By Glen Sparks
Don Drysdale turned an at-bat into nasty business. He stood six-feet, six-inches and hurled 95 mph sidearm heat. The Dodgers right-hander struck out 2,486 batters in his 14-year career and hit 154.
You’ve heard of an uncomfortable 0-for-4? Drysdale was a terrifying 0-for-4. Drysdale liked to talk about his 2-for-1 policy. You hit one of my guys, he’d say, I’ll hit two of your guys. Drysdale didn’t like to issue intentional walks. He’d rather drill the guy and save three pitches.
Big D glared at hitters the way a drill instructor glares at buck privates. He looked like a tiger in need of a steak. He squinted in for the sign like a great white shark squints to find a lonely surfer.
Batting against Drysdale was like a day at the beach. On jellyfish day. He hit guys like Joe Louis hit pikers from Palookaville.
Drysdale hailed from Van Nuys, Calif., born July 23, 1936, a Valley boy from a different time. He probably scared off half the kids from Burbank and Sherman Oaks. The Brooklyn Dodgers signed him in 1954 for a $4,000 bonus and $600 a month.
The Dodgers promoted Drysdale to the big club in 1956, a 19-year-old, all arms, legs and fastball. He promptly went 5-5 with a 2.64 ERA (152 ERA+) in 99 innings. The kid was good. The next year, he went 17-9 with a 2.69 ERA (153 ERA+).
Going Back to Cali
In 1958, the Dodgers moved to L.A. The California guy went home. In 1959, Drysdale won 17 games and struck out 242 batters, the most by a National League pitcher in 35 years. He led the Dodgers to a World Series title against the Chicago White Sox.
Over the next decade, Drysdale solidified his Hall of Fame career. He only led the National League in wins once, but topped it in strikeouts three times. No. 53 fanned a career-high 251 in 1963. He hit the 200 strikeout mark six times.
Drysdale and Sandy Koufax made a magnificent 1-2 combo. Koufax, left-handed and elegant, Drysdale, right-handed and fierce. They started games in the warm twilight at Dodger Stadium, hurling unhittable pitches fired into sunlight and shadow. For opposing line-ups, it was more like a California nightmare than a California dream.
In 1962, Drysdale won 25 games and took home the Cy Young Award. He finished fifth in the MVP voting. Drysdale and Koufax led the Dodgers to World Series championships in ‘63 and 1965. They didn’t get much help from the offense. The Dodger attack was about as scary as your cousin Sissy’s pet beagle. The Dodgers made it home about as often as Robinson Crusoe.
(Supposedly true story, probably apocryphal: On June 4, 1964, Drysdale lost an 11-inning game against the Philadelphia Phillies in which he gave up just four hits. He then left the team to take care of some personal business in Washington, D.C. On June 5, unbeknownst to Drysdale, Koufax threw a no-hitter. Some guy at the hotel told the big guy. Drysdale: “Did we win?”)
Drysdale probably put up his best year in 1964. He compiled an 18-16 record, but he attached a 2.18 ERA (147 ERA+) onto that over 321.1 innings, a career-high. He gave up an average of just 6.8 hits per 9 innings, a career low.
In 1968, in his next-to-last season, Drysdale set a major league record. He threw 58 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings and put up a 2.15 ERA (128 ERA+). And, if he threw a few extra spitballs that year, well, then so be it. He wasn’t the only one.
Big D started off 5-4 in 1969 with a 4.45 ERA. His strong right shoulder had thrown enough. He called a press conference, shed some tears and said he was done. Drysdale, who looked a movie star, retired with a 209-166 record and a 2.95 ERA (121 ERA+). He tossed 49 shutouts and hit 29 home runs. Drysdale took the ball every game and led the league in starts from 1962-65. He made eight All-Star teams.
Retired from playing, Drysdale turned to broadcasting. He called games for a number of teams including his beloved Dodgers. The writers finally voted him into the Hall of Fame in 1984.
On July 3, 1993, Drysdale died of a heart attack at his hotel room in Montreal, hours before a game that evening between the Dodgers and Expos. Vin Scully announced his death over the radio. He began it this way: “Friends, we’ve known each other a long time, and I’ve had to make a lot of announcements, some more painful than others. But never have I ever been asked to make an announcement that hurts me as much as this one. And I say it to you as best I can with a broken heart.”
Reporters asked Tommy LaSorda, the Dodger manager, a long-time friend and former teammate of Drysdale’s, for a comment. There’s Tommy sitting on a stool, his uniform top partly unbuttoned, the bags heavy beneath his eyes, his eyes tearing up, his voice trying to stay strong. He looks up at the camera. He says this of Drysdale: “He was a man’s man.”
Drysdale stands out today as a legendary pitcher from a tougher, by-gone era in baseball, one of inside fastballs and black-and-blue rib cages. Orlando Cepeda said the trick to an at bat against Drysdale was this: “Hit him before he hits you.”
Donald Scott Drysdale, you were one tough pitcher.
By Glen Sparks
Jazz pianist David Frishberg released a catchy little tune in 1969, “Van Lingle Mungo.”
Supposedly, Frishberg wrote the melody first. He couldn’t decide on the lyrics, though.
So, he did what any good songwriter might do. He picked up a copy of the Baseball Encyclopedia. There, he found the name Van Lingle Mungo. Well, that had some ring to it. It was certainly unusual.
Maybe, Frishberg figured, that name might just make for a song.
Now, Mungo had been out of major league baseball since 1945. The high-kicking right-hander, born on this date in 1911 in Pageland, S.C., compiled a 120-115 won-loss record over 14 seasons and an ERA of 3.47. He won 102 games as a Brooklyn Dodger (1931-41) and 18 as a New York Giant (1942-42, 45).
The 6-foot-2-inch Mungo hurled a hard fastball. He led the National League in strikeouts in 1936 with 238. Twice (1934 and ’36), he won 18 games. Twice (1933 and 1935), he won 16. The guy tossed a two-hit shutout in his debut, against the Boston Braves, and struck out 12.
Mungo was usually around the plate. Well, near it, anyway. Ok, he was very often in the general vicinity. Mungo led the N.L. in walks three times. Over his career, he gave up 868 free passes and fanned 1,242, a K/BB ratio of 1.43.
Baseball knew Mungo for his fastball and his fast temper. The pitcher once estimate that he paid out $15,000 in fines during his playing days, a princely sum if true.
Mungo hurled insults and punches. He was a tough guy in an old-school, put-up-your-dukes sort of way. The solid son of the South bickered with and bedeviled teammates, managers and opponents. He didn’t mind putting his long-suffering wife into the middle of it all, either.
Mr. Mungo took it personally one day when Brooklyn outfielder Tom “Long John” Winsett made an error. The miscue cost Mungo a victory. So, the pitcher, still sore about the loss, raced to the local telegraph office. He sent a message to Mrs. Mungo: ”Pack up your bags and come to Brooklyn, honey. If Winsett can play in the big leagues, it’s a cinch you can, too.”
Mungo peaked in 1936 and suffered an arm injury in 1937. From 1938-43, he went a combined 13-25. Following a stint in the Army in 1944 during World War II, Mungo regained some of his old form and enjoyed a 14-7 comeback season in 1945 with the Giants.
By the spring of 1946, Mungo was out. He feuded with Manager Mel Ott, got suspended and was eventually released. Later, he managed for one season (and got suspended for taking part in a melee that escalated into a riot) and operated a few business in his native South Carolina.
He probably was mostly forgotten by time Frishberg wrote his song, done with a Bossa Nova flair. Thirty-six other players get mentioned in “Van Lingle Mungo.” Part of it goes like this:
Johnny Vander Meer
Van Lingle Mungo
You get the idea. The tune continues on that way. Van Lingle Mungo is the final name in each verse.
Frishberg, who also wrote songs that Mel Torme and Rosemary Clooney have recorded and who wrote the Saturday morning classic “I’m Just a Bill,” said he once met Mungo. Frishberg was appearing on The Dick Cavett Show in New York City, and the producers flew in the title character.
Mungo and Frishberg talked for a few minutes. The old ballplayer wanted to know if he might be seeing some money down the road. Nope, sorry, Frishberg said. “But, it’s my name,” Mungo said.
Frishberg told Mungo to go home and write a song titled “Dave Frishberg.” Mungo brightened up. “I’m going to do it!”
Mungo died Feb. 12, 1985, at the age of 73. If he wrote a song, he kept it to himself.
(Trivia: Eddie Basinksi, included in Verse 4, is the only one of the ballplayers mentioned in Van Lingle Mungo who is still living. The former infielder from Buffalo, N.Y., is 93.)
By Glen Sparks
The lights sparkled in Los Angeles on May 7, 1959. Pee Wee Reese wheeled Roy Campanella onto the field at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. …
Roy Campanella wrote a best-selling book called It’s Good to be Alive.
He was thankful for good reason. The good-humored, thick-bodied catcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers survived a terrible one-car accident on Jan. 28, 1958. Campanella, a three-time MVP, had just closed the Harlem liquor store he owned. The slugger locked up and headed for his home in Glen Clove, New York, out in the suburbs.
Brooklyn had finished the ’57 season with an 84-70 won-loss record and in third place in the National League. Campanella, the vocal leader of the fabled Brooklyn “Boys of Summer,” hit just 13 home runs and batted only .242 in 103 games.
By that point, Campy—as just about everyone called him—was 35 years old. He had just completed his 10th season in the majors and had made eight All-Star teams.
Campy, born Nov. 19, 1921, in Philadelphia, got a late start with his big-league career. His dad was Sicilian-American, his mom was African-American. That exiled Campanella to the Negro leagues.
The Washington Elite Giants signed him to a deal in 1937. The team promptly moved to Baltimore, and Campy turned into a star. Jackie Robinson, of course, debuted with the Dodgers in 1947. Brooklyn brought up 26-year-old Campanella the following season.
A team known by some as the Daffy Dodgers and for finishing in the second division more often than not began developing some of the generation’s top talent. Besides Robinson and Campanella, the farm system produced Carl Erskine, Carl Furillo, Gil Hodges, Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider and other stars.
Campanella smacked more than 30 homers four times in his Brooklyn career. He won MVP awards in 1951, ’53 and ’55. The ’53 campaign was Campy’s best. He established career highs in homers (41), RBI (142), runs scored (103), slugging percentage (.611) and total bases (317).
By that winter night in January of 1958, Campanella had mashed 242 home runs, knocked in 856 runs and had a career batting average of .276 with a .360 on-base percentage and .500 slugging percentage. That is how his numbers remain.
It was cold that night in New York City. He was driving about 30 mph when he hit a patch of ice hear his home. Campy’s car skidded into a telephone pole and overturned. The great player, one of the most popular in Dodgers history, broke his neck.
He was left paralyzed from the shoulders down. Eventually, through physically therapy, Campanella regained use of his arms and hands. His baseball career was over. He would never walk again.
The Coliseum would have been great for Campy. Few ballparks have ever been as goofily asymmetrical as the L.A. Coliseum, a venue built for football and track and field. The right-center wall stood 440 from home plate, the left-field wall stood just 250 feet away. Campanella, a right-handed hitter who liked to pull the ball, would surely have enjoyed a career revival.
Dodgers fans in Los Angeles would never get to cheer Campy’s short-porch home runs. But, 91,103 fans filled the Coliseum on May, 1959, and roared as Pee Wee wheeled his former teammate onto the field for Roy Campanella Night, a special exhibition game played against the New York Yankees (Proceeds went to defray some of Campanella’s medical expenses.) Fans held bright lights in tribute to the injured catcher, sitting in a wheelchair with an LA Dodgers camp atop his head.
Understandably angry in the months after his car accident, Campanella told writer Roger Kahn in the 1972 best-seller The Boys of Summer that “I’m not gonna worry myself to death because I can’t (walk.)”
“I’ve accepted the chair,” Campy said. “I’ve accepted the chair, and I’ve accepted my life.”
Over the next decades, Campanella tutored catchers and did community relations work as a Dodgers employee. Elected to the Hall of Fame in 1969, he died June 26, 1993, at the age of 71. Just a week before, former Dodgers great Don Drysdale passed away in Montreal.
By Glen Sparks
Jackie Robinson made his major-league debut for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947. He went 0-for-3, a modest start. He also changed baseball and America in that game against the Boston Braves. Learn a little bit more about the amazing life of this amazing man:
- Born Jan. 31, 1919, in Cairo, Ga., Jack Roosevelt Robinson grew up in Pasadena, Calif. His middle name was in honor of Pres. Theodore Roosevelt, who died 25 days before Robinson was born.
- Robinson starred in sports at John Muir High School in Pasadena. He lettered in football, basketball, baseball and track. He also won the junior boys singles championship at the annual Pacific Coast Negro Tennis Tournament in 1936.
- Following a standout two-year career at Pasadena Junior College, Robinson transferred to UCLA. Like he did at Muir, Robinson earned varsity letters in football, basketball, baseball and track with the Bruins. He hit .097 in his one season on the UCLA baseball squad.
- Robinson’s teammates on the UCLA football team included Woody Strode and Kenny Washington, two of the first African-American players of the modern era to sign contracts with an NFL team. Both signed with the Los Angeles Rams.
- Robinson, winner of the long-jump competition at the 1940 NCAA Men’s Track and Field Championships, played semi-pro football with the Honolulu Bears and Los Angeles Bulldogs of the Pacific Coast Football League.
- Drafted in 1942, Jackie Robinson served in World War II as a second lieutenant. He was court-martialed after refusing an order from the driver to sit in the back of the bus in Texas. A panel of nine white officers acquitted him.
- While serving as athletic director and men’s basketball coach at Sam Huston College (now, Huston-Tillitson University) in Austin, Texas, Robinson received a letter from the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro leagues. The team wanted to sign the former .097 college hitter. Robinson began playing for $400 a month. He batted .387 in 1945, hit five homers and stole 13 bases in 47 games.
- Branch Rickey began scouting for African-American players in 1945. The announcement of Robinson’s signing with Brooklyn came Oct. 23, 1945. Soon after, Jackie reported to the Montreal Royals of the International League. The Sporting News, the so-called bible of Baseball, did not predict big things: “The waters of competition in the International League will flood far over his head.”5
- Robinson made his major-league debut on April 15, 1947. He went 0-for-3 and changed the game and America. The 28-year-old went on to hit 12 home runs, drove in 48 and batted .297 in his first campaign. He also led the National League with 29 stolen bases. Baseball writers voted him the N.L. Rookie of the Year.
- A key part of the fabled Boys of Summer squads in Brooklyn (Duke Snider, Carl Erskine, Pee Wee Reese, Roy Campanella, etc.), No. 42 won N.L. MVP honors in 1949. He hit a league-leading .342 with 124 RBI and scored 122 runs. He collected 203 hits and topped the senior circuit in stolen bases for a second time (37).
- Over a 10-year career, Robinson batted a robust .311 with an impressive .409 on-base percentage. He hit 137 home runs and drove in 734. The talented base thief retired with 197 steals. Robinson scored at least 100 runs six times and 99 runs another year.
- Robinson finished in the top five in MVP voting four times and in the top 16 a total of eight times. Despite playing only a decade in the majors, he finished with a life-time WAR of 61.5 (baseball-reference.com), with totals over 7.0 in five seasons. He topped out at 9.7 in 1951. Three times, Robinson led the N.L. in WAR. He made six All-Star squads. Bill James rated him the 32nd greatest player of all-time in his 2003 Historical Baseball Abstract.
- Blessed with a good eye, Robinson walked 740 times. He only struck out 291 times. Jackie crowded the plate, liked to run and was a wonder on the bases. He stole home 19 times, tied with Frankie Frisch for tops among post-World War I players. Versatile, Robinson played at least 150 games at second base (748), third base (256), first base (197) and left field (150).
- “Give me five players like Robinson and a pitcher and I’ll beat any nine-man team in baseball.” – Brooklyn Dodgers Manager Chuck Dressen
- Following several losses in the World Series, Brooklyn finally won it all in 1955. Robinson endured his worst year. He registered career lows in games played (105), homers (eight), RBI (36) and batting average (.256).
- Post-retirement, Robinson worked several years as an executive at Chock full of Nuts coffee company. He also did some broadcasting on ABC’s Major League Baseball Game of the Week and even served as general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers of the Continental Football League in 1972.
- The writers elected Robinson to the Hall of Fame in 1962, his first year on the ballot. Robinson had asked that voters only consider his accomplishments on the field.
- Off the field, the retired player helped start a commercial bank in Harlem and founded the Jackie Robinson Construction Co. to build housing for low-income families. He spoke out on civil rights issues as a political independent.
- Afflicted with diabetes, Robinson died of a heart attack on Oct. 24, 1972, at the age of 53. His funeral service three days later at Riverside Church in New York City attracted 2,500 mourners.
- Baseball retired Robinson’s No. 42 on April 15, 1997. The New York Yankees’ Mariano Rivera was the last player to wear the number. Rivera retire at the end of the 2013 season.
- “Every time I look at my pocketbook, I see Jackie Robinson. – Willie Mays
- “He struck a mighty blow for equality, freedom and the American way of life. Jackie Robinson was a good citizen, a great man, and a true American champion.” – President Ronald Reagan
- “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.” – Jackie Robinson
By Glen Sparks
Well, it wasn’t like Ross Stripling was pitching a perfect game.
By the time Dodgers manager Dave Roberts pulled Stripling from Friday’s game with one out in the eighth inning, the Los Angeles starter already had walked four San Francisco Giants hitters. But, the 6-foot-3-inch right-hander did have a no-hitter going. Could he keep it up and toss a no-no in his first major-league game? That doesn’t happen every century.
Only one pitcher has thrown a no-hitter while making his debut. Charles “Bumpus” Jones did it when Benjamin Harrison was president of the United States, and Queen Victoria still ruled England.
Jones started at home for the Cincinnati Reds on Oct. 15, 1892, against the Pittsburgh Pirates. The 22-year-old right-hander was a local guy. He hailed from Xenia, less than 60 miles from Cincinnati.
The first batter walked. So, did the second batter. Jones, though, wiggled out of this early jam. A few innings later, he found himself in another one. Pittsburgh scored an unearned run in the fourth inning on a walk, a stolen base and a Bumpus error. It looked like Jones might get an early hook.
Then, he got into a groove. He still had not given up a hit, and he didn’t give one up over the final six innings. The Reds beat the Pirates 7-1. Bumpus walked four and struck out three.
Fast forward to May 6, 1953. Alva Lee “Bobo” Holloman threw a no-hitter for the St. Louis Browns with just 5.1 innings and a handful of relief appearances under his belt. Manager Marty Marion sent Holloman to pitch his first start, against the Philadelphia A’s.
Good defense helped Bobo. So, too, did the humid night in St. Louis. Several Philadelphia flyballs lost their fight to the thick Midwest air. One A’s hitter reached on a Holloman error. Bobo also walked five, including three in the ninth inning. The rookie held on, though. The Browns won 6-0.
Unfortunately, neither Holloman nor Jones fared well after their big games. Bumpus won just one more game in the major leagues, and it was quite an improbable win at that. He somehow got the “w” on June 18, 1893, despite walking six and giving up 12 runs. Fortunately, the Reds scored 30 times against the Louisville Colonels.
Cincinnati had taken a 14-0 third-inning lead. Bumpus was summoned from the bullpen to give starter Elton Chamberlain a rest. Chamberlain still had not pitched the minimum five innings to qualify for a win. Bumpus held the lead, but, really, no lead was safe with this wild-armed, one-game sensation.
Jones’ big-league career lasted two seasons. He split his 1893 campaign between Cincinnati and the New York Giants. Bumpus pitched a total of eight games in the majors, started seven and went 2-4 with a 7.99 ERA in 41.2 innings.
Holloman, meanwhile, did not even make it to a sophomore season in the majors. He finished 3-7 in 1953 and posted an ERA of 5.23. Bobo pitched 65.1 innings in the majors. Arm problems did him in.
Let’s hope Stripling enjoys a much longer career than either Bumpus or Bobo. The Dodgers drafted him in the fifth round out of Texas A&M in 2012. He is still building up arm strength following Tommy John surgery in 2014.
Following Friday’s game, Roberts and Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said Stripling had started to lose command in his final inning. His fastball also had lost some of its life. Hayes Stripling, Ross’s dad, agreed with Roberts’ call. (Stripling left the game with one runners on base and with the Dodgers ahead 2-0. Reliever Chris Hatcher promptly gave up a two-run home run. The Giants won 3-2 in 10 innings.)
Hayes, with tears in his eyes, thanked the skipper afterword for taking care of his son’s still-mending right elbow.
By Glen Sparks
He got the job in 1950. Obviously, he liked it. Vin Scully, 88 years old and still working solo in the booth, today begins his 67tth—and final—season broadcasting Dodgers baseball games.
His career weaves through a huge chunk of the team’s history, from the era of Robinson and Reese to Koufax and Drysdale, from Garvey-Lopes-Russell-and-Cey, to Fernandomania, the miracle of 1988 and the greatness of Clayton Kershaw.
“It’s time for Dodger baseball.”
Scully started working for the team as a 23-year-old, just out of Fordham University in New York City. He stood tall and lean with a thick set of wavy red hair atop his head. The great Red Barber talked to him about the craft.
No broadcaster has spent as many consecutive seasons with one team as Scully. His voice fills living rooms, Dodger Stadium and the long drive home. And, he never sounded better than he did on an old-fashioned transistor radio.
Dick Enberg, a great broadcaster himself, once said, “At times I’ll be listening to him and I’ll think, ‘Oh, I wish I could call upon that expression the way he does.’ He paints the picture more beautifully than anyone who’s ever called a baseball game.”
Scully grew up in Manhattan, a Giants fan. Listening to sports on the radio at home inspired young Vincent. In fact, as an eight-year-old, he wrote an essay for the grammar school nuns, informing them of his career choice. The other boys could be policemen or firemen. He would be a sports announcer.
Vin sang in a barbershop quartet at Fordham University, played center field for the Rams, and called games on the campus radio station. WTOP, a Washington, D.C., station, hired him out of college; Barber asked him a short time later to call Brooklyn Dodgers games. Or, rather, to be the No. 3 man in a three-man booth (behind Barber and Connie Desmond).
Scully left with the Dodgers for Los Angeles in 1958. He broadcast the first game played in L.A., at the Coliseum, on April 18, 1958. Fans listened to him describe the action for World Series winners in 1959, 1963, 1965, 1981 and 1988. In the summer of 1968, Scully guided his loyal audience through Don Drysdale’s 58 2/3 scoreless-inning streak; 20 years later, he did the same for Orel Hershiser’s streak that lasted one out longer.
The legendary broadcaster may be most famous for a game he called Sept. 9, 1965, at Dodger Stadium against the Chicago Cubs. Sandy Koufax, in all his mighty glory, hurled the fourth no-hitter of his career and the sixth perfect game of the 20th century. The left-hander struck out 14 Cubs, including the final six. Scully’s ninth-inning account of that game is printed in many collections of great sports writing. It is a great piece of broadcasting and reporting. Scully didn’t miss a detail.
“Sandy backs off, mops his forehead, runs his left index finger along his forehead, dries it off on his left pants leg. All the while (Harvey) Kuenn just waiting. Now, Sandy looks in. Into his windup and the two-one pitch to Kuenn: swung on and missed, strike two. It is 9:46 p.m. … Two and two to Harvey Kuenn, one strike away.”
National audiences caught Scully doing golf and pro football. He stood behind the mic when Joe Montana completed his most famous touchdown pass to Dwight Clark, Jan. 10, 1982, in the NFC Championship Game.
“Montana … looking, looking, throwing into the endzone. … Clark caught it! Dwight Clark! … It’s a madhouse at Candlestick.”
From 1983-89, Scully teamed with Joe Garagiola on NBC’s baseball Game of the Week. He was already a member of the broadcaster’s wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame at that point, honored with the Ford Frick Award in 1982.
Scully will describe Dodgers home games this year for SportsNet LA, along with a handful of west coast road games. (The Dodgers start the 2016 season at 4:05 Pacific Time on the road today against the San Diego Padres. Scully plans to be calling the game at Petco Park.)
If you haven’t already, take some time to learn more about this legend of the game. Scully boasts a voice filled with easy melody, still with a touch of New York. He tells stories, both touching and humorous, between pitches, timed perfectly to the final out of an inning.
Famous for his humility and grace, he doesn’t make a big deal about his meticulous preparation. “One of the biggest reasons that I prepare is because I don’t want to seem like a horse’s fanny,” he said in Jon Weisman’s book 100 Things Dodgers Fans Should Know and Do before They Die.
As Vin Scully gets closer to the end of his brilliant career, it might be wise to recall what he said after one of baseball’s top players suffered a minor injury.
“Andre Dawson has a bruised knee and is listed as day-to-day. (Pause) Aren’t we all?”
By Glen Sparks
Tough guy Adrian Beltre most likely is headed to the Baseball Hall of Fame someday.
He certainly possesses the requisite numbers for enshrinement: 413 home runs and 1,467 RBI going into the 2016 season. The 36-year-old has a .285 career batting average, a .477 slugging percentage and a .814 OPS. His nifty defense at third base has translated into four Gold Gloves (That number should probably be higher.) and numerous ESPN highlights. Beltre’s lifetime WAR (Baseball-reference.com) stands at 83.8.
Yes, the chances seem good that Beltre will join George Brett, Wade Boggs, Mike Schmidt and other great third baseman as Cooperstown immortals.
The more interesting question might be this: Who is going to write the Adrian Beltre story? Y’know, the one that packs in all the drama, all the twists and turns, and all the humor of Beltre’s incredible career? This is a best-seller in the making.
Beltre broke in with the Los Angeles Dodgers as a precocious teenager in 1998, a 19-year-old out of the Dominican Republic, filled with raw talent and heart. Scouts loved him.
He actually signed with the Dodgers in 1994 for a $23,000 bonus. Beltre weighed 130 pounds, but he swung big and threw bullets from third base. The trouble was, he was only 15 year old and underage for signing. Baseball found this out later and suspended the Dodgers’ Dominican operations.
He just about died when he was 21. Doctors botched his surgery for a ruptured appendix. That put him on a diet of watery soup and orange juice for two months. He still reported to spring training in Vero Beach, Fla. Sick and weak, he took ground balls and batting practice with a colostomy bag underneath his uniform.
Beltre mashed a major-league leading 48 home runs for the Dodgers in 2004. The 25-year-old drove in 121 runs and hit .334 with 200 hits and 104 runs scored. The writers voted him runner-up for National League MVP. Then, he left L.A. as a free agent, and the Dodgers didn’t even know it.
The Seattle Mariners signed him to a five-year, $64 million contract. They didn’t give the Dodgers a chance to one-up that deal even though Beltre had married an L.A. girl and had just bought a new house in the area.
He did OK, not great, in Seattle. He won a couple of Gold Gloves but topped out at 26 homers. He did, though, suffer another one of his famous injuries. See, Beltre doesn’t wear a cup for protection of his, uh, sensitive parts.
In 2009, he took a line drive that ruptured a testicle. That did require a trip to the disabled list. When Beltre returned to action in Seattle, he walked up to bat with “The Nutcracker Suite” playing in the ballpark. And, no, he still doesn’t wear a cup, he says.
Beltre left Seattle and signed a one-year deal with the Red Sox in 2010. Boston paid him $9 million to play great defense, pop 28 homers, drive in 102 runs and hit .321 over 154 games.
Then, he left for the Texas Rangers. Beltre signed a five-year deal, $80 million (with a vesting option for 2016). He hit 32 homers in his first year with Texas, 36 the next and 30 in 2013.
The last two years, he has slugged just 19 (2014) and 18 (2015) homers. Thanks in part to his continued great defense, he has posted WARs of 7.0 and 5.8, respectively.
An article about Beltre in the March 28, 2016, issue of Sports Illustrated goes over some of the player’s other Hall of Fame qualifications. It especially covers his defensive prowess. (He ranks fifth in baseball history, for instance, in fielding runs saved.) His trademark play is his barehanded pick-up of grounders down the line, flinging the ball to first base from impossible angles.
Stephanie Apstein’s article also goes in-depth on Beltre the leader. Some teammates affectionately call him “Grandpa.” He is famous, of course, for going ballistic—in a fun way—if anyone dares to touch his head. So, of course, teammates—the daring ones, at least—like nothing more than to flip off Beltre’s cap or helmet and pat his noggin. All for some laughs.
More importantly, Apstein reports, Beltre acts as the leader in the Rangers’ clubhouse. He buys birthday cakes for everyone, offers a kick in the butt if needed and just the right encouraging word. He is a future Hall of Famer and a great story.