Happy Birthday To Baseball Lifer Bob Boone

ALSO: REVISING BRAVES BOOK INDEX BRINGS BACK MEMORIES

IBWAA members love to write about baseball. So much so, we've decided to create our own newsletter about it! Subscribe to Here's the Pitch to expand your love of baseball, discover new voices, and support independent writing. Original content six days a week, straight to your inbox and straight from the hearts of baseball fans.

Pregame Pepper

Did You Know?

Austin Riley led both leagues in 2021 with 75 two-strike hits . . .

Atlanta teammate Adam Duvall hit .368 with two outs and men in scoring position, helping him lead the NL with 113 runs batted in . . .

Much-coveted free-agent center-fielder Starling Marte not only had a career-best .381 on-base percentage last season but also had a 90.4 per cent success rate in stolen bases, compared to a league-wide average of 76 per cent . . .

The Yankees need to move soon to extend the contract of slugging outfielder Aaron Judge, the 30-year-old slugger who is entering his walk year . . .

Proving how tough it is to repeat, the last National League team with back-to-back world championships was the Big Red Machine of 1976-77.

Leading Off

Remembering Bob Boone, part of a great baseball legacy

By Matthew Veasey (@matthewveasey)

When talking about the great catchers of the 1970s-1980’s, the conversation is likely to highlight a quartet of backstops from that era: Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk, Gary Carter, and Ted Simmons. But there is another, perhaps not so much Hall of Fame caliber as those, who rightly belongs as part of the discussion.

At some point today, Bob Boone will blow out candles and/or raise a glass in celebration of his 74th birthday. Boone enjoyed a 19-year playing career that lasted from 1972-90. His family history in the game began well before that, has lasted well after, and makes for one of the greatest multi-generational stories in the history of Major League Baseball.

Bob Boone was born on November 19, 1947 in San Diego, California. His parents, Ray Boone and Patsy Brown, were both born and raised there. Ray was a shortstop and catcher in the Cleveland Indians minor-league system at the time, so Bob was literally born into baseball.

Ray would debut in Cleveland the following year, playing his first half-dozen big-league games under player-manager Lou Boudreau and winning a ring with the World Series champion Indians. Ray Boone only received one plate appearance in that Fall Classic, striking out as a pinch-hitter against future Hall of Famer Warren Spahn. Ray would play 13 seasons with six organizations and was named as an American League All-Star while with Detroit in both 1954 and 1956, also receiving MVP votes on three occasions.

In mid-September of 1960, Ray was released by the Boston Red Sox, bringing his playing career to an end at age 37. While recuperating from back surgery, he was watching a game on television with Bosox owner Tom Yawkey, who was so impressed with Ray’s observations that he hired the former player as a scout, a role that Ray would hold for the next 32 seasons with Boston.

In 1986, Ray Boone would prove instrumental in finding and signing Boston’s second-round draft pick, a pitcher who would finally make his mark in Boston some 18 years later by the name of Curt Schilling.

While Ray’s career ended in the ‘60s, his son Bob’s was just beginning. After playing at Crawford High School in San Diego, Bob moved on to play college ball at Stanford. In 1969, the Philadelphia Phillies made him their sixth-round choice in the June amateur draft.

Originally signed as a third baseman, Bob began his conversion to the catching position in 1971 while with the Philadelphia Phillies’ Double-A affiliate at Reading, Pennsylvania. The Phillies had drafted a talented player from Ohio University named Mike Schmidt, and already had a group of young infielders that included Larry Bowa, Don Money, and John Vukovich.

The move would prove to be rewarding for both the player and the organization. Bob became one of the top defensive catchers in the history of the game over the next two decades. After debuting with the Phillies for a cup of coffee in 1972, he would become the starting catcher through 1981. Over that decade, Boone was a National League All-Star three times, won two NL Gold Glove Awards, and was a key member of five playoff teams, including the 1980 World Series champions. In 2005, he was added to the Phillies’ Wall of Fame.

While Bob was developing into an All-Star, his younger brother Rod was drafted by the Kansas City Royals out of Stanford in June 1972. Rod would play four seasons in minor-league baseball, reaching as high as the Triple-A level in the Houston Astros organization, before hanging up his spikes at age 25.

Feeling that Bob was aging and that they had other options, the Phillies sold Boone’s contract to the California Angels in December 1981. Boone would prove to be far from washed up.

He would go on to play nine more seasons, seven with the Angels and a final two with the Kansas City Royals. Boone was a 1983 AL All-Star with California and added five more Gold Gloves to his trophy case, including four straight from 1986-89. He finally retired after the 1990 season in Kansas City at age 42.

Bob also served two stints as a big-league manager. He went 181-206 as skipper of the Royals from 1995 through the first half of the 1997 season, then 190-238 while guiding the Cincinnati Reds from 2001 through much of the 2003 campaign.

Bob and his wife Sue were high school sweethearts who went on to have three sons: Bret, Aaron, and Matthew. “There was one year when Bret was at USC, Aaron was in high school, Matthew was in junior-high school and they were all playing ball along with Bob, and sometimes there would be 18 games in a week,” Sue recalled in a 2018 article by Dean Balsimini for the New York Post. “If I missed any game at all, it was Bob’s, because I could listen on the radio.

Both Bret and Aaron would follow in their grandfather Ray and father Bob’s footsteps, enjoying their own lengthy careers as major-league players. 

Bret Boone was chosen in the fifth round of the 1990 MLB Draft out of USC by the Seattle Mariners. Over his 14-year career he became a three-time All-Star and won four Gold Gloves as well as a pair of Silver Slugger Awards. With the 116-win Mariners team in 2001, he finished third in American League Most Valuable Player Award voting.

Early during 2006 spring training, Bret announced his retirement. He would briefly attempt a 2008 comeback before retiring for good as a player that May. That was followed by an even briefer stint as a manager with the independent Victoria Golden Seals in 2010.

Aaron Boone was chosen by the Cincinnati Reds in the third round of the 1994 MLB Draft, also after playing college ball at USC. He went on to a 12-year MLB career, missing the 2004 season entirely due to an ACL tear in his left knee suffered during an off-season pickup basketball game. Aaron was a 2003 All-Star with the Reds before getting dealt at the trade deadline to the New York Yankees. Over his final three years in Cincinnati, Aaron was the starting third baseman under a team managed by his father.

After undergoing open heart surgery during 2009 spring training, Aaron returned to play the final month of his career with the Houston Astros later that year. Almost immediately he went into broadcasting, a role he would hold with ESPN for years.

Following the 2017 season, Aaron was hired as manager of the New York Yankees. Over the last four seasons he has guided the Bronx Bombers to a 328-218 mark, winning the AL East Division crown in 2019 and reaching the post-season each year. New York just announced that Aaron has been signed to a new three-year contract.

Today, Bob Boone celebrates his first birthday outside the game since he was a young child. He had been with the Washington Nationals as an advisor since that franchise relocated from Montreal in 2005. But in early September he resigned, unwilling to conform to the Nats’ organizational requirement to receive COVID-19 vaccinations. 

Aaron’s continued managerial stint with the Yankees may not be the end of the line for the Boone family big-league connection, because a new generation may be on the way. Bret’s son, Jake Boone, played college ball at Princeton and then signed with the Nationals. The 22-year-old played his first minor league season this past summer at A-level Fredericksburg. “You can’t help but fall in love with the game,” Jake Boone said in a piece by Joey LoMonaco of The Free-Lance Star. “Just being brought up in that atmosphere, around the game, you really can’t help it. That’s how I fell into this.

It’s a Boone family tradition, being brought up in that atmosphere around the game of baseball. Happy birthday to Bob Boone, a player, manager, and executive whose career and family legacy are certainly worthy of remembering and celebrating.

Matt Veasey is retired after serving three decades in Philadelphia law enforcement. He can be found on @PhilliesBell at both Twitter and Instagram providing Philadelphia Phillies news and history. You can also find him on Twitter @MatthewVeasey for more than just baseball. His email is matthew.veasey@verizon.net.

Cleaning Up

Revising Braves Book Index Brings Back Great Memories Of Record Title Run

By Dan Schlossberg

Updating a book means updating an existing index – a thankless but important job that makes any volume more valuable to libraries and researchers.

When the Atlanta Braves won a surprise world championship in 2021, my publisher and I agreed that we should produce an updated edition of When the Braves Ruled the Diamond: Fourteen Flags Over Atlanta.

First published as a hardcover by Sports Publishing in 2016, it was updated and reissued in paperback form in 2019. It’s still a paperback but considerably longer now that I’ve added a chapter on the 2021 season and postseason, including the unexpected World Series victory over the powerful Houston Astros.

The book still features the 14-year run of consecutive division titles – and is the only book to document not only the key players but also each year of the record streak.

But I wrote a complete new chapter on 2021, from the Covid-clouded start through the injury-riddled season, the six deadline deals that changed the course of the campaign, and the 11-6 postseason run that led through Milwaukee and Los Angeles before ending in Houston.

In addition, I extended the chapter that bridges the years between 2018, when the Braves began their current streak of four straight division titles, and the 2021 World Series, which led to the team’s first world title in 26 years.

In switching the chapter sequence at the end of the book, I changed the name of the old last chapter from Epilogue to After the Streak, added a new chapter named Miracle of 2021, and moved the Cooperstown chapter (about the six Braves in five years to make the Hall of Fame and others who could join them) to the end of the book.

That changed the pagination and the index.

Although Sports Publishing used a professional indexer to draft the one that appears in the 2019 edition, I decided to do it myself this time – figuring that switching the sequence of just three chapters wouldn’t be that big a deal.

I was wrong.

I wound up retyping the entire index, from Hank Aaron through Huascar Ynoa, taking out the page numbers for anyone who appeared in one of the three expanded or added chapters, and then putting it in the new page numbers. In addition, I had to indicate in italics where pictures appeared in the text.

While doing the index was a tedious job, it also brought back some terrific memories.

There are 14 reference to Rafael Belliard, for example, but only one each for Yogi Berra, Steve Carlton, Orlando Cepeda, and Mike Schmidt.

Players with the most mentions are Aaron, Bobby Cox, Tom Glavine, Andruw Jones, Chipper Jones, Greg Maddux, John Schuerholz, and John Smoltz.

But I was most surprised at the forgettable men who found their way into my book. Remember Jong Bong, Donnie Elliott, John Foster, Mike Heath, Andy Marte, Merkin Valdez, or Chris Verna? I hadn’t either – until I started working on this index again.

Andres Thomas is there, along with Charles Thomas, not to mention Tony Graffanino (four mentions!), Andrew and Kevin Brown, the six-fingered Antonio Alfonseca, and even All-Star cellist Pablo Casals (you’ll have to read the book to figure out why).

I’m still not sure who Janet Marie Smith was – maybe the team organist – but she’s in my index.

An index says a lot about a book, and its author, and I wish every book had one. But I also learned why creating an index is just as difficult as creating a book. Maybe even tougher.

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ covers baseball for Here’s The Pitch, forbes.com, Latino Sports, Ball Nine, Sports Collectors Digest, USA TODAY Sports Weekly, and more. The author of 38 baseball books can be reached at ballauthor@gmail.com.

Timeless Trivia

Over the last seven seasons, Freddie Freeman’s .346 average with runners in scoring position leads the major leagues . . .

The Yankees reached postseason play 13 years in a row from 1995-2007 . . .

Another pitcher who can hit: Julio Urias of the Dodgers hit .313 in 23 plate appearances with runners in scoring position . . .

Manny Pina’s signing by the Braves shelves promising catching prospects William Contreras and Shea Langelliers indefinitely . . .

After signing a one-year deal with the Los Angeles Angels, Noah Syndergaard automatically becomes the ace of the staff if his surgically-repaired elbow responds.


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.