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! 

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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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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.

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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!

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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…

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“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.
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Dominic Smith Closes the 2019 Season by Spreading Some Bonhomie

by Jim Maggiore

It was 7:01 PM on Sunday, September 29th, and the fans at Citi Field were growing restless. Walter Lockett had just surrendered back-to-back homers on consecutive pitches in the top of the inning and the Mets were losing to the Braves, 6-4 in the bottom of the 11th. Down to the last out of the season, the Mets looked ready to end it on a desultory note, with the bullpen once again having failed to preserve a lead, as Paul Sewald had given up a home run to Adeiney Hechavarria in the ninth to tie the score at 4-4.

Dominic Smith approached the plate, getting his first at-bat since he was sidelined with a stress fracture in his left foot, which occurred just before the Mets turned the season around, all the way back on July 26th. For the two months since, Smith’s adamantine spirit filled the clubhouse, focused on returning to the field. He even entrenched his status as a Flushing favorite and a purveyor of bonhomie when he rode a scooter onto the field to help celebrate a Mets walk-off win in August.

Now there were runners on the corners and Smith had a chance to extend the Mets season.

Before getting established in Queens, Smith had been a fan favorite in Binghamton in 2016, when he hit .302 with 14 homers while knocking in 91 runs. He became an instant hit with members of the Binghamton Baseball Booster Club when he was a featured speaker at an early-season membership meeting and concluded it by shaking the hands of all the males in attendance and giving a hug to all the women.  During a question-and-answer session, he even elaborated on how much he looked forward to checking out the local restaurants, with #5 and Remlik’s having made an early impression.

Smith gives Cyndy Healy some bonhomie at the April 11th membership meeting of the boosters in 2016.

Now Smith was in the batter’s box, having taken the first pitch from left hander Grant Dayton for a ball. Dayton had just entered the game, brought in to face Smith. Dayton had spent most of his season in AAA and now he was eager to end the season—a plane beckoned. Not wanting to fall behind deeper in the count, Dayton threw a fastball.

Then, with one swing of his bat, Smith turned Citi Field into a party venue, as he ended the season with a three-run homer.

Robinson Cano and Marcus Stroman were the first to greet Smith on his walk-off homer.

In reality, the 7-6 win meant nothing. The Braves had run away with the division title and were headed to the postseason. The Mets were headed home, with 86 wins. But as Smith jumped on home plate, his teammates celebrated as if they had earned a playoff spot. As Pete Alonso ripped off Smith’s shirt, the rest of the team engulfed Smith in a hurricane of cheers, raised fists, and merriment. Strangers in the stands gave each other high fives and screamed with joy.

With one swing of the bat, Smith reminded Mets fans of what Citi Field should be in the fall—a bastion of bonhomie.

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Bill Pulsipher and Jason Isringhausen are the Newest Additions to Binghamton’s Baseball Shrine

by Jim Maggiore

On Saturday, August 31st, two star pitchers of Binghamton’s 1994 Eastern League Championship Team came back to Binghamton to be inducted into the Binghamton Baseball Shrine. Left hander Bill Pulsipher and right hander Jason Isringhausen became the 72nd and 73rd inductees into Binghamton’s Baseball Shrine. During the short pre-game ceremony, both former pitchers for Binghamton and the New York Mets thanked the fans, the Rumble Ponies, and the Shrine Committee for helping them achieve success in their careers.

Pulsipher, left, and Isringhausen pose alongside their induction plaques.

As Isringhausen accepted his honor, he spoke of memories that his visit brought back. “It’s interesting seeing and walking the streets that you roamed so long ago,” he stated. Isringhausen was outstanding for Binghamton in ‘94, winning 9 games and teaming with Pulsipher to form a dominating duo. “Izzy” went on to an outstanding major league career, finding tremendous success once he was converted to a reliever, accumulating 300 saves while pitching for the Mets, A’s, Cardinals, and the Rays.

Pulsipher led the 1994 team to the championship, as he won 14 games and pitched a no- hitter against Harrisburg in the final round of the playoffs. Ironically, his no-hitter occurred on September 12, 1994, which was the same day, though twenty years later, that Steven Matz would pitch a gem of a game to help Binghamton clinch its championship in 2014. During a pre-game reception on the Party Deck, Pulsipher expressed his appreciation for his first big league manager, Dallas Green. “You know, I gave up five runs in the first inning of my major league debut. But Dallas let me throw seven innings that day. I’m thankful to him for giving me the opportunity to pitch. ” When he was questioned about what it was like to pitch without a pitch count, Pulsipher’s face broke into a wry grin. “You know, I loved pitching for Dallas, but I did something that I would never do today. He once let me throw 135 pitches in a start!”

The reception ceremony included a host of finger foods, including this display of cupcakes!

Indeed, Pulsipher can be pointed to as one of the many reasons why pitch counts are so abundant today and managers rarely let their pitchers throw more than 100 pitches in a game. Pulsipher pitched an astonishing 201 minor league innings in 1994 and when he got to the big leagues, “old school” manager Dallas Green did not baby him, he just gave him the ball and let him pitch. In 1996, however, Pulsipher’s career was derailed by Tommy John surgery and his career was hampered by arm woes. Today front office personnel see Pulsipher’s career as a beacon of sorts for what can happen when a promising pitcher is asked to throw too many innings/pitches in a game/season—the careers of such pitchers as Pulsipher, Vida Blue, Doc Gooden, Gary Gentry, and Gary Nolan all serve as examples for justifying pitch counts in today’s game.

Smiles filled both Pulsipher’s and Isringhausen’s faces as they recalled that ‘94 championship team. “You know, Izzy came up in June and when he got here, he told me about this shortstop in St. Lucie who was unbelievable. I said, ‘We got Alfonzo at short, we don’t need another shortstop.’ But Izzy, he said, ‘Wait till you see this guy, he’s Mr. Nintendo at short.’ And what a treat it turned out to be, when Rey Ordonez came up a week later to play short. He was a magician. And having Alfonzo move to second was unbelievable. It was great having those two playing behind me in the middle of the diamond.”

Met fans of a certain age will remember that in 1994, Ordonez was considered every bit as good of a prospect as a shortstop prospect for their crosstown rivals. It was a common debate back then among diehard fans as to who was the better prospect, Ordonez or Derek Jeter. Everyone conceded that Ordonez had a better glove than Jeter, and quite a few  also  thought Ordonez would hit enough to become an overall better player than Jeter. History has told us that Ordonez’s bat never came close to matching his glove and Jeter went on to become one of the greats of the game, but in 1994 Binghamton saw Ordonez perform at an unbelievably high level, high enough that more than a few Binghamtonians favored Ordonez’s future over that of Jeter’s!

Pulsipher and Isringhausen had a great stay in Binghamton, as shortly after the game started they signed autographs for about 45 minutes before setting into a skybox to watch the game.

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Snapshots from the 2019 Induction Weekend

With (left to right) Ozzie Smith, Cal Ripken, Jim Thome, and Hank Aaron in the background, Bernie Williams plays “Take me out to the Ballgame.”

Mike Mussina and Mariano Rivera share an animated moment right after Mussina delivered his acceptance speech.

Just about all the Hall of Famers appeared on stage at Doubleday Field on Saturday, 7/20, for the awards ceremony for media members (J.G. Taylor Spink Award for the writers, Ford C. Frick Award for broadcaster).

Mariano Rivera is all smiles as he walks along Main Street before he enters the Hall of Fame for the annual dinner in the Hall of Fame Gallery.

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