Baseball Toaster Bronx Banter
Destination Nerdville. Population: Me
2007-12-16 17:03
by Alex Belth

So last weekend my wife was away, and do you know what I did with my wild and nerdy ass self? Went down the the public library on 42nd street and checked out old issues of Sport magazine and Inside Sports on microfilm. (I'm nuts, what can I say.) Sport was an amazing publication in the fifties and sixties, and even in parts of the seventies, but by the eighties, it was a shell of its former self. The roster of writing talent at Sport during it's heyday is remarkable: Arnold Hano, Ed Linn, W.C. Heinz, Ray Robinson, Roger Kahn, Frank Graham Jr, Dave Anderson, Myron Cope, Al Hirshberg, Jim Brosnan, Dick Schaap, Jimmy Breslin, George Vecsey, Pat Jordan, Vic Ziegel, and Jerry Izenberg to name just a few. (All of the Sport compilations are out of print, but Bob Ryan edited a solid collection just a few years back that is well-worth picking up.) I'm not exactly sure when Inside Sports started. It was either at the tail-end of the seventies or the start of the eighties. Tom Boswell was their baseball guy for a long time, and they were very good, at least through the first half of the eighties. I found a lengthy and very entertaining profile on Nolan Ryan by Tony Kornheiser (yes, he had chops), and an excellent piece on Pistol Pete Maravich during Larry Bird's rookie year with the Celtics by David Halberstam.

Anyhow, here a few random nuggets on a favorite Yankee, Willie Randolph, that I came across. First, from a profile in Sport, Octover 1976, "Hey, Say, Willie Can Play...Willie Randolph, That Is," by Kevin McAuliffe:

Randolph is one of the American League's top rookies of 1976, but unlike Detroit's Big Bird, who thrives on attention, Randolph avoids it. He has never believed in stardom, for others—"As a kid, I never said, 'Oh, there goes so and so,' and tired to get his autograph"—or for himself. "I'm not what you call a starry-eyed fella," he says.

Then, from Inside Sports, August 31, 1980, "Willie Randolph: The Making of a an Advance Man," by George Vecsey.

"It's an old cliché, but it's true. A walk is as good as a hit," Randolph said earlier this season, sitting in front of his locker in Yankee Stadium, a huge portable radio-cassette player—his "box"—propped on the rug. The cassesttes are mostly Isley Brothers, Roberta Flack and "a lot of jazz."

Says Willie: "I knew I'd walk a lot. I know the manager appreciates it when you take a 3-1 pitch, when you get on'd have to swing at anything close on 3-1 when you're batting eighth," Randolph says. "When you're batting leadoff, you take the walk. That's how I do it."

…"Willie knows the most important thing is to get on base," [Reggie] Jackson said. "He has learned to steal when it counts. He doesn't wait until there are two strikes. He goes down early, so the hitter has a chance to bat…The only two things he has never done are hit .300 and win a Gold Glove. That's it. Willie is a winter. He's not a laugh-and-joke guy, which I like, because I'm not either. He's a good family man, too. I'll tell you what: If Willie does hit .300, you won't notice the difference. He'll do it the same way he hits .270."

Willie from Brooklyn. He was a good one.

2007-12-16 17:31:19
1.   Raf
Came over with Dock Ellis, who could be his polar opposite from a personality standpoint.
2007-12-16 17:45:14
2.   Alex Belth
And what kind of terrific trade did that turn out to be for the Yankees? One of the best in team history.
2007-12-16 18:06:43
3.   bobtaco
1 Did you ever see the profile on Doc Ellis on HBO's Real Sports? They focused on the time that he pitched his no-hitter while completely out of his mind on Acid. They had the clips of the interview after the game. Just amazing.
2007-12-16 18:15:42
4.   bobtaco
3 Here is a great profile on Dock (it is with a k):

2007-12-16 18:18:46
5.   vockins
I think there's a case to be made that #30 should get retired.

I'm not going to make it, but I think that somebody else could do it.

2007-12-16 19:33:24
6.   weeping for brunnhilde
Willie from Brooklyn.


Thanks for that, Alex. Sounds like you had fun at the library. I'll bet you forgot it was 2007, too, sucked into past times in a dark room in the basement.


I remember Willie once won a game in extras, really extras, like 14, 15, 16 innings. Must have been around 1983. I remember listening on the radio, maybe up in Fort Tryon Park? Did we go the Cloisters that day?

I don't know, but I do remember that Willie won it with a double off the centerfield wall.

And his was the stance mine most resembled. Nice and simple, no quirks, no bells and whistles.

Dear Willie.

2007-12-16 20:05:18
7.   monkeypants
Anyone else watching the Giants game? Awe-ful.
2007-12-16 20:27:10
8.   Bruce Markusen
I've long thought that Willie Randolph was just one rung below that of a Hall of Famer. If he had sustained his peak a bit longer or hit with more power, he'd be there. As it was, he was pretty damned good.

He was the Yankees' best leadoff man during the championship years of the late seventies, an excellent defensive second baseman, a good basestealer and baserunner, just a very good player who was usually overshadowed by Munson, Jackson, and Nettles. The Yankees really capitalized on the Pirates' depth of second basemen at the time. Pittsburgh had Rennie Stennett and felt that Randolph was expendable. As it turned out, because of Stennett's subsequent leg injury, they picked the wrong guy to trade.

2007-12-17 04:10:06
9.   unmoderated
that's awesome.

i was recently sorting books i bought from an estate sale, and came across about 50 Yankees Magazines from the 1980s - classic stuff.

2007-12-17 04:15:09
10.   The Mick 536
Remember the thrill as a kid of receiving the first copy of SI in, if I am not mistken 1954. Cover featured a shot from afar of a night baseball game, maybe in St. Louis. Centerfold had copies of baseball cards. I used to read Sporting News in those days when it was still mostly a baseball journal.

Sport gave a Corvette to the World Series MVP. Like to see a set of those pictures.

Nice you mention WC Heinz. Halberstam wrote the intro to the reprint of a collection of his short stories. Worth reading not only the best short sports story ever written about a horse that dies on the track, but to read the tales of last game played by Stan The Man and Babe's last appearance at the Stadium. He set the standard.

2007-12-17 05:04:39
11.   buddaley
When Willie was traded to the Yankees, my son was 8 years old and already a big Yankee fan. I suggested to him that if he wanted to select a favorite player he follow Willie's career because he would then see the development of a really solid major leaguer over his entire career.
2007-12-17 05:06:19
12.   The Mick 536
Had a second thought, excuse me.

9 Please explain the HOF reference. Often injured. Didn't play a lot of games a lot of years. Missed 1978 post season. Hung on too long with LAD, OAK, and NYM. Always thought solid, but unexciting. Great arm from the mid outfield. Hit a few dingers. to whom are you comparing him?

2007-12-17 05:49:53
13.   Alex Belth
Heinz did set the standard. He was a newspaper man, like most all of them were, first. Covered WWII for The New York Sun. When he returned, he left writing for the papers to do magazine features. He's most famous for his boxing writing. Heinz's novel, "The Professional," was called by Hemmingway the only good boxing novel ever.

If you guys ever run across it, look out for Heinz's pieces on Joe Paige, the old Yankee reliever, and, especially, his story on Pete Reiser, which is a monster.

Ed Linn followed Ted Williams around on his final game, and that story has made it into some collections. I think it's a wonderful counterpoint to Updike's famous, and very literary, essay. Side-by-side, Linn and Updike provide a great perspective, from the ultimate outsider and the ultimate inside man, of the occasion. (As good as Updike's piece is, I prefer, as a matter of taste, Linn's meat-and-potatoes story.)

2007-12-17 06:09:19
14.   JL25and3
I was able to find the Reiser piece on Google Books:

Now I just have to read it.

2007-12-17 07:05:09
15.   Alex Belth
14, good call. Yup, that's the one. Hard to imagine that Reiser could have been one of the greatest athletes to ever play the game. If he only didn't have that nasty habit of running into walls at full speed...I don't know this for sure, but weren't the Dodgers the first team to put some sort of padding in the walls, due to Reiser? Could be wrong, but I'd be curious to know...
2007-12-17 07:08:49
16.   The Mick 536
Since we be in the heart of the real hot stove league, a time to read and revisit, may I suggest a reread of Juicing the Game by Howard Bryant and Jose Canseco's book.

And not to belabor the Heinz thread, but I must since I hold him in the same regard as I hold Lardner, Kinsella, Mark Harris, Robert Coover and Phillip Roth, let us not forget that he wrote Run To Daylight, helped to write Mash, and covered WWII by going to the front where he stayed with Papa. He invented the new journalism. Without him, no women in the lockerroom, no Right Stuff, and maybe no Hunter Thompson, who BTW wrote some fantastic sports stuff in addition to the narcotic and political tales.

2007-12-17 07:43:57
17.   Alex Belth
I'm high on Heinz too. He's seminal. I think it might be a stretch to say that he invented New Journalism. Lillian Ross and Joseph Mitchell were just a couple of the other non-fiction writers who were using the techniques of fiction before it became a fad with Talese and Wolfe in the sixties.

Comment status: comments have been closed. Baseball Toaster is now out of business.