A Review of “It’s How You Play the Game: Build a Business. Take a Stand. Make a Difference”

By Jim Maggiore

People of a certain age in our community no doubt have personal recollections of Ed Stack, the billionaire businessman who turned his father’s unassuming business into a retailing behemoth whose name, Dick’s Sporting Goods, belies its nationwide influence and expanse.

Ed grew up on Binghamton’s East Side, on Ardsley Avenue, and divided his boyhood summers between working at his father’s store at 354 Court Street and playing pickup baseball and football games at Fairview Park.

Now Ed lives in Pittsburgh and Florida, but in between he built a business empire based on the lessons he learned by growing up right here in Binghamton. In his 2019 book, “It’s How You Play the Game: Build A Business. Take A Stand. Make a Difference,” he provides an unabashed look at how the retail empire of DSG was built and how his relationship with his father and his hometown influences him to this day.

cover of book
Here’s the front cover for Ed Stack’s story.

Though he takes us on an erudite retailing journey, Stack writes in a populist style—you won’t need to have a dictionary handy as you turn Stack’s pages, but every once in a while you’ll flinch at his colorful language. Fear of displaying himself in an unpopular light is minimal. He attributes his decision to uproot his family from Binghamton and move DSG’s corporate headquarters from the Binghamton area to Pittsburgh to either being done because of “balls or brains.”  He talks of how he loves to compete in a “street fight” with his competitors, and of how his dad didn’t speak to him for a full year after he fired his brother for failing to follow a corporate directive.

Throughout the book Stack has lessons to give and he doles them out the way a coach does on an athletic field. “Discipline, execution, and endurance are not only keys to success in sports, but in life as well,” he exhorts. Winning or losing on the athletic field is not as important as learning from the experience of competing on the athletic field. “Everyone needs to belong” and sports teams are one way of experiencing this feeling he opines, also offering that after-school activities of any kind are essential for developing this feeling among our nation’s youth.

Very few topics are off bounds; he is frank as he discusses the tough-love relationship he had with his dad and the many disagreements they had about running the business. He explains how he balanced the financial aspect of his business with the civic responsibility he felt when he banned the sale of the AR-15 modern sporting rifle from DSG stores after the Newtown mass killing on December 14, 2012.  No doubt the longtime Binghamton resident will find Stack’s stories about growing up on the East Side of the city the most interesting. Stack’s story reinforces not only the legacy of this town, but its resiliency and spirit as well, and his story echoes that of sundry others who have gone on to national fame while forever holding this town in a warm and reflective light, including: actor Jeremy Davidson (Greenberg); the Johnson family; Arthur, Chandler, and Jon Jones; Isaiah Kacyvenski; Edwin Link; Rod and Robert Serling; Thomas Tull; Thomas Watson, and so many more.    

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Francisco Lindor Shines in April of 2014

Author’s Note: In recognition of the N.Y. Mets acquiring Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco today in exchange for Amed Rosario, Andres Gimenez, Josh Wulf, and Isaiah Greene, here we reprint an excerpt from “Six More Wins: A Team, A Town, and a Rebound,” which chronicled the 2014 Eastern League Championship season of the Binghamton Mets (now the Binghamton Rumble Ponies). The following excerpt is from an April 5, 2014 game between Akron and Binghamton.

By Jim Maggiore

On Saturday the sun did not make an appearance, but neither did rain or snow, so the weather was good enough for the Mets and RubberDucks to get in two games. The B-Mets beat the Akron RubberDucks, 6-3, in the first game, but lost the second, 3-0, giving them a 1-2 record at the season’s start. But the scores of the game are insignificant; this day turns out to be the Francisco Lindor show as the 20-year-old shortstop shows why he is the top-rated prospect for the Indians and ranked the #13 overall prospect in baseball by Major League Baseball.  On a day that saw the temperature sitting at 39 degrees in the second inning of the first game, Lindor had the congregation shouting his name in appreciation mid-way through the second game.  

Lindor pops one up against Binghamton. Catcher and future teammate Kevin Plawecki also follows the flight of the ball.

In the first game, Lindor hit a two-run homer and in the nightcap he went 2-4, giving him a three-for-eight day with two RBIs, a homer and a run scored, not to mention a .385 batting average to start the season.  Lindor’s hitting, however, was not what was most memorable about his day. It was his defensive wizardry in the second game that put an exclamation point on his prospect status. In the bottom of the second, with one out and outfielder Travis Taijeron on first, second baseman Matt Reynolds hit a ground ball up the middle that had Binghamton fans thinking runners on first and third, but Lindor had other ideas. He ranged far to his left, dove behind second, snared the ball and then, with Taijeron bearing down on Akron second baseman Joe Wendle, Lindor somehow managed to flip the ball to Wendle from his glove to get a force out.

Respectful applause concluded this play on an April day that imitated a Saturday afternoon closer to February 5th than April 5th. In the bottom of the sixth, Lindor gave an encore performance, surpassing his earlier fielding gem. Brian Burgamy, the Mets’ first baseman, led off the inning with a hard ground ball up the middle and once again, Lindor was off and running. When he was behind second, Lindor stretched to his limit, gloved the ball, and, as his momentum carried him to right field, he turned and threw to first, nailing Burgamy. As the applause rippled through the stadium, Lindor trotted back to short, letting a small smile ruin his stoic face. His play led to a 1-2-3 inning for the RubberDucks and the Mets could not be blamed for thinking it’s hard to come back when anything hit up the middle turns into a 6-3 putout!

Dave Wilson, the play-by-play announcer for the RubberDucks, became an immediate believer in Lindor’s ability almost as soon as he saw him play.

“Every day you see him play, he brings to the table that he may show you something you have never seen before,” gushed Wilson in an interview with B-Mets announcer Tim Heiman. “He has the mindset that there is no ball he cannot get to; it’s unfair to compare him to the all-time greats, but you see him up the middle and you think of Ozzie Smith or Dave Concepcion.”

When Lindor came up to hit in the seventh, shouts of “Way to go Francisco” were heard from about a dozen fans sitting behind home. If one didn’t know better, one would have thought the Francisco Lindor fan club was visiting NYSEG Stadium.

Lindor’s sense of humor and accommodating nature were evident after the game as his post-game actions might have even outshone his accomplishments on the diamond. For starters, when he entered the dugout after the win, he remained in the corner of the dugout and signed autographs for the twenty or so fans gathered at the corner. One seventy-five year-old fan even climbed over three rows of seats and scrambled onto the dugout roof so he could hand a card to Lindor to sign!

Sure enough, about 45 minutes later, when Lindor popped out of the visitor’s clubhouse, he had an encore performance. As a dozen or so fans approached him, he turned from the clubhouse door, broke into a semi-sprint, ducking behind three or four of his teammates. He looked like a running back looking for a hole in the line of scrimmage.

The autograph hounds stopped in their tracks, thinking Lindor had had enough of them for one day. Almost as soon as he started to run, however, Lindor stopped and walked back to his fans with a big smile on his face. One by one, the fans formed a line for Lindor’s autograph. Francisco smiled and signed everything put in front of him. When someone asked him what he thought of his fans yelling out his name in encouragement, he said “I loved it!”

Encouraged by his acknowledgement, the fans continued to engage in small conversation.

“Nice game today, Francisco!”

“What did you enjoy more, hitting a homer or making those fielding gems?”

Lindor’s lips formed a resplendent smile as he succinctly responded, “home run.” He walked with a bounce back to the bus, knowing he had put in an almost perfect day, both inside and outside the diamond’s white lines.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

An April Day Started Seaver’s Call to Cooperstown

Author’s Note: In memory of Tom Seaver, who passed away this week, I include this article I wrote 28 years ago to honor Seaver’s induction into the Hall of Fame in 1992.

On Sunday, August 2nd, The Baseball Hall of Fame rolls out its red carpet for Tom Seaver, winner of 311 major league games, and arguably the best pitcher ever to wear a New York baseball uniform.

Seaver gives his induction speech.

Baseball is a team game but often the exploits of one player overshadow the performance of a team and the related events of a given year. So it is that New York City baseball fans remember 1951 as the year that Bobby Thomson hit the “shot heard around the world”; that 1956 is the year Mickey Mantle won the Triple Crown; and that 1969 is the year that Tom Seaver led the Mets to a World Series championship. No matter that Thomson, Mantle, and Seaver had excellent supporting casts, “51 and Thomson,” “56 and Mantle,” and “69 and Seaver” are irrevocably linked.

As an avid grade school reader of The Sporting News, I kne3 about Tom Seaver before he threw his first major league pitch. I knew that Seaver was 12-12 in 1966 at Jacksonville, which was then the Triple-A farm club of the Mets. I knew the scouting report said that Seaver threw strikes, which was more than could be said about the majority of Mets’ pitchers in the ‘60s. I also knew that Tom had wife named Nancy, though I was too young to appreciate the newspaper accounts that always put “beautiful” before her name. I even knew Seaver named his dog “Slider,” after the favorite pitch of his early career.

So it was with more than curiosity that I listened to my transistor radio as I ran to the local baseball field on a Thursday afternoon on April 20th, 1967. I had a 3:30 batting practice appointment with Bob Johnson and Eddie Connors, two of my fifth grade classmates. Batting practice was our daily ritual during those springs of pre-adolescence on Long Island, as we rotated pitching, hitting, and fielding roles. We turned into starts of the baseball diamond and forgot about concerns raised during the school day as we sweated and imagined our way toward dinner.

I was running a little late on this day. Usually 15 minutes was ample time to shed myself of St Anne’s grammar school uniform (with its white shirt, blue pants, and blue tie)  and replace it with the sartorial splendor of youth—dungarees, sweatshirt, and a Ken Boyer’s model glove.  But on this afternoon I paused too often to listen to Lindsey Nelson, Bob Murphy, and Ralph Kiner broadcast the afternoon’s Mets-Cubs game. In his second major league start, Tom Seaver had a two-run lead against the feared Cubs from Chicago.

As I approached the ballfield, I felt the pursed lips and disdainful eyes of Bob and Eddie. “Sorry I’m late,” I yelled. Then I brought smiles to their faces as I motioned to the radio and explained, “The Mets are beating the Cubs, 3-1 in the seventh. Before assuming my position in the field, I turned the radio volume to its maximum level.

Some images of that afternoon are still clear in my mind, almost frozen. I remember the afternoon as one of delight, playing baseball in the sun and rooting for a Mets victory. With each pitch that Seaver threw, Bob, Eddie, and I grew happier. We huddled around the radio as Wes Westrum walked to the mound in the eighth inning. We communicated silently with concerned glances and crossed fingers as we hoped Westrum would stay with Seaver. But a complete game was not to be this day. As we listened to the Shea Stadium fans give Seaver a rousing ovation, we also stood and applauded, forgetting about our game and taking time to smile and pat one another on the back. Tom Seaver had become real for millions of New Yorkers.

Now, more than 25 years later I find myself looking at microfilm of the New York Times to check the box score. When Westrum visited the mound, runners were on first and second with one out and future Hall of Fame left fielder Billy Williams was due to hit. Don Shaw, a lefty reliever whom Casey Stengel had dubbed the ‘worm killer” because of his ability to throw a nasty sinker, got Billy Williams to hit into a double play and went on to preserve Seaver’s first big league win. Seaver pitched 7-1/3 innings, giving up eight hits and one run, without walking a batter. Appropriately, Buddy Harrelson, Seaver’s roommate and close friend, went 1 for 4 and knocked in two runs. If I close my eyes I can still hear Bob Murphy exhorting fans to stay tuned for the “happy recap” of the game.

Through the years, Seaver and the Mets have provided me with a backdrop of life’s inherent changes. Long Island is no longer home and Bob and Eddie have become lost boyhood friends. On August 2nd, along with thousands of other baseball fans, I’ll witness Seaver’s induction into the Hall of Fame. Cooperstown is a village focused on reflection. Perhaps Bob and Eddie will be somewhere in the crowd of thousands and will also recall the spring day in 1967 when Seaver started his journey to the Hall of Fame. For no matter how well Dwight Gooden pitches and how many championships the Mets may win, baseball for me, and I suspect for Bob and Eddie as well, will always translate into an image of number 41 in the center of the diamond, in the orange and blue uniform of the New York Mets.

Congratulations, Tom.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

No Matter the Moniker, Ford was Truly the “Chairman of the Board”

Author’s Note: With no Double-A Binghamton baseball to discuss, we are periodically posting excerpts from “Celebrating 100 Years of Baseball in Binghamton: Tales from the Binghamton Baseball Shrine,” which is available from such online retailers as bn.com and amazon.com. This excerpt is on Whitey Ford. Enjoy the read and social distance! 

  •                                                                      *                                                                          *

In a minor-league career that lasted a little over three years and saw Whitey Ford win 51 games, perhaps the most prominent memory of his minor-league years was that Ford couldn’t wait to put them behind him. Though he enjoyed playing baseball in each city in his minor-league sojourn and his confidence grew with each stop along the way, the bus trips were anything but fun. “We’d sit on that bus anywhere from ten to 12 hours. Then, after we played, we’d climb back on the bus for another 12-hour trip home. We might get in at 7 AM, then right away have to play a day game.”

Bus trips notwithstanding, Ford will never forget his stay in Binghamton. He made sure he did not have far to travel for home games, as he lived within a block of Johnson Field, renting an attic room on Broad Street. It was while he played for the Triplets that he started to throw his curveball more, mixing his pitches better than he ever had, demonstrating an increased ability to get strikeouts. Years later Ford recalled his stay in the Triple Cities: “I was starting to strike out six and seven guys a game now, and for the first time I began to think I had a chance to make it to the big leagues.”

Ford earned his entry to the Shrine in 1995 for both his major league and Triplet success.

During his Shrine induction speech in August his eyes grew moist as he recalled his years of being a teammate of Mickey Mantle, who was then dying of cancer. Ford closed his speech with perhaps the most poignant remark of any Shrine induction statement as he asked the fans, “When your knees hit the ground tonight, say a prayer for the Mick.” Mantle passed away a few days later, on August 13, 1995.  Ford was one of the pallbearers, along with Yogi Berra, Bobby Murcer, and Hank Bauer.

In 1949, despite missing the first six weeks of the season with remnants of  amoebic dysentery that he caught while pitching in the Mexican League that winter, Ford posted a 16-5 record for the Triplets, leading the league with 151 strikeouts and posting an ERA of 1.61. Though the Triplets finished in fourth place, they swept through the two playoff series and were the 1949 Eastern League Champs.

Ford lost his first name of “Eddie” while a member of the Triplets; in his autobiography, “Slick,” Ford explained how he gained the moniker of “Whitey”:

“It was the great Lefty Gomez, of all people, who stuck me with the name ‘Whitey.’ Lefty was managing the Yankees’ Binghamton club in the Eastern League, and I was assigned to spring training with his team in 1947. They trained at Edenton, NC, and there were so many players down there, I guess Lefty had a hard time remembering all their names, so he just gave them nicknames. I was ‘Blondie’ or ‘Whitey’ for obvious reasons. Eventually, he settled on ‘Whitey.’”

“Whitey” was just the start of nicknames for Ford. After he reached the big leagues, Billy Martin and Mickey Mantle bestowed on him the nickname of “Slick” due to his being born and raised in Queens. After Ford went 24-7 in 1963, catcher Elston Howard started to refer to him as the “Chairman of the Board” due to his mound excellence and presence. This phrase is second only to “Whitey” when Ford’s name is mentioned in baseball circles.

After his brilliant season in ‘49, Ford displayed his confidence by calling Paul Krichell, the scout who signed him, asking if Krichell could arrange for a call-up to the Yankees for the end of the season.  The Yankees were locked in a close duel with the Boston Red Sox for the pennant and Ford felt he could be a difference maker. What the heck, he was on top of the world, ace of a championship team with an Eastern League check for $223.00 in his pocket as his minor league championship share.

Krichell conferred with George Weiss and they politely decided to turn down Ford’s request in 1949. Krichell responded, “But, if you behave yourself, we’ll take you to spring training with the Yankees next year.”

The rest, as they say, is history.

Ford was a key element of the Yankee pitching staff in 1950, winning 9 games and starring in the World Series against the Philadelphia Phillies. He became the ace of the New York Yankee staff from 1953 through the mid 1960’s, winning 236 games and compiling a 2.75 ERA over 3170.1 innings. His teammates during those years read like a “Who’s who” of Binghamton Shrine members:  Johnny Blanchard, Clete Boyer, Al Downing, Bob Grim, Deron Johnson, Danny McDevitt, Joe Pepitone, Bobby Richardson, Moose Skowron, Ralph Terry, and Tom Tresh.

Ford was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1974 in his second year of eligibility, being named on 77.8% of the ballots. He won six World Championships with the Yankees and in 146 innings of World Series play he won 10 games and posted a 2.71 ERA.

Ford’s penchant for enjoying a good laugh was evident in the opening of his Induction speech for Baseball’s Hall of Fame on August 12, 1974, a few days after Gerald Ford took over in Washington for the exiled Richard Nixon:

“Thank you, Commissioner. I tell you, I walked down the aisle three weeks ago with my daughter, she got married, and I thought I was nervous then, but I think this tops it today. Between what happened in Washington last week and up here in Cooperstown today, I’d have to say it’s a pretty good week for the Fords.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

“Wee Willie” Keeler: “Gentlemen Don’t Do That”

Author’s Note: Here is our third excerpt from “Celebrating 100 Years of Baseball in Greter Binghamton: Tales from the Binghamton Baseball Shrine,” which can be found on most online book retailers, including amazon.com and bn.com

Baseball great Ted Williams succinctly summed up Willie Keeler’s baseball life with 14 words, saying “He may have been small in size, but he was huge with the bat!” At 5’ 4” inches and 140 pounds, Keeler may very well have been the greatest hitter, pound-for-pound and inch-for-inch, who ever played. He was signed to his first professional contract in 1892 after he was seen playing semi-pro ball for a Plainfield, New Jersey team.

In 1892  Keeler hit .392 for the Bingos before being signed to a major league contract to finish the year with the New York Giants, where he hit .321 (53 at-bats). In a series of letters that Keeler wrote to his brother Joe while playing for Binghamton in 1892, Keeler touched on his joy in getting to explore the cities he visited, his opinion of his manager, and the trouble a ball player has in dating women.

In a June 9th letter to his brother, Keeler wrote “I was (sic) down to see the Niagara Falls this morning, it is the greatest sight you ever saw in your life, it is only about an hour ride from where we are – it cost me about three dollars to see it all—we were on the Canadian side and were taken all over in the Maid of the Mist—it cost one dollar to go on that.” 

Keeler apparently had a tougher time adjusting to the game outside the lines than he did on the diamond. In the same letter he praised the beauty of Niagara Falls, he did not hide his disdain for the curfew established by his manager, Frank Leonard, “This manager is a stinker, and we got to be in at 11 every night. Mike Lehane and Mike Slattery, and Bill Daley and myself was (sic) out looking at the sights the other night until about 12 o’clock—you ought to have seen the look he gave us when we came in.”

And as with many ballplayers in his day, Keeler had a tough time convincing the parents of lovely young women the worthiness of a ballplayer being beau. In another letter he wrote to his brother on August 3rd, he stated “You don’t want to say a word about that girl of mine though her old man raised an awful stink about her going with a ballplayer.”

Born in Brooklyn, NY on March 3rd, 1872, Keeler managed to play 14 of his 19 years in his hometown, playing for the NY Giants, the Brooklyn Grooms and Superbas, and the New York Yankees. He had his best years with the Baltimore Orioles, however, where he posted the following string of batting averages from 1894 through 1898: .371, .377, .386, .424, and .385.

Bunting was a specialty for Keeler; he loved to draw the corner infielders in close as they anticipated a bunt and then Keeler would often chop the ball over their heads or slap the ball by them for base hits. He was also known to tire out pitchers by consistently fouling off pitches that he did not like—in 1903 he saw his average drop to .313 from .333 and part of this was attributed to the new rule that counted foul balls as strikes at the start of the 1903 season.

Keeler played in the major leagues for 19 years, compiling a batting average of .341 with 2,942 hits. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1939, his fourth year of eligibility, with 75.5% of the vote. When the Baseball Hall of Fame formally opened its doors in June of 1939, Keeler was one of 26 players inducted at the inaugural ceremony.

When asked by Brooklyn Eagle writer Abe Yager to explain his hitting success, Keeler inadvertently gave himself the nickname of “Hit ‘Em Where They Ain’t” when he explained that “I have already written a treatise and it reads like this: ‘Keep your eye clear and hit ‘em where they ain’t; that’s all.’ ”

Keeler’s most memorable feat was hitting safely in 44 straight games in 1896 while playing for the Baltimore Orioles. Joe DiMaggio broke this record in 1941 when he hit safely in 56 games, and DiMaggio’s record still stands today, with most baseball fans feeling this record is unassailable. Pete Rose tied Keeler’s mark in 1978, when he set a new National League consecutive game hitting streak. Ironically, before Rose established this new record, the holder of the National League record for most consecutive games with a hit was ex-Binghamton Triplet and fellow Shrine member, Tommy Holmes, with 37.

Keeler was always popular with his teammates and was admired for his style of play. After Ichiro Suzuki broke Keeler’s record of getting 200 hits for nine straight years in 2010, Charlie Keeler, the grand nephew of Willie, recalled a story that his father, also named Willie, told of visiting the Yankee locker room with the fabulous hitter.  While touring the locker room he noticed players sharpening their spikes and asked his uncle why the players were doing that.

Shaking his head, Willie simply replied, “I don’t know. Gentleman don’t do that.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Ron Luciano: “My Voice is Perfect for Mime and My Face is Made for Radio”

Author’s Note: Here is another excerpt from “Celebrating 100 Years of Baseball in Greater Binghamton: Tales from the Binghamton Baseball Shrine,” which is available at all online retailers, including bn.com and amazon.com.

“So what I am doing broadcasting baseball on national TV?” Ron Luciano asked himself as he prepared to make his debut on Major League Baseball’s Game of the Week in April of 1980. Luciano could not have foreseen that 16 years later he would be inducted into Binghamton’s Shrine, along with John McNamara and Stephen Souchock.

Luciano’s path to the broadcasting booth and Binghamton’s Shrine was anything but a straight line, but instead a serpentine road, with outward laughter every step of the way. After graduating from Union-Endicott High School he received a scholarship to play football for Syracuse University, where he was a star offensive lineman. He was drafted by the Detroit Lions in 1959 and he thought he was headed to stardom on the football field. Four years later, however, after multiple shoulder injuries, a torn-up knee and only two regular season games, he gave up football and fell into umpiring.

In the winter of 1963, with his football career over before it ever started and while serving as substitute teacher at his old high school, Union-Endicott, Spike Briggs, the owner of the Detroit Lions and Detroit Tigers offered Luciano a job as the general manager of  the Florida State League Lakeland Tigers. Luciano accepted the position eagerly, as it allowed him to reconnect with professional sports. He even went down to Florida a couple of months early to get ready for the season. It was during this time, while he was waiting for the baseball season to start up that he thought he’d enroll in umpiring school. He had dallied a bit in amateur umpiring, being a member of the Endicott Umpires Association in his hometown and he thought at the very least he’d be a general manager who knew the rules better than any of his peers.

After a few weeks of umpiring school he was hooked. He called up Briggs to turn down the general manager job and by the start of the season he was umpiring in the Florida State League. Five years later he was umpiring in the big leagues.

Steve Pavlovich, an umpiring colleague of Luciano’s in Endicott was not surprised at Luciano’s choice or his success. “That he went on to umpire in the major leagues was no surprise to me. Sure he was a showman. But he always made the right call. The fun came in between.”

During his big-league career, one of the things Luciano was known for was his constant battles with Earl Weaver, manager of the Baltimore Orioles. They had known each other from the minor leagues, and their constant battles were also legendary in the minors. In 1965, when Weaver’s Eastern League Elmira team was playing against Reading in a four-game series, Luciano and Weaver teamed up to make history.

In the first game of the series, Luciano was umpiring the bases and Weaver got ejected for arguing a call at second base. The second night Lucaino was behind the plate and in Weaver’s eyes, he was woeful—Weaver let him know it on every pitch.

When Luciano had enough, he turned to Weaver and asked, “How loud can you yell?”

“Why?”  Weaver asked.

Luciano responded, “Because you’re going to be doing it from the end of the dugout!” exhorted Luciano as he raised his right hand and threw out Weaver for a second consecutive night.

The third game of the series saw Luciano handling the bases and once again, Weaver came out to let Luciano know that he had missed another call. Once again, Luciano did not appreciate Weaver’s whining and ejected him for the third consecutive night.

When it came time to exchange lineup cards the next night, Weaver was already boiling inside as he handed the card to Luciano. When Weaver asked Luciano if he was going to do as bad a job on this night as he did the first three nights, Luciano delivered a riposte as only he could, looking Weaver in the eye and telling him “You’re never gonna find out!” And with that, before a pitch was thrown, Luciano ejected Weaver once again.

In his first book, “The Umpire Strikes Back,” Luciano notes that after this series, his relationship with Weaver was a downhill one from that moment on.

After the 1979 season Luciano retired from umpiring and in the early 80s he was a broadcaster for NBC’s Baseball Game of the Week. He also owned a sporting goods store in the Northgate Plaza in Binghamton for a few years, all the time still living in his hometown, on Badger Avenue in Endicott. He was always the comedian in public, poking fun at his favorite target—himself. His self-deprecating one-liners were announced for the masses in staccato fashion:

On his skill as an umpire: “Talking and joking around on the field were my only skills”

On the two things that worried him as an umpire: “Making decisions and working long games”

On his prowess as a hitter: “The day they started throwing breaking pitches was the day I started looking around for someone to tackle”

The humor that Luciano shouted out clearly was a mask for what must have roiled inside. On January 19th, 1995, the main headline on the front page of the local paper was “Japan Quake Deaths Reach 3,100,” but the second biggest headline shocked the Greater Binghamton community:

                                  Baseball Celebrity Luciano Dies at 57

  Reporter Mark Winheld shook everyone with his opening sentence. “Famed professional baseball umpire Ronald M. Luciano was found dead about 3:50 PM Wednesday in the garage area of his home in Endicott, police said. Luciano had committed suicide, leaving a note and attaching a hose from his muffler to the inside of his car, killing himself of carbon monoxide poisoning.”

When news broke of Luciano’s death, his sister, Dolores Jester, started receiving condolence calls from all over the nation. She was at a loss for words, mustering only three:

“It’s very sad.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

George F. Johnson: A Lifetime of Giving Back

Author’s Note: With baseball currently stolen from us by Covid-19, we’ll periodically run excerpts in this space from “Celebrating 100 Years of Baseball in Binghamton: Tales from the Binghamton Baseball Shrine.” This book is available on most online retailers, including amazon.com and bn.com. This week’s excerpt is a profile of George F. Johnson.  

George F. Johnson was an obvious inductee into the inaugural Shrine class, for without his financial and emotional support for baseball at the turn of the twentieth century, baseball might never have taken root in the Greater Binghamton Area.

Johnson was born in 1857 in Plymouth, Massachusetts and the Civil War years left an indelible mark on him as his childhood years were lived with little money. At the age of 13 he quit school and went to work in a local shoe manufacturing company. Though he did not know it at the time, this proved fortuitous as it was shoes that would bring him unparalleled industrial success and enable him to be a benefactor for his workers and neighbors throughout his professional life.

Johnson started working for the Lester Brothers Boot Company in 1881, in Lestershire (now Johnson City), NY. Johnson advanced steadily in this firm, first becoming a foreman, then rising to co-owner with Henry B. Endicott and then, upon Endicott’s death, gaining full ownership and seeing the company be renamed the Endicott Johnson Corporation by 1920. Along the way he accumulated enough wealth to be able to purchase part ownership of the Binghamton Bingos in 1899. When Johnson became sole owner of the team in 1912, he put his brother, Charles F., in charge of building Johnson Field, which became home to professional baseball in Binghamton for fifty-six years.

After opening the 1913 season on the road in Scranton, PA, against Joe McCarthy’s Scranton Miners, the Bingos played their first game in Johnson Field on May 6, 1913. The day was proclaimed “George F. Johnson Day” and the headline in the Binghamton Daily Republican that day treated George F. Johnson as if he were royalty:

The Old King is Here and Ready to Reign Supreme: Monarch of Baseball’s Broad Expanse to Be Honored as Never Before in History of Binghamton—All Fandom Out for Holiday

 Most area businesses closed for the day so employees were free to attend the gala event.  Taking advantage of the press coverage for Opening Day, and knowing that the day was appealing to men and women alike, the Callahan & Douglas Hardware and Sporting Goods Store advertised “Leonard Cleanable – One Piece Porcelain Refrigerators starting at $20.00, with Alaska Refrigerators starting at $11.00.” On May 7th accounts of the game and holiday took up two entire pages of the 14-page edition of the Daily Republican.

George F. Johnson was never one to back down from an issue that he felt needed to be addressed and the controversial topic of the day at the time Johnson Field opened was the playing of baseball on Sundays, as many people felt it should truly be a day of rest, even for ballplayers. New York State even had laws on the books, outlawing professional games in New York State on Sunday afternoons. Johnson, however, was a staunch advocate of Sunday baseball, not because of potential ticket sales, but because he felt it provided an ideal source of entertainment for many of his workers who toiled six days a week.  In a letter to the Binghamton Press in 1913 he stated:

“It is rather inconsistent for those who ride Sunday afternoons in their automobiles or drive their horses and carriages or go boating on our beautiful Susquehanna River or have a number of other pleasant but harmless recreations to say that is wrong for others who are not as fortunate as themselves to go to a Sunday baseball game.”

Johnson supported his case that year by donating all ticket sales from the Sunday, May 11th contest. He went on to stage free Sunday baseball games to demonstrate his commitment for providing Sunday entertainment for his workers. Eventually, though, he had to stop his team from playing on Sunday until the New York State laws were changed in 1917, allowing Sunday professional baseball.

Johnson saw baseball as a sport to be enjoyed by the community; owning a team was an extension of the social contract he established with his workers, where he provided parks, carousels and subsidized housing in exchange for dedicated workers in his factories. His was a model also followed by his friend, Thomas J. Watson, who was establishing IBM as an international business at the same time that Endicott Johnson dominated the shoe industry. While Johnson provided numerous public parks for the local denizens, Watson was providing a country club, golf course, and a pool for his employees. A few years later, when the nation would suffer from the severe depression of the 1930s, area residents were beneficiaries of full employment practices instituted by Johnson and Watson.

Ironically, George F. Johnson passed away on a Sunday – November 28th in 1948. Funeral services were held on December 1st at Enjoie Park. All EJ and IBM facilities were closed, along with many stores, schools, and government centers. The funeral services were broadcast over the three major radio networks: ABC, CBS, and NBC. 25,000 people attended the services at Enjoie.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

An Open Letter to the Commissioner of Major League Baseball


Dear Robert Manfred:

I’m writing this letter to voice strong disapproval for the recent proposal by MLB to

terminate its affiliation with 42 cities and towns across America, from Pasco, Washington; to Lancaster, California; to Norwich, Connecticut.  This letter focuses on the Rumble Ponies, but surely MLB cannot benefit from removing its affiliation from so many communities!

The Binghamton Rumble Ponies are near and dear to the hearts and minds of the denizens of the Greater Binghamton Area. Attending a game a NYSEG Stadium not only provides an affordable evening of entertainment, but also provides a strong sense of community pride. Rowdy, the team mascot, has become ubiquitous in the Southern Tier and has brought an infinite number of smiles to children throughout the Greater Binghamton Area. The thousands of dollars the Rumble Ponies have contributed to charitable and non-profit groups through fundraising activities at NYSEG Stadium have provided assistance to thousands in need as well.

There is a potential for no more rainbows in Binghamton if MLB has its way. Can MLB’s reasoning be anything other than wanting to grab another pot of gold?

The Rumble Ponies, of course, have not only been great for the immediate community. The presence of the Rumble Ponies has greatly helped the New York Mets in promoting its brand beyond Queens and into upstate New York. Scores of Rumble Ponies fans make repeated trips to Citi Field to see former Rumble Ponies play. Removing the MLB affiliation from the Rumble Ponies is a lose-lose proposition for all involved!

You grew up in Rome, New York. What are you thinking? With this decision you have brought an infinite amount of bad public relations to MLB. Roger Kahn, who wrote “Good Enough to Dream,” which chronicled a season of the Utica Blue Sox, is no doubt turning over in his grave.

Bob, please rethink this proposal. We realize major league baseball is suffering today, but removing it from baseball’s heartland is not going to revive it! Instead, take away the baseball shift! Punish the automated stealing of signs!

Eliminate the DH, not major league-affiliated baseball!

Posted in MLB Proposal, Robert Manfred, Rumble Ponies | Tagged , | Leave a comment

It’s OK to Put Your Trust in Brodie?

by Jim Maggiore

The jury is still out on Brodie Van Wagenen, the general manager of the Mets. Fans of the Flushing nine are quick to point out that many of his offseason moves simply did not work out. For starters, the free agent signings of Jeurys Familia and Jed Lowrie were abysmal failures. Lowrie was hurt practically the entire year, getting only seven at-bats (he was hitless, with 4 strikeouts); Jeurys Familia meanwhile posted a 5.70 E.R.A.

As poorly as those free agent signings turned out, Van Wagenen’s trade for Edwin Diaz and Robinson Cano turned out even worse. You remember that one—Wagenen sent Jay Bruce, Anthony Swarzak, Gerson Bautista, Justin Dunn, and Jared Kelenic to the Seattle Mariners for Diaz and Cano, who were huge disappointments for the Mets. Meanwhile, Justin Dunn and Jared Kelenic established themselves as top prospects in baseball. The following table shows just how poorly that trade turned out.


Player Average On Base Percentage Slugging %
Jared Kelenic (Low A to AAA) .291 .364 .540
Jay Bruce .216 .261 .523 (26 homers in 310 ABs)
Robinson Cano .256 .307 .428
  Won Loss E.R.A.
Justin Dunn (majors) 0 0 2.70
Justin Dunn (AA) 9 5 3.55
Antony Swarzak 3 4 4.56
Gerson Bautista 0 1 11.00 (9 innings)
Edwin Diaz 2 7 5.59


Kelenic is only 20 years old and is ranked as one of the top twenty prospects in all of baseball. He finished the year at Double-A and should arrive in the majors next season, while Dunn undoubtedly will be in the Mariners rotation.

Before we give Brodie a grade for his first year, however, we need to take a closer look at his body of work. For example, J.D. Davis established himself as a solid big leaguer, and, at the age of 26, he had a year that establishes himself as a potential star.  Believe it or not, his offensive stats compare very favorably with Pete Alonso, the NL Rookie of the Year.  Davis put up a line of .307/.369/.527 (batting average/on base percentage/slugging percentage), while Alonso’s numbers were: .260/.358/.583.  The knock on Davis is his defense, as he provided below average defense at both third base and left field.  Davis, however, is a hard worker as well as being a student of the game and has formed a special bond with Alonso. Mets fans can be forgiven if they dream of Alonso and Davis leading the team to a championship in the near future.

And just in case you’re wondering whom the Mets traded for Davis, at this point, the three players Van Wagenen gave up for Davis have not shown signs of stardom, as indicated by the following table. All three played at low levels in the minors.

Player Average On Base Percentage Slugging
Luis Santana (2B, 3B) .267 .339 .352
Ross Adolph (OF) .228 .357 .366
Scott Manea (C, DH) .235 .347 .387


Finally, Van Wagenen’s free-agent signings of Justin Wilson and Wilson Ramos were positive moves as well.  So although the Cano-Diaz trade is a failure thus far, one can argue that the acquisition of Davis makes up for the loss of Kelenic and in total, Van Wagenen’s moves have been positive.

Van Wagenen has also grown in his job. Remember when he boasted in spring training that the National League would have to come and get the Mets? By the All Star break he could only muster “The league found us” when the Mets were buried in the NL East race. When the Mets went 15-1 in late July and resurrected the season, however, Van Wagenen did not gloat.  Instead he maintained a low profile, letting the team’s performance do the talking. Remember that on August 10th, the Mets were only one-half game behind the Nationals for a playoff spot, and finished only three games out of the wild card. Overly optimistic fans can even argue that if Wilson had been healthy the whole year, the Mets might have snuck into the playoffs.

While the jury is still out on last July’s Marcus Stroman trade (the Mets gave up their two best pitching prospects, Anthony Kay and Simeon Woods-Richardson), Van Wagenen has to be respected for his boldness. Looking ahead to 2020, Van Wagenen has indicated he is looking to shore up the Mets’ bullpen and defense.

No doubt Van Wagenen’s boldness makes Mets fans nervous, as current fan favorites Brandon Nimmo, J.D. Davis, and Dominic Smith are likely trade chips.

But here’s a thought to tame those churning tummies—Van Wagenen just might know what he’s doing…

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

“My Life in Blue” Now Available in Local Book Stores and All Online Retailers

By Jim Maggiore

Steve Kraly’s posthumous autobiography, “My Life in Blue: From the Yankees in the 1950s, to IBM, and Beyond” is now available at all online retailers (i.e., bn.com, amazon.com) and the following local bookstores in the Greater Binghamton Area:

  • Roberson Museum Gift Shop
  • All About Collectibles in the Oakdale Mall in Johnson City.

I had the honor of working on this book with Steve before he passed away from cancer. We would meet for lunch for every other week during 2015. During these sessions Steve would reminisce about his career and I would pepper him with questions. What was Mickey Mantle like when Steve was his housemate in 1949, playing for the Joplin Miners? How many of those Yogi Berra stories were rooted in fact? What was it like being part of the 1953 World Champion Yankees? And on and on the questions went. I would supplement my sessions with exhaustive research, looking up the box score information of many of the Yankee games during that record-setting ’53 season, when the Yankees won their fifth-consecutive World Series. Steve and I shared many a laugh during his recounting of his career. Now, these details are there for the reading of all!

Third Sample Cover

Here’s the front and back cover of “My Life in Blue:” cover design by Greg Smith.

The Foreword was written by 1962 World Series MVP, Ralph Terry:

1954 was my first spring training with the New York Yankees and when I first met Steve Kraly that spring it was like meeting a baseball god. He was fresh off a 19-2 season for Binghamton, as well as being a member of the 1953 World Champion Yankees, which had won a record-setting fifth World Championship in a row.
I had come to know the name of Steve Kraly many years before. Growing up in Oklahoma, I was a huge fan of the players in the Kansas-Oklahoma-Missouri League (KOML) and during the 1949 season Steve Kraly dominated the pitching scene for the Independence Yankees. During that 1949 season, as an aspiring 13-year-old, I remember rooting for Steve and a speedy shortstop for that Joplin team by the name of Mickey Mantle.
I spent three spring training seasons with Steve from 1954-‘56 and I marveled at the time he always had for his fellow pitchers. When I was all of 18 and in my first spring training camp, he spent time showing me how to improve my curveball. When I got to Binghamton during the 1954 season, it seemed as if all anyone wanted to talk about was the great year Kraly had in ’53 and how he went straight from Binghamton to the Yankees. As a young pitcher in the pitching-rich Yankee organization, following in Steve’s footsteps was a big thrill for me in ’54. I couldn’t imagine having the same success as Steve.
Years later, when I was finishing my career with the Mets, I was able to emulate Steve. The Mets had a young pitcher by the name of Frank “Tug” McGraw, who was struggling to stick with the Mets. He had a pretty good curveball and what he himself called a “Peggy Lee” fastball. You know, the type that when he threw it, a hitter would ask himself “Is that all there is?”  Peggy Lee made the song, “Is that all there is?” a big hit in 1969, but the song, had been around since 1967. In talking with Tug before the 1967 season, he talked about the importance of adding another pitch to his arsenal. That’s when he asked me about the screwball. I showed him my pitch and he picked it up awfully fast.
It was great to share some of my knowledge with Tug and a pleasure once again to walk in the footsteps of Steve Kraly.
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment