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04-25-2012 10:17 PM #46GCL O's
- Join Date
- Jul 2009
From my book "Beating About the Bushes"
WINTER BALL WAS A VACATION
As a reward for my 1968 season I was selected to play winter ball in the Florida Instructional League. This was the platform for up and coming prospects plus those whose major league credentials had slipped due to injury or poor performance. Since I hadn’t played in the bigs, I put myself in the first category. Our manager was Cal Ripken, Sr and the roster had Don Baylor, Curt Blefary, Rich Coggins, Terry Crowley, Ron Dunn, Roger Freed, Bobby Grich, John Montague, Jim Palmer and Al Severinson, all of whom made major league clubs at various times in their career.
Winter league baseball was the ultimate luxury for a player no matter whether it was the Florida Instructional League, Puerto Rico or any Latin American country. You had been identified as someone the organization had tapped for a reason. It was an invisible chevron to be displayed on your uniform the following spring training providing a major psychological edge over both those remaining and those to come. My 1.16 ERA is what resulted in the invitation to the major league camp in the next few months coupled with the possibility of the first ever player’s strike in the history of the game.
Baltimore had contracted with a motel featuring efficiency apartments so we could survive without having to eat every meal in a restaurant. Plus, there was daily maid service to clean up any mess in the kitchen I might make. Word had spread about my culinary skills and often there were visitors around dinner time enjoying whatever I had put together.
The most interesting character on our team had to be Curt Blefary. Curt was born in Brooklyn and originally signed with the Yankees but sold to Baltimore while still in the minors. He was named American League Rookie of the Year as an outfielder for the Orioles in 1965 when he hit .260 with 22 home runs and 70 RBI’s. His nickname, “Clank”, was given by Frank Robinson, in part for his below average fielding abilities. In an effort to keep his bat in the lineup, the Orioles shifted him from outfield to catcher and on April 27, 1968 he caught Tom Phoebus’ no hitter against the Red Sox.
Curt and I developed a friendship almost instantly upon meeting for no reason other than we enjoyed each other’s company. It didn’t matter he was Baltimore’s second AL Rookie of the year in franchise history having hit 82 home runs for the Orioles over the past four seasons. I was someone he never heard of but we looked at life in a humorous way, the only way to survive the pressures of professional baseball.
During the second week of camp, I noticed Curt slipping away into the clubhouse at precisely the same time each day returning five minutes later. After the third day I confronted him. “What the heck are you doing every day when you go back into the clubhouse? You can’t be that regular so you have to take a crap precisely at eleven.”
“I’ve got a check coming from the Orioles for $8,000 and I don’t want my wife to get her hands on it. I got my land lady watching the mail and she’s going to send it to me.” How he convinced this person to commit mail fraud was understandable because Curt was absolutely charming.
The next day he repeated the routine but there was a grin on his face when we made eye contact and he gave me a discreet, thumb up signal. Nothing was mentioned until the mail arrived a few days later and Blefary offered an invitation to a select few for a night of partying on him.
We went to the best night club Clearwater had to offer and the drinks were on Curt for the evening. The night was electric because of the quality of the band and the large number of single women. A buzz started when people learned there were seven professional baseball players in attendance. Only Blefary had the big league credentials, but we all were able to walk the walk and talk the talk.
Last call drinks arrived for our group which had swelled to more than twenty. The most beautiful were sitting on each side of Curt, a blonde and a red head. They matched his good looks and it made sense when the threesome stood up and prepared to leave. “Boys, I’ll see you later but I don’t know when that will be. Tell Rip not to get nervous.” This was the last we saw of Blefary for two days.
When Curt did show up, there were no questions asked, at least not in front of the club. I’m sure Rip had to report to the front office in the same manner as to Dalkowski’s actions three years previous. The big difference between the two was, Baltimore was able to trade Blefary to Houston after winter ball for Mike Quellar in what is recognized as one of the best trades made in the history of the Orioles. Quellar led the club in victories with a 23-11 record and went on to have four twenty game seasons.
I was bothered by Curt’s cavalier attitude about his career, but because he was so likeable, you just believed he was able to accept his fate head on. The best quote came when he described his batting average of .199 the past season with the Orioles.
“If you hit .199 everyone will say he just had a bad year, he’s much better than that. If you hit .200 you’ve crossed the line and aren’t a prospect and then you’re gone.” Years later this same philosophy became known as the “Mendoza Line”, for a similar statistical position and a debate as to the origin. It has now become part of America’s lexicon used for describing someone on the bubble of survival in professional baseball.
After a full season with the Astros, Blefary was used as a part time player by the Yankees, Athletics and Padres. Upon retiring in 1972, he tried unsuccessfully to continue his career in baseball as a coach. He worked as a sheriff, bartender, truck driver, and later owned a night club. In 1995 he acknowledged his long time drinking problem and asked for help for B.A.T (Baseball Assistance Team), an organization formed to help down and out baseball people.
Curt died in Pompano Beach, Florida at age 57 in 2001. His last wish was to be buried in Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium. Although the park was nearly demolished when he passed away, his wife Lana was able to honor his request to scatter his ashes in Memorial Stadium. The Babe Ruth Museum supplied the home plate used in the penultimate game at the stadium and located it in the precise spot where it had been used. The ceremony was held on May 24, 2001. “He loved Baltimore, and he loved his fans, said his wife. “He was a lifelong student of the game.” In telling this story over the last decade, not a person has been able to give me the name of the 1965 AL Rookie of the Year.
04-25-2012 10:32 PM #47GCL O's
- Join Date
- Jul 2009
This is a reposting from several months ago granted by the publishers of OH
BEATING ABOUT THE BUSHES
Few little boys have a chance to realize their dream of playing
professional baseball. Fewer yet ever experience the thrill of
wearing their own custom fitted uniform in a major league spring
training camp. “Beating About the Bushes” allows the reader to
ride the emotional wave of my eight year career starting with
the realization at age 12, I was the “big fish in the small pond”.
The 60's were the beginning and end of the age of innocence for
many facets of life. Professional baseball players still played for
the love of the game and not money. Today's average major
league player makes more in one game than the average yearly
wage for a player in 1960.
For a decade I was both a player and scout in professional
baseball. This provided a broad overview for the playing and
business side of baseball and how little control a player had
over his destiny. By maintaining contact with teammates who
chose to enter management after their careers, I was able to
follow the evolution of the game.
“Beating About the Bushes” takes the reader back to an era
where life was much simpler. It was possible to buy a cap gun
along with caps to play cowboys and indians without fear of
APBPA Life member#3322
www.buybooksontheweb.com (excerpt available)
Personalized copy-PO Box 26094
Prescott Valley, Az. 86312-$15.00-shipping incl.
04-27-2012 09:35 PM #48GCL O's
- Join Date
- Jul 2009
This is not in my book "Beating About the Bushes"
I recently learned I was the "Work Horse for the '60's Decade" in Class A ball for my '66 season in the Cal League-226 IP. Not bad for the 6' 1" 150 pounder
04-27-2012 10:48 PM #49GCL O's
- Join Date
- Jul 2009
This will be my last posting on OH. This is the letter I wrote to Jim Palmer before the publishing of my book "Beating About the Bushes" and is included with every direct order to me. Despite my many recent postings, there has been zero responses, even from previous posters, and it is time to move on to different marketing opportunities. To those who have read the book, I know you feel good about sharing my experiences.
July 25, 2007
I hope I find you and your family in good health and enjoying life. I got a chuckle over the recent picture and quote in Sports Illustrated about getting down on one knee for your proposal. I too have the same problem sometimes putting the golf tee in the ground.
As you can see, I have been busy over the last three years writing a book about my 8 year pro career. My family has pushed me to record these memories before I become too senile or die and nothing gets passed on to future generations. This exercise also has put my life in perspective.
I have come to realize what a unique experience I've had, despite not reaching the major leagues. Most important are the relationships with people having the same drive. None of us knew what our future was to be in baseball. We were motivated not by money, but the desire to achieve boyhood dreams. In the minors we were always trying to peek at someone's paycheck to gage our importance in the organization, but money wasn't what we talked about.
Some years ago I wrote to 13 organizations, where I had a connection, wanting to get back in baseball as a scout. Unfortunately, this was during a player's strike. I received thank you letters from all, but one was really distinctive.
Lou Gorman was Boston's GM and previously responsible for Kansas City buying my contract before the 1970 season. He responded with a hand written five page, double sided, confessional. He went to great length telling me how much he missed the simplicity of baseball in the 60's and 70's. He couldn't stand dealing with agents and not face to face with players. Unfortunately he turned down my request since they were laying off scouts, not hiring.
I have enjoyed a wonderful life both in business and family. I retired as VP of a auto parts manufacturer in Elmira after starting as a clerk making $100 a week. The key to this job was, no more contracts to negotiate and the paycheck was there every Friday as long as I showed up. My wife and I remained in Elmira for thirty plus years before retiring to Prescott, Arizona.
We have two children that rank high as to integrity and personality, though both are very different. Chris is married to a doctor and living in San Diego, providing access to our two grandchildren. Jeff is a mechanical engineer employed by Cessna aircraft in Wichita, Kansas. They have become quite involved in my writing this book since they pushed me for decades to write the memories. This is what has motivated me to work six nights a week for the past three years, both creating and editing. I'm done and worn out.
I have to tell you my experience in trying to get to you for your Hall of Fame induction. I'm sure you don't remember a pledge we made to each other early on about being there for whomever made it there first. This is indicative of the friendship we had starting out as kids who wanted to get to the top. I really appreciate the kind note you sent two years ago via a sales rep who was back east at a show.
Typically, because I was too busy with myself, I delayed in reserving hotel space in Cooperstown for the visit. We had to stay at a motel far out of town owned by people who could barely speak English. The only entertainment was a movie theater and the feature was “Aracnaphobia”, something with thousands of spiders in the cast. My baseball status, and role as family decision maker greatly diminished the next morning, when cockroaches were found all over the shower floor.
We went to the grassy area before the stage well in advance in order to get good seating. Because of the rain, I bought garbage bags for protection and endured the kid's complaints about sitting still for a long period of time in the rain, not really knowing why they were there. I was excited, not only for your induction, but also for Joe Morgan. We played against each other in 1963 in the California League.
Knowing there was a golf tournament for Hall of Famers, I left everyone under the cover of garbage bags to see you playing at the Leather Stocking golf course next to the hotel. To me, it would be a simple matter of walking onto the course and say hello. What I found was remarkable. I tried entering the course three times, even sneaking through bushes, only to be stopped by security. I don't think the President would have this kind of protection.
On the way back, I recognized Jim Campbell, GM of the Tigers walking ahead with someone I didn't know. I stopped them and introduced myself since Jim was the scouting director who walked out on me during a terrible performance in Port Clinton, Ohio. He remembered both me and the performance and introduced me to his companion. It was Bo Schembechler. All this brings me to the essence of the letter.
You may recall a picture taken of us in 1968. You autographed it for me some years ago. Even though I am the owner and creator of this very unique photograph of a Hall of Fame member, I feel it is only proper to ask your permission to use this as a book cover. To me, it illustrates the last period of innocence in professional baseball. Never again can such a picture taken in spring training or winter ball ever be duplicated like this in 1968. The plus for me was, Cal Ripken was our manager in winter ball who ignored my artistic movements while the game was going on.
Over the years, my family has stopped me from pursuing a couple of projects. Most obvious would be to peddle the picture on E Bay or any number of sports collection agencies who have made offers. I wanted to give the picture to the Hall of Fame if it would be exhibited, but my children vetoed that idea. Now that I have written the book and they see this is as the legacy they wanted, I have permission to approach you. My projection for the book is about 200-300 sales amongst previous classmates, friends, and a few players I've kept in touch with.
I hope you understand how much this request means to me. I have found strong relationships stand the test of time, and I can still picture you and me on adjacent mounds throwing for speed comparisons since there were no radar guns. Also, in '64 I beat you in 8 out of 10 statistical categories, including strike outs per game. (Laughing out loud on that one) Legends are built over time and this is the stat I used in business to promote my “Hall of Shame” status.
Once again, I want to express how much I have enjoyed knowing you. In writing the book I have come to realize how few spring trainings are ahead of me, but I wouldn't trade a day (ok-I would trade the day with Darrell Johnson) of my life.
04-28-2012 09:00 AM #50