Wednesday, 17 August 2016

THE 1927 NEW YORK YANKEES: THE GREATEST BASEBALL TEAM OF ALL-TIME

1926 Exhibit card of Babe Ruth.
Exhibit Supply Co of Chicago
(US Public Domain)
There’s been a story--some call it a myth--floating around baseball since 1927…

The New York Yankees and the Pittsburgh Pirates were facing each other that year in the World Series. Prior to Game 1 on October 5, the Pirate players supposedly watched in awe as “Murderers’ Row” Yankee sluggers Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri and Bob Meusel put on a clinic by crushing ball after ball to the far reaches of Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field during batting practice. The Yankees then swept the timid Pirates by scores of 5-4, 6-2, 8-1, and 4-3.

But were the Pirates really deflated prior to the first game? Probably not. They were an excellent team in their own right, with plenty of stars, having won the World Series in 1925. Besides, it was the Yankee pitching staff that dominated the 1927 post-season, not so much the hitting of Ruth, Gehrig, and the boys. Interestingly enough, Ruth hit two homers, the only homers in the entire four-game set.

So, what really happened?

Many historians consider the 1927 New York Yankees as the best team ever. They were first in American League attendance, attracting 1.1 million fans, a high figure for its day. Managed by Miller Huggins, they had it all. Five members are in the Hall of Fame: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri, Waite Hoyt, and Herb Pennock. What made them so great? First off, finishing 19 games ahead of the second-place Philadelphia Athletics in the American League race, the Yanks  won 110 games against only 44 losses for a .714 winning percentage. Hitting, they scored 975 runs, while giving up only 599, a difference of 376 runs: all lead-leading totals, along with 103 triples, 158 homers, .307 batting average, and .489 slugging average. Their 291 doubles were second in the circuit. Pitching, they led the AL in shutouts (11), fewest walks (409), and lowest ERA (3.20), almost 100 points better than the eight-team league average.

Individually, Ruth, Gehrig and Lazzeri finished 1-2-3 in the league homer title with 60 (a record that stood until 1961), 47, and 18, respectively. The outfield--the best in the majors--consisted of leadoff hitter Earl Combs in center field, who crushed a majors-best 23 triples while hitting .356 thanks to his league-best 231 hits; Ruth in right also hitting .356 along with 164 RBIs (second-best in the league); and Bob Meusel, the rocket arm in left field who batted fifth and hit .337 with 103 RBIs. Steady Tony Lazzeri at second base contributed with a .309 average and 102 RBIs, one of four Yankees to clear 100 RBIs. Cleanup hitter Lou Gehrig, the defensive rock at first base, had 218 hits, a .373 batting average, and led the majors with both 52 doubles and 175 RBIs. He also had the AL second-best mark of 18 triples, all hitting behind Babe Ruth in the third spot.

Blessed with an outstanding starting rotation, the Yankee pitchers dominated opposition hitters. Waite Hoyt won 22 games, tied for the league-best, while his 2.64 ERA was second-best. With his seven losses, he led the league with a .759 winning percentage. The others were Herb Pennock (19-8, 3.00 ERA), Urban Shocker (18-6, 2.84 ERA), Dutch Reuther (13-6, 3.38 ERA), George Pipgras (10-3, 4.11), and rookie reliever and spot starter Wilcy Moore (19-7, 13 saves, and league-best 2.28 ERA).

How did this team come about in the first place?

Known as the Highlanders upon league entrance in 1903, they changed their name to the Yankees in 1913. After some up-and-down years with no pennants, the New York franchise did not become a force until around the time that Miller Huggins became their manager in 1918. By 1919, they finished third, eight games off the pace, helped along by the purchase of some Boston Red Sox pitchers of note: Carl Mays and Ernie Shore. Boston’s owner Harry Frazee didn’t stop there. He needed cash and fast. So, in the off-season, he sold pitcher-outfielder star Babe Ruth to the Yankees in the biggest pro sports deal up to that time.

1933 Goudey Gum Co card of Lou Gehrig
(US Public Domain)
In 1920, the Yankees finished third again, with 95-59, only three games from the top of the heap. Shortly after the season ended, Red Sox manager Ed Barrow saw the writing on the wall for the sixth-place team and left, where he became the New York Yankees’ business manager, an earlier term for GM. For the next few years, he brought more Red Sox players over in the midst of Frazee’s fire sale, until the joke around the majors was that the Yankees were the transplanted Red Sox. Boston was awful for many years afterwards and didn’t win another pennant until 1946. On the other hand, the Yankees became the best team in baseball, a powerhouse for the next 40 years until 1964, spearheaded by the shrewd Ed Barrow. It all began with AL pennants flying high in 1921, 1922, 1923, 1926, and again in 1927, with two of those world championships.

How did the starting players of the 1927 team become Yankee property? Here’s the list and the deals made, everyone ratified by Barrow--except for Babe Ruth--during his stint with the team. Then again, Barrow may have approved the Ruth deal, too, knowing that he would soon be joining the Yankees after it had gone through.
The fielders…

First baseman Lou Gehrig
was signed out of Columbia University in 1923 where he played on the baseball team. There on a football scholarship, he was studying to be an engineer. Second baseman Tony Lazzeri was purchased from the Double A Salt Lake City Bees of the Pacific Coast League in 1925 for two minor leaguers and $50,000 cash. Two National League teams passed on him due to his bouts of epilepsy. Third baseman Joe Dugan became a Yankee mid-season 1922 via the Red Sox in a six-player deal plus $50,000 heading to the cash-strapped Frazee. Shortstop Mark Koenig was spotted by scouts in 1925 playing for the St Paul Saints of the Double A American Association. Incidentally, Koenig’s first pro team was the Moose Jaw Millers of the Class B Western Canada League in 1921.

The January 1920 deal that brought right fielder Babe Ruth to New York consisted of the Yankees giving up $125,000 cash and a $300,000 loan to Frazee, a transaction that secured his home field as collateral. In other words, for a few years, the Yankees actually held the mortgage to Fenway Park. Left fielder Bob Meusel had been Yankee property as far back as the winter of 1920-1921, signing with them upon leaving the Vernon Tigers of the Pacific Coast League. The Yankees bought center fielder Earl Combs for $50,000 in 1924, following a fierce bidding war for his rights. Catcher Pat Collins found his way to New York from the St Paul Saints of the American Association in 1925 for three players and $25,000 cash.

1933 Goudey Gum Card of Waite Hoyt (US Public Domain)

The pitchers…

Three left the floundering Red Sox: Waite Hoyt, part of a seven-player deal in December 1920; southpaw Herb Pennock in January 1923 for three players and $50,000; and George Pipgras in January 1923 for a player and an undisclosed amount of cash. In 1926, Wilcy Moore was bought for a mere $3,000 from the Greenville Spinners of the Class B South Atlantic League. Urban Shocker was traded from the St Louis Browns in December 1924 for four players. The other regular southpaw on the staff, Dutch Reuther, came to the Yankees from the Washington Senators in August 1926 for two players.

The most underrated player on the 1927 squad had to be sinkerball pitcher Wilcy Moore, an easygoing country boy from Oklahoma, who, from 1922-1925 had knocked around the minors until he caught a break, no pun intended. You see, with Greenville in 1925, his pitching arm was fractured by a hit ball. Returning to the team later in the year, he found it too painful throwing his sinker out-pitch in his usual overhand motion. So, he changed to sidearm. In 1926, he won 17 straight and finished 30-4 with a 2.86 ERA in 305 innings. His success got back to Ed Barrow in New York and he signed Moore, despite scouts saying he’d be too old at 30 by the time the season would start in 1927. Moore proved everybody--except Barrow--wrong by appearing in 50 games for 213 innings (12 starts, six complete games) and 13-3, 1.95 ERA mark while in the bullpen, where he especially excelled as one of the first relief pitchers in MLB history. He was the missing piece that anchored the pitching staff.

No matter how one looks at the 1927 Yankees, it will always be known as the team of sluggers Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth, two stars as different as night and day. They did have two things in common, however: they both hit left and threw left. Ruth was loud and boisterous, always the center of attention on the field or off. His home runs were crushed high and long. He looked good even striking out. Playing in the shadow of Ruth, Gehrig was quiet and deathly shy, preferring to keep a low profile wherever he went. On the field, he hit missiles to every section of the park, whether they were singles, doubles or triples. And his line-drive homers found the seats in a flash, often scattering the startled fans.


Summing it up, the 1927 New York Yankees were worthy of the “Murderers’ Row” tag. But, they could pitch, too. They had it all.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

THE DEMOCRAT PARTY’S CONTROVERSIAL PAST

As a Canadian who cannot vote south of the border, I find American politics extremely interesting, especially this 2016 presidential election year. In the following, I am presenting only the facts: historical facts, that is…

The Democrats--backed by the mainstream media--have portrayed the Republicans over the years as bigots, racists, and uncaring politicians who are to blame for any potentially race-related incident that occurs across the United States of America. Meanwhile, the Democrats are leaving out their own glaring racist past that dates back prior to the American Civil War.


President Abraham Lincoln, 1863
(US Public Domain)
In 1854, the Republicans became a legitimate political force, facing their first federal election in 1856 with John Charles Fremont as its leader. Democrats called this new movement the “Black” Republican Party for their anti-slavery platform. Fremont lost the election, but not the next Republican candidate when Illinois lawyer Abraham Lincoln took 59.4 percent of the electoral vote in 1860 to win the White House presidency.

Basically, the anti-slavery Northern states went Republican, while the pro-slavery Southern states went Democrat. Lincoln was so hated in the South that not one slave-holding state voted Republican. Also, in several counties, “Honest Abe” didn’t even receive a single vote. Social reformer Frederick Douglass, a freed black man at the time who had escaped slavery years earlier, said: “I am a Republican, a black dyed in the wool Republican and I never intend to belong to any other party then the party of freedom and progress.”

Fearing for the end of slavery and their feudal way of life--mainly their cotton industry of which black slave labor played a huge role--seven Southern states seceded from the Union by the time Lincoln was inaugurated in March 1861. The Southern Democrats had believed for years that cotton could run the world, and let everyone know it…

“Without firing a shot, without unsheathing a blade, we can bring the whole world to its knees before us. With equanimity, if needs be, the South could refrain for a year, or two years or more, from cultivating a basketful of cotton. But what would be the result? There can be no doubt. Old England would tumble from her proud industrial perch, the whole of civilization toppling with her, joining in her ruin. No sir, you dare not make war on cotton. No power on earth dare make war on it. Cotton is King.''

--Senator James H. Hammond of South Carolina, March 4, 1858

And so, the fists were up, the agricultural South squared off with the heavy industrialized North. Calling themselves the Confederate States of America, this new country absorbed four more seceding states following Lincoln’s early-1861 inauguration, then a month later fired on Fort Sumter, South Carolina to start the costly bloodbath known as the American Civil War.

Three years into the conflict, the Democrats chose George McClellan for the 1864 presidential campaign. McClellan was Lincoln’s former Union general-in-chief whose horrible judgment had cost the Army of Potomac excruciating embarrassments in battle after battle at the hands of Robert E Lee’s outnumbered Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. The Democrat Party line for the upcoming election was a negotiated peace with the North, where the North and South would survive as two separate nations keeping slavery intact in the South. It never happened, of course, because Lincoln won big time in the fall election, and the badly whipped Confederate States capitulated less than a year later.

After the war, following Lincoln freeing the slaves through the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, the South saw the emergence of the Ku Klux Klan, a branch of white supremacist radicals serving the will of Southern Democrats. The Klan used violence against blacks and Northern carpetbaggers in the form of beatings, murders, and lynchings. During the 1868 election, there were several instances in different states of Klan members intimidating locals who were considering voting for Republican candidate Ulysses S Grant.
Frederick Douglass, 1856
(US Public Domain)

Two other things the Klan tried to do was incorporate gun controls on the public to keep firearms away from the newly freed blacks; as well as initiate something totally new--marriage licenses for the sole purpose of preventing blacks from marrying whites. The ultimate Klan plan--no pun intended--was to overthrow the invading Republican businessmen and politicians who had taken over the Southern states during the Reconstruction Period. The Klan died out in the mid-1870s, then resurfaced in the 1920s-- where membership peaked at four million nationwide--and again in the 1950s, using the same murderous and lynching tactics, this time against civil rights activists, all along relying on Southern police departments, Governors’ offices, and other Democrat politicians for protection.

Then we can’t forget the Jim Crow laws of the segregated South. Once again, the ruling Southern Democrats were responsible, this time for the “Colored Only” hotels, restaurants, washrooms, schools, and drinking fountains. Just think of Democrats the next time you see those stunning newsreels from the 1960s showing the water hoses pointed at the peaceful Southern black protesters. The orders came from people like Alabama Governor George Wallace and Georgia Governor Lester Maddox: Southern Democrats.

In addition, shortly after he became president in 1963, Texas-born Lyndon B Johnson and his Democrat Party could see that the Southern blacks were gradually moving towards Republican principles. So in response, at least recorded by one of his biographers, Johnson reportedly said to his closest advisors: “I’ll have those n-----s voting Democratic for the next 200 years!” As a result, out popped Washington’s numerous welfare freebies compliments of the hard-working taxpayers. In the timespan of a hundred years, the Democrat party took the African-Americans from slavery through the KKK period to segregation, finally ending up at the welfare state. Democrats have secured the black vote ever since: In most federal elections, over 90 per cent African-Americans vote Democrat.

As Johnson had realized fifty years ago, Hillary Clinton and other Democrats today need the black welfare vote for their political survival. So, they keep purchasing such votes with taxpayer handouts. According to more than one current black Republican-voting political celebrity, the last thing the Democrats want is for the black majority to succeed in life because if they do, they’d probably “start voting Republican.” I heard African-American ex-NBA star Charles Barcley say recently on Dan Patrick’s syndicated sports talk show: “The blacks have been voting Democrat for decades, and they’re still poor.”


 Ku Klux Klan members, Denver, Colorado, 1921 (US Public Domain)

Here’s something more current that I want to leave with you: When African-American Freddie Gray died while in Baltimore police custody in April 2015, the mainstream media and Democrats galore declared that police brutality and racism were behind the riots that resulted afterwards.  So, I looked up the facts in the case and this is what I discovered: Six officers were charged in the death of Gray, who, by the way,  had a rap sheet a mile long containing numerous violations such as drug dealing, possession of drugs, assault, burglary, and probation violation. Three of the six arresting cops were black, in a Baltimore Police Department that was over 40% black, run by a black police chief. Blacks rioted in a black section of Baltimore, looting, destroying, and setting fire to predominately black businesses.

Furthermore, the Democrat mayor and Democrat Maryland state attorney were both black in a city that’s 65% black, ruled by Democrat mayors for 69 years, except for one lone Republican from 1963-1967. Also, the incident occurred on the watch of a Democrat-voting black federal US attorney in Washington appointed by a black Democrat president. Police brutality and…racism? Over a year after the incident, all six police officers in the case have been acquitted by the African-American judge presiding over the matter.

I urge anybody reading this article to google for themselves the above information. As baseball manager Casey Stengel used to say: “You can look it up.”

Please do, and arrive at your own conclusions. 

Monday, 18 July 2016

THE COVERT MR. BERG

Tokyo, Japan, November 29, 1934…

Throwing on a long, black kimono inside his hotel room, Morris Berg readied himself for his mission. Fluent in the Japanese language, the tall, dark, handsome American armed himself with a flower arrangement and headed for St Luke’s Hospital, one of the tallest buildings in Metro Tokyo. The supposed recipient of the bouquet was 22-year-old Leslie Lyons--daughter of American ambassador Joseph Grew--who had given birth to a daughter a few days before.

 1933 Goudey Gum Co card of Moe Berg,
Washington Senators (US Public Domain)
Calmly entering the medical facility and informing the front desk of his apparent destination, the charming Berg, instead, climbed the stairs to the outdoor roof and with a previously concealed, hand-held 16mm Bell & Howell movie camera, began to take footage of the surrounding area in a slow, complete 360-degree manner: the nearby railyards, munitions factories, industrial sections, and harbor alongside the Sumida River, opposite Tokyo Bay. Then he left the scene and returned to the hotel, without ever delivering the flowers to whom he would’ve had he been stopped along the way. Eight years later his movie pictures would be of particular concern to the United States Army Force during World War II.

Morris “Moe” Berg came into this world at 12 pounds on March 2, 1902 to Jewish parents in New York City, just a few blocks from the iconic ballpark, the Polo Grounds. Spending most of his formative years in Newark, New Jersey where his father ran a pharmacy, Moe loved baseball, basketball, and scholastics. In short, he was a person with a high IQ who just happened to be an athlete. He graduated from high school at 16, then enrolled at New York and Princeton universities, where he studied seven languages: French, Greek, Latin, German, Italian, Spanish and Sanskrit. He also played shortstop and first base for the school baseball teams. Though not much of a hitter or runner, he had a decent arm and great baseball sense. In June 1923, at 21, he was signed right out of college by the Brooklyn Dodgers for $5,000 a season, partly to help entice New York’s Jewish population--Brooklyn was one-third Jewish--out to the ball park.

Without being sent to the minors, Berg jumped immediately to the Dodgers, where he hit only .187 in 47 games. After the season, he continued to study, this time abroad. His capacity to learn was mind-boggling. In Paris, he enrolled in 22 different crash courses in European history and languages, and took up a habit that he kept for the rest of life: reading several newspapers each and every day. After his European trip, he was now knowledgeable in 15 languages, plus several regional dialects.  He also toured Italy and Switzerland before returning to spring training in 1924. After a two-year demotion trip to the minors, the Chicago White Sox purchased Berg and turned him into a catcher in 1928. For the next ten years, Berg was a mediocre ball player at best, when he played, which wasn’t much most seasons. Still learning, he acquired a law degree through Columbia University in 1930, although he worked for only a few months as a lawyer.

Probably due to his expertise in the Japanese language, he and two major leaguers, Lefty O’Doul and Ted Lyons, jumped at the chance to teach baseball seminars at various Japanese universities in the winter of 1932-1933. Mission accomplished, O’Doul and Lyons returned to the States, while Berg stayed behind and toured Japan. From there, he took additional expeditions to Manchuria, China, Siam, India, Egypt and Nazi Germany before heading back to America and his so-so baseball career with the Washington Senators, where he was now regulated to a third-string catcher role in the bullpen.

So, what was Berg doing taking movie pictures on the roof of St Luke’s Hospital in Tokyo during his second trip to Japan? Actually, he was part of a major league All-Star team on an 18-game tour of the country. Travelling with future Hall of Famers Charlie Gehringer, Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, Lefty Gomez, Earl Averill, along with nine other players, and managed by legendary Connie Mack, Berg seemed out of place to the press and the players. He was certainly no All-Star or even a respectable regular. With uneasy political tension between Japan and the United States, did somebody of importance want him there? Then, while in Japan once the baseball tour finished, Berg received word of his unconditional release from the Cleveland Indians, who had purchased his contract in mid-season 1934.  Undaunted, he went on a tour of the Philippines, Korea and Moscow.

Back in the States in 1935, the Boston Red Sox signed Berg. There, he played the last five years of his baseball career, but by averaging less than 30 games a season.  In a total of 15 major league seasons between 1923-1939, mostly as a catcher, he hit .243 lifetime, playing in only 662 games, a weak hitter in an era of high batting averages. No one seemed to know what kept him in the majors that long. If anything, he was solid defensively: at one time he had gone 117 errorless games behind the plate. Also, the press loved him and he was always available for a story.

Berg turned to coaching with the Red Sox for 1940 and 1941. Then, along came America’s involvement in World War with the December 7, 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  Leaving baseball behind, Berg joined the war effort by taking a position with the OIAA (Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs) in January 1942.  A few months later, he turned his 1934 film shot atop St Luke’s Hospital over to the military, who screened it thoroughly--although it was quite grainy--before using other sources for the famous Doolittle Raid on Japan led by Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle that same year.

In August 1943, Berg began a two-year mission with the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the forerunner of the CIA. Working with the SI (Secret Intelligence) Branch, he involved himself in dangerous missions on behalf of his government. As an OSS agent, he parachuted into Yugoslavia to monitor different resistance groups fighting the Nazis. Following this, on Berg’s advice, the Allies provided full military support for Marshall Tito’s rebel forces.

Slipping inside German-controlled Norway, Berg met with the Norwegian underground. Together, they located a secret heavy-water plant that the Nazis were using for their effort in building the A-bomb. Within a few weeks, a Royal Air Force bombing raid destroyed the structure. Also, while in the midst of war-torn Italy, Berg managed to make contact--before the Germans, Russians, and British could--with Italian engineer Antonio Ferri, an expert in supersonic wind-tunnel testing, then had arranged passage for him and his family to America to continue his vital work after the war.

On another occasion, December 1944, Berg had orders to hear Nobel Prize winning German physicist Werner Heisenberg, head of Nazi Germany’s atomic bomb project, who was giving a lecture in Zurich, Switzerland on building the bomb. If, according to Berg, the Germans were too close to their goal, he had orders to shoot Heisenberg on the spot with his concealed pistol then swallow the cyanide pill he had in his pocket. After Berg eluded the SS guards at the entrance by speaking German, he listened intently from the front row, posing as an attentive Swiss physics student, although 42 at the time. Alas, Berg could see that the Nazis weren’t any threat. He merely shook Heisenberg’s hand at the finish, then accompanied him to his hotel.

After other OSS missions, Berg returned to the US in late-April 1945 and resigned from the spy agency. In post-war, he was awarded the Medal of Freedom--America’s highest civilian honor during wartime--a few months later. But he refused it for fear of revealing his secretive exploits. In 1946, he was offered two managerial positions with the Chicago White Sox and Boston Red Sox, but declined both. He worked on-and-off for the CIA in the early Fifties until his contract expired in 1954.
1939 Play Ball card of Moe Berg,
Boston Red Sox (US Public Domain)

For the next 18 years, Berg mooched off acquaintances, friends and siblings--Ethel, a sister and Sam, a brother--without ever working at a real job. A loner, he never married. He never learned to drive a car, either, but sure got around a lot. Although he a loner, he still seemed to know a lot a people in North America and Europe whom he could drop in on, including baseball star Joe DiMaggio, whom he stayed with for six weeks. He also knew sportswriter Jimmy Breslin. Together, the two sat in the Yankee Stadium press box for the fifth game of the 1956 World Series in which pitcher Don Larsen threw his noted perfect game against the Brooklyn Dodgers. Like a ghost, Berg would appear then disappear, living a nomadic life. Whenever he was asked what he did for a living, he would place a finger on his lips, as if to say that “mom’s the word.”

For a number of years, he wanted to co-write a book on his spying escapades, but before he could, he died on May 29, 1972 from injuries related to a fall. After his death, his Medal of Freedom honor was re-awarded to him, and Ethel accepted it on her brother’s behalf. She also spread his cremated remains over Mount Scopus in Israel.

To honor his war duty, Berg has two of his baseball cards on display at CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia. His reputation may be best stated in the words US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt used when contacting Berg’s OSS superiors in late-1944 regarding Berg’s efforts in monitoring the Nazi race to the A-bomb: “Give my regards to the catcher.”


Casey Stengel used to say that Berg was “The strangest guy in baseball,” and New York Times writer John Kieran called him “The most scholarly athlete I ever knew. “ When referring to his baseball career, Berg had a standard answer: “Perhaps I couldn’t hit like Babe Ruth, but I spoke more languages than he did.” 

Thursday, 30 June 2016

THE FORT GEORGE ATTACK: THE AFTERMATH AND CONSEQUENCES

A visit with my wife, Bonnie, to the Fort George National Historic Site near Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario on May 22, 2016 sparked my interest in the War of 1812. So much so that I quickly realized that the epic battle that took place there in early 1813 and what followed set the stage for how our country and Mother England handled this brutal and controversial conflict to the very end.

Fourth President of the United States,
James Madison (US Public Domain)
The War of 1812 is one of those confrontations that to this day both sides claim they had won. So, what sparked it? Some historians believe it was simply an act of aggression: President James Madison wished to expand American territory north of the border when, on June 18, 1812, he and the United States of America declared war on the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and its colonies. But there was more to it than that. The Americans had serious issues, besides secretly wanting to rid the continent of the British once and for all.

In the midst of an ongoing war with Napoleon Bonaparte’s France and in order to restrict American trade overseas, Britain dominated the Atlantic with a naval blockade on Western Europe. Add to that, when the Brits boarded American ships on the high seas, they removed any British-born American sailors, forcing them into their own Royal Navy. There was a term for it: “impressment.”

Upon declaring war, the Americans knew bloody well they couldn’t invade Britain. So, instead, they attacked the colony of British North America (Canada). The Americans--the Bluecoats--figured all they had to do was merely march into our country, occupy it, and it would be theirs. That, of course, wasn’t the case. We did have a gun-toting, home-grown militia of country boys who could shoot straight, some highly trained British troops (although we would’ve had more had Britain not been at war with France), plus several area native tribes loyal to the King, namely the Six Nations of Iroquois. We were the Redcoats. However, there were American-born settlers in Niagara whose allegiance was debatable, as were other native tribes who had been influenced by American sympathizers on both sides of the border.

British Lieutenant General Gordon Drummond
whose forces captured Fort Niagara
(Canadian Public Domain)
The war was fought on numerous North American continent fronts, one of those being the Niagara frontier, a key area at the foot of the Great Lakes. The Fort George garrison was built by the British between 1796-1799 to guard the mouth of the Niagara River off Lake Ontario and the nearby town of Newark (now Niagara-on-the-Lake) from American invasion. It’s interesting that the Canadians and Brits expected such trouble from their neighbors that many years before 1812. Anyway, the region was commanded by Brigadier General John Vincent. Across the river and within artillery range of Fort George sat Fort Niagara, New York on the American side.

A few months after the war started, both forts exchanged artillery salvos that damaged parts of their garrisons, until the Americans opened up with a colossal bombardment on May 25, 1813 that left Fort George in ruins. The American cannonballs flew over “hot shot,” which meant they were heated in furnaces, loaded up, then fired. Subsequently, any building taking a direct hit was quickly set ablaze.

Two days later, under cover of a thick fog that slowly dispersed as they reached shore, the Bluecoats, commanded by Major General Henry Dearborn, invaded with an amphibious force that outnumbered the British regulars, Canadian militia and natives combined by four-to-one. After a bloody battle, the Redcoats retreated west towards what is now Hamilton. For the next seven months, the Americans repaired the garrison as best they could, but not totally, and occupied it and the town of Newark, while sending out expeditions to crush the fleeing British. Following crucial defeats at the battles of Stoney Creek and Beaver Dams in June, the badly beaten Americans gradually retreated to Fort George which they eventually abandoned on December 10, but not without controversy.

Following orders from the American officer in charge at the fort, Brigadier General George McClure, the Americans forcibly removed   the Newark townspeople--women, children, and elderly--from their homes into a bitter-cold snow storm with only the clothes on their backs, about 400 civilians in all. The Americans burned approximately 150 houses to the ground, forcing the locals to find what shelter they could in the nearby woods. Then they advanced across the Niagara River.

Hot on the heels of the Americans, the British troops led by Lieutenant General Sir Gordon Drummond were enraged at the sight of the smoldering ruins of Newark as they approached from the south. In retaliation, they sailed across the river, captured Fort Niagara with a surprise attack, and in the next few weeks torched several towns and villages, including Lewiston, Black Rock and Buffalo on the American side, and occupied the shores of the river until war’s end. No building along the Niagara River between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie was safe. This time around, unlike what had occurred at Newark, most locals knew in advance the British would be seeking payback and managed to remove much of the belongings from their homes.

How many Newark civilians died during December 1813 was undocumented. Undoubtedly, many froze to death. The shocking events of that day made headlines in many newspapers in England. Shortly after his order to burn the town, McClure was relieved of his command and dismissed from the US Army.

The President's House, watercolor by George Munger, 1815 (US Public Domain)

British vengeance didn’t stop with Newark. Once Napoleon’s army was defeated in April 1814, the Redcoats now turned their attention to the all-out war effort in America by sending thousands of troops across the Atlantic. When they invaded Washington in August, the Brits left the White House (known then as the President’s House), the Capitol Building, and many other government structures in flames and smoke, in direct response to the unwarranted destruction at Newark; along with the American forces setting private homes and business aflame and shooting all livestock in Port Dover on the north shore of Lake Ontario, south of Hamilton, on May 14. Luckily for the Americans, less than 24 hours after the attack on Washington, a wicked thunderstorm--quite possibly a hurricane--raced through the city and put the flames out.

The Battle of New Orleans was the last major conflict of the war, occurring January 8, 1815, a resounding victory by the Americans led by Major General Andrew Jackson. Trouble was the early 1800’s had slow communications: a negotiated peace had been reached by both parties on Christmas Eve in Belgium, two weeks earlier.

On February 16, 1815 President Madison signed the Treaty of Ghent to end the War of 1812. In the agreement, no borders changed. Both sides would return property they had taken during the war, and would establish a joint boundary commission that would map the borders of the United States and British North America. Andrew Jackson became a national hero for his New Orleans victory and went on to be the seventh president of the United States for two terms from 1829-1837.

After the War of 1812, Fort George fell into ruin, then was abandoned in the late 1820’s. A century later, the National Historic Site saw the beginning of the reconstruction to its pre-1813 appearance and in 1950 opened to the public as a tourist attraction. Incidentally, the only untouched original building was the powder magazine, which had miraculously survived the 1813 American “hot shot” shelling.

The refurbished Fort George today (Canadian Public Domain)

When our founding Canadian Fathers of Confederation--including our first prime minister, John A Macdonald--established our nation in 1867, free of the British, they concluded that the American Civil War which had ended two years earlier was a result of too much power in the hands of the states. So, our boys created a more centralized federation with Ottawa running the show.

That sunny day this past May, Bonnie and I had a blast--no pun intended--walking the grounds of refurbished Fort George built from the original plans. If you go there, don’t miss the musket demonstration. You may even see the occasional ghost because I hear the place is haunted.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

THE GRAND BALLPARKS OF NEW YORK CITY

1950's postcard of Yankee Stadium (US Public Domain)














For a decade after the post-World War II years, New York City was the Capital of Baseball. They had the American League New York Yankees, and the fierce National League rivals, the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers, the three best teams at that time. In the days when no two parks were alike and bleacher seats sold for less than a buck, the New York teams played in unique venues: Yankee Stadium, the Polo Grounds, and Ebbets Field.

Nicknamed “The Big Ballpark in the Bronx,” “The Cathedral in the Bronx” and “The House that Ruth Built,” Yankee Stadium was available to the public in 1923 to accommodate all the fans who flocked to see slugger Babe Ruth smash his long and lofty home runs. On opening day, April 18, 1923, Ruth didn’t disappoint, christening the holy grounds by smacking a 3-run homer into the right-field stands to beat the Boston Red Sox 4-1. After, he said: “This is some ball yard.” Four years later, he hit his record-setting 60th homer in the same park.

Yankee Stadium was a beauty, built at a cost of $2.4 million, a hefty sum in those days. It was the first sports venue given the name of “stadium,” the first to have three tiers, and was constructed with the left-hand-hitting Ruth in mind: down the line in right was a 295-foot short porch, a perfect target for the pull-hitting iconic slugger. Later extended to 296 feet, this was the same porch that Roger Maris, another pull hitter, aimed for in 1961 during his record-setting 61-homer season that broke Ruth’s illustrious record.

In its post-war heyday, the Yankee Stadium center-field fence was a no-man’s land 461 feet (20 feet less than it was in 1923) from home plate, a Death Valley to hitters. The Brooklyn Dodgers found that out playing there in seven World Series between the years 1941-1956. The clever Yankee hurlers knew how to pitch opposition hitters, feeding them outside pitches that became long outs in the power alleys and straightaway center where the balls were run down by fast stars Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle. Center field was also known for its granite monuments honoring Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Miller Huggins and the center-field pole: Both were in-play a few feet in front of the outfield wall.

Yankee Stadium began with 58,000 seats in 1923 before the three-tiers of decks were extended towards center field in 1937, thus topping off at 71,000 seats. Due to the height of the third deck, no one ever hit a fair ball out of Yankee Stadium, but Mickey Mantle came within mere feet twice when he struck the right field fa├žade in 1956 and 1963 with two mighty clouts. In its history, the Yankee Stadium fans were somewhat subdued, a white-glove park attended by the swizzle-stick crowd who didn’t encourage any riff-raff. According to one sportswriter, “Rooting for the Yankees was like rooting for US Steel.”

The original Yankee Stadium closed for renovations for the entire 1974 and 1975 seasons, as the team played their home games at the New York Mets’ Shea Stadium. The refurbished home to the Yankees remained open and continued until 2008, when it was demolished. Since 2009, the new Yankee Stadium is now across the street.


1930's postcard of the Polo Grounds (US Public Domain)


The 55,000-seat Polo Grounds stood a rifle shot from Yankee Stadium in the Upper Manhattan part of Harlem alongside a lookout cliff known as Coogan’s Bluff, where locals were able to look down at the action below. From 1911-1957, the Polo Grounds was home to the New York Giants. For those first twenty years, games were played there by  the most hated team in the majors, led by the most hated manager, the fiery, no-holes-barred John McGraw, who didn’t take any crap from anybody. Also, for a time, from 1913-1922, the Giants rented out their park to the Yankees.

Most Polo Grounds occupants were middle-class ball fans, unlike those high-class snobs at Yankee Stadium, as Giant fans saw them. Giant fans remembered the park smelling of urine, cigar smoke, and stale beer. In the latter years, others recalled it as a dump. After 1940, it was badly maintained, as was the surrounding neighborhood along with it. But it was a distinct, historic dump, a fun park to watch a game in.

The Polo Grounds had the oddest shape, like a horseshoe or a bathtub, a place where one could hit 260-foot homers and 420-foot outs. Down the lines were chip shots for pull hitters:  279 feet to left and 258 feet to right, both 10-foot walls. Left field had a 21-foot second-deck overhang that often turned normal high fly balls into cheap home runs. From there the distances fanned out to 450-foot power alleys. Both clubhouses were in center field, and the players got there by leaving their dugouts, walking across the field to the 60-foot-long center field runway, and climbing the stairs to either side of the 483-foot mark at dead-center field. The nearby bullpens were in-play at the edge of the two power alleys.

At the Polo Grounds, Willie Mays was able to utilize his great speed roaming in center, illustrated by his outstanding catch in the 1954 World Series off the bat of Cleveland’s Vic Wertz that he caught at about 415 feet from home plate; and the same place where Bobby Thomson hit the most famous home run of all, the “Shot Heard ‘Round The World,” that beat the rival Brooklyn Dodgers in the ninth inning in the third game of the 1951 National League playoff.

When the Giants left New York for San Francisco after the 1957 season, the Polo Grounds continued to show different events until the expansion New York Mets came to town for the 1962 and 1963 seasons. Once Shea Stadium was available to the Mets in 1964, the dilapidated, old park saw the wrecking ball that same year.


Early 1950's postcard of Ebbets Field (US Public Domain)


Built on a former garbage dump called Pigtown, Ebbets Field featured one of the most-loved ball teams ever: the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1913-1957. Ebbets Field was an intimate park in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, containing 33,000 seats max. Some writers called it a “cigar box” and others a “bandbox.” The noisy Brooklynites didn’t care what others thought. They adored their home field and their players. “Oh, how we loved that place,” slugger Duke Snider used to say. It was a family affair: Many of the players knew the regular fans by their first names. Number one in fan proximity, the stands were so close to the action that they could hear the players sneeze and swear, and see the sweat on their faces.

The distances to the outfield fences were short: 389 feet in dead center, and 297 feet down the right-field line. However, dead left was 348 feet. Advertising covered the walls, something you never would’ve seen at the original Yankee Stadium. Ebbets Field had the greenest grass and the cleanest, brownest infield in the business.

A Brooklyn Dodger regular from 1946-1957, Carl Furillo owned right field at Ebbets Field, playing it as if it were a work of art. While opposing outfielders found it a hell on earth, Furillo faced it as a challenge for his unmatched work ethic. There were dozens of angles that a ball could carom off all the different sections behind him. The right field wall was 19 feet of concrete with a 19-foot screen on top. And, it sloped at an angle starting half-way up the concrete, then soared straight up the rest of the way. Towards the power alley, in between this concrete-screen combination, the flat scoreboard stood with the bright red-and-white Schaefer beer sign and a small section of screen on top of that to complete the near 40 feet of wall height.

With practice, Furillo knew all the angles, from the 297 feet down the foul line out to the 376-foot power alley, where he approached Duke Snider’s territory in center. If the ball hit the screen, Furillo knew he’d have to run like mad towards it because the ball would drop dead. If the ball went off the concrete wall, Furillo would run towards the infield because the ball would shoot off like a rocket.

Similar to the New York Giants, the Dodgers also moved to California, settling in Los Angeles for the 1958 season. Both their New York ballparks had been decaying, and apartments now stand on the former sites of the playing fields. Demolished in 1960, Ebbets Field made room for Ebbets Field Apartments.  A housing project sits on the old Polo Grounds spot today: Polo Grounds Towers, over 1,000 apartments tucked inside four 34-story buildings situated on 15 acres. 

Three great New York City ball yards--the Polo Grounds, Ebbets Field, and the original Yankee Stadium--are only a memory now of what was once great in major league baseball venues.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

THE MIGHTY MOSQUITO

de Havilland Mosquito B.IV in 1942 (UK Public Domain)

The de Havilland Mosquito was the most versatile combat aircraft of World War II and the most feared by German Luftwaffe pilots. It went by several nicknames: “The Wooden Wonder” and “The Bamboo Bomber” or just the plain and affectionate “Mossie.” Designed by the British originally as an unarmed high-speed day bomber, the Mosquito also performed remarkably well as a fighter, fighter-bomber, pathfinder-marker for heavy bombing raids, and a photo-reconnaissance aircraft. It was fast, maneuverable, well-armed, lightweight for its size, and could reach altitudes above 35,000 feet on long-range operations that took the crews as far as eastern Germany. And because of its wood construction, it could often slip “under the radar” at best or leave only a slight blip at worst.

During the course of the war, Mosquito squadrons made strategic raids on Gestapo offices and headquarters.  One raid hit Amiens prison in occupied-France in 1944 that freed Resistance fighters waiting execution. Other Mosquitos were used by BOAC to transfer secretive cargo and different VIPs--inside the bomb bay--to and from such countries as neutral Sweden and over other occupied areas of Europe. In total, over 6,000 Mosquitos were built in Great Britain, over 1,000 in Canada, and another 200-plus in Australia.

Here in Canada, the Mosquitos were assembled at Downsview, Ontario, north of Toronto from 1942-45. Once these production lines got rolling, the plant saw sixteen finished aircraft wheeled out per day: a grand total of 1,134 by war’s end. They were test-flown in London, Ontario, then flown overseas from there. The powerplant: the Packard-Merlin V-1650 produced in Detroit by Packard Motor Company to Rolls-Royce specifications. This same engine also saw placement in American-built North American P-51 Mustangs and Canadian-built Avro Lancasters, the latter factory not far from Downsview.

When first conceived by de Havilland in 1937, the Mosquito was not an easy sell to the military. The last thing the Royal Air Force wanted was a two-man, unarmed bomber made of wood, an outdated construction design at the time. However, once the aircraft was fitted with two modern Rolls-Royce Merlin V-12 liquid-cooled engines producing well over 1,000 horsepower each, the RAF soon realized that in test flights this machine could get it on without the need of guns aboard.

The Mosquito’s wood construction was something still unique for the time period: pre-formed plywood, made up of various layers of woods glued over each other making the pieces extra strong. Plywood had been around for a number of years already, but not the strong and lightweight material crafted especially for the Mosquito. The woods were a combination of Alaskan spruce, Canadian birch, Ecuadorian balsa, and English ash. The fuselage was manufactured from molds in right and left pieces that were glued in place then drilled together with hundreds of small brass wood screws. The aircraft’s other pieces--the wings and tail--were made as single assemblies and fastened to the fuselage. The only metal applied to the body was engine mounts and fairings, control surfaces, and the screws. Because of the lightweight plywood combined with the ever-improving Merlin V-12, the Mosquito’s power-to-weight ratio gave the aircraft her tremendous all-out speed.

The Royal Air Force truly saw what they had when they deployed an unarmed photo-reconnaissance PR.I prototype in September 1941 to snap pictures along the French Atlantic coast. The result: the German Bf 109 fighters sent to intercept couldn’t catch her. Two months later, RAF 105 Squadron received the first of the B.IV Mosquitos which could carry four 500-pound bombs. After that, the Mosquito only got better, faster, and more powerful.

The Mosquito Canadian production plant at Downsview, Ontario during World War II
(Canadian Public Domain)








The most mass-produced model was the FB.VI, with over 2,500 built.  Armed with four 20mm Hispano cannon under the floor and four .303 Browning machine guns in the nose, the FB.VI could take two 250-pound bombs in the bomb bay and two 500-pounders on wing racks. Also, 50- or 100-gallon drop tanks, mines, depth charges or 60-pound rockets could be added, making this version of the Mosquito a formidable weapon.

Royal Canadian Air Force Flying Officer George Stewart of Hamilton, Ontario flew 50 operations using the Mossie during World War II with RAF Squadron 23 based near Fakenham, England in 1944. Decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFM), he and his navigator, Flying Officer Paul Beaudet, engaged in dozens of Night Intruder attacks in which their job was to circle specific German night fighter aerodromes to prevent the fighters from returning successfully after engaging British bombers that had crossed into occupied-Europe. They and the other Night Intruder crews had to fly to the target in the dead of a moonless night, at very low altitude (perhaps 50 to 100 feet off the ground) at somewhere in the neighborhood of 300 miles per hour. Once they struck a vulnerable Luftwaffe fighter about to land, they’d high-tail it out of there, using the Mossie’s 400 miles per hour top speed!

Stewart flew the popular FB.VI.  Armed with the already-stated .303 machine guns and 20mm cannons, their Mossie sometimes had two 500-pounds bombs on the wings depending on the actual operation. “The Mosquito was a fantastic aircraft! It was versatile, maneuverable, and had the armament,” Stewart told me.  “When I flew the Mosquito, it was considered the fastest aircraft in the world. I loved every minute of it! The serviceability was great,” he added. “I flew one for 100 hours and the only repair was a Pesco pump.”

Prior to a handful of their Night Intruder attacks, Stewart and Beaudet thoroughly enjoyed taking their fighter up within 24 hours of a called RAF operation in order to check it for any snags. “The Mossie was such a delightful aircraft to fly that we looked forward to any excuse that would allow us to fly her--a pilot’s dream!” Stewart recalled.

RCAF Flying Officer Hank Seidenkranz from Burlington, Ontario remembered the Mosquito, but in a different capacity than Stewart. Trained as a navigator, Seidenkranz flew for No 45 Transport Command, a branch of the Royal Air Force that ferried different factory-fresh Canadian and American-built bombers and transport aircraft--such as the B-17 Flying Fortress, C-47 Dakota, B-25 Mitchell, and Mosquito--across the Atlantic for use by combat crews on the war front.

“Flying the Mosquito was quite an experience,” Seidenkranz remembered about the Downsview-built aircraft. “Only two seats: the pilot and radio-navigator. I had to do the radio work, too. All the navigators did. To get aboard, the pilot climbed in first and sat down, then I got in and closed up the hatch at my feet. It was a tight squeeze. Our seats were almost in line, with mine slightly behind and the radio equipment behind his seat. I navigated with the charts resting on my knees. Nothing fancy. No matter what plane you flew the navigator was always busy. I would make a calculation on where we were, which would take a few minutes, and by the time I was finished, we were 100 miles past that point. So I had to make another calculation, and so on. Always busy.

“In March 1945, I navigated a special Mosquito flight with pilot Flying Officer HC Graham. We started from London, Ontario, and took four hours to fly 1,300 miles to Gander, at 9,000 feet and a ground speed of 330 miles per hour. We stopped to refuel, then took off again, put our oxygen masks on, got up to 21,000 feet to take advantage of ice-free weather and a tail wind of 70 knots, and  landed in Prestwick, Scotland exactly five hours and 38 minutes later--a world record for Trans-Atlantic crossings! We averaged 387.5 miles per hour! It was front page news around the world. A few hours later another Mosquito chopped one minute off our time to make a new record. But we got most of the publicity because we were first!”

Even German Luftwaffe leader Hermann Goering respected the de Havilland Mosquito. In a statement in 1943, he admitted: “It makes me furious when I see the Mosquito. I turn green and yellow with envy. The British, who can afford aluminum better than we can, knock together a beautiful wooden aircraft that every piano factory over there is building, and they can give it a speed which they have now increased yet again.


“What do you make of that,” he went on to say. “They have the geniuses and we have the nincompoops!”

Sunday, 15 May 2016

BASEBALL’S DYNAMIC DUO

 Exhibit card of Sandy Koufax.
Exhibit Supply Co of Chicago
(US Public Domain)
From 1962-1965, in the era before player agents, teammates Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale were the best one-two pitching punch in baseball. Shrewd businessmen, they knew their worth to the Los Angeles Dodgers and they were going to do something about it for the 1966 season. 

In the first half of the decade, the combination of Koufax and Drysdale accounted for half the Dodger starts. On an all-pitch, no-hit, small-ball team, left-hander Koufax was the finesse pitcher of the two. Never one to deliberately throw at a batter, the 6-foot-2, 210-pound hurler born and raised in Brooklyn was a fastball-curveball man with blazing speed, followed by outstanding control. Owner of four no-hitters to date (one a perfect game), he had just come off four straight seasons winning the ERA title, with 1963 his first quality season: 25 wins, 1.88 ERA, 306 strikeouts and 11 shutouts, all NL-best stats; plus an MVP and Cy Young Award, when the latter was given to the best pitcher in both leagues combined.

In 1965, he had won 26 games, completed 27, struck out a record-setting 382, and had held the National League opposition to a 2.04 ERA, all league-best. He had also won both the National League MVP and another Cy Young.  In the 1963 World Series, a four-game sweep over the favored New York Yankees, Koufax had won two games: the first one by striking out a record 15 hitters, as well as the Game Four 2-1 finale. In the 1965 World Series against the Minnesota Twins, he had won two games, both shutouts, including the seventh, a masterful three-hitter.

The second part of the duo, the temperamental right-hander born and raised in California, Don Drysdale never held back from throwing his devastating fastball “inside” to batters using his distinct sidearm fashion. He was a workhorse, starting at least 40 games and throwing at least 300 innings in each season since 1962. One of the game’s most intimidating hurlers, he stood 6-foot-5, appearing more like 10 feet tall in the days when the mound was higher than it is today. To Drysdale’s way of thinking, he owned the inside and outside parts of the plate, leaving only the middle to the hitter. So, back off mister!  And they did, terrified they could get killed by one of his bullets.
     
“Big D” had taken the Cy Young Award in 1962, posting a 25-9 mark with 2.83 ERA, 41 starts, and 232 strikeouts in 314 innings, good enough to lead the league in these categories except ERA. In 1963, he had won 19 games, lowered his ERA to 2.62, and won Game Three of the World Series by shutting out the Yankees 1-0 on a three-hitter combined with nine strikeouts. In 1965, he had won 23 games, thrown seven shutouts, and won a crucial Game Four to even the World Series at two apiece, after the Dodgers had lost the first two games in Minnesota to the Twins, the best-hitting team in the American League.

Exhibit card of Don Drysdale.
Exhibit Co of Chicago
(US Public Domain)
 
Following the 1965 World Series, Koufax and Drysdale, at the top of their game, decided they now had the leverage to take on the Dodgers at the contract table. For decades, going back to their years in Brooklyn, Dodger management were notorious cheapskates. Now they were the best draw in baseball, bringing in at least 2 million fans since the new 56,000-seat Dodger Stadium had opened in 1962. During the 1965 season, Koufax had made $85,000 and Drysdale $80,000. When they met with team GM Buzzie Bavasi in mid-October at Dodger Stadium to discuss their futures, they unfolded a well-conceived plan by demanding that they were a package deal. Neither one would sign unless they both agreed. They also said they had an agent, Koufax’s lawyer, Bill Hayes, who had determined that his clients were worth an extra $1 million in revenue to the Dodgers whenever they pitched. Furthermore, Koufax and Drysdale insisted on a three-year, no-trade, no-cut contract for $1 million, which worked out to be $166,000 per year each. In shock, Bavasi countered by saying that he would not deal with any agent, that $1 million was too much and there would be only one-year contracts, the same as what everybody else in the organization received. Basis offered $100,000 to Koufax, and $90,000 to Drysdale. The players said no, and the meeting broke off.

The three met again in late November at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel restaurant, where Koufax did most of the talking for the two: $200,000 each in the first and second year, then $100,000 in the third year.

“But, that’s still a million,” Bavasi said.

“OK, then, $150,000 per year for three years,” Koufax replied. They broke off again. The third conference occurred at the same restaurant, this time in late-February 1966, only a few days prior to spring training at Vero Beach, Florida. Now it was crunch time. Bavasi offered $100,000 each for one year, but no package deal. The players left and were a no-show at spring training when it began February 26, becoming the first-ever dual holdouts.

Most of March went by, and still no money talk from the best one-two pitchers in baseball, except to tell management that they were going to retire and start acting careers if they weren’t better paid. With only a few days left in the exhibition schedule, Bavasi and owner Walter O’Malley began to worry, with good reason. Koufax and Drysdale had won a combined 49 games in 1965, half of the team’s 97 wins. By now, the two pitchers were in the sports news almost daily. Trying to sound firm, calm and collected from Vero Beach, O’Malley decided to call the two hurlers on the phone. He wished them luck at their new ventures outside baseball, then said his goodbyes, hoping that his bluff would work.

Next day, March 30, Drysdale called Bavasi at his Dodger Stadium office to arrange a meeting at a nearby restaurant that same day. There, without Koufax present, Bavasi laid it on the line to Drysdale: “All right, what will it take to sign you boys.”

“One year, $110,000 for me and $125,000 for Sandy,” replied Drysdale, letting the Dodger GM know he was acting also on Koufax’s behalf. Not surprised by the numbers, Bavasi called O’Malley in Vero Beach. The deal was made on the spot, and a press conference was arranged at Dodger Stadium where Bavasi, Koufax, and Drysdale appeared to let the writers know that the “Don and Sandy Show” was back in town. After holding out for 32 days, they had made history as the first pitchers to earn $100,000 a year when the average National League salary was $17,000. And they also started something: the beginning of collective bargaining in baseball.

The 1966 regular season--50 years ago--began with Koufax starting the second game and Drysdale starting the fourth, neither one with a decision. But they quickly got into the swing of things after that and helped lead the Dodgers to another pennant. While Drysdale slipped to 13-16 and 3.42 ERA, Koufax had his best year ever, winning his fifth-straight ERA title with a stingy 1.73. He won 27 games, the most for a National League southpaw since 1900, and led the league with five shutouts and 317 strikeouts, his third 300-plus strikeout mark in the last four seasons. In addition, he won his third Cy Young Award, all three times unanimously.

The World Series in 1966 wasn’t good to the Dodgers, however: They were swept by the Baltimore Orioles in four games. Summing it up, in the five-season stretch from 1962-1966, Koufax and Drysdale combined for an incredible 209 wins, 53 shutouts, 2,551 strikeouts, four Cy Young Awards, six individual World Series wins, three pennants, and two MLB championships. After 1966, the Dodgers wouldn’t win another pennant until 1974.

Koufax, at 31, announced his retirement from baseball a month after the 1966 World Series, fearing future permanent damage to his throwing arm--bone spurs in his elbow--which had been giving him trouble for the past several seasons. No such thing as “Tommy John Surgery” then, otherwise he could’ve gone on to win 300 contests. Before games, he had to apply massive heat to his elbow, then ice packs after, with painkiller shots and pills in between that often left him “high” on the mound.

Drysdale continued until August 1969, when he retired due to a nagging shoulder injury. He was the last player on the club who had started his Dodger career in Brooklyn. He had his last hurrah in 1968 at the age of 32 throwing 58 and two-thirds consecutive shutout innings (six shutouts), a record that stood until another Dodger hurler, Orel Hershiser, extended the mark by one-third of an inning in 1988.


Two pitchers as different as night and day, Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale are Hall of Fame members, making their way to Cooperstown in 1972 and 1984, respectively.