Hot Stove #95 – Spring Training, Team Loyalty, Don Newcombe, Birch Bayh and Selina Meyer

Opening day is six days away.


As spring training winds down, it’s a good time to view this 1984 video of Bill Veeck (two minutes). He somehow starts with the Garden of Eden and ends with the notion that spring training is mostly a “con job” to boost regular season ticket sales. As always, living up to his book title, Veeck As in Wreck.


Royals Spring Training: One of the big changes in spring training this year was that it snowed. Although it quickly melted away on the desert floor, fans were treated to snow-capped mountains – not the usual view at spring training.


Rita and I did not make it to Arizona this year, but many Hot Stovers have been in attendance. The most active are Jack and Marsha Campbell who are encamped for the long haul and plan to see at least nine games. They also provided lodging for two Hot Stove stringers, Steve Roling and David Matson. Below are Jack, David and Steve at the Royals home opener on February 23 in Surprise.




David Matson sent this hopeful email message after the Royals won their opening game by a score of 9-1: “I don’t think it is an overreaction to say that based on early spring training the Royals look like they are going to win the Central. I also don’t think I am overreacting when I say Jack and Steve would be strong competitors in any pork tenderloin eating contest. Beautiful 80 degrees weather in Surprise.”


The one true fact in David’s message is the comment on the pork. In the absence of a miracle, the Indians will finish about 24 games ahead of the Royals in the Central. As for the temperature, it was closer to 50 degrees as evidenced by the morning frost on the base in this opening day photo from John Sleezer of the Kansas City Star. John Sleezer’s photos over the years have been the best. The sad news is that Sleezer’s spring training was cut short as he became part of the latest round of buyouts at the Star. The Royals honored him at his last game. He will be missed.    


After the next game, Matson reported that “We have seen the future and the future is Bubba.” Roling echoed that thought, “Bubba looked great today and Ned was so excited every time Bubba got a hit. Whit spent 7 years in the minors before he got his chance…maybe it is Bubba’s time to shine.”


Matson and Roling continued to report throughout their week in Arizona. David said he was trying to keep up so Hot Stove would not submit a buyout offer. There’s some wishful thinking. No way I’m going to buy out an unpaid reporter. I’m also not posting Steve’s fuzzy Bubba Starling photos. Jack and Steve continued to eat pork tenderloins. They all kept praising Bubba, especially after he hit two home runs in one game. Steve: “Bubba hits the ball so hard each time at bat…I am thinking this could be his year if he does not get hurt.”


Roling’s take after his week at spring training: “More depth this year except pitching. Defense should be strong…base speed off the charts…will we be able to get on base?…better than last year by at least 10-12 games.”


As always, Matson kept us up to date on the Vegas odds. “Over/under for Royals is 69 wins. Odds on us making the playoffs is 150-1.” Not sure if this was before or after Salvy’s injury.


My fellow retired law partners Larry Ward and Harlan Stamper were in Phoenix to play golf, but took a day off for a Royals/Cubs game. They attended with Jack and Marsha Campbell and followed up with dinner. Below: Larry, Jack, Harlan and Marsha. The golfers gave me no useful baseball news. But super scout Jack Campbell had several observations: “Goodwin can’t hit the broad side of a barn. Bonifacio should start in right…Keeping Gore is ridiculous! Chris Owings is a sure bet…Schwindel is getting screwed!!! Peralta is the only relief pitcher any good so far…new guys haven’t done squat…Of course it’s ridiculous to talk with half of spring training left.” And get off Jack’s lawn.






As spring training moved into March, a new set of Hot Stove stringers hit town. Pat Titterington and Cheryl Dillard reported from Surprise and sent a photo showing them dressed up in KC nostalgia. Cheryl is wearing her #56 Greg Holland shirt from a “T-shirt Tuesday” night at Kauffman in 2014. Pat is in his “Raised Royal” shirt, the team slogan for 2017. His cap, the Kansas City Monarchs. Cheryl reported from a game, “Bubba Starling at bat. I’m interested in this hometown boy.” But she is apparently still wait-and-see on Bubba, adding “Hope he saved a lot of his signing bonus.” The Royals beat the Reds 8 to 3 in one of the games – Cheryl: “Lots of runs, My favorite kind of game.” I’m with Cheryl on that (with apologies to the pitching duel fans).      


They chatted with some former Royals, and Pat sent this report:


“John Mayberry has lost 100 pounds in the last 10 years. Dennis Leonard looks great and Willie looks like he could still play. I told John that #5 should still be sending him flowers for all the throws he fielded from Brett. John said he told George to throw as hard as he could and he would get it. George threw a ton of throws in the dirt and the bounce off the dirt was easier to predict if George gave it maximum velocity. Turns out John used the same huge glove for years but had to have it restrung about 10 times.  Always looked like he was scooping up a pound of dirt and the ball at the same time. Told Dennis I was there the night he blew out his knee. He was in more pain than I had ever seen a human in and I of course was a dentist for 40 years. Many operations and much rehab later and now his knee is fine. All the veteran players say they love to talk to fans who actually saw them play. Lucky me. It was like being a kid in a candy store.”




Pat also sent me a photo of a ball signed by the three players. Rita and I are hoping he gives it to us.




Angela Taylor from our KC office put in an efficient weekend in Phoenix, watching the Royals play the Dodgers, Diamondbacks and Padres. “I really enjoyed watching the Royals taking some chances on the bases…I think it will be a fun season for Royals baseball.”


Greg Kratofil, another lawyer from our KC office, was at Goodyear Ballpark yesterday for the Royals 14-6 victory over the Cincinnati Reds. Greg and his son Trip saw the Royals blast five home runs.


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Recently retired Clay County Judge Larry Harman was in Carefree, Arizona (10 inches of snow) and went down to Surprise to see that 9-1 opening day victory. He said almost every Royals hitter looked great, but noted “I didn’t see a single pitch from either side that was more than 93…Pitches in the high 80’s were pretty much the norm.” In other words, don’t be fooled by some of the high averages coming out of spring training. Larry was impressed with Tim Hill who throws submarine like Quisenberry, but from the left side. “The only downside was the beer being $2 more than at Kauffman (but then, I haven’t seen this year’s prices).”


[Royals Spring Training Reality: As Bill Veeck said in the video at the start of this post, most lineups are in place before spring training ever starts. Exhibit 1: In spring training, Bubba Starling hit over .300 with power and Brian Goodwin is hovering around .100. Goodwin is going to be in right field on opening day and Bubba has already been sent to the Royals minor league camp. Other than replacing the injured Salvy, the position players are as projected in January. Pitching? A hope and a prayer.]


Not the Royals Spring Training: Cary Hall of our firm’s Phoenix office sent me this photo of him with his dad Carlyle. They are sporting Pebble Beach hats – had just been there to celebrate Cary’s 50th. They then went to Scottsdale to take in a game at the Giants park. Carlyle lives in L.A. and has had season tickets for the Dodgers since 1977. Cary grew up in that environment, but his move to the desert 15 years ago has fried his brain and made him a Diamondbacks fan. Just kidding about the brain thing.




Switching to the Grapefruit League, Mark and Merri Abels have been in Jupiter, Florida, to watch their Cardinals. Mark noted with pride that they scored some Uecker seats (“must be on the first rooooow!”). For the uninitiated, Bob Uecker is a former short-term player and current long-term broadcaster known for his humor (one of his books was titled Catcher in the Wry). In a popular 1984 beer commercial, Uecker sits in the wrong seat and is asked by the usher to move. Uecker assumes his “celebrity” status means he is being ushered to the front row. Alas, he instead finds himself in the cheap seats of the upper deck. Click here for the ad. Uecker has broadcast for the Milwaukee Brewers since 1971, and the team has installed a Uecker statue on the back row of the upper deck.




I am pleased to say Mark and Merri were not removed from their seats. One highlight passed along by Mark was that the Cards 22-year-old Jack Flaherty outpitched (barely) 2-time Cy Young winner 34-year-old Max Scherzer (of Mizzou fame). Flaherty will likely start the Cards home opener.  


Jay Haden was also in Florida and went to games in the two stadiums in Fort Myers – the Red Sox and the Twins. Boston’s JetBlue Park is one of my favorite spring training facilities. The field dimensions are the same as Fenway and the left field wall is a replica of the Green Monster, including an old-style manual scoreboard embedded in the wall.


Baseball Team Loyalty: I got a good response from Hot Stove readers about baseball team loyalty. I did not ask for a response from Royals fans because they are the large majority of readers, and with a few exceptions, most share my own KC baseball loyalty history. For those of a certain age, we started as Yankee fans because the likes of Phil Rizzuto and Mickey Mantle played for the Kansas City Blues, the AAA farm team for the Yankees. This abruptly changed in 1955 when the A’s moved to KC from Philadelphia. Rooting for the A’s stopped at the end of the 1967 when owner Charlie Finley pulled a Walter O’Malley and moved his team to the west coast. Since 1969, KC fans are “Forever Royal” – to borrow the team’s 2015 slogan.


Now for the non-Royals responses. Some had reasons to pick multiple teams, and so you will see some repeats. Several broke down their favorites to the two leagues, often saying the Royals are their AL team. In that case I only list their NL team, so don’t always conclude they have forsaken the Royals. Some find it hard to abandon the teams of their youth. Richard Martin moved from Dallas to KC over 25 years ago, but still yearns to see his Rangers win their first World Series.


American League: Rangers: Richard Martin. Orioles: Walter Shapiro. Indians: Nyal Leslie. A’s: Eric Wu and Bill Wakefield. Twins: Lynda McDonnell and Steve Brandt. Yankees: Bill Mackin and Jay Anderson. Angels: Doug Zubrin and Nyal Leslie. Red Sox: Arnold Ressin, Frank Caro, Norman Shacat and Mike and Jane Trusty.


National League: Mets: Bill Wakefield, Nyal Leslie and Simon Marciano. Cubs: Tony Nasharr, Alan Witte, Doug Zubrin and Andrew Wilcox. Rockies: McAllister family, Clemens family, Gary and Shirley Nuss and Jonathon Schmelzer. Nationals: John Ashford, Alan Wheat, Jack Schramm and Julius Hobson. Giants: Richard Helzberg and Randy Leathers. Diamondbacks: Cary Hall. Dodgers: Carlyle Hall. Braves: Tom Foley. Pirates: Bob Graham. Reds: Scott Young. Cardinals


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For the Cardinals, I want to highlight three responses. Bert Bates, Harry Jonas and John Zentay trace their Cardinals fandom back to the Gashouse Gang of the 1930’s. Bert: “I grew up in mid-Missouri – listened to all Cardinal games – actually cried (still in grade school) when they traded Terry Moore – revered Pepper Martin, Dizzy Dean, Daffy Dean…”. Bert was also with the Cards for the next round of great players (Musial, Schoendienst, etc.), but “have been in KC now for 67 years and become a devoted Royals fan.” Harry: Grew up in Kirksville and began road trips with his father to Sportsman’s Park in 1938. Stan Musial was Harry’s superhero. Harry ended up in Kansas City after medical school, but is still a Cardinals fan. And also a Royals fan. In an I-70 World Series, Harry says he will cheer for the Royals. John: “As a kid, I saw the last of the Gashouse Gang – Martin, Medwick, etc.” As a young staffer for Senator Stuart Symington in 1962, John escorted Stan Musial to the White House to meet President Kennedy. John became a prominent attorney in D.C., but he remains a loyal Cardinals fan. The story of this White House visit and John’s copy of the Kennedy/Musial photo are in sportswriter George Vecsey’s 2011 biography, Stan Musial: An American Life (note the credit for the photo).




The rest of the Cardinal responders: Joe Porter, Eric Trelz, Jack Challis, Mark Abels, Chuck Houghton, Martin Frost, Tom O’Neal, Chris Shanklin, Tom Foley, Jim Davidson, Carl DiMaria, Paul Klug, Jim Fredericks, Jack Schramm and Marshall Parker.


There were also hated teams (mostly Yankees and Cardinals), but consider those responses redacted. The Washington Nationals support was somewhat soft because the ownership is not popular. And of course they just lost Bryce Harper. Gene Godley, a long-time D.C. resident has found an alternative in nearby Maryland: “For my baseball pleasure, The Bowie Baysox, a AA team playing in a friendly Camden Yard-feeling small stadium, is my go-to for cheap front row tickets [Uecker would like], good food at reasonable prices and a ton of activities for young kids…A family friendly evening.”


I received a thoughtful response from Philip Solomons who has a different perspective. He did not grow up in a city where the residents had a natural affinity for any team. Savannah had some minor league teams in the Sally League, and so the Pirates and Reds were noticed. Philip and his brothers were consumed by baseball cards, but differed in their early loyalties (Yankees and Giants). Their dad was a Tigers fan because of Hank Greenberg and Al Kaline. Philip did some rooting for the Braves when they moved to Atlanta, but he has ultimately landed at a point that I really admire: “My loyalties drift among the upbeat stories of the day…Red Sox, Cubs, Astros.” This echoes my sentiments so long as the Royals are not playing. I wanted the Red Sox to break the Curse of the Bambino when they won the Series in 2004. The Cubs to win in 2016, their first since 1908. The Astros to win their first ever in 2017. And even though they are in the AL Central, I would welcome a similar upbeat story for the Cleveland Indians (have not won the Series since 1948).


I now turn to responses declaring loyalty to a team that has not played since 1957.


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Mike Maloney, tongue firmly in cheek, “I won’t be attending spring training this year, but my favorite team is the Brooklyn Dodgers. Let me know how they are doing.” When Mike was a teenager, Brooklyn’s Boys of Summer (as coined in Roger Kahn’s classic book) were winning pennants in the 1950’s with Jackie, Duke, Pee Wee, Gil, Campy, Newk, Furillo, etc. Mike soon moved most of his fan experience to NASCAR and apparently missed the Dodgers move to L.A. Or like many who rooted for Brooklyn, it was no longer the same team once it went to La La Land.


Carole Plesser came by her Brooklyn Dodgers loyalty the old fashioned way. She lived in Brooklyn and remembers being allowed to bring in a radio to grade school class to listen to the World Series. She loved Pee Wee Reese and is still a “UGE” Brooklyn fan. But not the Dodgers after their 1958 move to L.A. – “How can anyone support a team that sells sushi at their concession stands?”. Her story is similar to that of Doris Kearns Goodwin who wrote the wonderful book Wait Till Next Year about her youthful Dodger fandom. One slight difference. Doris’ father was a Dodgers fan while Carole’s rooted for the Giants. That’s why Carole has a cat named Willie. Doris is now a Red Sox fan. Carole, in her adopted home of Kansas City, roots for the Royals. 


KC lawyer Jerry Wolf is to this day a loyal Brooklyn (but not L.A.) Dodgers fan. He grew up in Minnesota, but became a rabid Dodgers fan in 1947. He was a fan of Jackie and Campy and he empathized with the team’s underdog history (they had never won a World Series – finally did in 1955). He followed the team in the Minneapolis papers and on the Tall Corn Baseball Network. When he was 14, his dad took him to Wrigley Field to see the Dodgers in person. He was the only kid in the first couple of rows with a Dodger cap, and so when Carl Furillo cracked his bat during batting practice, he handed it to Jerry. Jerry repaired and taped the bat and still has it. He also still has the home movies he took that day with his 16 millimeter camera he got for his Bar Mitzvah. While in college at Yale, Jerry saw his Dodgers at Yankee Stadium in the 1956 World Series. He was at Game 4, the game before Don Larsen’s perfect game. The next year, he made a pilgrimage to Ebbets Field, the last year of the Dodgers in Brooklyn. When he moved on to Harvard Law School, he attended games at Fenway. There, in 1960, he saw a very famous game – Ted Williams playing his final game and ending his career with a homer in his last at bat. The game is the subject of a celebrated John Updike essay, “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu.”


Stan Musial’s biographer George Vecsey also weaves a good Brooklyn story in his memoir A Year in the Sun. The book chronicles his 1986 travels and writing for the New York Times (World Cup, Goodwill Games, Mets World Series win, etc.) and includes flashbacks such as the early days of New York baseball. He tells of his first trip to Ebbets Field with his father (also a sportswriter). The year was 1946. George was only seven, but he recalls the score of the game (5-3, Dodgers over the Reds) and that Dixie Walker homered. He also remembers when his father called home with the news that the Dodgers had signed Jackie Robinson, giving the Vecsey household a new hero. George loved the players who became known as the Boys of Summer, but his loyalty did not follow the team to what he calls Never-Never Land. “I guess we have a formative age for everything. John Kennedy will always be ‘my’ president. The Brooklyn Dodgers will always be ‘my’ team.” Never a Yankee fan, George gravitated to the Mets who brought NL ball back to New York in 1962. He again got to see old NL favorites like Snider, Mays and Musial on the field. But not at Ebbets Field. It was demolished in 1960.


All this Brooklyn talk gives a nice segue to remembering one of the Boys of Summer…


Don Newcombe: Last month, Don Newcombe died at age 92. After starting his career with the Newark Eagles in the Negro National League, Newcombe was signed in 1946 by Branch Rickey and played three years in the minors for the Dodgers. In 1949, he moved up to the parent team to join fellow former Negro Leaguers Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella. He was named Rookie of the Year in 1949 and went on to become the first black pitching ace in the majors. As one of the Boys of Summer, Newcombe helped Brooklyn win its first World Series in 1955. The following year, he went 27-7 and won both the Cy Young and MVP awards.


After his 1956 MVP year, Newcombe had four mediocre seasons and retired. The culprit, alcoholism. But that was the beginning of a second all-star career. He won his battle for sobriety and was one of the first public figures to talk openly about addiction. He became the “director of community relations” for the (Los Angeles) Dodgers, speaking on race, addiction and good citizenship. His decades of good work included mentoring players and others in trouble. Brooklyn fan George Vecsey wrote a touching remembrance on this special Newcombe victory (click here).


Birch Bayh and Barbara Reres: Last week, former Senator Birch Bayh died at age 91. He was first elected to the Senate in 1962 and won again in 1968 and 1974. Bayh was the primary architect of two major Constitutional Amendments: the 25th on presidential disability and succession, and the 26th, reducing the voting age to 18. He was also a major force on Title IX which greatly enriched sports in America. Bayh was eminently qualified to be president and took some runs at that in 1972 and 1976. I had the privilege of meeting him a couple of times when he was in Kansas City seeking support. He dropped out in 1972 when his wife had cancer surgery. In 1976, he was part of the big Democratic field after Watergate. Jimmy Carter got the nod, but I still have my Bayh campaign button.


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Bayh ran for re-election in 1980, but lost to Dan Quayle in the Reagan landslide. One of the few liberal Democrats to survive that year was Missouri’s Tom Eagleton. Rita and I had a personal interest in the Eagleton result. Our long-time friend Barbara Westhoven was on Eagleton’s staff in his KC office and moved to DC to be Eagleton’s executive assistant and scheduler for his final term. Below, Barbara and Senator Eagleton.




After Eagleton retired in January of 1987, Barbara stayed in DC and became the executive assistant to a well-known DC lawyer – Birch Bayh. Rita and I annually visited Barbara in DC (and also Joe Reres who she married in 1989). Often, we would fly in and first go to Barbara’s office in the city. At the end of her work day, we headed to the Reres’ Virginia home. This had the advantage of our sometimes getting to meet with Birch. He loved catching up on politics from around the country, and we were of course happy to oblige. Below, Rita with Birch in his office in 2004.




Birch retired in December of 2015. As did Barbara. Joe Reres liked to brag about Barbara’s professional talent, saying her work history was a good indicator. Joe pointed out that Barbara primarily worked as an executive assistant for only two men in her life, both with legitimate ambitions to be President. Eagleton and Bayh were truly two Lions of the Senate.


RIP Tom, Joe and Birch. The fine men in Barbara’s life.


Errata: I am using the plural of erratum because there were (at minimum) two mistakes in Hot Stove #94. If I were still playing second base in 3&2, the box score would show E4 two times. But eagle-eyed Hot Stove readers came to my rescue.


The Sports Illustrated cover about spring training was March of 1960, not 1950. Fine print and old eyes are my excuses. Thanks to David Howard on this one.


An especially egregious error was saying the Dude of The Big Lebowski was portrayed by Jeff Daniels. I was reminded by Bill Mackin that it was Jeff Bridges. Duh. My editor Rita and I both missed this, and our only excuse will be a humblebrag: we saw Jeff Daniels in November playing Atticus Finch in Broadway’s new smash hit, Aaron Sorkin’s To Kill A Mockingbird. Jeff and the play were excellent. That’s all I got.


In this computer age, bad fielding can be converted to a Gold Glove. My son Brian has corrected those two errors in the online version of Hot Stove.


Lonnie’s Jukebox – Elaine, Christine and Selina: I am a fan of Julia Louis-Dreyfus. She portrayed Elaine Benes in 172 episodes of Seinfeld (9 seasons). Christine Campbell in 88 episodes of The New Adventures of Old Christine (5 seasons). Vice President Selina Meyer in 58 episodes of VEEP (6 seasons).  I am fairly sure I have seen each of those 318 episodes. Plus a whole lot of reruns of Seinfeld.


Sadly, VEEP is entering its final season – just seven more episodes. Not because of any loss of popularity. The show has won the Emmy for best comedy for its last three seasons, and Julia has won as best comedy actress for all six seasons of the show.


We first met Selina Meyer in 2012. Just elected as Vice President, she craves recognition, lacks empathy and is lax on the details of policy. You might say narcissistic. And before anyone thinks it is a parody of any current politician, that is not the case. Remember, Selina Meyer became Vice President (premiered) in 2012.


After about three years (seasons) in office, Selina moves up to the top spot when the President resigns. She serves out his remaining eight months, but then loses the next election amidst electoral college chaos. Her next move is the hilarious pursuit of a presidential library to celebrate her 8-month tenure. To select an architect, she wants to interview every “Tom, Dick and Gehry.” This and many other one-liners (some profane) are in this short clip on her library planning (1:17). 


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It’s a very funny show. The new season starts on HBO on March 31 (see the trailer here).


It’s a blockbuster lineup: March 28, Royals Opening Day. March 31, VEEP. April 6/8, Final Four.


And maybe David Matson is not overreacting and the Royals will take off and win the AL Central. After all, as of this writing, the Royals are unbeaten in the regular season.