Sunday, January 30, 2022

I was scouted by the Mets

Continuing the mid-winter baseball theme, I've been going through all of my bubble gum cards. I knew I had two Jim Kaat/Katt cards somewhere in a box after news came out of his selection to the Hall of Fame, and after I found them I dug further into the box. In addition to a few thousand cards, some of them worth $100 and most of them worth $.01, I came across a business card from Russel L. Sehon, Scout, New York National League Baseball Club. In other words, the New York Mets. Written on the card was, "Good luck Tom, Your friend, Russ Sehon, 7-4-69."

In 1969, my Dad had a side gig taking care of the landscaping at a motel in Rapid City. He struck up a conversation with Sehon, who was in town scouting the Basin League, a college summer league. And of course my Dad probably said, "I've got a boy who plays baseball." Sehon was kind enough to meet with me and offer a few pointers on my swing. The Holy Grail for scouts of that era was to find the next Mickey Mantle, and I'm sure it didn't take long for Russ to figure out that I wasn't "The One." A few weeks later, the Little League season ended and my baseball career was over at the age of 12. Childhood's end, time to start getting summer jobs.

After having my memory prompted by that business card, I did some research to find out how Sehon ended up as a baseball scout. He was a Kansas boy, and even though he was scouting for the Mets when I met him, he lived in Lawrence. He was a native of the small town of Lecompton and graduated high school there in 1935. He is in the back row, second from the right in this picture of the graduating class.

Apparently Russ played college baseball at Kansas University before turning pro at age 21 in 1940. Like so many players of his generation, his career was interrupted by WWII. He served in the Navy and his name is one of 940 on the Veterans Memorial in Lecompton. His one minor league homer came in 1946 for the Jackson Senators of the Class B Southeastern League. Although he had no power, he hit .301 in his minor league career. In 1947-48, he worked in the athletic training department back at KU and was coach of the Jayhawk baseball team. Future long-time head baseball coach (and manager of the 1965 Basin League champ Rapid City Chiefs) Floyd Temple was a Jayhawk baseball and football player at about that time, but it isn't clear whether he played for Russ. The KU press guide says Russ was 7-12 as KU coach in 1948 but offers few other details. He may have been finishing up his coursework during that time because his obituary said he got his degree in 1949. The obit didn't mention his wife's name but did list three sons and four grandchildren.

Sehon spent part of the 1949 season as manager of the Hutchinson Elks, the Pirates affiliate in the Class C Western Association. His scouting career started in 1950, and he spent the next 37 years prowling the Great Plains for the Phillies, Braves, Angels, Mets and Yankees. He passed in 1998 at age 79 and is spending his eternal rest in Olathe.

He scouted me for the Mets. It didn't quite work out. That's how I choose to remember it.

I have to go off on just one more Kansas University tangent. One of the players Sehon was interested in seeing in Rapid City the previous year, 1968, was a fellow Kansas Jayhawk, Franklin "Junior" Riggins. This is the entry in the 1969 Chiefs program looking back at Junior's 1968 season:

As mentioned in the bio, Junior played in the backfield at Kansas. His last football game was the Orange Bowl on New Year's Day 1969, a 15-14 loss to undefeated Penn State. (The quarterback of that Kansas team was future Chicago Bear Bobby Douglass, a strong runner with a rocket arm and no accuracy, but that's a whole 'nother tangent.) Junior was drafted by the AFL Chiefs and NFL Cardinals, but never played pro football. He only rushed for 865 yards in three college seasons, and since he was "husky" they were probably looking at him as a fullback, back when fullback was a thing. He went the baseball route but never got past "AA". After five minor league seasons, he entered the real world and spent his adulthood as a golf equipment salesman in Vienna, Virginia. That "strong Kansas backfield" also included his younger brother, who was much better at football than baseball. Making football a career choice paid off when he was named MVP of the Super Bowl in January 1983 as the Washington team beat Dan Marino and the Dolphins. One of the epic plays in Super Bowl history was younger Riggins' 43-yard TD run on fourth down to give his team the lead for good. The classic video shows a Dolphins player getting a handful of jersey, but just momentarily.

The younger brother is John "Riggo" Riggins, Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 1992. End of Kansas tangent.

Thursday, January 27, 2022

Katt/Kaat

Jim Kaat and Tony Oliva were selected to the Baseball Hall of Fame this month, joining 1968 Minnesota Twins teammates Harmon Killebrew and Rod Carew. I have two Topps 1965 baseball cards on which Kaat's name is misspelled "Katt."

This is an excerpt from my Aug. 23, 2005 blog post looking back at the first Major League game I saw in which Kaat was one of the starting pitchers and just one of eight future members of the Baseball Hall of Fame on hand:


These days the Twins play in the Baggiedome in downtown Minneapolis, but in the '60's and '70's they were out in the suburbs. My first major league game was at age 11 on June 22, 1968 at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington.

Today the Mall of America sits on the site, but back in 1968 it was baseball under open skies. In the game program (25 cents) it says, "Half of the fun at a ballgame is keeping score," and instructions were provided on how to do so. It didn't say what the other half of the fun was, so I kept score.

Visiting was a mediocre Yankee team, six years removed from winning the World Series and nine years away from winning their next one. Twins pitcher Jim Kaat got the first two Yanks to fly out, but the third connected for a home run. It was my first major league hit, so to speak. Referring to the scoring instructions, next to the name "Mantle" I drew four horizontal bars (four-base hit) and a "7" (to left field) then circled all of it (run scored). The scoreboard flashed the message that it was the 528th home run of Mickey Mantle's career.

Of course I remember that The Mick hit a home run in the first major league game I attended, but documented on the scorecard are forgotten details. For instance, Mantle was playing first base, not the outfield. The designated hitter hadn't been adopted by the American League yet, so I figured the move to first base was because of his knees. Web research today verified that one of the great center fielders of all time spent the last two years of his career at first base due to bad knees, and they were two awful years. He retired after the 1968 season after hitting only .237 with 18 homers in 144 games. The notation on the scorecard that he was playing first base is what compelled me to look it up. Perhaps the "other half of the fun" is looking at a scorecard 37 years later and seeing details and clues that add substance to imperfect memory.

The scorecard also shows: Tony Oliva put the Twins ahead with a two-run homer in the fourth, but the Yankees scratched out four runs in the seventh and won 5-2. Stan Bahnsen, who went on to win Rookie of the Year, allowed six hits (three to Oliva) and struck out nine to get the win. Hall-of-Famer Harmon Killebrew went 0-4. With the help of Baseball Almanac, I have recreated the box score as it would have appeared in the paper the next day.


The box score reveals how the game has changed in 54 years. There was no designated hitter. The game was completed in two hours and 10 minutes, an hour less than the average game today. The winning pitcher, a rookie, pitched a complete game. Kaat was leading 2-1 after six innings, what we call now a "quality start." Kaat lost it in the 7th, but he had 180 complete games in his career so it is impossible to say it was a mistake to leave him in. Back then, the best pitchers were starters and the bullpen was usually populated by the very young, the very old, or the very mediocre. The position of "closer" didn't become universal until the '70's, and "setup man" came long after that. These days, the analytics zealots would have roasted Manager Cal Ermer on social media for the sin of wasting a quality start.

Below is my very first attempt at keeping score. As you can see, I went back and did some edits afterward to perfect my scorekeeping technique. I didn't know yet that a called strike three was a backward K. According to Baseball Reference, there were three backward K's in the game. I see a mistake there in the third inning where I gave Kaat a single, but he shows 0-for-2 in the box score. It was a fielder's choice with Frank Quilici out at second. I had so much to learn.

I was counting members of the Hall of Fame who were in the dugouts that day and came up with eight, including the two who hit home runs: Kaat, Oliva, Killebrew, Carew, and pitching coach Early Wynn for the Twins; Mantle, first base coach Whitey Ford, and 2nd baseman Bobby Cox for the Yankees. Cox, who started the game-winning rally in the 7th inning, didn't get inducted for his playing career, but for his long managerial career primarily with the Braves. I'm not including Yankee GM Lee MacPhail, who may not have been there. Yankee third base coach Frank Crosetti isn't in the HOF but won 17 World Series rings as a player and coach. Other names I recognize from the roster include shortstop/future Royals Manager Dick Howser, and pitcher Al Downing who gave up Hank Aaron's 715th home run. And then there was a former Yankee who was a coach with the Twins in 1968, Billy Martin. Martin spent his last year as a player with the Twins in 1961 and stayed with the organization as a scout and coach. He also worked as a sales representative for Grain Belt Beer during that time. That is so right, but so wrong.

Billy Martin is listed as a coach elsewhere in the 1968 program, but is not on the roster shown here because a month into the season he got sent to manage the Twins AAA minor league team, the Denver Bears (7-22 at the time). The Bears improved significantly during the remainder of the season (66-50) and he became Twins manager the following year. The Twins won the AL West in 1969 but lost badly in the very first ALCS 3-0 to Baltimore. Owner Calvin Griffith favored starting Kaat in Game 3, but Martin chose someone else and lost 11-2. After various incidents over the years, apparently this was the final straw for Griffith, and Martin was fired a week after the season. Much of Martin's bad behaviour was blamed on his drinking, but there were plenty of times he was rather impolite even when sober. His abrasive personality and tendency to drink too much was very well known but it didn't keep the Tigers, Rangers, Yankees, Yankees, A's, Yankees, Yankees, and Yankees from hiring him as manager, only to eventually fire him for the usual reasons. None of his stints lasted three full seasons, and his last and shortest tenure was 68 games with the Yankees in 1988. On Christmas Day 1989 at age 61, he died in a drunk driving accident in which he (probably) was not the driver.

Former Yankee teammates Mantle, Ford and Martin were a legendary party trio in the 1950's. They used to hit Manhattan after home games to drink the night away with the likes of Joe DiMaggio, Rocky Marciano, Elizabeth Taylor, Frank Sinatra and Rock Hudson. As an 11-year-old, I knew nothing of this, but now I wonder if Mickey and Whitey missed Billy, who was out in Denver, as they threw down a few in some Twin Cities watering hole that Saturday night in 1968. In this team picture from the 1968 program, Martin is in his characteristic hunch (front row, fourth from the left).

Another Twins player listed above is Jim Perry (third row, fourth from the left), who won the Cy Young Award during a distinguished career but is not in the HOF. However, his somewhat controversial brother Gaylord is, and the two of them have the second-most pitching victories by siblings behind Phil and Joe Niekro. My final useless factoid is the 1968 program says Tony Oliva's real name is Pedro Oliva, Jr., but Wikipedia says his birth name was Antonio Oliva Lopez Hernandes Javique. Wikipedia says Pedro is actually his brother's name, which he used in order to appear three years younger as he was trying to establish his baseball career after arriving from Cuba. Other players who have supposedly fudged their age include Albert Pujols, Bartolo Colon, Miguel Tejada, and Little Leaguer Danny Almonte who at age 14 was blowing away 12-year-olds.

What is baseball without trivia, statistics, trivial statistics, and just a few lies?

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Sports Page

I moved to the Boston area in 1991, back when people read newspapers on actual paper and not on a screen. I got the Boston Globe dropped on my driveway every day and I always read the sports section first. The collection of Globe sports columnists was second to none, with the best-known names from the 1970's onward including Bob Ryan (basketball Hall of Fame), Will McDonough (longtime NFL insider), Peter Gammons (baseball HOF), Bud Collins (tennis HOF), Larry Whiteside (baseball HOF), John Powers (Olympics, non-sports Pulitzer), Jackie MacMullan (basketball HOF), and Leigh Montville. Ryan, Collins and Montville were recipients of the AP's Red Smith Award, considered the most prestigious national award for sportswriters. Collins (NBC) was one of the first to cross over into broadcasting while still writing for a newspaper, and Ryan (ESPN), Gammons (ESPN) and McDonough (CBS/NBC) followed.

The Globe had the first female NFL beat writer in 1976, the young Lesley Visser, who has gone on to a long broadcasting career with CBS, ABC and ESPN. In the most Boston thing ever, she met her former husband, CBS broadcaster Dick Stockton, at the classic 1975 World Series between the Red Sox and the Big Red Machine. On his podcast, Tony Kornheiser (ESPN/Washington Post) routinely introduces Bob Ryan as "the quintessential American sportswriter." Ryan was just one voice on the quintessential American sports page. Sports Illustrated called the Globe's sports lineup "the greatest sports staff ever," and most were still there when I arrived in 1991.

Another staffer was a young Dan Shaughnessy, who started on the high school beat and worked his way up to a regular column. Today he is the most senior member of the Globe sports staff and shares a distinction with former Globe writers Gammons, Whiteside, Harold Kaese, Tim Murnane and Nick Cafardo as a winner of the Baseball Writers of America Career Excellence Award. In other words, he is in the writers' wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame. In 1990, he wrote "The Curse of the Bambino," and followed it up in 2004 with "Reversing the Curse" after the Red Sox finally won their first World Series since 1918.

According to Wikipedia, one of his nicknames is "Shank," "given by the 1980's Boston Celtics team for the often unflattering and critical nature of his articles." In 2000, he got in a spat with Red Sox player Carl Everett, who he called "Jurassic Carl" for denying that dinosaurs ever existed. Everett had said, "You can't say there were dinosaurs when you never saw them. Somebody actually saw Adam and Eve eating apples. No one ever saw a Tyrannosaurus rex." After being subjected to Shaughnessy's nickname, Everett fired back at Globe writer Gordon Edes, telling everyone from the paper to stay away and to pass the message along to his "curly-haired boyfriend." No one remembers much else about Carl, but Shaughnessy's new nickname stuck. Good times.

There's something admirable about a columnist who writes what he believes to be the truth rather than doing puff pieces. If you want to compliment Shaughnessy, that's what you would say. Shaughnessy has been in the headlines lately for saying he did not vote for David Ortiz to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Ortiz, the most important player on World Series champion Red Sox teams in 2004, 2007 and 2013, took the news in stride: "You know that Dan Shaughnessy has been an a–hole to everybody." Nobody is arguing with Big Papi on that one.

I used to care about the Baseball Hall of Fame. I attended the 1999 ceremony when Nolan Ryan, George Brett, Robin Yount and Orlando Cepeda were the players inducted. (Best speech: Son of the late umpire Nestor Chylak.) After the full impact of the steroid era became evident a few years later, I sort of lost interest in baseball and the Hall of Fame.

Ortiz is not the only HOF snub on Shaughnessy's ballot. He's also not voting for suspected steroid cheats Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Manny Ramirez and Sammy Sosa. I believe the only player among the nominees actually suspended by MLB for steroid use is Rodriguez. The amount of evidence against each of the other players varies, and in the case of Ortiz I would say there is some skimpy hearsay and speculation. Shaughnessy also is not voting for Curt Schilling, apparently for the sin of being an outspoken conservative who has said impolitic things about the Islamic and transgender communities. Schilling got 71.1% of the vote last year, 20 votes short of the number necessary for induction, and no doubt some writers such as "Shank" hold his politics against him. The only player Shaughnessy voted for the past two years was Jeff Kent.

Manny Ramirez, Red Sox spring training 2003

I'm not going to get out the pitchforks and torches to hunt down Shaughnessy, but my questions are: How can you tell the story of baseball for the past 50 years without mentioning Rodriguez, Bonds, Clemens, Pettitte, Ramirez, Sosa and Ortiz, even if they are suspected drug cheats? How can you tell the story without including the unfashionable Schilling or the disgraced gambler Pete Rose? How can you tell the story of the team you wrote books about, the Red Sox, without mentioning Clemens, Ramirez, Ortiz, or Schilling and his bloody sock?

Schilling's candidacy should rise or fall based on his baseball performance, not the voter's personal prejudices regarding Schilling's political views. Rose and the suspected drug cheats should have their names written in Cooperstown, even if the writing includes an account of their (alleged) sins. Maybe they need a special Wing of Shame that tells their stories and lets the visitor make up their own mind how to balance the accomplishments and the misdeeds. Must the story of the last 50 years of baseball include Shaughnessy's new favorite player, Jeff Kent? No, not unless you believe Kent's dugout fight with Bonds in 2002 was one of the signature events of the era. Kent was a good player, but I feel like Shaughnessy is trolling us by voting for him and only him. Kent got 32.4% voter support last year.

I lived in the Boston area until 2007, and the vibrant sports scene was one of the things I enjoyed about the 16+ years I was there: The swan song of Bird, Parish and McHale. Big Papi hammering "The Curse" into oblivion. The ascension of Brady to total world domination. My first autumn in Boston, I saw Bob Ryan striding powerfully across the parking lot after a Boston College football game, no doubt headed back to 135 Morrissey Boulevard to pound out his game story. As Kornheiser would say, "Sneaky tall." Sixteen years later, my going-away party included a final trip to Fenway Park before I headed back to the Upper Midwest to live out my days. The legendary giants of the Boston Globe sports section have retired or passed away. Now the only link to the glory days is Carl Everett's curly-haired boyfriend who is still churning out columns and controversy. In contrast to those days of real newsprint, I don't feel like I'm missing much.

Update: Ortiz got in with 77.9% of the vote. None of the others mentioned above got in. Bonds, Clemens and Schilling will not appear on the ballot next year, so the only path for them now is through what used to known as the Veterans Committee, actually now four committees looking at different historic eras. Gil Hodges, Jim Kaat, Minnie Minoso, Tony Oliva, Bud Fowler and Buck O’Neil will be inducted this year via the committee route. I'm guessing my two Jim Kaat cards, on which his name is misspelled "Katt," have skyrocketed in value.


Ortiz played for the Twinkies for six years before joining the Red Sox in 2003.

Monday, January 17, 2022

Zuckerberg

Until very recently, I never used Twitter. Although I think it is the death of civilization and a huge waste of time, I've been sucked in for the past few weeks. Zuckerberg recently posted a picture of himself with a group of apparent students in Peru, looking over someone's shoulder at a computer. It looked awkwardly staged to me so I answered, "Creepy as usual. Are you a real human boy?"

I was a little stunned today to receive a reply, apparently from Zuckerberg himself. He said, "I'm human."

That was the entire message. I'm going to need more than that. A blood test performed under controlled conditions should suffice.

I really need to get off Twitter. I was going to delete my account a few days ago, but decided instead to make it worthwhile and try to get suspended for posting misinformation. "Cloth masks are ineffective," except that turns out to be true. "Fauci is a liar," except that may be true. "Zuckerberg is a space alien." I truly believe that and I challenge someone to prove me wrong.

BTW, I'm not showing images of the tweets because my Twitter username is the name of (gasp) a bogus identity I've used from time to time, believe it or not, for the past 50 years since high school. Nothing illegal!

Saturday, January 01, 2022

Photo of the Year 2021

The tradition continues with my Photo of the Year for 2021, the 20th year I have done this. Since I spent most of the summer chasing bluebirds around my back yard, I thought the subject matter was obvious. This image of two young bluebirds arguing at my makeshift birdbath was my favorite of the literally thousands of images taken by trailcams, motion trigger, remote trigger, and manual trigger. Slight problem: Although the image was snapped August 8, I had not posted it on my web site until today. It did make it onto my blog Tom's Trailcam Central on Aug. 8. This particular image was with the Canon 1D Mark II and 500mm f4 lens, a combination I have used for many years. The difference with this image is it was motion triggered with the Camtraptions device I bought this year. For those who say those the bluebirds don't look very blue, they are fledglings and the blue will intensify as they get older.

Also under consideration were images from our trips to Yellowstone in January and March, our trip to Seattle in May, our local forest fire, Red Lodge 4th of July rodeo and fireworks, a trip to the Badlands which I haven't even posted, and various other things running through our yard.

The prize I used to award myself every year was a trip to Keokuk, Iowa to see the eagles on the Mississippi River. Since moving further west, I suppose the new prize will be a snowcoach through Yellowstone, which we may do in a month or so.

Bluebirds
Squawking Bluebirds

Here are my POY selections for 2002-2020.

Young red-tailed hawk Junior I (2002 edition) right outside my office window.
Junior I 2002
Gentoo penguins greet each other, Jougla Point, Dec. 4, 2003.
Gentoo Penguins 2003
Puffins on Machias Seal Island, Gulf of Maine, 2004.
Little Brothers 2004
Bald Eagle along the Mississippi River, 2005.
Bald Eagle 2005
Blue Jay, 2006.
Blue Jay 2006
Eagle with fish, 2007.
Eagle with fish 2007
Great Horned Owls, 2008.
Great Horned Owls 2008
Custer State Park Bighorn, 2009.
Custer SP Bighorn 2009
Keokuk eagle, 2010.
Keokuk Eagle 2010
Sertoma Butterfly
Sertoma Butterfly 2011
Dark Morph of Broad-Winged Hawl
Dark Morph 2012
Yellow Crowned Night Heron
Night heron 2013
Elk Frame
Elk Frame 2014
Squaw Creek Geese
Squaw Creek Geese 2015
Elk
Elk 2016

Eclipse
Eclipse 2017

Eagle
Eagle 2018

Yellowstone Coyote
Yellowstone Coyote 2019

Mountain Lion
Mountain Lion 2020