Enjoying A Letter From Grateful Johnny Grubb

Expect the same tight,
neat handwriting today!

Outfielder and designated hitter Johnny Grubb enjoyed a 16-year career in the majors.

Was it his hitting or fielding that gave him enduring value to teams?

Or, was it his humility and gratitude?

His letter proves that he appreciated every opportunity. Likewise, I think that attitude guaranteed that he made the most of every opportunity. Grubb began:

“Tom,

Thanks for your nice letter and love for the great game of baseball.

It was a wonderful experience to be part of the 1974 National League All-Star team…what a great group of people and players.”

Grubb flirted with history in 1979, posting a 21-game hitting streak. I asked for the most joyful, or dramatic, moments of the streak. He replied:

“I was aware of my batting streak, but winning games was top priority. My teammate, Jim Sundberg, had a 22-game streak that at one time was the Rangers record.”

Lastly, I had to ask about being part of the 1984 Detroit Tigers World Championship. What did Grubb learn from leader Sparky Anderson?

“Sparky Anderson was a very special person. he was a great motivator and knew the game as well as anyone. He was a great person to learn from, whether it was baseball or life in general. I was fortunate to have Sparky as a manager.”

I loved this Grubb profile. I hope you do, too. Another hit feature from Todd Newville of http://www.baseballtoddsdugout.com/.

Coming Tuesday: Kansas City Royals collector Dave O’Brien tells why personal letters matter.

Tiger Lance Parrish, Mel Allen’s ‘Big Wheel’

The Parrish autograph
is bigger, better!

Catcher Lance “Big Wheel” Parrish was knighted.

In baseball history, players have gotten nicknames. Or, they’ve been saddled with nicknames.

Not Parrish. He was chosen. His name was bestowed by baseball royalty.

Nevertheless, I wanted both a definition and origin of his nickname. You see, my father was a factory worker for more than two decades. More than once, he came home and used the adjective “Big Wheel” when describing a pompous superior or adversary from the office side of the business. Usually, “Big Wheel” was a tepid substitute for a bluer, more unflattering phrase he wanted to apply in the direction of the offending person.

Therefore, knowing that Parrish was known as “Big Wheel,” I wanted to make sure his nickname was positive. Here’s the eight-time All-Star’s name story, straight from a most surprising hand-printed reply:

“The nickname ‘Big Wheel’ came about in the early ’80s. I was told our announcers did refer to me as ‘Big Wheel’ on occasion. I was dubbed ‘Big Wheel’ by the legendary Mel Allen on a This Week in Baseball segment that featured the Tigers.

Our team happened to be watching it in the clubhouse and the name stuck. He opened the segment by claiming that the wheels of the Motor City were turning and I guess I was hot at the time, so he referred to me as the Big Wheel.”

If you can dodge the website’s talking Mike Golic Tabasco banner ad, check out Parrish’s tribute to Sparky Anderson in The Sporting News.

Tomorrow: Former third baseman Parrish talks about his switch to catching, crediting the two men who helped him make the Gold Glove transition.

Between The Lines With Coach Alex Grammas

I was never a fan of fractions, except for common denominators.

Manager Sparky Anderson’s Hall of Fame formula included common denominator coach Alex Grammas. In Cincinnati and Detroit, Grammas was at Anderson’s side.

I looked beyond Grammas’s coaching, discovering that he had more than a few good days at bat. Here were my three questions:

1. Whether winning the World Series in Cincinnati or Detroit, Sparky Anderson had you on his team. Besides hiring good coaches, what was in his personality and attitude that made him a Hall of Fame manager?

2. You seemed like a bench coach in Cincinnati and Detroit, but never had that title. How do you feel about the position being “official?”

3. Six four-hit games. A four RBI game versus the Cubs. Twelve career home runs. You were more than just a slick fielder. What moment at bat do you enjoy remembering most?

In just under three months, this was his response:
 

“Tom,

I’ve always enjoyed every team I was on. The secret is giving it 100 percent every day.

The best to your and your family.

Alex Grammas”

I like asking questions. I like giving former players a chance to get the last word on their careers, describing their diamond days in any way they choose. Although Grammas seemed lean on details, his grateful perspective on the game is an outlook I can appreciate. I’d like to be able to borrow his words someday to describe my collecting “career.”

Reds Manager Dave Bristol Recalls Pete Rose, Crosley Field and Nasty Umpires

Manager Dave Bristol wants to set the record straight.

I quoted Baseball Reference’s bio to him:

He saw the writing on the wall as a player before the 1962 season with the Macon Peaches, when a young hotshot named Pete Rose beat him for the second baseman’s job.

Bristol’s reply?

“I was the manager in Macon. I didn’t compete with Rose. He needed to play and he surely did.

We had so many good players in Cincy in the 1960s. His move to the outfield fit into the scheme of things, much as it did when Sparky moved him to third base.”


Bristol’s first job in Cincinnati cemented his love for the local ballpark:

“I had seen Crosley Field in 1951 when I was there to work out prior to signing with Reds. In 1966, we were rained out opening day, so my first big league coaching third base took place in Philly when we opened the season there. Crosley was my all-time favorite park. Loved it. No park like it today — bank in outfield, 387 in center with high wall.”

Lastly, I gave Bristol the chance to confess his sins. The stunning http://www.retrosheet.org/ documented 23 ejections (four as coach, 19 as manager). Were they mostly balls-and-strikes disputes? Was there one time he could laugh about today? His defiant answer surprised me!

“I should have done more, but it doesn’t help your team when the manager is in the clubhouse.”

Watch out, retired umpires. Bristol hasn’t skippered a team since 1980. However, I’m betting he’s kept a list of the men in blue who wronged his clubs.

I enjoyed writing to Dave Bristol. Sparky Anderson may have operated the Big Red Machine, but I let Bristol know he should be credited for assembling some of the lineup gears that powered the team.

Big Red Machine Coach George Scherger Salutes Sparky Anderson

George Scherger may not read Wikipedia. That’s why I shared a glowing quote about him:

He was my first manager I ever had in 1953 when I broke into the Dodgers organization. I begged him to come with me. I used to say, ‘George, what does that sign say over there?’ He’d say, ‘Manager.’ I said, ‘Funny thing it’s on my door. I got the title, and you’re the skipper.’

— Sparky Anderson


Caught in the glow of the spotlight, Scherger turned the focus back to his Hall of Fame boss, writing:

“No way, I couldn’t tie his shoes. I never told him anything. In fact, I learned from him. when I left the club, I won a pennant at Nashville (1979) and Indianapolis (1982). That’s because I listen to Sparky.

When I had Sparky at Santa Barbara, Calif., he was a good player and wanted to win. He had great baseball instincts. He loved the game. He got his nickname in double A ball in Texas.”

If you write to Scherger, be sure to thank him for his World War II service. As July 4 approaches, it’s a great time to remember all the men who wore BOTH uniforms.

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