Dan's Dugout: Plenty of Baseball Talk for Late January • Latino Sports

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Dan’s Dugout: Plenty of Baseball Talk for Late January

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NEW YORK – Baseball purists – those with no interest in any other sport – believe their season never ends.

That’s even true in this dreary month before pitchers and catchers report. The Society for American Baseball Research celebrated its annual SABR Day January 28, with participation by 50 of its 71 chapters, and New York disc jockey Jonathan Schwartz airs his 47th annual Salute to Baseball on WNYC radio next Sunday, coincidentally Hank Aaron’s 83rd birthday.

The Society of American Baseball Research has 71 chapters

The Society of American Baseball Research has 71 chapters

Schwartz, like many of those who attended SABR Day here Saturday, is a rabid Red Sox fan disguised as a deejay but wears his love of baseball on his sleeve.

On every Super Bowl Sunday, he weaves four hours of baseball highlights, music, and contemporary into the fabric of his laid-back show. He doesn’t hesitate to call baseball “America’s national game” and deliver a broadcast slap to the heavily-hyped gridiron game.

Many of those who attended the SABR event, held in the 40th Street Annex of the New York Public Library, will be listening.

They were listening Saturday when author Marty Appel, former publicity chief of the Yankees, presented a paper on Casey Stengel, the subject of his newest book.

They also heard Kristie Ackert of The New York Daily News, talk about her four years as Mets beat writer – and her behind-closed-doors opportunity to converse in English with Bartolo Colon.

Steve Nadel presented a power point on the use of instant replay – and how its absence cost Armando Galarraga a perfect game but gave Johan Santana a tainted no-hitter (the only hitless game in the history of the Mets).

The day began when SABR executive director Marc Appleman revealed preliminary

SAMR executive director Marc Appelman was in New York Saturday

SAMR executive director Marc Appleman was in New York Saturday

plans for the group’s national convention, slated for the Grand Hyatt Hotel June 28-July 2.

According to Appleman, SABR 47 will feature research presentations, panels, committee meetings, book signings in a special vendors room, plus a group to a Mets-Phillies game.

“It will be nonstop baseball for nearly four days,” he said, noting that early registration suggests the New York conference will top the previous SABR attendance record of 700 in Chicago several years ago.

The group has working relationships with Major League Baseball, Rawlings, and the Gold Glove awards, among others, and puts on events that range from the March Analytics Conference, attended by numerous major-league scouts, to the Jerry Molloy Negro Leagues Conference, scheduled for Harrisburg in late July. SABR also has a Cooperstown Conference and an Arizona Fall League event. The group’s home, like the Analytics conference, is Phoenix.

Appleman predicted that many publishers will have a presence in the vendors room, which is expected to attract more than 1,000 rabid baseball fans.

Ackert’s relationship to the game is definitely different. Unlike Appleman, who once covered baseball for the Los Angeles Times, she had to undergo on-the-job training after The Daily News moved her from general assignment sports to the baseball beat – making her the only female reporter in the clubhouse.

Daily News baseball writer Kristie Ackert covers the Mets

Daily News baseball writer Kristie Ackert covers the Mets

“I learned to love a game I didn’t grow up with,” said Ackert, a Syracuse University grad who grew up in upstate New York. “I found you need the human element. You need to take the analytical side and translate it to the people.”

She revealed that Terry Collins, regarded as an Old School manager, does use stats. “He’s a lot more savvy than he shows,” she said. “Terry understands every statistic the team gives him. There’s even a stat geek in the clubhouse.”

Ackert noted that it was Collins, while managing the Angels, who hired Joe Maddon, manager of the 2016 World Champion Cubs, as a coach.

A woman in a man’s world was once a problem in baseball but not any more. “The guys have been very fair to me,” she said. That even includes former Mets pitcher Bartolo Colon, a practical joker who once scared Ackert but later apologized – in perfect English.

Bartolo Colon speaks English after all

Bartolo Colon speaks English after all

“He pretends he doesn’t understand,” she said of the pitcher, now with the Braves.

She said Matt Harvey gives the most honest answers, David Wright gives the most thoughtful answers, and that Wilmer Flores leans on a translator even though he is fluent in English.

Stengel spoke a language all of his own, Marty Appel told the SABR group when leading off the afternoon session. The author of Casey Stengel: Baseball’s Greatest Character drew a parallel between Stengel and Joe Torre, who both catapulted from Yankee manager to the Hall of Fame.

“Both had bad records while managing in the National League but turned that around when they came to the Yankees,” said Appel, noting that Stengel managed the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League in 1948, then came to the Bronx and promptly won five straight world titles.

“Remember how the papers referred to Torre as Clueless Joe? He went to the playoffs in all 12 of the seasons he served as Yankee manager.”

Marty Appel has another Yankee book coming out

Marty Appel has another Yankee book coming out

Stengel also spent a dozen years in the job, winning 10 pennants in the process.

As a player, Appel said, Stengel hit the first home run in Ebbets Field and first World Series home run in Yankee Stadium. He also was a prankster, once releasing a sparrow from under his cap after previously dropping a grapefruit from an airplane. He picked up his “Old Perfesser” nickname at Ole Miss, which couldn’t pay him as a baseball coach but got around that barrier by naming him an assistant professor.

Once, when running the bases, Stengel lost an insole while running the bases. As he crossed home plate, he said to on-deck hitter Hank Gowdy that he thought he lost a shoe. Gowdy looked down and said, “How many were you wearing?”

Stengel was nothing if not shrewd. When unemployed in the Depression year of 1937, he invested in a Texas oil well that is still pumping – and paying dividends to the Stengel estate.

He welcomed Elston Howard, who integrated the Yankees in 1955, and created a comfortable clubhouse atmosphere for him. “He went to a segregated school but his best friends in Kansas City were Jewish,” Appel explained. “There was no evidence that he had any racist tendencies.”

Appel revealed that Stengel turned down offers from the Giants and other clubs in 1961, a year he sat out, before joining the expansion New York Mets in ‘62. “He wasn’t the same by then,” said the author. “He didn’t remember the names of the players and (coaches) Solly Hemus and Cookie Lavagetto figured everything out as they went along.”

Grover Cleveland Alexander was the game's best, according to Stengel

Grover Cleveland Alexander was the game’s best, according to Stengel

After Sandy Koufax no-hit the Mets, a writer asked Stengel if he thought the Dodger southpaw was the game’s greatest pitcher. “Oh, no,” Stengel said. “That would be Grover Cleveland Alexander.”

Only the acerbic Howard Cosell condemned the old manager regularly, said Appel. When one writer asked where Stengel thought the 1962 Mets would finish, he said, “Chicago.”

It was Stengel who nurtured the talented but combative Billy Martin, who later managed the Yankees himself. In 1976, the year Stengel died, Martin was the only Yankee who wore a black armband in his memory.

Ernestine Miller served as moderator for the SABR Day event held by the Casey Stengel Chapter. Evelyn Begley is the chapter chair.

About Dan Schlossberg

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ has produced 35 baseball books, including autobiographies of Ron Blomberg, Al Clark, and Milo Hamilton. Also a broadcaster, he is the host and executive producer of Braves Banter and Travel Itch Radio and a contributor to Sirius XM.

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