Jan 21, 2011

Original Met Coach: Rogers Hornsby (1962)

Rogers Hornsby was born on January 22, 1896 in Winters, Texas growing up in the Fort Worth area. The great Hornsby, nicknamed “the Rajah” was hired by George Weiss, the Mets first General Manager in 1961. He was to serve as a scout of the other NL teams, then became a coach for 1962 Mets in their inaugural season. Hornsby was more of a batting instructor that gave out hitting tips, rather than a hitting coach by today’s standards. There really was no such official title as a hitting coach until the mid seventies. Hornsby’s theory was to hit the ball straight up the middle.

Manager Casey Stengel would say, Hornsby could hit up the middle because he had enough power to hit it over the center field fence. Stengel believed in hitting down the lines, because that’s where the worst fielders played.


Hornsby was always tough critic on players and very outspoken. The best compliment he could come up with on his scouting reports were “the guy looks like a major leaguer”. Ed Kranepool who was only an 18 year old rookie at the time said, the only thing Hornsby ever said to him was “they don’t make them like they use to & swing at a strike”.

While coaching for the 1962 Mets, he was asked how good he thought he could hit against the pitchers of today, if he was still playing. In a classic response he said: "I guess I'd hit about .280 or .290". When asked why he'd hit for such a low average, Hornsby replied "Well, I'm 66 years old, what do you expect?". He only lasted one season as a Met coach, and in January 1963 after going for eye surgery, he died of a heart attack at age 66 in Chicago.


Before his coaching with the Mets he had been a player manager (1925-1937), then a full time manager spanning (1953-1954). He had trouble relating to his players, and they didn’t like him. He was a harsh critic, very obnoxious and outspoken of how he felt.

Winning was everything to him, at any expense. He was said to be as mean and hateful as Ty Cobb under his fake smile. He never drank or smoked, but was a big gambler, betting on horse races. One sports writer even claimed, Hornsby had admitted to being a member of the KKK at one time.


As a player he was one of the best of all time. Hornsby was a man obsessed with playing baseball. His .359 average is second best all time to Ty Cobb and the best ever in the NL. He won seven batting titles, including six in a row (1920-1925). He hit over .400 three times (1922, 1924, 1925), and fell short by three points another season.

He is the only player to win the Triple Crown Award twice; he also won two MVP awards as well. He led the league in runs scored five times, RBIs, hits & doubles four times each, walks three times, HRs & triples twice each. He also has led the league in slugging percentage eight times, more than any other player. In his career he had 2930 hits (34th all time) 541 doubles (27th all time) 1584 RBIs (36th all time) 169 triples (25th all time) 1579 runs scored (49th all time) .577 slugging % (11th all time) 1038 walks (98th all time) 301 HRs (127th all time) & 2259 games played (116th all time).


He refused to go to the movies or read anything, during the season, in fear of ruining his eye sight. On the field he also considered one of the best second baseman, in baseball history. He posted a lifetime .965 fielding %, with 5166 assists (20th all time) & 3206 put outs (49th all time). He won a World Series with the 1926 Cardinals, had his name honored with them (there were no numbers to retire back then) and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1942.


"People ask me what I do in winter when there's no baseball. I'll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring." - Rogers Hornsby

One of the Six MLB Players Born in Italy: Henry Biasatti

Henry Arcado Biasatti was one of six MLB players to be born in Italy. He was born on January 14th 1922 in Beano, Udine Italy, located in the far North Eastern section of Italy, bordering the Alps & the Adriatic Sea near the towns of Trieste & the country of Slovenian.

As a child his family immigrated to the Windsor, Canada where he became a star baseball & basketball player growing up. He was a neighbor to future MLB Italian born player Reno Bertoia in Canada.

He went off to World War II serving for his new country of Canada. He was a farmhand of the Toronto Maple Leafs baseball team, playing for London Army during the war. The team won the Canadian Congress baseball championship and played in the Ontario Baseball Association championship series in 1943 & 1945.
 
While playing minor league ball he was invited to the inaugural training camp for the Toronto Huskies in preparation for the first season of the Basketball Association of America which became the NBA. While at Assumption College he scored 11 points including the tie breaker & go ahead points to beat the Harlem Globetrotters in a huge victory for the school.
 

He was the only Canadian born player to make the team & is cited by the NBA as being its first international player. He played six pro games for the Huskies that season. & was drafted by the Boston Celtics in 1947 but never played for them because he chose to play pro baseball instead.

At this point he was at AAA in the Philadelphia Athletics organization but only batted .208 & was demoted to A ball. There he hit .298 & was sent back up to AAA, finally making the big leagues by 1949.

He only spent one season at the major league level playing 21 games for the A’s as a pinch hitter & first baseman. He only batted .083 (2-24) driving in run with each of his two career hits. He got his first career RBI against Bob Lemon & Cleveland in a 14 inning game on June 22nd.

His second RBI hit came on the next to last day of the season against the Washington Senators. He did draw eight walks which gave him a career on base % of .312.

Biasatti was back in the minor leagues playing through 1956, batting .277 with 85 HRs 234 RBIs in 1052 games played. In his final three years he pitched & served as the teams player / manager in the Kansas City A’s organization.

Retirement: After baseball he became the head coach of Assumption University in Ontario leading them to two championships in six years of coaching. He was inducted into the Windsor/Essex County Sports Hall of Fame in 1982, the University of Windsor Alumni Sports Hall of Fame in 1986, and the Canadian Basketball Hall of Fame in 2001.

Biasatti passed away in Dearborn Michigan in 1996 at the age of 74.

Jan 20, 2011

Album Review: Theatres des Vampires- Moonlight Waltz ****

I never thought I’d be into Vampire anything, let alone music. But lately as my musical tastes have become engulfed by female fronted metal bands & my horizons have been broadened. The Metal genre has taken on many new forms; most female fronted bands can be classified as gothic or symphonic metal. Most of the music is the usual rock with orchestration, keyboards as well as choirs& comes out of Europe as well as other countries outside the U.S.


Theatres Des Vampires is a female fronted Gothic Metal band from Rome, Italy. The band started in 1994 and based their music on the theme of vampires. Through the years the lineup has changed & since 2004 the beautiful Countess Sonya Scarlet (born in Rome) has fronted the band. She puts on very theatrical shows, dressing gothic & sexy, doing seductive dances as she mesmerizes her audience with wonderful rock theater.

She wears heavy make up & at times is even a mask as do the rest of the band to add to their mystery. It’s classic metal theater, from Alice Cooper & Black Sabbath to Iron Maiden, Dio & Ozzy but this time with a female lead, very original. Their audience is dedicated yet still small, but at the same time growing although the critics are still hard on them.

Sonya Scarlet has done some controversial stuff on stage behind her heavy makeup, high boots & fishnet stockings. Her theatrics have included her cutting herself with a razor & sharing her blood with fans in the audience. This caused an uproar as you can imagine & has pretty much been banned around the world. Other stage set ups, have included sexy vampire chicks dancing in cages behind the band, clinging to Scarlet as she dances with them on musical breaks. It may sound a bit strange but its rock & roll baby…………….

The latest Theatres des Vampires album/CD just released is titled: MOONLIGHT WALTZ and is no doubt their best effort by far. It’s an amazing hard rock modern day metal masterpiece. Yet it is melodic with catchy beats, powerful vocals & layers of musical orchestration. This album is well produced with a strong polished sound & fantastic musical arrangements. It can be classified as gothic, symphonic, dark or even vampire metal but certainly not a bunch of immature noise.

Of course the music first comes at you with pure hard rock; aggressive guitars from Stephan Benfante & fantastic keyboard work from the bands main composer Fabian Varesi. The rhythm section of a powerful bass & strong drumming is provided by Zimon Lijoi & Gabriel Valerio.

The lead vocals of Sonya Scarlet are superior & by far her best work to date. Her vocal style is everywhere from powerful & melodic, to sighing, haunting, seducing & lovley. She may not be a mezzo soprano, have a powerful voice like some of the ladies in the female fronted European metal scene, but her stle is perfect for her music. She has come a long way since her early days in the band as backing vocalist. Her English is fluent but yet her diction has a very strong Italian accent, this is a feature which I just love.

Special guest vocals are provided by: Snowy Shaw (from Therion, King Diamond, Notre Dame, Dream Evil) on the opening track KEEPER OF SECRETS. The track begins with a piano intro a child (credited as Sonya) chants in what gives me the visual of a playground setting. The music is taken over by an almost evil march as an orchestra erupts leading to a hard rock explosion of heavy guitars with a great bass line & catchy drum beat. Sonya Scarlet’s sighing vocals take over the landscape in one of the best hard rock songs to come out in a long time. Shaw provides a great middle verse & some heavy backing vocals as well.

The female metal singer Cadaveria (from Opera IX & Cadaveria) adds some extreme growling vocals to LE GRAND GUIGNOL, my second fav song on the album/CD. It’s one of MOONLIGHT WALTZ’S most powerful metal songs. Eva Breznikar from the band Laibach, adds some great voice work singing with Scarlet on the last track; Medusa.

The songs each have their own identity but seem to all fit together as if you are in an Italian Gothic theater production. The hard rock is accompanied by classical pianos, violins, cellos, string sections & choirs.

Helping out on the musical arrangements are maestro Luca Bellanova and a performance of the Classical Music Academy of Rome. Almost every song has wonderful layers of backing vocals which add a great effect, Eliza Pezzuto & Marco Benevento are credited with the band members on backing vocals.


The first single & video from the album is CARMILLA, a catchy pop metal song with a great beat. Its haunting lyrics are sung in a slow sensual delivery by Scarlet as if she was trying to seduce you to so can suck your blood. The song features great backing vocals with screaming guitars. It’s overlayed with cellos & a beautiful violin solo, making this an incredible piece of music.

The video is a great story taken from the original gothic novella of Carmilla (1872) which predates Bram Stoker’s Dracula by 25 years. The lead character in the video is played by Sonya Scarlet, giving her a great chance to show off her act to a broader audience.

The song SANGUE (which I believe translates from Italian to English as blood) counts in as one, two three four five, six, six, six,… gotta love it. It’s is another catchy hard rock song with a strange keyboard tone leading the way, behind heavy guitars.

The songs FLY AWAY & ILLUSIONS are slower songs with a more mainstream sound, again great layers of vocals & musical arrangements. The song FIGIO DELLA LUNA is a slow operatic ballad, very theatrical. Sonya Scarlet gets to show how beautiful she can sing in Italian. The title track; MOONLIGHT WALTZ is a beautiful rock ballad, that Scarlett nails perfectly & again it features great backing vocals.

Obsession is a strange but symphonic mix of electronics, choirs & haunting vocals by Scarlet. The Classical Music Academy of Romeadds to this incredible musical mix. The Gates of Hades begins with a keyboard line that almost sounds like a dance song is about to begin & then pianos lead to another catchy pop metal song. Then there is the gothic Black Madonna which to me is the darkest song on the whole WALTZ.

I love this album, it will be tough to beat this one as the years top centerfield maz album!!

Jan 16, 2011

The Tragic Story of New York Giant / Brooklyn Dodger: Len Koenecke

Leonard George Koenecke was born January 18, 1904 in Baraboo, Wisconsin. He began jis career playing in various semi pro ball clubs and working as a fireman on the Chicago Illinois Railroad.

In 1928 he hit .390 playing at various levels of AA & the minor leagues. By 1931 Koenecke was a hot prospect at Indianapolis, batting .353 with 24 HRs in the American Association making the All Star team. The New York Giants manager John McGraw watched Koenecke & that winter he was acquired by the New York Giants for four players. Koenecke wouldn’t stop hitting; he batted .355 with 18 HRs for the Jersey City Giants & got a call up to McGraws Giants.

But when he arrived in the majors he didn’t play as well as in the minors, in 137 at bats he did hit .255 with 4 HRs 14 RBIs . The next season he was at AA Buffalo where he hit .355 and was sent to the Brooklyn Dodgers organization.


He played the full 1934 season in Brooklyn, setting an NL record at the time with a .994 fielding %, making only two errors in 318 chances. He hated .320 with a .411 on base % (5th in the NL) with 14 HRs 31 doubles 70 walks (3rd in the NL) & 73 RBIs.


The next year he was drinking more acting wilder & his play became erratic. His average dropped off, although still a good .283, with just 4 HRs 13 doubles & 27 RBIs.Brooklyn manager Casey Stengel had enough by mid September & told Koenecke to go home for the rest of the season. He chartered a plane back home to his native Canada two days later.

As the story goes: On the flight he sat up front with the pilot, and seemed very distressed. He was drinking & started nudging pilot eventually tring to take control of the plane. Next, he started fighting with the co pilot & another on board companion. In order to control Koenecke, the pilot hit him on the head with a fire extinguisher as he was trying to steer the plane.

Koenecke was knocked out & soon died from a brain hemorrhage. It is one of the strangest deaths in baseball history. The pilot was charged with manslaughter in Ontario but eventually acquitted.

Koenecke left behind a wife a daughter as well as his mother, father & brother.

At 31 years old he batted.297 lifetime with 22 HRs 114 RBIs & .383 on base %. The Dodgers wore a black arm band on the sleeve of their uniform for the remainder of the season in his honor.

Jan 13, 2011

Former Italian / American Player of the Day: Ben Guintini (1946 / 1950)

Benjamin John Guintini was born on January 13, 1920 in Los Banos, California. He was the son of Italian immigrants & didn’t learn how to speak English until he was in school.

He played two years of minor league ball before going off to World War II for two years returning to be a star play & fan favorite in the Pacific Coast league with the San Francisco Seals, San Diego Padres & Hollywood Stars baseball teams.

He was very acrobatic & once delighted his home town fans in Los Banos California doing a walking hand stand out to his center field position. As a result his manager Lefty O’Doul benched him, the dismay of the fans.

Comedian Joe E. Brown was huge fan of his & tried to convince him to make movies. He once came across a pitcher who took a lot of pills to help out his health. When the pitcher told him he was struggling at 414 he told him “If I were you, I’d do something else with those pills”.

He made his MLB debut in 1946 with the Pittsburgh Pirates going 0-3 in two games. He only made one more MLB appearance that was in 1950 with the Philadelphia A’s going hitless in four at bats over three games. In a ten year minor league career he hit .263 with 929 hits 99 HRs 168 doubles 252 RBIs & 27 stolen bases.

Retirement: After baseball he sold Cadillac’s in California for 37 years, passing away in 1998 at age 79.

Jan 10, 2011

Italian American New Yorker: Frank Menechino

Frank Menechino was born January 7, 1971 in Staten Island, New York. The local Italian / American played baseball at Susan E. Wagner High School on Staten Island. He then went on to college baseball at Gulf Coast Community College in Panama City, Florida, before switching to the University of Alabama. In 1993 he was drafted way down in the 45th round, by the Chicago White Sox.


In 1997 he was drafted away from Chicago by the Oakland Athletics. He played utility infield there for two seasons before becoming the A’s main second baseman in 2001. In 139 games he hit .239 with 12 HRs 20 doubles & 60 RBIs. He struck out often (97 times) and had a remarkable knack for getting hit by pitches. He was second in the league getting plunked 19 times.

In the ALDS he got one hit in twelve at bats. In 2002 Mark Elis took over second base & Menechino was back to a utility role. He struggled mightily over next three seasons, hitting .205 then .193 and after 13 games in 2004 he dropped to .097. Oakland shipped him off to Toronto where hit .216 in 70 games. He finished up a lifetime .240 hitter, with 36 HRs & 149 RBIs.

In 2008 he went to play in the Italian baseball league, playing 18 games for Danesi Nettuno in Serie A1. He hit .274 before a herniated disc finished him off that May. He returned home and became hitting coach for the Trenton Thunder in 2009.

Jan 4, 2011

Former Mets Prospect: Nikco Riesgo (1990)

Damon Nikco Riesgo was Born on January 11, 1967 in Long Beach, California. The six foot two inch outfielder was a star player at the University of San Diego getting picked in the 8th round off the 1988 draft, by the home town Padres. In 1990 he was traded to the New York Mets organization where he became a sat with the St. Lucie Mets.

He was the 1990 Florida State League MVP, leading the league with 94 RBIs, 219 total bases & 35 doubles. He stole 46 stolen bases and was second in the league with 14 HRs.

That August he was traded to the Phillies in the deal that got Tommy Herr to the New York Mets. This was another Mets debacle as Herr, an All Star Met killer back in 1985, only played in 27 games batting .250 with 1 HR & 10 RBIs in 1990. In 1991 he was terrible, only hitting .194 in 70 games before getting released & having Greg Jeffries take over second base.


The Phillies didn’t put Riesgo on their roster in 1990 & he was taken Rule V by the Montreal Expos. In 1991 he made his MLB debut at Stade Olympique against Frank Viola & the Mets. He went 1-3 that day, getting a hit in his second at bat.

What was once a promising career ended after just four games with that lone base hit & a .143 batting average.

He went to the minors & never cracked the majors again, not even making it as a replacement player during the 1995 strike.