The Sunday Notes: Remembering Tommy Hanson
The first week of the 2015 baseball offseason has not brought the best of news home.
In finding ten stories of interest to share with you each week, the goal is to find stories that will make you smile, pass along a tale you might not know or remember someone’s childhood idol. This week, we start with an untimely passing along with a reminder of how fragile life is all on the backdrop of Friday’s events in Paris.
–As far as we know, Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Angels pitcher Tommy Hanson died this week from a catastrophic organ failure caused by something not obvious.
Hanson was a full-time starter for the Braves for four seasons, including finishing third in the National League Rookie of the Year vote in 2008. He won 45 games for Atlanta before moving to the Angels for Jordan Walden in November of 2012. Never matching the promise he showed his rookie season, his last Major League appearance came on September 28, 2013 in Arlington against the Texas Rangers. Throwing three shutout innings in a 7-4 loss, it seems impossible to believe at 27 he was finished as a big leaguer.
Hanson spent two years in the minors with the Chicago White Sox and San Francisco Giants trying to get back, but his stuff vanished. A 5.60 ERA in Triple-A, his numbers this year with Sacramento, was not earning him another chance.
Yahoo’s Tim Brown puts his life in a better perspective than I can.
As a five year old, with the chicken pox mind you, I was one of 15,153 in attendance on August 9, 1977 to see Brock and the St. Louis Cardinals take on the moribund New York Mets at Shea Stadium. Amazingly, the Mets—in the summer of blackouts, Sam and trading Tom Seaver—won 4-1, making my Cardinals-loving uncle unhappy for the drive back to Connecticut. Baseball-Reference tells me he went two-for-four in the loss driving in the lone Cardinals run. At one point, the photographers made him slide into second base again, on what we remembered as a stolen base. Funny thing is Brock did not attempt a swipe. There was a double, but that was not a milestone either.
Flash forward to my first game at Fenway, Old Timer’s Day in 1989, as we walked outside the park watching the alumni go to their cars, Brock spotted me by the curb and gave me a key chain his company made that played “Take me out to the Ballgame”. I was touched. In one of a few moves, I lost it.
Here is hoping he recovers and continues to awe and amaze a new generation of fans.
–On to last week’s teases.
First, this gem from the Salt Lake Tribune and Eileen Hallet profiling Walter Boria and how baseball flourished in World War II-era Helper, Utah.
A coal-mining town, the construction of a fully sodded field in the early 1940s, a first for that part of Utah, created a team in Helper and other communities that stretched everywhere. Radio stations recreated games and those immigrating to the desert found something to do and integrate with their new region or country.
Boria, still with us at 89, shares a story with hundreds of other boys and small towns who learned to play the sport in that era. The pride of those years burns through his stories and her writing.
–Did you ever wonder when someone first used baseball bats as the weapon of choice in a duel?
Fear losing any more sleep pondering this question as Mary Lou Montgomery of the Hannibal (MO) Courier-Post fills us in this bizarre tale from 1878.
Two rival newspaper editors in town, William “Hep” Russell and Jim Hayward, decided to end a rather heated personal feud by challenging each to a formal duel using baseball bats.
After a few minutes of posturing, Russell’s bat broke on the first swing, ending the duel and feeding their oversized egos for nearly 150 years.
Belanger, playing eighteen seasons primarily with the Baltimore Orioles, amassed an OPS+ of 100 or higher just once. He hit the league-average offensive production on the number in 1976. Yes, in an era where offense was in decline, Belanger’s career batting average sits at .228 and accumulated a career OPS+ of 68. That is 32 percent below league average in a career spanning 2016 games and 5784 at-bats.
As pathetic as he was in producing offense, his glove stifled others. Winning eight Gold Gloves total, Belanger won six straight from 1973-78. In 1974, he allowed 13 errors in 808 chances. For a shortstop that is remarkable.
Never as flashy as Ozzie Smith, Belanger was part of six Orioles teams winning the American League East. Not surprisingly, he hit .183 in 41 playoff games.
–With Veterans Day remembered this past week, CBS Sports’ Matt Snyder posts his picks for a veteran’s All-Star team.
–Next up is this rare video find from YouTube from 1970.
On Sunday, June 28, 1970, the Pittsburgh Pirates closed Forbes Field forever sweeping a doubleheader against the Chicago Cubs. Someone at Cubs flagship station WGN-TV had the smarts to roll and save nearly five minutes of tape from the second game of the twinbill including the last out. Take my word for this, a very rare find.
Actual color video coverage for any game in that era is rare. NBC’s coverage of the 1970 World Series exists, for all but Game 5, as kinescopes preserved by the CBC in black and white. Videotape was expensive and reused several times. Games do not exist on tape in great numbers as they were erased. The 1971 World Series was the first fully preserved in color.
Enjoy WGN legend Jack Brickhouse on the call of Pittsburgh history.
–Another venerable venue will host a football game next weekend.
Boston College will host Notre Dame next Saturday at Fenway Park and NESN has pictures of the transformation.
Fenway, if you look at it, is well designed for football. The home of the NFL’s Boston Redskins, yes the current Washington club, in the 1930s and the AFL Boston Patriots from 1963-68 along with a battery of college games, the ballpark has hosted several games and legends.
The one difference this year from the rare Patriots clips that exist is the Pats had temporary bleachers covering up the Green Monster. Nothing will block the field this time.
–You might have noticed we are on the verge of a presidential election.
As you roll your eyes at the thought of endless commercials promising everything the universe offers and eternal happiness for your pet if you vote for Candidate X, here is a story from The Sporting News profiling then-Burlington, Vermont mayor Bernie Sanders bid to bring Double-A baseball to the city.
Eventually the Reds came, bringing three straight Eastern League championships to the Queen City. Now, a New York-Penn League team lives in town with a popular mascot representing Champ, our mythical Lake Champlain monster, as the short-season A-ball affiliate of the Oakland Athletics.
I have lived in Burlington 17 years and never knew Sanders involvement. The Pirates? Really?
–Just in case I have not interjected enough of myself into this week’s notes, here is a video I did with the Internet Baseball Writers of America 2015 season awards ballot.
Along with the Baseball Writers of America, the IBBWA votes as a group for Cy Young, MVP, Rookie of the Year, Manager of the Year, Comeback and Reliever of the year. The days the real awards are announced, Howard Cole of the IBBWA will announce our results.
As you know, the voting happens before the playoffs, meaning we had to make our decisions at the same time. If you ever wonder how the ballot is done, you can watch me fill mine out.
I promise to pronounce Jake Arrieta’s name right next year.
–Until next week!