Saluting The NL's Greatest Black Ballplayers
ALSO: DON ZIMMER'S WIFE KEPT A SCRAPBOOK HISTORY OF HIS CAREER
A different, decidedly negative view of Deion
“I know you are lauding Deion for his athleticism. I first saw it when he played the OF for Florida State.
“Unfortunately, he will always have the image of a spineless coward to me. He doused my friend Tim McCarver from behind while Tim was wired up and doing interviews in the Braves clubhouse, then hid behind his teammates in the clubhouse when Tim went to find him. And in talking to several former NFL coaches that I know, he never made a tough tackle in his career. I think of him as a self-promoting phony. Give me Bo Jackson any day as an athlete and a solid citizen.
“Nothing personal to you Matt but that incident has always formed my opinion of Sanders. The best Sanders on the football field was Barry Sanders!
“I enjoy reading your newsletter.”
— Jim Kaat, Hall of Fame Class of 2022
The above was printed with the permission of the author, who enjoyed a long career as a broadcaster after retiring as a pitcher. He won 283 games and aWorld Series ring.
Did you know…
Hurricane Ian did an estimated $10 million worth of damage to CoolToday Park, spring training home of the Atlanta Braves, but it will be ready for the first exhibition game Feb. 25 . . .
Braves second baseman Ozzie Albies, a two-time All-Star, will skip the World Baseball Classic to spend all of spring training with the Braves after an injury-riddled 2022 campaign (fractured foot, broken pinkie) . . .
Brandon Nimmo of the Mets begged off the Team Italy roster after suffering an injury in the last WBC . . .
Hall of Famers Derek Jeter, David Ortiz, Wade Boggs, Tony Gwynn, and Mike Piazza are among those who never won an MVP award . . .
Wisler’s mother is happy: the Tigers signed her son Matt to a minor-league contract …
Coming out of retirement for the World Baseball Classic:
1. John Axford, Canada
2. Vance Worley, Great Britain
3. Jair Jurrjens, Kingdom of the Netherlands
4. Wladimir Balentien, Kingdom of the Netherlands
5. Oliver Pérez, Mexico
6. Cheslor Cuthbert, Nicaragua
7. Rubén Tejada, Panama
The Greatest Black Baseball Players in National League History
By Matt Whitener
In honor of Black History Month, it is prime time to take a look back at the history of the great African-American contributors in history. In the first of a two-part effort, we’ll take a journey to look back at the greatest black player for each National League franchise, via their place in history, contributions to each franchise, their era, and the history of the game, at large.
Atlanta Braves: Hank Aaron
After a career that began in the Negro Leagues, Hammerin’ Hank went on to conquer the most immortal record of all-time when he surpassed Babe Ruth’s 714 career home runs. Overall, his mark of 755 would stand for 33 years, and he remains the MLB’s all-time leader in total bases, RBI & extra-base hits. He was also an All-Star 25 times, a major-league record, during his 23-year career [the leagues played two games from 1959-62].
Arizona Diamondbacks: Chris Young
Young spent seven seasons in the desert, notching four seasons of 20 homers or more and making an All-Star appearance in 2010. In that career-best year, he produced 27 HR along with 28 steals, 91 RBI & scored 94 runs, alongside a .794 OPS
Chicago Cubs: Ernie Banks
Famous for his unflappable love for the game (nobody more famously advocated for a doubleheader more than Mr. Cub), Banks endures as the greatest Cub ever. He connected for 512 career homers and over 1,600 RBI, as one of the revolutionary offensive infielders in history. He won back-to-back MVPs in 1958 & 1959, the first NL player to take home the honor consecutively.
Cincinnati Reds: Joe Morgan
Morgan helped led the ‘Big Red Machine’ to three World Series appearances in eight seasons. Along the way, he was an All-Star in each of those eight years, winning NL MVP in 1975 and ‘76. Over the course of those two seasons, Morgan hit .324, while driving in over 200 runs, stealing 127 bases and, most importantly, playing a prominent role in consecutive World Series titles in each season.
Colorado Rockies: Eric Young Sr.
An original Rockie, Young stole 180 bases over five seasons with the club, leading the NL with 53 in 1996. That same year, he made his lone All-Star appearance and won a Silver Slugger Award, hitting .324 with .814 OPS.
Houston Astros: J.R. Richard
[Editor’s Note: the Astros were in the National League for 50 years.]
Richard twice led the NL in strikeouts, topping 300 in both 1978 & ’79. He finished in top three in Cy Young voting in the latter year. A string of four consecutive years of 18 or more wins ended suddenly in 1980, when his career came to sudden halt due after a stroke triggered a blood-clot diagnosis.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Jackie Robinson
From Roy Campanella to Maury Wills, Matt Kemp and Mookie Betts, the Dodgers have an embarrassment of riches of great black ballplayers. However, none rises higher than the combined brilliance and purpose of Robinson, whose breaking of the MLB color barrier in 1947 was just the beginning of a brilliant string of significant ‘firsts’. He would go on to win the inaugural Rookie of the Year Award, become the first African American MVP in 1949 and be elected to the Hall of Fame in 1962. For that and much more, his praises cannot be given enough.
Miami Marlins: Giancarlo Stanton
During his eight seasons with the Florida/Miami Marlins, Mike/Giancarlo emerged as one of the most feared sluggers in the game. His 267 home runs are the most in Marlins history and he twice led the NL in that category while with the club. In the latter of those two seasons, he crushed a memorable 59 long balls -- including a run of 23 in 35 games -- in route to capturing NL MVP honors.
Milwaukee Brewers: Cecil Cooper
Cooper spent 11 of his 17 seasons in Milwaukee, most notably as the hammer at the heart of ‘Harvey’s Wallbangers’ during the Crew’s run to the World Series in 1982. That season, he hit a career-best 32 homers and made the third of the five All-Star teams he would join on behalf of the club.
New York Mets: Doc Gooden
A prodigy in every sense of the word, Dwight Gooden’s rise to prominence was one of the most breathtaking events of 1980s baseball. By the time he was 23 years old, Gooden already had a World Series trophy, four All-Star selections, a Rookie of the Year Award and a Cy Young Award to his credit, after becoming the youngest Triple Crown winner in history following a 24-win, 268-strikeout season, with a 1.53 ERA.
Philadelphia Phillies: Jimmy Rollins
A three-time All-Star, four-time Gold Glove winner and franchise career hits leader, Rollins made an unforgettable mark on Phillies history. In 2007, he was named NL MVP during a year in which he became the first player since 1928 to post a 30- double/20-triple/30-homer season, while adding in 41 steals. The following season, in 2008, he would help the club raise its first World Series trophy in 28 years.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Willie Stargell
One of the most revered sluggers of all time, over 21 years in Pittsburgh, ‘Pops’ played a vital part in two separate peaks in Pirate history. He paired with Roberto Clemente to bring home the pennant in 1971, before again leading the famed ‘We Are Family’ Bucs to the title in 1979. During the ‘79 season, Stargell became the only player to win NL MVP, NLCS MVP and World Series MVP in the same season — and half of the only pair of players to share an MVP trophy (with Keith Hernandez).
San Diego Padres: Tony Gwynn
A lifetime .338 hitter, who turned in 19 consecutive years of a .309-or-better batting average, Gwynn was truly a savant at the plate. He led the National League in batting eight times, tallied five 200+ hit seasons and famously flirted with becoming the first player to hit .400 since Ted Williams in 1941. Maybe the most remarkable of his many feats at the dish was that Gwynn only struck out three times in a game once and hit .331 lifetime against the 18 Hall of Fame pitchers he faced.
San Francisco Giants: Willie Mays
Heralded by many as the greatest player of all-time, Mays was a dazzling collection of every baseball skill imaginable. A two-time MVP who collected 12 Gold Gloves (which didn’t exist until his sixth season), four home run titles and a 24 All-Star selections, the Say Hey Kid truly did all there was to do. His legendary catch in the 1954 World Series remains one of the iconic moments in sports history, which is saying a lot considering he hit 660 homers, drove in over 1900 runs, scored another 2,068 and totaled 3,293 hits.
St. Louis Cardinals: Bob Gibson
One of the greatest competitors and most intimidating presences to ever step on a pitching mound, Gibson was at his best when the lights were brightest. Over 81 World Series innings, Gibson compiled a 1.89 ERA, with 92 strikeouts, eight complete games and two shutouts, going 7-2 lifetime. This helped the Cardinals to World Series titles in 1964 and ‘67, and a pair of World Series MVP awards for Gibson. And if that’s not enough, his 1968 season of a modern-record 1.12 ERA featured 13 shutouts and Gibson working 28 complete games out of 34 starts.
Washington Nationals: Tim Raines
Going back to their days in Montreal, it was the Rock who set himself apart for the club. In 13 seasons with the Expos, Raines stole 50 or more bases in seven straight seasons, with six of those years seeing him swipe 70 or more. His peak season came in 1983, when he made the third of his seven straight All-Star selections and stole 90 bases, while scoring 133 runs.
Special Mention: Barry Bonds
There could be a reasonable argument for the fact that Bonds could be the only player in baseball history who was a top-two player for two separate franchises. With the Pittsburgh Pirates, he was a two-time MVP who had a pair of 30 homer/30 steal seasons and led the Bucs to three-straight NLCS appearances. Then with the Giants, Bonds won five more MVP Awards --including four consecutively-- while setting both the single-season and career home run marks. All while putting up some of the most mind-boggling statistical seasons (how is a 1.422 OPS even possible?) on a regular basis.
Matt Whitener is a St. Louis-based writer, radio host and African-American baseball historian. He can be found on Facebook at his name, on Instagram at @CheapSeatFan and via email at WhitenerCSP@gmail.com.
Don Zimmer, 66-Year Baseball Lifer, Was Married at Home Plate
By Joe Guzzardi
During Don Zimmer’s 66-year career in professional baseball, the scrappy infielder shook Babe Ruth’s hand, posed for pictures with Clark Gable and Lana Turner, played with Brooklyn Dodgers’ Hall of Famers Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella, played as a New York Met for Casey Stengel, and managed the Boston Red Sox when light-hitting Yankees shortstop Bucky Dent broke Beantowners’ hearts with his game-winning, American League East-clinching four-bagger.
Zimmer played and managed winter baseball in Japan, Cuba and Puerto Rico where he managed Roberto Clemente and Willie Mays.
In all, Zimmer played for six major- league teams, managed four and coached for 11. Except for a single Social Security check he cashed between gigs, Zimmer never earned a penny outside of baseball.
But despite Zimmer’s Hollywood experiences and his baseball achievements –- he was a two-time All-Star and a six-time World Series champion –- he was proudest of his 1951 home-plate marriage to Carol Jean Bauerle before a night game in Elmira, New York, where, as a top Brooklyn Dodgers’ prospect, he had worked his way up to the Class A Pioneers.
Zimmer and Carol Jean, nicknamed “Soot” by her German grandmother, had been sweethearts since the 10th grade at Cincinnati’s Western Hills High School when the couple were on a girl-asks-boy hayride.
A star quarterback, the basketball team’s starting guard and shortstop on the Ohio state championship baseball nine, Zimmer was the state’s most widely-recognized high school athlete. As Soot recalled the hayride, “We were 16, and were together from then on.”
Soot attended and documented every Opening Day for each of the teams that her husband played in, managed or coached during Zimmer’s 66 years in baseball.
In 2015, about 18 months after Zimmer’s death, Tampa Bay Times reporter Lane DeGregory visited Soot at her Seminole, Fla., condo where she shared the contents of more than 70 scrapbooks and photo albums she had lovingly compiled.
Zim bobbleheads and baseballs that Ronald Reagan, Robert Redford, Pete Rose and Reggie Jackson had signed filled Soot's cabinets. Also, the shelves contained the scrapbooks Soot meticulously stacked in chronological order.
With loving dedication, Soot collected everything printed about Don, including team bios, photos, stories, programs and baseball cards, and tiny-print box scores. She cut out each entry, underlined Zim’s name with a blue pen, and then gently pasted the clipping into the pages of her scrapbooks.
She even included clips from the notorious 1953 minor-league beaning that required two operations, almost took his life, and created momentum for Major League Baseball to make batting helmets mandatory. Zimmer suffered another serious head injury while playing for Brooklyn three years later.
It all began for Soot when, in her senior year, she went to the local five-and-dime store, bought a scrapbook, and the cardboard corners used long-ago to secure pictures in place.
Her first scrapbook was conceived, intended as a gift to her then-boyfriend, and compiled evenings after she completed her homework assignments. Soot subscribed to every Ohio newspaper whose city had a ballpark.
Outside of Ohio, Soot asked friends to mail her newspapers. As Zim’s baseball skills improved, stories about him started appearing in more widely-distributed newspapers, eventually landing him on the front page of The New York Times. Soot’s albums had clippings from more than 10,500 games played in hundreds of ballparks.
From 2004 to 2014, Zimmer worked for the Tampa Rays as a senior advisor, his last baseball job.
On Opening Day 2014, Zimmer, wearing number 66 to honor his years spent in professional baseball, rode across the diamond in a golf cart, too weak to walk. Fans gave him a standing ovation.
Two months before their 63rd anniversary, Zimmer died from heart and kidney failure. But Soot had one more event to chronicle. A Rays’ representative called to tell Soot that the team would honor Zim on Opening Day 2015, hang his jersey from the Tropicana Field rafters and retire number 66.
Then age 84, Soot had a few empty pages in one of her volumes to add the latest Zim stories.
“Good thing there’s still room in here,” Soot joked, “Too old to start a new scrapbook.” Soot, now 92, treasures her memories of life with Zim, on and off the field.
Joe Guzzardi is a Society for American Baseball Research and Internet Baseball Writers Association member. Contact him at email@example.com
"Once I signed, I did consider it, but my past experience was that I did get injured in the last game against Puerto Rico in 2017, and unfortunately with the travel being to Taiwan for Italy this year, I just felt like, you know what, that’s a risk I can’t take on signing this contract and being with this team and the way [Mets owner] Steve Cohen set it up. I would really kick myself if something happened."
— Mets centerfielder Brandon Nimmo on why he won’t play for WBC Team Italy
Justin Verlander (.724, 71-27), Clayton Kershaw (.724, 71-27) and Charlie Morton (.700, 70-30) are the only pitchers to win at least 70 per cent of their decisions while making at least 130 starts since the beginning of the 2017 season. Max Scherzer (.697, 76-33) and Gerrit Cole (.669, 83-41) just missed . . .
Speaking of pitching, former World Series MVP Cole Hamels is getting another chance, this time with the San Diego Padres, at the ripe old age of 39.
“Manfred Man” Should Be Killed, Not Extended
By Dan Schlossberg
The worst rules change in baseball history has now been foisted on fans permanently. The “Manfred Man,” named in dubious recognition of the man in the seat of the baseball czar, was a bad idea when it was created and worse when it was extended.
Not used in the playoffs because it obviously distorts the game, it shortens the fan experience, cheats vendors out of well-deserved revenue they could realize in extra innings, and spits in the face of baseball history.
In a normal work setting, no one decides everybody should leave at 3:00 instead of 5:00 just to shorten the work day; you stay until the job is done — often late into the night.
Baseball history will now be cheated of such memorable events as the 16-inning duel between Hall of Famers Warren Spahn and Juan Marichal in San Francisco on July 2, 1963, when both threw more than 200 pitches before Willie Mays — a Spahn nemesis — hit a solo home run to end the game.
The Powers That Be apparently forgot the two exciting extra-inning games that unfolded during the 2022 playoffs. One of them ended with an 15th inning Oscar Gonzalez home run — the only run in a scoreless duel between the Cleveland Guardians and Tampa Bay Rays. The other went even longer, with Astros rookie Jeremy Pena ending an 18-inning game with a solo home run in Seattle. That 1-0 game tied for the longest game in postseason history.
Unfortunately, Rob Manfred & Co. don’t care.
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HERE’S THE PITCH is published daily except Sundays and holidays. Brian Harl [firstname.lastname@example.org] handles Monday and Tuesday editions, Elizabeth Muratore [email@example.com] does Wednesday and Thursday, and Dan Schlossberg [firstname.lastname@example.org] 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.