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Al Campanis would’ve raised the first toast to Dave Roberts

I haven’t read every media account since Dave Roberts was named Dodgers manager, so I may be raising a point that has already been made:

The appointment of the Dodgers’ first Black skipper has to bring to mind the darkest chapter of a bright franchise. “Dark” in both a symbolic and literal sense.

Respected and long-time Dodgers GM Al Campanis sits on a stool in the middle of a darkened Astrodome minutes after the 1987 season opener, and is asked by ABC Nightline host Ted Koppel why there aren’t more Black managers in the Major Leagues.

And Campanis, a member since 1943 of the franchise that broke baseball’s color line, responds on the 40th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s Major League debut that Blacks “may not have some of the necessities to be, let’s say, a field manager, or, perhaps, a general manager.”

Two days later, Campanis is fired.

I knew “Trader Al” well, and got to know him even better after that sad end to his career, since we lived a couple of miles apart in Orange County. He passed away in 1998 while he and I were in talks about doing his autobiography. He didn’t have a prejudicial cell in his body. He just wasn’t media savvy, or particularly fast on his feet.

Since that night in 1987, big-league clubs have added 10 Black managers, bringing the total since Frank Robinson broke that color line in 1975 and through 2015 to 13, still way below what it should be.

Now Dave Roberts makes it 14. Nobody would bet happier about that than Al Campanis.

Bucs in Puerto Rico: It will be magic

I’ll tell you what is great about the Pirates and Marlins getting ready to play  a pair of games next May in Puerto Rico.

No, not that the fact it will happen the season after I will have left the Bucs beat; thanks for the timing, MLB, it’s not like I would’ve dug covering regular-season games on my idol Roberto Clemente’s turf.

But the high profile of the occasion will raise Puerto Rican awareness of both baseball and, yes, Clemente. Last week, I credited the Carlos Correa- Francisco Lindor showdown for the A.L. Rookie of the Year Award with injecting new life into baseball on the island.

This will do a lot more for that. And it’s important, both for reviving in a onetime lush source of prospects that has generally dried up, and to introduce new generations of Puerto Ricans to Clemente.

Based on my experiences, The Great One now is better known on the mainland, thanks to the Roberto Clemente Award and to Commissioner Bud Selig’s declaration of an annual Roberto Clemente Day in 2002, than in his homeland.

I spent the 2014 All-Star Game break vacationing in Puerto Rico, smack in the middle of Carolina, Clemente’s birthplace. Naturally, I was interested in landmarks, or museums or just relevant souvenir shops, but every man-on-the-street mention of Clemente returned a “Who?”

It wasn’t an intentional survey. And I may be exaggerating the cluelessness. But I definitely came away with the impression, “Hey, these guys needs a refresher course on Clemente.”

Fish v Bucs in his ‘hood should do it.


Tony La Russa’s ARF conclave: Engrossing, inspiring, amazing

As a Hall of Fame manager, Tony La Russa made out 2,728 winning regular-season lineups. But, by his own admission, he was bolted awake at 2 a.m. Saturday morning by the realization he “had screwed up” in setting the speakers lineup for the final day of his ARF Pets for Vets benefit.
Robert O’Neill was on the bill. He is only the ex-Navy Seal Team 6 member who was integral to the rescue operations of Captain Richard Phillips from Somalian pirates, of Marcus Luttrell (the “Lone Survivor” of the intense film) from Afghanistan — and who fired the kill shots that brought down Osama Bin Laden.
O’Neill was to be followed by Joe Torre, Tim McCarver, basketball coaching legend Bobby Knight and Olympic swimmer Dara Torres. And La Russa titled <i>their </i> forum “Against All Odds.”
As O’Neill himself needled La Russa, “Compared to what I did? What the (bleep), Tony?”
Make no mistake, O’Neill absolutely enthralled and awed the audience in the Aria Resort’s Juniper Ballroom with background stories of his experiences. He lived a Quentin Tarantino-Martin Scorsese-Oliver Stone vision, with no one ever behind a camera to yell, “Cut!”
For half an hour, O’Neill had people shaking their heads in admiration. Once, however, he had them nodding in agreement — when he inadvertently touched on a leading takeaway from a three-day program on behalf of ARF’s mission to match homecoming veterans with dogs that help their transition back to civilian life:
Baseball remains stitched into the fabric of life. People in all walks of that life can tie formative events to the game, or relate unimaginable circumstances through the prism of baseball.
Consider O’Neill’s thoughts aboard the helicopter carrying Bin Laden’s corpse, with long odds against it being able to make it out of Pakistan.
“Five minutes became 10 …. then 15, 20. We just sat there, quietly,” O’Neill said. “Nobody said anything. It was like being in a perfect game. You didn’t want to jinx it.
“At 85 minutes, the pilot says, ‘Here’s words you probably never thought you’d be happy to hear: Welcome to Afghanistan.’”
Earlier, Kevin Cronin of classic rockers REO Speedwagon explained why he has always paused to engage fans and sign autographs as he is leaving a venue. regardless of the conditions:
“As a kid growing up in Chicago, I was Luis Aparicio. In those days, you could get into the Comiskey Park bleachers for 75 cents, and between innings we would go down to this hot dog shack in the left-field corner.
“The shack was behind this low chain-link fence. All you could see were the outfielder’s legs. But I’d bend down low and call out, ‘Hey, Minnie.’ And Minnie Minoso would look behind him and say, ‘What’s up fellas?” And that made me feel great. And I remember how it made me feel, and that’s why I always make time to stop and greet people.”
George Will, the brilliant political columnist, discussed the dynamics of the ongoing presidential campaign and placed a roster of sketchy candidates in the context of a famously combative manager:
“Earl Weaver, the diminutive manager of the Orioles, would storm out on the field to contest a call. He would put his face in the chest of the umpire, look up into his face and ask, ‘Are you going to get better, or is that as good as you get?”
But, of course, there were those moments when baseball was the storyline, not just a tangent. And so McCarver and Torre offered the episodes when they had to defy their greatest odds — mundane as they were compared to O’Neill’s.
For McCarver, it was as the Cardinals catcher in the dwindling days of the 1964 season — infamous for Gene Mauch’s Phillies blowing a 6 1/2-game National League lead with 12 games to go.
“We had to go into Pittsburgh to wrap up a ridiculous 18-game road trip. <i>Eighteen </i> games,” McCarver said. “Bob Friend was in danger of losing 20 games and the Pirates wanted to avoid that. And the big lefty, Bob Veale, had a sore shoulder, So we didn’t have to face one Pirates ace and didn’t have to deal with the top game of the other.”
The Cardinals swept a five-game series from the Pirates, overcame the Phillies, then the Yankees in a seven-game World Series.
For Torre, it was the first World Series of his long career, both as a player and as a previously failed big league manager. In 1996, hired by the Yankees to the consternation of the New York media and fans, Torre led the Bombers to the AL East title and easy wins over Texas and Baltimore in the Division and Championship Series, respectively.
There was a problem with that: including a rainout, they had to wait a full week prior to the first game of the World Series. The Braves romped, 12-1 in Yankee Stadium.
Prior to Game 2, George Steinbrenner stopped by Torre’s office.
“This is a must game,” The Boss declared.
“And I’m kinda relaxed guy,” Torre related. “I just wanted to <i> get</i> to a World Series. Winning it was something else altogether. And Greg Maddux was pitching for the Braves that night. So I said, ‘George, we’ll probably lose. Maddux is pretty good.
“‘But don’t worry. We’ll go to Atlanta, win three games there, then come back and win it for you right here.’”
Which, of course, game-by-game is exactly how it came down. “George thought I must be some kind of genius,” said Torre, able to convert that episode into a 12-year run with the Yanks, who in the preceding 12 years had gone through nine managerial changes.

Bucs’ “credit” rating at all-time low

Have the Bucs morphed, in the blink of a baseball eye, from dreaded futility to expected excellence?

I don’t know if that’s the proper conclusion to draw. But a few minutes of research led to a rather startling revelation:

Of the last 74 Major League teams to win 98-plus games, the Bucs were the ONLY one to not have a finalist for any of the three major individual awards: MVP, Cy Young or Manager of the Year.

Of course, announcing the three finalists is a relatively new, MLB Network-friendly concept. The finalists, however, are simply the top three in voting by members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, which is completed by the end of the regular season.

So it is a simple process to scan past votes for the top three in each category.

In the expansion era, there was only one other big winner not recognized with a major award “finalist.” Oddly, that came in 1962, the maiden 162-game season, and there was a good reason for the 98-win Reds to be blanked: That same season, the 103-win Giants and 102-win Dodgers were both well-awarded, and it would’ve been a logistical hardship for all three to get their dues.

But the ’15 Bucs? They were just plain dissed.

Some would point out the lack of standout individual performances proved that the Pirates were a team, the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.

Fine. But in that case, the guy doing the new math should’ve gotten the credit: But Clint Hurdle, too, got shafted.

Anyway, that’s my opinion. Just living up to this blog’s title.

NL Rookie of the Year primer: This Roger isn’t Jolly.

It’s National League Rookie of the Year announcement day.

Or, as it’s known in Pittsburgh, Monday.

When this annual award has center-stage, I’m always fascinated by the fact the Pirates, in their long and distinguished history, have had only one NL Rookie of the Year — Jason Bay, in 2004. The Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year Awards have been around since 1947, when the man himself earned the outstanding rookie honor that would soon bear his name.

Of the eight original franchises in existence at the time, none of the others have won it fewer than four times. But even the expansion-era teams have shown up the Pirates in this regard.

It would be awesome for Jung Ho Kang to upset Kris Bryant and bag this trophy for at least two reasons. Bryant’s teammate, Chris Coghlan, is the guy who knocked Kang into the offseason with a takeaway slide on Sept. 17. And it would be kinda cool to point out the Bucs have had rookies of the year only from Canada and Korea.

At least Kang has been identified as one of the three finalists for the award, its own distinction. The only Pacific Rim player named NL Rookie of the Year was pitcher Hideo Nomo, of Japan and of the Dodgers, in 1995.

Interesting footnote to Nomo’s win: It came in the midst of the Dodgers’ second historical streak of four consecutive Rookies of the Year (1979-1982 and 1993-1996) — but they have not had a winner since outfielder Todd Hollandsworth brought up the rear of the second streak in 1996.

Here is your NL Rookie of the Year standings, leading up to tonight’s announcement (CAPS indicate the Original Eight):

  • DODGERS   15
  • BRAVES       7
  • *REDS          6 1/2
  • GIANTS        6
  • CUBS           5
  • Mets             5
  • PHILLIES      4
  • Marlins         4
  • Expos/Nats  3
  • *Padres        1 1/2
  • Astros          1
  • Brewers       1
  • Rockies       1
  • PIRATES      1

* In 1976, the Reds’ Pat Zachary and the Padres’ Butch Metzger split the award.

The wacky, and wonderful, AFL.

It’s Steve Cobb’s league. But for a few minutes on Saturday night, the Arizona Fall League was taken over by Robert Ripley.

There were two plays in close succession late in the Surprise-Salt River game of the sort never seen by Cobb, the veteran baseball man who is the AFL’s executive vice president. Or by anybody else. Ripley is the “Believe it or Not” guy, and the plays came right out of his twisted mind.

Weirdo No. 1:

Bases loaded, one out in the bottom of the ninth. Raimel Tapia, a frequent flyer, is the runner on third. Surprise protecting a 5-3 lead. Chris Rabago singles to right. Or does he? Bubba Starling fields the flare on one hop and lasers a throw to catcher Gary Sanchez to force Tapia at home.

Full disclosure: I’d seen the 9-2 force once, which still doesn’t make it ho-hum considering the tens of thousands of innings I’ve seen. And the circumstances were totally different.

In the mid-60s, Roberto Clemente deked Lou Brock into believing he was about to catch a one-out liner, made him tag up at third — then charged the ball to unleash a throw that erased Brock at the plate.

There was no deking last night. Routine avoid-getting-doubled-up-if-the-ball-is-caught decision, then take off, by Tapia. He was just nailed.

Weirdo No. 2:

A true never-seen-before. Jurickson Profar doubles with one out in the top of the 10th. Dustin Fowler goes in to run for him. So Profar is out of the game, but the Rafters have a plan to to get him out, period.

Salt River righty Carlos Estevez has his instructions. He toes the rubber, steps off the rubber … and tosses to first base to appeal that Profar had missed the bag.

Not quite. Estevez actually tosses way over first baseman Rowdy Tellez. Into the camera pit adjacent to the dugout. Umpire Clint Fagan holds up two fingers. Two-base error. Fowler is waved home, for Surprise’s winning run.

Seasoned baseball people departed Salt River Fields shaking their heads and muttering to themselves, “Never seen that before.”

Ah, the proof.

Baseball. It’s like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates.

They had an NL MVP vote — but did they have a clue?

The awards for the 2015 season are coming at us fast and furious — the highlight,’s Esurance MLB Awards land a week from Friday — but we need a quick timeout,

What the heck were my BBWAA brethren thinking in their votes for National League MVP? The votes came in a long time ago, and were the basis for the three finalists announced on Tuesday.

Joey Votto and Paul Goldschmidt? And no Andrew McCutchen?

Two thoughts:

  • Bryce Harper, the third finalist, may as well clear mantle space and get his hair ready for the acceptance speech.
  • And did we miss the memo on the award being renamed Most Outstanding Player, versus Valuable?

It is absolutely stunning that two of the top three vote-getters are off losing clubs, considering of the 187 MVP Awards handed out historically, only five went to players off losing teams — none of which had a record as bad as the Votto Reds’ 64-98:

  • Ernie Banks 1958 (Cubs: 72-82)
  • Banks 1959 (Cubs: 74-80)
  • Andrew Dawson 1987 (Cubs: 76-85)
  • Cal Ripken Jr. 1991 (Orioles: 67-95)
  • Alex Rodriguez 2003 (Rangers: 71-91)

With Votto in the lineup, the Reds went 61-95.

With Goldschmidt in the lineup, the Diamondbacks went 77-80.

(With Harper in the lineup, even the Nationals barely broke even (77-76).

The Bucs, with McCutchen in their lineup? 96-58! Pretty valuable, the center fielder, no?

Not to suggest Cutch was the only one dealt a bad hand. The Dodgers’ Adrian Gonzales, the Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo, the Cardinals’ Matt Carpenter? All had outstanding personal credentials on standout teams.

Awards have always been natural fodder for argument and debate, ad nauseum.  Not this one. The voters blew it, inarguably.

Cespedes made Mets tougher? Not for Pirates

One constant theme this postseason has been how much Yoenis Cespedes’ arrival on Aug. 1 changed the Mets, how they rocketed from being the NL’s worst-scoring team through July 31 to its best thereafter.

The bottom line certainly reflects that: The Mets were 53-50 on July 31, then blew 37-22 to the wire.

Different, all right, but not to the Pirates. Which, in retrospects, only brings a new layer of respect for their ’15 accomplishments — also, a new degree of torment for how it ended.

The Bucs swept New York in PNC Park in May. Then they went into Citi Field on Aug. 14-16 and did it again — with not only Cespedes but also Juan Uribe, the Mets’ other big pre-Trade Deadline pick-up, on board.

In those three games, Cespedes was 5-for-14, Uribe 1-for-15. Each had a solo homer for their only RBI of the series.

It may be no more than an isolated snapshot in a long season, but I keep thinking about that every time the Mets’ midseason rebirth becomes a talking point of the postseason coverage. Needless to point out, that was the Cespedes Mets’ only series sweep until they had the East Division clinched and eased up on the gas.

Ah, if only the Pirates could have swept the one-game Wild Card ‘series.’ Who knows where this could have gone.

Hurdle: Cards, Cubs, his Bucs wore each other out.

Got a hold of Clint Hurdle this afternoon. Well, actually, I interruputed his tropical family getaway – but reporters can be annoying like that.

I was curious to get his thoughts on a few recent developments.

How does he feel about suddenly being the second-longest tenured manager in the 15-team National League? Terry Collins’ first season with the Mets was also 2011, but he’d been hired on Nov. 21, 2010 — six days after Hurdle. So, technically …

“It speaks more to the turnover rate,” Hurdle said.

Turned right over Don Mattingly yesterday — parting with the Dodgers, he became the year’s third dismissed manager who had seniority over Hurdle, following the Brewers’ Ron Roenicke and the Padres’ Bud Black.

“I’ve been here five years,” said Hurdle, doing the math, “and the entire organization has made tremendous progress in that time. I’ve just been along for the ride.”

Gabe Kapler, still the Dodgers’ director of player development, is the front-runner to succeed Mattingly. Ex-Angels assistant GM Scott Servais has already traded in his civvies for the uniform as Mariners’ manager and Tim Bogar, a special assistant in the Angels’ GM office, has done likewise to become Seattle’s bench coach.

Who knew Dan Jennings was a trailblazer?

“It does seem to be a trend,” said Hurdle, coming from the pay-your-dues set without any rancor. “They don’t have to go through what I went through. I had to go through what I went through. As I always say, tradition can be a vision-killer.”

Speaking of visions getting bumped off … a couple of weeks ago people were bowing to the Bucs, Cards, Cubs for the MLB-first of having the top three teams in the same division. Were we seeing things? We certainly aren’t seeing them anymore in the postseason.

“Maybe we used up a lot of energy, in a lot of different ways, pushing each other all season,” Hurdle said. “The idea of the postseason being a ‘second season’ could be true, but you also have to remember we knew one of us would be gone after the Wild Card Game. Then either the Cubs or the Cards had to go in the Division Series.

“As for the NLCS …. the Mets are playing unbelievable ball now. They’ve all dialed it up.”

I again apologized to Hurdle for dialing HIM up, and wished him a nice weekend in Paradise. Maybe I’ll text him in the morning to let him know how Game 6 of the ALCS turned out. I don’t think he’ll be tuning in.

In Wrigleyville, the last rites of October?

Meh-eh-eh! Meh-eh-eh!

I’m in the Wrigley Field dungeon doubling as a media workroom. It’s the top of the eighth inning of Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS, and Mark Prior has a four-hit shutout and the Cubs within five outs of the World Series, and the Marlins’ Luis Castillo has just hit a lazy foul ball down the left field line which Moises Alou is about to catch before Steve Bartman gets in the way.

The writers look up from their computer screens at the TV monitors around the room, look at each other and we can hear the goat bleating in the background.

Then Miguel Cabrera’s likely inning-ending double-play grounder is booted by Alex Gonzalez, whose 10 errors during the regular season made him the top fielding shortstop in the National League.

And us writers now can see the black cat, too.

Eight Florida runs later, all the premonitions have come true.

So now the Cubs are back. If they are going to bury all the hexes of the past 107 years, they’re going to need a mass grave …

Speaking of graves, eight more wins and you no longer will be able to find this in your neighborhood Hallmark shop:

The cheers for Terry Collins’ redemption add fuel to the feeling that Dusty Baker, too, deserves another shot at managing after two painful seasons on the outs. Hope Karma wasn’t in play when he interviewed for the Nationals’ opening on the 12th anniversary of The Bartman Game. … 


No shortage of storylines in the League Championship Series about to kick off, and one common theme is underling-becomes-rival.


Collins’ bench coach in Anaheim was Joe Maddon — who took over as the Angels’ interim manager when Collins was dismissed on Sept. 3, 1999.


John Gibbons stayed on as the Royals’ bench coach following Trey Hillman’s early-2010 firing and remained in that capacity under Ned Yost through 2011. …


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