Two Very Special Birthdays Today

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Happy Friday all.  Eric O’Flaherty recently celebrated a birthday, and now he has another cause to be happy, if not celebrating. He may not be singing the Miracles’ song “Got a Job,” but at least he has a chance. He’ll be in Pirates camp in Bradenton, Florida next week instead of studying the want ads. Who would have thought Eric O’Flaherty would be claimed before Giovanni Gallardo, Ian Desmond or Dexter Fowler? The first two are at least being considered, while nobody at all seems to be in the market for Fowler or Tim Lincicum.
As for today’s birthdays, Todd Frazier is 30 today. Born in Point Pleasant, New Jersey he has played for the Reds up to now. This spring he’ll join the White Sox after a trade this winter. My highlight reel moment for him came this past September during a series where the Mets swept 4 from the Reds. Frazier struck out and Mets announcer Josh Lewin said, “Strike 3 and down goes … the third baseman for the Reds.” I could hear him wanting to break into the Howard Cosell bit “Down goes Frazier. Down goes Frazier,” that any boxing nut can do in his sleep. As a lad of 12, Frazier played for the Toms River Little League team which shocked the world by winning the championship over the heavily favored Japanese entry. He played shortstop and pitched for the Jersey squad. The Reds drafted him after he played college ball at Rutgers. He’s been an All-Star the last two seasons and won the 2015 Home Run Derby, which was staged at his home ball park in Cincinnati. He still lives in Jersey in the off-season and has Frank Sinatra music play as he steps to home plate.
Don Stanhouse is 65 today. I might have overlooked him but for two facts. He gets frequent mentions in Mike Shropshire’s excellent baseball book “Seasons in Hell,” about the 1973-75 Texas Rangers. stanhouse was on that highly unsuccessful team in 1973 and 1974. The second fact is his nickname, “Full Pack,” because when he was closer for the Orioles it was said Earl Weaver needed to smoke a full pack of cigarettes to cope with the stress caused by him walking batters. No matter how many heart palpitations he caused his boss, Stanhouse put up 45 saves between 1978 and 1979. He was an All-Star in 1979 and was closer on the league champion Orioles who barely lost to the Pirates in the World Series. He would do goofy stunts during batting practice, so his teammates called him “Stan the Man Unusual.” He now lives in Texas, where his major league career began.
Lenny Randle is 67 today. He played for Arizona State when they won the college World Series in 1969 and was a first-round choice of the Washington Senators a year later. He made his debut with the Senators before they moved to Texas and became the Rangers. He wouldn’t be mentioned here except for an incident on March 28, 1977 in spring training. Acting like the character Lenny from John Steinbeck’s novel “Of Mice and Men,” this Lenny punched his boss, Rangers manager Frank Lucchesi in the face. The manager’s cheekbone was broken in 3 places requiring plastic surgery and a week-long stay in the hospital. Punching his boss wasn’t a guarantee Lenny would stay in Texas. He was traded to the equally hapless Mets. On July 13, 1977 he happened to be at the plate when
the lights all went out in New York City. (or was it Massachusetts? Sorry, old song reference. I couldn’t help it.)  The city was blacked out for more than a day and the incident is still remembered all these years later for the barrage of looting it caused.  Randle  had the year of his life in 1977 hitting .304. He never approached those heights again. With no MLB jobs in 1983 he became the first American player to play baseball in Italy where he hit .477 winning their batting title.
Don Wilson was born this day in 1945 and died in 1975. This wasn’t the Don Wilson who was the jovial Jell-o giant on the Jack Benny show. This Don Wilson was a pitcher with terrific stuff who met a tragic end. He pitched for the Astros as early as 1966 and exclusively until his death. He was an All-Star in 1971 and tossed two no-hitters. One was in 1967, the first indoor no-hitter ever. At the AstroDome he struck out 15 men in that nono including Hank Aaron for the final out. The other was on May 1, 1969 at Crosley Field. The night before, Jim Maloney had no-hit the Astros. Wilson would return the favor. His final game was a 2-hitter over the Braves. He died the following January, in his car with the engine running in the garage. The garage was attached to the house, allowing deadly carbon monoxide fumes to get into the house, killing his son Alex and causing his wife and daughter to be hospitalized. The deaths were ruled accidental.
Pat Dobson was born this day in 1942 and died in 2006. He was one of the 4 20-game winners on the 1971 Orioles, along with Jim Palmer, Mike Cuellar and Dave McNally. Of the 4, he’s the only one with a sub-.500 record, 122-129. He was part of the 1968 World Series winning Tigers. He won 19 games as a Yankee in 1974, which was as close as he would get to winning 20 again.
Joe Garagiola is 90 today.  Like Bob Uecker, Garagiola isn’t exactly known for his play, but for his work behind the mike. He and Yogi Berra grew up together in St. Louis.  Joe’s batting average of .257 was better than Uecker’s .200 but both joke a lot about their abilities. I heard Joe say on game 3 of the 1975 World Series that when he played he would get a take sign on a 3 and 2 count.  He started broadcasting with Harry Caray and Jack Buck in St. Louis. He started doing NB TV games with Bob Wolf in 1961, and did 4 World Series from  1962-65 working beside George Kell, Ernie Harwell and By Saam. Joe called 3 years of Yankee games from 1965-67 and got to call Mickey Mantle’s 500th home run. He joined NBC again in 1974 and did his last radio World Series in 1975 with Marty Brenaman and Ned Martin. He did TV after that with Tony Kubek. His last TV World Series was in 1988. He reached the Hall of Fame in 1991, winning the Ford C. Frick award. On a personal note, after the 1991 season my broadcast partner and I decided to send a questionaire and a blank cassette tape to a number of baseball luminaries, and see how many sent  back the tapes with their answers.  Joe Garagiola is on the short list of men who answered our questions on tape. The highlight of that recording was him saying “At my age, I feel like I’m 2 runs ahead if I wake up in the morning.” And that was in 1991, when he was 65.

Dominic DiMaggio was born this day in 1917 and passed in 2009. I have a special Dom DiMaggio moment to recount as well. Rather than answering our questions on tape, he permitted me to call him and interview him by phone.  What I remember most is him telling me he was one of the first batters to wear glasses in major league baseball. The glasses led to his nickname “The Little Professor,” and if I may add, when we talked his style was formal as a professor’s would be. I felt honored to speak to him.

Dom as he was called played for the Red Sox his entire career. As his brother Joe did, Dom served 3 years in the Navy during World War II. Dom was an All-Star 9 times and once led his league in steals. He had a 34-game hitting streak in 1949 and no Red Sox player has matched or bettered that mark since. At that time, when Boston fans still sang, they had a ditty for Dom, sung to the tune of Maryland my Maryland. It went:

“He’s better than his brother Joe,

Dominic DiMaggio.”

  On days when this column does not appear, short pieces are written in the Facebook group called Baseball As I See It.  All are welcome to join.

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