May 26, 2011

New York Giants Player & World War I Hero: Eddie Grant (1913-1915) & The Story of His Polo Grounds Monument

Edward Leslie Grant was born on May 21, 1883, Franklin, Massachusetts. Edward Grant graduated from Harvard University in 1905, earning the future nickname “Harvard Eddie”. He often annoyed his less educated teammates by refusing to yell the traditional, "I got it," when a fly ball was hit, using the more grammatically correct, "I have it."

Grant began his MLB career with the Cleveland Indians in 1905, and then spent 1906 in the minors. He returned with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1907, and became their every day third baseman until 1910. The quick third baseman batted leadoff and was known for his base stealing & fine fielding. His best years were the 1909 & 1910 seasons.
In 1909 he led the league in at bats (631) plate appearances (700) & played in every game of the season. His 170 hits were second in the league; he scored 75 runs stole 28 bases, hit 18 doubles with one HR & 37 RBIs. At third base he posted the league’s second best fielding % (.957) & would be third the next year while leading in put outs. In 1910 he drove in 67 runs, stole 25 more bases & was second in the league with 34 sac hits.

He was traded to the Cincinnati Reds in 1911, playing there for two seasons. In the middle of the 1913 season, his contract was purchased by the New York Giants. Although he was no longer in the prime of his career he arrived in New York another Giants pennant year.

In the 1913 World Series he appeared in two games for John McGraw and scored a run as a pinch runner, going 0 for 1 at the plate. In 1914 he hit .277 in 282 plate appearances as a utility infielder, stealing 11 bases, scoring 34 runs, while hitting seven doubles and driving in 29 runs. In 1915 he hit only .208 with six steals and 10 RBIs, retiring at the end of the season.

In a ten year baseball career, he was a lifetime.249 hitter with 844 career hits, 153 stolen bases, 79 doubles, 30 triples, 5 home runs, and 277 RBIs. At third base he turned 105 double plays making 148 errors in 2533 chances posting a .942 fielding %.
Retirement: After baseball "Harvard Eddie" practiced law in New York City in 1916 & 1917.

American War Hero: Though he was exempt from the draft due to his age, the 33-year old attorney was one of the first to volunteer and serve in the U.S. Army in the First World War in April 1917.

He would serve as Captain of the 77th Infantry Division. During the fierce battle of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, all of Grant's superior officers were killed or wounded, and he took command of his troops on a four-day search for the "Lost Battalion" . These were thousands of soldiers stuck behind enemy lines in the freezing forest without supplies or ammunition. 

By the morning of the third day, which was October 5, 1918, Grant was totally exhausted. He hadn't slept since the beginning of the offensive, and some fellow officers noticed him sitting on a stump with a cup of coffee in front of him, too weak to even lift the cup.

One of his troops, a former policeman at the Polo Grounds, remembered: "Eddie was dog-tired but he stepped off at the head of his outfit with no more concern than if he were walking to his old place at third base after his side had finished its turn at the bat. He staggered from weakness when he first started off, but pretty soon he was marching briskly with his head up."

Later that day Eddie was waiving his hands and calling out for more stretcher bearers when a shell struck him. It was a direct hit, killing him instantly. Grant was buried in the Argonne Forest, only a few yards from where he fell. Later his remains were moved to the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in Lorraine, France.

Quotes: “Edward Leslie Grant gave his all not for glory, not for fame, but just for his country.... His memory will live as long as our game may last.” —Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis.

Polo Grounds Monument Plaque: On Memorial Day, May 29, 1921, representatives from the armed forces, major league baseball, and his sisters, unveiled a monument in center field of the Polo Grounds to his memory.

A five-foot-high stone monument with an inscribed bronze plaque was erected in deep center field in front of the clubhouse building. Although it was 470 feet from home plate, the monument was in fair territory, so balls hitting it or rolling behind it remained in play. Each Memorial Day from 1921 until 1957 there was a wreath-laying ceremony at his plaque, usually between games of the customary Holiday doubleheader. This was the first monument to be placed in New York ballpark, honoring a past player.

Legends Rumors & Facts of the Plaque Since: At end of the final game at the Polo Grounds on September 29th, 1957 the plaque was pried off the monument by three kids. Rumors that the Police had recovered the plaque were never verified and it went missing for over forty years.

In late July 1999, the Eddie Grant Memorial plaque was supposedly discovered in the attic of a Ho-Ho-Kus, New Jersey home formerly owned by Lena and Gaetano Bucca. The new home owners had discovered the plaque carefully wrapped in a blanket and hidden under a trap door in the attic. They contacted The Baseball Reliquary Board.

The previous home owner Gaetano Bucca was a NYPD officer who retired in 1958 after serving in the 32nd Precinct, jurisdiction of the Polo Grounds. After retiring he moved to New Jersey and died in 1974. It is assumed that the affable Mr. Bucca, with the aid of a few well-lubricated colleagues, had arranged to take the plaque with the intention of delivering it for safekeeping to the Eddie Grant American Legion Post 1225 in the Bronx. The plaque never made it there. How and why it ended up in Mr. Bucca's attic is totally baffling. His son now an attorney never knew of the plaque in the attic above his bedroom.

In December 2001, the Great War Society approached the San Francisco Giants Baseball Club with an offer to help pay for costs of installing a replacement for Eddie Grant's plaque at the new Giants Stadium. The team's President and Managing General Partner declined the offer.

Some believed there was a curse on the Giants because of the whole plaque history . More people were angry that they did not try hard enough to get the original plague back. Finally in 2006 a replica plaque was installed at the Giants ballpark in San Francisco, in 2010 they won the World Series.

May 24, 2011

Current Mets Pitcher: Chris Young (2011)

Christopher Ryan Young was Born on May 25, 1979 in Dallas, Texas. The tall six foot ten inch right hander was a star pitcher & basketball player in high school. He tossed two no hitters in baseball & led his team to a Texas State Championship in basketball. He attended Princeton University & became the first Ivy Leagues two sport Rookie of the Year. He was selected in the third round of the 2000 draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Young went to the Montreal Expos & Texas Rangers organizations as he was rushed through the minor leagues. He debuted with the Rangers at the Ballpark in Arlington on August 24th earning no decision against the Minnesota Twins. He earned a loss next time out then went 3-1 in the month of September. The next season he was 12-7, tying a Rangers record for most wins by a Rookie. He also posted a 4.26 ERA which were both second to Kenny Rodgers on the Ranger staff. Young led the team with 137 strike outs in 164 innings pitched.

That winter he was involved in a big trade with Adrian Gonzalez and Terrmel Sledge going to the San Diego Padres for, Adam Eaton, Akinori Otsuka & minor leaguer Billy Killian. In 2006 he developed into a top pitcher, after a 3-3 start in San Diego he went on to win four straight. He allowed just four earned runs in 38 innings winning the Pitcher of the Month Award that June.

On the road he had the league’s best ERA (2.41) & held opponents to the lowest batting average (.206). In September he almost threw the first Padres no hitter, taking it into the 9th inning when Joe Randa spoiled it with a two run HR. Young took three different no hit bids into the sixth inning on the season. He finished up at 11-5 with a 3.46 ERA (6th in the league) making 31 starts while striking out 164 batters in 179 innings.

In 2007 he returned, and continued a streak of 25 straight road games without a losing decisions. He was leading the league in ERA & was 7-8 by the All Star break earning a spot on the NL All Star team. He took the loss when he allowed the first ever All Star Game inside the park HR to Ichiro Suzuki.

Prior to the All Star game he was involved in a bench clearing brawl at Wrigley Field when he hit the Cubs’ Derek Lee on the wrist with a pitch. The incident came a day after Alfonso Soriano had homered & took his time running the bases. Young & two others were ejected & he had to serve a five game suspension. He bested his record to 9-3 but lost his last five decisions on the season finishing up at 9-8 with a 3.12 ERA.

The next two seasons he battled injuries going 7-6 & then falling to a 4-6 record in 2009 with a 5.21 ERA. That year his season was over in June when he needed arthroscopic surgery to repair partial tears in his labrum. In 2010 he strained his shoulder & missed most of the year going 2-0 in just four starts. In January of 2011 he signed a contract with the New York Mets.

Young is the second tallest player in MLB history (the same height tied with three others) & is more of a control pitcher rather than a power pitcher for his size. His delivery is slow so base runners have a field day running on him, as he led the league in stolen bases allowed in 2006.

On April 5th he made his first Mets start beating the Phillies on the road of course, allowing just one run in five innings of work. In his second start he pitched seven innings allowing just one run to the Nationals but earned no decision. On May 1st he pitched seven innings of shut out ball in a much needed win at Philadelphia, avoiding a sweep on the historic night the United States killed osama bin laden.

Young had been one of the Mets most consistent starters early on, but then the worst happened. He suffered a torn anterior capsule in his right shoulder, the same injury that sidelined him in the past. He opted to get the surgery to repair the injury & will miss the rest of the season. 

His wife Elizabeth Patrick is grandaughter to Lester Patrick, namesake of the former NHL’s Patrick Division & the Lester Patrick Award.

May 20, 2011

Concert Review: Chicago at the Westbury Theater (Long Island, New York 5/19/11)

It was great to have a chance to see a big act like Chicago in the intimate setting of the theater in the round at Westbury Music Fair, now known as the NYCB Theater at Westbury. Sitting in great sixth row seats, we had a real close up & personal view of the band. They were loose, joking around, even talking to each other during the songs.

It was certainly a relaxed show for them even though they were bunched up together on the small stage & had the crowd right on top of them. As they walked down the ramp to the stage they shook hands & high fived the audience. On stage they were very personal posing for the camera phones, pointing to people in the audience, joking around & hamming it up.

The band consists of four original founding members; Robert Lamm (vocals, keyboards & guitar on Beginnings) as well as the now legendary horn section; James Pankow (Trombone, percussion) Lee Loughnane (trumpet) and Walter Parazaider (saxophone, flute).

Jason Scheff (bass, vocals) joined the band after the departure of Peter Cetera in 1985. Since then he has sung most of the Cetera songs, almost to a tee, and has now been involved with the band longer than Cetera was.

Keith Howland (guitarist) has been with the band since 1995, Tris Imboden has been the drummer since Danny Seraphine was let go in 1990 & the band recently added Drew Hester as a full time percussionist.
Chicago rolled out the hits one after another, putting on one hell of a musical show for two full hours without an intermission.

The show was of course a mix of rock, jazz, brass, blues, ballads & a good time, plain & simple. As the band pointed out it was a crowd that spanned many generations.
A complete sell out (they will also be playing two nights in Atlantic City, two New Jersey theater shows & the Beacon Theater in August) to a laid back crowd that were on their feet by the final numbers.

The band has an incredible following that does go back to their first album (Chicago Tansit Authority) in 1969. I was always a casual fan, but got hooked after seeing them live for the first time & now have seen them four times.

Jimmy Pankow is the most animated member on stage, playing the trombone like nothing you ever seen before. In the rock world we are used to seeing guitarist ham it up & pose under the bright lights. But here it’s Pankow who does all the moves & poses with a trombone, to the delight of the crowd. He receives the biggest ovation from the crowd & is always in a good fun natured mood.

Then there’s Robert Lamm, appearing as the laid back, sharply dressed, kool musician guy. His vocals on songs he sings lead on are still amazing. Biggies like; Saturday in the Park, Does Anybody Really Know What Time It is, Wake Up Sunshine & my favorite of the night; Beginnings, were all amazing. It’s safe to say that many of the big Chicago hits were written by Lamm & Panko.

I think the quote of the night was when Lamm introduced the band. He said Walter Parazaider had started the band back in the sixties, "it was a good idea! My wife thanks you, my ex wives thank you & my kids thank you!"

Set List 5/19/11- Chicago at the Westbury Theater- Long Island, NY

Ballet For A Girl In Buchannon (Parts I-VII):
         Make Me Smile
         So Much To Say
         Anxiety’s Moment / West Virgina Fantasies
         To be Free/ Now More Than Ever
         Color My World

Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is
Dialogues I & II
Alive Again
Call On Me
Along Comes A Woman
Wake Up Sunshine
Old Days
If You Leave Me Now
I’ve Been Searching (So Long)
Baby What A Big Surprise
Hard Habit to Break
You’re my Inspiration
I’m A Man (with drum solos)
Just You & Me
Saturday In the Park
Feeling Stronger Every Day

25 or 6 to 4


Remembering the Great Harmon Killebrew (1936-2011)

As a young die hard baseball fan I only knew of Harmon Killebrew from the All Star Game & the occasional appearance on the Game of the Week. He came to life for me on his baseball cards, both in his pictures on the fromt & his big stats on the back. I heard & read how he was one of the most feared hitters in the American League. Being in New York I was exposed to AL baseball as well so would catch a glimpse of him when he played the AL New York club. He was always known as a good guy, a religious man who never drank or smoked. Harmon Killebrew was a baseball giant from the great days of my youth & always a favorite America Leaguer for me. Now at the time of his passing I would like to pay him tribute:

Harmon Clayton Killebrew was born on June 29, 1936 in Payette, Idaho. He is only one of 26 MLB players to be born in the state of Idaho. Killebrew was a 12 letter man at various sports in high school, including All American Quarterback. While attending the College of Idaho he was hitting balls a long way for tremendous averages. An Idaho Senator told Washington Senators owner Clark Griffith about him, and he was eventually signed as a bonus baby for $50,000 at the age of 17. He played briefly at the major league level for five seasons until he finally arrived for good in 1959.

Killebrew went on to become one of the games most feared hitters. He was known for hitting massive HRs & monumental blasts. He hit over 40 HRs eight times over the next dozen years, in a time where few people were hitting anywhere near that many. He led the American League in HRs six times (including three straight years (1962-1964). He drove in over 100 runs nine times while leading the league in that category three times. Killebrew also led the league in walks in four times, intentional walks three times, on base & slugging percentage one time each.

He was named to eleven All Star teams, & in 1965 hit a game tying HR off Jim Maloney at the All Star Game held in his home ball park, Metropolitan Stadium. He would hit the longest HR ever recorded at that ballpark two years later. Today the site of Metropolitan Stadium is now the Mall of America, & a red seat located at 520 feet from the original site of home plate commemorates the blast.

He also was the first player to clear the left field roof at Tiger Stadium with a HR & only one of four ever to do it. In 1966 he was part of a record setting inning where the Twins batters hit fie HRs in an inning. Killebrews blast was the fifth & final HR of the inning.

He won the 1969 A.L. MVP Award setting franchise records that still stand today, in HRs (49) RBIs (140) & walks (145). Killebrew was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1984.

He was the first star player when the Senators franchise first moved to Minnesota in 1961. In 1962 he & team mate Bob Allison became the first team mates to hit grand slam HRs in the same inning. He led his Twins team to the 1965 World Series, falling short to Sandy Koufax & the Los Angeles Dodgers in the seventh game. Killebrew & team mate Zoilo Versalles, led the Twins, by each batting .286 against Dodger pitching.

The Twins as a whole only batted .195 in the Series. In Game #4 at Los Angeles, Killebrew hit his only career World Series HR, coming off pitcher Don Drysdale. Killebrew’s Twins would finish first in the AL West the first two seasons of divisional play, (1969-1970) but were swept by the Baltimore Orioles both years in the ALCS. After struggling with a .125 average in the 1969 ALCS, he hit two HRs with 4 RBIs in the 1970 ALCS.

He began his career as an outfielder, & actually hit seven triples in 1961. Injuries through his career would slow him down & cause him to move to the infield. He played third base & eventually moved over to first base, becoming the first A.L. player to play three different positions as an All Star. By 1973, the new designated hitter rule would give him a chance to play out his career a bit longer.

At the time of his retirement he was second in the American League to only Babe Ruth in HRs, and first as a right handed batter. In his 22 year Hall of Fame career, Killebrew hit 573 HRs (11th All Time) drove in 1584 runs (36th all time) drew 1559 walks (15th all time) with 160 intentional walks (35th all time) hit for a .509 slugging % (82nd all time) posted a .376 on base % (207th all time) had 2086 hits (222nd all time) with 1699 strike outs (22nd all time).

In 1974 his uniform number 3 was the first to be retired by the Twins. His uniform banner hung at the Metrodome & the street outside the Mall of American has been named Killebrew Drive. Gate #3 at the Twins new home Target Field has also been named in his honor. In 1977 he formed the Danny Thompson annual golf outing to raise money for cancer research. Thompson was a team mate of Killebrew, who played with leukemia until 1976 when he lost his battle at age 29.

After his playing days, he was a broadcaster for the Twins (1976-1978 / 1984-1988) A’s (1979- 1982) & Angles (1983). Killebrew, a converted Mormon, was married twice & has 14 children & over 25 grand children. In December of 2010 he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer & by May of 2011 it had progressed very quickly.

On May 13th 2011 he announced through the Twins, that he was ceasing treatment and entering hospice care. He passed away on May 17th at the age of 74. The Twins announced that they would wear their 1961 throw back jerseys at home, in his honor the rest of the season.

Twins President David Peter issued the following statement: "No individual has ever meant more to the Minnesota Twins organization and millions of fans across Twins Territory than Harmon Killebrew. Harmon will long be remembered as one of the most prolific home run hitters in the history of the game and the leader of a group of players who helped lay the foundation for the long-term success of the Twins franchise and Major League Baseball in the Upper Midwest.

However, more importantly Harmon's legacy will be the class, dignity and humility he demonstrated each and every day as a Hall of Fame-quality husband, father, friend, teammate and man."

May 15, 2011

Brooklyn's First Ball Park: The Union Grounds (1862-1883)

On May 15th, 1862, the Union Grounds located across the East River from lower Manhattan in Brooklyn New York was first opened. The ball park was baseballs first enclosed field ever to be constructed. It had huge dimensions of over 500 feet from home plate to the outfield fences, with a brick one story building located in right field which was in play.

The field was home to the Brooklyn Eckfords of the National Association (1872) The New York Mutuals of the National Association (1871-1875) & the National League (1876); the Brooklyn Atlantics of the National Association (1872-1875) and the Hartford Dark Blues of the National League (1877).

The ballpark was also used briefly by the Brooklyn Bridegrooms of the American Association & other neutral teams. At the time Brooklyn was a booming Metropolis & baseball a very popular local pastime.

The site was also used for Cricket matches & in winter an ice skating rink, known as the Union Skate Pond. In deep dead center field there was a pointed pagoda, three stories high which was filled with lanterns in the winter, to give off a glittering effect on the ice.

There was a fee of 10 to 25 cents charged for admission; mostly to keep the rowdy rougher types away. Baseball attracted a much more of a lower class, tough guy crowd in those days before. It was a place for curing, drinking and fighting before it was cleaned up at the turn of the century, to become a more fan friendlier game.

The Union Grounds were demolished in July 1883, half of the site became the 47th Regiment armory, which still stands today. The remainder of the site is now a school.