(Our former boss at the Shreveport Journal posted this recently on his site, nicovanthyn.blogspot.com, Once A Knight. Please go there for more Nico…This effort by him offers some familiar names. I loved it.)
By NICO VAN THYN
“K” — A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches
by Tyler Kepner (NY Times baseball writer; this book was released in April 2019)
Yet for much of baseball history, pitchers often had to pass a manager’s toughness test. Spahn starred in the Boston Braves’ farm system in 1942, but the major league manager, Casey Stengel, ignored him because Spahn refused an order to throw at a hitter.
“Warren wouldn’t knock a guy down like Casey said,” Spahn’s teammate Lew Burdette told the former commissioner Fay Vincent in “We Would Have Played for Nothing,” an engrossing oral history of the era. “He said, ‘You’re gutless,” and sent Warren back down to the minors.”
Spahn pitched just four games for a bad Braves team that season then left for three years in the military. He went on to win 363 games and help the Braves beat Stengel’s Yankees in the 1957 World Series. Years later, Stengel finally apologized for the slight.
Marichal had first been intrigued by the screwball at Class A in 1959, knowing that Ruben Gomez had thrived with it in the majors. He asked Andy Gilbert, his manager in Springfield, Massachusetts, how to throw it, learning that the pitcher must break his wrist the opposite way he does for a curveball.
“Nobody struck me out,” says Dusty Baker, but Richard did — 24 times, more than any other pitcher Baker faced in his 19 seasons. “They had him and Nolan, both of them were nasty. But J.R. was the nastiest. He was 6 foot 8, big old hands; the ball looked like a golf ball in his hands. He had a big Afro and he pulled his hat way down, so you couldn’t see his eyes, and he was kind of wild. Boy, he was nas-tee! And the nastiest part about him is you know it’s 60 feet, 6 inches from the mound, right? He was throwing from about 50 feet. You had no time to pick up the ball.”
In 2013, MLB Network hired (Tim) Wakefield to coach five former college quarterbacks in a reality show called “The Next Knuckler.” Most of the contestants, Wakefield says, had no feel for the pitch, no chance at all. Josh Booty, who had played briefly in the majors as an infielder, won the contest, signed with the Diamondbacks, and never made it out of spring training.
Brief mentions in the book on several North Louisiana stars and/or Shreveport Sports/Braves/Captains: Vida Blue, John Burkett, Billy Muffett. More substantial sections on Chuck Finley, Scott Garrells (it mentions he coaches kids in Shreveport, Louisiana), Rick Honeycutt, Tom House, Fred Martin.