Aug

6

 August 5 is a special day for baseball fans. Many probably don't appreciate it, though. Baltimore Os fans should find it of interest even as it was 3 years before the Browns moved into Memorial Stadium. You see, there's are lots of connections between the Giants and the Os—and in 1951, that connection showed itself, so to speak. For on Aug 5, 1951, the Giants began what may have been the most improbable of comebacks seen in baseball history. And if began on Aug 5. For on August 5, the Giants completed a series against the Cards, coming off a 10-0 shutout the day before, winning 8-4. And in so doing, they captured the series. It was the first of many such series wins during the last third of the 1951 season.

The 1951 team had lots of connections to the Os—well beyond the Giants taking on the Os colors, the black and orange.

1951 saw the arrival of William "Say hey" Mays, the season's Rookie of the Year. The Giants played in the Polo Grounds back then, in Manhattan across the Harlem River from the Bronx Bombers, the Yanks. Mays was made for the Polo Grounds—not so much his bat (though there was that dimension to his place on a roster) but his legs. He could run around in the Polo Grounds' center field better than anyone else in the game. It was because of that need to run like crazy to field center field in that ball park that Mays developed his over the shoulder basket catch—the one that the PTO issued a patent to him because basically it was his. Mays once saw the Os' Paul Blair playing center field. After watching Blair make some outstanding plays, Mays commented that he thought Blair was better as a center fielder than he, Mays, was. Quite a compliment!

Nor was it that Leo Durocher, a deserved legend in the game, was managing the team. (Durocher would rival O's skipper Earl Weaver both in results and lifetime ejections—they are tied for the latter; Weaver had the better win pct, Durocher the greater number of wins. I don't know, though, if Durocher was ever ejected even once, never mind twice, before the first pitch was made as Earl had.) Both Weaver and Durocher would also secure reputations as trainers of future managers, though the 1951 Giants had I think 5 such players. Durocher is probably best remembered for his misquote—he said, "Nice guys. Finish last." The reference was to the Giants (and Mel Ott, in specific) when Durocher managed the Dodgers. That didn't stop the observation from being "Nice guys finish last." Durocher did have a connection, though not through the Giants. Before managing New York, Durocher managed the Dodgers, woking for Larry MacPhail. He an MacPhail would go out drinking some evenings, and MacPhail would fire Durocher, only to rehire him in the morning when sobriety ruled.

Think George Steinbrenner and Billy Martin had an interesting owner-manager relationship? It was nothing compared with Durocher and MacPhail. The connection to the Os is that MacPhail's son Lee was the GM of the Os who began the negotiations that brought Frank Robinson to the Orioles.

For Durocher, competitiveness was everything. If you competed, you had no problems with him. When Jackie Robinson joined the Dodgers in the last 1940s, Durocher said he didn't care about a man's color, just whether the guy wanted to win. (Vince Lombardi was of the same mindset. "During his first year in Green Bay, Lombardi called his team together on the practice field and delivered a rare lecture on racism. 'If I ever hear nigger or dago or kike or anything like that around here, regardless of who you are, you're through with me. You can't play for me if you have any kind of prejudice.' His actions that year were often more quiet behind the scenes, like paying Tunnell's hotel bill when it was hard to find suitable housing, or making sure the black players had enough money to go to Milwaukee or Chicago on off-days. But as his status and power increased in his second season, his sensitivity to racial inequities intensified as well, and his responses became more overt. Before the season began, Lombardi spread the word among Green Bay's tavern and restaurant owners that any establishment that did not welcome his black players would be declared off limits to the entire team. At Tunnell's suggestion, he allowed the black players to leave the St. Norbert training camp twice during the preseason for quick trips down to Milwaukee, the closest city where they could find barbers who knew how to cut their hair." (There was also Lombardi's intolerance of any expression of any homophobic sentiment, perhaps reflective of his basic human decency, perhaps the result of having a gay brother and being aware of the cultural challenges gays faced at the time).

But I digress.

I mentioned that many members of the 1951 team, like Alvin Dark and Eddie Stanky, would go on to manage their own teams. Not that Weaver did ok by that measure too, but perhaps most notable wasn't a player but a coach. A key member of the coaching staff—George Bamberger. Bamberger was a ne'er do well pitcher for the Giants. He didn't find his place in baseball until he began coaching. And it was coaching, as the pitching coach for the Os, that Bamberger would make his mark. In 1967, when Bamberger took on the assignment. He was familiar with the Gray Lady on 33rd Street from when he pitched, briefly, for the Os during the 1959 season. No stranger to Memorial Stadium he.

In 1967, the Os had trouble just about everywhere—but pitching most of all. The arms were sore that season. Bamberger went to work. When Weaver came on board in 1968, he found in Bamberger the man to run the pitching staff. (Weaver was a shrewd judge of hitters and fielders. Pitchers? Not so much. Palmer, no stranger to the art of the pitching craft, once observed that "the only thing Earl knows about a curve ball is that he couldn't hit one." Bamberger was the orchestrator of the 4 20-game winners in 1971. The oversight of Jimmy Palmer as he ascended to become the dominant pitcher in the AL during the 1970s. Bamberger was a connection.

So today has significance in baseball history, at least for Os' fans. Today was when the Giants' hunt for the Dodgers began that season. 65 years ago. In New York City. The Giants would lose only one more series during the remainder of the season—and that was to the Dodgers—the next series, in fact. And after that series, the Giants not only did not lose a series for the remainder of the season. They didn't lose a game to the Dodgers. I'll leave Bobby Thompson for another time.


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