Hi all. Here’s how I see baseball today. With exhibition games already happening, former Pirate slugger Pedro Alvarez probably had resigned himself to checking out the independent leagues if he wanted to play ball in 2016. But, like the cavalry in an old Lone Ranger episode, the Orioles came riding down the canyon and rescued Alvarez from the very brink of oblivion. Assuming he passes a physical, he’s got a job in Baltimore for 2016 as first baseman or DH. He hit 24 of his 27 home runs last year against righty pitchers, so you have to figure that’s who he will mostly face this year, as far as the Orioles can manage it. His best year was in 2013 when he hit 35 home runs. He’s never hit for average, which fewer hitters do now than ever before.
There may be an even bigger Yankee fan on the planet than I am this morning. His name is Landis Sims, from Elizabeth, Indiana-an unlikely place for a Yankee fan to hail from. Before I go a step further I wonder if he’s named for Judge Landis, the first Commissioner, or possibly Jim Landis, the White Sox outfielder on their 1959 World Series team. Landis Sims got a one-day contract to be a Yankee yesterday. He’s 10 years old, and was born with no hands and no legs from the knees down. He has two prosthetic legs, so you can’t tell him he hasn’t got a leg to stand on. He had visited Yankee camp 2 years ago, thanks to a family friend in Tampa. At that time, he met manager Joe Girardi. Finding out Sims was from Indiana, where basketball is more religeon than sport, Girardi talked with him about hoops as well as the Yankees. Now, after meeting Alex Rodriguez yesterday in Tampa, it’s back to fourth grade in freezing cold Indiana, the setting for the movie “A Christmas Story.” Next thing he’ll probably want a Red Rider BB gun! And since his mom was clever enough to find a way for him to hold a bat and throw a ball, he might be sighting down the barrel, aiming at Black Bart next Christmas morning.
As spring training goes forward, players will begin to talk about “deaths” in the family.
A player who gets cut from the team has died. It’s still a week or so until that starts happening, but I thought I’d mention it now. I learned that reading Jim Bouton’s book “Ball Four.” But more about that later.
Among today’s birthdays, One is for a star, though until recently he was nobody’s choice for a Hall of Famer. Dick Allen is 74 today. He was known as Richie Allen until somewhere in his White Sox career. From 1963 to 1969 he was Richie of the Phillies. He was an All-Star 7 times between 1965 and 1974. He was National League Rookie of the Year in 1964 when if the Phillies had a couple more pitchers they could have gone to the World Series. He was American League MVP in 1972, and led that league twice in home runs in 1972 and 1974. His Phillies years were particularly bad years for offense all over baseball, making what he did in that city the more remarkable. Very surprisingly, he only missed the Hall of Fame by one vote in 2014, the first time the veterans’ committee could have considered him. This was not a popular man in his day, even in the city where he worked. His scout, John Ogden who had pitched against Babe Ruth said Allen was the only man he saw hit one as hard as the Bambino. This was before the draft, so a scout’s word could make a player’s career without every team getting a shot at him. The fans booed him after a fight with teammate Frank Thomas (a white player) who was released the day after the fight. He was traded to St. Louis in the infamous Curt
Flood trade. Flood wouldn’t go to the Phillies. He sued baseball and lost, but the rest is history. After a year in Los Angeles in 1971, Allen went to the White Sox for Tommy John, and again the rest is history. Allen had his best years with the White Sox under Chuck Tanner. His career wound up in Oakland in 1977.
Tommy Pham is 28 today. He was a rookie last season who hit a home run on his first postseason atbat for the Cardinals against the Cubs. As good as they were, the cardinals couldn’t beat the Cubs in that series. He was a 16th-round draft choice out of high school in 2006. Barring the draft he might have gone to Arizona or Cal. State Fullerton. He lost most of 4 seasons to injury between 2010 and 2013.
Hall of Famer Jim Rice is 63 today. By the time his career ended in 1989 he had become a rarity-a man to play his full career with the same team, the Boston Red Sox. He’d been their first round draft choice in 1971 from high school in South Carolina. He was an All-Star 8 times. He was league MVP in 1978 though the Red Sox crashed and burned in September and lost the Bucky Dent game to the Yankees in early October. Above all, had Rice not injured his hand in September of 1975 the Red Sox would have had a far better shot at winning the World Series that year. He’s been a Red Sox employee since 1992 whether as a coach, instructional batting coach or commentator on NESN for Red Sox pre- and postgame shows.
Jim Bouton is 77 today. Nobody who has read many of these columns can doubt my admiration for Bouton and his book “Ball Four.” Called a myriad of bad names when it first came out, the book is tame compared to what you can hear on almost any sports talk radio show if you listen for, say a year. Up until 1970 when “Ball Four” was published too many books supposedly written by star athletes were ghost-written by journalists, were self-serving or both. Mickey Mantle’s book “Quality of Courage,” which was written when he was a player certainly left out a lot about the Mick that fans would have liked to know which would made him seem like a real human being. Even “The Babe Ruth Story,” which Ruth in fact actively worked on with writer Bob Considine when his health would let him, didn’t tell the funny stories concerning booze and women you could find in “Ball Four.” Much later, Mantle wrote an uproariously funny book confirming many of Bouton’s funny Mantle stories and adding plenty Bouton didn’t tell. But by then Bouton was persona non grata at Yankee Stadium and hated by many of baseball’s old guard. When it came out, Commissioner Bowie Kuhn called the book “Bad for baseball,” and tried to get it banned. It hadn’t been selling well up to that point but once Kuhn tried to ban it the sales went through the moon. Bouton has thanked the Commissioner for this fact in the many motivational speeches he has made since then. Bouton is now a resident of Massachusetts, ironically enough. Only the death of his daughter Laurie, at 31 in a car accident brought about an end to his banishment from Yankee Stadium. Even that might not have been enough if his adopted son David, a Korean by birth hadn’t written a letter that was published by the New York Times asking the Yankees to show his father an ounce of mercy. Ball Four’s success had come at a heavy price.0