Ernie Broglio, Beyond Lou Brock

Ernie Broglio is more than just a trivia question. Today’s fans often hear, “Who did the Cubs get in return for future Hall of Famer Lou Brock?”

Finger-pointers seek scapegoats. The teams staged a three-for-three swap. Bobby Shantz and Doug Clemens accompanied Broglio to Wrigley Field on June 15, 1964.

Broglio had been traded before. He was part of a five-player deal in October, 1958. He wrote:

“The Giants traded me to St. Louis. I was really surprised because I had two really good years in the Giants minor leagues.”

Broglio notched consecutive 17-win seasons in 1957-58, first in Double-A then graduating to AAA the next year. He unveiled his full potential in Class C ball in 1955, winning 20 games.

As a Cardinal, Broglio enjoyed two years of glory. His 21 wins led the National League in 1960. The righty followed that with 18 victories in 1963. Surprisingly, the triumphs offset a career-worst 13 wild pitches. Broglio noted:

“I don’t believe there was that much difference between the two years, except in 1960, I either won 7 or 9 games in relief. The wild pitches were caused from a shoulder problem. I eventually took 16 or 18 (cortisone) shots in the shoulder.”

Before he left St. Louis, Broglio enjoyed a ringside seat for the evolution of Cardinals hurler Bob Gibson. When did Broglio know Gibby might be Cooperstown bound?

“There was never a doubt about him getting to the Hall of Fame. He had the instinct of getting you out from the time he started pitching.”

Broglio earned the attention of Sports Illustrated twice, first with a 1961 cover and later with this bittersweet 2000 article in which he reveals the inscription of his autographed photo from Lou Brock.

Meet a Field of Dreams Ghost Player

Dennis Rima knows baseball. They call him “Coach” for good reason. He knows corn, too. Not as a farmer, but as a ghost player at Dyersville’s Field of Dreams.

The Ghost Players made just one appearance in 2009 and plan on reuniting once at the Field in July, 2010. Prior to that, Dennis sent a gracious reply to questions about his connections to the 1989 movie classic.

Q: Were you in the movie?

A: I was not in the movie. It was being filmed while I was a high school baseball coach in the summer.

Q: As a former high school baseball coach who won a state championship, how would you judge the athletic talent of stars Kevin Costner and Ray Liotta?

A: Costner and Liotta have very good baseball skills. Costner loves playing baseball. While filming the movie, when he wasn’t on camera he spent a lot of time playing catch. They both seem very athletic.

Q: You witnessed the Upper Deck-sponsored Old-Timers games in the 1990s at the Field. How did the former big leaguers look?

A: The old timer games were great. Many of these guys could still hit and field the ball. Many of them are not in playing shape and have put on pounds since their playing days. But guys like Lou Brock, Reggie Jackson, George Brett, etc. could still smack the ball. They were fun to watch and even more enjoyable to be around. The majority of these guys were just down-to-earth super nice!

Q: What message does the movie offer?

A: The message I get from the Field of Dreams is that you need to spend time with your kids!!! Don’t let time go by and you haven’t spent quality time with them. Also, dreams are meant to come true if you believe in them. Finally, baseball is America’s game!

Q: Will you and the Ghost Players come out of the corn for more action in 2010?

A: The US traveling military baseball team is coming to Dyersville in July to play the Ghost Players. We did this last year and it was very popular. That is all I am aware of right now. Joe Scherrman keeps up a website at so go there for more information. The documentary on the Ghost Players has won many awards at some film festivals.

I’ve seen both the book and DVD created by the Ghost Players. Fans of the movie will savor these stories.

Torre, Torre, Koufax: Ken Aspromonte’s Brooklyn Baseball Boyhood

Ken Aspromonte enjoyed a magical time growing up as a ballplayer in Brooklyn.

Yes, his younger brother Bob made the majors, too.

But he crossed paths with three other guys who fulfilled the same dream.

“The Torre brothers (Frank and Joe) played against the Aspromonte brothers throughout the high school years and sandlot baseball,” he wrote. “Sandy Koufax went to the same high school, Lafayette in Brooklyn, with my brother Bob and I. He played first base but eventually moved to pitching –“

Ken’s career as a starter was brief. He did earn a full-time job in the 1960 Cleveland infield, batting a career-best .290. More time to make good wasn’t the only explanation, he noted:

“Success comes in the major leagues when a baseball player finally realizes that he belongs in the majors. It takes lots of patience and finally if you have talent, it will all come about –“

Ken returned to Cleveland to manage in 1972. He led the team through one of the zaniest, scariest nights in baseball history: “10 Cent Beer Night” in 1974. When drunken “fans” wouldn’t clear the field, the Indians forfeited.

When rowdy fans confronted Ranger Jeff Burroughs in the outfield, manager Billy Martin urged his team to grab bats and charge the field to defend a teammate. However, the Texas roster wasn’t big enough to confront the mob.

That’s when Ken Aspromonte sprang into action. He led his Indians onto the field to help defend the visiting team.

“It was a terrible unfortunate evening, something I knew was going to happen when you make beer available at such a LOW price,” he recalled. “I definitely would do the same today if I was managing.”

The world may offer 10-cent beers again someday. But there will never be another Ken Aspromonte.

Ernie Harwell’s Final Calls

We’re all grateful this morning for the life Ernie Harwell devoted to baseball — and baseball fans. This is what I’ll remember most about the Voice Of The Game:

1. Ernie remained humble about his Christianity. He wasn’t one to attach a Bible verse to every autograph. However, the signed photo he provided for my friends at Kings Christian Bookstore (in Boone, Iowa) includes “Mathew 6:33,” only because I requested that he add a favorite verse.

2. Ernie signed my photo across his forehead! When Ernie signed an autograph, he provided an interaction. He wasn’t creating a museum piece. He was making a memory.

3. Read The Babe Signed My Shoe (Honoring a Detroit Legend)
to get an idea of Ernie’s attitude about autographs. A signature was a signature. Someone might grumble that Ernie signed the Topps Fan Favorite card in the dark upper half of the photo. Nevertheless, I don’t think Ernie spent much time fawning over what future generations might make of his face or his autograph.

4. This Southern Gentleman was an all-star at the Palmer School of Penmanship. I looked up countless autographs online after news of his death. Each time, every one of the 12 letters in his name are clear. I’m guessing that he’d provide the same clear signature for one and all, even when a crowd clamored for his autograph.

5. Warner Fuselle, a former narrator for This Week in Baseball, advised me on a book project years ago. “Try Ernie Harwell,” he suggested. “He’s the nicest man in baseball.”

A Standing Ovation for Ernie Harwell

For, lo, the winter is past,
The rain is over and gone;
The flowers appear on the earth;
The time of the singing of birds is come,
And the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.

Ernie Harwell is a man of Biblical proportions. He didn’t write such a verse. It’s from the Song of Solomon (2:11-12). But his annual welcoming of baseball’s return rang in my mind today, a perfect morning pre-game welcome for this gorgeous May day.

The 92-year-old Tigers broadcasting legend told the baseball world more than eight months ago that he’s facing inoperable cancer. The state of Michigan celebrated Ernie Harwell Day in April. I want to celebrate Ernie Harwell’s spirit every day.

I still treasure my copy of the book Ernie Harwell: My 60 Years In Baseball (Honoring a Detroit Legend)
Likewise, I’ve been delighted with Harwell’s own Breaking 90: Nine Decades Young and Still Loving Baseball

As we face the loss of the game’s grateful inspiration, I wanted to share a copy of a letter I sent upon Harwell’s 2002 retirement — to Mrs. Lulu Harwell.

Dear Mrs. Harwell,

It’s time you get a “fan letter,” too. Instead, I’d call this a thank-you note.
When I learned that you have listened to ALL of Mr. Harwell’s broadcasts through the years, I swooned. Baseball history is full of amazing behind-the-scenes leaders like managers and general managers. They allow the players to take all the bows. Well, Tigers fans should offer you yearly standing ovations, too. You’ve kept the voice we love on the air.

Tiger fans have spent seasons enchanted by Ernie Harwell broadcasts. Each fan has thought he’s talking directly to HIM. That’s the magic. He’s always made that personal on-air connection knowing that he’ll be appreciated by one special Ernie Harwell fan. You! Fans like me overhear. We are the blessed eavesdroppers.
I’m grateful for the many summers you’ve shared your husband with the baseball world. I hope you and Mr. Harwell have a lovely retirement together.

Thank you, Ernie. Thank you, Lulu. I wish you many more innings together.

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