I regret having to deliver this to you as late as I have today. We had a birthday party that is just breaking up, and my pinch-hitter John William Greenbaum felt unwell and asked me to wait and write the column when possible, which is what I’m doing.
First off, the Brewers have finally moved shortstop Jean Segura. Every team that needed an upgrade at shortstop called Milwaukee inquiring about Segura. He’s off to the valley of the sun where Zack Greinke, Shelby Miller and a cast of thousands will try to edge the D-Backs past the Dodgers and into the postseason. Jean Carlos Enrique Segura of the Dominican Republic will turn 26 during spring training. After a brief stint with the Angels, he went to the Brewers in 2012 where he played until this season’s end. He was an All-Star in 2013.
The Royals have signed former Pirates outfielder Travis Snider to a minor league deal and will invite him to spring training. Snider will turn 28 Tuesday, and has served two hitches with the Pirates. A friend of mine owns a Travis Snider teddy bear. Yes, for the right price you can buy one of these things. He was a Blue Jays first-round pick out of high school in 2006. He spent more time in the minors than the majors with the Jays and has to be considered a bust for them. He went to the Pirates, Orioles and back to Pittsburgh in trades between 2012 and 2015.
Starting today’s birthdays is Joel Bennett, who is 46. The Red Sox drafted him in round 21 in 1991. The Binghamton native pitched for the New Britain Red Sox in 1994, the last year of their affiliation with the Old Town Team which had begun in Bristol, CT in the late ’60s. His 8+ ERA in two short cups of coffee in MLB are forgettable. What isn’t forgettable is a party his family threw for the BritSox on July 4, 1994. I won’t reveal what happened at the party here, since this is a family column but what I can remember of it will be told in my upcoming book “Baseball As I Saw It.” The party was major league all the way, that’s as much as I’ll say here.
Jim Willoughby is 69 today. My lasting memory of him is his pitching for the Red Sox in the 1975 World Series against the Reds. The bull pen was the glaring weakness of that otherwise excellent team.
Nolan Ryan is 69. The Mets tried for 5 years to make a star out of him, but it didn’t happen until they unloaded him to the Angels. 7 no-hitters later, Mets fans still shake their head over trading their future Hall of Famer from Alvin, Texas.
Another Hall of Famer, Mr. Cub Ernie Banks was born on this day in 1931 and passed away a year and 8 days ago. Again, what can be said about this shortstop and first baseman. Above all his playing accomplishments, he’s known for his love of the game and his saying “Let’s play two,” is a catch phrase among baseball fans the world over.
Yet another man enshrined in Cooperstown, Jack Roosevelt Robinson was born this day in 1919 and died far too young at 53 just after the 1972 World Series. The strain on him for breaking baseball’s color barrier is unimaginable even to somebody who broke down a barrier or two, as I did and as all users of Guide Dogs must do. He had to be better than all the rest, lest no other black player be allowed into the all-white men’s club that was 1940’s baseball. For his first two years Branch Rickey forbade him to fight, and when Robinson protested Mr. Rickey said “I need a man with the courage not to fight.” This Robinson showed, at a terrible personal cost. Beyond all the abuse and insults while he was playing, diabetes ravaged him in his final years and took him from this world at 53.
My pinch-hitter asked me to include two minor leaguers whose birthdays were today. I forgot one of the names entirely, and the other, a player named Juhrke (said GurrKey,) I never found. I apologize for this, John.
February 1, 2016
I didn’t remember the 1994 BritSox, so I looked them up. Bennett was their number three starter, 11-7 and 4.06. I do remember their number one starter, Tim Smith, only 6-14 but a really nice guy. Two hitters on that team really impressed me, Jose Malave and Matt Stairs.