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10/28/2004 Archived Entry: "Cooperstown Confidential, Postseason Edition - October 21, 2004"
Cooperstown Confidential, Postseason Edition
by Bruce Markusen
This is the final edition of Cooperstown Confidential for the 2004 season. I have many people to thank for their help in contributing to these articles. Thanks to Dan Szymborski of Baseball Primer for posting the articles throughout the season; to Chris Dial for his assistance in providing baseball card images; to Dean Lollis of HistoricBaseball.com and Frank Russo of TheDeadBallEra.com for providing information on baseball obituaries; to column contributors Milton Jamail, Maxwell Kates, Rich Lederer, and Doug Lyons; and to Phil Bartolo, Alex Belth, Steve Lombardi, Christian Ruzich, and Craig Tomarkin for hosting the column on alternate sites. We appreciate their help, along with the feedback and loyalty of the readers, in making Cooperstown Confidential a part of baseball on the internet.
Dave Cash, 1972 Topps, No 125 in the set. This was the first card. On a spring Saturday in 1972, I made the 15-minute walk from my house on 80 Hereford Road to the village of Bronxville, New York. Stopping at Gillard’s Stationery Store, which was practically the first store that one came across upon entering the village, I purchased my first pack of baseball cards. Lying on the top of the pack was a card of Dave Cash, which thus earned bragging rights as the first official card in my collection. At the time, the ’72 Cash was a good card to have; he was the starting second baseman for the defending World Champion Pittsburgh Pirates, who had confounded the baseball community by defeating the powerhouse Baltimore Orioles in a classic seven-game World Series.
Little did I realize at the time, but I would eventually develop two common bonds with Cash. Fifteen years later, during the spring of 1987, I would begin my first job, working as a sportscaster for WIBX Radio in Utica, New York—the same upstate town where Cash had spent his formative years in the fifties and sixties. There was no way I could have known that I would end up working in that small city in central New York. Heck, I was only seven years old and hadn’t even heard of Utica in 1972.
I remained at the radio station until March of 1995, when I fulfilled a dream by taking a position at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, located in Cooperstown, New York. Dave Cash had also forged a link with Cooperstown. As a standout amateur playing American Legion baseball in central New York, Cash had made several trips to play organized games at Cooperstown’s historic Doubleday Field.
In 1972, Cash reported to spring training as the Pirates’ No. 1 second baseman, having successfully replaced the aging Bill Mazeroski in the role, only to have a broken thumb limit him to 99 games that season. Cash still managed to bat .282 and play well defensively, but the injury opened the door for Rennie Stennett, who had impressed the Pirates while filling in for Cash in both 1971 and ‘72. In 1973, the free-swinging Cash (who rarely saw a pitch he didn’t like) slipped to .271, and saw his playing time cut by manager Bill Virdon, who wanted to see Stennett play more frequently. According to the Associated Press, Cash confronted Virdon and general manager Joe Brown about the situation.
“My problem is that I’m not playing,” Cash told the AP. “The guy playing ahead of me isn’t doing the job. [Stennett hit only .242 with a mere 16 walks in 1973]. If I can’t play, there is no future for me in the organization. I’d like to leave.” The Pirates finally addressed the situation, sending Cash to the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for 25-year-old left-hander Ken Brett (the older brother of Hall of Famer George Brett).
Cash went on to enjoy three productive and durable seasons in Philadelphia, batting .300 twice, while missing a combined total of only two games. In 1976, Cash helped the Phils to the National League Eastern Division title, and batted .308 in the National League Championship Series loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Perhaps Cash’s most lasting legacy as a Phillie was his steadying influence on a young, struggling third baseman named Mike Schmidt. “He was coming off a season where he had struck out over 170, 180 times,” Cash says, “and he was kind of down on himself. I just tried to instill the positive things that he could do. He was big and strong, he had great reflexes, a great arm, a good glove, tremendous power, good baserunner, he could steal a base for you if he had to. He had good baseball instincts. I just tried to remind him of the fact that he had these types of skills, and there was no reason why he couldn’t become a good player.” Aided in part by Cash, Schmidt soon established himself as the National League’s top third baseman and eventually went on to enjoy a Hall of Fame career.
After the 1976 season, Cash took advantage of baseball’s new free agent system and signed a five-year, $1 million contract with the Montreal Expos. According to Cash, the security of the long-term deal, rather than the money, enticed him into going north of the border. After a productive 1977 season, Cash slumped to a career-low .252 batting average in 1978, and began to fall out of favor with manager Dick Williams. “He preferred playing Rodney Scott over me,” Cash explains, “which was fine as far as it goes. The manager on a ballclub has the final say-so, and I respected him for that... I was unhappy because I wasn’t playing, but I never voiced my opinion in the media, or caused any commotion in the clubhouse, or tried to disrupt that ballclub... I tried to keep myself physically fit to play, and I put up some pretty good numbers there in Montreal, even though me and Dick Williams didn’t get along.” In 1979, Cash batted .321, but played in only 76 games as second fiddle to Rodney Scott.
After a brief stint with the San Diego Padres, Cash’s career came to an end after the 1980 season. He went on to work for an investment firm in San Diego and as a car salesman in Pittsburgh. In 1987, while working as an instructor at a Phillies fantasy camp in Clearwater, Florida, Cash realized how much he missed the game. He accepted a position as an infield coach for the Phillies’ Class-A minor league affiliate in the New York-Penn League, the Batavia Clippers. Within three years, Cash earned a promotion, becoming the manager of the Clippers. Cash then worked for several years as the first base coach for the Scranton-Wilkes Barre Red Barons, Philadelphia’s Triple-A affiliate. In 1996, Cash was promoted to the Phillies’ major league coaching staff, but lost his job when Terry Francona was named Philadelphia’s manager. Cash then returned to minor league coaching with the Baltimore Orioles’ organization, working for the Rochester Red Wings of the International League. In 2001, Cash became the manager of the Frederick Keys of the Carolina League before receiving a promotion to Double-A Bowie in 2002. In 2004, Cash served as the bench coach for the Orioles’ Triple-A affiliate in Ottawa.
Ultimately, Cash would like to move back to the majors—but as a manager, not as a coach. “The next managerial job I’d like to be in is at the major league level,” Cash says. “I’d like to… manage at that level. That’s why I’m still in the game. I’d like to be able to say I played the game, and coached and managed at the major league level.”
Cash will never make the Hall of Fame as a player, and he’s probably little known to most fans who were born after the game’s free agent era began in the mid-1970s. Yet, to this fan of baseball and this collector of baseball cards, Dave Cash will always remain a special name.
Morales A Major Leaguer?
The general failures of former Cuban League standouts like Jose Contreras, Andy Morales, Adrian Hernandez, and Rene Arocha in making the transition to the major league ranks have made more than a few teams gun shy about continuing to pursue those who flee the land of Fidel Castro. The hottest name being mentioned among current Cuban refugees is Kendry Morales, a young power hitter who will probably take up residence with some major league team next year. How good is Morales? Will he be worth the millions and the multi-years that will probably be necessary to sign him? For some guidance on Morales, I turned to Latino baseball expert Milton Jamail, who is currently working on a book that deals with the interlocking themes of the Astros, scouting, and Venezuelan talent. As Milton points out, a scouting report on Morales provides a mixed bag of results. “He is 21, with a reputation as a great switch hitter with power from both sides of the plate,” says Jamail, first laying out the positives. Now the bad news. “He does not, however, have a position. According to some, he is equally bad at third base, first base, or in the outfield. When he was on the Cuban Junior team, he also pitched and threw in the low 90s. Sounds like someone the Yankees might overpay.”
If the Yankees were to sign him—as a position player and not as a pitcher—the logical question would be his placement on the defensive spectrum. With Alex Rodriguez entrenched at third base, that’s not an option. First base is awfully crowded, with Jason Giambi, Tony Clark, John Olerud, and Travis Lee (remember him) all potentially in the 2004 mix, but the latter three are eligible for free agency and may all be cut loose in the aftermath of the disastrous playoff collapse against the Red Sox. In the outfield, the Yankees already have Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield in the corners, while center field does not appear to be an option for the defensively questionable Morales. And then there’s DH, where Bernie Williams could reside if Carlos Beltran is signed as a free agent, or where Giambi might end up if the Yankees decide to switch Williams to first base (hint, hint). Then again, Morales’ age and hitting skills make him attractive, the Yankees need to get younger wherever they can, and “The Boss” is probably in the mood to add some high-priced talent.
The Guest Spot—Dissecting Major League
Over the past few years, SABR member Maxwell Kates has generated many keen insights as a column contributor to “Cooperstown Confidential.” In this week’s column, we’re turning over a whole section to Max, who provides us with some thoughts on arguably the funniest baseball film ever made.
Having seen the movie Major League (1989) on television the other night, I was keeping a running tab on references to actual players and events in the cultural history of major league baseball. Here are some of the allusions I noted.
Let’s begin with Jake Taylor (portrayed by Tom Berenger). As an over-the-hill catcher with worn knees attempting making a comeback after a stint in the Mexican League, he could be based on anyone. However, not long before Major League, another catcher reconciled with his wife after she left him for another man. That was Bruce Benedict, whose wife Kathleen left him in 1983, only for the Benedicts to reunite in 1986. Incidentally, Taylor’s ex-wife in the movie, Lynn Wells (Rene Russo), shares her name with the wife of Glenn Hubbard, Benedict's teammate on the Braves.
Rick Vaughn (Charlie Sheen) was signed on account of a prison scouting report in the “California Penal League.” Although Ron LeFlore was not a pitcher, the Detroit Tigers signed him as a result of similar circumstances at Jackson State Prison. His velocity, coupled with terrible control, was reminiscent of onetime Baltimore Orioles prospect Steve Dalkowski, the adulation he received may have been based on “Fernandomania,” and his register of 101 miles per hour marked one of several comparisons between Vaughn and Nolan Ryan. Ironically, several subsequent relief pitchers were inspired by Sheen's character in their own trade, most notably Mitch Williams and John Wetteland. He may have also inspired “theme music” for closers, such as “Hell's Bells” for Trevor Hoffman of the San Diego Padres. Vaughn’s glasses, however, were vintage Sonny Jackson (check out Jackson’s 1973 Topps card #403 and see for yourself).
The character of Willie Mays Hayes (Wesley Snipes) is perhaps most similar to any one baseball personality. His speed on the basepaths, flamboyant personality, and even his flattop hairstyle made him the spitting image of Rickey Henderson. Earlier in the 1980's, another Willie Mays, Aikens that is, was playing 1st base for the Angels, Royals, and Blue Jays. His commemoration of a glove for every stolen base may have been a reference to the “Stargell Stars” awarded by yet another Willie to members of his Pittsburgh family from 1978 to 1982.
Eddie Harris (Chelcie Ross) is a veteran greaseball pitcher with gray hair and a Southern accent. Clearly, his character is based on Gaylord Perry. The reference to K-Y Jelly is a giveaway, although according to the autobiographical “Me and the Spitter,” Gaylord never drank on days he pitched. Harris imbibed Joe Vu's rum prior to a pitching start.
Pedro Cerrano (Dennis Haysbert) was a Cuban émigré who practiced Voodoo and built a shrine to Joe Vu in his locker. He may have been a composite of various Latin American players, including alternative medicine practitioners Pepe Frias and Tito Fuentes. Roberto Clemente administered holistic rites to heal his numerous illnesses throughout his career, while Rico Carty often displayed a happy-go-lucky attitude, as exemplified by his remarks of “The Beeg Mon weel heet!” Cerrano wore number 13, still considered taboo by many in 1988, but not by Venezuelan shortstops Dave Concepcion and Ozzie Guillen.
Oddly enough, Haysbert later played a second character in a baseball movie. In Mr. Baseball (1992), he played Max Dubois, an American star who preceded Jack Elliot (Tom Selleck) to Japan. Dubois, I believe, was loosely based on former Montreal Expos outfielder Warren Cromartie.
As a widow inheriting her late husband’s team, Rachel Phelps (Margaret Whitton) may have been loosely based on Joan Kroc, who overtook the San Diego Padres in 1984 after her husband Ray died. Within three years, the National League champions had been transformed by decimation into a last place club. Manager Lou Brown (James Gammon), with his no-nonsense demeanor, his gruff image, and his walrus moustache, may have been based on Dick Williams, who managed the Padres during the “McNightmare” years.
As Harry Doyle, Bob Uecker was Bob Uecker. However, his line “Down goes Taylor!” was easily a parody of Howard Cosell's “Down goes Frazier!” and his “The Indians win! The Indians win!” may have referred to Russ Hodges’ “The Giants win the pennant!” When the Indians won their division, Harris and Cerrano are photographed together in an embrace. Forty years earlier, this actually happened when Steve Gromek hugged Larry Doby for all of Cleveland to read in their Plain Dealer.
The extramarital liaison between Vaughn and Suzanne Dorn (Stacy Carroll) is an oft-repeated occurrence in major league history, with participants ranging from Johnny Mostil and Red Faber’s wife to Dave Martinez and Ryne Sandberg’s wife. However, as the subplot involved the Cleveland Indians, I believe it was based on Dennis Eckersley’s first wife becoming Rick Manning’s first wife. Suzanne's reference to Vaughn as “the sexiest man I have ever laid eyes on” could have alluded to Lou Gehrig's “luckiest man” speech.
Manager Brown’s threat to demand 20 sit-ups from Willie Mays Hayes for popping up in batting practice was reminiscent of a similar deal between Whitey Herzog and Ozzie Smith. When “The Wizard” joined the St. Louis Cardinals in 1982, he also brought with a reputation that he “ran like Mays, but hit like [his sister].” Herzog would pay Smith $1 for every ground ball he hit, but charge $1 for every pop fly. Moreover, the “Yo la tengo” line actually happened in 1962 when Richie Ashburn notified Venezuelan outfielder Elio Chacon of his intention to catch a fly ball. Predictably, Ashburn missed.
The question remains: on whom was Roger Dorn (Corbin Bernsen) based? Baseball has been overstocked with overpaid, prima donna athletes who are afraid to get dirty in order to execute a routine play. Perhaps he was a parody of Steve Garvey, even though the streaky clean slugger played mostly at first base rather than third. Also, who was the basis for general manager Charlie Donovan?
In addition to Bob Uecker, three former or present-day players appeared in Major League. Pete Vuckovich played mythical New York Yankees first baseman Klu Haywood, and Steve Yeager played his pitching teammate, Duke Temple. Mike Rexman, the Oakland A’s hitter who became the last out of Rick Vaughn’s first shutout, was played by A’s shortstop Walt Weiss.
The Indians’ plotline in the movie may have been based on any number of teams, but my guess is that they parodied either the “Cardiac Kids” (1967 Boston Red Sox), the “Miracle Mets” (1969), or the “South Side Hitmen” (1977 Chicago White Sox). Although the ‘77 White Sox did not win their division, they did contend unexpectedly after finding themselves on the brink of extinction two years earlier.
If you know of any other major league references in Major League, feel free to e-mail me, Maxwell Kates, at BUS79@sympatico.ca.
Chuck Hiller (Died on October 20 in St. Pete Beach, Florida; age 70; lengthy illness): Best remembered as the player who hit the first grand slam for the National League in World Series history, Hiller had worked for the New York Mets’ organization in a variety of roles over the last 24 seasons. During an eight-year playing career, Hiller batted only .243 with 20 home runs and 152 RBIs, but gained instant fame by hitting a grand slam in Game Four of the 1962 World Series against the New York Yankees. Hiller’s blast broke up a 3-3 tie and spurred the San Francisco Giants to a 7-3 win. Hiller later played for the Mets from 1965 to 1967 and then rejoined the organization after his playing days. He worked for the Mets as a minor league manager and adviser, served as the team’s third base coach in 1990, and worked as an advisor to the club’s minor league director in 2004. Hiller was also a coach with four other major league teams—the Giants, Texas Rangers, Kansas City Royals, and St. Louis Cardinals—and worked on Whitey Herzog’s World Championship staff of 1982.
Ray Boone (Died on October 17 in San Diego, California; age 81; lengthy illness): The patriarch of baseball’s first three-generation family, Boone was a two-time All-Star infielder who batted .275 with 151 home runs over a 13-year career. Nicknamed “Ike,” Boone starred as a combination shortstop-third baseman for the Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers. In 1955, as a member of the Tigers, he led the American League with 115 RBIs.
Boone’s son, Bob, eventually became a standout defensive catcher for the Philadelphia Phillies and California Angels. Two of his grandsons, Bret and Aaron, have also achieved prominence in the major leagues, with both active in the game today. Bret Boone, though mentioned frequently in recent trade rumors, remains the starting second baseman for the Seattle Mariners. Aaron Boone will be attempting a comeback with the Cleveland Indians next spring after missing all of the 2004 season with a knee injury.
Mike Blyzka (Died on October 13 in Cheyenne, Wyoming; age 75): A veteran of the Army during World War II, Blyzka pitched for two major league seasons, compiling a record of 3-11 with an ERA of 5.58 in just over 180 innings. After making his debut with the St. Louis Browns in 1953 and then moving with the franchise to Baltimore, Blyzka found himself in the midst of a blockbuster deal. After the 1954 season, the Orioles sent him to the New York Yankees as part of the trade that brought pitchers Bob Turley and Don Larsen to the Bronx.
Ken Caminiti (Died on October 10 in the Bronx, New York; age 41; heart attack): A popular but troubled and controversial star for the Houston Astros and San Diego Padres, Caminiti died as the result of an apparent cocaine overdose, according to ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap. In the highlight of his career, Caminiti earned National League MVP honors in 1996 as a member of the Padres, but later admitted to steroid use and cocaine addiction at various points during his career. After making his debut as a skinny third baseman with the Astros in 1987, Caminiti bulked up heavily through steroid use and weight training, thus becoming one of the game’s most physically imposing players. The increased strength made him a feared power hitter in his prime, but also left him more susceptible to injury.
In a 15-year career that included stops with the Texas Rangers and Atlanta Braves, Caminiti batted .272 with 239 home runs and 983 RBIs. An excellent defensive third baseman, he reached his peak in 1996, when he achieved career highs of 40 home runs and 130 RBIs.
Tony Giuliani (Died on October 8 in Minneapolis, Minnesota; age 91): A veteran of seven major league seasons as a catcher, Giuliani later gained prominence as one of the top scouts for the Washington Senators and the Minnesota Twins. Giuliani played for the Senators, St. Louis Browns, and Brooklyn Dodgers, and was on the field at Yankee Stadium for Lou Gehrig’s memorable farewell speech on July 4, 1939. As a member of the Twins’ scouting staff, Giuliani signed future star Kent Hrbek along with catcher Tim Laudner, infielder John Castino, and outfielder Jim Eisenreich.
Johnny Sturm (Died on October 8 in St. Louis, Missouri; age 88): Sacrificing much of his professional career to the World War II effort, Sturm played one major league season before enlisting in the service. In 1941, he batted .239 with three home runs and 35 RBIs as the starting first baseman for the New York Yankees. Beginning a long wartime stint in the military the following year, Sturm served through 1945 and never returned to the major leagues.
Cooperstown Confidential author Bruce Markusen is the author of four books on baseball, including the newly-published Ted Williams: A Biography (Greenwood Press), now available at www.greenwood.com and www.amazon.com. And for those interested in the realm of horror and vampires, Markusen’s other new book, Haunted House of the Vampire, is now available from Amber Quill Press ( www.amberquill.com). For more information on the books or to arrange a speaking engagement, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.