The Coming of Age for Brett Baty

By Jim Maggiore

On Saturday night, July 24th, Brett Baty entered the game hitting .139, still looking for his first RBI in Double-A, let alone his first home run and, to make matters worse, he had already struck out 15 times, an incredible 38% of the time he marched to the plate! Though he had only 40 plate appearances, these totals were still alarmingly anemic.

Baty takes a cut while Carlos Rincon, acquired from the Dodgers earlier this year, looks on as the Rumble Ponies play at MIRABITO STADIUM in Binghamton. Baty demonstrates his sound fundamentals here, with level shoulders and his eyes focused on contact with the ball.

 Brett Baty was the first round pick of the Mets in 2018, the 12th overall pick and expectations have been high for him from the first moment he set foot on a professional diamond. Now he was finding that the pitchers in Double-A had better command and kept hitters off balance with an assortment of off-speed pitches. The game was faster than what he had seen in Class-A ball, where he hit .309 in 205 plate appearances, with 7 homers and 34 RBIs, and had struck out 53 times, still high at 25%, but nothing approaching his rate at Double-A. At the end of the night on July 31st, however, Baty would raise his batting average almost one hundred points, to .225, with one homer and 6 RBIs.  July 24th was indeed a coming of age night for Baty.

His first at-bat this night he hit a 92-mph fastball off of Chance Kirby that reached the left center-field fence on a single hop. In the third inning he got his team back into the game by hitting another fastball far, this one over the leaping try by standout centerfielder Riley Greene, who just missed making a spectacular catch to rob Baty of his first Double-A dinger. The two-run shot brought the Ponies to within three runs of the SeaWolves, as the score stood 7-4 after Baty’s milestone.

The fun had started for Baty.

In the bottom of the 4th he knocked in two more runs with a single to left off an 84-mph changeup, bringing home Matt Winaker and Nick Meyer. After walking in the 6th inning, Baty hit another double in the bottom of the seventh, this one off another off-speed pitch, to the left-center gap, scoring Luis Carpio and Matt Winaker, giving the Ponies a 12-11 lead. Mark Vientos then followed with a single up the middle, ending the 6-run scoring and giving the Mets a 14-11 lead. The Ponies held on to win the game, 14-13.

The next morning Baty was up early, as he was a guest on the 9:30 segment of Grant Paulsen’s “Majors and Minors” radio show on SIRIUS XM radio. Paulsen introduced Baty with glowing remarks, calling him a jewel in the Mets’ farm system.  He praised Baty’s exploits from the night before and asked him how he celebrated his big night. “Well, here in Binghamton there’s a neat place to get a bite to eat called The Colonial, so I went with a bunch of the guys there and we had a good post-game meal and talked about the game a bit.” Baty also went on to explain the difference in playing in Binghamton from Brooklyn. “In Double-A the game’s a lot faster, everything’s faster, from the speed of the players to the velo on the pitches, to the way the ball travels all over the diamond. It’s taken me a bit to get adjusted to the speed and I’m still adjusting to its speed up here, but last night felt good.”

Baty has developed a reputation for hard work and is also learning how to play left field, as the power-hitting presence of Mark Vientos has the Mets’ front office already wondering how they can get the bats of Baty and Vientos in the lineup at the same time in Flushing in a year or two. With Baty’s arrival, Vientos has also seen increased time in LF and 1B as well.

 As of this writing, in the 72 plate appearances Baty has had since July 31st, he’s raised his average to .271 and has hit 5 homers! He’s obviously caught up to the speed of the game and now it appears the only thing he does slowly is sign autographs. It turns out the autograph hounds who patrol MIRABITO STADIUM have lots of cards of Brett Baty that they would like him to sign. They’ve found out that Baty only signs one autograph a day for each fan, making it a long season for those with a dozen or so cards of Baty. Those hounds now affectionately refer to the promising prospect as Brett “One-A-Day” Baty.

If Baty keeps playing this well, there just might be a future vitamin commercial for him in Flushing.     

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Congratulations to Mark Vientos, the BBBC’s Player of the Month for June

Mark Vientos, Binghamton’s third baseman, was voted the Player of the Month for July by the Binghamton Baseball Boosters. During the month, Vientos was simply sensational, hitting .324 with 9 homers and 21 RBIs. Throughout the month he showed an increased ability to lay off on breaking pitches out of the zone and use the whole field while at bat. In addition, he displayed excellent power to the opposite field.

Mark Vientos poses with “Wonder Woman” as he receives his Player of the Month Award for June.

In addition he displayed a steady glove at third base, with a good arm. His defense has been better than “advertised” before the season. Vientos has clearly been one of the most improved players on the team, as in May he got off to a disappointing start, often chasing breaking pitches that were low and outside. During the past week he has begun to see playing time in left field, as top prospect Brett Baty, also a third baseman, joined the team. Baty and Vientos have been alternating between 3B and LF.

The official ballot for the award included the following nominees:

  • Andrew Mitchell, RP: (2-0, 1.72 E.R.A, 20 strikeouts in 15.2 innings pitched)
  • Mark Vientos, 3B/1B: (.324 batting average, 9 HRs, 21 RBIs in 71 at-bats)
  • Carlos Cortes, LF: (.316 batting average, 6 HRs, 18 RBIs in 98 at-bats)
  • Josh Walker, SP: (3-1, 3.41 E.R.A., 26 strikeouts in 23.2 innings pitched)
  • Hayden Senger, C: (.327 batting average, 2 HRs, 7 RBIs, in 51 at-bats) 
  • Write-In candidate

In winning the award, Vientos joins a long line of previous winners; many of whom went on to play in the major leagues (bold indicates major league experience).

April 2015: Jayce Boyd

May 2015: Josh Rodriguez

June 2015: Brock Peterson

July 2015: Gavin Cecchini

August 2015: Tyler Pill

April 2016: Robert Gsellman

June 2016: Philip Evans

July 2016: David Roseboom

August 2016: Dominic Smith

April 2017: Champ Stuart

May 2017: Tomas Nido

June 2017: Chris Flexen

July 2017: P.J. Conlon

August 2017: Corey Oswalt

April 2018: Pete Alonso

May 2018: Jeff McNeil

June 2018: John Mora

July 2018: Levi Michael

August 2018: Joey Terdoslavich

April 2019: Anthony Kay

May 2019: Patrick Mazeika

June 2019: Ali Sanchez

July 2019: Jason Krizan

August 2019: Mickey Jannis

May 2021: Carlos Cortes

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Book Review—MR Met: Jay Horwitz Recounts His Years as the PR Man for the Mets

by Jim Maggiore

In “Mr. Met: How a Sports-Mad Kid from New Jersey Became Like Family to Generations of Big Leaguers,” Jay Horwitz, longtime public relations director for the New York Mets, shares stories from the Mets players of the 1980s to the present day, consistently displaying a love of his job and the people with whom he crossed paths. In reading the book, it’s clear two of the reasons he kept his job as long as he did was because early on in his job he learned to keep his ears open and his mouth shut. Besides being a clearing house for media access to the players, Horwitz was like a second father to them, with their welfare always in the forefront of his mind.

If you’re looking for salacious material on the Mets, this book will disappoint you, as Horowitz consistently chooses the innocuous over the scabrous, the insouciant over the insidious.

Bob Klapisch, beat reporter for the New York Post in the 1980s, describes Horwitz’s role with the Mets early on in the book: “Players loved Jay in a way that players today no longer love PR guys. Now PR guys are mostly just seen as nuisances. Players don’t want to be bothered….Especially early on, Jay was privy to everything that was going on, from the front office on down, they clued him in, they let him know everything that was going on, and he was privy to the private lives of the players. I’ve never met a guy as good as keeping a secret as Jay.”    

This book not only puts a smile or two on your face, but also provides insights into the workings of the Mets organization and the personalities that comprise it. You get a glimpse of the Mets players from the past forty years, from the frightening feeble teams of the early 80s to the swaggering 1986 team to the delightfully overachievers of the 2015 team that went to the World Series.  Horwitz always had a knack for making the Mets an interesting story, even during those post-Seaver days, when Shea Stadium was dubbed “Grant’s Tomb” by sportswriters. It was a caustic moniker that caught on with the public, as not only did the fans stay away, but at the time M. Donald Grant was the man in charge of the Mets and his feud with Tom Seaver was a primary reason for Seaver being traded to the Reds; the media profiled Grant as a person focused on pecuniary matters rather than posting wins. 

Horwitz countered this negativity by looking for interesting and offbeat stories to feed the media and advertising agencies. Some of you might remember the “Magic is Back” slogan from 1980 that the Mets coined to promote the team. Ironically though, most of you have forgotten that one of the main reasons for the slogan was that the Mets began a new ownership regime that season, as Nelson Doubleday and the Wilpons took control of the team. Other slogans prominent in the early 80s were “Catch the Rising Stars at Shea” and “The Magic is Back,” and when it was apparent it wasn’t, the following year the marketing words became “The Magic is Real.” 

Through the good years and the bad, Horwitz has been a constant for the Mets. Currently he serves as the Director of Alumni Relations for the Mets and he has instituted events that reconnect former Mets players with today’s fans. Remember when Ed Kranepool needed a kidney transplant a few years ago? Horwitz was instrumental in getting stories in the media highlighting Kranepool’s story. Today Kranepool, one of the mainstays of the Miracle Mets of 1969, often makes appearances on behalf of the Mets.

During this past offseason Horwitz also initiated a monthly series of ZOOM sessions between former Mets and today’s fans. The guests for these events included such former players as Joel Youngblood, Doug Flynn, and Howard Johnson. Each of these players expressed genuine love for Horwitz and said whenever Jay called, they would be happy to make an appearance on his behalf.  These sessions were not only welcomed by the players, but by the fans as well. Horwitz’s idea to run these sessions show his ongoing attachment to both his family of players and the fans of New York.

If you want a “Pollyanish” view of the Mets for the past forty years, this is clearly a book for you. If you’re of an acerbic bent, this book can only sweeten you up.

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The Binghamton Baseball Boosters Selected Carlos Cortes as the Player of the Month for May!

Carlos Cortes, Binghamton’s left fielder, was voted the Player of the Month for May by the Binghamton Baseball Boosters (BBBC). During the month, Cortes was a mainstay in the lineup, hitting .250 while hitting three homers and knocking in 12 runs. Other players receiving votes included Jake Mangum, Tylor Megill, and Yoel Romero.  All members of the BBBC are eligible to vote.

John Bayne, general manager for the Rumble Ponies, presents Cortes with his award.

Ironically, as the voting entered its final stages, Megill was promoted to Syracuse, eliminating him from being considered for the award, as the intent of the award is to recognize current Binghamton players. The performances of both Megill and Cortes stood out among the Rumble Ponies.

In winning the award, Cortes joins a long line of previous winners; many of whom have gone on to play in the major leagues (bold indicates major league experience).

April 2015: Jayce Boyd

May 2015: Josh Rodriguez

June 2015: Brock Peterson

July 2015: Gavin Cecchini

August 2015: Tyler Pill

April 2016: Robert Gsellman

June 2016: Philip Evans

July 2016: David Roseboom

August 2016: Dominic Smith

April 2017: Champ Stuart

May 2017: Tomas Nido

June 2017: Chris Flexen

July 2017: P.J. Conlon

August 2017: Corey Oswalt

April 2018: Pete Alonso

May 2018: Jeff McNeil

June 2018: John Mora

July 2018: Levi Michael

August 2018: Joey Terdoslavich

April 2019: Anthony Kay

May 2019: Patrick Mazeika

June 2019: Ali Sanchez

July 2019: Jason Krizan

August 2019: Mickey Jannis

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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.    

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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.

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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.

 

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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.”

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“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.”

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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.”

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