The American League’s Jackie Robinson

The American League’s Jackie Robinson

We all know the name Jackie Robinson, but do you know who arrived in the big leagues shortly after him? He would be Larry Doby, Major League Baseball’s second African American player.

Like Robinson, Doby’s contract was bought from the Negro Leagues’ Newark Eagles. Doby played under the alias “Larry Walker” in the Negro Leagues because he was still in high school when he debuted. Cleveland Indians’ owner Bill Veeck wanted to integrate baseball in 1942 but was denied by Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis. It wasn’t until Happy Chandler took over that Robinson and Doby were signed.

The Indians bought Doby from the Eagles for $15,000, making him the first African American player in the American League. Veeck saw Doby as someone who could control his emotions on the field while being a feared bat in Cleveland’s lineup.

Veeck’s strategy after signing Doby was quite interesting. Instead of bringing Doby up through Cleveland’s minor league system, Veeck let Doby keep playing in Newark until the time was right. The end goal was for Doby to one day show up on the field with his Indians teammates with little warning.

Doby made his debut for the Indians on July 5, 1947 against the White Sox in Chicago, less than three months after Robinson debuted. Not in the starting lineup, Doby debuted as a pinch hitter and struck out. It was what happened before the game that was more notable.

Many of Doby’s teammates did not give him a warm welcome. “I walked down that line, stuck out my hand, and very few hands came back in return. Most of the ones that did were cold-fish handshakes, along with a look that said, ‘You don’t belong here,” Doby recalled.

It was not until second baseman Joe Gordon offered to play catch with Doby during warmups that Doby was finally treated like a member of the team. Wouldn’t you know it, Gordon and Doby ended up becoming very close friends.

Doby was primarily a second baseman and shortstop, positions occupied by Gordon and player-manager Lou Boudreau. As a result, Doby wound up at first base for his first career start on July 6 without a first baseman’s mitt. Multiple teammates denied Doby’s request to borrow a glove, including regular first baseman Eddie Robinson. Robinson only gave Doby his glove after being convinced by Indians personnel.

As for the game, 31,566 were in attendance at Comiskey Park with roughly 30% of the crowd black. For perspective, Comiskey Park averaged 11,315 fans per game in 1947. He was booed and mistreated, but Doby went 1-4 with an RBI as the Indians took down the White Sox 5-1.

With Gordon and Boudreau patrolling the middle infield, it was Doby’s only start of the season. Doby would get no more than two plate appearances in any game the rest of the season while occasionally coming in midgame to replace Gordon or Boudreau.

Aside from baseball, Doby was often booed and faced many challenges like Jackie Robinson. “You didn’t hear much about what I was going through because the media didn’t want to repeat the same story.” Doby said. Except it was not the same story entirely. Playing in the American League, Doby integrated all the American League parks Robinson did not play in. Robinson only played at an American League field during the World Series.

Along with racial slurs and death threats, Doby was also treated harshly on the field. The worst incident Doby recalled was while sliding into second base, the opposing shortstop spat tobacco juice on him. Despite the grief, Doby handled himself with class and dignity.

“I couldn’t react to prejudicial situations from a physical standpoint. My reaction was to hit the ball as far as I could.” Doby did exactly that in 1948, hitting .301 with 14 homers and 66 RBI as he became Cleveland’s starting center fielder. The Indians finished as the top team in baseball with a 97-58 record en route to a World Series matchup with the Boston Braves.

It was Doby who once again hit the ball as far as he could. In Game 4 with the Indians leading the series 2-1, Doby became the first African American player to homer in a World Series game. His 420-foot blast off Braves’ Johnny Sain turned out to be the game winner in Cleveland’s 2-1 victory to grab a 3-1 series lead.

The Indians would go on to capture the title in six games, as Doby also became the first African American player to win a World Series.

Doby only progressed in 1949 by starting a run of seven straight All-Star appearances. In 1949, Doby was part of the quartet that became baseball’s first African American All-Stars. The quartet included Jackie Robinson, Don Newcombe, and Roy Campanella.

During the prime of his career from 1949-1955, Doby averaged 27 home runs and 95 RBI with a .286 average. His best offensive years during that stretch were ‘52 and ‘54, where he led the majors in home runs with 32 each year. Doby also led the league in RBI in ‘54 with 126. Doby never won a Gold Glove but was named baseball’s top center fielder in 1950 by Sporting News over players like Joe DiMaggio and Duke Snider.

After his playing days, Doby looked to get into coaching. Once again, Doby was the second man. With the Indians in search of a new manager, Doby was looking to become the first African American manager in the history of the Major Leagues. This time, it was Frank Robinson. The Indians hired Robinson in 1975 while Doby was hired by the White Sox in 1978.

Doby does not have a day where everyone in baseball wears his number 14, or have his number retired across the league, but Doby had the utmost respect for Jackie Robinson. Even though Jackie gets all the credit, Doby never took a jab at him.

He is the forgotten pioneer of baseball. Doby is not given nearly enough credit for doing the same courageous act Robinson did. Doby really was the Robin to Jackie’s Batman in fighting racial inequality in baseball.
Remembering Shea Stadium’s Blackout

Remembering Shea Stadium’s Blackout

Photo credit: Vice.com

There were many dark days for the 1977 Mets, who finished 64-98, with perhaps the darkest day coming on July 13. On a Wednesday evening at Shea against the Cubs, the ballpark and New York City blacked out.

After multiple lightning strikes in the area, Shea blacked out in the bottom of the sixth with Chicago leading 2-1. Mets’ leadoff man Lenny Randle was at the plate when the lights went out, “I thought it was my last day on Earth. I thought God was calling.” Randle recalled.

A native of Compton, California, Randle was used to playing ball in the dark. As the lights went out, Randle swung at the pitch out of instinct and started running after making contact. Running towards second as if the game was still happening, Randle was tackled by Cubs infielders Manny Trillo and Ivan de Jesus.

As the power was going out, Ralph Kiner and Lindsey Nelson were on the radio call for the Mets.

With the game on halt, the Mets were not going to let the 14,626 fans in attendance go bored or hungry. Vendors started handing out free hot dogs, sodas, and ice cream because they would have spoiled in the freezer without power.

Fans had no reason to leave because the subways were not working, and it was obviously dark. Players entertained fans by putting on a light show. What lights could the players possibly have though? Their car headlights!

Mets players went to the players’ parking lot and drove their cars in through the bullpen gate. They just had to be careful of one thing in the bullpen – bullpen coach Joe Pignatano’s tomato garden! Why would a bullpen coach have a tomato garden? In 1969, Pignatano found a wild tomato plant in the bullpen and took care of it the rest of the season. After the Mets won the World Series that season, Pignatano decided to keep the plant around because he saw it as the Mets’ good luck charm.

Photo credit: Ballpark Digest

After avoiding Pignatano’s precious plant, the Mets drove their cars onto the field and dimly lit the infield. The entertainment did not stop there though.

Infielders Doug Flynn, Bobby Valentine, John Stearns, and the aforementioned Lenny Randle took fake infield practice. Without a ball, the infielders entertained fans by pretending to make diving stops and turning stylish double plays with a little extra panache.

Before the fans figured out their respective ways home, Mets players stuck around to sign autographs for the Shea faithful. That is what baseball is truly all about.

As for the power outage, it was restored 25 hours later, but the game was not resumed until September 16. After tying the game in the bottom of the seventh, Jerry Koosman, who originally started the game back in July, gave up two runs in the eighth and took the loss as the Mets went down 5-2.

But see, stories like this are what makes baseball so great. While New York City was blacked out with looting, arson, and violence going on all over the place, 14,626 were at Shea Stadium watching Mets players put on light shows and flashy infield performances all while eating free food.

Bang, Zoom Goes Charlie Slowes

Bang, Zoom Goes Charlie Slowes

(photo credits: Washington Post)

It did not happen overnight for Charlie Slowes. The kid born in the Bronx didn’t just wave a magic wand to become the radio voice of the Washington Nationals. No, Slowes worked very hard from a very young age to get where he is today.
Slowes’ first broadcasting experience came as a teenager when he would go to Mets, Knicks, Islanders, etc. games and sit in an empty section to record himself calling the game. As a senior at Roosevelt High School in Yonkers, New York, Slowes gained experience working his school’s football games in the first televised events form that city.
For college, Slowes attended Fordham University where he was a central part of Fordham’s school owned, student run, 50,000-watt FM radio station, WFUV, 90.7 FM. With WFUV, Slowes was a regular on daily sportscasts, weekly sports talk shows, and he was able to do play-by-play for baseball, basketball, football, hockey, and soccer. A jack of all trades, he also wrote professionally for the Gannett Westchester Newspapers, covering high school and college sports.
Even when Slowes was not on the call for Fordham radio, he would still find time to practice his play-by-play skills. As long as he had a credential for a college or big-league sporting event, Slowes would find an empty booth in the press box and record himself.
While Slowes’ road to a major league booth was looking good, when was he going to get his big break? That break came one Sunday afternoon in Manhattan at the Loew’s Summit Hotel. With the St. Louis Blues slated to take on the Rangers at Madison Square Garden that night, a mutual friend introduced Slowes to legendary coach and General Manager Emile Francis.
With a golden opportunity in front of him, Slowes gave Francis his broadcasting tapes. Continuing the domino effect, Francis passed the tapes on to Blues’ play-by-play broadcaster Dan Kelly. Like a game of hot potato, Kelly passed Slowes’ tapes on to KMOX Radio in St. Louis.
KMOX liked what they heard, as they gave Slowes a free-lancing job where he covered games in New York. Slowes’ hard work paid off in 1984 when a spot at KMOX opened and he was given the position. While working in St. Louis, Slowes did sportscasts and talk shows. In his spare time, he attended multiple Blues and Cardinals games and continued his tradition of recording himself call games in empty booths.
Slowes got his first crack at professional broadcasting when he was a fill-in color commentator for the Blues. Being in St. Louis was Slowes’ second break. With the Oakland Athletics scheduled to play the Royals in Kansas City, Slowes was called into emergency duty on the CBS Radio Game of the Week.
Yankees’ broadcaster Bill White was supposed to be John Rooney’s color man that night, but White stayed in Toronto after the Yankees beat the Blue Jays to pull within two games of first place with two games remaining. Thus, it became Slowes’ time to shine as he and Rooney rotated play-by-play that night at Royals Stadium.
While in St. Louis in the spring of 1986, Slowes was offered the play-by-play job for the Tidewater Tides, the New York Mets Triple A affiliate. It did not take Slowes long to get an offer from a big-league team. Six weeks into the Tides job, Slowes was offered the opportunity to do play-by-play for the NBA’s Washington Bullets, a stint that would cover 11 seasons. During that time, Slowes earned the opportunity to do an NBC Game of the Week in 1988, and he also did freelance work for ESPN and Westwood One.
Slowes returned to his first love, baseball, in 1998 when he was named an original radio voice of the expansion Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Slowes teamed up with Paul Olden for the Devil Rays’ first seven seasons.
Slowes returned to our nation’s capital as did baseball in 2005 when the Montreal Expos moved to Washington and were re-named the Nationals. Along with his partner Dave Jageler, Slowes is a staple on 106.7 The Fan for Nationals games with his “Bang, zoom goes (player’s name)!” home run call and “A Curly W is in the books!” after Nationals victories.
Even as the radio voice of the Nationals, Slowes’ journey in the broadcasting field has seemed to always lead him to be in the right place at the right time. In 2018 Spring Training, Capitals’ radio play-by-play man John Walton was away in South Korea calling women’s hockey at the Winter Olympics.
The ultimate coincidence, the Capitals happened to be playing the Panthers in Sunrise, only an hour away from the Nationals’ spring training home in West Palm Beach. So, it was Slowes who spent a night at BB&T Center calling an NHL game, the sport that helped jumpstart his career. Washington ended up taking an ugly 3-2 loss that night, but they went on to win their first Stanley Cup that spring. Slowes jokingly said he is still waiting for his Stanley Cup ring due to his one-night appearance on Capitals radio.
Slowes did not have to wait much longer for a championship ring though. He was on the call for the Nationals’ magical ride to their first World Series title this past season. Heading into Game 7 at Minute Maid Park, Slowes kept a positive attitude. “I had a call if they won, but not if they lost. I wasn’t thinking about that.”
With Washington leading 6-2 in the bottom of the ninth, Slowes knew it was time to get his call ready. “When Altuve struck out on three pitches you kind of knew it was coming. The Astros looked dead; the ballpark was dead. I felt it coming, I just wanted to make sure it was something people could understand and something that would mark the moment.”
Slowes surely did not swing and miss with his championship call.
As a World Series champion broadcaster, Charlie Slowes knows getting into the broadcasting field takes a lot of hard work and a little bit of luck. But at the end of the day, it was Charlie Slowes’ fight to finish, and he certainly did.
The Other Manning Brother

The Other Manning Brother

As Father’s Day came and went on June 21, we saw a lot of dad talk on social media. In the NFL world, Eli Manning being Tom Brady’s dad was probably the number one hit, and rightfully so. But let’s steer away from dads for a minute and talk about brothers. Who is Eli’s brother not named Peyton? He would be Cooper Manning.
Both Peyton and Eli were stars in the NFL, so why not Cooper? Did he not like football? Cooper in fact loved football as much as his brothers growing up and played for Isadore Newman High School as a wide receiver.
Before Odell Beckham Jr., there was Cooper Manning at Newman. Standing at 6’ 4”, Cooper set school receiving records including a 1,000-yard season in his senior campaign. You will never guess who quarterbacked Newman that year, Peyton Manning.
But where did everything go wrong? Well, many of us New Yorkers are all too familiar with the condition spinal stenosis because of David Wright. Lo and behold, spinal stenosis took down Cooper’s career as well. Except Cooper had his career ended before it even started.
Set to begin his college career at Ole Miss, alma mater of dad Archie and later brother Eli, Cooper was diagnosed with spinal stenosis the summer before freshman year. He put his football career to an end immediately as he would have been paralyzed if tackled the wrong way.
Football or no football, Cooper still had to undergo two surgeries for his narrowing spine. Manning had to learn how to walk again after the surgeries and dealt with a blood clot near his spinal cord along the way.
While it is terrible Cooper never achieved his NFL dream like his dad and brothers, the oldest Manning brother has made quite the living for himself. Manning is the Principal and Senior Managing Director of investor relations at AJ Capital Partners. The company deals with developing new hotels and restoring old ones primarily in the Chicago area.
In the sports world, Cooper is the host of The Manning Hour on Fox NFL Kickoff. Manning interviews and puts on skits with current and former NFL players, including his brother Peyton. I highly recommend watching more of his clips.
Cooper sadly never got the chance to become the football legend his dad and brothers are, but one part of his football days will live forever in Canton. His number 18, which Cooper wore while playing at Newman. Did you ever wonder why Peyton wore 18 during his career? Peyton donned 18 to pay homage to his older brother who had his NFL dreams taken away. When Peyton’s enshrinement day in Canton comes along, he will have Cooper’s number 18 engraved on his plaque.
On a positive note, Cooper is looking like the Manning brother who will be the father of the next Manning quarterback in the NFL. His son Arch Manning threw for 2,438 yards and 34 touchdowns as a freshman on Newman’s varsity team this past year. Arch has received visits and scholarship offers from schools like Ole Miss, LSU, Tennessee, and many more. Imagine if Arch’s decision comes down to Ole Miss or Tennessee. Oh, how I’d love to be a fly on the wall for those family dinner discussions.
Do you Remember Dave Stieb?

Do you Remember Dave Stieb?

When you think of pitchers that ruled the 1980s and early 90s, names like Dwight Gooden, Jack Morris, and Orel Hershiser probably come to mind. Very quietly north of the border, Dave Stieb had a run of success in his own right.

The Blue Jays amazingly enough almost whiffed on drafting Stieb. Toronto scouted the righty at a varsity game as an outfield prospect. It was not until Stieb came into the game as a reliever that the Blue Jays were impressed and drafted him.

Stieb debuted for the Blue Jays in 1979, in hopes of helping bring the third-year franchise into relevance. In ‘77 and ‘78, Toronto won 54 and 59 games respectively. Stieb finished his rookie 8-8, a respectable start to his career. To show how tough times were in Toronto, Stieb’s eight wins tied for second on the starting staff.

As the calendar turned to 1980, Stieb began his 11-year run of excellence. From 1980-1990, the righty won 158 games while pitching to a 3.33 ERA. Six out of those 11 years Stieb won 16+ games. Stieb was selected to the All-Star team seven out of those 11 years, twice being named the American League’s starting pitcher in ‘83 and ‘84.

Along with Stieb’s success on the mound came an emerging Blue Jays squad. After back-to-back 89-73 second place finishes in ‘83 and ‘84, Toronto made its first ever trip to the playoffs in ‘85. Led by ace and 14-game winner Dave Stieb, the Blue Jays made it all the way to game seven of the ALCS before losing to the eventual champion Royals.

Despite all the victories, Stieb’s multiple near misses at baseball immortality are most eye-popping. Between 1985-89, Stieb had three no-hitters and a perfect game broken up in the ninth inning. Two of the lost no-hitters came in back-to-back starts against the Indians and Orioles on September 24 and 30, 1988. Both attempts were broken up with Stieb one strike away from becoming the first Blue Jay to toss a no-no.

Less than a year later on August 4, 1989, Stieb nearly became the 13th pitcher to pitch a perfect game. One out away from pitching himself into baseball lore, Stieb gave up a double to Yankees’ center fielder Roberto Kelly.

After coming close so many times, Stieb finally finished the deal on September 2, 1990. Facing the Indians once again, Stieb in his fifth attempt became the first Blue Jay to pitch a no-hitter in a 3-0 Toronto win at Cleveland Stadium. His no-hitter is still the only one in franchise history to date.

The injury bug bit Stieb after 1990, forcing him to have his role diminished as a starter. As the franchise’s best pitcher declined, the Blue Jays stepped up. Toronto captured its first World Series title in 1992 with Stieb as the fifth starter. Thanks to injuries, Stieb only started 14 games with his final appearance coming on August 8. Despite his season ending early, the Blue Jays rightfully awarded Stieb a World Series ring.

Every franchise at one time or another had “the guy” that put his team on the map. Tom Seaver was “the guy” for the Mets, Tony Gwynn was “the guy” for the Padres, and Dave Stieb was “the guy” for the Blue Jays. Don’t get me wrong Stieb is no Seaver, but his ability to help bring the Blue Jays out of the black hole of irrelevance should be cherished in Toronto for years to come.