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Thursday, October 04, 2012

Robert Pinsky: Yaz’s Triple Crown: Work, Resolve, Concentration

Damn! Just as I was working on my “Yaz’s Triple Crown: Isometrics, Leavening, Greenies” article.

I was a kind of rookie myself, dealing with publishers who were returning my poetry manuscripts. Their polite, teasing notes recognized my work’s virtues and extended their regrets. I kept working hard — at writing itself, and also at overcoming the discouragement of rejection. Among other distractions from that double struggle, we went to a few games at Fenway Park. Walk-up tickets were easy to get, and bleacher seats cost only a dollar or two. We began following the Red Sox broadcasts of that exciting season. We exchanged the old “B” on the cap for a new one.

Yastrzemski, I noticed, was 27 — and so was I. In a certain way, you never feel older than you do at 27. Youth is about to end, and what have you done? The dentists and lawyers of your age cohort have reasons to feel better about this pressure: they have entered their career groove in a good way. And how, you might ask yourself, are you making out in yours? For artists as for athletes, the answer isn’t always reassuring.

...In the context of Boston’s academic snobbery, I and many others enjoyed Yastrzemski’s distinctly non-Harvard style: here was a local sports hero who came from a Long Island potato farm and Notre Dame, which he attended as a business major on a basketball scholarship. In a tense way, Yaz actually smoked cigarettes in the dugout, and to relieve the tension he would rush to after-game beers in the clubhouse. The elegance of that oversize, sweeping swing and of his fielding, the smooth precision of his arm, made an agreeable contrast with the homey inelegance of his speaking style. In his farewell speech at Fenway Park, in front of 30,000 people, he thanked God for giving him a great body.

Carl Yastrzemski and I did not and do not have much in common. (He fishes, he golfs, he supported a Massachusetts governor whom I did not.) That reality doesn’t diminish my admiration, but underscores it, purifies it: in his realm, Yaz applied grown-up qualities I aspired to, and still aspire to, in mine.

Thanks to Bill Chapman.

Repoz Posted: October 04, 2012 at 06:38 PM | 41 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: history, red sox

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   1. Moeball Posted: October 04, 2012 at 08:33 PM (#4254657)
The work ethic that Yaz developed was a very big part of the 1967 story and, indeed, marked much of the rest of his career.

The winter before the 1967 season Yaz started actively hitting the weight room to strengthen himself - this was not common for players to do in those days. He had been spending a considerable amount of time working with Ted Williams on hitting mechanics and one of the things Ted preached was that any player could dramatically increase power output without sacrificing any batting average at all, if changes to mechanics and approach were implemented properly (Ted would have these same conversations with Tony Gwynn 30 years later during the winter before the 1997 season. Gwynn has talked extensively about these sessions and some of it is quite fascinating. Tony has said several times that he wishes he had talked to Williams much earlier in his career).

Yaz worked on building up a stronger swing and also on increasing stamina which he credited in part to his strong finish down the stretch during that tumultuous pennant race in 1967.

But beyond that Yaz became absolutely fanatical about practice (the anti- Allen Iverson attitude). Yaz worked on playing the Monster better, worked on getting better reads on hitters to get better jumps on the ball, and worked obsessively on batting practice. The thing that really sticks out in my mind is that after Game 1 of the '67 World Series - where Yaz had "oh-ferred" against Bob Gibson - he had the batting cage brought out and took two extra hours of batting practice by himself after the game. Who does this? Many players there at the time said they had never seen anything like it before - or since. Apparently the extra BP paid off as the next day in Game 2 Yaz smashed 2 HRs and drove in 4 runs in leading Boston to a Series equalizing victory. Of course, it helped that Bob Gibson wasn't pitching that game for the Cardinals!

No less an authority on October baseball than Reggie Jackson has said that the best World Series he ever saw anybody have was the one Yaz had in '67. Not only did Yaz beat the cheese out of the ball in the WS (.400/.500/.840 including 3 HRs), but he also made an assortment of impossible diving and leaping catches in the field as well. Had "Web Gems" been around at the time he would have been on them just about every game.

Work ethic became Yaz' trademark over the remainder of his career. The loafing younger Yaz was replaced by a leaner version who set an example for others to follow. The only down side to it was that he apparently viewed baseball as a job that you have to work at, and just not much fun. I'll leave you with a couple of Yaz' comments about it:

I never stay away from workouts. I work hard. I've tried to take care of my body. I'll never look back and say that I could have done more. I've paid the price in practice, but I know I get the most out of my ability.


I loved the game. I loved the competition. But I never had any fun. I never enjoyed it. All hard work all the time.
   2. GEB4000 Posted: October 04, 2012 at 09:00 PM (#4254677)
Sorry I didn't feel older at twenty-seven than now and I had accomplished exactly zero by that age. I was still in community college. How old is this goofball? twenty-two?
   3. GregD Posted: October 04, 2012 at 09:19 PM (#4254689)
Sorry I didn't feel older at twenty-seven than now and I had accomplished exactly zero by that age. I was still in community college. How old is this goofball? twenty-two?
71 years old, poet Laureate--only one ever to serve three consecutive terms, author of 19 books, star of a Simpsons episode...
   4. Yastrzemski in left. Posted: October 04, 2012 at 09:58 PM (#4254722)
@1 Moe - Nice post. I remember, all through the 70's, hanging outside until the third inning when they'd let me and my friends in for free.
   5. Morty Causa Posted: October 04, 2012 at 10:46 PM (#4254750)
Pinsky irregularly posts a column at Slate. It generally has to do with a poem. The discussions that often develop in the comments section are usually good.

Yaz developed a hellacious work ethic, but he wasn't beyond being accused of sometimes "dogging" it. See Ball Four, for instance. I don't have a specific memory, but I think Bouton cites a particular instance, where I believe Yaz was fined, and he writes that other players he queried claimed Yaz deserved it.
   6. Morty Causa Posted: October 04, 2012 at 10:55 PM (#4254761)
Read the article. Updike (wherever he is) need not fear that his exquisite essay on Williams has been supplanted, although Pinsky's is a good journeyman fan's appreciation. (Updike was a pretty good poet, too.)
   7. jack the seal clubber (on the sidelines of life) Posted: October 04, 2012 at 11:01 PM (#4254767)
you never feel older than you do at 27


This #### sure isn't true. :)
   8. Pasta-diving Jeter (jmac66) Posted: October 04, 2012 at 11:22 PM (#4254784)
I don't have a specific memory, but I think Bouton cites a particular instance, where I believe Yaz was fined, and he writes that other players he queried claimed Yaz deserved it.

and that was in 69, 2 years after his supposed rebirth
   9. Pasta-diving Jeter (jmac66) Posted: October 04, 2012 at 11:25 PM (#4254788)
   10. bjhanke Posted: October 05, 2012 at 06:57 AM (#4254856)
One of the things that I've noticed over time reading about baseball - and which I wish I'd kept tabs of the references so I could list a few - is the large number of players who were helped a LOT as hitters by Ted Williams, Ty Cobb and Rogers Hornsby, who were otherwise, well, dicey to work with. Apparently, being a jerk doesn't prevent you from being a Grade A+ hitting coach. George Sisler seems to have been good at it, too, and he was a Grade A hitter through 1922, when his eye went bad. A few Cardinals have credited Mark McGwire (currently the Cardinal hitting coach) with getting them out of slumps by suggesting adjustments in their hitting. Of course, McGwire himself credits Doug Rader (of all people who didn't hit anything like McGwire), if I remember right. - Brock Hanke
   11. BDC Posted: October 05, 2012 at 09:01 AM (#4254889)
Self-evidently, Yastrzemski kept himself in terrific shape and played longer than all but a handful of major-leaguers ever have, and was a great player. One does have the sense, though – with respect to Yaz and Pinsky both – that he wasn't always the easiest guy to keep focussed on game tactics or defense or generally getting in a cab with other Red Sox. Like Morty, I remember him playing at times under the shadow of a reputation for indifference. And my main evidence is Yaz's memoirs, a book called Yaz: Baseball, the Wall, and Me with Gerald Eskenazi (1990), where Yaz spends most of the book talking about how much fun it was cutting up your teammates' street clothes after they'd dressed for a game, that sort of thing. He did have fun as a major-leaguer, by his own admission, but it was the fun of the clubhouse hotfoot.

This kind of persona fits well with Brock's comment in #10. Williams, Cobb, and Hornsby were also relentless about their conditioning and the perfection of their skills, and one gets a sense that they were often not much into team play or the kind of professional camaraderie that makes for a great ballclub (as opposed to a great fishing trip). I don't mean to be overly picky; all four of these guys played on pennant winners and were hugely committed to their individual success. It takes all kinds to make a good ballclub, and some of the most apparently selfless players (Gehrig, Gehringer) were also selfish in their own way, just more introvertedly so.
   12. SoSH U at work Posted: October 05, 2012 at 09:21 AM (#4254905)
Self-evidently, Yastrzemski kept himself in terrific shape and played longer than all but a handful of major-leaguers ever have, and was a great player. One does have the sense, though – with respect to Yaz and Pinsky both – that he wasn't always the easiest guy to keep focussed on game tactics or defense or generally getting in a cab with other Red Sox. Like Morty, I remember him playing at times under the shadow of a reputation for indifference. And my main evidence is Yaz's memoirs, a book called Yaz: Baseball, the Wall, and Me with Gerald Eskenazi (1990), where Yaz spends most of the book talking about how much fun it was cutting up your teammates' street clothes after they'd dressed for a game, that sort of thing. He did have fun as a major-leaguer, by his own admission, but it was the fun of the clubhouse hotfoot.

This kind of persona fits well with Brock's comment in #10. Williams, Cobb, and Hornsby were also relentless about their conditioning and the perfection of their skills, and one gets a sense that they were often not much into team play or the kind of professional camaraderie that makes for a great ballclub (as opposed to a great fishing trip). I don't mean to be overly picky; all four of these guys played on pennant winners and were hugely committed to their individual success. It takes all kinds to make a good ballclub, and some of the most apparently selfless players (Gehrig, Gehringer) were also selfish in their own way, just more introvertedly so.


How many of the inner circle greats are also considered genuinely great guys? Anyone besides Stan the Man*? I imagine the kind of work needed to develop your baseball skills (or most any skills, but perhaps more with baseball because of the fact its kind of an individual team sport) to such a high level isn't conducive to personal growth.

* Yes Murray, we remember. And we've discarded your assessment.
   13. GregD Posted: October 05, 2012 at 09:24 AM (#4254909)
A family friend was down in Florida 15 years ago or so at a bar when Yaz came in and asked if any guys would help him shag flies while he checked out a local high school kid's swing, so my friend and his buddy of course say yes. First, he was impressed that Yaz was still in shape and was throwing smoke on the mound. Second he said Yaz was nothing but a gentleman to this nervous 17-year-old kid, giving him very precise advice about little adjustments, then taking them back to the bar and leaving money for them to drink all night, though he himself left immediately.

Bill James speculated that there were relatively few genuinely great extroverted players, that some might learn to cope with other people or might learn to put on a smile for cameras but that the skills of baseball were skills that almost require introversion.
   14. Darren Posted: October 05, 2012 at 09:33 AM (#4254923)
that he wasn't always the easiest guy to keep focussed on game tactics or defense or generally getting in a cab with other Red Sox.....


Where do you get the sense that it was hard to keep Yaz focused on game tactics or defense? He worked like a maniac on playing the wall and had 8 gold gloves. Is there anything other than the one benching/fine that indicates that Yaz's head was not in the game or that he did not give his full effort on defense?

Williams, Cobb, and Hornsby were also relentless about their conditioning and the perfection of their skills, and one gets a sense that they were often not much into team play or the kind of professional camaraderie that makes for a great ballclub (as opposed to a great fishing trip).


Assuming you're still talking about Yaz, I'm not sure what you're getting at with "team play or that kind of camaraderie...." here. It sounds from what you've said that Yaz got along well with his teammates. What was it that he did that was not conducive to team play?


   15. BDC Posted: October 05, 2012 at 09:36 AM (#4254928)
How many of the inner circle greats are also considered genuinely great guys?

Several of the catchers are: Berra and Bench; Roy Campanella definitely. Which makes some sense because a catcher's job entails getting along with lots of different people. Ernie Banks is by every possible account a great guy. Cal Ripken. Joe Morgan. Honus Wagner was a very easy-going fellow, at least by the standards of the 1890s :) I have never heard a bad word said about Hank Aaron, on a personal level or any other level.

Many of the great pitchers were gentlemen who commanded respect and gave it to others (this would be true of the Gehrig/Gehringer type as well): Mathewson, Johnson, Gibson, Seaver.

But in general, yes, there are a lot of introverts, loners, braggarts, and at-best-aloof types in the inner pantheon.
   16. BDC Posted: October 05, 2012 at 09:42 AM (#4254934)
What was it that he did that was not conducive to team play?

You'd have to read the book I cited and see if your sense jibes with mine. Yaz portrays himself there as somebody who lived for practical jokes. He may just be deflecting attention from himself (though the book is by no means self-effacing), but it offers a weird picture, one of a kid who never grew up in some ways. (Which you could say of Ted Williams and Babe Ruth for that matter).

In short, his image whether in memory or memoir is not like that of Joe DiMaggio or Bob Gibson – or Frank Robinson, for that matter (intense and ferocious about winning). The conditioning and the pride in his play, sure; granted. But there's something a little off in the record, and I think that Pinsky is burnishing the record somewhat (as poets will :)
   17. Benji Gil Gamesh Rises Posted: October 05, 2012 at 09:42 AM (#4254935)
I loved the game. I loved the competition. But I never had any fun. I never enjoyed it. All hard work all the time.
Many years ago I read Yaz's autobiography. I remember it as being workmanlike, pretty boring actually, and this sentiment that he didn't have much fun was very evident.

Edit: I guess I read the same book as BDC, but apparently my memory of it isn't terribly good.
   18. BDC Posted: October 05, 2012 at 09:44 AM (#4254940)
There may be more than one autobiography … and like Charles Barkley, Yaz may have been misquoted :)
   19. Darren Posted: October 05, 2012 at 09:51 AM (#4254953)
Bob, I guess what I'm getting at is how his attitude failed his team. I agree that the portrait of him as a prankster is very different from how we see Bob Gibson, but how do we know which led to more winning or better focus in the field, etc.?
   20. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: October 05, 2012 at 09:57 AM (#4254959)
One of the things that I've noticed over time reading about baseball - and which I wish I'd kept tabs of the references so I could list a few - is the large number of players who were helped a LOT as hitters by Ted Williams, Ty Cobb and Rogers Hornsby, who were otherwise, well, dicey to work with. Apparently, being a jerk doesn't prevent you from being a Grade A+ hitting coach. George Sisler seems to have been good at it, too, and he was a Grade A hitter through 1922, when his eye went bad. A few Cardinals have credited Mark McGwire (currently the Cardinal hitting coach) with getting them out of slumps by suggesting adjustments in their hitting. Of course, McGwire himself credits Doug Rader (of all people who didn't hit anything like McGwire), if I remember right. - Brock Hanke

Beyond the one-on-one examples, there's also one of the great instructional books ever, F.C. Lane's Batting, originally published in 1925. Rather than attempt a clumsy summary, I'll just copy the publisher's blurb:

A long loved but unavailable baseball classic, Batting features interviews with over 250 pioneering baseball figures who share their insights into the game from a hitter's perspective. Legendary baseball figures such as Ty Cobb, Casey Stengel, Cy Young, Walter Johnson, Rogers Hornsby, and Babe Ruth reveal the secrets of such integral and interesting parts of the game as place hitting, bunting, hit and run, the sacrifice, batting stance, the batting order, and how to choose a bat. The pros cover the way to beat a slump, common baseball player superstitions, how to outguess the pitcher, and the best way to deal with unhappy fans and the press. Batting is also noteworthy for returning baseball to its roots, downplay-ing slugging and stressing instead a "scientific" and mental approach to offense-including place hitting, bunting, and base stealing.

This special edition features the original classic along with accompanying advertisements, a biographical introduction by Frederick Ivor-Campbell, and an expanded index by Leverett T. Smith Jr.F. C. Lane (1885–1984) was a longtime editor of and writer for Baseball Magazine, the sport's first monthly magazine. Frederick Ivor-Campbell is the vice president of the Society for American Baseball Research.


Oh, and the used copies on Amazon start at 59 cents.
   21. BDC Posted: October 05, 2012 at 12:20 PM (#4255119)
how do we know which led to more winning or better focus in the field, etc.?

We don't, really, which is why I qualified my remarks in #11 so heavily. It just seems to me that the grim perfectionist described by Pinsky is a revision of the Yaz that I remember and read about. It may be an inevitable part of how people become history (or legend?): the image simplifies and refines itself, for good or bad.

   22. Fernigal McGunnigle has become a merry hat Posted: October 05, 2012 at 12:34 PM (#4255142)
We don't, really, which is why I qualified my remarks in #11 so heavily. It just seems to me that the grim perfectionist described by Pinsky is a revision of the Yaz that I remember and read about. It may be an inevitable part of how people become history (or legend?): the image simplifies and refines itself, for good or bad.


I think that what you're seeing isn't a revision but rather the younger Pinsky's vision of Yaz. Pinksky at 27 needed a grim perfectionist to admire, and Yaz could fit that bill for him. Whether or not that was the reality of Yastrzemski is a different question, one reserved for sportswriters rather than poet/essayists.

you never feel older than you do at 27


This was actually true for me (it was 26, but close enough). I was old enough that things I did really mattered, but not old enough to have lightened up. Youthful self-seriousness plus adult responsibility can breed an intense and pretty stupid brand of world weariness.

OTOH, at 27 my knees didn't hurt all of the ####### time, so in a literal sense I certainly feel older now.

   23. Ron J2 Posted: October 05, 2012 at 12:34 PM (#4255143)
But in general, yes, there are a lot of introverts, loners, braggarts, and at-best-aloof types in the inner pantheon.


One of my all time favorite James articles is "Will the McMeeting Come to Order". It's a nice piece dealing with the Padres refusing to pursue Tim Raines because of his coke problems 5 years before.

The Padres are offered their choice of any player in history (in his prime). They reject all of the greats for various character flaws (Mays was reported to have skipped church) and end up selecting Danny Thompson.


   24. AROM Posted: October 05, 2012 at 12:49 PM (#4255168)
Many of the great pitchers were gentlemen who commanded respect and gave it to others (this would be true of the Gehrig/Gehringer type as well): Mathewson, Johnson, Gibson, Seaver.


Gibson? I get the impression that he commanded respect because he scared the crap out of batters. Certainly a different personality than a Matthewson.
   25. bjhanke Posted: October 05, 2012 at 01:25 PM (#4255206)
I think that there are two major reasons why the percentage of inner circle (hey, I WAS a Baseball Maniac, back in the day) superstars who were genuinely nice and admired is lower than you might think:

1) In addition to your actual job, which is to play well, you also have to deal with begin a media icon. I just finished Honus Wagner's biography, and he was, apparently, shy in public and hated to be put on a pedestal, especially one from which he was expected to speak. Williams and, I think, Cobb, and probably Hornsby, trusted the media of their day about as far as they could throw the team bus.

2) Whether they want to or not, the greatest player on a team is the first choice for team leader. Some people are very well suited to that. Eddie Collins, for example. Some aren't; Joe Jackson wasn't a leader by personality, and Collins and Jackson were the ones everyone else looked up to. When they ended up in different and bitter factions, the club fell prey to the hard feelings of factions everywhere. There are some inner circle guys who are princes, yes, but there are also a lot of them who are like Bob Gibson. Gibson loved being team leader; his competitiveness reached out into the concept of working your ballclub hard. If you read his 60 Feet 6 Inches, the guys he admires on his teams were the ones who worked the hardest at their playing skills. His teammates generally liked him because he was always ready to take charge and help you with any problem you might have; Curt Flood (The Way It Is) thought that the great 1967-68 teams were in large part managed by Gibson, because Red Schoendienst was a passive manager and Gibson loved occupying the space Red was leaving open. Also, Gibson worked at least as hard as he expected any of his teammates to work, and that always generates respect. But Gibson was a difficult human being to deal with on days when he was scheduled to start. He had to go inwards on those days, and made life very unpleasant for anyone who tried to distract him, with their problems or anything else.

Flood does go to some lengths to describe Musial. He thinks that Stan suffered from rose-colored glasses, because baseball had been wonderful to him, but Flood also acknowledged that he started taking extra, extra batting practice when he saw Stan putting in extra time day after day. Flood called that "leadership by example." And, when the Cardinals first got started signing black players, their spring training hotel would not rent them rooms. So Gussie Busch had a friend buy a hotel in the Florida town that would offer rooms to players regardless of color. When that happened, Musial and Ken Boyer, the two biggest stars on the team at the time, gave up their cushy waterfront cabanas and moved into the hotel, as a show of solidarity for civil rights. They didn't make any speeches about it, they just moved into the hotel.

That strikes me as just about the perfect balance, Accept team leadership, make sure you work as hard as anyone you're leading, and support your teammates when the world becomes a problem for them. That doesn't always involve being a nice, but passive guy.

- Brock Hanke
   26. GregD Posted: October 05, 2012 at 01:33 PM (#4255212)
I'm interested in the number of guys who are known as hotheads when young who become famous as leaders later in life. Dave Parker would be #1 here but there were others. Giambi now, I suppose.
   27. Graham & the 15-win "ARod Vortex of suck" Posted: October 05, 2012 at 02:05 PM (#4255240)
"Several of the catchers are: Berra and Bench; Roy Campanella definitely."

In Cincinnati, Bench is widely regarded as an @$$hole. People still admire him for his play, but there are enough stories circulating that keep fans from embracing him the way that many there embrace Rose. Here's one I've heard firsthand: A friend of a friend (call him Joe) was working in a Cincinnati radio station at the front desk. Bench came in to promote his charity golf tournament. Joe's favorite player is (was?) Johnny Bench, so he brought Bench's rookie card into work that day hoping Bench would sign it for him. As the radio spot wrapped up, Joe placed the card on the desk facing toward the public, uncapped a Sharpie, and placed the marker by the card. When Bench walked out of the studio, Joe said, "Excuse me, Mr. Bench. Would you mind taking a moment to sign my card?" Bench walked over to the desk, picked up the card, and said, "I don't see a $5 bill under this card." Then, Bench set the card back on the desk and walked out.
   28. Charlie O Posted: October 05, 2012 at 04:12 PM (#4255390)
My very first glove that wasn't a hand-me-down was a Carl Yastrzemski "Triple Crown" by Spalding that my Mom bought with Blue Chip stamps.
   29. Moeball Posted: October 05, 2012 at 04:14 PM (#4255391)
Yaz developed a hellacious work ethic, but he wasn't beyond being accused of sometimes "dogging" it. See Ball Four, for instance. I don't have a specific memory, but I think Bouton cites a particular instance, where I believe Yaz was fined, and he writes that other players he queried claimed Yaz deserved it.


Yaz had a rather prickly relationship with Dick Williams. Part of that was, well, Dick was a "no nonsense" kind of manager who wasn't shy about saying what he thought and sometimes that rubbed people the wrong way. In 1967 with the Sox winning the pennant things worked out ok; in 1969, with Boston in 3rd place and Earl Weaver's Orioles running away with the division, things weren't quite so chummy. Yaz had a couple of plays (late July, early August time frame) where his base running was less than enthusiastic and Williams laid down the hammer, which even Yaz would later admit was probably necessary.

1969 was kind of a strange and ugly year in Boston. In those pre-SABR times, Yaz had what was actually a pretty decent year but got absolutely savaged in the press for it and the boo-birds were out in force at Fenway, too. Today we would look at a player who hits 40 HRs, drives in 111 runs, walks 101 times (.362 OBA, .507 SLG, 136 OPS+), steals 15 bases and wins a Gold Glove as someone who had a pretty good all-around season. But Carl's BA that year was "only" 0.255 after winning back-to-back batting titles in '67 and '68 and all anyone cared about at the time was batting average and how Yaz was having such a poor year. It clearly affected his attitude - it probably shouldn't have, but it did. He sulked some, culminating in the events that led to his being fined by Williams. One funny thing - Yaz was stripped of his "captaincy" by Williams, supposedly as a punishment, but Carl later indicated he was glad to be rid of the title. He said it was one thing to show your leadership as "Captain" by your play on the field such as in '67, but being Captain really seemed to him to be more about things such as settling clubhouse disputes - and if there is one thing the Sox are famous for historically (unfortunately), it is a never-ending stream of clubhouse disputes. In the end Williams got fired - there was conjecture that Yaz had gone to owner Tom Yawkey and thus Williams got the ax. No one is saying for certain that is what happened, but there were suspicions. Not a pretty picture at all.
   30. vortex of dissipation Posted: October 05, 2012 at 04:22 PM (#4255395)
Brooks Robinson has a solid reputation as being a nice guy.
   31. Jose Is The Most Absurd Thing on the Site Posted: October 05, 2012 at 04:28 PM (#4255405)
I see Yaz at spring training every year. He is about as unfriendly without being rude as you can be. You can tell he hates to be approached. On the other hand he IS there every year, he seems to spend the majority of the time with the minor leaguers and the kids seem to have a pretty good rapport with him.
   32. Moeball Posted: October 05, 2012 at 05:11 PM (#4255464)
In Cincinnati, Bench is widely regarded as an @$$hole. People still admire him for his play, but there are enough stories circulating that keep fans from embracing him the way that many there embrace Rose. Here's one I've heard firsthand: A friend of a friend (call him Joe) was working in a Cincinnati radio station at the front desk. Bench came in to promote his charity golf tournament. Joe's favorite player is (was?) Johnny Bench, so he brought Bench's rookie card into work that day hoping Bench would sign it for him. As the radio spot wrapped up, Joe placed the card on the desk facing toward the public, uncapped a Sharpie, and placed the marker by the card. When Bench walked out of the studio, Joe said, "Excuse me, Mr. Bench. Would you mind taking a moment to sign my card?" Bench walked over to the desk, picked up the card, and said, "I don't see a $5 bill under this card." Then, Bench set the card back on the desk and walked out.


Players like the big $$ and having their egos stroked, but they are also like the rest of us in some ways. For example:

Met Johnny Bench one time. Lots of people asking him for autographs and he was kind of grumpy. I knew his wife had just had a baby so I asked Johnny about the kid. Suddenly he's whipping out photos and jabbering away in the happiest of tones. Gave me his autograph and even shook my hand - BTW, he has absolutely HUGE hands! I could easily fit both of mine into one palm of his.

Met Maury Wills once in a mall - he has a reputation as a complete jerk according to a lot of people. This was around the time when his son Bump was first making the big leagues. Asked Maury about Bump and his whole face lit up and he went into "proud papa" mode. Easiest autograph I ever got. People like talking about their kids, I guess. Although I heard years later that Maury and Bump were on the outs and I guess you wouldn't want to ask Cecil Fielder about Prince, either.

Players are also proud of their accomplishments. I was at a show one time where Reggie Jackson was appearing. His "handler" was checking all of the items being presented for autographs and was acting very suspicious, particularly when people were presenting balls to be autographed. Autograhed baseballs are one of the most commonly used "turnaround" memorabilia items people use for quick profit, and players don't like it, even when they are legit signed balls and not fakes.

So I present my ticket stub that says 9/17/84 Angels vs. Royals, Anaheim, CA. The handler looks at it suspiciously and goes "What the heck is this?" But Reggie takes the ticket from him, looks at it a moment and actually looks up at me and smiles. Then Reggie writes "HR #500" on the ticket and signs it "#44 Reggie Jackson". As he gives the ticket back to me he turns to the handler and says "Don't worry. This guy is never gonna sell this ticket". He's right. I still have it today. Because Reggie knew this was an "I was there to be a part of history" memento and you don't sell your memories. Even if the one guy I actually saw hit #500 in person was probably my least favorite player on that list.
   33. bjhanke Posted: October 05, 2012 at 05:26 PM (#4255490)
I think almost anyone would concede Brooks Robinson. If not, he has done one hell of a job of concealing any temper tantrums. I know a small number of Yogi Berra's relatives, and they all say that he is not the most fun at a family reunion. He's grouchy and judgmental. According to them he developed the cheerful malapropism personality as a media face. It's not who he really is. This could be true of almost all the "nice guy" superstars. Their public personas and their everyday personalities may not be the the same. Musial, who undergoes a lot of media scrutiny even now, is one whose personality does not change. He is the same guy on and off the field. In fact, he is generous to people he doesn't know. A friend of mine, who is not a baseball fan, works at a parking garage downtown in STL. Stan parks there. The friend casually mentioned that he knew me and that I was really into baseball. Stan promptly autographed a picture of himself - he carries them around with him - not to the parking garage attendant, but to me. All he might know about me was that I was that maverick baseball writer from The Riverfront Times (an alternative weekly) for a few years in the 1990s. I've never met The Man. Flood compared Willie Mays to Musial (as people), so I started keeping some track of comments about Mays. Apparently he, too, is a nice guy in all situations, although NY and SF fans may know something that I don't. Billy Williams is, I believe, considered a very nice person. Red Schoendienst holds the record for most years wearing a major league baseball uniform (he coached into the 2000s), largely because anyone can get along with Red and he is always willing to take extra time of his and put it into hitting fungoes or grounders at someone who needs glove practice. Stan Hack enjoys a good rep, although I don't know much about him as a person. And you know, I can't remember a single bad reference ever to the personality of Jimmy Foxx. - Brock Hanke
   34. Morty Causa Posted: October 05, 2012 at 07:31 PM (#4255764)
Signing autographs. I have to sympathized with players who hate doing it. For one thing it's a stupid hobby that is freaky in its primativism. One step from dipping hankerchiefs in the blood near your assassinated body.

Why do players owe you an autograph? Clemens was once asked why he quit doing it (maybe he went back to doing it on truncated basis, I don't know), and he said that after a game, after you've showered and dressed up in your finery, you sign autographs for an hour, although you're hungry and want to go out and eat and have a few drinks and unwind, but you do it, and then when you say you you got to go, someone calls you a mother ######. You suddenly noticed they've written all over you with their ballpoints and sometimes even cut bits of your jacket off as souvenirs. Who needs that crap, he said. The movie star Paul Newman didn't do autographs. Said he owed his fans a performance; they didn't have ownership interest in his free time.
   35. Darren Posted: October 05, 2012 at 08:14 PM (#4255935)
Bob, thanks for the replies. I was just hoping to get your expanded thoughts, not meaning to argue. Thanks.
   36. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: October 05, 2012 at 08:24 PM (#4255977)

A family friend once met Warren Spahn, who I was a big fan of as a kid, and got him to write me a very nice note which I still have to this day. Although he seems to have led a pretty quiet life in retirement, I've never heard anyone say anything bad about him as a person.
   37. SoSH U at work Posted: October 05, 2012 at 08:33 PM (#4256022)
Brooks Robinson has a solid reputation as being a nice guy.


I'd more than concede that. I got to interview him for about 90 minutes in a one-on-one setting, and he couldn't possibly have been more accomodating, friendly and gracious. He was fantastic.

Of course, as the guy who started this line of discussion earlier, I wouldn't call him inner circle.
   38. Benji Gil Gamesh Rises Posted: October 05, 2012 at 08:51 PM (#4256084)
I don't get autographs either. Always respected Bill Russell's (supposed?) practice of refusing to give autographs but offering his hand instead.

I met Sean Casey shortly after Game 6 of the 2008 ALCS. Incredibly nice guy, almost nicer than even his rep. I got a pic of me shaking his hand (don't have any idea what he would have said if I'd asked for an autograph but it never occurred to me). I don't even know if I still have the pic but I'll always remember the huge smile when I realized it was him talking to a colleague in the hotel lobby and I sortof oddly said "Sean?" He just replied "Yeah?!" like he was just overjoyed to be recognized.
   39. Fred Lynn Nolan Ryan Sweeney Agonistes Posted: October 05, 2012 at 09:26 PM (#4256143)
Met Johnny Bench one time. Lots of people asking him for autographs and he was kind of grumpy. I knew his wife had just had a baby so I asked Johnny about the kid. Suddenly he's whipping out photos and jabbering away in the happiest of tones. Gave me his autograph and even shook my hand - BTW, he has absolutely HUGE hands! I could easily fit both of mine into one palm of his.

This is a true fact.
There's a picture out there of Ernie Lombardi pulling the same stunt. BIG paws on that dude.
   40. GregD Posted: October 05, 2012 at 09:44 PM (#4256159)
Love that Bench photo.

Anyone know the precise nature of his Indian background. I always heard he was Cherokee but saw something that referred to him as Choctaw, and I never had a sense of whether he was vaguely Cherokee like many Oklahomans believe they are or had actually grown up around Cherokee people.
   41. vortex of dissipation Posted: October 06, 2012 at 01:47 AM (#4256533)
Wiki says that Bench is one-eighth Choctaw.

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