Saturday, July 9, 2011
Dearly undeparted Bums
Dick Williams is remembered as the manager who led the Impossible Dream Red Sox to the World Series title and the Swingin' A's to back-to-back championships in 1972-73. He's remembered for his hell-raising, do-what-I-say leadership style that worked with the Expos and Padres, too.
But Williams was a Bum first. He was a Boy of Summer who hit .309 in 36 games for that Dodger team in 1952. He is immortalized in Roger Kahn's book as a single, free-spirit who joined Kahn in a night of ogling dancing girls during the sportswriter's year of covering the team.
Williams, as you know, died Thursday at age 82. The Hall of Famer is the latest of several Brooklyn Dodgers from that period to pass away in the last year. Duke Snider. Clyde King. Billy Loes. Ken Lehman went before him. And, of course, Jackie, Furillo and Hodges are long gone.
Each time a Bum leaves this earth, you'll hear or read baseball fans say, with a note of resignation, "that's too bad. There aren't many of them left."
And they're right. There AREN'T many of them left. I mean if you were at your prime in the early 1950s, I'm not the first to let you know that your time is just about up. I understand the sentiment. What they're saying is that each passing is another sign that a historic moment is fading away.
But anytime anyone says, "there aren't many of them left," I wonder. Well, how many is "not many"? Is there just one Brooklyn Dodger out there praying he lives to be 125 to continue the legacy?
So, I went to my 1974 TCMA Boys of Summer set for answers. I've mentioned before that it's a 40-card set of anyone to have worn a uniform for the 1952 Dodgers team. Granted, that is not every Brooklyn Dodger who ever lived. But I figured if I could find some living Boys of Summer, then the chances were good that there are several others still kicking out there and anytime someone says "there aren't many of them left," it won't seem so damn final anymore.
So here are the members of that team who are still with us. I was happy to see that there are more than I thought.
1. Joe Landrum. Age 82: Landrum pitched in nine games for the '52 Bums. He went 1-3 with a 5.21 ERA. It was his second and final season in the major leagues. The South Carolina native would pitch until 1955 in the Dodgers organization. Between his two years in the majors -- 1950 and 1952 -- he went back to Clemson and earned his degree. You might remember Landrum's son, Bill. He was a relief pitcher for the Reds, Cubs, Pirates and Expos during the 1980s and early '90s.
2. Ron Negray, Age 82: Negray's first season in the majors was in 1952. He pitched in just four games for the Bums. He re-emerged in the majors with the Phillies in 1955 and pitched for them for two years, before joining the Los Angeles Dodgers in '58 for one final season. He went 6-6 in 66 games in the majors. After his career, he sold athletic goods. Here's some more about him from Baseball By The Letters.
3. Rocky Bridges, Age 83: It's a shame they didn't get a close-up of Rocky for this set. The guy seemed to have a perpetual chaw in his mouth during his career. Bridges hit just .196 for the Bums in '52, but he lasted until the early '60s as a utility infielder for the Reds, Senators, Tigers and Angels. He later enjoyed a lengthy managerial career in the minors and was a third base coach with the Angels. Rocky was also a talker (maybe he still is). Lots of memorable quotes from this guy. His most famous is probably "I managed good, but, boy did they play bad."
(Update: Bridges died at age 87 on Jan. 27, 2015)
4. Carl Erskine, Age 84: Always a gentleman, Erskine signed this card for me two years ago last August. Erskine's impressive contributions to his community and his humanitarian spirit make him one of my favorite players of all-time. Sometimes people look down on ballplayers as being nothing more than dumb jocks. Erskine would embarrass those people with all that he's done since his extraordinary career for the Dodgers.
5. Ralph Branca, Age 85: Branca is one of the greatest scapegoats of all-time, the man who gave up The Shot Heard 'Round the World. Branca was never the same pitcher after surrendering the home run -- he won 21 games for the Dodgers in 1947 -- but he lasted until 1956, and he was never bitter about allowing the Bobby Thomson home run (despite all the scandalous sign-stealing going on with that team!). Branca now hangs out at the Westchester Country Club in Rye, N.Y., and is Bobby Valentine's father-in-law.
(Update: Ralph Branca died at age 90 on Nov. 22, 2016)
6. Bobby Morgan, Age 85: Morgan was back in the majors in 1952, called up from Montreal, after a stint with Brooklyn in 1950. He wore my favorite number with Brooklyn, No. 10, and hit .236 in 67 games as a backup infielder. After 1953, he moved on to the Phillies, Cardinals and Cubs. He managed briefly and was a scout for the Royals. He later managed a restaurant in Oklahoma City.
7. Johnny Rutherford, Age 86: Rutherford's entire major league career consisted of 22 games in 1952. He went 7-7 with a 4.25 ERA. Rutherford was the only Canadian on the Boys of Summer. He's from Belleville, Ontario.
(Update: Johnny Rutherford died at age 91 on Dec. 25, 2016)
8. George "Shot Gun" Shuba, Age 86: I wonder if everyone still calls him "Shot Gun"? That would be too cool. Shuba, also immortalized in Kahn's book, received the name because of his ability to spray line drives all over the field. But he never played in more than 94 games in a season for Brooklyn, where he spent his entire career from 1948-55. Shuba is known these days for his symbolic handshake with Jackie Robinson during a minor league game in 1946. It was captured in a photo and described then as "the first interracial handshake" in modern pro baseball history.
(Update: Shuba died at age 89 on Sept. 29, 2014)
9. Andy Pafko, Age 90: Pafko spent most of his career with the Cubs and Braves, but a lot of people remember him as a Brooklyn Dodger because of the two years he spent there and also because he wore Brooklyn blue as the first card in the 1952 Topps set. Pafko was enormously popular as a player and remains hugely popular in his native Wisconsin, especially there in Milwaukee.
Oh, I can't resist showing the back of the card:
Must've been some good eatin' that day. Either that or I got in a knife fight.
(Update: Pafko died at age 92 on Oct. 8, 2013)
10. Johnny Schmitz, Age 90: Like Pafko, Schmitz spent only a brief period of his long career with the Dodgers. He came over to the Dodgers from the Cubs in the trade that also brought Pafko to Brooklyn. Schmitz had some decent seasons for the Cubs and later the Senators, but pitched just 10 games for the Dodgers in '52. His nickname is "Bear Tracks" because of the way he shuffled his size 14 feet to the mound. Isn't that fantastic?
(Update: Schmitz died at age 90 on Oct. 5, 2011)
And there you go. That's 10 members of the '52 Brooklyn Bums that are still saying hello to the sun every morning. Then you add guys like Don Newcombe, who was serving in the military in 1952, and a number of other alive-and-kicking Bums that also didn't play in '52, and really things are looking up.
Sure, the '50s is getting to be a long time ago. But you've just got to find the connection to those Bums. Read the Boys of Summer again. Send one of those Dodgers who are still with us a letter (apparently Negray is still responding).
Yup, there aren't many left. But at least there's 10.