Hot Stove #33 – Spring Training, Marilyn Monroe and the Montreal Expos

A few days after I posted the last Hot Stove, my job status changed. At 75, I was ready to retire. But I have not left the building. I still get to show up as “of counsel” the rest of this year to complete my 50th year of law practice.  The firm held a nice reception for me and two fellow retirees, and we were asked to each write a 100-word memoir of our career. This was mine:

On January 1, 1979, leaving behind a 12-year litigation practice for a specialty to be named later, I joined five law school fraternity brothers to practice law on the Plaza. Our young firm held a planning retreat in Las Vegas and agreed that we would never grow to more than 25 lawyers and would keep our quaint office space. Our plan failed. But I now have about 800 brother and sister lawyers. I also luckily found a couple of specialties that led to a rewarding career among great friends and lawyers. Good times. Thanks.


A carryover benefit is that I get to keep an office for two years, and this will provide a convenient man cave to spare Rita seeing me at the condo 24/7. My trusty computer will also remain for typing and emailing Hot Stove posts.


Spring Training 2017: Royals pitchers and catchers report on Valentine’s Day. Two years ago, as the Royals worked their way to the World Series, the starting rotation at the beginning of the season was Ventura/Duffy/Volquez/Vargas/Guthrie (Cueto joined in July). For 2017, it is looking like Duffy/Kennedy/Hammel/Vargas/Karns. No Wade Davis in the bullpen. Cross your fingers. [Jason Hammel Trivia: The new Royals starter was the Oakland pitcher on the mound when Salvy stroked the walk-off winner in the 2014 Wild Card. Click here. Now Salvy will be catching him.]


Position players report on February 17. The one I will really miss is Jarrod Dyson who was traded to Seattle for starting pitcher Nate Karns. Dyson was drafted by the Royals in the 50th round in 2006. As recounted by KC Star reporter Rustin Dodd, scout Art Stewart scanned the list of remaining names and saw a junior-college outfielder with an “80” speed, the highest number in scouting vernacular. “What the hell?” Stewart thought, and selected Dyson. Good news for KC fans. I will always remember seeing pinch runner Dyson crossing the plate with the go-ahead run in the final game of the 2015 Series. And this 2016 catch.


But the memory burned into my brain is his mantra for the Royals: “That’s what speed do.” He has not lost his unique eloquence with the move to Seattle:


[Art Stewart Trivia: Art Stewart, the scout who picked Dyson, is still a senior advisor to Royals GM Dayton Moore. He turned 90 this past Monday. Three years ago, he published his biography with the help of KC Star sportswriter Sam Mellinger (The Art of Scouting). He started his scouting career with the Yankees in 1953 and has been with the Royals since their inaugural year of 1969. His logic for drafting Dyson: “speed never goes into a slump.”]


Royals Home Runs: Last month, Steve Balboni turned 60. He was with the Royals from 1984 to 1988 and holds the franchise record for home runs – 36 dingers in 1985, the year the Royals won their first World Series. Of the 30 major league franchises, the Royals are the only team that has never had a player with more than 40 home runs in a season. Is it time for Hos, Salvy, Moose or new guys Brandon Moss or Jorge Soler to break Balboni’s record? Do not hold your breath – the dimensions of the field at the K have not changed. Lee Judge wrote a good piece on Royals home run history and the exchanging of speed and defense (like say Dyson) for power in the 2017 lineup.


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Spring Training 1951: Historian Michael Beschloss tweets all manner of vintage photos, political and otherwise. He posted several from spring training of 1951, and the two below feature Stan Musial and Gus Zernial. The one with Zernial has historical significance. To publicize an upcoming movie, Marilyn Monroe did a photo shoot with the White Sox during spring training. There was a series of photos, and many included Zernial . Joe DiMaggio saw the photos in a newspaper and teased Zernial when he saw him at an exhibition game. Zernial’s take on DiMaggio: “he couldn’t believe someone like me could meet Marilyn Monroe. He made the comment, ‘Why should a busher like me get to meet her?’” Gus put Joe in touch with Marilyn’s press agent and you know the rest of that story. [Zernial Trivia – Zernial was traded soon after that spring training to the Philadelphia A’s. Zernial became part of the Kansas City A’s when the team moved from Philadelphia in 1955.]

Stan Musial in St. Petersburg – 1951


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             Gus and Marilyn


Hall of Fame (and Game): The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum began its “Hall of Game” in 2014 to honor baseball players who exhibited the same “passion, skill and flair” as Negro League Players. Last June, Rita and I attended the induction ceremonies for the 2016 class: Tony Oliva, Orlando Cepeda and two who played most of their career with the Montreal Expos, Andre “The Hawk” Dawson and Tim “Rock” Raines. Dawson was elected to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in 2010, and Raines has now followed with his election last month. A third member of the Expos, Gary Carter, was elected to the HOF in 2003. This is an impressive number of HOF players for a team that only played in Montreal from 1969 to 2004 and never won a pennant.


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Expos Fourth Hall of Famer – Tom Brady: In 1995, Tom Brady was a 2-sport star in high school in San Mateo, California. Montreal scout John Hughes was aware that Brady was likely going to Michigan to play football, but used an 18th round draft choice to select Brady. He said it would have been the 5th round if it looked like Brady might choose baseball. Brady had a workout with a couple of Montreal players, but his heart was in football. Hughes says that Brady “had all of the intangibles. He could throw, left-handed power. There is no reason to think this guy couldn’t have been a major league catcher.” As we now know, Brady will be in the Hall of Fame, but it will be in Canton rather than Cooperstown. His draft selection did lead to a fake baseball card: 


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Buzzer Beaters: Brady’s heroics leading to the Patriots overtime victory in the Super Bowl capped off a year of amazing championship games. In the Final Four in April, Villanova beat North Carolina on a shot at the buzzer. In the NBA finals, LeBron and Cleveland beat Stephen and the Warriors in the last minute of the 7th game. The World Series also went seven games as the Cubs lost a big lead and came back to beat the Indians in extra innings. In the college football championship, Clemson beat Alabama with one second on the clock.

Expansion Teams in 1969 – Royals, Expos, Pilots and Padres: Baseball added new franchises in 1961, 1962, 1969, 1977, 1993 and 1998. Two teams were added in each year except 1969 when four teams were added: Kansas City and Seattle in the AL, and Montreal and San Diego in the NL. The expansion from 10 to 12 teams in each league led to forming 6-team divisions and establishing a new playoff round. As for the four new teams in 1969, I think it is safe to say that the Royals have been by far the most successful. Yes, I am biased, but here are the facts:


1. The Seattle Pilots lasted only one year before moving to Milwaukee to become the Brewers. The franchise won its only pennant in 1982 when its “Harvey’s Wallbangers” lost the Series to the Cardinals. I was in St. Louis for the 7th game of that series with my friend Woody Overton. The Pilots/Brewers are represented in the Hall of Fame by Paul Molitor and Robin Yount. Seattle got a new AL team in 1977 (Mariners). The Brewers moved to the NL in 1998.


2. The San Diego Padres won pennants in 1984 and 1998, but lost the Series both times. Their HOF players are Tony Gwynn and Dave Winfield.


3. Montreal fans wanted the team name to be the “Royals” because their minor league team was so-named. Jackie Robinson and Roberto Clemente famously played for the Montreal Royals before heading to the major leagues. But Kansas City had already staked its claim. So Montreal went with “Expos,” a name with the same spelling in French and English, in recognition of the Expo 67 World’s Fair. The Expos won one division title, but only because they won half of the split season caused by the 1981 players’ strike. With eight weeks left in the season in 1994, the Expos led their division by six games, but all remaining games and playoffs were then cancelled by another players’ strike. In 2003 and 2004, the team played 22 “home” games in San Juan, Puerto Rico. They became the Washington Nationals in 2005. As noted above, they are honored with three players in the Hall of Fame.


4. Kansas City has only one player in the Hall of Fame – George Brett. But they are way ahead in team results. After losing the ALCS to the Yankees in 1976, 1977 and 1978, the Royals came back two years later to beat the Yankees to win the pennant. They lost to the Phillies in that 1980 Series, but returned in 1985 to win it all against the Cardinals. After some years in the wilderness, they won back-to-back pennants in 2014 and 2015 and the 2015 Series over the Mets. A very good run.


Steve Renko – Kansas City and Montreal: Steve Renko was a star athlete at Wyandotte High School in Kansas City, Kansas, and then played in three varsity sports at KU – he was the quarterback in 1963 handing off to Gale Sayers. He left football and basketball behind to focus on baseball and was drafted by the Mets in 1965. He played in the minors for the Mets until he was traded to the first-year Montreal Expos in June of 1969. Renko played for the Expos into 1976 and stayed in the major leagues with various teams for a total of 15 years. His last season was 1983 when he returned to his hometown to pitch for the Royals. Please note that this 1972 piece from his Montreal days is in French:


Hockey and Baseball: On Saturday February 18, our local minor league hockey team, the Missouri Mavericks, will salute the 1942 Kansas City Monarchs. In partnership with the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, the game will kick off celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Monarchs win over the Homestead-Washington Grays in the 1942 Negro World Series. Satchel Paige, Buck O’Neil, Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard and many other stars were on the two teams. A special guest at the hockey game will be Willie O’Ree , the first black to  play in the National Hockey League. He took the ice for the Boston Bruins in 1958.  As you might suspect, he is often called the Jackie Robinson of hockey. That 1942 series will no doubt be detailed in a future Hot Stove post.


The Oscars: The Oscar nominations are out and the Academy Awards are set for February 26. Please pardon the name dropping, but Rita and I have had the good fortune to see the last five Oscar winners months before their release dates. This is because we were at the Telluride Film Festival over those Labor Day weekends and saw The Artist, Argo, 12 Years a Slave, Birdman and Spotlight. It will be hard to not make it six in a row. The three favorites this year were all at Telluride: Manchester By the Sea, Moonlight and La La Land. Arrival was also there. Rita leans to Manchester, I favor Moonlight…but La La Land has 14 nominations. Many of our friends do not agree with our choices, mostly because of the dark nature of the films. With nine nominated films, anything could happen. Of the five nominees that were not at Telluride, I most enjoyed Hidden Figures. Please don’t miss that movie.


Kansas City History: And the Oscar for documentary short goes to…Dan Sturdevant. Well, not really, but it is very good. Larry Brewer, a Phoenix transplant from KC, sent me a link to a YouTube video that is the brainchild of KC attorney/singer Dan Sturdevant. In only five minutes, he tells the history of Kansas City from founding to today, including some key sports moments – all to the tune of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” Enjoy here.