FORTY YEARS AGO TODAY: My Very First Time At Dodger Stadium

The home of the team that I’ve followed for well over forty years, with a nice view of downtown Los Angeles in the background. Photo courtesy of primetimeshuttle.com

 

COMMEMORATING THE MILESTONE ANNIVERSARY OF A VERY IMPORTANT MOMENT IN ANY BASEBALL FAN’S LIFE

Sunday, June 18, 1978.

The day I turned eleven years old, having just finished the fifth grade.

And a day that I was excitedly anticipating, being that my obsession for baseball and the Dodgers – due to their appearance in the World Series eight months before – was percolating, because that was the day I went to Dodger Stadium and saw the team that my family, particularly my grandparents, had followed since their Brooklyn days, for the very first time.

For a young African-American boy with the requisite 1970s disco-style afro who was tall for his age, approaching six feet, you can imagine the feelings going through me as I woke up that warm and sunny morning.

I made it a point to carefully dress in my baseball-style 3/4 sleeve shirt with the Dodger logo in the front, plus the mesh-backed adjustable Dodger blue cap with the interlocking “LA” logo on the front, as my mother and I left our tiny apartment in Santa Monica to go pick up the three cousins whose names I picked from a cap to go with me; she had gotten a total of six tickets on the field level down the right field line, and we all piled up into her Opal Cadet to journey east on the I-10, making a left on the 110, heading toward downtown L.A. to what then-Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda called “Blue Heaven On Earth”.

Contrary to what some might be imagining, the trip was fairly quick; I don’t remember running into any major traffic jams as we turned left at the Dodger Stadium exit, drove a few more minutes to Chavez Ravine, and there it was!

Any kid seeing a major sports facility like Dodger Stadium  for the first time in person would be very impressed at its majesty, and I was no exception, though interestingly enough the size of the 56,000-seat ballpark wasn’t the only thing that I noticed.

The bright colors of the seats, which seemingly reached up halfway to Heaven, ranging from bright red on the top deck to orange on the loge (second deck) section to the blue-hued reserved section in between, was what I noticed the most as one of my cousins exclaimed how he wanted to see Steve Garvey, who was the Dodgers’ All-American go-to hero among the kids.

After my mom’s friend, who I considered an aunt, joined us, Mom proceeded to hand us kids the tickets, giving us the inevitable lecture about staying together and behaving, before we proceeded to the gates.

 

 

Don Sutton, who I saw pitch a six-hit shutout that memorable first Dodger game. Photo courtesy of pinterest.com

 

 

It was Helmet Weekend, meaning that everyone ages 14 and under got a free replica Dodger batting helmet (that was a popular thing to wear in those days), and of course I was excited when I was handed that blue plastic head covering, putting it on over my cap right away, my afro sticking out underneath.

We then headed for our seats, Mom promising us that we would stay all nine innings, and as the Montreal Expos (now the Washington Nationals, having moved to the nation’s capitol in 2005) were the Dodgers’ opponents, nobody could miss the large red and white maple-leaf Canadian flag flying next to the red, white and blue stars and stripes beyond the center field fence.

Our seats were not far from the Expos’ bullpen, and I remember one of my cousins asking either Expos pitcher Stan Bahnsen or one of their coaches for an autograph as they were walking by us, one of them saying, “I’ve gotta go to work!”

Which we were all incredulous about, going “What?!” Playing baseball is a job?!”

Little did we know; the naivete of youth coming into play there.

I also vividly recall “O, Canada”, that country’s national anthem, being sung before our “Star Spangled Banner” with the Dodgers then taking the field and getting going as the organ in the press box played “Charge!”

And of course I enjoyed the Dodger (Hot) Dogs and chocolate ice cream cups that I consumed.

 

 

Davey Lopes, one of the heroes of that 1st Dodger game I saw, standing 2nd from right with the other members of baseball’s longest playing infield: Ron Cey (far left), Bill Russell (2nd from left), and Steve Garvey (far right). Photo courtesy of twitter.com

 

 

I KNOW you want my reminisces about how the game unfolded – here goes…

Over the four decades since that day, the three details about the game that never left my memory banks were Don Sutton, the Dodgers’ ace, pitching a shutout,

– Dodger second baseman Davey Lopes stealing four bases,

– One of my cousins calling out Dodger right fielder Lee Lacy’s name, yelling “Lee! Lee!” between pitches mid-game and having him turn his head in our direction and (I’m sure) thinking, “Who the hell is calling my name?!”

– And the Dodgers beating the Expos 5-0, putting the finishing touches on the most memorable birthday of my childhood.

As for any more details, I made it a point to research that game online recently, downloading and printing the box score.

What I found was very informative and memory-inducing…

  • Don Sutton gave up six hits, walking one and striking out six in hurling his complete game gem, though I was surprised that it only evened his record to 6-6 and lowered his earned run average to 4.29; apparently he had not gotten off to a good start that season.
  • Along with his four stolen bases, Davey Lopes also went 3-for-4, earning him Co-Player of the Game honors with Sutton in the middle of what was the best season of his life, him upping his batting average to .320 that day.
  • Me, Mom, her friend, and my three cousins among the 41,769 fans in attendance that day,
  • Sutton’s Expos counterpart, Wayne Twitchell, having a bad day as he didn’t even last five innings, walking five Dodgers while not striking out anybody, and doing a terrible job at holding runners on base as Lopes went nuts on him, and…
  • (VERY significant) having three future members of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY on the field – Sutton, plus the Expos’ Andre Dawson and Tony Perez, who was one of the stars on Cincinnati’s “Big Red Machine” before being traded to Montreal in 1977.

TO STATE THE OBVIOUS…

That first Dodger game set the tone for a lifetime of involvement in baseball and softball for me as I joined the Santa Monica’s Sunset Little League the following spring, spending five mediocre years as a kid just trying to have fun, and eventually spending roughly twenty years as a baseball and softball coach on the youth level as well as continuing to play pick-up softball throughout college and to this day.

As for Dodger Stadium, I would go on to see nearly sixty more games at that place over the next four decades, fifty of them Dodger games – including this past June 10th, when I watched the Dodgers beat the Atlanta Braves 7-2 from the top deck seats,

In addition to (I think) eight games featuring my collegiate alma mater, UCLA, taking on crosstown rival USC in the Dodger Stadium College Baseball Classic, which the Dodgers host every March and which has turned into quite the event in the Crosstown Rivalry, sitting near the dugout on the field level.

Which considering the prices being charged for everything at that stadium these days is the only time I get to sit so close to the action now.

And I have had the honor of being on the field three times, once in the outfield during a “fans playing catch” event after the Dodgers played the Angels the day before my 40th birthday in 2007 – you can imagine the thrill I got doing that,

And behind home plate twice while playing with the UCLA Alumni Band, providing pre-game entertainment for the Dodgers’ “UCLA Day”  games in 2011 and 2012 – again, great thrills!

It has gotten to the point where I can give tours of the place, as I have the distinction of sitting in each section of Dodger Stadium at least once during that forty-year span.

The best way to sum up all of this…

I feel like I made a lifelong friend on that 11th birthday of mine.

At least, that’s how I feel every time I make that left turn on Vin Scully Ave. (it was called Elysian Park Ave. on that first visit) and go up those two hills before seeing the stadium lights.

Since it all happened forty years ago today, it’s only fitting that I give homage to this personal watershed life experience.

 

 

The official team photo of the 1978 Los Angeles Dodgers, who I saw that memorable birthday in 1978. Photo courtesy of baseballhall.org

 

 

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CELEBRATING THE 51st: My Annual Birthday Post

While my birthday plans do not include going here, being that I’m about to become this age I thought this would be a cool pic to put on this post. Photo courtesy of komando.com

 

THOUGH MY ACTUAL BIRTHDAY IS NOT FOR FIVE MORE DAYS (as of this writing), I’M GOING AHEAD AND  POSTING MY THOUGHTS ABOUT IT NOW

 

Fifty-one is not fifty.

I’m fully aware of that and the fact that I’m not celebrating a milestone birthday like I did last year.

But that’s OK, because I reckon when one reaches their forties and fifties – and as the years advance, actually – one feels more and more grateful that another year has passed and they are still on this planet.

I certainly feel that way as my 51st birthday approaches this coming Monday; as always, I’m making it an extra special point to give thanks to God for allowing me to see 51 years on this Earth as an African-American male on the Autism Spectrum Disorder as soon as I wake up that morning.

Especially considering the times we are living in right now, with the leader of the free world who-must-not-be-named – remember, I vowed to never write the name of this country’s president on this blog when he was elected – and his “Make America Great Again” cap-wearing worshipers, I mean followers, intentionally trying to induce misery upon anyone who’s not exactly like them (Read: white, male, straight, wealthy, conservative, Christian, or any combination of those six attributes).

All right, enough about you-know-who!

The biggest thought about this upcoming birthday of mine is that on that day in 1978,

Exactly forty years ago to the day,

I undertook something significant that was a big event of my childhood and served as an influence on my life…

I went to Dodger Stadium for the very first time.

Yep, I spent the day I turned eleven watching my very first Major League Baseball game in the form of the Los Angeles Dodgers playing the Montreal Expos (now the Washington Nationals).

However, if you want details about that noteworthy day, sorry. I won’t share those details right here and now.

 

 

A poster detailing all the stuff that happened fifty-one years ago. Image courtesy of flickback.com

 

 

A complete description about spending my 11th birthday at that flagship baseball park will appear on this blog on Monday, my actual birthday, which I think is only appropriate to do.

In other words, I promise to tell all in five days.

For the time being, as far as birthday plans…

I’m definitely NOT planning any kind of big party; last year’s soiree, while enjoyable, was a one-time milestone thing that I have no plans of doing again until I turn 70 or 75 (God Willing).

To be honest, outside of writing about my first Dodger Stadium experience in the morning on this blog and SoCal Sports Annals, my sports fan blog (Here’s the link to that: http://www.socalsportsannals.wordpress.com ),

And eating Mexican food from a place where I have eaten since the mid-1970s along with birthday cake, I am not 100% sure what I’m going to do as of this moment.

But I do plan to enjoy the day, as anyone in that age group and beyond needs to do.

Ii will feel good to be above to celebrate another year living as a black man in America with Asperger’s, as it gives me a feeling of gratitude and survival.

While I’m definitely not trying to tell anyone what to do, anyone in their forties and up who’s on the autism spectrum in particular should feel glad  and thankful every time their birthday approaches.

Why? Because despite any struggles, social or otherwise, that someone on the spectrum may have suffered through, the fact that they’re still here is something to be quite thankful for.

I know I’ll be sure to mention that to God in my prayers.

I also guess that the only thing left to say here is…

Happy Birthday To Me (five days early).

I hope it’s a good one.

And it goes without saying that I hope and pray to have many more birthdays before I’m through.

 

 

I don’t think I’m a limited edition, but I do like this picture. Image courtesy of teepublic.com

 

 

Another Particular Thought Regarding My Being Of Middle Age

The prefect quote concerning this issue. Image courtesy of plusquoter.com

 

 

There’s a song from 2003 by a guy named Joe Jackson, a true musician – unlike so many people in pop music today who wouldn’t dream of playing their own instruments and can’t perform without twenty backup dancers and a state of the art system that lets them lip sync to their voice on stage – I’ve been a fan of for decades, called “Awkward Age”.

He’s talking to a teenager in the song, trying to cheer him up for the typical awkwardness that’s common to adolescents, but it’s the second part of the tune that describes me very well now that I’m in my fifties.

Here are those lyrics…

 

You look at me like I know what’s going on

I’m looking back and I wonder what went wrong

I really thought by now a few things might just clarify

I got a mind that goes out to lunch for days

And a body that sometimes disobeys

I get into the parties but I hate them because I’m shy

Oh my,

I’m still at an awkward age

 

Although I make it a pronounced point to exercise every week, doing cardio and weightlifting as well as play pick-up softball on the weekends, and eat healthier than I did in the past (I officially gave up red meat last December), I’m not sure if any other verse of lyrics better describes me and my growing state more.

 

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p51Fgm1m6V0

Joe Jackson’s song, “Awkward Age”, from the 2003 album Volume 4. Courtesy of YouTube (click on the link).

 

 

As for the parties, last year’s 50th birthday shindig notwithstanding as that was a once-in-a-lifetime necessary exception (until perhaps and God Willing my 70th or 75th birthday – we’ll see), I completely concur with Joe in that while I don’t exactly hate them, I have a certain level of discomfort with them due to the feeling of having to walk on eggshells, stemming from my being on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum – Asperger’s Syndrome to be precise.

If there’s any fifty-something that’s still at an awkward age, it’s definitely me.

I reckon that I’m not alone in this sentiment, as it would be quite selfish of me to see things that way.

I’d like to hear from others who feel like they’re still at an “awkward age” so many years after their adolescent days.

If you fit into that description, don’t keep it a secret!

Feel free to comment below…

 

REGARDING THE ABOVE QUOTE: This happens to me all the time. Image courtesy of theodysseyonline.com

 

 

 

 

A Few New Thoughts of Having Asperger’s In Middle Age

Photo courtesy of sidebysidecoaching.co.uk

 

VARIOUS MUSINGS REGARDING BEING AN ASPIE IN MY FIFTIES

These days, regarding people who are on the autism spectrum, particularly of the high-functioning kind and namely those with Asperger’s Syndrome,

There are an embarrassment of riches as far as services, programs and support for Aspies who are children and young adults in the form of:

  • Non-public schools geared toward that population – I know, I used to work at one
  • Various services such as counseling and support groups, and…
  • Programs that aim toward those aspies and others on the spectrum after the age of 22 (when Special Education and services & programs for those ages 3-22 end) gain independence in the form of jobs and “leaving the nest”, as in moving away from parents and getting an apartment

The other day a thought came to me…

What about those on the spectrum who are middle-aged and happen to be high functioning, like me?

Last year saw my fiftieth birthday, and as I am officially, by American standards, considered to be of middle age,

With me having high functioning Asperger’s, outside of meet-up groups I haven’t seen any support stuff geared toward aspies in my age group.

Besides those meet-up groups, the only thing I’ve seen among the developmentally disabled where the people are anywhere near my age is programs for lower-functioning groups; I’ve seen them from time to time when I take trips to the library, going online and reading books and magazines.

As for those meet-up groups – I know what quite a few of you are probably saying right now…

“Why don’t you check those groups out? Give them a chance?”

As much as I regret saying this, when I did sign up online for one of those groups in the Los Angeles, CA area, where I live,

Not only did their meet-up days and times not mesh with my schedule, I (to be brutally honest) simply didn’t feel comfortable enough to make any kind of commitments.

The reason for that discomfort?

One word: MAINSTREAMING.

 

This reminds me of myself when I’m out and about, only no backwards cap and the fact that I’m much bigger. Photo courtesy of wypr.org

 

 

After spending kindergarten in a special ed program – called a “Special Day Class”  in those days – due to my sometimes animal-like behavior stemming from my aspieness at that young age – the powers that be determined that I had progressed enough to the point where I could be mainstreamed into a regular class for first grade.

Especially when they found that I could do the academic work fairly easily, as though my behavior needed modifying my reading (I began to read at age two-and-a half), writing, and math skills were considered to be very good, par for the course for many aspies.

To make a long story short, from age six all the way to high school graduation, I never set foot in a special education class, even finding myself in gifted classes a few of those years.

Which unfortunately left myself feeling uncomfortable with those who were in the special ed classes, and – as much as I hate to say it – even when I taught physical education at a non-public, special ed school roughly fifteen years ago as in one particular instance, a co-worker who was clearly on the syndrome, while nice enough, tried too hard to be my friend, unexpectedly calling me during the evening on one occasion.

Which, though it wasn’t his fault as he didn’t know this, was not a good thing as evenings are my time to decompress, my attitude being “I don’t bother anyone, so I don’t want anybody to bother me”.

I reckon folks are wondering what my point is to all of this – here it is:

As good as mainstreaming was for me; I’m sure I would have never achieved what I achieved – a college degree, a work ethic of (at least) some kind, social skills, having my own sports blog which is growing, called SoCal Sports Annals.com ( Here’s the link: http://www.socalsportsannals.wordpress.com ) – if it were not for that,

I’m convinced that I would be more comfortable among aspies today if I were among them more during my formative years, rather than be completely separated from them.

One thing that I would check out would be a singles group consisting of those on the spectrum who are high functioning, where the opposite sexes can meet, form friendships and have an opportunity to date.

In other words, I would be interested in going to a mixer featuring high functioning women and seeing if anything clicks.

I know that the reason why I haven’t found anything like that is the fact that male autistics out number their female counterparts by an average of five to one.

But meeting a woman who’s a high functioning aspie, minimum age 35 but preferably in her early forties and up,  who shares the same interests as me, where we could provide companionship with each other,

Wouldn’t be something that I would be completely against.

Especially since I’m a fifty-something and don’t exactly have forever.

If there’s anyone out there who knows of any groups or programs like that in the Los Angeles area, please feel free to let me know!

There’s a chance I’ll check them out, but whether or not I choose to do so, I’ll feel glad knowing groups like that are out there.

 

 

Thank goodness I don’t feel as isolated as I used to, but that feeling is still there ever so often. Photo courtesy of bestpracticeautism.blogspot.com

 

 

 

 

 

TIME IS GOING TOO FAST: It’s Overwhelming Sometimes (Does Anyone Else Feel This Way?)!

Image courtesy of jadaratint.com

 

HAS ANYONE ELSE EXPERIENCED THIS?

I found this to be the case as I’ve grown older, and now – in my fifties – more than ever:

I would wake up and start my day at around 9:00 am or so,

And two minutes later, it’s 2:00 pm!

When I would get ready to go out somewhere, whether it’s for errands or whatever,

I would start getting ready – shaving, getting dressed – at around a half-hour before its time to depart.

And a minute later, it’s past my time! I’m late!

When I’m winding down in bed at night, I’d be either reading or looking at various things on my Kindle Fire at around 10 o’clock or so.

And a couple of minutes later, it’s one in the morning!

Here is the kicker to all of that…

THIS IS THE CASE WHEN I MANAGE MY TIME WELL, AS I’M USUALLY GOOD AT DOING SO!

 

 

If you notice the time on this clock – it sometimes feels like I have to get a millions things done by 12:00, and that’s how much time I have. Photo courtesy of se.123rf.com

 

 

All right, here’s my point to all of this; I’m sure that’s what you’re asking right about now…

Much of the time, particularly in the past, I would feel overwhelmed whenever I found myself running late or in a real hurry to do something or get something done before a certain time.

I was especially difficult to deal with during my 20s, due to (I believe) my having Asperger’s Syndrome, being on the Autism Spectrum, as there were a couple of times where I completely shut down due to that overwhelming feeling.

I KNOW, I KNOW – this type of stress in common in neurotypicals, too. I’m fully aware that folks who don’t have any mental/emotional/social disabilities get pressed for time and stressed out on a regular basis due to that.

But I strongly feel that people on the spectrum are affected by this time stress in a more pronounced way; the wiring in their brains makes dealing with such stress more difficult to deal with effectively than someone who’s not on the spectrum.

At least, that’s my opinion.

Does anyone else feel like that?

 

What we all aspire to permanently get into, most of all me. Photo courtesy of chioficcialwebsite.com

 

 

One more area where I feel that time is going WAY too fast…

Yes, I know that this is the case for neurotypicals too, but I can only speak for myself;

I vividly recall turning twenty-five and thirty years old; 30 in particular as some friends of mine threw a party for me on the beach in Santa Monica – the last time I ever set foot in that sand (or any beach sand, for that matter), incidentally, as that beach has gotten far too crowded and touristy.

(Seemingly) two days later, I’ve had my fiftieth birthday and am on the cusp of turning fifty-one in a few weeks.

And I reckon in another couple of minutes, my sixtieth birthday will be approaching.

Then – God willing – my 70th and 80th.

That’s not an easy thing to ponder for someone who remembers with fondness his early, single-digit childhood with his grandparents in Riverside.

As I’ve already asked, does anyone else feel like this?

I know that there’s nothing I can do about time seemingly going faster than the Road Runner; it’s not like I can ask God to slow time down or push a button to slow the speed of time in half.

I basically wrote this to ask my fellow Aspies out there if they have experienced these feelings of stress and overwhelming due to it being 9:00 a.m. one minute and 9:00 p.m. the next.

That’s pretty much all I wanted to do here – thanks for reading…

 

Change the gender (of course), and this is how I’ve felt much of the time throughout my adulthood, and now more than ever. Image courtesy of metro.co.uk

 

 

SOME SPRINGTIME SCENERY TO ENJOY (At Least For Me If Nothing Else), 2018

Photo courtesy of drawingninja.com

 

One thing that I have always enjoyed,

That has always helped to calm me down whenever things get stressed or a bit agitated,

That has always relaxed me,

Is looking at nature scenery, particularly scenes depicting spring with its light greenery on the grass and in the trees.

I think my having Asperger’s may have something to do with it, as far as helping me to relax when I get struck with anxiety.

Why don’t I stop rambling and go ahead and post some springtime scenes that I hope are enjoyed, and which I will enjoy if nothing else.

In other words, if no one else needs these pics of wide open spaces, mountain ranges, forestry, cherry blossoms,  bluebonnets, and other nature stuff that makes me fantasize about picking up and moving to a cabin in one of these locales,

I certainly do…

 

Photo courtesy of seasdascenerryspringpswa.blogspot.com

 

 

 

 

Photo courtesy of featurepics.com

 

 

 

 

 

Photo courtesy of thethreetomatoes.com

 

 

 

 

 

Photo courtesy of pinterest.com

 

 

 

 

 

I SO wish I lived in one of these houses. Photo courtesy of depositphotos.com

 

 

 

 

This makes me wish I lived in Vermont, where this pic was taken. Photo courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org

 

 

 

 

 

My my, look at all that blue on these bluebonnets in Texas. Photo courtesy of fineartamerica.com

 

 

 

 

 

I like the combo of orange and gold on these flowers. Photo courtesy of lakecounty.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE ALL TIME, ALL AFRICAN-AMERICAN BASEBALL TEAM (According To Me)

(From left) Roy Campanella, Don Newcombe, and Jackie Robinson, a trio of great Dodgers who are also three of my choices for this all-time team. Photo courtesy of si.com

 

LISTING SOME OF THE GREATEST PEOPLE WHO EVER PLAYED BASEBALL

This is a conjuring of an all-time team that I have wanted to do for a while.

As Major League Baseball is still struggling to increase the number of African-Americans among its 30 teams – the percentage is currently at 8% (which is an improvement from last season),

And as an African-American for whom baseball has been my favorite sport for pretty much my entire life,

I thought it was only appropriate, and a long time coming, for me to list my all-time African-American baseball team.

There will inevitably be some outstanding legends who will be left off my 25-man roster, which consists of Negro League stars who never got the opportunity to play in the Majors as well as big league legends whose names are all over the record books.

But that’s OK; I welcome the debate.

So here it is, my list of the 25 greatest black men who ever played baseball, by position – including a ten-man pitching staff and reserves as well as starters (listed below)…

 

  • Catcher:   JOSH GIBSON.   The Greatest Catcher Ever.  A lifetime batting average of over .350. Hit nearly 800 home runs in his career according to his Hall of Fame plaque (though with all the barnstorming I’ll bet it was well over 800),  while playing for the Homestead Grays and the Pittsburgh Crawfords.  I would personally take him over Johnny Bench, Yogi Berra, or anyone else behind the plate.
  • First Baseman:   BUCK LEONARD.   Called “The Black Lou Gehrig”. Played for the Homestead Grays for 17 years, with a lifetime average of .320.
  • Second Baseman:  JACKIE ROBINSON.   For reasons that are SO obvious, if I have to explain…
  • Shortstop:  JOHN HENRY “POP” LLOYD.   Considered the first black baseball star, started with the Negro League’s Cuban X Giants in 1906 and played on various teams for 27 years. Was called “The Black Honus Wagner”, which Wagner stated he was honored by. None other than Babe Ruth said that he was the greatest ballplayer ever.
  • Third Baseman:   JUDY JOHNSON.  Played SO well in the Negro Leagues for 17 years, mostly for the Philadelphia Hilldales. The Philadelphia A’s’ legendary manager Connie Mack stated that he would have gladly signed him up if not for his skin color.
  • Left Field:   RICKEY HENDERSON.  The Greatest Lead-Off Hitter Ever.  Stole more bases (1,406), hit more lead off home runs (81), and scored more runs (2,295) than anyone who ever played the game. How could I possibly NOT include him in this all-time starting lineup?
  • Center Fielder:  WILLIE MAYS.  My choice for the greatest baseball player who ever lived. In the top ten in almost every hitting category. The reason why, as a longtime Los Angeles Dodgers fan, I don’t hate the San Francisco Giants – and considering the big Dodger-Giant rivalry, I’m probably the only Dodger fan who feels that way, because this legend was THAT great!
  • Right Fielder:   HENRY AARON.  MLB’s all-time RBI leader (2,297), and still in the eyes of many baseball fans the true all time home run leader. I personally consider Hank Aaron the classiest ballplayer of all time, for all the racist hell he went through in breaking Babe Ruth’s record of 714 homers.
  • Starting Pitcher:  SATCHEL PAIGE.   The Greatest Pitcher Ever.  His fastball was said to reach 105 miles an hour in his prime. Was SO extraordinary, he was able to win Rookie of the Year honors as a 42-year old with the Cleveland Indians in 1948 after having such an epic run with (mostly) the Kansas City Monarchs.

 

“The Father of Black Baseball”, Andrew Rube Foster. Photo courtesy of espnfrontrow.com

 

All right, having listed my starting nine of this all-time black baseball team, here’s the rest of my 25-man roster, starting with the rest of the pitching staff…

Starting Rotation:

  • BOB GIBSON – The St. Louis Cardinals’ best pitcher ever. Recorded the lowest earned run average in a season with his 1.12 in 1968. Was arguably one of the meanest pitchers for how he intimidated batters. Was so tough, he once continued to pitch after a line drive broke his leg.
  • DON NEWCOMBE – The best pitcher from the Dodgers’ Brooklyn days, and along with former manager Tommy Lasorda the Dodgers’ last links to that era; I had the honor to meet this man and get his autograph a few years ago. It’s an utter outrage that he’s not in the Hall of Fame!
  • VIDA BLUE – Arguably the biggest pitching star of the early 1970’s. Was one of the leaders of the Oakland Athletics’ dynasty of that period when they won back-to-back-to-back World Series.
  • FERGUSON JENKINS – One of only four pitchers to ever record over 3,000 strikeouts and less than 1,000 walks, this Hall of Famer for (mostly) the Chicago Cubs and the Texas Rangers is perhaps the best ballplayer to come out of Canada, and certainly the best pitcher.

Relievers (yes, I know they were starters, but this is to fill out the staff):

  • Closer:  LEE SMITH – One of the dominant closers of the 1980’s for mostly the Cubs, he had the all-time save record (478) until first Trevor Hoffman and then Mariano Rivera broke it.
  • JIM “MUDCAT” GRANT – The first African-American pitcher in the American League to win twenty games and to win a World Series game, done with the Minnesota Twins in 1965.
  • DOCK ELLIS – The Pittsburgh Pirates’ best pitcher in the early 70s, an essential part of their 1971 championship. Was particularly famous for pitching a no-hitter while on LSD against the San Diego Padres in 1970.
  • JAMES RODNEY (J.R.) RICHARD – One of my favorite pitchers as a kid! One of the guys that put the Houston Astros on the map in the 70s; imposing at 6′ 8″, threw blazing heat to the tune of being the first National League right hander to strike out 300 batters in a season. His career-ending, life-threatening stroke, suffered in 1980, was tragic.
  • “CYCLONE/SMOKEY” JOE WILLIAMS – Next to Satchel Paige, Williams was the greatest Negro League hurler, mostly for the New York Lincoln Giants in the 1910s and early 20s, and the Homestead Grays from the mid-20s to the early 1930s. SIGNIFICANT FACT: The only time Williams and Paige faced each other, in 1930, he beat Paige 1-0.

 

The Los Angeles Dodgers’ Matt Kemp playing on Jackie Robinson Day, wearing his number. Photo courtesy of likrot.com

 

These seven guys make up the rest of my all-time black baseball team.

Most regretfully, there were plenty of players that I was forced to leave off as if I listed every deserving star, there would be at least fifty men on this team.

I do have an “honorable mention” list;  guys that, though there was no room on my 25-man team, it would have been a crime to not give them a shout-out.

They will be mentioned after I list the remaining players on this all-time black baseball roster…

  • Catcher:  ROY CAMPANELLA – A true legendary Dodger along with Jackie Robinson, winning three National League MVP awards in a five-year span from 1951-55 and, along with Jackie and Don Newcombe, was a leader of those “Boys of Summer” in Brooklyn.
  • First Baseman/Shortstop:  ERNIE BANKS – “Mr. Cub”. “Let’s Play Two!” The greatest Chicago Cub of all time, starring at two positions. A Hall of Famer, hitting 512 home runs, it was a shame that he passed away before his Cubs broke that 108-year drought and won that unforgettable World Series in 2016.
  • Second Baseman:  JOE MORGAN – Along with Pete Rose, Johnny Bench and Tony Perez, the Cincinnati Reds would not have been the “Big Red Machine” of the 1970s without this two-time MVP. Bill James, in his Historical Baseball Abstract, named him the greatest second baseman of all time ahead of legends like Eddie Collins and Rogers Hornsby.
  • Shortstop:  OZZIE SMITH – “The Wizard”. The greatest fielding shortstop ever. Wowed St. Louis Cardinal fans in particular with his incredibly acrobatic plays in the 1980s. His work with the leather – 13 Gold Gloves won between 1980 and 1992 – alone puts him on this all-time team.
  • Outfield:  FRANK ROBINSON – No way I could leave this Hall of Famer out; The only man to win the Most Valuable Player award in both leagues. The last man to win the Triple Crown, leading the American League in batting average, home runs, and runs batted in while a Baltimore Oriole in 1966. The majors’ first African-American manager, making history with the Cleveland Indians in 1975. Enough said.
  • Outfield:  JAMES “COOL PAPA” BELL – The fastest baseball player of all time. Playing with (mostly) the Negro League’s St. Louis Stars over a 26-year career, it was famously said that Bell was so fast, he could turn off the light and be in the bed before the room got dark. And it was also reported that he once scored from first base on a sacrifice bunt.
  • Outfield:  OSCAR CHARLESTON – Was widely considered the best all-around player in Negro League history with a lifetime batting average of .357 over 28 years, including a .326 average against white major leaguers in exhibition play. Charleston was a center fielder and had a reputation as a most intense player who didn’t take any mess. He was listed as the fourth best ballplayer of all time by Bill James, behind Mays, Honus Wagner and Babe Ruth, and he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1976.

 

 

A nice pic of (IMO) the greatest baseball player ever. Photo courtesy of biography.com

 

 

Manager:  ANDREW “RUBE” FOSTER

“The Father of Black Baseball”. Not only was a standout player and manager for the Chicago American Giants in the first couple of decades of the 20th century, he started the Negro National League, the first real black professional league, in 1920.

 

HONORABLE MENTION – Four more players and one player/coach/manager/ambassador that I regretfully had no room for on this 25-man roster…

CURT FLOOD – It’s impossible to not include this center fielder for the St. Louis Cardinal teams of the 1960s.

And not just because of his seven Gold Gloves, as his stand against the indentured servant-like reserve clause, when he refused to be traded to the Philadelphia Phillies and asked to be a free agent in 1970, eventually taking Major League Baseball to the Supreme Court, more than opened the door for players, like every other worker, to choose where they want to work and ultimately make millions.

In essence, he sacrificed his career for player freedom.

KEN GRIFFEY, JR – 630 home runs. A ten time Gold Glove award winner, with his Spiderman-like acrobatic catches. Basically saved baseball in Seattle. One of the newest Hall of Famers, elected in 2016. How can I possibly not mention him?

TONY GWYNN – ” Mr. Padre”. The greatest player in San Diego Padres history. The greatest pure hitter in the past 35 years. An eight-time batting champ. Came the closest to being the first man to bat .400 since 1941, hitting .394 in 1994. Had over 3,100 hits in a 20-year career with a lifetime batting average of .338. I don’t think I need to say anything else.

WILLIE STARGELL – “Pops”. The leader of the Pittsburgh Pirates throughout the 1970s, particularly during their “We Are Family” championship run in 1979. Also one of my favorite players and a true class act along with being a tremendous slugger.

BUCK O’NEILL – After watching him spin so many wonderful stories about his playing and managing days with the Kansas City Monarchs on Ken Burns’ Baseball documentary miniseries, he simply had to be given a special mention on this team; he was also the first African-American on a coaching staff, joining the Chicago Cubs in 1962. The fact that he has not been elected to the Hall of Fame despite being baseball’s ambassador and starting the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City is very upsetting.

OK, there you have it – my all-time African-American baseball club.

Though I know that there will be disputes over players that I left out a and gave honorable mention instead of putting them on the team outright – believe me, there were some very tough decisions involved – I hope this is enjoyed by those who read this as much as I enjoyed writing it.

 

 

One of the greatest Negro League teams ever assembled, the 1932 Pittsburgh Crawfords, featuring three members of my all-time team: Satchel Paige (top row, 3rd from left), Josh Gibson (top row, 4th from left), and Oscar Charleston (top row, far right). Photo courtesy of wikipedia.org