Mandel’s Musings

Seaver, Mets All-Time Great, Suffering from Dementia

Fifty year anniversary of the Miracle Mets. A few teammates, Buddy Harrelson, Jerry Koosman, Art Shamsky, and Ron Swoboda visited the great Tom Seaver at his home in the Napa Valley, just prior to Seaver’s announcement he had been diagnosed with dementia. That’s Tom Terrific, 74, on the right.

Amazing how time flies. Truly astounding.

But, time doesn’t stand still for anyone, which of course, is one of the oldest cliches known to man. These old Mets, now in their mid to upper 70s, won a World Series championship in 1969 with a franchise forever known as the “lovable losers,” until Tom Seaver joined the team in 1967.

Seaver, who retired in 1989 with 311 victories, is a Hall of Famer, one of the icons in the history of the sport. On the mound, and in the clubhouse, he was like John Wayne, in those John Wayne movies. Tough, didn’t take any guff from anyone, meant business, and accomplished his objectives.

So, it was a shock to Art Shamsky when he coordinated a trip to Seaver’s Napa Valley home to visit the ailing pitcher and old teammate to find the former ace struggling to remember events and names from their championship series.

Jerry Koosman brought a copy of the New York Times from the Mets' championship. (Courtesy Erik Sherman)
Jerry Koosman holds up a copy of NY Times from 1969, after Mets won World Series
Tom Seaver discussing viticulture with Ron Swoboda. (Courtesy Erik Sherman)
Swoboda and Seaver on Seaver’s 116 acre vineyard

Mandel’s Musings: New Heavyweight King, Andy Ruiz, Jr. Does Not Epitomize Boxing’s Hallowed History of Champs

By Scott Mandel

Say hello to the new heavyweight champion of the world, a man from Mexico named Andy Ruiz, Jr.

Ruiz Jr. did what many believed was the impossible by stopping Anthony Joshua in Round 7 on Saturday to capture the WBA, WBO and IBF world titles in one of the biggest upsets in boxing history in New York’s Madison Square Garden.

No one is really sure if this shocker occurred because of Ruiz’ great skills in the boxing ring in beating the 6’5″, 240 pound chiseled slab of granite in Joshua. Or, if the champion, Joshua, a Brit who apparently doesn’t enjoy one of the prerequisites of his sport, getting repeatedly punched in the head, had just had enough and decided to hit the mat.

A rumor was being floated around the Garden that Joshua, new to New York City and very much a bon vivant, man-about-town who enjoys his celebrity, wanted to make sure he wasn’t late for his dinner reservations in one of Manhattan’s fancy restaurants. He knows he’ll get a rematch to regain his title belts but you never know if you can get another reservation in some NYC restaurants.

Andy Ruiz, Jr., the new heavyweight champion, knocks out Anthony Joshua at Madison Square Garden last night

As an event, heavyweight championship fights used to be kind of a big deal, particularly in New York City or one of the Las Vegas hotels. Now, the brutality of boxing that once made it so popular has been overtaken by the even more popular and more brutal sport of MMA fighting, in which fighters not only punch each other in the head but they dropkick opposing heads and ribs, attempting to smash those body parts into unrecognizable formations of bone and sinew.

World boxing champions typically present as the epitome of physical conditioning, if not mental acuity. Andy Ruiz, the new champ of the “glamour” division in boxing, looks like he abstains from the training and road work typical of boxers as they prepare for championship matches. Ruiz, 6’1″ and 265 flabby pounds, appears to prefer his potatoes and tacos to sweat equity.

Muhammad Ali, Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, Mike Tyson, Lennox Lewis, George Foreman….all were great heavyweight champions. Now, you can add to that hallowed list, the name of fellow pugilist, Andy Ruiz, Jr.

So long to boxing as sport. Now, it’s become more like a freak show.

Mandel’s Musings: Bart Starr, Packers Quarterback for Five Championships, Dies at 85

The great Starr won three NFL championships as the quarterback for the dominant NFL team of the 1960s before the Super Bowls began.

by Scott Mandel

Bart Starrwho died on Sunday at 85, ushered in the Super Bowl era, winning two championships for the Green Bay Packers. The most valuable player of Super Bowl I was Bart Starr. And the MVP of Super Bowl II? Starr, once again.

But, it’s easy to forget there were NFL championships before the Super Bowl became part of the national consciousness. And, Bart Starr won three NFL championships, in 1961, 1962, and 1965, before he won the first two Super Bowls.

A 17th round draft choice out of Bear Bryant’s University of Alabama program, Starr was slightly built, didn’t have a passing arm that anyone would mistake for a howitzer, and wasn’t fast afoot. It was no surprise he lasted until the 17th round.

But, all he did was win football games, especially when Vince Lombardi took over Green Bay as the head coach in 1959.

Over the course of their nine seasons, Lombardi and Starr knew only success. A team that had gone 1-10-1 in 1958 (0-6-1 with Starr starting) would never record a losing season under Lombardi. The Packers improved to 7-5 in 1959, played for the N.F.L. championship in 1960, and the first dynasty in NFL history was born, with Bart Starr at the helm.

The two elite quarterbacks in professional football for most of that era were John Unitas, the best forward passer of the 60s, and Starr, who engineered the legendary Lombardi’s offense to perfection.

The difference between them? Unitas had stats, and one important championship in 1956. But, Bart had multiple CHIPS.

Vince Lombardi speaking to Bart Starr during Super Bowl I, in 1967

Stuck between eras of the N.F.L., Starr won more of the league’s titles than any quarterback not named Tom Brady. The line of demarcation in NFL history tends to be pre-Super Bowl and post-Super Bowl, which began January, 1967.

In the era preceding that first Super Bowl, the game began to evolve into something resembling today’s focus on the passing game. The onset of the forward pass started to push to the side, typical NFL offenses based on the concept of “three yards and a cloud of dust,” which utilized running backs to follow the blocks of the offensive lines to essentially move the first down chains. The forward pass, back in the early 50s, had essentially been used when the running game left offenses in third and long scenarios.

The modern era, which Starr/Lombardi and Baltimore’s Johnny Unitas, coached by Weeb Ewbank, helped usher in, led the N.F.L. on a path to being America’s richest and most popular sport. And while the transition from the league’s wilder early days to its sleek and modern present would quite likely have happened without Starr, he and the Packers helped create the early blueprint for players of the soon-to-be-merged N.F.L. and A.F.L. to follow.

Scherzer Goes Six Shutout Innings Before Nats Bullpen Implodes in 6-1 Loss to Mets

It’s not every day you get to witness a matchup of arguably, the two best pitchers in baseball but, yesterday, at Citi Field, the Mets Jacob deGrom, the Cy Young Award winner last season, faced the Nationals’ Max Scherzer, the Cy Young winner the season before that.

Scherzer was trying to help Washington avoid a third straight loss to the New York Mets and a fourth straight loss overall, but he was matched up against right-hander Jacob deGrom, who beat him out for the 2018 NL Cy Young award.

Scherzer’s manager, Davey Martinez, told reporters before the third game of four against the Mets in Citi Field that he thought his ace would be up for the challenge.

“He’s a fierce competitor and he loves to win,” Martinez said. “There’s no other thing for him but winning, so he’s going to out there today and face an opponent that’s pretty good too, but knowing Max he’s going to gives us his best effort and go out there and try to get that win.”

Scherzer’s pitch count was high, but he tossed four scoreless on 73 pitches after the Nats jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the top of the first, and he picked up three Ks in a 25-pitch fifth that left him with nine strikeouts and 98 pitches overall after five scoreless.

He came back out for the sixth and retired the Mets in order in an 11-pitch frame that ended his outing.

Joe Ross and Matt Grace combined to get the Nationals through the seventh with their 1-0 lead intact, but two runners reached against Kyle Barraclough in the eighth and three runs scored on a bases-loaded double off Sean Doolittle, who gave up a three-run home run as well in what ended up a 6-1 loss.

“Scherzer was amazing,” Martinez told reporters after the loss. “Exceeded the pitch count we thought he was going to have and gave us a chance to win and we just couldn’t close the deal.”

It was another loss for the Nationals, who’ve now dropped four straight overall, three in Citi Field, and 14 of 21 in May.

“No one likes to lose,” Scherzer said after another solid outing in which a potential win was lost in the bullpen.

“Everyone hates losing. Everyone in here hates losing, so you don’t have time to feel sorry for yourself, you play every single day, you have to come out tomorrow and just compete and there’s nothing else you can do.”

Scherzer was asked what the Nationals have to do to keep things from spiraling further out of control after they fell to eleven games under .500 with the loss to the Mets.

“When you face adversity, this is when you reveal yourself,” Scherzer said.

“Whether you have the mental fortitude to come back and know that you can block out all the negativity that’s probably going to surround us right now. You’ve got to come forward to the game with that positive attitude of knowing what you can control, knowing that you have the right mindset that you’re going to go out there and compete and compete at 100%. You have to think of all the little things you can do, and for me that’s really what I’ve been focused on in kind of the past handful of turns in the rotation, of all the little things that I can do to make sure that I’m executing pitches and make sure that I’m throwing the ball the way I want to. It just takes an individual approach when you have adversity.”

Mets Blame Should be Re-Directed from Callaway to Disappointing “Star” Pick-Ups

Let this be a big shout-out to the biggest reasons New York Mets manager, Mickey Callaway, is now on the hot seat, only one quarter into his second season at the helm since leaving the security of Cleveland for this metropolitan hotbed of second-guessers.

So, you, Robinson Cano. And you, Todd Frazier. And you, Wilson Ramos. Don’t be hiding out there in left field, Brandon Nimmo. You, too. And, let’s not forget Jeurys Familia, either. It’s been a horror show for the ex-Mets closer turned set-up man for the new closer, 24-year old Edwin Cruz, who also hasn’t found the rhthym on his purportedly unhittable fast ball-slider combination.

We can easily extrapolate, based on numbers alone, the Mets record, currently at 22-25 (13-21 over past 34 games) would be significantly better if the above-named culprits were producing at levels commensurate with the backs of their baseball cards.

But, they’re not.

And, Callaway is taking all of the heat for the lack of performance from his key players.

So, even though the Mets pulled out another win tonight in the bottom of the ninth inning over their division rival, Washington Nationals, they are not a team running on all cylinders and haven’t been for over 30 games and counting.

So, even though Amed Rosario beat out an infield single to send the Mets to a dramatic 6-5 walk-off victory over the Nationals at Citi Field tonight, it occurred only after Familia came in to protect a one-run lead in the eighth inning after the Mets had rallied from deficits in the seventh and eighth innings against a very poor Nationals bullpen.

On a 3-1 pitch, with runners on second and third, Rosario hit a three-hop grounder to shortstop. Trea Turner, who didn’t charge the ball. Turner waited on it, double-clutched and his throw was too late to nip the speedy Rosario at first. The on-field celebration began.

“The moment I hit that ball, I immediately thought I had to get there,” Rosario said. “I don’t know if it was the situation of the game, but I got into a full gear at that point.”

Said Callaway: “Rosie just outran the ball. We went crazy.”

Watching this Mets team roller-coaster from the highs and lows of the sport would drive anybody crazy. But, this season will not end well for Callaway or the Mets unless guys like Cano (0-4 tonight and a smattering of boos from the home crowd), Familia, Nimmo, Frazier, and Ramos match the numbers on the backs of their bubble gum cards.

Mets actually on winning streak after dramatic walk-off
Rosario and his teammates celebrate bottom of ninth win at Citi Field

Mandel’s Musings: Brooks Koepka, Symbol of Golf’s Evolution is Blowing Away the U.S. Open Field

Koepka is showing why he is now the most imperious player in major golf with an explosive marriage of power, finesse and ice-cool emotions

by Scott Mandel

Evolution is inevitable. Who uttered that particular piece of brilliance?

I did.

But, really, evolution, as the primary driver of societal and athletic advancement, is inevitable and shows up in every facet of our lives, with the possible exception of the “natural selection” process for the current resident in the American White House.

Charles Darwin would have gone to town on that one, but if he were alive today, he would look at Brooks Koepka and note just how correct his theories of natural selection, in the 19th century, truly were.

Koepka, the product of Florida State University who is built like a linebacker, represents the new wave of golfer on the international scene. Koepka is 6’0″, 215 pounds of pure muscle. He hits the golf ball off the tee 340 yards away, or about 20-50 yards further than the average professional golfer. Koepka is also a self-described “gym rat,” working out with the weights and machines several times per week.

Keopka has become the epitome of the evolution of the sport that once was dominated by a bunch of 165 pound genteel men with plaid pants and cute golf caps. He has brought weight-training into the sport while combining his enormous strength with meticulous technique in his golf swing and all the modern advances of golf technology.

Brooks Koepka: force of nature.
Koepka is making The Black Course look easy

Koepka, who tied for second at The Masters last month, credits his ability to stay on an even keel as one of his best attributes.

This combination has created a veritable monster of the Midway on the most difficult golf courses in the world. This week, Keopka is blowing away the field at the U.S. Open, one of the four major tournaments of the year. Playing on one of the most difficult courses in the country, the Bethpage, N.Y. Black Course, Koepka shot a 63 (yes, a 63!) and a 65 on his first two days.

“It’s massive,” he said. “I don’t think people realize how difficult it is and how you have to let things roll off your back, laugh about it and move on. This game tests your patience, for sure.”

Playing alongside Keopka during the first two rounds of this event was one Tiger Woods, once the heir apparent to Jack Nicklaus as the greatest golfer the world had ever seen but now, at age 43, and several back and knee surgeries into his great career, is merely one of the best golfers in the world. He is probably still a top ten performer and on some weeks, such as last month’s Masters, Woods seems capable of summoning his old talent and beating the field of youngsters on this tour, as he did in gaining his fifth green jacket. But, Woods was unable to sustain it at this major, missing the cut.

It was strange seeing Woods and Keopka, the past and the future of the sport, standing side by side during this tournament’s opening two rounds. One looked fresh and muscular and eager while the other looked like he wanted to be elsewhere.

Perhaps, when Woods watched Koepka tee off from 18 holes each of the days they were paired together, with Koepka drilling the golf ball further than Tiger ever did, it contributed to the veteran’s sense of ill-feeling It was also strange seeing Keopka out-drive Woods off the tee by 40 yards.

Image result for brooks koepka Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods, not a small man, looks much smaller in comparison to Koepka

But, that’s evolution for you. It’s also age vs. youth.

For further comparisons sake, Nicklaus, considered the greatest golfer in the sports’ history and the winner of 18 Majors, three more than Woods, was also one of the tours longest hitters off the tee, at 5’10”, 190 pounds.

Jack, in his prime, was measured by IBM in 1968, along with other top golfers from that era for their distance off the tee. IBM recorded driving distance data at 11 PGA Tour events. The top 10 players, 51 years ago, averaged 270.2 yards, the average was 264.0 yards and Nicklaus led the Tour at 276.0 yards. Adding 35 yards for increased speed, hotter driver and better ball, IBM estimates Nicklaus would’ve averaged 311.0 last season

Brooks Koepka (right) stamped his authority on the US PGA as Tiger Woods toiled.
Woods said he wasn’t feeling well this week. Koepka said he feels great

Evolution. It’s not just the human body that has gotten bigger and stronger, it’s the equipment and training techniques that have made today’s athlete capable of so much more than those of prior generations.

But, the combination of all of those things with Brooks Koepka’s talent and strong will is how a new champion of golf is being crowned, right here in Bethpage, New York.

The day, in 1985, the Knicks won the first NBA Draft Lottery and with it, Patrick Ewing

The great Dave DeBusschere, the Knicks G.M. in 1985, slammed his fist in joy.

David Stern, the commissioner of the NBA, and voracious Knicks fan, announced Ewing as the number one pick in the draft of the hometown New York Knicks, followed by a crescendo of cheering from the NY draftnicks at the event in June, 1985.

And, Knicks fans thought they were getting the next Bill Russell, the Celtics center who was a shot-blocking machine and the best winner in NBA history.

Knicks fans thought they were getting the Hoya Destroyer, a 7-foot, 240 pound athletic freak who loved to play defense, block shots, and rebound, all in the pursuit of winning championships.

We all know how that turned out. As good a career as Ewing had, the Knicks never figured out that an NBA championship team needs more than one superstar to compete for the ultimate prize. LeBron James, with the Lakers last season, learned that very well, didn’t he?

Image result for Patrick Ewing loses to Houston
Ewing never brought home a championship for Knicks fans. Akeem won two.

Tonight’s event will excite the hell out of the winning team’s fan base, make no mistake about that. But, Zion Williamson, sure to be the ultimate prize and number one choice in the upcoming June draft, will need lots of help to turn a terrible team into a competitive one.

New York City Going Just a Little Nuts for Zion Williamson

from the New York Post

Zion Williamson would be Knicks’ first domino with ‘endless potential’

The Knicks hope that having the biggest star at the NBA draft lottery will bring long-awaited luck to the downtrodden franchise.

Patrick Ewing, the prize of the first-ever lottery in 1985, will represent the team which drafted him at Tuesday night’s event in Chicago, with the Knicks tied for the best odds (14 percent) of landing the No. 1 overall pick, and the rights to Duke superstar Zion Williamson.

Former rival and fellow Georgetown legend Alonzo Mourning will be representing the Miami Heat, while active players Kyle Kuzma, of the Lakers, and DeAndre Ayton, last year’s No. 1 overall pick of the Suns, will also be on stage.

Actress Jami Gertz, part of Atlanta’s ownership group, will be the face of the Hawks for the second straight year, an honor she called a “lot of pressure” last year.

Here is the complete list of team representatives for the 2019 NBA Draft Lottery:

SEE ALSO

NBA draft lottery 2019: Time, how to watch and how it works

SEE ALSO

2019 NBA draft lottery odds: Knicks’ chances at landing No. 1 pick

New York Knicks: Patrick Ewing

Cleveland Cavaliers: Nick Gilbert (son of team owner)

Phoenix Suns: Deandre Ayton

Chicago Bulls: Horace Grant (special advisor to team president and COO)

Atlanta Hawks: Jami Gertz

Washington Wizards: Raul Fernandez (vice chairman)

New Orleans Pelicans: Alvin Gentry (head coach)

Memphis Grizzlies: Elliot Perry Minority (owner and director of player support)

Dallas Mavericks: Cynthia Marshall (CEO)

Minnesota Timberwolves: Gersson Rosas (president of basketball operations)

Los Angeles Lakers: Kyle Kuzma

Charlotte Hornets: James Borrego (head coach)

Miami Heat: Alonzo Mourning (vice president of player programs)

Boston Celtics: Rich Gotham (team president)

Philadelphia 76ers: Chris Heck (team president)

Mandel’s Musings: Drake’s New 767, Melky’s Milestone, Sweet Doris Day, More Trump, Felicity Huffman sans Hubby

by Scott Mandel

From Melky Cabrera’s Milestone to Doris Day (Who was a big fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers)

Doris Day is dead at 97. Her irrepressible personality and golden voice made her America’s top box-office star in the early 1960s.

For you young’n’s, who never heard of Doris Day? Think Madonna, but with more talent. And, if you are too young to know who Madonna was, use your power of the Google to figure all this pop culture out.

Melky Cabrera, who’s been with NINE teams in MLB, nearing career milestone

Who would have predicted, back in 2005 when Melky Cabrera was first brought up by the Yankees, would get to within 109 hits of 2000? But, the Melk Man is almost there. Now on his ninth team in his 15-year major league career, Cabrera, who was always a four-tool talent (throw, hit for average, run, field, hit for some power) has 1891 hits, going into tonight’s game. But, don’t ask me which team he’s with. I’ve lost count. No, actually, he hooked up with the Pittsburgh Pirates this year.

Image result for melky cabrera and Robby Cano
Cabrera reportedly was traded by the Yankees because of his negative influence on the nighttime habits of Robinson Cano.

Felicity Huffman goes solo during her court battle

Where is actor William H. Macy, spouse of actress Felicity Huffman? Have they decided it would hurt his show business career by showing public support for his wife as she goes to court every day to fight for her freedom?

NBA stars are not all from power conferences

How great is it that the key players in these last set of NBA playoffs come from schools like San Diego St., Weber St. and Lehigh? All the talk about the importance of getting one of the first three picks in the upcoming NBA draft simply doesn’t hold weight when you analyze who the stars of the league are, today. Damon Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Kawhi Leonard? All came from smallish, mid-major schools.

Inflation will be returning to the national consciousness, again. Wait, this is a sports website so, concessions at stadiums and arenas will be exploding in price by 25% or more.

Allow me to re-introduce into the national vocabulary and consciousness, the word, inflation. We are headed there, and it’s going to come quickly.

Remember that middle class tax cut of Trump’s? The one his base loved so much? We knew it was a fraud but now, watch prices of everyday items shoot up, driven by the China tariff war.

Make no mistake, it is a war with potentially, equal or greater short and long-term impact on this country than a war with bullets.

Everything will go up by 15-25%. And, electronics, like an iPhone? 25%. Headphones? 25%. Trump’s tax plan? 25% higher than pre-Trump taxes.

Someone has to pay for the 22 trillion dollar U.S. debt Trump created and his military budget, an all-time record.

Increased wages, limited as they have been, will be eaten up. Tax refunds were eaten up with the first food shopping excursion.

Remember, this guy ran NINE COMPANIES into the ground. Chapter 11, baby. He will say this is short-term, and when China capitulates (never happen), prices will fall and jobs will explode

Milton Friedman, a free-market guy who would support several of Trump’s pro-business tactics would be rolling over in his grave to see how Americans are about to get screwed by this huckster/liar.

Inflation is on the way. As Jim Carville said almost 30 years ago, “It’s the economy, stupid.”

Drake Buys 767 jet plane for $187 million. Jet is shaped like a……well, a long, cylindrical unit…

Guys used to buy expensive cars to cover up their insecurities. I guess being a rap star raises the stakes on phallic insecurity.

Memories of Minor League Baseball (and Johnny Oates)

by Scott Mandel

A friend of mine, a New York Post sports columnist named Mike Vaccaro, recently posted photos on Facebook of a minor league game he attended in the baseball hotbed of Rancho Cucamonga, California. The smallish stadium and the homey atmosphere were all captured beautifully by his cell-phone camera bringing back some childhood memories for yours truly.

Rancho Cucamonga, a city of about 177,000 residents located just south of the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains and Angeles National Forest in San Bernardino County, is a perfect locale for a minor league baseball franchise. It is about 37 miles east of Downtown Los Angeles, just close enough to be near a media and population center but far enough to still be described as a sleepy, relaxed town. The city’s seal, which centers on a cluster of grapes, alludes to Rancho’s agricultural history as a producer of great wines.

Seeing Vaccaro’s pictures elicited wonderful memories about the experience I had at my first minor league baseball game in 1968, when I was a puny kid who dreamed of being a baseball player, someday.

My dad, a pitcher of some renown at James Monroe High School in the Bronx, New York along with a teammate named Hank Greenberg, loved to tell stories about his pitching exploits and his days roaming the Bronx fields with the future Hall of Fame slugger when they were 18-years old.

Johnny Oates httpssabrorgsitesdefaultfilesimagesOatesJ
Oates played in the Majors from 1970 to 1981, then became a manager

I hadn’t been to many baseball games at that stage of life but found out in the Spring of ’68 that our family would be taking a plane trip to Miami Beach to visit my grandparents. When we arrived in south Florida, I was thrilled to learn we’d be going to watch the Miami Marlins, a Single-A affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles on one of the nights.

The Marlins were a good team, with a winning record and several players achieving high statistical objectives. I even remember some of their names, today. Stan Martin at second base. Pedro Gomez, their 33-year old slugging outfielder. Larry Johnson, the slick-fielding first baseman. Or, Mark Hershman, the righty with the 12 to 6 curve ball. I don’t know why I can remember these players, most of whom were in their late teens or early 20s. Maybe it was the close proximity to the field offered by the small Miami ballpark. But, all these years later, those names have stuck with me.

They also had a young catcher named Johnny Oates, playing in his second season of professional baseball. Johnny, as it turned out, became the key element to my whole experience that night because unlike most current-day major leaguers, minor league players make themselves accessible to the fans and to the communities they are playing in.

Before the game, as I was asking Johnny for his autograph (which must have thrilled him, too), he told me he was 21 going on 22 years of age, which seemed really old to me. He said he was the catcher and he was from Virginia. The whole conversation took about 30 seconds but my world had changed. I, too, wanted to be a catcher. The next catcher for the Yankees. And, I wanted to meet more people from Virginia. Or Florida. The world seemed so vast, at that point.

As it turned out for Johnny Oates, he made it to the major leagues less than two years later, when he was brought up in 1970 to catch for the best team in the game, the Baltimore Orioles, who had miraculously lost the World Series the previous season to the New York Mets. Becoming a major league member of the Orioles, with Hall of Famers like Frank and Brooks Robinson, guys like Boog Powell and Don Buford, and that amazing pitching staff he got to catch, had to be heady stuff for the youngster from Virginia. Jim Palmer (another Hall of Famer), Dave McNally, Mike Cuellar were his battery mates. Quite a jump up the ladder from the single-A Marlins.

Johnny carved out a terrific career in the majors, playing for 11 years and gaining the respect of the baseball community as an excellent baseball man, which led to his being named a manager in the Yankees farm system almost the day after he retired as a player, at age 35.

Oates eventually became a major league manager in 1991, replacing his former teammate, the legendary Frank Robinson as the manager of his first big league team, the Baltimore Orioles, where Johnny would win the Manager of the Year award in 1993.

Despite being let go by the Orioles’ new owner, Peter Angelos, in 1994, Oates was quickly hired by the Texas Rangers, who had just fired their previous manager, Kevin Kennedy. Oates proceeded to lead the Rangers to their first playoff appearance in team history during the 1996 season.

Oates won the American League Manager of the Year Award for a second time, in 1996, sharing honors with the Yankees’ Joe Torre and a third time, in 1998.

I wrote to Johnny Oates when he was diagnosed with cancer while managing the Rangers. I took that opportunity to remind him of how nice he had been to a wide-eyed little kid in Miami Beach, a kid who never forgot that kindness. I mentioned how life-changing an experience it had been to get to talk to a “real” baseball player.


Johnny sent back a hand-written five-page letter, when he was in the middle of his final battle with cancer. His memories of those days were sharp and brought to life again by his elegant prose and recollections of his days as a Miami Marlin, in the lowest level of minor league baseball.

Johnny Oates passed away in 2004. He was 58 years old. Even as a Single-A baseball player, he was as big league as one could get.

A final note to Mike Vaccaro: I hope you got to observe a bunch of kids talking to “real players” at that game in Rancho Cucamonga. It’s life-altering stuff.

Johnny Oates hokiesportscom
Johnny Oates in 2003 for induction to the Virginia Tech Hall of Fame