The memory man strikes again with an assortment of stuff. This is Volume 54: “I Never Had One Complaint.” In no particular order … put ‘em in a hat … shake well … close eyes … reach in … and, voila!
You might recall, when septuagenarian Tony La Russa was named White Sox manager last November, there was some concern he might have difficulty dealing with today’s me-first athletes. In other words, although the former Richmond Braves’ second baseman (1972) was/is lawyer smart and knows the game, would his no-nonsense — OK, old-fashioned — approach work with younger players who don’t run out ground balls, for example?
Remember, La Russa, 76, hadn’t worked his magic — three-time winner of the World Series — from a dugout since 2011 when he was with the Cardinals and claimed Series No. 3. Would he prove out of touch?
After a recent incident, there were people, like former Yankees’ pitcher C.C, Sabathia, who insisted the answer was a resounding YES! In a game against the Twins, leading 15-4, Chicago rookie Yermin Mercedes ignored a “take” sign to swing on a 3-0 pitch … and hit a home run. The fact he was facing a position player basically lobbing the ball over the plate — at 47 mph — compounded what Mercedes did, in effect rubbing it in against an already-well-beaten opponent. So much for ignoring one of baseball’s long-standing, if unwritten, rules.
La Russa later said he didn’t like it. “If you think you have enough runs to win, respect the game,” he told reporters. “If you’re going to tell me sportsmanship … and respect for your opponent is not important … I couldn’t disagree with you more.” The next day, when the Twins threw at Mercedes in retaliation, La Russa said he didn’t have a problem with it.
(Actually, the pitch went behind Mercedes, presumably on purpose. He was lucky the late, super-hard-throwing Bob Gibson wasn’t on the mound. He wouldn’t have missed.)
Anyhow, La Russa, who also called Mercedes “clueless,” took a big-time verbal beating for not sticking up for his player, right or wrong. A Chisox pitcher was quoted as saying he didn’t believe in baseball’s unwritten rules. “They’ve gone away,” he said. And Sabathia went on a profanity-punctuated rant that included: “He shouldn’t be [bleeping] managing that team.”
Yankees’ manager Aaron Boone, naturally, told a New York tabloid he didn’t have a problem with swinging 3-0, against a non-pitcher, in a runaway. Say naturally because had Boone agreed with La Russa he would have been taken apart by the Big Apple media, who have not been kind to him anyway because of the team’s woeful start.
Originally signed by Washington in 2011, the 28-year-old Mercedes kicked around the lower minors as well as the independent circuit for eight years before 2021, his breakout season. A catcher who has been used almost exclusively as a designated hitter by La Russa, he was batting .368 after 37 games. Ironically, the native of the Dominican Republic pitched an inning against the Red Sox as a position player in a one-sided loss earlier. No one took a cut at a 3-0 delivery, much less hit a home run off Mercedes.
The White Sox were 12 games over .500 and leading the AL Central on May 17 when the bruhaha occurred. It marked the second time this season people who originally didn’t like the hiring of La Russa said “I told you so.” Earlier, he apparently didn’t know or misunderstood one of the new rules and took a lashing from the big-city press ... but nothing like what La Russa is facing now.
“That doesn’t sound like Tony,” said Charlie Evranian, who knew La Russa back in the day and gave him his first job as manager in the Chisox system in 1977, “… that he would be that upset … unless he was just playing old school. He used to say, ‘Let’s get as many runs as we can.’ Of course, he could have changed over time.”
Or, maybe Mercedes has missed other signs, possibly among other things La Russa considered detrimental to team chemistry, and the skipper decided enough was enough. The time had come to let his displeasure become public.
“Tony has always been a disciplinarian, calling it like it is … but yet he has been very fair,” said Evranian, 72, retired and living with wife Ellen here. “The question always was: Can La Russa relate to the modern player? When he managed for me in Double-A and Triple-A, I never had one complaint. He always looked out for his players. I know, age is no excuse, but Tony always used to be a great public relations guy. On a personal note, he can forget you as fast as he’s introduced to you.”
Before he was a circuit court judge … before he reached a settlement in a defamation suit against a political candidate … His Honor Bradley Cavedo was on a slow track to becoming a linesman in the National Hockey League. Ultimately, he recognized he was bound for a higher calling, but the stories remain of his mostly self-effacing tales of Cavedo on skates, calling offsides, breaking up fights, even falling down on the job. To wit:
“At a game at Ice Zone, a couple of years before I retired, I came out of the locker room with my skate guards on. I always hit the ice fast — and took off — to make a good first impression. Instead, I fell all over the place and ended up in a corner behind the net. A lot of people who had been in hockey with me for 30 years were there … and had a pretty good laugh.”
Also, a tip of the old gavel to Judge BC for correcting an error: In Volume III: Take Me Out to the OLD Ball Game (May 17, 2020), Max Patkin should have been “The Clown [not Crown] Prince of Baseball.” My error.
Let’s see … VCU decides not to play LSU next season. No reason given. OK, so it’s only a guess but … maybe, just maybe, the Rams’ hierarchy decided its was time to distance the program as far as possible from former coach Will Wade, who left VCU for LSU four seasons ago.
You might recall Wade and Sean Miller, then Arizona coach, were caught by the FBI on wire taps allegedly talking about paying recruits. It took a while but the NCAA finally brought sanctions against Miller, who subsequently was fired. Wade could be next. (VCU conducted its own check of Wade and announced it found no evidence of any wrong-doing during his time here.)
In late March, Sports Illustrated reported the FBI was still in Baton Rouge, continuing its investigation of Wade as well as the LSU program. The NCAA likewise is conducting a similar inquiry albeit at its typical, snail-like pace.
Readers Write: One of our more active email pals is Earl “Buddy” Cousins. Oh, the tales he can tell … including adventures at the old State Fairgrounds half-mile dirt track when you could scoot up an old tree that hung above the backstretch fence and watch — for free — the good ol’ boys stock car racing. Such as:
“ ‘Frog,’ my best friend then, and I hopped the fence a number of times. One day we had a brainstorm and decided to climb the tree and watch from there. [But, after he fell from the tree, they decided they’d hop the wooden barrier, as usual, cross the track and go to the infield — as usual.] ‘Frog’ went first. You might recall those fences were about 10 feet above the track. I climbed over, and when I pushed away to jump down, I [landed] on my tailbone, and it stunned me.
“I heard people yelling … and then the sound of an engine roaring … and I looked towards the sound. IT WAS A FREAKIN’ CAR QUALIFYING, COMING UP THE BACKSTRETCH, AND THERE I WAS, ON MY BUTT. I got up and scrambled to the infield. We thought we’d lose the security guy that was chasing us, and we stopped in Johnny Roberts’ pits. It was amazing what you could do back then.
“When the security guy showed up, Roberts said we were with him. It was a modified/sportsman race … the one that had a huge crash on the backstretch. Roberts crawled into a burning car and pulled the driver out — saving his life.”
It will be a while, until Henrico County completes a proposed new arena and ice hockey returns as a tenant. Millionaire Fred Festa, 62, of Midlothian and Annapolis, Md., apparently has first dibs on a franchise. The ECHL has been full-ice pressing him to join the circuit formerly known as the East Coast Hockey League, which included your Richmond Renegades for 13 seasons until their demise following the 2002-03 campaign.
Now comes word, unofficial of course, that the American Hockey League also would like to return here, where it all began with the Robins in late 1971. The AHL has changed — drastically — since E. Claiborne Robins Jr. gave Richmond its first taste of the game that would have many highs and lows before skating away in 2009 with the death of Renegades II. Robins, the team, lasted five seasons, and Robins, the man (older and clearly wiser), says he would never do it again.
The minor league AHL has undergone a significant makeover after coming close to going under on one occasion (1977), probably more. Now it has a business model not unlike baseball where the National Hockey League owns the teams and runs the league. As a result, local ownership no longer is required, only a decent facility and friendly lease agreement. Fan interest is welcomed.
In 2020-21, there were 28 teams, coast to coast, with six in Canada. Only the Hershey Bears and Rochester Americans survived the 50 years since the Robins first took flight.
Festa, who once owned the ECHL’s Greenville (S.C.) Swamp Rabbits, knows and likes the league — and the league knows and likes Festa, though there is the rather pricey upfront fee of $5 million. He was out of town and unavailable for comment last week.
Oh, and there’s another league that would accept Richmond in a heartbeat, the Federal Prospects Hockey League, which played 2020-21 with only four teams because of COVID-19 restrictions — and was won by Jeff Croop’s Columbus, Ga., RiverDragons. Croop is the former Richmond RiverDogs’ general manager who lives in Richmond.
This is a low-budget operation but very entertaining. It costs about $1.3 million a year to operate. This season, with other franchises in Port Huron, Mich., Elmira, N.Y., and Winston-Salem, N.C., teams played three-game weekend series.
From the Lefty File … comes another tale about Hall of Fame basketball coach Lefty Driesell, this one by Michael Perry, former University of Richmond star who worked under, then succeeded, the Lefthander as Georgia State coach:
“Moses Malone used to come around to see Lefty … and I asked him about rebounding, what was his secret? He said the answer was simple: ‘the more you go after the more you get.’ And I asked him why he decided to sign with the Lefthander to go to Maryland? ‘It’s simple,’ he said. ‘He was the only one who didn’t offer me anything. The only one.’”
Petersburg’s Malone signed with Maryland but never played college hoops, going straight to the pros in 1974. In 20 seasons, the 6-10, 260-pounder averaged 20.6 points and 12.2 rebounds, becoming a three-time NBA most valuable player and being selected into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2001, his first season of eligibility. Malone was in Norfolk to appear in a charity golf tournament when he died from a heart attack Sept., 13, 2015 at age 60.
Perry: “Lefty has a signed picture of Moses sitting on top of a Cadillac, and everyone assumed Lefty bought it for him. The ACC commisioner [Bob James] said Lefty kept calling him: ‘Can I do this [recruiting]? Can I do that?’ Every step. Of course, some of the things he did were ground breaking. Until then, nobody had done (them).”
Back, if briefly, on the subject of fisticuffs, former NHL defenseman Willie Brossart was asked about the best one-on-one beatdown he saw — and the long-time resident of Ashland now retired from Phillip Morris didn’t hesitate: “The most memorable was when I was with Toronto and Darryl Sittler fought [the Islanders’] Garry Howat. All of a sudden Howat was frothing from the mouth. Longest fight I ever saw. As far as I know, there’s no tape of it. Can’t find it anywhere.”
Until next time ...