HERM DOSCHER

One of the wonderful things about baseball is that it provides players with so many ways to be remembered — and many of  those  ways have little or nothing to do with success on the field.

Herm Doscher was an example. So was his son, Jack. In fact, together they constitute one example, because they were the first father and son combination to play the major leagues. Herm played third base for five different teams in the National Association and the National League from 1872 to 1882 – a spotty career for which there don’t seem to be a lot of statistics – and he was later a major league umpire. He was reputed to be hard-nosed in that role. He once ejected Rochester Broncos outfielder Sandy Griffin for arguing a call and, when Griffin wouldn’t leave the field, Doschler forfeited the game to the St. Louis Browns — who were leading 10-3 in the eighth inning anyway.

Jack Doscher (actually John Henry Doscher Jr.) was a pitcher from 1903 to 1908 with three teams including the Brooklyn Superbas, appearing in only 27 games. Doscher died in 1971 at the age of 90 and was at one point recognized as the oldest surviving player for the Brooklyn Dodgers, successors to the Superbas.

NICK SWISHER

The Doschers come to mind today because Major League Baseball announced this evening that Yankees outfielder Nick Swisher had been elected to the All Star Team. Whatever one thinks of the wacky manner in which those players are chosen these days, Swisher last season and this has made a good case for himself on the field. This is the first time Nick Swisher has been named to the All Star team,  and it puts him in an exclusive baseball group — fathers and sons who have made the team. Swisher’s dad, Steve – a National League catcher for 10 years in the ’70s and ’80s – was on the 1976 team when he was with the Cubs, although he didn’t get to play. One of Steve Swisher’s colleagues on that ’76 team was Ken Griffey Sr., whose son also became an All Star — many times.

Altogether, 195 men who have played in the majors had sons who followed. A handful had two sons make it to the bigs. Three men — Sammy Hairston, Ray Boone, and Gus Bell — sent sons and grandsons to the majors. The Hairstons hold the record for multigenerational families with five major league players, although the Delahanty family had five of the same generation.

STEVE SWISHER

The Swishers are the tenth family to have a father and at least one son on the All Star team. (There have been three such families in the World Series.)

I was introduced to baseball by my father, who had managed a semi-pro team and knew a lot about the game. I would like to have been a better baseball player for his sake, but that gene went missing. Dad never expressed any disappointment about my weak performance; he wasn’t cut out that way. We made up for it with the many hours we spent together watching the Yankees in the Bronx and on TV or listening to them on the radio in our grocery store. We did other things together, but baseball provided the strongest bond. Dad’s been gone for more than 30 years, but I still watch baseball with him in mind. Meanwhile, it’s fun to speculate about the satisfaction Steve Swisher must be deriving from Nick’s success in general and from this benchmark in particular.

Steve Swisher cuts Nick Swisher's hair in 2007 on the field at the Oakland Coliseum. Nick Swisher had let his hair grow for 10 month so that he could donate it to a program that assists cancer patients.

MICKEY MANTLE

In the first inning of the 1961 All Star Game, Whitey Ford of the Yankees struck out Willie Mays of the Giants. It was a called third strike. The event prompted an uncharacteristic response from Ford’s teammate, Mickey Mantle, who was playing center field. Mantle clapped and whooped and hopped his way all the way back to the American League dugout at Candlestick Park, and Mays was none too pleased. Anyone in or around baseball would have understood that. Mantle had broken the “code” — the set of unwritten rules by which major league ballplayers mutually govern each other’s behavior on the field. One of the principal canons is that one player doesn’t show up another player on the field – particularly not during a nationally televised All Star Game. A player who shows up another player is often inviting a pitch aimed at his head sometime soon if not in his next at-bat.

WILLIE MAYS

Besides being irked, Mays probably was baffled because it wasn’t like Mantle to  behave that way. Even in the era before hot dogs like Barry Bonds stand in the batter’s box watching their home runs leave the park, Mantle was known for his demeanor after he hit one of his 536 homers. He circled the bases with his head down, as though he were embarrassed at causing such a fuss, and he said explicitly that he figured the pitcher felt bad enough already and didn’t need to be humiliated by a showboat. Curtain calls were virtually unknown in Mantle’s era, but he wouldn’t even look up into the crowd as he returned to the dugout. I recall one instance late in his career when he hit one of his last home runs and just touched the bill of his cap to acknowledge the fans. It caused a sensation.

WHITEY FORD

It turned out that Giants owner Horace Stoneham had arranged for Mantle and Ford to play golf at an exclusive club, and the two players had rented all the equipment they needed for about $400 and charged it to Stoneham, intending to repay him. When they saw their host again, however, Stoneham offered a wager that if Ford retired Mays the first time they faced in the All Star Game, the debt would be forgiven, but if Mays got on base, the players would owe Stoneham $800. Ford accepted the bet, and Mantle was furious because at that point Mays was six-for-six against Ford. When the showdown occurred, Mays hit two very long foul balls against Ford, and then struck out looking at a nasty curve ball. Hence Mantle’s schoolboy reaction was more about Stoneham than about Mays.

DENNY McLAIN

I learned about that incident in “The Baseball Codes,” a book by Jason Turbow and Michael Duca that explores some of the cultural aspects of baseball that are not covered by the official rules. The discussion has a lot to do with “respect” — between players, between teams, and for the game itself. At times, it seems, it’s the same kind of “respect” that governed the behavior of people like the Gallo crime family. Cheating — using a foreign substance on a ball or stealing signs — is allowed, for example, until a player or team gets caught. Then it has to stop.
One of the topics discussed in the book is the protocol regarding records. For instance, based on a 1948 story in Sport magazine, the authors report that Ed Barrow, general manager of the Yankees, had once declared a game rained out because Lou Gehrig — who was in the midst of his consecutive-games streak — was sick with the flu. There was no rain.

JIM PRICE

This also works across teams. For instance, the authors repeat the well known story about Tigers pitcher Denny McLain, who as a boy had idolized Mickey Mantle. McLain wound up pitching to Mantle in a game in September 1968 — the season in which McLain won 31 games and Mantle retired. Mantle at the time was tied with Jimmy Foxx on the all-time home run list — both with 534. McLain decided he was going to do what he could to help Mantle hit 535 and so informed Tigers catcher Jim Price. When Mantle stepped into the batter’s box, Price let him know what was coming, and McLain stood on the mound clapping as the ball went into the seats.

NAPOLEON LAJOIE

Another twist on the records issue, as described in this book, involved the very popular Cleveland second baseman, Napoleon Lajoie (LAH-ja-way) who, on the last day of the 1910 season, was running to second to Ty Cobb for the batting title. Cobb was as disliked in the game as Lajoie was liked, and St. Louis Browns manager Jack O’Connor was among those who despised the Tigers outfielder. So with Cleveland playing St. Looie in a double header on the last day of the year, O’Connor moved his third baseman far behind the bag to give the right-hand hitting Lajoie a clear shot down the left field line. Lajoie wasn’t in on it, but he knew an opportunity when he saw one, and he bunted for seven straight base hits in the two games. He also had a triple before he noticed the odd positioning of the third baseman. But in his last at-bat, Lajoie swung away and grounded out. Cobb ended up with a batting average of .3850687, and Lajoie with .3840947.

TY COBB

The postscript is that O’Connor’s tactic was so widely criticized that he was fired by the Browns and never managed in the major leagues again. The post postscript is that in 1981 the office of the Commissioner of Baseball ruled that Cobb had been erroneously given credit for two hits that season, so that his average was actually .383, and Lajoie — who by that time had been dead for 22 years — was declared the batting champion.
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ERRATUM: I have learned since writing this post that the Lajoie-Cobb incident may not have ended as it was described in this book. The Cleveland Indians web site indicates that it was a baseball historian at the Sporting News who found the discrepancy in Cobb’s stats for 1910, but that Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn refused to take the batting title away from Cobb.

MICKEY MANTLE

I’m ready to talk baseball, not that I ever stop. The camps are up and running, Johnny Damon has signed with the Tigers, George Steinbrenner was out watching his grandson play in a high school game, and the Yankees are starting to say “Chamberlain” and “bullpen” in the same sentence with more and more consistency.

The more things stay the same, they more they stay the same, and Yogi Berra turned out for yet another spring training. It seems to me that there is a doctoral dissertation in Yogi Berra, maybe in American Studies. Some scholar should examine the history of Berra’s public image, which is more like Babe Ruth’s image than is immediately apparent. The man hasn’t been a day-to-day part of baseball for decades, and his name is still known to people who know nothing about the game, who weren’t yet born when Berra played his last game or, for that matter, managed his last game. He has ears like flapjacks and a hound-dog mug that now looks like a relief map of northern Greece. And we love him.

LAWRENCE PETER BERRA

It is a little early for serious talk about the 2010 season, what with Joe Girardi saying things like this: “I think our No. 1 concern is ironing out our lineup. When I say it’s a concern, I’m not concerned that we don’t have the players to do it, I’m concerned with where you place them.” Uh, did he read that in one of Casey Stengel’s old notebooks?

In my search for some baseball intelligence, the most interesting thing I found today was about a game played in 1953. Several sites have picked up on this story, originally published in the New York Times. This is a hilarious account of Whitey Ford and Mickey Mantle arguing about how the Yankees aborted an 18-game winning streak by losing a game to the St. Looie Browns. As the writer demonstrated, both players were sure of themselves and both had it very very wrong. It’s an object lesson for the rest of us when we’re cock sure of our memories. You can read it by clicking HERE.