Out of Left Field
an Out of Left Field
to celebrate the new baseball season
"Stan the Man, always chuckling, always rapping line drives off the right field screen in Ebbets Field..."
When veteran columnists dream, their thoughts naturally turn to...
By STAN ISAACS
WITH THE OPENING of another baseball season, thoughts here turn to the past. To years growing up in Brooklyn as a New York Giants fan. To duty in the dugouts, the clubhouses and the press box as a baseball reporter. Building an appreciation of the game, a body of knowledge and also a skepticism about certain aspects of the business.
It inspires a pesonal all-time favorite team. This is made up of great players and personal favorites. This is a team that would not only win, but based on my experiences, be an ideal team to cover.
First basemen: Hank Greenberg and Vic Power.
I read about Greenberg as a kid. I admired his feats then and got to like him when I met him as a pal of Bill Veeck's. I recommend the recent documentary about him, "The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg." Power was a delight, the best fielding first-baseman I ever saw. The staid Yankees of those days thought him too colorful a black man. It was Power who originated a classic line. When told by a waitress in Arkansas, "We don't serve Negroes," he answered, "That's all right. I don't eat them."
Second basemen: Jackie Robinson and Hiraldo (Chico) Ruiz.
Robinson was the most significant player of his time, a clutch player, a fiery man on the field and in the clubhouse. I got to know him well enough so that I could disagree with him about baseball and other matters, but I was always somewhat in awe of him. Ruiz was a journeyman utility player on Cincinnati in the 1960s, a prince of a person, funny, sensitive, candid.
Shortstops: Pee Wee Reese and Tony Kubek.
Reese was one of the nicest people ever to walk onto a baseball diamond. A Louisville native, he made his mark by welcoming Robinson in the face of bigots' heckling. You felt better about yourself just by being with him. Kubek was a winning ball player and a candid winning guy.
Third baseman: Brooks Robinson.
The best fielding third-baseman I ever saw, a clutch hitter, and an Arkansas gentleman who didn't turn a fishy eye to people.
Left fielders: Stan Musial and Ralph Kiner.
Ah, Stan the Man, always chuckling, always rapping line drives off the right field screen in Ebbets Field, into the upper deck in the Polo Grounds. Kiner was taken under Greenberg's wing as a rookie, became a classy gent as well as a home run ace and beloved Mets broadcaster.
"He was such a great one, such a joy as a player, it is a shame Mays turned into a suspicious, what's-in-it-for-me sourpuss after his playing days."
Center fielders: Willie Mays and Richie Ashburn.
He was such a great one, such a joy as a player, it is a shame Mays turned into a suspicious, what's-in-it-for-me sourpuss after his playing days. Ashburn was a spray hitter extraordinaire, a charmer who lit up the early Mets. And, as a Philly, he just happened to make the most famous heave in Brooklyn history, throwing out Cal Abrams trying to score from second on a single to help deprive the Dodgers of the 1950 pennant.
Right fielders: Mel Ott and Tommy Henrich.
A Giants fan growing up in the 1930s and '40s couldn't pick anybody other than Ott, he of the famous leg kick. Henrich, called "Old Reliable," by Mel Allen, was a clutch player and a man more approachable than most Yankees of the Joe DiMaggio era.
Catchers: Ernie Lombardi and Tim McCarver.
Despite being probably the slowest runner in baseball history (the Daily News once had a back-page headline, "Lombardi beats out a bunt") he was the greatest line-drive hitter of his time, a solid catcher. It saddened me to see him in his later days as a press-box steward in San Francisco, serving reporters. McCarver was a solid catcher who blossomed as an announcer with the Mets.
"I have always thought Feller was
the fastest and most exciting pitcher I ever saw."
Starting pitchers: Carl Hubbell, Sal Maglie, Whitey Ford, Sandy Koufax, Bob Feller.
Hubbell, the man with the crooked left arm, the great screwball pitcher, was the Giants' "Meal Ticket." If ever I wanted a pitcher who would get out of a man-on-third, none-out situation, it would be Maglie with those scapel-like curve balls that made chumps out of Gil Hodges, Carl Furillo and Roy Campanella. Ford was slick on the mound, New York impish in the clubhouse. Koufax was Koufax. And maybe because I saw him as a kid, I have always thought Feller was the fastest and most exciting pitcher I ever saw.
Middle relievers: Jim Bouton and Mark Freeman.
Bouton, who had a few good years, was more simpatico with reporters than with his teammates. And he is a part of baseball history for co-authoring with Len Shecter, "Ball Four," which helped change the nature of baseball literature. Freeman was as incisive, introspective and likeable a man as he was inadequate as a pitcher tryng to make it with the Yankees in the late 1950s. When Freeman balked once because a bee distracted him while he was in the act of throwing, Casey Stengel suggested he "coulda swallowed it."
Closers: Satchel Paige and Joe Page.
Satchel Paige, deprived of playing in the major leagues in his prime, showed in his short stint in the bigs what a great one he must have been in the Negro Leagues. The image of Joe Page is of him hopping over the bullpen fence in right field at Yankee Stadium, sauntering to the mound with an insouciant air, and fast-balling the Yankees out of trouble.
Manager: Casey Stengel.
Coaches: 1b, Rocky Bridges; 3b, Leo Durocher; pitching coach, Roger Craig; catching coach, Norm Sherry.
Bridges, one of Reese's many backups at shortstop, was a funny, funny guy. Sample: after finishing second in a milking contest, he said, "I didn't try too hard. I was afraid I'd get emotionally involved with the cow." Durocher was a rogue, and with a winning team one of the shrewdest of baseball men. I found him a delightful scalawag and enjoyed the only way to interview him: arguing with him. Craig, a shrewd student of pitching, was another one who made the original Mets the darlings they were. Sherry was a sweetheart of a man and though Greenberg and Koufax didn't need it, he makes the team aided by ethnic bias.
Owner: Bill Veeck.
© 2001 by Stan Isaacs.
You can comment on this column or contact Stan Isaacs with an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
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