Roger Kahn

I was saddened this morning to see the news that Roger Kahn has passed away, in Mamaroneck NY, on Thursday February 6th. He was 92.

Roger was a wonderful writer. After finishing school at New York University, (studying poetry, among other things,) he started out at the New York Herald Tribune in 1948 as a copy boy. He must have been pretty talented, as he was soon writing for the paper, initially in a variety of roles, and then, at the young age of 25, he started covering the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1952. Maybe that sort of promotion was more common back then, but I doubt it happened very often. (There are no “copy boys,” anymore. Those days are long gone. Too bad. A lot of great writers started out as copy boys. It was probably a great education for a writer.) Kahn covered the Dodgers for two seasons, and learned the art of sports writing from some of the masters, such as Red Smith and Heywood Broun.

Twenty years later, Kahn wrote about those Dodgers again in the baseball classic The Boys of Summer. (Checking my book list on the blog, it’s astonishing that I haven’t re-read this lately. It’s now officially on the “To Read” list. What the heck kind of a crummy baseball blog is this, anyway?)

The Boys of Summer made Kahn famous and is undoubtedly his most read work, but I picked up another of his titles recently, Memories of Summer, which was also  wonderful. I particularly enjoyed Kahn writing about his up-bringing and how he came to be a baseball writer, and about his experiences covering the Dodgers.

Kahn was a thoughtful and graceful writer. His profiles of ballplayers are intimate and nuanced. This being February, it’s the perfect time of year to pick up one of his books and enjoy the summer game.

I thought Kahn might have won the J.G. Taylor Spink Award, but I just checked the list, and I don’t see his name. Unfortunate. He is certainly deserving, and I’m sure he would have enjoyed the honor. Now it’s too late for that, but they should still put him on the list.

“Ebbets Field was a narrow cockpit, built of brick and iron and concrete, alongside a steep cobblestone slope of Bedford Avenue. Two tiers of grandstand pressed the playing area from three sides, and in thousands of seats fans could hear a ball player’s chatter, notice details of a ball player’s gait and, at a time when television had not yet assaulted illusion with the Zoomar lens, you could see, you could actually see, the actual expression on the actual face of an actual major leaguer as he played. You could know what he was like!”

      • Roger Kahn, The Boys of Summer

Good game, Roger.Thanks for all the books.

comings and goings

Just wanted to note that Bombo Rivera was born on this date in 1952.

Not a bad ball player, played for the Twins in ’78, ’79, and ’80, when he fractured his knee-cap and then missed a couple months, and maybe came back to play before he was ready. He hit .271, .281, and then .221 for the Twins, and then never really got another shot at the show.

I wonder if he was held back by his nickname? Did it make him more of a novelty than a ballplayer with some talent? They say he was a pretty good fielder, and had some speed. But I don’t know. Was it hard for baseball to take him seriously? The fans loved him, loved his name, used to chant Bombo Bombo when he played. According to his bio on the SABR website, he got his nickname when he was a kid in Puerto Rico, from one of his father’s friends. Wikipedia says that Bombo means “fly ball,” but I’m not sure about that. But Bombo used the hit the ball high and far when he was a kid, especially high, and pretty soon everyone started chanting Bombo when he came up to bat. (His real name is Jesus, by the way.)

Well, Bombo had a short career in the bigs, but he played for a long time in minor league ball, playing in various minor and minor minor and senior minor leagues up till 1990. Nice thing about baseball: even your average players can leave a mark. Baseball fans across the country remember Bombo fondly. Happy Birthday, Bombo! Good game!

And then there was Thurmon Munson, who passed away today in 1979, when the plane he was piloting crashed in Canton, Ohio.

Thurmon Munson looked like he was a big league catcher for the Yankees. The New York press always makes a big deal out of the player who is the “captain” of the Yanquis. Who’s the captain of the Twins? The Cubs? The Marlins? Nobody knows. It’s maybe an inside secret. Maybe they don’t have one? The Yanquis haven’t had one since Derek Jeter, so, I guess, it’s not exactly a Very Important Position with a Lot of Responsibility. More of an honorific, I guess. Anyway, Munson was Captain of the Yanquis, and it seems like he might be a good one, if you like a hard-nosed s.o.b. for your Captain.

I always liked Munson, ever since he was Rookie of the Year in 1970. It seemed like, back then, you were either a Fisk guy or a Munson guy. I was a Munson guy. Which maybe leads to the question, who was better? Maybe hard to say, since Munson’s career ended at age 32. Another blog post for another time, I guess. But I think I’d take Munson.

The Yanquis were 10 over .500 after Munson’s last game, and they finished the season at 18 games over .500, 13 and a half games behind the Orioles. It would be tough to lose a guy like that mid-season. I would think it would add some perspective, maybe, to the game.

Good game, Thurman.

Happy Birthday, Pythagoras!

Yes. It’s true.

First baseman and first baseball sabermetrician Pythagoras was born on this very day, 13 May, 570 BC. It was a Tuesday. Pythagoras’s father was out at a ball game at the time, a double-header, and his mother swore that things would be different with young Pythagoras. No baseball for him. It would be art and poetry and philosophy.

But such was not the case. Baseball apparently ran in the family bloodstream, on the father’s side of the family, at any rate.

Pythagoras grew up loving baseball, and he played first base for the Samos Philosophers, in the Cycladian Association, back in the 550’s. He could hit the ball a long way, and was known at the time for calculating just exactly how far the ball had gone.

After his playing days were over, Pyth practically invented sabermetrics, and his famous “Pythagorean Standings” are still used to this very day in hot-stove leagues and bars all across America.

Pyth passed away in 495 BC, from a severe case of indigestion, at the age of -75.

After Pythagoras passed away Samos built a baseball park in his honor. There was a Pythagoras Park in Samos from roughly 480 – 440 BC.

The site is now just an empty lot, but the pitcher’s mound has been preserved, with a round marble stone on top of it, etched with “Pythagoras Park: Pitcher’s Mound.”

Some say that Pythagoras is buried beneath that stone. But I happen to think that that’s pretty far-fetched.

Good game, Pythagoras!

 

Not a Great Cup of Coffee

In fact, I’ll say it.

A bad cup of coffee.

Mike Palagyi was 21 years old when came up with the Senators for his shot at the majors on 18 August 1939. He had a bit of a rough outing. But I’m sure it wasn’t helped by the fact that three of the four batters he faced were future Hall-of-Famers: Jimmy Foxx, Ted Williams, and Joe Cronin. Probably most rookies would have been a bit intimidated by that, and Mike was a little wild that day.

He came into the game for the top of the 9th inning, with the Senators down 3-1 against the Red Sox. He walked Doc Cramer, to lead off the inning, and then hit Foxx. I’m sure Foxx let him hear about it. He then walked Williams, to load the bases, and then walked Cronin to force in a run. At that point, the manager made the walk to the mound and pulled him. And that was it for Mike. Fifteen pitches. Two strikes. And his career ERA is infinite, as he did not get an out. Wikipedia says he is one of 19 players with a career infinite ERA. Nice to have company in that regard, I guess. I suspect he is the only one of the lot that found three Hall-of-Famers in his cup of coffee. Ouch. Bad enough just having to pitch to Ted Williams. “It was a real nightmare,” Mike said later.

I’m not entirely clear why the Senators called Mike up. He was playing B level ball for Cleveland at Spartenburg in the Sally league that season. Baseball Reference.com says he went 7-6, with a 4.07 ERA. It looks like the Senators acquired his contract and brought him up immediately to see what he looked like. The Senators finished the season with a 67-85 record, 6th place. It seems like they might have been able to run Palagyi out there another time, given him another opportunity, without hurting their chances a lot.

But they didn’t.

Mike played for Greenville in the Sally League the next season, 1940, for Washington, and went 13-15 with a 5.14 ERA. After that Mike was in the military, and after that I see that he played again in 1946 for Montgomery, 2 innings. But his arm “just didn’t have it,” and Mike left organized ball.

And after that? Mike returned to Ohio, where he worked as a plumber and maintenance man until he retired in 1982. He passed away 21 November 2013, age 96.

Good game, Mike.