May 2006

The Curse of Eddie Grant

   Fans of Cleveland sports teams know all about curses and bad luck.  Anyone who has watched our teams over the past half-century can attest to forces beyond our control intervening on behalf of the opposition leaving us dumbfounded and confused after gut-splitting losses in postseasons past.

   The Cavaliers were burned by Michael Jordan so many times you would have swore he was Satan in sneakers.  Even though the Browns won the NFL Championship in 1964, they’ve never overcome the firing of Head Coach and founder Paul Brown two years earlier.  The Indians may be the only team in town with multiple curses to overcome.  First there was Bobby Bragan who allegedly put a curse on the team the day he was fired (although Bragan denied this).  Then there was the curse of Rocky Colavito, the beloved outfielder who was traded to Detroit by Frank Lane.  The Indians of course overcame all of this to break a 40-year post season drought only to become the first team in history to take the lead into the bottom of the 9th inning of game 7 of the World Series, and lose (I’m preaching to the choir here so we don’t need to relive the details).

   Whether or not you believe in curses, hexes or the maloik, its hard to argue with all of this history of coming so close only to be left standing at the altar empty-handed.  If we’ve learned anything over the years its that if you do something bad to someone else, its going to come back to you and more.

   Take the case of the San Francisco Giants.  They have not won a championship since they left New York (again, we’re not going over the gory details of the ’54 World Series win over the Indians) in 1957.  Many believe the Giants are plagued by the curse of Eddie Grant.  I can hear you now, "Who’s Eddie Grant?"

   Grant, who began his career with the Cleveland Indians in 1905, played a more prominent role with the Giants in a big league career that spanned 992 games.  In 1917 when World War I was declared, Grant enlisted and quickly rose to the rank of Captain.  On October 5th, 1918 he led a mission to try and rescue the famous "Lost Battalion" in the Argonne Forest of France.  Grant was severely wounded by enemy fire and died four days later.Egrant3

   On Memorial Day in 1921, representatives from the armed forces, baseball and Grant’s family unveiled a monument in center field of the Polo Grounds in New York, paying tribute to Captain Edward L. Grant.  Over the years the plaque became the focal point of Memorial Day events at the Polo Grounds.

  In his book "The Doughboys," author Laurence Stallings wrote that whenever legendary sportswriter Grantland Rice, himself a veteran, went to the Polo Grounds, "the figure of Eddie Grant was always there, ghostly in the outfield."

   Over the years Indians fans have seen countless replays of Willie Mays amazing over the shoulder catch of Vic Wertz’s deep drive to centerfield at the Polo Grounds.  The next time you watch, look closely and you can see the plaque just beyond the fence.

   Neil Hayes of the Contra Costa Times, recently wrote, "The memorial came to represent more than just a long-forgotten ballplayer. Players walked past the 5-foot-high memorial on their way to and from the field. Fans exiting the stadium through the center-field service gate passed the memorial, often pausing to read the words "Soldier, Scholar, Athlete" on the bronze plaque."

   After the Giants final game in New York, Grant’s plaque was stolen and then later recovered but, eventually disappeared for good.  Five years ago, according to the Great War Society and the Western Front Association, they approached Giants ownership with an offer to replace the plaque honoring Eddie Grant at SBC Park in San Francisco.  The Giants declined the offer.

   The following season San Francisco blew a game 6 lead and eventually the World Series against the Angels.  The next year they were upset in the first round of the Divisional Playoffs by Florida when Jose Cruz, Jr. dropped a fly ball in the 11th inning in the pivotal game 3.

   Before the start of this season the Giants finally relented an erected a replica plaque that now hangs near an elevator at the Lefty O’Doul entrance gate at the recently renamed AT&T Park.  It may be too little too late but, at least its something.

   Enjoy your Holiday with the family and take some time to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice in order to make our lives so rich.

 

The Bridge Builders

   The Cleveland Indians and Pittsburgh Pirates are turning back the clock to pay tribute to the stars of a bygone era.  For one night the Tribe and Bucs will wear uniforms of the Cleveland Buckeyes and the Homestead Grays out of respect for some of baseball’s greatest players, many of whom never got a chance to play in Major League Baseball.

   Josh Gibson, known by many as the "Black Babe Ruth", slugged nearly 800 homeruns in the Negro Leagues and was considered the greatest power hitter in black baseball.  Gibson actually got his start with Homestead when he came out of the stands to replace the Grays injured catcher in July of 1930.  Tragically, he died just 4 months before baseball was integrated by Jackie Robinson.

   Not long after Robinson debuted with the Dodgers, Larry Doby broke the color barrier in the American League with the Cleveland Indians.  Doby, a power hitting center fielder, helped the Indians win the World Series in 1948 and AL pennant in ’54.  Because Robinson was six weeks ahead of Doby, he was largely ignored by historians for his trailblazing efforts.  Former teammate Bob Feller once said of Doby, "He was a great American, he served his country in World War II, and was a great ballplayer.  He was kind of like Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon, because he was the second African-American player in the majors."Doby_larry_3

   The contributions of players like Robinson, Doby and Satchel Paige helped scores of young African-American players who followed in their footsteps.  It reminds me of a poem I first read when I was in high school, titled "The Bridge Builder".

An old man, going a lone highway,
Came, at the evening, cold and gray,
To a chasm, vast, and deep, and wide,
Through which was flowing a sullen tide.

The old man crossed in the twilight dim;
The sullen stream had no fears for him;
But he turned, when safe on the other side,
And built a bridge to span the tide.

"Old man," said a fellow pilgrim, near,
"You are wasting strength with building here;
Your journey will end with the ending day;
You never again must pass this way;
You have crossed the chasm, deep and wide-
Why build you a bridge at the eventide?"

The builder lifted his old gray head:
"Good friend, in the path I have come," he said,
"There followeth after me today,
A youth, whose feet must pass this way.

This chasm, that has been naught to me,
To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be.
He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;
Good friend, I am building the bridge for him."

  • Author: Will Allen Dromgoole

A Time to Vote

   We are fast approaching the quarter mile post of the 2006 baseball season and with that we are being reminded almost daily to vote for the all-star game.  When I was a kid there were only a few ways to make your vote heard.  You either had to attend a Major League Baseball game and get the ballot from an usher at the stadium or you could cut one out of the local newspaper and mail it in.  Nowadays, thanks to the technology we possess, voting is down right simple!

   You can still do it the old fashioned way by punching the holes in the ballots at the ballpark and handing them back to the ushers.  Of course after the Presidential election snafu with all of those "hanging chads" why leave anything to chance?  Simply log on to indians.com and vote electronically!  Its simple and you can really impact your favorite players chances by voting up to 25 times per day.  I can hear the purists moaning in the background but, hey this thing has always been a popularity contest from the get-go.  Haf_1

   Last year because the Indians got off to such a slow start the only player selected to the midsummer classic was closer Bob Wickman.  Two years ago the Indians sent five players to the all-star game including Victor Martinez, Ronnie Belliard, CC Sabathia, Jake Westbrook and Matt Lawton.

   Casey Blake is currently leading the American League in batting average and is certainly playing well enough to warrant an all-star game selection.  Travis Hafner is leading the league in runs scored, tied for 4th in runs batted in, and is also among the league leaders in home runs.  Victor Martinez had a streak of reaching base safely in 45 consecutive games dating back to last year and is one of the top run producing catchers in the game.  Despite missing the first month of the season, CC Sabathia is also making a bid for the all-star game with a 2-1 record and a 2.31 era.

   Seven times in Indians history the club has sent only one representative to the all-star game in back-to-back years.  The most recent was in 2002-03 when Omar Vizquel and CC Sabathia went to the midsummer classic for the Tribe. Will 2006 mark the 8th time in franchise history that this has happened or will Indians fans rise as one and let their collective voices be heard?  Only time will tell and the clock is ticking.  Voting ends on June 21st.

Gotta Beat the Bad Teams

   There is an old baseball axiom that if you play .500 against the top teams in the league and beat-up on the cellar dwellers then you put yourself in position to make the playoffs.  This holds true not only in baseball but in all sports.  The Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970’s won 4 Super Bowls largely because they always beat the bums.  Chuck Noll’s teams during the decade of the 70’s were an amazing 50-0 vs. teams with losing records.  The bottom line here is you have to beat the teams you are supposed to beat.

   The 2006 Cleveland Indians have played extremely well against the top contenders so far.  Tom Hamilton did some research and found that the Tribe is 9-4 against Chicago, Boston, Oakland and Minnesota (the Twins were thought to be a contender when the Indians opened at home against them).  Even if you include the Tigers, a team no one expected to be this good, the Indians are a combined 11-6.  So why are they wallowing around the .500 mark?

   The main culprit is the fact that they haven’t played well against the bad teams.  The Indians have lost 8 of 13 games against Kansas City, Baltimore, and Seattle.  Is it a matter of playing to the level of competition or simply the law of averages?  Probably a little of both but, the Indians are a better team than they have showed so far.  Inconsistent starting pitching plagued them the first month of the season but, CC Sabathia’s return should help remedy that problem.  The bullpen appears to be settling down and Rafael Betancourt will return from the D.L. next week further fortifying the ‘pen.

   Offensively the Indians have been better than just about any other team in the league.  Victor Martinez, Travis Hafner and Casey Blake are among the league leaders in multiple offensive categories and Grady Sizemore is batting above .300.  The key for the Tribe now is to put it all together and this would be a good time to do it.  The Indians will play the Royals 6 times in the next 10 days, plus they’ve got 3 games at home versus Detroit and the woeful Pittsburgh Pirates.

   The season is still early and there is plenty of time to catch the Tigers and White Sox.  CC Sabathia told me last night, "Hey, its only May." 

   Yeah that’s true but, as Yogi Berra once said, "It can get late early."

Royals

The Great Northwest

   I made my first trip to Seattle, Washington in October of 1995 when the Indians played the Mariners in the American League Championship Series.  I must admit I was pleasantly surprised by just how beautiful this city was then and still is now.  The perception of Seattle is a gloomy town with months of never-ending rain.  Truth is the rainy season ends in the spring and the summers here are spectacular.  Snow-capped Mount Rainier is always a breathtaking sight to behold and is located just south of the city.

   In 1995 the Mariners played in the old Kingdome.  It was such a bad place for baseball that many people often referred to it as the "King-Tomb" because it resembled a large concrete mausoleum.  In the ALCS of ’95 however Seattle fans packed the place to capacity every night and it was so loud you couldn’t hear the person sitting next to you.

   Safeco Field opened in 1999 and is easily one of the best parks in baseball.  It has a rolling roof that covers the field in the event of rain but, still allows air to flow in from the outside so you never feel completely enclosed.  The dimensions are bigger than many of the new parks but, its fair.  No cheap homers here however power hitters can still reach the upper deck in left field and left handed hitters can pull the ball deep to the lower deck seats in right field.

   Downtown Seattle is home to great shopping and one of the best restaurants in the country.  The Metropolitan Grill, located on 2nd avenue, is a steakhouse with great atmosphere and mouthwatering steaks and seafood.  Reservations are a must but, the good news is they are open for lunch and dinner.  I remember one year Rick Manning and I ate lunch at the Met on consecutive days.  The first day we ran into former Cavs Head Coach Lenny Wilkens and the following day we saw NBA Hall of Famer Bill Russell dining at the Met.Pike_market_1

   Another spot to see if you visit Seattle is the famous Pike Place Market on the waterfront.  If you’ve ever seen a national TV broadcast of any game played in Seattle then chances are you’ve seen the guys at the market tossing whole fish around like kids playing catch with a ball.  Its a lively atmosphere much like the West Side Market in Cleveland.  City Fish Company has been around since 1917 and they always have enormous quantities of fresh King Salmon, Halibut, Cod and Snapper.  Plus they also have King Crab Legs at great prices and they ship anywhere in the USA.  I sent 15 pounds of Crab and Salmon home and now I can’t wait to get back and eat!

West Coasting

   The best part of coming to the west coast to play Oakland is that we stay in San Francisco.  Its one of the top cities in America with great history and natural beauty.  The streetcars still make their way up and down some of the biggest paved inclines you will ever see.  On the way from San Francisco to Oakland you can see the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz while crossing the famous Bay Bridge.

   When staying in San Fran I highly recommend staying at the historic St. Francis Hotel located in Union Square.  Following the famous earthquake of 1906, the St. Francis was the only thing left standing in Union Square and has been a city landmark for over a century.  Presidents, Kings and Queens have all laid their heads on the goose feathered pillows at the St. Francis.  During World War II the invasion of the Pacific was planned by Admirals Halsey and Nimitz from a suite inside the hotel.

   Just across the street from the Hotel you will find Lefty O’Doul’s, a great place to grab a sandwich and a late night beverage after the ballgame.  The late O’Doul was inducted into baseball’s hall of fame and was the only outfielder in the 20th century to bat .398 in a season when he played for the NY Giants.  After his playing career he continued to promote the game of baseball while coaching and managing.  His most famous protege was Joe Dimaggio who played for O’Doul in the Pacific Coast League.  The Yankee clipper is best known for his incredible 56-game hitting streak set in 1941 that ended at Cleveland Stadium.  But did you know that the Professional Baseball record for most consecutive games with a hit was set by Dimaggio 8 years earlier while playing for his hometown San Francisco Seals?  In 1933 Dimaggio hit in an amazing 61 straight games in the Pacific Coast League.

   Downtown San Francisco also has plenty of shopping for every taste imaginable.  There is also a diner located just about on every block.  My personal favorite is Cafe Mason, located on Mason Street near O’Farrell.  Try the eggs sardou with bay shrimp and dungeness crab.  Its outstanding with just the right amount of spice.

   Before coming to San Francisco you might want to rent a movie or two to put you in the mood.  There are plenty to choose from as Frisco has always been a favorite shooting spot for Hollywood.  If you’re feeling gritty go old school with Dirty Harry which was shot on location throughout the city.  If you want a few laughs then go with Foul Play (starring Goldie Hawn and Chevy Chase) or try something different and check out The Conversation with Gene Hackman.

   Another spot to check out is John’s Grill on Ellis Street.  This is where Dashiell Hammett penned one of his most famous novels.  The Maltese Falcon is loaded with San Francisco references including John’s Grill where private detective Sam Spade went to eat regularly.  Spade favored the grilled lamb chops.  John’s Grill is a registered landmark and serves lunch and dinner.  The Maltese Falcon is also a great old black and white movie starring Humphrey Bogart and Sidney Greenstreet (for those of you from the generation that doesn’t realize there were films before the advent of color photography!).

   After the ballgame its off to Seattle, yet another fabulous American city!St_francis