The last of the great Albuquerque Dukes teams

Dukes logoThe arrival of the 2014 baseball season means 20 years have passed since the old Albuquerque Dukes won the last of their eight Pacific Coast League championships. The franchise joined the Triple A PCL in 1972 with a dominant team managed by Tommy Lasorda and featuring future big leaguers like Ron Cey, Davey Lopes, Burt Hooton, Charlie Hough, Larry Hisle, and more. The Dodgers’ minor league system was well-stocked during the years the O’Malley family owned the Dodgers, and Albuqerque, often the final stop for players on their way to the majors, reaped the benefits time and time again. Continue reading

The name on the front of the jersey

Jeter Rivera

Future Hall of Famers Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, Yankees throughout their careers…quite a rarity these days.

Gehrig. Feller. Williams. Musial. Banks. Stargell. Yastrzemski. Bench. Yount. Ripken. The list goes on and on. Many of baseball’s all-time greats never changed uniforms in their lengthy big league careers. Of course that’s a rarity now, which makes present-day Yankees greats Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter all the more unusual.

I grew up in an era when baseball was changing dramatically. In the 1970s, as the DH rule and free agency hit baseball, longtime stars suddenly started moving from team to team. I remember thinking how strange it was to see Catfish Hunter become a Yankee, but superstars changing uniforms quickly became the norm. Continue reading

Puig: Astounding to date, but not a Hall of Famer just yet

Eric Young & Mike Piazza

Two future major leaguers, Eric Young and Mike Piazza, as Albuquerque Dukes in 1993.

Twenty years ago I had the good fortune of working in the front office of the old Albuquerque Dukes as Mike Piazza blazed his way through town on his way to the Dodgers and, I expect (steroid rumors aside), ultimately the Baseball Hall of Fame. He was a classic phenom – a late round draft pick taken primarily as a favor to Tommy Lasorda who blossomed into maybe the best-hitting catcher in baseball history.

However, I also remember Raul Mondesi, who had almost as meteoric a rise through the system and to the majors. He was yet another Dodgers product who became a Rookie of the Year, and yet another phenom. He had some very good years, but he never reached the greatness predicted for him when he arrived in the big leagues., and instead of a storied Dodgers career he ultimately wore the uniforms of seven different franchises. Continue reading

Mitch Williams, another bad example of jock-turned-broadcaster

It was painful listening to the decidedly Phillies-flavored telecast on FOX today of the Giants-Phillies game.  It’s not that I mind watching the opposing team’s telecast.  I do that often, and enjoy learning about the other team that way.  After all, I watched countless Braves games games back in the TBS Superstation days in the ’80s, and a lot of Cubs games on WGN too.

MLB on FOXWhat got to me was that this was a Saturday afternoon national broadcast, one in which the broadcasters supposedly are neutral and unbiased.  Yet in an exciting game filled with big moments for both teams (a 6-5, 10-inning Giants win after two lead changes), broadcasters Tom McCarthy and Mitch Williams made it sound like a bad version of a Phillies broadcast, without the local flavor such a broadcast would have if it was the real thing. Continue reading

Tradition: Dad, Daughter, and The Grand Old Ballgame

AT&T Park, April 15, 2012

Our father-daughter rite of spring: our first Giants game of the new season.

This past Sunday my daughter and I attended our first Giants game of the year. It was one of the Giants’ lesser efforts on this young season, a listless 4-1 loss to the lowly Pirates, but the game result mattered little.

After going to just one game in her first 10 years, my daughter and I have been going to multiple games together every year since my divorce seven years ago, and she’s become as big a fan as I am. We were lucky enough to be at Game One of the 2010 World Series, and we’ve been at Giants FanFest the past couple of years as well, where she realized her dream of meeting Brian Wilson in 2011, blowing right past one of my old heroes, Will Clark, to do so. Continue reading

History, Baseball, Life: Connecting with the Baseball Lannings

I first learned about a pitcher named Johnny Lanning back in the early 1990s when I started “managing” a fantasy team of old-time baseball players in something called “Bill James Classic Baseball” as a hobby my buddy Steve got me into when we were both working in the front office of the Albuquerque Dukes, then the Triple A affiliate to the Los Angeles Dodgers.  This was before the internet, and long before social media. Like with current fantasy baseball leagues, we had a salary cap and we drafted a full roster of players. The difference was that these players were all old-timers…players dating back to the very start of Major League Baseball in the 1800s. The games were played by some computer in Illinois, and we anxiously awaited printouts in the mail each week of the prior week’s box scores and stats.

Johnny Lanning

“Tobacco Chewin’ Johnny” was a journeyman hurler with the Boston Bees and Pittsburgh Pirates before heading off to WWII. He’s pictured here after returning to the majors with the Boston Braves.

It seems archaic now, and kind of bizarre, but it actually was great fun for a couple of guys fresh out of school, lifelong baseball fans working 80–hour weeks at the ballpark. We studied the history of the game regularly, learning about players and ballparks and historical comparisons between players from different eras. We were in a league facing off against each other and 10 other “owners” from all over the country, people who I came to know distantly through later generations of the game as it eventually moved to a web site and message boards, and in more recent years we started to find each other on other platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn.

While I haven’t gotten into a league in several years now (a different version of that same game still exists today, run by another company built by former BJCB players), I gained a lot more from that experience than a couple of mythical league championships (although as a lifelong Giants fan I do love the old-school fitted New York Giants cap I won as the league champion one year). I also gained greater appreciation for tons of players I knew little about in my childhood, including one who shared my last name: Johnny Lanning. Continue reading

Baseball Hall of Fame in 2013: Controversy on the Horizon

Roger Clemens

Roger Clemens: seven Cy Young Awards and an MVP trophy

With the retirement today of Tony LaRussa, there’s lots of talk about the Baseball Hall of Fame Class of 2014, which could (should?) include managers Tony LaRussa, Joe Torre, and Bobby Cox along with first-time eligible players Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Frank Thomas. Thanks to some interesting rules for managers, LaRussa, Torre, and Cox will all be eligible for the first time in 2014, alongside two 300-game winners and a 500 home run club member (not that 500 homers necessarily means Hall of Fame anymore). It certainly would be great to see Atlanta Braves stalwarts Maddux, Glavine and Cox enter the Hall together, and Torre’s body of work (both as a player and manager) deserves first-ballot induction beyond question. LaRussa’s 33 years of success as a manager are equally deserving. Continue reading