Hello and welcome to another Wednesday of deep thoughts. Does it seem to anyone else that time speeds up as we move into spring? The days are thankfully longer and I have spent quite a bit of time cleaning up the neglect of winter. I don’t know about you, but I more or less allow the back yard to take care of itself after Thanksgiving. The term spring cleaning is just not about cleaning out the house, but also outside the house as well. Before the grass needs to be cut, I am working hard to gather up leaves, fill in the holes my knucklehead dogs have left for me in the yard. Last year, Julie and I had a patio garden that was fairly successful. This year, I am going to get serious and build some elevated beds for our vegetables. Have you priced organic veggies? It is just crazy. In checking out some different options for our garden, I ran across several articles detailing gardens that have created quite a stir across the country. While my garden will be in the back yard, others have planted gardens in their front yard. Invariably, some neighbor complains to the city and then there is a battle. Why do some people feel compelled to be such a sour puss? One complaining homeowner did not even live in the neighborhood, but was visiting his rental home when he took issue with the front yard garden of his neighbor. The strange thing is that almost each of these gardeners feeds his neighbors. Have we moved so far from our roots as a society that we cannot allow our neighbors the choice in what to grow in their yard? We are living in strange times when our government wants to monitor our grills and dictate where we can grow vegetables. Where is Johnny Monkey when you need him?
This what I plan to do this year…
With baseball season approaching and time being short this week, I decided to reach back for an old blog that I wrote in March of 2011. I grew up with Mickey Mantle being my hero, but as my knowledge of the game has grown, I have come to very much admire Willie Mays. There is no easier way to create an argument than to say one player is the best of all time. Each of has our own favorite and Willie Mays is now the guy I place number one.
Recently, my daughter gave me a book about Willie Mays. Since I am a baseball fan, I have always had great respect for Mays. But, as a kid I grew up with Mantle as my favorite player. It has been said that chicks dig the long ball, but so do youngsters. I must admit that the prodigious blasts of Mantle caught my eye and blinded me to many of the other stars of the 60’s. Take a close look at the picture above. Do you see where the pitch is? Up and in…Mays saw this all of the time. Until 1971, helmets were not required in MLB. Jackie Robinson justifiably receives credit for breaking the color barrier in baseball, but Mays was only a few years behind him. The term five tool player is thrown around frequently today, but if you want to see the first player that fit this description…it was Mays. As a kid, I had no recollection of Mays playing in New York. In my mind, Mays was always a SF Giant. As I read about his early years in New York, I was astounded to read the dimensions of the Polo Grounds. 505 to dead center field with very short porches to left and right field. I also did not realize that Willie Mays was on deck when Bobby Thompson hit the shot heard round the world. He said he was shaking he was so scared. He was praying that he did not have to hit in such a crucial spot. Of course, Thompson delivered and Mays did not have to hit. He was terribly ashamed that he was afraid to hit in that situation and swore that he would not feel that way again. Mays hit a HR in his first major league at bat, and then promptly went 0 for 23. He told Leo Durocher that he wanted to go back to AAA. To Durocher’s credit, he praised Mays and built him up so that he gained the confidence to relax and play his game. This was how Durocher managed Mays, as he figured out early on that praise was what motivated Mays, not criticism.
Did you know that during high school, Mays was playing professional baseball with the Birmingham Barrons? Mays played in the Negro league for several years before he made his way to the Giants system. Professional baseball before integration was a plodding game that relied on the long ball. As players like Robinson and Mays pried their way into the league, daring base running suddenly changed the game. I have to admit that reading about Mays reminded me just how far we have come in not that many years. The south is generally blamed for much of the bigotry of that time, but did you realize that in 1958 that Mays was initially denied the ability to buy a home? Mays and his first wife found a new home that they liked, but when they put in a purchase contract to the builder, he told them that the neighbors did not want them to live there. The builder was threatened with not being able to sell any of his other homes if he sold to Mays. This was in San Francisco, CA! 1958 was the year that I was born…thankfully, a resolution was reached and the Mays’s were allowed to move into their home. Do you see the picture below? This is Willie with Durocher and his wife from an early Sports Illustrated cover. There was a tremendous uproar because Durocher’s wife had her arm around Willie Mays. Amazing…
Willie Mays was the finest center fielder of all time. He had tremendous range and an incredibly strong and accurate arm. Many in the game claimed that Mays played centerfield like an infielder. He was also a very gentle man that refused to drink or smoke. But on the field he was as aggressive as any player that ever played the game. Many contemporaries claimed that Mays changed the way that the outfield was played. Mays was just as prolific on the base paths. One of his favorite tricks was to slide for the plate with one foot and use the other to dislodge the ball from the fielder’s glove. What he did more than anything was to cause chaos on the bases. We see players lauded today for going first to third on a ball hit to the outfield. Mays regularly went first to third on a ground ball!
You probably have seen old tape of Juan Marichal attacking the Dodgers catcher (John Roseboro) with a bat. Willie was able to defuse this terrible incident by guiding Roseboro off the field and preventing him from leaving the dugout. Mays ended a 16 inning game by hitting a home run. While that may not seem like a big deal…check this…that home run allowed him to hit home runs over his career in 16 different innings. Think about that for a bit to realize just how improbable that is.
Here are a few stats for Mays:
Lifetime average of .302 with 523 doubles, 140 triples and 660 HR’s. Willie also stole 338 bases in his career. He was the ROY in 1951 and captured 12 gold gloves. Of course this award did not begin until 1957 or he would surely have several more. Willie was respected by fans and players alike as he was selected to the all-star team 21 times. Wow…
Try holding four baseballs in one hand. May’s has very large hands, one of the gifts he had that helped him be such a great baseball player.
Have you had something really bad happen to you, but realized later just how lucky you were? Do you remember David Newhan? Baseball player that used to play for Baltimore? What ever happened to him? If you are like me, I remember Newhan, but he just fell off the radar. Well, as so often happens, he did more than just fall off the radar…he literally broke his neck. I read the story this week of the comeback attempt by Newhan and immediately decided that I had to mention in my blog. Here is the story:
He sneaked out to catch a few late waves that afternoon, two blocks from his home in Oceanside, Calif. Newhan grew up in Southern California and attended college at Pepperdine in Malibu, so surfing was as much a rite of passage as baseball. He was no novice.
“It wasn’t like I wiped out,” he says. “I made a bad decision by jumping off my board. I was far enough offshore and didn’t think it was shallow. I thought I’d skim the top of the water.”
Instead, his head struck full force into a sandbar. He went completely numb, barely aware of the salt water coursing through his nostrils.
“I had a stinger throughout my whole body,” he says. “I was trying to move knowing I couldn’t. I was floating up. I thought, ‘If I can get my head above water, I’ll try to call for help.’”
His next thought was more of a prayer: “Jesus, let me move.” His arms and legs responded, and he grabbed his board and slid his belly onto it. He slowly paddled to shore, gingerly walked home and called his wife, Karen, who was visiting her parents 10 miles away.
“I think I should get an X-Ray,” he told her. “Something happened, and something is wrong. My neck is locking up.”
The hospital emergency room was packed and Newhan sat for several hours before receiving care, unaware that if shards from the vertebrae shifted even a millimeter, he would die. Finally it was his turn, and a CT scan revealed a spiral, compound fracture in three places. The doctor gasped, the nurse called it a “hangman’s break,” and they fitted Newhan with a neck brace.
Picture the neck vertebrae as ceramic donuts stacked on each other and held in place by sticks attached to their exterior. The sticks are ligaments, and the spinal cord is like a rope running through the middle of the donuts. Newhan’s diving accident caused the vertebrae to fracture in three places, but the ligaments weren’t disrupted and vertebrae fragments weren’t displaced. The spinal cord was spared damage.
“In its worst form, a hangman’s fracture is a true avulsion — you literally separate the second and third vertebrae,” says Dr. Frank Gillingham, a longtime emergency room physician and medical director for a major insurance company. “It’s catastrophic and it causes instant death.”
In Christopher Reeve’s case, falling six feet from a horse was the equivalent of dropping a hammer on the donuts, and fragments went flying, impinging on the spinal cord. Newhan’s dive into the sandbar wasn’t as severe and his neck ligaments — well-protected by muscle because of his extraordinary physical condition — held the fractured vertebrae in place long enough for him to seek medical care. If he had turned his head quickly or bent his neck the wrong way, fragments could have loosened and damaged his spinal cord.
Newhan wore a halo brace for two months, then a smaller one for another month. He slept on his back. He couldn’t lift anything heavier than 10 pounds. He was allowed 45-minute walks in the morning and evening with Karen. Sometimes they’d bring along their son, Nico, and daughter, Gianna, who now are ages six and three.
“Karen has been unbelievably strong,” Newhan says. “And for her to support me giving baseball another shot, I can’t say enough how much that means.”
Recovery accelerated when he began an alternative physical therapy regimen called the Egoscue method with trainers Jordan Feramisco and Liba Placek. Within a few months, Newhan built a batting cage in the trainers’ Sorrento Valley, Calif., facility and began giving hitting lessons to youngsters in addition to taking swings himself. The baseball bug had bitten him again.
He put out feelers to major league teams last summer but couldn’t find a taker. He kept working out, and a few months ago made a call to longtime friend Jason McLeod, the Padres assistant general manager. “All I want is a shot,” Newhan told him. Nobody expects Newhan to return to the peak form he displayed when he hit .311 for the Orioles in 2004, but eventually contributing in a utility role would be enough.
And if it doesn’t work out, Newhan won’t be down. He’s played for nine organizations in 14 pro seasons. He’s been demoted. He’s been released. He’s been through a lot. And as everybody knows by now, he’s a tough out.
To update Newhan’s travels…he managed Oakland’s single A minor league team and was hired by the Detroit Tigers as their assistant hitting coach for the 2015 season.
That’s all I have for this week. I will leave you with a bit of Jack Handey to ponder…
“If I was being executed by injection, I’d clean up my cell real neat. then, when they came to get me, I’d say, “Injection? I thought you said ‘inspection.'” They’d probably feel real bad, and maybe I could get out of it.”
“I was sad, because I had no shoes. Until I met a man that had no feet. So, I took his shoes, cuz hey, he wan’t using them!”
Thanks for stopping by and feel free to leave a few deep thoughts of your own…