Coaches Merit Hall Of Fame Plaques Too

LEO MAZZONE MAKES BRAVES HALL OF FAME AS COOPERSTOWN BECKONS

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Pregame Pepper

Did you know ...

Huge loss: Atlanta Braves revenue fell from $203 million in the third quarter of 2019 to $102 million in the third quarter of 2020 . . .

Bob Feller believed pitching a one-hitter was like being the second man to walk on the moon . . .

Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Lemon began his major-league career as a third baseman . . .

Ed Charles once caught a ball thrown off a train’s observation platform by Jackie Robinson.

Leading Off

Coaches, Scouts, and Agents All Deserve Spots in Baseball Hall of Fame

By Dan Schlossberg

Leo Mazzone is the first man elected to the Atlanta Braves Hall of Fame as a coach. The Baseball Hall of Fame should follow.

Along with manager Bobby Cox and pitcher John Smoltz, Mazzone wore a Braves uniform throughout the team’s record 14-year title streak (1991-2005, with 2004 off for bad behavior by greedy ballplayers).

That streak is the team equivalent of Cal Ripken Jr.’s consecutive games playing streak and is not likely to be exceeded. Even the loaded Los Angeles Dodgers, the current World Champions, have won just eight straight division crowns and face a serious challenge this year from the free-spending San Diego Padres.

Getting back to Mazzone, his charges won six Cy Young Awards in an eight-year span from 1991-98. Of course, it helps to have Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Smoltz as the Big Three of your starting rotation. They are the only trio of teammates together in the same rotation for at least a decade to reach Cooperstown.

On the other hand, the Hall of Fame has not been so welcoming to coaches, scouts, and player agents – just a few of the job categories unfairly excluded from the Cooperstown gallery.

Perhaps this year’s enshrinement of union leader Marvin Miller will change all that.

After going 0-for-7 at the hands of various veterans committees, Miller somehow survived his last vote, garnering the 75 percent required from the 16-member panel of writers, historians, and Hall of Famers who finally picked him.

It would be nice if Mazzone, 72, lives to see himself inducted, along with his personal mentor, Johnny Sain. That duo, who used to hold nightly confabs in a trailer when the Braves trained in West Palm Beach, has been overlooked for far too long, as has Dave Duncan, a catcher whose knowledge of pitching made him Tony La Russa’s right-hand man in several cities.

And how about scouts? Jim Russo, long-time superscout for the Baltimore Orioles, and Hugh Alexander come immediately to mind but there are dozens of others to consider.

Player agents like Scott Boras, immensely popular for enriching their clients but reviled for robbing team owners, should also have a place in the Hall of Fame. Boras may be a beast but he certainly influenced the game.

So did Charlie Finley, George Steinbrenner, and Ted Turner, three owners who should join a category that is thinly represented in Cooperstown. If Bill Veeck and Larry MacPhail are in, they should be joined by this trio of outspoken innovators.

Mazzone, to be installed with Braves legends Joe Adcock and Joe Torre after the 2021 season starts, pitched 10 years in the minors before becoming a minor-league manager. It was then that Hank Aaron discovered how well the pitching prospects at Kinston were doing – and how they avoided getting hurt.

Aaron, then farm director of the Braves, invited Mazzone to become an organizational pitching coach. He was also Mazzone’s biggest booster after Bobby Cox became general manager of the team in 1986.

“Bobby had a big meeting and was going to turn an offense-oriented organization into a pitching one,” Mazzone told David O’Brien of The Athletic. “Hank said that when I was a minor-league pitching coach, ‘Leo’s pitching staffs don’t get sore arms.’ Once he made that point, that’s when my stock rose.”

Like Aaron, Cox let Mazzone do his own thing – including rocking back and forth on the bench during games.

“I had no interference as to how I handled pitching staffs,” the outspoken coach said. “It was my job to take care of them, make sure they stayed healthy, and interact with them the way a pitching coach should.”

Thanks in large part to Mazzone, Maddux and Glavine both won 300 games and Smoltz became the first man with 200 wins and 150 saves.

It was Sain, in the Braves Hall of Fame as a pitcher, who instilled in Mazzone the idea to make pitchers throw twice between starts. Keeping the arms ready and loose was a remedy designed to keep them healthy. Except for Smoltz, whose elbow needed Tommy John surgery, the trio proved remarkably durable – to the consternation of Braves opponents.

It’s high time to honor the man responsible. Put Leo Mazzone in Cooperstown.

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ is Weekend Editor of HERE’S THE PITCH and baseball writer for forbes.com, Latino Sports, and USA TODAY Sports Weekly. His e.mail is ballauthor@gmail.com.

Cleaning Up

Being a Baseball Book Ghostwriter Has Its Ups and Downs

By Dan Schlossberg

During a baseball writing career that began in 1969, I have authored or co-authored more than three-dozen books — three of them as a ghostwriter for a baseball celebrity.

I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything in the world, except perhaps for a lasting peace between Major League Baseball and its Players Association.

Although the ghostwriter of an autobiography is usually anonymous, my memories of the experience will last for a lifetime. I’ve also made lifelong friends out of my three subjects, former player Ron Blomberg, former umpire Al Clark, and long-time broadcaster Milo Hamilton, who was still active in the booth of the Houston Astros throughout our joint project.

Not surprisingly, all three had outsized personalities and great stories to fit them.

Blomberg, for example, was billed as “the Jewish Mickey Mantle” when the Yankees made him the nation’s first amateur draft choice in 1967. He grew up in Atlanta, where his teammates were KKK members who left him alone because he was their best player. Later, he encountered anti-Semitism in the minors and also after he reached the Yankees. Although he was proud to be Jewish — and called our book Designated Hebrew after he became the first designated hitter — Blomberg was careful not to implicate players or managers he might run into during dinners or celebrity golf tournaments.

Like Blomberg, Clark was proud of his heritage as well. The first and only Jewish umpire hired by the American League, he told me he was more nervous trying to blow the shofar at his temple on the High Holidays than he was as an umpire in the World Series. Unlike Blomberg, Clark was quick to point out those who crossed him, including Denny McLain, Dick Williams, and Frank Robinson, among others. Clark had McLain suspended when both were in the American Association and shared a fine and reprimand after ejecting Robinson during the National Anthem. Details are contained in Called Out But Safe.

Hamilton, whose legendary broadcast career began with the St. Louis Browns in 1953, their last year, shared a booth with Harry Caray with the Cardinals and Cubs but had an adversarial relationship with him from the start. After Making Airwaves: 60 Years at Milo’s Microphone was published, Hamilton’s comments triggered a sports page newspaper war in both Chicago and Houston. Caray’s son Skip told me to be face that the book was “a pack of lies.”

Helping with the Milo book was a long-time friend and colleague Bob Ibach, former publicist and publications director of the Cubs. He was with the team when Milo made a habit of walking out of the broadcast booth and turning his back on Caray during the singing of “Take Me Out To The Ballgame.”

The best thing about these joint efforts was the fast friendships that formed. Blomberg and Clark went with me on several baseball theme cruises I organized, while Hamilton brought me into his condo, showed off his memorabilia collection, and introduced me to lobster bisque. Few people know this but Milo was a connoisseur and bon vivant who occasionally volunteered to be maitre d’ of fine restaurants in Houston.

Milo also let me “do an inning” with him during an Astros-Dodgers exhibition game in Kissimmee, where his favorite restaurant — no longer there — was Kissimmee Steak, not far from the Astros ballpark. My friend Howie Siegel, a Dodgers fan, said he heard it and enjoyed it.

Hamilton deserves his place of honor in the Baseball Hall of Fame, which is also home to the bat Blomberg used when he became the first DH on April 6, 1973. Milo won the Ford C. Frick Award, sometimes referred to as “the broadcast wing” of Cooperstown, for his long service. Though best known for calling Hank Aaron’s record-breaking home run on April 4, 1974, Hamilton worked for both St. Louis teams, both Chicago teams, and the Pittsburgh Pirates, as well as the Braves and Astros.

Clark was also steeped in baseball history. Not only did his father Herb work for The Trenton Times when I was Associated Press Sports Editor for New Jersey but he once had a catch with the legendary Moe Berg in his Ewing Township backyard. As I got to know Al, I realized he had an enormous heart — invariably going beyond the call to help people in his life. He loved animals too and had both a cat and a dog when I was a guest in his home in what he called “beautiful Colonial Williamsburg.”

Although Milo is no longer with us, I am grateful for the friendship of his son Mark, who lives in Atlanta and calls once in a while. Blomberg calls too, sometimes to invite me to join his podcast. And Clark and I exchange e.mails and Facebook messages on subjects ranging from baseball to politics but often just for laughs.

Someday soon, I hope to take on another ghostwriting project. But none could match the three I’ve already had.

Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ is Weekend Editor of HERE’S THE PITCH and contributor to forbes.com, Ball Nine, Sports Collectors Digest, USA TODAY Sports Weekly, and Latino Sports. He is also the author of The New Baseball Bible. Dan’s e.mail is ballauthor@gmail.com.

Timeless Trivia

The oldest living Hall of Famer is Willie Mays, born May 6, 1931 . . .

The four Hall of Famers elected by a one-vote margin are Willie Keeler, Al Simmons, Ralph Kiner, and Fergie Jenkins . . .

Three Hall of Famers initially missed election by two votes: Craig Biggio, Nellie Fox, Pie Traynor . . .

Fifty-seven players to Cooperstown were elected on their first try.


Know Your Editors

HERE’S THE PITCH is published daily except Sundays and holidays. Brian Harl [bchrom831@gmail.com] handles Monday and Tuesday editions, Elizabeth Muratore [nymfan97@gmail.com] does Wednesday and Thursday, and Dan Schlossberg [ballauthor@gmail.com] edits the weekend editions on Friday and Saturday. Readers are encouraged to contribute comments, articles, and letters to the editor. HTP reserves the right to edit for brevity, clarity, and good taste.

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