What in the world is going on!?

A's suck“The fact is, we’re not going to blow teams away right now playing short. It’s more frustrating when you’re losing and you can’t explain it, but we knew when we starting losing those guys that we had a challenge ahead of us. It doesn’t make me happy, but I understand why it is happening. We’re going to have to hope the rest of division treads water.” –Billy Beane on the injuries the Athletics have faced this season.

The 2015 Oakland Athletics’ season has all the elements of a fireworks display– first, the excited anticipation, then the spectacular show, a near deafening explosion, and finally, silence. As of this writing the team has lost six in a row and are currently residing in the cellar like a red-headed step-child. They lead the league, in a pathetic display, with errors…32. (2nd baseman Eric Sogard, by himself, has 3 errors. In contrast, Mark Ellis, he of the same position had a grand total of TWO in 123 games in 2006.)

We shouldn’t be so surprised to find the ancient spirit of Pythagoras in our modern ballparks. The world is now conceived in a quantitative way more than ever before and it is seen as constituted by numerical magnitudes. Here is a but a small taste of the numerical horrors that played out before our very eyes:

— Coco Crisp came off the D.L. and perhaps showed his age or lack of passion. He is 0 for his first 21.

— The bullpen is stinkier than diarrhea on a hot tin roof in a Southern heat wave. They are a collective 2-10 with a 5.18 ERA.

— Drew Pomeranz is is proving why the Rockies gave up on him so early; even as a promising “bonus baby.” He is the poor man’s Kenny Rogers….a very, very poor man from a third world country. He is 1-3 with a 5.13 E.R.A.

lawrie a hole shirt

KC fans and their desperate attempt to stay relevant in the baseball world.

Sure, there have been injuries and a bit of bad luck. Baseball is by definition the epitome of bad luck. Here are a few of the more exciting things to happen to the Oakland ball-club during this season so far: Brett Lawrie sliding into an over-rated Alcides Escobar, prompting fans in Kansas City to make the shirts on the right…

and two teammates standing next to each other in an unfortunate and funny display of the baseball gods coming together and dangling the proverbial losing yarn in your face.

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this is exactly why I always aim for the breasts.

Does that sum up the baseball season so far for the Oakland Athletics? In my humble opinion, yes. The rest of the baseball world laughs at Billy Beane’s failures hysterically as the faithful remain steady….and then as soon as there is a semblance of hope, ex-Giant Pablo Sandoval hits a game winning home run for the Red Sox in the 10th inning. I curse, shrug my shoulders and fall into a slumber. What does that feel like?

Semen in the eye.

Joe DiMaggio wears the Kelly Green and Gold.

joe d as manager

Joe D. on the far right.

When Charles Finley brought the A’s to Oakland, he hired Joe DiMaggio as Executive Vice President, coach, and public relations man. Apparently Joe set down some firm ground rules before coming on board with Finley. Specifically, he refused to work the base lines; reserved the right to decline invitations to banquets, supermarket openings and other functions he did not wish to attend; and wanted most of his goodwill time to be spent at the park so his free time would be left open. DiMaggio parted on good terms, explaining he wanted more time to golf and fish.

Many people downplay DiMaggios’ role as more of typical Finley antics, a claim which no doubt is partly true. However, as one would imagine, a presence such as DiMaggios’ does not go unnoticed. It was DiMaggio who taught Joe Rudi to turn his back on a fly ball, resulting in one of the most famous defensive plays in World Series history.

DiMaggio worked an hour every day with the young Reggie Jackson, teaching him how to make contact. To quote DiMaggio; “Reggie is still green as grass, we’ve just got to bring his talents to the surface. They’re all there, no question.”

In 1967 a young Sal Bando changed his batting crouch which resulted in a .192 batting average in 47 games, an injury and a demotion to single-A Vancouver. Joe D. provided the tip which pulled the future star out of his struggles. “I was getting jammed on everything, then Joe D. told me to close up my stance” said Captain Sal who anchored the championship A’s at third base from 1968 to 1976.

DiMaggio witnessed one of the proudest moments in Oakland Athletics history. After Catfish Hunter threw his famous perfect game, May 8, 1968, DiMaggio was asked about the performance. “Just two words,” he said, “A masterpiece.” Joe also experienced the early days of the color uniforms which were uncommon in baseball at the time. Add to this the colors, Kelly Green and California Gold, and one can understand why DiMaggio took some ribbing from fans.

Few people, however, remember the most famous move which DiMaggio made while with the A’s.

Before the start of the 1968 season, while things were tumultuous in preparation for the A’s first season in Oakland, DiMaggio was wandering around the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum checking out the new facility and views it had to offer when he noticed that the view of home plate was obscured from view in portions of the upper deck. Oakland officials fixed the problem by moving the infield further out from the backstop; a move which resulted in the largest foul territory in the Major Leagues, and which pleases pitchers and frustrates hitters to this day.

Kendall Graveman gets sent to Nashville, the mecca of country music.

2015-tsr-10-kendall-gravemanThe Athletics’ young pitcher and top prospect Kendall Graveman was absolutely shelled in his last two starts and subsequently sent down to (AAA) Nashville. The problem? The downward sinking and cutting action on his pitches that he used to get ground balls during his impressive spring training is missing. I have no doubt that the young man will be back soon, and as an effectively solid MLB starter once he gets properly schooled in the muscle memory category. He is already well schooled in the Bull Durham school of baseball interview clichés, “It’s just something that I’ve got to go back to work on…continue to work and not give up.”

My advice to the youngster while he is in Nashville is to learn about the rich history of music that the city has spawned. Here is but a very small list of bards that were born there:

The Allman brothers: This “southern rock”styled group had a string of hits in the 70’s. Unfortunately their leader, Greg Allman was killed in a motorcycle crash in 1971. They have re-united on multiple occasions in recent years to the confusion of everyone but their accountants.

Pat-Boone-In-a-Metal-Mood-No-More-Mr.-Nice-Guy

Boone getting cray cray.

Pat Boone:  All American, squeaky clean gospel music singer and Christian who confused everyone by putting out a “heavy metal” record and promoting it by dressing like Al Pacino when he was an undercover cop looking for a killer in the San Francisco gay club scene. The 1980 cult-classic “Cruising” is a must watch for any movie buff with a sense of humor. You can pass on the Pat Boone, though.

Miley Cyrus: Does this even count as someone with musical talent? Apparently her dad, Mr. “Achy Breaky Heart” was recording in or around Nashville when she was conceived because the whole thing reeks of STRANGE.

Donna Summer: I was bummed when I learned Summer had died in 2012. She had great success in the 70’s with some disco smash hits that will stand the test of time and that are still embraced by gay clubbers. She also gets bonus points for being in a psychedelic rock band in the 60’s called “Crow.”

johnny-cash-eating-cake-in-a-bush-highJohnny Cash: Well, technically the “Man in Black” wasn’t born in Nashville, but he did die there in 2003. For those of you living under a rock, Cash can be seen as arguably one of the most influential country music singers of all time. His most famous album “Folsom Prison Blues” was a standard on my turn-table for many years. A little known fact–Folsom, which is 23 miles north of Sacramento, my hometown, is quite the quaint and conventional little town full of cow-licked, barefoot little hicks munching on cotton candy.

Tammy Wynette: Wynette was called “The First Lady of Country Music,” and is arguably the most influential woman of the genre. She sang beautiful, time-tested songs about loneliness, heartbreak and the difficulties of relationships. Her most famous song, “Stand by Your Man” is one of the greatest selling songs in the history of country music. Wynette died in 1998 at the age of 55 and is buried in Nashville.

Victor French and the A’s cap in the pantheon of popular culture.

victor french

French’s beat up, snap-backed “dad hat,” may be the most famous Athletics cap of all time.

As a child who grew up in the seventies, I’m flabbergasted at the degree of generational differences in health, medicine, food, safety, and general well-being of children. We had no internet, cell phones, computers or video games…but let’s get down to the brass tacks about something really important that we did have…television.

Highway to Heaven was a television show that ran from 1984-1989. At that time, I was just coming into my own as an imaginative, shy and loner pre-teen who hadn’t even learned how to bop his bologna yet. Television was sort of a meditative time for me as I didn’t watch it very often, (we entertained ourselves through peer interaction and physical activity.) and one of my favorite shows was Highway to Heaven. The synopsis of the show was that Michael Landon (left) is an angel sent down to earth to help the downtrodden and oppressed.  The angel picks up a scuzzy-looking human partner along the way (Victor French, right) to help him out and generally be his driver and to give cynical advice. (these two were also co-stars on the insanely popular, Little House on the Prairie, a show that confused and baffled me as a small child while watching it with my aunt.) French was rarely seen without his old, beat-up A’s cap on the show, and I remember thinking that it was so strange that an A’s fan would be helping an angel. As in, the (then) California Angels, who are the A’s divisional rival. The show was sappy and didn’t stop shoving life lessons at you, in turn, a squeaky clean inspirational series that doesn’t tend to get much airplay anymore in a TV world clogged with police beat-downs, reality shows and Kardashians. Landon’s angel wants us to believe in the goodness of people. Most of the episodes dipped into a rich, creamy schmaltz which was pretty good stuff for a young idiot in the 1980’s.

French was a heavy smoker who died in 1989 at 54 of lung cancer. The two were close, and when French died Landon was so devastated that he stopped producing the show. Landon died in 1991 of pancreatic cancer, a sad day in Hollywood as he was seen as one of the more charming and good-hearted actors in a world of phonies and narcissists.

 

The origins of the “Mustache Gang.”

mustache gang

Rollie Fingers has the most famous mustache in baseball history…although he wasn’t the trend setter.

The following is an excerpt from Bruce Markusen’s amazing and vital book, “A baseball Dynasty: Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s. 

Reggie Jackson reported to spring training in 1972 replete with a fully grown mustache, the origins of which had begun to sprout during the 1971 American League Championship Series. To the surprise of his teammates, Jackson had used part of his off-season to allow the mustache reach a fuller bloom. In addition, Jackson bragged to teammates that he would not only wear the mustache, possibly a full beard, come Opening Day.

wally schang

Wally Schang in 1914

Such pronouncements would have hardly created a ripple in later years, when players would freely make bold fashion statements with mustaches and goatees, and routinely wear previously disdained accessories like earrings. But this was 1972, still a conservative time within the sport, in stark contrast to the rebellious attitudes of younger generations throughout the country.  Given that no major league player had been documented wearing a mustache in the regular season since Wally Schang of the Philadelphia A’s in 1914, Jackson’s pronouncements made major news in 1972.

In the post Schang era, several players had donned mustaches during spring training, yet, in each case the player had shaved off the mustache by Opening Day, either by his own volition or because of a mandate from the team. After all, there existed an unwritten rule within the conservative sport, one that strongly frowned upon facial hair. In addition, several teams had more recently instituted their own formal policies (most notably the Cincinnati Reds in the 1960’s), policies that forbade their players from sporting facial hair.

Baseball’s conservative grooming standards , which had been in place for over 50 years, were now being threatened by one of the game’s most visible players. Not surprisingly, Jackson’s mustachioed look quickly garnered the attention of owner Charlie O. Finley and manager Dick Williams. “The story as I remember it,” says outfielder Mike Hegan, “was that Reggie came into spring training…with a mustache, and Charlie didn’t like it. So he told Dick to tell Reggie to shave it off. And Dick told Reggie to shave it off, and Reggie told Dick what to do. This got to be a real sticking point, and so I guess Charlie and Dick had a meeting and they said ‘well, Reggie’s an individual so maybe we can try some reverse psychology here.’ Charlie told a few other guys to start growing a mustache. Then (Finley figured that if) a couple of other guys did it, Reggie would shave his off, and you know, everything would be OK.

reggie_charlie_0_as

Reggie and Charlie O.

According to Sal Bando, Finley wanted to avoid having a direct confrontation with Jackson over the mustache. For one of the few times in his tenure as the A’s owner, Finley showed a preference for a subtle, more indirect approach. “Finley, to my knowledge,”says Bando, “did not want to go tell Reggie to shave it. So he thought it would be better to have us all grow mustaches. That way Reggie wouldn’t be an ‘individual’ anymore.”

Rollie Fingers, Catfish Hunter, Darold Knowles and Bob Locker followed Reggie’s lead, each sprouting their own mustache. Instead of making Jackson feel less individualistic, thus prompting him to adopt his previously clean-shaven look, the strategy had a reverse and unexpected affect on Charles Finley.

“Well, as it turned out, guys started growin’ ’em, and Charlie began to like it,” says Mike Hegan in recalling the origins of baseball’s “Mustache Gang.” Finley offered a cash incentive to any player who had successfully grown a mustache by Father’s Day. “So then we all had to grow mustaches,” says Hegan, “and that’s how all that started.” By the time we got to the (regular) season, almost everybody had mustaches.” Even the manager, Dick Williams, known for his military brush-cut and clan shaven look during his days in Boston, would join the facial brigade by growing a patchy, scraggly mustache of his own. Baseball’s long standing hairless trend had officially come to an end.

 

Rollie Fingers riding a dolphin….and other random thoughts.

rollie

Maybe I’m crazy and maybe I aint

So was Picasso and so were the saints

I’ve never been partial to shackles and chains

I’m too young for breakin’ and too old to change.

–Willie Nelson

I think Chris Rock is one of the funniest, hippest and most intelligent modern-day comedians out there–and he recently had some poignant thoughts concerning baseball. Rock referred to himself as a “dying breed;” a black baseball fan. Here were some of the more interesting points he had to make with my opinions in parenthesis…

4 out of 5 viewers are white and the average median age is 53. (I may be the wrong person to opine on this topic considering that I enjoy the beauty and intricacies of the game that take historical knowledge and the ability to let time slow down for a moment. Baseball is a thinking man’s game and always has been. This doesn’t bode well for the modern generation that isn’t known for its voracious devouring of books or ability to slow down and daydream for a moment without looking at their phones to see whats “going on.” Scoring a game will soon be as dead as cursive writing. All of these things are appreciated by someone who is older and is wise enough to realize that slowing down is vital to enjoying one’s existence. As far as race is concerned, African-Americans also aren’t interested in International Soccer…the world’s most popular sport. The reasoning behind this is difficult and not an easy black and white (no pun attended) issue. I will have to ponder the reasoning behind this.)

— other cultures embrace “fun” more than Americans. The Koreans love the bat flip and the Caribbeans/Mexicans turn a ball-game into a virtual party. (I’d have to agree with this assessment. A lot of fans were unknowingly acting culturally superior last season for criticizing Yasiel Puig’s bat flips. This type of thing is accepted, even embraced in Cuban culture, and personally I see nothing wrong with injecting a little pizzaz into the game. This is not even close to an issue of who is “classier” or not despite fans using this term liberally during their borderline racist attacks on the man. The game is supposed to be fun…period. This isn’t a stock broker convention, it’s baseball.)

–Black people like to look to the future and the “retro” ballparks that are in-vogue embrace the past. (This is an interesting statement and actually gave me pause for a moment. I can see why American blacks would want to forget about the injustices of their past that are unfortunately still going on today. But I also wouldn’t want to see cookie-cutter, faceless basketball stadiums either. My question is this: what architectural aesthetic quality doesn’t remind someone of slavery/oppression? and does this make a European trip virtually impossible?)

–In other news: Ike Davis recently became the first position player on the Athletics to pitch since Frank Menechino in 2000. Davis pitched a mopike davis up ninth inning job in a 14-1 beatdown by the Angels and actually did a decent job with a scoreless inning. I wasn’t surprised to learn later that Davis pitched at Arizona State as he looked like he knew what he was doing out there and had a semblance of command. It’s good to see Davis doing well early in the season for Oakland considering the bashing he took in New York with Mets fans and in Pittsburgh with Pirates fans. He is what he is…a platoon first baseman with above average defensive skills and a little pop that will probably bat in the lower .200’s. Anything is better than Daric Barton and I think A’s fans realize that.

Brett Lawrie and my vacation.

lawrie bro

Who doesn’t tape 40’s to their hands, I mean….c’mon!

I am typing this through the dense smell of cow shit on an Amtrak train hurtling at 80 mph through the California Central Valley from Sacramento to Los Angeles. What a strange, wild world we live in.

It looks like the Oakland Athletics’ lovable frat-boy, Brett Lawrie (pictured) found himself in a bit of trouble over the weekend–injuring Kansas City second baseman Alcides Escobar in an attempt to break up a double play.  After seeing the replay, it seems to me if Lawrie manages to slide directly into the bag, he’s safe. Easily. Instead he takes out Escobar, cleats up, with his lead foot shin/calve, dragging his hand across the bag (and then past the bag). I’ve seen a talking head for MLBN state that it was a hard slide to break up Escobar receiving the ball and I agree. After a beaning in the back, a Twitter war between players and fans, a bench clearing “brawl” that consisted of players standing around and a few ejections; it looks like we have a good old-fashioned baseball rivalry on our hands. That’s just baseball. Obviously there is still bad blood between these teams due to last years playoffs, yet the season is still way too early for these kinds of things. It’s good to see that the Athletics have a lot of heart and competitive drive, but let’s get back to the summer marathon that we all enjoy shall we?

IN OTHER NEWS…I got a chance to see the (AAA) Sacramento Rivercats play the Las Vegas 51’s on Tuesday. Mind you, this was after swearing that I’d never step foot in their ballpark again after recently switching affiliation from the A’s to the Giants. Well, boredom and curiosity got the best of me. My mom was working that day and I needed something to do in a town that traditionally has nothing to do. I hadn’t stepped foot in Sacramento in over a year and wanted to see what the lions’ den would look like–what was once home would now be behind enemy lines complete with orange and black barbed wire.

The moment felt strange from the beginning. The sea of Giants caps and guilt made me feel a bit nauseous. “It’s OK, it’s baseball.” I kept telling myself. My positive emotions were soon turned to mush as I found out that the cheapest tickets were 12 DOLLARS! For a minor league game!!! Like always, I waited the unwritten baseball rule of 3 innings planted in a crap seat in the sun before finding a nice, shady seat right along the first base line. It was a typically fun day at the yard with a homer, a few great defensive plays, (even a bases loaded 1-2-3!)  a few pitching changes and even a few great plays by the fans. I paid 6 bucks for a relatively fat hot dog (anything is better than the Dodger Dog, which are usually stale) that was quite tasty. The price was ridiculous but I came away happier and with a nice tan as I listened to the sea lions bark below the iconic Tower Bridge on the walk home.

Al Dark and the summer of 1974.

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Loves the Mercury Cougar.

Alvin Dark was fired by owner Charles O. Finley in 1967 and here he was taking his grief, again, in 1974. The Oakland ball-club had just lost to the Sox, 3-2, and Charlie O. was throwing a tantrum of epic proportion in the manger’s office. Dark knew that the players had heard some of the one-sided conversation and hoped that his embarrassment would light a fire under their asses.

“I’m playing to win!” screamed Charlie, veins protruding from his neck and eyes popped out as if he was being squeezed by an anaconda. This was, after all, the jungle.

“If you don’t start playing aggressive baseball I’ll kick your fucking ass out of here!” “We won the World Series two years in a row without you and we can win again without you!”

Al understood what was going on– Charlie was from Chicago and hated losing to the Sox more than getting a root canal or a coat that wasn’t plaid. Dark was a Christian so he didn’t raise his voice or even curse. He just sat there, eyes staring directly ahead in an omnipresent out-of-body experience that lasted about 30 seconds until he snapped out of it.

“We’re not wrestling with the mysteries of the universe here, Charlie, it’s just a goddamn….”

Dark stopped himself in mid-sentence and privately scolded himself for the blaspheme.

Mr. Alvin Dark walked the parking lot of the Coliseum alone, the primordial universe spread before him. He slowly lowered himself into a green ’74 Mercury Cougar and started flipping through radio stations with impunity. Thoughts began to develop and unfold as he forgave Charlie for his paradigm of curmudgeon behavior. The song “Thankful for what you’ve got” poured out of the speakers as Dark thought, ” It’s not that the celebration becomes less fun as we get older, it’s more purposeful. Our intentions adjust with the weight of responsibilities and existential dread….and the slow erosion of joint cartilage.”

Dark put key to ignition and foot to pedal as he drove away, leaving an empty parking lot…and the primordial stars to themselves.

Spring Training Update

saveI’m smoking a cigarette; a Camel non filter– the tiny object representing American ingenuity by the label being printed on the lit end. The Viet-Cong couldn’t identify the U.S. onslaught by a simple identification…blown away in the stressed out breeze.

Spring training is boring.

 

Cut and dry. I’d rather give a shout out to fellow bloggers that I enjoy:

https://verdun2.wordpress.com/

https://brokenbatsbaseball.wordpress.com/

https://brucekthiesen.wordpress.com/

 

Interview with former Oakland Athletic and Texas Ranger Jim Umbarger…

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“Umby” in 1977.

1. Let’s start at the beginning- you were drafted by the Cleveland Indians but opted to go to Arizona St. instead. What prompted this decision?

I had a great high school senior season; but I only had three college scholarship offers – ASU, USC, and UCLA. UCLA didn’t have a very good program, but I really enjoyed meeting assistant coach Glen Mickens (who is now retired in Hawaii keeping baseball score books). I almost signed with USC, but I had sent a letter to Bobby Winkles (later the A’s manager in 77), who had assistant coach Fred Nelson do some research on me, and they offered me a full ride. I had read the Sports Illustrated article in 1967 about the ASU national championship and knew that’s where I wanted to go.

The Dodgers had called and spoke with my mom the week before the draft and told her if I’m still available by their first pick (20th) they’ll take me; but their Florida scout convinced them to pick Rick Rhoden.
Before the draft the sports editor of our school paper asked me who I’d like to be drafted by, and my reply was, “Anyone but the Braves and Indians.” Both were terrible at the time. The day of the draft I was in chemistry class when I good friend peeked through the door window signaling two fingers for the second round and mimicking four fingers over her mouth, the Woo-Woo. My heart sank – a double-whammy of not being in the first round, and by Cleveland. When their scout called to want to meet with me I told him don’t bother, I was going to college. But he came to visit and they offered me $20,000. and $8,000. for college; a joke. My third/last season at ASU my foot got cut very badly and I didn’t have my high velocity, so the Rangers picked me in the 16th round (I think 356). But Harley Anderson, their scout, had watched me for five years and knew I would get better. I signed for $15,000. plus $7,500. incentive. My foot healed, I pitched great at AA Pittsfield and got it all a year later.

2. You made your ML debut with the Texas Rangers in 1975… with the first batter faced being future HOFer Rod Carew. Can you take us through the gamut of emotions you must have been feeling?

I remember it very vividly; opening night at home, 28,000 at Arlington Stadium; my dad flew in from L.A. (it was near his birthday). We were losing 7-1 with one out and a runner on first in the seventh. Naturally I was quite nervous. I went into my stretch position and my left knee wouldn’t stop shaking (I thought sure I’d get a balk call). First pitch, perfect curve right on the corner, but the ump (Bill Haller) calls it a ball. Second pitch, exact same thing… right on the corner, ball two. I’m thinking this is a tough league and if they’re not going to call those pitches strikes than I’ve got no chance. The standard nickname for a curve was “Uncle Charlie” (I don’t know why). Mine was so good that Dave Nelson called mine “Lord Charles”. And Earl Weaver told me at a formal spring event in 81 that Steve Stone, and Blyleven and I had the 3 best in the AL. I would have added Tanana’s curve. Bert’s was the best I ever saw… it would break twice! Tanana made the best transition I ever saw. Throwing across his body so much, it was clear to me his arm would blow out sooner than later, but when it did he learned the discipline to keep it low and change speeds quite well – I wish I was that smart. Anyhow, I throw a fastball inside at the belt and Carew grounds to second for a force-out. Two out, Lyman Bostock is at the plate. I throw the same three pitches – two great curves on the corner that were called balls, and a fastball at the hands for a grounder to second. Inning over, and I get a loud standing ovation as I’m trotting off the field. P.S. – Carew was 3-for-22 and ended up not playing against me.

….And did you have much of a relationship with manager Billy Martin?

jewwwy holtz

“Super Jew” Ken Holtzman

Managers don’t usually have close relationships with players – it’s tough to fire/trade/release friends.
Billy was a genius on the field and a maniac off. I recall a few times coming to the clubhouse early and he’d be on the training table with 3 or 4 ice packs on him. Standard Napoleon complex with some momma’s boy/Italian tough guy blended in. But Billy was not afraid of using rookies – Sundberg and Hargrove were prime examples. Our first spring games of 75 we flew to Mexico City to play their two best teams. Opening night I relieved to start the 5th or 6th inning and struck out the first four batters I faced and got the next two out. I had a great spring – 16 innings, 16 K’s, 4 walks. A left-hander with control??? Uh oh, look out. But Ken Holtzman made it look the easiest – 5 or 6 curves, 70-80 tailing fastballs away – the ultimate “pitch to centerfield”. Doubt he ever broke a sweat. Too bad he retired early because of too much travel. Speaking of sweat… one night game in august 76 in Arlington, I lost 14 pounds in two hours, changed my undershirt three times. Right after the season ended, I took a hot date to an all-you-eat high-class steak place in Dallas and ate salad, bread, baked potato, and 6+ t-bones. I only stopped because it was getting late.
But the worst manager I played for was Billy Hunter in 78. My 77 season was awful, but I worked hard that winter lifting weights and drinking protein shakes and came to camp ready to impress. Corbett noticed and he and Hunter made a $100. bet – Corbett that I would make the team, and Hunter (the manager who makes that decision) that I wouldn’t! Opening game at Ft. Lauderdale against the Yankees, I was clocked at 93, and I blew away their starting lineup (Reggie, Rivers, Munson, White, Piniella) for three innings. I continued to have a great spring, and made the team.

3. You were traded to Oakland prior to the 1977 season…did you have any contact with Charlie Finley during this time? What was your experience like in an Athletics uniform and how did you feel when they sent you to the minors that very same season…was it due to battling injuries?

DA 1977 redux

Richie “Wampum” Allen

Before I answer I want to state that it was clear to see there were many young talented guys – Mitchell Paige, Wayne Gross, Rob Picciolo, Rick Langford, Mike Norris, Bob Lacey. One of the coolest experiences I ever had was with Richie Allen one Sunday morning sitting in the dugout – he was in a 3-piece suit and talking about his mom. I always remembered him from a quote in the late 60’s, that he loved playing, he just wished the stadium seats were empty. I had strained my elbow tendon at Royals Stadium in May of 76, and it wasn’t fully healed. And unknowingly I had a serious case of depression.
Charlie traded for me because I pitched a great game (losing 1-0 in 11 innings) one night in June 76 in Chicago on local TV. Spring of 77 I was not at my best and there were “trade winds” in the air. I had not signed my contract yet and AL Pres. Lee McPhail came to Pompano to speak with me for some odd reason. Understand that free agency was created in July 76 (I was at the meeting in Philly), I signed that spring for four years and a lot of money, and I invented the bonus money for being traded clause, and two months later received $25,000. Turns out, I was a rent-a-player, Charlie and Brad Corbett had pre-arranged that the Rangers would get me back after the season. I had some discussion with the players association as to whether I should get another 25k for being sold back to Texas, and contractually I probably could have won, but I didn’t want to rock the boat, so we didn’t proceed in that direction. It’s a great game, it’s a tough business.

4. You were involved in the longest professional baseball game (33 innings) in which you pitched 10 scoreless. Can you take the readers through the madness a bit and explain the emotional ups and downs you must have had over those 2 days?

Craziest night ever – full moon, cold wind blowing in from left, scheduled to start at 7:30 but a problem with the lights delays until 8:00. The mound was chewed up, so I pitched all 10 innings out of a stretch, and I had great stuff. I’m nocturnal, so coming into the game at 2am was right up my alley. Two hours and eight minutes later, ten more innings passed and the umps finally said let’s suspend the game (we had a 1pm game 9 hours later). Dave Huppert caught the first 31 innings! (go try squatting for almost eight hours!) In 2006 the Pawtucket club held a 25 year reunion – with limos, nice hotel, big luncheon (with a PowerPoint showing pictures and music from 1981), and a game where they introduced us on the field by positions.

5. Finally… what was life like for Jim Umbarger after baseball? Aren’t you a bit of a golf nut?

Yes, very much so; though the appropriate term may be fanatic or addict. I’ve played in over 400 charity celebrity tourneys (the best were hosted by Frank Quilici in Minneapolis). Next year will be our 30th annual tourney here in Phoenix that Lou Klimchock and I initiated way back when. I was fortunate enough to eventually get real with myself and achieved the steps to becoming a full-time teaching professional. And in 2009-10 I wrote a 280-page book about some of the horrible golf instruction that is prevalent. In 2013 I wrote a 150-page autobiography (just for my own amusement).
In case any of the readers have ever wondered why so many pitchers are drawn to playing golf, here’s my take. Baseball is great, pitching is great. But pitchers are frustrated from depending on the defense and offense and umpires and managers to determine their fate. Golf is a game of personal responsibility, each shot and each score is up to the individual, which pitchers enjoy.

In 2014 I watched a lot of The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson (and Geoff).This next take is from him and doesn’t apply to the readers who have made it this far, but in case they have any friends who have a short attention span, here’s some recommended readings… Of Mouse and Man, Five Shades of Grey, A Tale of One City, and my personal favorite – The Grape of Wrath.

Former MLB guys on the Arizona alumni committee who put some effort into our annual golf tourney – Ethan Blackaby, Cisco Carlos, Jack Heidemann, aforementioned Lou Klimchock, Leon Brown, Kevin Kobel, Ken Rudolph, Bart Zeller.

1910_T210_Old_Mill_Casey_Stengel

Casey Stengel, “The Ol’ Perfessor” in 1910.

Nowadays, retired and having turned 62, my life is all about Maggie, my 16+ yo Australian herder collie, the smartest, most sensible, loving, quickest, best being I have ever known. I play some celeb tourneys, watch a ton of true life crime shows, and yell at the stupid politicians. To keep my mind sharp I solve expert level Sudoku.

A major highlight of my life I will excerpt from my personal autobiography. “The highest compliment I have ever received occurred in late-May that year. For you baseball fans, pay attention here; if you are not a baseball fan, you may skip the rest of this paragraph. In 1970 and 71, I was a very good high school baseball pitcher. During my senior year in 71, I had the honor of Casey Stengel coming to watch me pitch three different games. I happened to pitch well those games (and most of the others), and I was usually informed afterwards that Casey was there in attendance. Unfortunately, my team, the U. S. Grant High School Lancers (in Van Nuys, California), lost our semi-final playoff game in the Los Angeles City playoffs in mid-May. At the time, I was being recruited to play college baseball at UCLA and USC (Southern Cal for you southerners). I attended the championship game that was being played at Dodger Stadium and during the third inning, my date, Kathy Brigham, and I started walking up the aisle to visit the concession stand. As it turned out, Justin Dedeaux and Casey were sitting a few rows higher up from where we were sitting. Justin was the USC recruiter and had been contacting me to play for them. So Justin sees me and says, “Hi Jim, there’s someone here I’d like you to meet. Jim, this is Casey Stengel. Casey, this is Jim Umbarger. Casey, we’ve been talking with Jim about playing for USC and we think he’s going to be a fine pitcher someday”. Casey’s simple and immediate response was, “He already is.” I was flabbergasted then, and I still am today. When Casey died in October 1975, I cried. And nothing anyone has ever said, or will ever say to me, could top Casey’s off-the-cuff, from the heart, comment. Thank you “Ol’ Perfessor”. I have cried a few times at different times of my life at the wonderful compliment and memory from a great guy.”

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