.

What can a Yankee fan say about Carlton Fisk? For starters, he’s 68 today. He was a legend in his own time. He and Thurman Munson could have been rivals for best catcher in the league if Munson hadn’t been killed in a plane crash at age 32.  As it was, “Pudge,” as Fisk was called got all the glory. A New Hampshire native, Carlton Ernest Fisk had a Sports Center moment like no other on October 21, 1975 in the last of the 12th at Fenway Park. The visual is even better than the plain fact, and for obvious reasons I’m a bit vague on the visual part.  He launched the game winning home run, and seemed to use his body to will the ball to stay fair and win the game. That moment should never have happened, according to doctors who reconstructed Fisk’s knee the year before. He had been told his career was over after a collision at the plate caused several torn knee ligaments. But Fisk was back in ’75 and the rest is history.

Following the 1980 season, he changed the color of his Sox from Red to White .  He  played out his career on the south side of Chicago, which according to a source isn’t really the baddest part of town as Jim Croce said of it. Fisk was Rookie of the Year in 1972, and an All-Star 11 times-the last being in 1991 at the advanced baseball age of 44. His contemporary Fritz Peterson says the following:

Happy Birthday to Carlton Fisk, who was a splendid and quite intense catcher during his Hall of Fame career with the Red Sox and White Sox. He was not especially popular with other plays – both on the Red Sox and throughout the league – and Yankee fans especially disliked him. Still, he was an incredible player behind the plate and in the batter’s box. His statistics bear that out. But to be clear, I would have never considered trading Thurman Munson for Pudge. Never.

Today’s other birthday Hall of Famer is Osborn Earl Smith, known as “Ozzie” or “The Wizard of Oz,” for his shortstop wizardry. He won 13 gold gloves and was an All-Star 15 times. He was an Alabama native whose family moved to Los Angeles, he began as a Padre but was traded to the Cardinals in 1982. Smith took over the TV show “This Week in Baseball,” in 1997 following the death of Mel Allen.

Among active players, Mike Minor is 28 today. I wonder if he has trouble buying booze because store owners won’t sell to a minor! lol The Braves took him in round 1, 7th overall in 2009 and he hasn’t pitched for anybody else. Pedro Alvarez of the Pirates and David Price of just about everybody played on his college team at Vanderbilt. Minor had a shoulder operation in May of this year, so his future is very much in doubt.

Omar Infante is 34. Very quietly he’s put up a .272 lifetime average and needs 5 hits to reach 1400. He’s been a member of the Tigers twice, once in 2012 when he seemed to always be on base as the Tigers beat the Yanks 4 straight. His Royals won the most recent World Series.

Jeff King is 51. He’s from Marion, Indiana so if I hadn’t spotted him our correspondent John William Greenbaum, who lives in Indiana would have done. King was drafted first overall by the Pirates in 1986.  He  was a Pirate in their good years 1989-92, and four of their losing years 1993-96. From there he went to Kansas City which at that time was also a team in decline. King, Willie McCovey and Andre Dawson are the only 3 men in MLB to hit  2 home runs in the same inning twice in their careers.

Mario Mendoza is 65. The native of Chihuahua, Mexico is famous for a not entirely accurate reason. The batting average .200 is called the Mendoza Line and no hitter wants to sink below it. However, Mendoza’s actual batting average was .215.  The Mendoza line is so well known among fans that if my weight or blood sugar gets above 200 (which they shouldn’t,) I can tell my baseball fan brother-in-law that I got above the Mendoza Line. Mario Mendoza started an NLCS game in 1974 when the Pirates played the Dodgers. They lost that series and he was never again on a playoff team. He said the Mendoza line term was coined by two of his 1979 Mariners teammates teasing him about his average. George Brett heard the joking, used the line on an ESPN interview, Chris Berman heard the interview and the snowball rolled down the mountain.

Chris Chamblis is 67. He hit a home run that is as iconic to Yankee fans of a certain age as Carlton Fisk’s 1975 World Series shot. The 1996-2001 Yankees hit their share of iconic home runs, but when Chamblis hit his, in game 5 of the 1976 ALCS the Yankees officially came out of their 11-year coma. With the game tied 6-6 Chamblis won it and put his team in the World Series. Carroll Christopher Chamblis of Dayton, Ohio won 6 World Series rings with the Yankees. Two were as a player in 1977 and 1978, four more as a hitting coach between 1996 and 2000. Happy birthday to all.  I hope everybody’s Christmas was memorable.

After this piece was published, correspondent Jeremy Scott informed me of the passing of former Cincinnati Reds’ pitcher Jim O’Toole. James Jerome O’Toole of Chicago played his college ball at University of Wisconsin, home of one of the more memorable college fight songs around. With the Reds, 4 times he approached 20 wins, reaching 19 in 1961 on a staff with Jim Maloney and Jim Brosnan. Baseball players being who they are, I’m sure the team had nicknames for the 3 Jims. His one World Series was in 1961, where Whitey Ford beat him twice as the Reds lost in 5. His one Allstar game was two years later in Kansas City where he was the starter. His final year was in 1967 with the White Sox, where again his team had a chance but failed to make the World Series. RIP Jim O’Toole.

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