Sunday, December 19, 2010

December is a Tough Month for Baseball

Heeny Majeski
 Johnny Gee
Eddie Joost
Johnny Pesky
Thornton Lee
 Danny Gardella
 Van Lingle Mungo

 The opening lines to David Frishberg's elegant jazz song Van Lingle Mungo introduce us to his theme.  It's a paean to players, most not well known from the 30's to the 50's and is a mellifluous recitation of their names.  Some are well known, most are not.  The names, chosen for the way they fit together, are products of ethnicity and the hard-scrabble economics of the times. Four are in the Baseball Hall of Fame, but most struggle just to be remembered.

 Whitey Kurowski
 Max Lanier
 Eddie Waitkus and
 Johnny Vandermeer
 Bob Estalella
 Van Lingle Mungo
Unfortunately it's been a bad month for those of us who love baseball's past.  Ron Santo, Bob Feller and Phil Cavaretta have all passed away this month, and there's still 12 days to go.

Santo died December 3rd due to complications from diabetes.  Santo was the best third baseman in the National League for the time he played 1960-74.  He was an excellent hitter by anybody's standard, a great defensive ballplayer, extremely durable even though he battled diabetes his entire career.  Yet he died as one of the best players never to make it to the Hall of Fame.  Chris Jaffe at Hardball Times wrote a wonderful article about Santo, so I won't share what's already been done.  Let's just hope the newly constituted veterans committee at BBHOF gets its shit together and puts Santo's plaque where it rightfully belongs.  A great player, long time much loved Cubs broadcaster, and by all accounts an incredibly nice man, Santo is deserving recognition. 

Augie Bergamo
 Sigmund Jakucki
 Big Johnny Mize and
 Barney McCoskey
Hal Trosky

 Bob Feller died on December 15th at age 92.  Simply put, he was one of the greatest pitchers to ever play the game.  He's part of that lineage of great hard throwers that goes from Walter Johnson to Feller to Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens with lots of slightly less distinguished lights in between.  His 266-162 record was interrupted by the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  He enlisted in the Navy on December 8, 1941 and lost four years of his career to World War II at age 26, his years of peak performance. He lobbied for combat service and was a member of an anti-aircraft gun crew on the U.S.S. Alabama.  He was intensely proud of his service and rightfully so.  The best memorial to Feller is on Joe Posnanski's blog. 

 I do have a minor beef with Feller.  Great pitcher.  We see it in the newsreels, we see it in his numbers, we hear and read the anecdotal evidence from his peers.  We know his service, and we honor it as we do for all those of his generation who went off to free the world from fascism.   My complaint is with Feller's tireless self-promotion. Bob we already knew you were great.  My advice--don't be fighting with Walter Johnson over who was the best right hander when you get to baseball heaven. 

Augie Galan and
Pinky May
Stan Hack and 
Frenchy Bordagaray 
 Phil Cavaretta
George McQuinn
 Howard Pollett and 
 Early Wynn
Roy Campanella
 Van Lingle Mungo

Phil Cavaretta played twenty seasons for the Cubs from 1934-53 and two more years for the White Sox.  Not blessed with a lot of power, hitting only 94 homers in his long career, he was a good hitter and a nifty first baseman.  Cavaretta led the Cubs to their last World Series appearance in 1945, and was the National League Most Valuable Player that year.  He died from a stroke yesterday at age 94.  A brief memorial to Cavaretta is on Chicago Breaking Sports News.

 Augie Bergamo
 Sigmund Jakucki
 Big Johnny Mize and
 Barney McCoskey
 Hal Trosky

 In many respects we mark time with names of those who die.  Our family and friends we know and love, those who die in our wars, victims on the evening news, and those we don't know but wish we had.  I love baseball and it's history, the stories and stats, but it's really about the players and baseball lost three of those we know well.
 John Antonelli
 Ferris Fain
 Frankie Crosetti
 Johnny Sain
 Harry Brecheen and
Lou Boudreau
 Frankie Gustine and 
 Claude Passeau
 Eddie Basinski
Ernie Lombardi
 Huey Mulcahy
 Van Lingle Mungo
 Van Lingle Mungo

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