Mondays, Minus the Regret

Ephesians 6:4 – Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

Ex-as-per-ate: To irritate intensely; infuriate.

Lately, I’m very guilty of disobeying this Godly charge to all fathers. No excuses, no rationale and certainly nothing good can come of a household where continual exasperation of your children is taking place, and unfortunately I need to confess to this and repent.

It is not easy being a dad, especially if you are selfish like me. I want things the way I want them – usually neat, tidy and quiet – and having children puts you at odds with the very things that filled the void that existed before kids came around. The other challenge is finding some good and healthy balance between letting the kids be who they are while gently guiding and correcting them when they do things wrong. My problem is that between being worn down by life and oftentimes decidedly dejected by hours spent in a place that absolutely hates the Light, I will walk into our happy home, all abuzz with activity and excitement, and I am simply not prepared to handle things gently or objectively.

But again, no excuses.

Balance. I have to find it. There is comfort in God’s holy Word, which reminds me in Romans 8 that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, so I am free of the bondage that had previously defined me. There is so much freedom in that line of scripture, yet I often find myself wound so tightly that I am no picnic in the park for anyone to be around, especially family, with whom I hold back nothing, warts and all. And it is in those moments, when I’m demanding clean rooms, pens and papers put away, lecturing, pontificating as though being right is to be confused with righteous, that I become a burden to my family instead of its spiritual head. And then things quickly unravel.

I tend to let my circumstances dictate the type of husband and father that I am, and we all know how that goes. Circumstances are merely opportunities to be refined and rely on God more, yet when circumstances turn into feelings and then feelings into reality, well, you just become the nightmare of a person that forgets about being a new creation in Christ, that the old is gone and the new is here (2 Corinthians 5:17).  Yet in these awful moments, when I am more dictator than dad, more loathsome than loving, I have unfortunately rendered myself as good as dead to the people around me who need me the most.

The good news is that the same power that raised Jesus from the dead – God’s Holy Spirit – is alive and living in me, giving me life (Romans 8:11), and compelling me to rise above the self-imposed pit of despair and to stop dragging my family into it.

God revealed to me very recently that the “Sunday Blues” that I have been experiencing for the last year really had very little to do with the fears and apprehensions of working a new job, along with the doubts and difficulties of facing another troubling Monday. What He showed to me was that I have been wandering aimlessly through our weekends together as a family, being wound so tight and with unrealistic expectations of my children that I hardly enjoyed our time. Oh sure, we definitely had great moments of love and laughter, but with an almost cruel precision I would inject demands of clean rooms, toys put away and deliver lectures on the virtues of neatness and order, as if I were an authority on the subject or something. This would happen multiple times between Friday when I returned from work and Sunday night before going to bed. Then, I’d hit the ground running on Monday and be overcome and overwhelmed by massive pangs of guilt and regret for having put my family though such an ordeal. This is a very recent revelation to me, and God in His grace and mercy brought it to my attention, allowing me the opportunity to be further refined and transformed.

I am forever grateful.

Because this happened so very recently I have yet to perfectly alter my approach to the weekends, but I can assure you dear reader, that I am much more mindful of my tone, intent and responsibilities as a father these days. My words are much more encouraging and I’m finding myself truly treasuring my time with family rather than harshly dictating chores and homework assignments. Sure, rooms need to be cleaned up, toys picked up and put away, reading, homework and other responsibilities tended to, but as I noted, there has to be more balance in my approach with the kids. No more fire-breathing commands and harsh stares. No more regretful Mondays.

My blood pressure may actually be at a healthier level as a result.

But more importantly, Emily and Trevor know that I love them. I know that they knew this even through the harshness, but now it is so much less dictatorial and way more fatherly.

They are grateful that they have their earthly daddy to love on them. And they most certainly have our Father in Heaven to thank for his transformation.

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1975 Topps #50: Brooks Robinson

I am a lifelong fan of the Los Angeles Dodgers who, over the years has developed a fondness for the New York Yankees. I realize that seems strange in light of the fact that the Yankees are the sworn enemies of all things Dodger Blue, however as I get older I have become more of a fan of baseball and the game’s rich history than any one team, and the New York Yankees are obviously baseball royalty.

That doesn’t mean that Yankee-inflicted pain doesn’t still ache my rickety bones.

For every memory that exists of Reggie Jackson slamming World Series home runs into the dark night or sticking his butt in front of a thrown ball, the most vivid and painful Yankees versus Dodgers memories I have are those of New York third baseman Graig Nettles from the 1978 Series in which he single handedly propelled the Yankees past the Dodgers with some amazing glove work at the hot corner.

There’s Nettles snagging a line drive off the bat of Davey Lopes that was destined for the left field corner for a sure double. And there he is again diving to his right to take a base hit away from Reggie Smith.   Is it possible that he once again robbed Lopes of a run-scoring double? Yes, yes it is. What a nightmare.

But for as much as I fret about the what-ifs had Nettles not existed, envisioning the Dodgers winning the 1978 World Series rather than falling to the Yankees two years in a row, I can only imagine what it must have been like to be a fan of the Cincinnati Reds in 1970 and witnessing Brooks Robinson of the Baltimore Orioles working some fielding wizardry of his own in that year’s World Series.

Card 50

If it is possible, Robinson’s play in the 1970 Series was actually more incredible than the amazing work of Nettles in 1978. And coming from a heartbroken Dodgers fan of that era, that’s saying something.

Brooks Robinson is today’s Topps 1975 card selection, as his card number 50 is on a page with some other interesting players:

-Card 49 is Larry Dierker of the Astros

-Card 51 is Bob Forsch of the Cardinals

-Card 52 is Darrell Porter of the Brewers

-Card 53 is Dave Giusti of the Pirates

-Card 54 is Eric Soderholm of the Twins

-Card 55 is Bobby Bonds of the Yankees

-Card 56 is Rick Wise of the Red Sox

Brooks Robinson played his entire 23-year career with the Orioles, making his debut in 1955, and as a kid in 1975, looking at the back of a card for a player who had played in the 1950s was like taking a journey on a time machine. How is it possible that Brooks Robinson’s career started when Jackie Robinson was winning a World Series with the Dodgers, and was around at the same time that Steve Garvey and Ron Cey were with Jackie’s same club, only now in Los Angeles instead of Brooklyn?

That always blew my mind.

The thing about Brooks Robinson’s 1975 card that forever intrigued me as a kid and still does today is the helmet that he is wearing. What was with the smaller brim? So it turns out that in the early 1970s, major league baseball made it mandatory that all new players had to wear helmets with an ear flap for added protection. Veterans were exempted. Robinson, a veteran who had been hit in the head by pitches a few times in his career, opted to wear the helmet with the flap over his left ear because he wanted the extra protection, but these new helmets featured a longer brim and he could not see the ball coming out of the pitcher’s hand as well. So Robinson had a decision to make: Does he go back to the older helmet without the ear flap, continue with the flap helmet but with impaired vision, or is there another option?

How about I let Brooks Robinson tell you.

From his own personal blog that he penned in 2006:

“When I got the helmet with the flap and put it on, it seemed like the bill was a little longer than my normal hat. The flap was a little longer and consequently when I went up to hit I could see the brim and part of the flap. It made me lose my concentration. I took care of it by taking a hacksaw blade and cut off about 1 ½ inches off the brim and about ½ off the flap. That’s how I got my short brim.”

But as much of an innovator of baseball equipment that Brooks Robinson was, he was also quite a baseball player. In a career that spanned three decades, Robinson slammed 268 home runs, drove in 1,357 runs and amassed 2,842 hits. Selected to 18 American League All Star teams, Robinson was the AL Most Valuable Player in 1964, a season that saw him post career highs in hits (194), home runs (28) and runs batted in (118) while putting up an impressive slash line of .317/.368/.521.

And as much as his respectable career batting statistics are, Brooks Robinson may very well have been a borderline Hall of Famer instead of a slam dunk, first ballot induction in 1983, named on 92% of the ballots cast. It was because of Robinson’s famous and consistent glove work at third base that ensured that the Orioles’ great got into the Hall.

Robinson’s range at third base was consistently way above the league average, and while fielding percentage may be an antiquated measure of a player’s efficiency on defense it is still safe to point out that his career .971 fielding percentage at the hot corner far exceeds the league average of .953. Robinson won 16 consecutive Gold Glove awards, and as noted previously, his exploits with glove and arm in the 1970 World Series were vitally important to the Orioles taking the championship in five games.

Asked prior to the start of the Series if he would be ready to play on the hard artificial turf of Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati, Robinson shrugged and said, “I’m a major league third baseman. If you want to go play in a parking lot I’m supposed to stop the ball.”

And stop it he did.

In pivotal Game 3, Robinson snared a Tony Perez grounder in the first inning, stepped on third and threw to first to complete the double play. He made an amazing play on a slow hit grounder by Tommy Helms and threw out the speedy infielder, and then made a diving play to rob Johnny Bench in the sixth inning.

Robinson’s Orioles prevailed in the Series four games to one and the great third baseman took home the Most Valuable Player award after batting .429 in the Series and totaling 17 bases in the five games, but it was his fielding prowess that had the Reds players and manager Sparky Anderson talking at the conclusion of the World Series.   Anderson said of Robinson, “I’m beginning to see Brooks in my sleep. If I dropped this paper plate he’d pick it up on one hop and throw me out at first.” Bench, when advised that Robinson had been named the Series MVP that entitled him to a new Toyota quipped, “If we had known he wanted a car that badly we would have chipped in and bought him one.”

Nicknamed “The Human Vacuum Cleaner” for his amazing abilities on defense, Brooks Robinson isn’t merely respected for his contributions as a player. His leadership qualities are frequently cited by his former teammates, and his genuine warmth and good nature both on and off the field remind us all that behind the player is an actual human being, and in Brooks Robinson we have one of the truly good ones.

Journalist Roy Firestone tells the story of serving as the Orioles’ batboy one spring and talks about how impressed he was by Robinson not just for his physical abilities, but for his warmth and his kindness to the fans.   “How many players had their portrait painted by the legendary Norman Rockwell,” Firestone asks. “Brooks Robinson lived that portrait.”

Firestone saw up close and personal just how hard Robinson worked to become the player he was and then maintain the excellence of that high bar he set for himself. But always, Firestone recalls, it was about the team and it was about the fans.

“He was generous and humble, and as great as he was at his position, he always understood his role as a baseball player,” Firestone recalls. “Give the team, the fans everything you have, and then when it’s over, give them more.”

That is the type of player Brooks Robinson was for 23 amazing seasons as a Baltimore Oriole, and that is type of person Brooks Robinson continues to be today.

Rockwell

Dodger Stadium: Beer + Anger = Tragedy in the Making

Dodgers

Initially, I sat down to write about 1975 Topps Card #50, Brooks Robinson. I walked out to get clothes out of the dryer and was thinking about the fact that I couldn’t think of a single scandal involving Robinson, and that memories of his 23 years in Major League Baseball were best summed-up by the fact that he was one of the finer fielding third baseman to play the game, and that he is regarded fondly by former teammates as well as opposing players as a true gentleman of the sport.

I walked back inside determined to pen the lede to my post to say something along the lines that, like a cool glass of water on a hot summer afternoon, Brooks Robinson was a refreshing ballplayer during a time when most players were just as noteworthy for their flaws as their performances on the field.

I’ll definitely still write about Brooks Robinson in the days to come, but for some reason I cannot shake the disturbing conversation I had Saturday concerning Dodger Stadium and thus, I have to just write my way through it.

The Stadium, sadly, is becoming more known for its violent flaws than for the fine brand of baseball being played in the field.

I enjoy giving some good-natured ribbing to a St. Louis Cardinals fan that I know. Mostly, it’s just me telling her that my Dodgers want no part of the Cardinals in the post season and she knowingly laughs because of my team’s recent ineptitude versus her Cardinals. But on Saturday our chat wandered into a sensitive and painful part of her and her husband’s team loyalty, as they told me the disturbing tale of a trip they took to Dodger Stadium back in 2010. It was a trip that has resulted in the two of them having a low opinion of Dodger fans in general along with a vow to never set foot inside our home stadium ever again.

Sadly, the verbal picture they painted for me is one I have witnessed personally on countless occasions at the Stadium and one for which I’m actually ashamed to have any allegiance for the team in blue on the field because of a ruthless minority in the stands.

As noted, my friends are Cardinals fans, so they came to Dodger Stadium on that day in 2010 wearing their team’s colors, and while it would be expected that they might hear a few good-natured catcalls or boos, the level of harassment that they felt at this particular game still gets both of them pretty riled-up retelling the story some five years later. From drunken and belligerent Dodger fans cursing at them, to having food thrown their direction, to being harassed when they were leaving and then suffering the final indignity of having a gang of “fans” running toward their car as they left the parking lot, my friends were made to feel threatened, scared and fear for their safety.

The husband tells me that he purposely walked behind his wife on the way up the stairs when they were leaving because he felt there was a legitimate reason to believe that his wife would be pushed or shoved by any one of the angry and antagonistic bunch of Dodger fans and he wanted to be able to anticipate it and put it a stop to it, or in a worst case scenario, catch her fall and carry her to safety. The wife simply recalls crying non-stop in the car until they were well away from the Stadium.

Is this really how it should be, malice and intimidation in the air? Is this what they call “home field advantage?” When did going to a ballgame suddenly mean that it is okay to drink to excess and pick fights with people who root for the opposition?

What made this story even more disturbing to me was the response from Dodger Stadium security personnel and ultimately security management.   My friends observed two security guards at the top of the walkway once they had exited their seats, and both of them had their heads buried in their phones, thumbs in rapid motion as they were both texting. Once made aware of the peril that my friends had been in, the security guys shrugged and apologized. Unsatisfied with that response, but safely home, my friends wrote a letter to the head of security at the Stadium and immediately received a response, apologizing for the incidents and promising to treat the couple to a game of their choice the following season, with an additional promise that the experience would be so overwhelmingly positive that the two would no doubt forgive and forget every taunt, gesture, expletive and threat that they’d endured in their three hour ordeal in 2010. Of course prior to the start of the season when they called to cash-in on the offer, the guy who’d made the promise was no longer with the organization, but the Dodgers promised to make good somehow, some way and would call them back.

To date, there has been no follow up call to that promise, but most of us know what happened in 2011 to Bryan Stow. Stow, a diehard Giants fan, was savagely beaten in the Dodger Stadium parking lot on opening day in 2011 at the hands of two angry, unruly Dodger fans from Rialto who pursued him and his friends who were attempting to exit the Stadium. As Stow stood with his hands at his side he was blindsided by a punch that resulted in his head hitting the pavement with a sickening thud. He was then kicked and punched repeatedly even though he was unconscious.

The assailants were ultimately caught and prosecuted, one is serving a four-year sentence, and the other is in for eight years.

Stow will spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair and diapers.

My friends were horrified by the incident.  They completely sympathized with Stow and his family – as did all normal, non-violent Dodger fans – but my Cardinal fans friends also recognized that given a different set of circumstances, it could have been them getting the beat-down. And all this for wearing Giant orange and black or Cardinal red? Sadly, because of their experience they could definitely see something like this happening at the Stadium, and sealed the deal on them never returning to Dodger Stadium ever again.

Like the cynics who believe that the people who get injured by a foul ball or broken bat at a game had it coming to them because they weren’t paying close enough attention to the game, there are those who assume that opposing fans at Dodger Stadium actually provoke Dodger fans into these sorts of acts. In other words, they had it coming.

I’m here to tell you that as a fan of the Los Angeles Dodgers and one who attends a few games each season that is simply not the case.

There are some “fans” that enter the Stadium hoping for a fight and looking for a reason to heap abuse onto any person not wearing Dodger blue. Sure, there is the good-natured heckling that should be expected when you are not root, root, rooting for the home team, but what I’m talking about here is unwanted, unnecessary abuse of another human being. I have witnessed it too many times, and sadly, because fear of violence is hanging in the air and palpable, I have chosen to not get involved. My wife is always thankful that I’ve stayed out of it because she values my safety, but I always walk away from the situation sickened and sad. I too have made the vow to never go back because of the situation, yet there I am again at the Stadium hoping for a Dodger victory and praying for peace.

So what’s my point?

It’s this: Even with increased security measures put in place after 2011, the Dodgers still have a problem at their venue. People who have no business being allowed to enter the Stadium – those with obvious signs of gang affiliation – are allowed in. People are permitted to drink to excess. Security is lax, only responsive once the abuse threatens to become physical. The team airs a public service message on the jumbo-tron prior to the first pitch, encouraging fans to simply support the team without being an idiot, and we are presented with options to text Security anonymously if we see a situation about to boil-over, but it’s simply not enough.   What the team needs to do is exercise its right to refuse admittance to anyone they view as a potential threat. They should impose a two drink maximum, and Security’s presence should be obvious and should operate from a first strike and you’re out philosophy, with no second chances – ejections for any infraction of fan safety – and if you have been ejected from the Stadium for any offense you are added to a watch list so that if you are ejected a second time you face a permanent ban from ever entering Dodger Stadium again.

Attending a Dodgers game is a privilege, not a right.

The bottom line is that attending a ballgame at Dodger Stadium should be fun, and no one should ever feel threatened. Intimidation should not be the overarching feel that you get from sitting in a seat the game, and whether you are wearing Dodger blue or the jersey or cap of the Giants, Mets, Marlins or Yankees, you should be able to enjoy yourself without feeling like you are going to take the beating of a lifetime because of who you root for.

The sad part is that no matter what refinements are made at Dodger Stadium to ensure fan safety my friends are not likely to ever return.

The sadder, and perhaps tragic realization, is that the Dodgers are under the false assumption that with every passing day that they can distance themselves from the Bryan Stow incident of 2011 that all is well at the Stadium, and with attendance numbers forever at 3 million-plus, business is booming at Chavez Ravine. The problem is that the ugly truth is only exposed when mayhem reigns, and the next time there is a violent incident at Dodger Stadium it will likely result in the death of a patron. And then, and only then will we see real changes beyond the turnstiles and in the parking lots.

And that is the saddest truth of all.

1975 Topps #47: Tommy John

Tommy John Card #47

I turned to the next page in my Topps 1975 binder and smiled. The choice was an easy one for multiple reasons.

The cards on the page:

Card 40 – Bob Singer, Angels

Card 41 – Cesar Geronimo, Reds

Card 42 – Joe Coleman, Tigers

Card 43 – Cleon Jones, Mets

Card 44 – Pat Dobson, Yankees

Card 45 – Joe Rudi, A’s

Card 46 – Phillies Team Card

Card 47 – Tommy John, Dodgers

Card 48 – Freddie Patek, Royals

Despite my allegiance, I won’t always select a Dodgers player, but Tommy John is just too difficult to pass up, and again for multiple reasons. Okay yes, he is a Los Angeles Dodgers player on his 1975 card but there is so much more.

I asked a twenty-something co-worker once if he’d ever heard of Tommy John, and the answer was a good one: “You mean the surgery guy?” He of course was referring to the famous Tommy John Surgery that has revolutionized the sport of baseball for so many pitchers, saving throwing arms for some and lengthening careers for countless others.

But it all started with the guy for which the procedure is named, and a doctor by the name of Frank Jobe.

Tommy John made his debut in 1963 as a member of the team that signed him as an amateur free agent in 1961, the Cleveland Indians.   A lefty with a great sinkerball, he got into 31 games with the Indians over two seasons, but was dealt by Cleveland in January of 1965 as part of a three-team trade that ultimately sent him to the Chicago White Sox.

John had decent success in Chicago, posting an 82-80 record and striking out nearly twice as many hitters as he walked in seven seasons with the White Sox.

His trade to the Dodgers in December of 1971 for crazy-wacky 70s baseball icon Dick Allen set into motion both the successes as a pitcher that would define his consistent career as well as the medical procedure that would be the legacy he would leave behind to generations of faulty elbows that have and will follow his to the pitching mound.

John’s sinkerball and the pitching-friendly confines of Dodger Stadium were a match made in baseball heaven, and his 1972-1973 seasons results were just what he and the team were looking for. Posting 27 wins and striking out better than twice the number of batters that he walked in 60 starts for the Dodgers during these two seasons, John carried this consistency into the Dodgers’ World Series season of 1974, and as the All Star break approached, the pitcher found himself with a 13-3 record as he took the mound on July 17, 1974 at Dodger Stadium against the Montreal Expos.

I was fortunate enough to interview Tommy John a few years ago and he has some recollections of that evening as well as the events that followed.

“I had the start against the Expos and my next start before the break was going to be against Philadelphia so I’m thinking that I would be 15-3 heading into the All Star Game,” he recalls. “The Expos had runners on first and second and I threw a sinker to Hal Breeden (Expos first baseman), and I just felt this weird pain in my elbow. I threw another pitch and had the same pain, so I knew something wasn’t right so I signaled for (Dodgers manager) Walt Alston to come out and I told him to get somebody ready in the bullpen because I was hurt.”

He was hurt alright.

What John had done was permanently damage the ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching arm, but medical technology being what it was in 1974, it took a while to get at the diagnosis let alone a procedure to fix it.

“I walked into the dugout, grabbed my jacket and talked to (Dodgers trainer) Bill Buhler, and we both hoped that (team physician) Frank Jobe was in the clubhouse and thankfully he was,” said John. “Dr. Jobe examined me, sent me home and had me come to his office the next day. He and another surgeon examined me and came to the conclusion that I had torn a ligament in my elbow. You have to understand that at the time there was no MRI – they couldn’t take a picture of the ligament – all they had were x-rays.”

Now this is an interesting sentence to type:   Dr. Frank Jobe performed Tommy John surgery on Tommy John on September 25, 1974.

Obviously the revolutionary procedure – where the injured ligament is replaced with a healthy tendon from another part of the patient’s body – was not yet called Tommy John Surgery at that point, but it was a life-changing operation for John and now for countless baseball players at the amateur and professional level.

Current superstars Stephen Strasburg and Matt Harvey are among the 82 major leaguers past and present who have had the career-sustaining procedure.

Interestingly, today we are celebrating Tommy John’s 1975 Topps card, but he ultimately sat out the entire 1975 season recovering and rehabilitating from the operation.

The Dodgers lost to the Oakland A’s in the 1974 World Series, but John was still around the team enough to experience the ride.

“I got to throw out the first pitch before the first playoff game against Pittsburgh,” he said. “But I threw it out right handed. I got to be around the team all season, but I was also very focused on the doing the things I needed to do to get back to pitching.”

1975 was more of the same.

“I was with the team all the time. I would work-out early and Bill Buhler had me on a jogging program where I was jogging and sprinting all the time,” John said. “You had to remember that there really wasn’t any true rehab program back then. You just did all of the same stuff you would normally do, with a lot of exercises and I was typically throwing six days a week. I would take Sundays off from throwing and my arm felt the best on Fridays and Saturdays, worst on Mondays and Tuesdays.   I learned that the more I threw the better my arm felt.”

After sitting out an entire season, Tommy John came back for the 1976 season where he posted a 10-10 record, but he also remembers the challenges of dealing with an abbreviated Spring Training due to a labor dispute that had the owners locking players out of camps for 32 days before it was resolved.

“We were still in (Dodgers long-time Spring Training facility) Vero Beach throwing on our own when they finally opened camp and it was pretty much hurry-up and get all of the rundown drills and all the other things we do in a normal Spring Training done quickly,” he recalled. “I remember my first start of the spring and I pitched three innings in St. Petersburg and nobody throws three innings in Spring Training any more, even if they are healthy. But I threw three that day and five innings in the next game against Houston. In my final start of the spring I threw seven innings in a rainstorm against the Angels and Nolan Ryan at Angel Stadium, so my entire Spring Training consisted of those starts. If it had been today I would have had a real rehab, had some rehab starts and got myself healthy and ready for the season, but that’s how you did it back then.”

Another thing that an accelerated 1976 Spring Training couldn’t have possibly prepared Tommy John for was the unrelenting microscope that he would be under in his initial regular season starts – his first true game action that he would experience since the surgery.

He could not have known that anything short of tangible success may have ultimately pushed him out of baseball forever.

“In my first start against the Braves I didn’t pitch great, but I also wasn’t terrible,” John recalls.

In fact, he pitched five innings and allowed three runs on five hits, striking out only one and walking four batters. Not exactly your classic Tommy John outing, but what people seemed to be forgetting was this was a guy coming back from radical surgery that had never been performed. But instead of being applauded for a miraculous comeback he was called on the carpet by the guy who should have been the most supportive.

“Walt Alston told me that if I didn’t pitch better in my next start that it would be my last start,” said John. “So I just looked at him incredulously and said that after all I had been through this was all I got – five starts, three in Spring Training and two regular season starts – and he just told me that we were trying to win a championship here and we couldn’t mess around and bring me along slowly. So I asked him if I could name my own lineup and he said sure. So I told him that I always pitched well to (catcher) Joe Ferguson, and I asked if he could catch me.  He said okay.”

So Tommy John went to the Astrodome mound that evening with quite a bit riding on this one start.  Behind the plate and calling the signals was his requested catcher, Joe Ferguson.  No pressure:  Just his career in baseball hanging in the balance.

“So I went out against Houston knowing that this could possibly be my last start as a Dodger. The first inning was just bizarre,” he recalls. “The Astros got two runners on and Bob Watson is coming up and Alston’s got the bullpen going full-bore. If I give up a hit to Watson I’m done. I go 3-0 to Watson and Fergie (Ferguson) comes out and says, ‘Hey, this might be your last pitch in baseball, let’s make it a good one that he can hit out of the ballpark so you can say that your last pitch was hit for a home run.’ So I threw one down the middle, and then I threw one that he fouled back and then I threw one that he swung at and missed for strike three and I got out of the inning.”

John laughs at the memory of the exchange on the mound and the comedy stylings of Ferguson, and acknowledged that he didn’t have his best stuff that evening in Houston, but he learned to cope with the highs and lows of his comeback by changing speeds and working his way out of jams.   He pitched seven strong innings that night and was well on the road to recovery.

“When they pulled me for a pinch hitter in the eighth I asked Walt if I’d pitched well enough to get another start,” John recalled. “He said I had.”

Tommy John’s 1975 card reflects the stoppage in time that was his 1974 season when it froze with a 13-3 record and 2.59 earned run average.

Little did he know that his career was really just beginning.  True, he did compile 130 of his 288 career wins before hurting his elbow, but it is safe to say that it was the time following Dr. Jobe’s miracle procedure that truly defined his career.

Following the surgery, John pitched for 14 more seasons, making 438 starts from 1976 to 1989. He played on Dodger World Series teams in 1977 and 1978, and for the Yankees in the 1981 Fall Classic. Interestingly, he was on the losing end all three times, as his Dodgers teams lost to the Yankees and his Yankee club fell to the Dodgers.

Tommy John actually had two stints with the Yankees, from 1979 to 1982 and then back to the Bronx again from 1986 to 1989. In between he had stops in California and Oakland. When he was released by the Yankees in May of 1989 he was 46 years old and ready to call it a career. He left the game with an impressive ledger of those 288 career wins, better than 2,200 strike outs and a 3.34 ERA. He was 6-3 with a 2.65 earned run average in 13 career post season starts.

And while his successful career was played out on stages in six different major league cities, Tommy John will likely always be remembered not only as the guy who has a career-saving procedure named after him, but also as a Los Angeles Dodger.

And he has fond memories of his time in Los Angeles, a time when a team was more like family to him.

“The Dodgers made it very special because they always included your family in the things that we did,” he recalled. “They (owner Walter O’Malley and wife Kay) always invited the family to Spring Training and they had this big steak dinner where everyone was invited, the minor league kids, the wives and all of the children. They had this Christmas tree that was decorated and Santa Claus came out and passed around gifts for all the kids – a blue box that was for the boys and a pink one for the girls. They were just meaningless little gifts, but just the fact that they went out of their way to make your family feel that they were part of the deal made it special.”

His final spring camp with the Dodgers left a lasting memory.

“You know in 1978, the last day of Spring Training was right around Easter and the O’Malley family had an Easter egg hunt for the kids,” he recalled. “There was a petting zoo and there was cake and punch and all this stuff. The O’Malley family just made it so good and so nice and they knew that if the family was content that the player would be content and play harder.”

Not that he needed a lot of added incentive to play and pitch harder, but it is safe to say that Tommy John was a content ballplayer, even when the odds were stacked against him, and with quite a bit of determination, a lot of perseverance and some humorous advice from his catcher, he parlayed all of it into a seriously successful career.

TJ

Card #191: Yogi Berra

You can observe a lot by just watching.

I wish I had an answer to that question because I’m tired of answering that question.

Nobody goes there anymore.  It’s too crowded.

A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.

Baseball is ninety percent mental and the other half is physical.

If you don’t know where you are going you might wind up someplace else.

When you come to a fork in the road, take it.

It ain’t over till it’s over.

I never said most of the things I said.

1952-Topps-Yogi-Berra

Is it possible that Yogi Berra said all of this stuff? I suppose it is possible. It would seem that to most people, these “Yogi-isms” are his legacy, but to the rest of us, Yogi Berra will forever be baseball royalty.

Yogi passed away on Tuesday, 69 years to the day that he made his major league debut for the New York Yankees, the only team he ever played for (do we really have to count those nine plate appearances for the Mets in 1965?). Fittingly, Yogi went 2-for-4 with a home run that day, a 4-3 victory over the Philadelphia Athletics.

I say fittingly, because Yogi Berra could hit.

Yogi batting

Yogi’s career spanned perhaps the most colorful part of baseball’s golden age, from 1946 to 1963, and his statistics tell a Hall of Fame story. Yogi was enshrined in the HOF in 1972, named on 339 of 396 ballots. He slammed 358 career home runs and drove in 1,430 runs, while putting up a slash line of .285/.348/.483 in 18 seasons as a Yankee. In 1,699 games as a catcher, Yogi defined the position by calling pitches, positioning players defensively and throwing out an astounding 49% of would be base stealers. That is an incredible percentage. Johnny Bench is a close comparison because of the similar power numbers, and Bench made a great career behind the plate, yet he threw out 43%.   Mike Piazza is forever in the powerful catcher conversation, yet he threw out only 23% of the guys trying to steal on him.

Yogi Berra cut down pretty much half the guys attempting to steal second or third base. That is amazing to me.

What is even more amazing is how stocky little 5-foot-7, 185-lb Yogi Berra produced such a prodigious wallop. Most observers from the 1940s and 1950s marveled at Yogi’s ability to hit pitches both in and out of the strike zone, low balls high balls and pitches right down the middle. And if you happened to be a pitcher who faced Yogi Berra in the post season, chances are good that you struggled to get him out.   Get this: Yogi Berra played in 14 World Series and emerged as a champion 10 times. In Series play, Yogi holds multiple records, including most games played (75), most at bats (259), and hits (71). Yogi slammed 12 home runs and drove in 39 runs in Series play and put up a slash line of .274/.359/.452.

I close the stats portion of this tribute with my favorite remarkable Yogi Berra statistic: He was extremely difficult to strike out.

In 8,359 career plate appearances, Yogi only struck out 414 times. To put this in perspective, Tony Gwynn was the toughest to ever strike out and he fanned 434 times in 10,232 plate appearances, so Yogi was clearly in the Gwynn stratosphere as a batsman. In 1950, Yogi came to the plate 656 times and struck out 12 times. Amazing.

Here is some modern-day perspective for you: Los Angeles Dodgers rookie sensation Joc Pederson has 560 plate appearances to date in the 2015 season. He has struck out 165 times.

Okay, so we have established the fact that Yogi Berra may or may not have said half the things he allegedly said, and of course he was an amazing baseball player for the New York Yankees. That part is easy. The tough part for me is saying goodbye. And why exactly is it hard for me to say goodbye to someone I have never met, never got to see play and as I have noted before, played for the hated New York Yankees?

I’m not entirely sure. All I know is that my personal baseball universe just got a little emptier knowing that Yogi Berra isn’t around anymore. It feels like my kindly old grandfather passed away, and I’m sure it is like that for a lot of us this week as we reminisce about Yogi’s life and career.

Many, many years ago my Mom gave me a wonderful Christmas present. It is a series of porcelain reproductions of classic Topps baseball cards. The cards sit on tiny holders that are shaped like home plate, and those holders sit atop pedestals that are built-in to a frame that is shaped like a baseball diamond. The cards in the set: Yogi, Mickey Mantle, Duke Snider, Willie Mays, Casey Stengel, Roberto Clemente, Brooks Robinson, Whitey Ford, Jackie Robinson, Gil Hodges, Ernie Banks and Satchel Paige.   Years ago, perhaps when Emily was Trevor’s age or maybe younger, she asked me how many of the guys on those cards were still alive.  I think at that point there were still six of them with us, and now sadly with both Yogi and Ernie Banks leaving us this year, only Brooks Robinson and Whitey Ford remain.

I say this to illustrate the point that baseball has a rich history and there aren’t many legends left, or at least the legends who have some character and interesting stories to share.  Stories about what it was like before the multi-million dollar contract.  Stories about riding on trains.  Stories about your teammates being more like family than simply other guys on the team.

Yogi Berra had so much charisma I suppose you’d have to say that he was a character.

I conclude this tribute to the one-of-a-kind Yogi Berra by relaying a story told by Yankees’ announcer Michael Kay, which illustrates not only the kind of teammate Yogi was, but reveals some insight into the kind, caring and gentle legacy that he leaves behind.

Kay told a story that received no media attention when it was happening simply because that was the way it had to be. Yogi was devoted to his teammates during and after his career was over, and one of them was Phil Rizzuto. The two of them played together for 11 seasons and were a part of six World Championship Yankee teams.   Rizzuto was in failing health before succumbing and passing away in 2007 at the age of 89.  Kay revealed that during the final year of Rizzuto’s life, Yogi would drive 30 minutes every day to the assisted living facility where his teammate languished.   Again, Yogi did this every day because that’s how important teammates were to Yogi Berra. Kay tells of the card games that the two old teammates would play together and when Rizzuto would tire and start to get groggy, Yogi would hold his hand. And Yogi would continue to hold Phil’s hand until he would drift off to sleep and only then would Yogi go home. And then return the next day and do it all over again, because that’s what teammates meant to him.

Yogi Berra means a lot to people today. For some people it will be the funny Yogi-isms, and for others it will be all about the statistics. For me, Yogi Berra will live on as I look at that old baseball card every day and continue to read the stories about his playing days and devotion to teammates.

Yogi Berra was simply one of a kind.

If he were here today I believe that Yogi might say something like this:

You shouldn’t cry for me now that I’m gone because I’ll always be here.

The Reality of Facebook

People are silhouetted as they pose with laptops in front of a screen projected with a Facebook logo, in this picture illustration taken in Zenica October 29, 2014. Facebook Inc warned on Tuesday of a dramatic increase in spending in 2015 and projected a slowdown in revenue growth this quarter, slicing a tenth off its market value. Facebook shares fell 7.7 percent in premarket trading the day after the social network announced an increase in spending in 2015 and projected a slowdown in revenue growth this quarter. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic (BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINABUSINESS LOGO - Tags: BUSINESS SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY LOGO TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)

I stumbled upon an old Mattel soul the other day. For those of you who currently work there or once worked there like me, you will likely understand that it is one thing to run into a more recent hire at the toy behemoth – say someone who was hired in the last seven years – but the old guard veterans who were either there before I was hired in 1996 or came on board shortly thereafter represent that “old soul” that I am talking about.

These people actually won a Matty Award or at least know of the existence of such an award.

Anyway, me and Old Mattel Soul caught up on things, and I ultimately made mention of the fact that Facebook posts had all but ceased from this person, that there were the occasional photographs of kids or a shared recipe, but this person for the most part was missing in action from social media. Had life gotten so busy that there wasn’t as much time to devote to FB posting? That was not it. And for the next hour the fascinating discussion of the personal reasons why the posts had mostly dried up as well as some humorous and telling observations about Facebook made me really think about the King of Social Media and perhaps question why we do what we do there.

There were five main observations made by this person, and while I agreed with a good chunk of it, I was also reminded that Facebook really doesn’t need to be taken so seriously, yet with so many people active (1.4 billion people worldwide), it is no wonder that people obsess about status updates and “likes.”

It is staggering to think that every 60 seconds on Facebook 293,000 statuses are updated and 136,000 photos uploaded.

With those big numbers in mind, I will allow my Mattel old soul to unload a bit and include my take on the observation from my Facebook observatory…

Observation #1: It seems like high school all over again. The inevitable cliques do seem to re-form, and there is a fair amount of Facebook post high-jacking done by these packs, and if you happen to be daring enough to wander into a general post where the clique is congregating, well, it may end up being an unpleasant experience. There are some very juvenile posts out there and I am certainly guilty of enough of them, but the point seems to be a valid one. Facebook is very much like high school. I’m just waiting for Devan Riggins to sign up and make fun of me to complete the circle.

Observation #2: Enough with the photos of your feet out by the pool, pictures of your food and blurry photos of your pets.  Okay, this was funny. I have certainly included a photo or two of chili dogs, but not to the point of obsessiveness like other Facebook foodies. Food is very interesting, but not so interesting that every meal out needs to be photographed. The photos of feet poolside is a disturbing trend and one for which I wish there was a filter that could be activated (filter = #feet-poolside/hide). Feet are absolutely necessary. We need them for walking around, and my entire livelihood is based on the need for shoes to put on female feet, so I take no issue with feet, but to those who feel the need to snap a shot of feet by pool or ocean, I implore you to put the camera/phone down and show some mercy. There is no getting around animal photos. We had a dog for a month and I think we posted photos every weekend, but after a while the pictures get repetitive, and if you insist on posting a shot of Rover in a sweater or Tabby in a Halloween costume could you please just un-friend me today?

Observation #3: Your Facebook personality does not match your real life personality.   This appears to be very true for quite a few people. There are those who have difficulty making eye contact with you in public, carry on a normal conversation in a public setting and struggle to just be around people, yet when they get behind the computer keyboard or phone keypad they suddenly grow a personality and get some courage. They display wit, humor and depth in their posts and comments on Facebook, but here they are again in a public setting avoiding eye contact and never smiling. You may even be at the same event that this person attended, encounter them briefly and come away with the impression that attendance was a painful experience, yet their Facebook posts about the event make it appear as if it was the party of the century and that they had the greatest time ever! Even the photos reveal that those frowns were turned upside down. Incredible transformation or something else? Not sure.

Observation #4: People seem addicted to Facebook. This is one I didn’t necessarily agree with from the outset, but upon further exploration I get the gist of it.   There appears to be an unhealthy obsession with documenting every single life experience on Facebook. It seems strange that couples who get the rare date night out would be posting status updates and photos from said date, yet there they are, posting multiple times from the restaurant, movie theater, etc. Sometimes it appears that folks are fishing for sympathy when they post hints and clues about their mindset or situation, but never really come clean about what is really going on, instead choosing to watch the comments pile up. There are those who post daily, and occasionally feel the need to make mention of the fact that they didn’t post something on say, Wednesday, as if people’s lives ceased functioning correctly because a frequent poster took a day off.   It is not difficult to simply stay away for a few hours or even a few days, and it likely shouldn’t even require restraint, yet people cannot put down the phone to gaze at the sunset. Nope. They gotta photograph it and post it. If they didn’t post it, it didn’t happen.

Observation #5: Facebook can make you jealous or even miserable. Let’s face it: We are responsible for the mood we are in. It’s all about our perspective, and there are times when other factors like relationships, health or work can impact that perspective either positively or negatively, and because we are only human, having a tough day oftentimes comes with the territory. So what happens when you are having a bad day and you decide to click the Facebook icon on your phone? Does the witty post from a funny “friend” brighten your day? Does the latest cat-snuggling-up-to-a-dog video warm your heart? Does the complaint-filled post from a relative help to change your perspective from darkness to thankfulness for life’s blessings? Not typically. No, Facebook is perhaps the last place you should go when you are struggling with life. It is like sitting inside and having a good cry and then opening the window to witness lottery winners doing a conga-line on your sidewalk. If you are feeling low and desperate it would make sense to reach out to real “friends” to help you, and if you are a believer there is quite a bit of hope found in the Word of God. But logging-on to Facebook and scrolling through posts that are happy and sad can play tricks on our already-fractured psyche and make us envious and judgmental. And while it may seem like posting about your woes could be therapeutic, it really just ends up sounding like endless complaining and the empathetic responses are just words on a screen. And then, in the midst of our sorrow and difficulty with life we “like” the comments that accompany our tale of woe. How twisted is that?

The bottom line takeaway from my conversation on this subject and ultimately my personal add-ons above is that Facebook is not real life.

I made mention of the fact that it is an awful lot like high school, so perhaps we should all just treat it more like the interactive high school yearbook that it is and leave it at that.

Just keep your feet and your dog’s sweater to yourself.

Bangladesh – Mission: Possible

Bangladesh

Picture the scene: You are in a car driving down a dirt road in rural Bangladesh, and in the mix of congested traffic consisting of both cars and rickshaws, a fast-moving vehicle is right on your bumper and then quickly swerves around you and utilizes the embankment to pass you. A moment later a car is rushing at you head-on and narrowly misses you. A mile later the scene repeats itself, only the cars are going faster this time.

Is this a scene from the latest installment of the “Mission: Impossible” movies?

No. This is a scene from what could be best described as Mission – POSSIBLE, and it is actually a narrative shared by Pastor Vance Hartzell who is the Singles Ministry and Rooted Pastor at Rolling Hills Covenant Church, and recently returned from a two-week short term missions trip to impoverished Bangladesh.

“You know, they would encourage us to just take a nap while we were on the road,” says Pastor Vance. “But every time I would open my eyes there would be another car coming right at us! There are no road rules!”

Joining him on the trip were Dan and Jan Charlin, Gay Lathrom, Brunie Gomez, and of course Senior Pastor Byron MacDonald and his wife Lynda made the journey. Pastor Vance was impressed by the couple’s resolve in the face of some adversity, as well as their genuineness as leaders.

“The same Pastor Byron and Lynda that we see up front and on stage at RHCC is precisely what you get everywhere they go, even in the intimidating setting like Bangladesh.”

And intimidating is perhaps a fitting description for any Christian who visits a country that is 96% Muslim and frowns on anything resembling street evangelism. But the RHCC team that went on the trip in August went gladly, but perhaps with a little fear and trembling, which is to be expected.

“It was definitely scary and I was nervous, but the whole scene changes your perspective when you see the work that is being done by Peter Halder in Bangladesh,” says Pastor Vance.

Peter, who is the National Director of Bangladesh Youth First Concerns, has been prayerfully and financially supported by RHCC for more than 10 years, and the church’s short term ministry contingent was there to equip and support he and a group of 50 pastors so that their Christian churches can survive and ultimately thrive in a hostile environment.

“You have to remember that because the vast majority of people in Bangladesh are Muslim you can’t just pass out Christian tracts on the street,” says Pastor Vance. “You might get arrested.”

Because of this situation, Peter and his group dedicated pastors have had to go about fulfilling the Matthew 28:19 directive of making disciples of all nations somewhat discretely. It all starts with the BYFC resource center, a four-story building that is literally a source of hope for pastors and homeless alike. The first floor of the building is dedicated to bringing in the homeless of Bangladesh and restoring some of their dignity with food and a place for them to wash up. The top floor is a place for those who are struggling with drug and alcohol addictions to come and get help. The middle floors of the building are meeting places for pastors to meet and secure needed resources.

Pastor Vance advises that there are prayerful plans to build two additional stories that will house kids from the streets and orphanages who want to get a college education.

“It really is a great place and represents a lot of hope for people who normally don’t have it,” says Pastor Vance.

During their two-week stay, the Rolling Hills Covenant team met with the 50 pastors to equip them on such topics as church planting, elder leadership, and a subject that is near and dear to Pastor Vance’s heart: Discipleship Pathways, particularly Rooted and the formation of Life Groups.  The goal was to introduce the pastors to new concepts that would foster community and fellowship within their churches.  The seminars on church planting, elder leadership, Rooted and Life Groups were aimed to remedy a big problem with the Christian churches in Bangladesh, chiefly that they are dwindling in number and the ones that are surviving are not thriving.

“In the last year alone they lost 139 of the 480 churches in the denomination simply because they did not have a discipleship pathway,” says Pastor Vance. “The churches were really, really great on Sunday mornings when it came to the preaching, but they didn’t have any fellowship or small groups and that is why people were falling away.”

This problem highlights the challenges faced by Peter Halder and the group of pastors.

“It is an uphill battle for Peter to spread the Gospel message, but he is faithful,” says Pastor Vance.

Pastor Vance is excited about the Bangladesh pastors implementing discipleship pathway in their churches and is ecstatic about two key initiatives of the Christian church in a country that is decidedly hostile towards believers. First, there is a discussion to translate the Rooted material into the Bangladesh language (Bengali), and second is to double the total number of believers in the next five years.

“It is going to be really great if they can get Rooted into the churches because it is really good source material that gives them a great starting point for their faith as well as fellowship,” says Pastor Vance.   “And their goal is to go from 30,000 believers to 60,000 by the year 2020, which may not sound like much, but in that environment it really is one person at a time because Bangladesh is the most unreached country in the world.”

Another aspect of the trip was for the team to visit many of the Bangladesh orphanages that are run by Peter Halder and his team. For Pastor Vance and the team the experience was surprising and perspective-changing.

“As soon as we walked through the doors it was obvious that these kids were content. They had food and a roof over their heads and no air conditioning – and the heat was oppressive – but what these kids truly had was each other and they were being loved, and they were very, very happy.”

The orphanages are guided by the example set by Jesus in John 13:34-35, who reminds us that we are to love one another just as He has loved us, and by this love people will ultimately see something different about us: We are Christians.

“It really is amazing to see the work that Peter Halder and his team is doing at these orphanages,” says Pastor Vance. “The Bangladesh government recognized that he and his team were doing such an amazing job that they actually brought them more kids. This translates into the people recognizing that Christians aren’t so bad (laughs).

“They might be good people after all!”

Through faith, hard work and dedication, Peter Halder and his team – with the assistance, equipping, training, prayer and financial support of Rolling Hills Covenant Church – is making a big difference in Bangladesh, not only in its Christian churches, but also for a people in need of love.

Like Pastor Vance said, it’s one person at a time. It’s Mission: Possible.

Just be careful on the roads!

1975 Topps #35: Ron Santo – White Sox (Really?)

Topps Card 35

Nine cards on a page and the one in the middle is a head-scratcher.

Options:

Card 31 – Dave Rader, Giants

Card 32 – Reggie Cleveland, Red Sox

Card 33 – Dusty Baker, Braves

Card 34 – Steve Renko, Expos

Card 35 – Ron Santo, White Sox

Card 36 – Joe Lovitto, Rangers

Card 37 – Dave Freisleben, Padres (Side note: I spent waaay too much money on this guy’s 1974 error card)

Card 38 – Buddy Bell, Indians

Card 39 – Andre Thornton, Cubs (Side note: I refuse to call him “Andy” as they do on the 1975 card. Nearly as bad as calling Roberto Clemente “Bob.”).

In the summer of 2012 I found myself wandering the aisles of the Target store in Manhattan Beach when I happened upon a tall, lanky guy who resembled a “Bad News Bears” era Jackie Earle Haley. This guy looked so very familiar to me, yet I couldn’t place him. As he tried to coax his young daughter to walk next to their shopping cart instead of riding on it, he grinned at me and politely apologized for creating a bit of a log-jam. Man, he looked so familiar. At the register 30 minutes later I saw the same guy posing for photos with some young fans in Lakers garb.

It was Steve Nash.

Nash, a guy who was a thorn in the Lakers’ collective side for the better part of 15 years during his time with the Dallas Mavericks and Phoenix Suns, had just been acquired by the Lakers, in what would ultimately turn out to be a major bust for the franchise. Still, the sight of Nash wearing Laker purple and gold was something to behold.  It just seemed so wrong though.

It made me think about Sal Maglie.

Maglie, a major league pitcher for nine seasons in the 1950s, most of them with the New York Giants, was known as “The Barber” because of his propensity to throw inside at hitters (and give them a close shave). Hated in Brooklyn by Dodgers players and fans alike, Maglie ended up a Dodger in 1956 and actually had a very good season for Brooklyn (13 wins and a 2.89 ERA, and tossed a no-hitter against the Phillies). But when I think about Magile’s initial entry into the Brooklyn clubhouse following his acquisition, as silent and stunned Dodger players suddenly realized that he was a teammate, it seems awfully strange to me that they would even consider making such a radical acquisition.  No matter how nice the results turned out with Maglie in blue, it just was very wrong.

And then there’s Ron Santo.

The longtime Chicago Cubs third baseman from 1960 to 1973, Santo was Chicago Baseball Royalty. Winner of five consecutive Gold Glove awards (1964-1968), and a nine-time All Star (1963-66, 1968-69, 1971-73), Santo slammed 337 home runs for the Cubs while driving in nearly 1,300 runs, and of course anchored the team with stellar defense at the hot corner. Inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame posthumously by the Veteran’s Committee in 2012 (Santo passed away in 2010), Santo is also well-remembered for his private and courageous battle with Type-1 Diabetes.

So: Steve Nash, Sal Maglie and Ron Santo. Why Santo?

Well, you see his 1975 Topps card pictured above, right? Nash seemed an odd fit for the Lakers, Maglie a square peg in a round hole for the Dodgers, and Ron Santo on the Chicago White Sox?

That just ain’t right.

I suppose the Cubs were eager to get the young, up-and-coming Bill Madlock into the everyday lineup, so moving an aging Santo during the 1973 offseason made sense, but the legend had previously rejected a deal that would have sent him to the California Angels, so why not just let the old man ride off into the sunset under his own terms?

But no. They sent him to the White Sox, who already had Bill Melton playing a steady third base, so in addition to having his beloved Cubs jersey ripped from his back and forced to suit up for the super-mediocre South Siders, he was also stuck playing second base for them. I can’t imagine the indignity of playing out of position at a time when his career should have been celebrated in every ballpark in America.

1974 was Santo’s final season in baseball. Unfortunately it was with the White Sox and not the Cubs, but I suppose he got out in the nick of time before he would have had to wear these two seasons later:

Shorts

Then again, his 1974 Topps cards are not exactly memorable works of art:

Santo 74

Santo 74 traded

Ugh.

Let’s remember Ron Santo properly, shall we?

Santo

Graded by Grace

gl

Emily raced into the dining room the other night while I was on the computer and begged me to log onto Gradelink, the popular site for teachers to post students’ progress and a place for students like Emily to eagerly check grades (or dread them).

The problem of course was that it was only the third day of school and there really wasn’t much if anything to report at this early stage in the school year. Give it some time Emily. There will be lots of quality time with Gradelink once again this year.

God has a sort of “Gradelink” in the form of the consciousness that He has given us and of course the call to be holy.   1 Peter 1:15-16 tells us, “Just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: Be holy, because I am holy.”

This being the case, a quick glance at my spiritual Gradelink last week revealed that I was an abject failure.

No excuses. It was a difficult and trying week, and I lived a decent sized chunk of it in my own flesh even though I knew better. In other words, I know that God has a higher calling on my life, that He has amazing plans that actually involve me in those plans! Philippians 2:13 reminds me that “It is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill His good purpose.” But even knowing all of that, in the searing heat and humidity of this last week and under the unrelenting pressures and demands of a workplace that frowns on faith, I buckled. And while I didn’t hurt or slander anyone, some of my words and certainly my attitude did absolutely nothing to further God’s kingdom last week.

I failed.

Thankfully, even in failure I managed to come out on top.  How you say?  God has an interesting grading scale that involves substitutionary atonement, where the sacrifice of the Son obliterates my horrific failings.

Jesus Christ died on the cross for all of our sins. He died for me, and He was risen on the third day. He overcame death and the same power that raised Him from the dead resides in me and all who call Jesus Christ their Lord and Savior.

So I am graded as perfect in the eyes of the Lord because I am clothed in Christ. I am perfect!

Even when I have a horrible week, a wretched time with dealing with the pangs of day-to-day labor and challenging personalities who openly mock my faith, I am seen by God as white as snow because of the scarlet blood of Jesus Christ (Isaiah 1:18).

So just like Emily, thrilled by the reality that there are awesome grades to check on, I have decided to see how I look from God’s Gradelink of Grace and Mercy because of what Jesus did for me.

And here’s how I stack up:

I am loved!

-John 3:16 tells us that “God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”

I am weak, but He is strong!

-2 Corinthians 12:9 tells us that “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”.

I have grace and mercy!

-Hebrews 4:16: “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

The Lord has plans for me!

-Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

My salvation is a gift from God!

-Ephesians 2:4-9: “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

I am fearfully and wonderfully made!

-Psalm 139:13-16: “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”

So thank You, Lord. Thank you for grading me at a level that is incomprehensible to an unbelieving world. Thank You, Jesus, for the devotion to pleasing the Father, for taking the punishment I deserve.

Thank you that even when I have a week like the one I just endured I can confess and repent and worship You. I can read Your Holy Word and rejoice in the fact that I am so amazingly and wonderfully loved.

1975 Topps #25: Lee May (not Milt May)

Card 25 - front

Page Four of my 1975 Topps Baseball Card binder, like most of the pages in the binder, features an interesting array of players: Bill Russell from my Dodgers, Al Fitzmorris of the Royals, Lee May of the Astros*, Dave McNally of the Orioles, Ken Reitz of the Cardinals, Tom Murphy, Brewers and two big favorites: Dave “The Cobra” Parker of the Pirates and Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven of the Twins.

I opted to go with Lee May because of two distinct childhood memories of him, and after doing a little more digging into his impressive and underappreciated career, I believe I made a good choice. *(Pictured in his 1975 Topps card as a member of the Houston Astros, May had actually been traded to the Baltimore Orioles before the 1975 season, but we’ll get to that later).

Career recap first and then some memories.

Lee May – not to be confused with Lee Maye, who toiled in the big leagues from 1959-1971 – slugged his way through 18 seasons and left indelible memories in Cincinnati, Houston and Baltimore, before closing out his career in Kansas City. Signed by the Reds in 1961 as an amateur free agent, May spent five years in Cincinnati’s minor league system with teams based primarily in the South and dealt with the racial taunts and thrown soda bottles than too many players of color had put up with during that horrible era.

Lee played his way into the majors and by 1967 – the year of my birth – he was there to stay.

Reds teammate Tommy Helms nicknamed May “The Big Bopper of Birmingham,” which later was simply “The Big Bopper,” not so much for his 6-3, 195-lb frame, which was impressive enough, but more for his prodigious home runs. Named the Sporting News’ National League Rookie of the Year in 1967, May was a vital piece of the components that were to become The Big Red Machine of the 1970s, joining Pete Rose, Johnny Bench and Tony Perez as the core hitters who would ultimately terrorize National League pitching for much of the decade.   A National League All Star representing the Reds in 1969 and 1971, May played first base, and for five full seasons averaged nearly 30 home runs and better than 85 runs batted in for Cincinnati, and while the team was busy putting its plan of National League domination into motion, May was deemed expendable.

In a trade that would make the Reds the most formidable NL team for years to come, Lee May, Helms and teammate Jimmy Stewart were dealt to the Houston Astros for some vital pieces of The Big Red Machine, chiefly Joe Morgan and Cesar Geronimo.

May played three seasons in the spacious Astrodome in Houston, where his power numbers should have diminished, however he slammed 81 homers and knocked in 288 runs in those three seasons and was an All Star in 1972.

May was dealt to the Baltimore Orioles in December of 1974, and in five seasons as a full-time player – spending time at first base and designated hitter – he averaged 23 home runs and 91 runs batted in. The Orioles had an up-and-coming first baseman and future Hall of Famer Eddie Murray ready to bust out, so May was considered expendable again and left for the Kansas City Royals via free agency in 1980, where he spent two seasons as a part-time player before retiring in 1982.

Lee May’s career statistics are impressive: .267 batting average, 354 home runs and 1,244 runs batted in.   In seven World Series games May batted .368 with 2 homers and 8 RBI.

While I pointed out the fact that May’s power numbers were not really diminished from his three years in Houston, there’s no telling what his final totals would have looked like had he played his entire career in Cincinnati or Baltimore, but there’s reason to believe that he would have slammed better than 400 home runs and eclipsed 1,500 RBI.

His power brings me to personal memory number one of Lee May.

Cadaco

My old neighborhood buddy Mike Begneaud owned a wonderful game called “All Star Baseball” which featured baseball-shaped player cards that you placed in little holders and then you’d flick a spinner that would land on numbered sections of the card. The numbers represented the players’ skill levels or deficiencies, and the thing I remember about the Lee May card was his home run skill level, represented by the Number 1.

Good home run hitters had a decent sized category number 1, meaning that there was always a good chance of the spinner stopping there. Really powerful hitters like Lee May (or in my example below, George Foster of The Big Red Machine) would have multiple instances of category number 1 on their card. So while Mike and I would clamor for our favorites like Steve Garvey, Ron Cey, Bench, Mike Schmidt or even Hank Aaron for our teams, the guy who would inevitably wind up with Lee May on their squad would typically walk away very happy with his home runs.

Foster

Many a summer afternoon was spent agonizing over or rejoicing in Lee May’s spinner home runs.

My final memory is a baseball card memory of Lee May. Appropriately so since we are celebrating his 1975 card today.

During my card-collecting prime, Topps of course was the go-to baseball card, but I also loved the Kellogg’s cereal 3-D cards as well as the Hostess cards (I loved me some Twinkies back in the day!). The Hostess cards came in sets of three on the bottom panel of Twinkies, Cupcakes, Ding-Dongs, Suzie Q’s and Ho-Ho’s (man those are some politically-incorrect names for dessert cakes). Now if I knew in the future that an uncut panel of good cards would have fetched me some cash in the future I would have preserved them well, but as a kid I cut those cards out and kept them with my rubber-banded Topps cards.

The problem with the Hostess cards was that they apparently used the B-roll of Topps photos, and they also didn’t have a real keen eye for accuracy, as many names were misspelled (see Doug Rader become “Doug Radar,” George Hendrick as “George Hendricks” and Burt Hooten was “Bert Hooten”).

Chief among the unsightly issues with Hostess was the Milt May/Lee May problem.

Card 25 - HOSTESS OOPS!

Not sure what happened here, but other than both players being Astros in 1974, the good people at Hostess somehow managed to mix up the white, left-handed hitting catcher with the black, right-handed hitting first baseman. To make matters a little worse, there was a legitimate Lee May card from the Hostess 1975 set – the wonderfully awful airbrushed version with him on the Orioles.

There are more airbrush atrocities to come later.

For now I leave you with this one. Enjoy!

May - Orioles