Don Zimmer: Taking Three for the Team

Don ZimmerDon Zimmer may be best remembered by being thrown to the ground by Boston pitcher Pedro Martinez in Game 3 of the 2003 ALCS between the Yankees and Red Sox.

But as a player, Zimmer suffered a pair of beanings that ended his season in both cases.

The first incident occurred in the minor leagues on July 7, 1953. While playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers Triple-A affiliate St. Paul Saints, Zimmer faced Columbus (Ohio) pitcher Jim Kirk. At the time, Zimmer was leading the American Association in home runs and RBI.

An errant pitch from Kirk hit Zimmer in the head which knocked him unconscious. The effects of the beaning were terrifying. Zimmer remained unconscious for two weeks, lost his speech for six weeks and dropped 44 pounds.

Doctors drilled four holes in Zimmer’s skull in order to reduce pressure on his brain. The holes were later filled with plugs made of tantalum, a metal used in light bulb filaments and nuclear reactors.

Zimmer eventually recovered and reached the Dodgers in 1954. However, he suffered another beaning that ended his 1956 season. On June 23, Zimmer batted against Cincinnati pitcher Hal Jeffcoat. His cheekbone was broken after Jeffcoat’s pitch beaned him in the face. The injury ended Zimmer’s season, but he rebounded with career highs of 17 home runs and 60 RBI in 1958, the Dodgers first season in Los Angeles. He continued to play in the majors until 1965.

Don Zimmer displaying his military head gear in 1999.

Don Zimmer displaying his military head gear in 1999.

Unfortunately, the ball once again found Zimmer when he was Yankees manager Joe Torre’s bench coach. During the Game 1 of the 1999 ALDS, Zimmer’s ear and left jaw were cut by a Chuck Knoblauch foul ball into the Yankees dugout. He made light of the incident by sitting in the dugout the next day wearing a military helmet with the Yankees logo.

Zimmer may have had the bad luck of suffering head and facial injuries. But the man nicknamed “Popeye” always bounced back either as a player or coach.

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Family Matters Part I

Baseball is known as a game that can be shared by families. Some sons choose to follow in their father’s footsteps while sports genes are passed from parent to children. Other events and achievements can involve family members.

Listed below are some family matters and connections with the national pastime. This is the first of several posts that look into how some families have baseball connections.

Baseball, field hockey and ice hockey have been part of the Matheny family.

Baseball, field hockey and ice hockey have been part of the Matheny family.

Mike Matheny – Even though he grew up only about 20 minutes from The Ohio State University campus, St. Louis manager Mike Matheny was a co-captain for the University of Michigan baseball team. His wife, Kristin, played field hockey for the Wolverines. In addition, the Matheny’s son, Tate, plays baseball for Missouri State. Their daughter, Katie, will begin playing collegiate ice hockey this winter for, ironically, Ohio State.

Doug Henry – While pitching in the minors, he decided to quit baseball. However, Henry’s wife Monique purchased a non-refundable plane ticket to watch him pitch in Beloit, Wisc. She successful talked her husband into continuing baseball. He pitched 11 seasons for Milwaukee, New York Mets, San Francisco, Houston and Kansas City from 1991 to 2001. Henry was a career 34-42 with 82 saves.

Mark Knudson – He was only 1-6 combined with Houston and Milwaukee in 1986. Knudson’s only win and first major league victory came on July 10 in an 11-4 victory over Philadelphia. Could this have been a present for his parents? They were celebrating their 32nd wedding anniversary that same day.

Dave Clark – His family probably spent a lot of time at live sporting events or watching them on TV throughout the entire year. Clark spent 13 seasons for seven teams from 1986 to 1998. Meanwhile, his brother, Louis, had a six-year career from 1987 to 1992 as a wide receiver for the Seattle Seahawks.

Alex Rodriguez: Hall of Shame

When he first came up to the majors in the mid-1990s, Alex Rodriguez was destined for stardom. Now, he is baseball’s public enemy No. 1

Even though they never won a World Series, the Seattle Mariners had some great teams in the late 1990s and early 2000s. I enjoyed watching Ken Griffey, Jr., even though he had some great games against my Yankees. While I didn’t hate A-Rod, I was never as impressed with his game than Griffey.

I laughed when Rodriguez signed that ridiculous $252 million contract with Texas prior to the 2001 season. Even though he put up great numbers, the Rangers had no pitching and his offensive talents went to waste.

Some people forgot that A-Rod was initially traded to the Red Sox after the 2003 season. However, the trade was vetoed by the Major League Baseball Players Union. Thanks to third baseman Aaron Boone’s off-season injury during a pickup basketball game, A-Rod was instead traded to the Yankees.

Unlike some Yankee fans, I wasn’t too excited about Rodriguez’s acquisition. I cheered for him, but not like I did for Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and others.

My lack of respect for A-Rod began when he swatted the ball out of Red Sox pitcher Bronson Arroyo in Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS. It was a bush league play that I couldn’t believe a Yankee, much less a major league player, would do.

The Yankees gave him a 10-year, $275 contract in 2007. Since they would still have A-Rod when he turned 42 in 2017, I thought it was a waste of money. I know the Yankees had the money to afford him, but his skills and production would steadily decline.

It’s hard for me to see Rodriguez in pinstripes now. If I was at Yankee Stadium for his first home game Friday, I wouldn’t have cheered. I don’t think I would have booed either, rather just sat in confusion.

While I will always be a Yankees fan, I’ve had a hard time cheering for A-Rod. He’s a liar, a cheat and delusional. I don’t think anyone on the planet believes A-Rod didn’t use performance enhancing drugs, even those carrying signs of support for his first plate appearance Friday night against Detroit.

I’ll never understand why someone as naturally gifted and talented like A-Rod used PED’s. It reminds me of a scene from the 1992 Disney movie “Cool Runnings,” which was about the inaugural Jamaican bobsled team at the 1988 Winter Olympics. When one of the bobsleders asks his coach why he cheated years earlier when he had already won two gold medals as a participant, the coach replied that although he won, he had to keep on winning.

I think this helps explain why A-Rod and countless others used PED’s. It’s unfortunate that all of his stats and records will be tainted. But he has no one else to blame but himself. Otherwise, he had a clear path to the Hall of Fame. That path has now been blocked permanently.

RIP Frank Castillo

I was shocked to learn of the death of former major league pitcher Frank Castillo this past Sunday. The 44-year old drowned while swimming in Bartlett Lake, Ariz.

Unless you’re a diehard baseball history nut like myself, you may not remember Castillo. In his 13-year major league career with the Cubs, Colorado, Detroit, Toronto, Boston and Florida, Castillo tallied a fairly ordinary 82-104 record. But I have two specific memories of the pitcher who I first saw on a 1991 Upper Deck baseball card.

Frank CastilloCastillo made his major league debut with the Cubs against Pittsburgh on June 27, 1991. For eight innings, Castillo out pitched former NL Cy Young award winner Doug Drabek. The Cubs rookie limited the Pirates to only three hits over eight innings and took a 3-0 lead to the bottom of the ninth inning at Three Rivers Stadium.

Attempting to earn a complete game shutout, Castillo allowed a pair of singles to open the bottom of the ninth. He left the game still in line to earn the victory, but watched in dismay as the Cubs bullpen let him down. Paul Assenmacher and Heathcliff Slocumb allowed four runs to cross the plate as the Pirates rallied for a 4-3 win.

For as well as Castillo pitched in his major league debut, the game was remembered more for the Pirates remarkable comeback than Castillo’s impressive performance. He finished the 1991 season with a 6-7 record.

If Castillo saw a no decision snatched from victory in his debut, he suffered another disappointing fate on Sept. 25, 1995. Facing arch-rival St. Louis at Wrigley Field, Castillo only allowed two walks through the first eight innings. In the top of the ninth, Castillo struck out pinch-hitters Terry Bradshaw and Mark Sweeney to put himself one out away from a no-hitter.

Only Bernard Gilkey stood between Castillo and history. Gilkey fell behind 0-2 but then took the next two pitches to even the count at 2-2. But then Gilkey tripled to center field to end the no-hit bid. Castillo rebounded to get Tripp Cromer to fly out to right field as the Cubs earned a 7-0 win.

Castillo may have had an ordinary career, but he suffered two near misses that may have made him more prominent.

Rest in Peace, Frank Castillo.

Where are Some of the Pine Tar Participants Now?

On this day 30 years ago, July 24, 1983, Kansas City and New York played a seemingly normal game for eight innings at Yankee Stadium.

But the top of the ninth featured one of the most bizarre incidents in baseball history.

In case you don’t remember, Royals third baseman George Brett hit a go-ahead home run off Yankees closer Goose Gossage. As he was rounding the bases, Yankees manager Billy Martin emerged from the dugout to argue that Brett used an illegal bat because the pine tar was too close to the barrel.

After measuring the bat for the amount of pine tar, home plate umpire Tim McClelland pointed at Brett in the dugout and called him out, ending the game and giving the Yankees an apparent 4-3 win.

George Brett just having a friendly conversation with home plate umpire Tim McClelland.

George Brett just having a friendly conversation with home plate umpire Tim McClelland.

An enraged Brett ran from the dugout and had to be physically restrained by umpire Joe Brinkman. The Royals played the game under protest and AL president Lee MacPhail eventually upheld the protest by stating the illegal bat “did not violate the spirit of the rules.”

So on Aug. 18, 25 days after the game started, the game was resumed with two outs in the top of the ninth. The Royals eventually completed a 5-4 win after closer Dan Quisenberry pitched a perfect bottom of the ninth.

Now there are a lot of players in the league today who either don’t remember or were not born when the Pine Tar Game occurred. These players could chat with one of the following players from the game who are still involved in organized baseball:

Kansas City Royals
UL Washington – SS – It was Washington’s two-out single in the top of the ninth off reliever Dale Murray that brought Brett to the plate. He is currently a coach with the Single-A Greenville (SC) Drive, an affiliate of the Red Sox.

George Brett – 3B – Brett’s home run was his third hit of the game. It continued a trend of being a Yankee-killer. Brett hit 22 home runs at Yankee Stadium, including five in the postseason. He currently serves as the Royals hitting coach.

John Wathan – 1B/LF – Wathan scored two of the Royals five runs. He was Kansas City manager from 1987 to 1991 and the Angels interim manager in 1992. Currently, Wathan is a Royals Special Assistant to Player Development.

Leon Roberts – LF – Roberts finished with a pair of hits and threw out Dave Winfield at second base. He currently coaches with the Oklahoma City RedHawks, the Houston Astros AAA affiliate in the Pacific Coast League.

Willie Aikens – PH/1B – Aikens flied out in a pinch-hitting appearance. He now coaches with the Royals Arizona League club.

Joe Simpson – LF – Simpson played left field for the bottom of the ninth in the resumption of the game on Aug. 18. Since 1992, he has been a color commentator for Atlanta Braves broadcasts.

Frank White – 2B – White finished with a pair of RBI and also told Brett the umpires were measuring for illegal pine tar use just before the Royals third baseman went crazy. He is the first base coach for the Kansas City T-Bones of the Independent Northern League.

Bud Black – SP – Black started the game and allowed four runs on seven hits over six innings. He was in line for the loss before Brett’s home run gave Kansas City the lead. Since 2007, he has been the Padres manager.

New York Yankees
Butch Wynegar – C – Wynegar entered the game in the top of the ninth in the Aug. 18 resumed game. He is still with the Yankees organization as the hitting coach for the AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRaiders.

Don Mattingly – 1B/2B – Mattingly pinch-hit for first baseman Steve Balboni in the seventh inning. When the game resumed on Aug. 18, he moved to second base, which had to be the only time in his career Mattingly played that position. Mattingly was 0-for-2 with a pair of flyouts. Since 2011, Mattingly has been the Dodgers manager. His rookie sensation, Yasiel Puig, was born seven years after the Pine Tar Game in 1990.

George Frazier – RP – Twenty-five days after the game started, Frazier relieved Gossage on Aug. 18 with two outs in the top of the ninth. He struck out Hal MacRae to end the inning. Frazier is currently in his 15th season as a Colorado Rockies color commentator.

Norm Cash: Break a (Table) Leg

Norm Cash shown with a bat, not a table leg.

Norm Cash shown with a bat, not a table leg.

Actors are often told to “break a leg” as they go on stage. Detroit Tiger Norm Cash took this literally but it involved a table leg.

On Sunday, July 15, 1973, Cash and the Tigers hosted the California Angels. Nolan Ryan started for the Angels and was opposed by Tigers hurler Jim Perry. By the end of the afternoon, the 41,411 at Tiger Stadium not only witnessed history, but one of baseball’s great comical moments as well.

Through seven innings, Ryan held the Tigers hitless with 16 strikeouts and four walks as the Angels held a 1-0 lead. However, California broke the game open with a five-run top of the eighth inning on three run-scoring singles.

In the bottom half of the inning, Ryan retired the Tigers in order, which included his 17th strikeout.

Three outs away from his second career no-hitter, Ryan retired Mickey Stanley and Gates Brown. The popular Cash became the final hope for Detroit. Like the rest of the Tigers, he couldn’t figure out Ryan, striking out twice and grounding out.

Cash then showed that professional athletes can never take themselves too seriously. He strolled to the plate with not a bat, but a leg that he broke off from a locker room table. Home plate umpire Ron Luciano told Cash he couldn’t use the leg. The Tigers slugger apparently responded that he had as much chance hitting Ryan with the leg than a bat.

I wonder if Ryan was more upset than humored at Cash’s antics. Pitchers prefer to be in a routine, and Cash upset the rhythm. But Ryan was not phased and induced Cash to pop up for the final out and Ryan’s no-hitter in the Angels 6-0 victory.

Cash was known as a prankster throughout his career, but his humor reached an apex on that Sunday afternoon in Detroit. Since Ryan threw a record seven no-hitters, Cash may have come up with a good idea: Using any tools available to try to hit the Ryan Express.

Streakin: Forgotten NL All-Star Moments (1972-82)

The annual Major League Baseball All-Star Game is tonight at Citi Field in New York. The National League is looking to extend a three-game winning streak and once again claim home field advantage for the World Series.

But the National League’s winning streak in the Mid-Summer Classic pales in comparison to the senior circuit’s 11-game winning streak from 1972 to 1982. Let’s take a look at some of the moments during that streak that may be easily forgettable.

1972: Cincinnati’s Joe Morgan delivered the walk-off single in the bottom of 10th inning of the 4-3 win in Atlanta. But if not for an RBI fielder’s choice by Houston’s Lee May in the bottom of the ninth, the AL would have won their second straight All-Star Game. The AL entered the bottom of the ninth leading 3-2 with the White Sox’s Wilbur Wood on the mound trying to seal the victory.

1974: Dodgers Steve Garvey earned game MVP honors despite not being listed on the ballot. He was added to the starting lineup by a write-in vote and finished 2-for-4 with an RBI and run scored in the 7-2 win in Pittsburgh.

1975: For the first time in All-Star Game history, honorary captains were named for each league. Former Yankee Mickey Mantle represented the AL squad, while Cardinals great Stan Musial represented the NL. The NL broke a 3-3 tie in the top of the ninth inning with a two-run single by Cub Bill Madlock and a sacrifice fly by Red Pete Rose for a 6-3 triumph.

1976: Five Reds (Bench, Morgan, Rose, Dave Concepcion and George Foster) elected by the fans and two Cincinnati reserves (Tony Perez, Ken Griffey) combined for seven hits and four RBI in a 7-1 triumph in Philadelphia.

1977: Fans may remember Morgan’s lead off home run off of Baltimore’s Jim Palmer at Yankee Stadium. But a two-run home run by Philadelphia’s Greg Luzinski later in the inning gave the NL a 4-0 lead. Even with an AL comeback attempt, the senior circuit held on for a 7-5 victory.

1979: Despite his phenomenal career, this was the only All-Star Game start for California’s Nolan Ryan. This was the second of five Mid-Summer Classic appearances for Ryan.

1980: Griffey’s fifth inning home run off of Yankee Tommy John was not only the NL’s first run, it was also their first hit. The NL went on to win, 4-2, at Dodger Stadium as Griffey earned MVP honors. His son, Ken Griffey Jr., won the All-Star Game MVP Award in 1992.

1981: Future Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt of Philadelphia hit a game winning, two-run home run in the eighth inning off of another future Hall of Famer, Milwaukee’s Rollie Fingers. The NL won, 5-4, in Cleveland.

1982: With the All-Star Game in Montreal, two Expos were responsible for the final run of the game in the NL’s 4-1 win. After Al Oliver doubled, he scored on a Gary Carter single in the sixth inning.

After the AL ended an 11-game losing streak with a 13-3 win in 1983 at Comiskey Park in Chicago, the NL quickly responded with three All-Star wins in the next four years.

Enjoy tonight’s game!