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Thursday, February 01, 2007

Birthdays, Yesterday's And Today's

And once you see who's up, you'll know why I didn't get to these on time yesterday...


Hank Aguirre LAN b. 1931, played 1968, All-Star: 1962, d. 1994-09-05. Led by Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, the 1965 Dodgers were the class of the National League, and won their third World Series title since coming to Los Angeles, over the Minnesota Twins. Another pennant ensued in 1966, but Koufax, unbeknownst to most Dodger fans, was steadily losing his arm to infirmity despite posting the greatest season of his career. The Dodgers rolled over to the Orioles in four straight, and Koufax announced his retirement on November 18.

It put GM Buzzie Bavasi in a terrible bind, one that the Dodgers had compounded by making a stupid, vengeful decision to trade Maury Wills. Wills, who was 33 and had been the team's starting shortstop for 142 games that year, had begged off an exhibition tour of Japan. Battered from the regular season, he needed time to heal, but the Dodgers refused him; Walter O'Malley, in particular, considered him an ingrate, wiring Bavasi to trade Wills. The team shipped him to Pittsburgh for an offensive cipher at shortstop, Gene Michael, and Bob Bailey, a bonus baby out of Long Beach whose time on the bench had destroyed his talent.

The Dodgers didn't even attempt to trade for a starting pitcher.

Disaster ensued: for two consecutive years the Dodgers had losing seasons, something they had never done in Los Angeles. Unable to hit, and minus a pitching staff of the caliber that could carry a team to glory, the Dodgers reeled. The bullpen suddenly thinned out and became vulnerable, as starter Bob Miller, whom the press had taken to calling "Bomb" Miller, proved unequal to the demands of starting, and posted less-awful but still unimpressive numbers in relief. After Ron Perranoski and Jim Brewer, bullpen pitching fell off dramatically.

The Dodgers thus acquired Hank Aguirre on April 3, 1968, from the Tigers for a player to be named later, a minor leaguer who never made it. It was part of a patchwork job to rebuild the Dodger lineup, one that included the acquisitions of the aging reliever Mudcat Grant and shortstop Zoilo Versalles. Aguirre started his career in Cleveland in 1955, but got moved to the Tigers in 1958. The Tigers in turn made him a starter, and in his first season, he was 16-8 in that role with a 2.21 ERA. But he was never so good again, and after working his way out of the rotation in 1967, the Tigers decided they'd had enough. With Los Angeles, he was brilliant in relief if little-used, posting a 0.69 ERA on an otherwise hapless club, surrendering runs in only five of the 25 games he appeared in. As for the Dodgers, they were on their way to a full recovery from their troubled late-60's teams, in no small part thanks to the tremendous 1968 draft.

Ted Power LAN b. 1955, played 1981-1982

Chris Pritchett CAL,ANA b. 1970, played 1996, 1998-1999

Jackie Robinson BRO b. 1919, played 1947-1956, All-Star: 1949-1954, Hall of Fame: 1962 (BBWAA), d. 1972-10-24. Seven things you might not know about Jackie Robinson:

  1. There never was any agreement between Robinson and Branch Rickey to silence Robinson for the first two years. According to Rachael Robinson in Bums, that was manufactured after the fact; in fact, their whole relationship she described as a collaboration, with both sides feeling the other out constantly, until Rickey was forced out. After two years, Robinson simply felt more comfortable in the majors; he had proven his worth, some (not all) of his teammates (Pee Wee Reese in particular) had shown they would stand up for him, and with other black players in the game, he knew he couldn't easily be removed.
  2. Robinson's ascent to the majors wasn't considered newsworthy at the time. That's because of a gambling-related fracas involving Leo Durocher.
  3. Jackie Robinson was partly responsible for the creation of Dodgertown. Racist episodes during his 1947 spring training with the team convinced the Dodgers they needed to operate their own facilities, so as to protect their black players from the vicissitudes of southern hotel owners and Jim Crow laws. On December 11, 1947, the Dodgers purchased an abandoned Navy training ground at Vero Beach, Fla., creating a permanent spring training camp for the first time in years.
  4. Robinson was also partly responsible for the Dodgers' move to Los Angeles. If Jackie Robinson had integrated baseball, so too had he helped to integrate Brooklyn itself, drawing in black families -- and displacing the whites who used to live in many of those neighborhoods. Many white families fled in fear, often buying houses in Levittown and other distant suburbs with government-subsidized VA mortgages, far away from Brooklyn. Jamaicans and other West Indians, who had grown up cricket players, also moved in, eroding the fan base. Hispanics, who were also moving in to Brooklyn at that time, had baseball traditions, but were still often poor. The area immediately surrounding the park got the reputation for being dangerous, and attendence declined.

    As early as 1946, Walter O'Malley had considered relocation, but by the mid-50's, it was a constant theme with him; the West Coast beckoned, and Los Angeles was willing to give him a virtually unmatchable deal.
  5. Robinson had already decided to retire at the time he was traded. He had secretly signed an exclusive deal with Look magazine to make the announcement without telling the Dodgers. He was traded only days after he had made his decision, and the "refused to report" story that came later was a face-saving cover for the team — and the media, which had been scooped on the story, and for a price.
  6. He was a Republican and a supporter of Richard Nixon (something he later regretted) because John F. Kennedy once told him that he hadn't known many Negroes. Robinson said that as a congressman, it was "his business to know colored people".
  7. The side effects of diabetes got him; he was felled by a heart attack (another increased risk for diabetics), but he was rendered blind before that. I think about it every day.

Nolan Ryan CAL b. 1947, played 1972-1979, All-Star: 1972-1973, 1975, 1977, 1979, 1981, 1985, 1989, Hall of Fame: 1999 (BBWAA). I won't try to duplicate what's on his Top 100 Angels page, though I will point to this BTF thread hot on a Matt Welch column regarding how under- or overrated Ryan was as a pitcher. An inner-circle Hall of Famer? Call him Don Sutton on steroids. Those strikeouts look mighty impressive.

Stuffy Stewart BRO b. 1894, played 1923, d. 1980-12-30


Dusty Bergman ANA b. 1978, played 2004

Chuck Churn LAN b. 1930, played 1959

Kent Mercker ANA b. 1968, played 2000

Update 2/16: And a tardy shout-out to SOSG, who post their own interesting bits about the great Robinson.

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