Sunday, April 15, 2007

A Different Jackie Robinson Tribute

No matter how old you are, it's almost impossible to dismiss Jackie Robinson's impact on the game.
After all, it was the injury to Jackie Robinson (causing him to miss the entire 1976-77 season) which forced Tarkanian to re-work his rotation ... giving rise to the Hardway Eight of Owens, Gondrezick, Moffett, Smith, Smith, Theus, Brown and Smith to reach the Final Four for HOLD THE PHONE!!!

Somebody just said that we're talking about the baseball Hall of Famer named Jackie Robinson, not the UNLV Hall of Famer named Jackie Robinson (UNLV HOF inductee in '94 w/ Sidney
Green ... the standout we knew as "El Sid" ... father of Taurean Green, who some may remember from the Florida Gators natHOLD THE PHONE!!!

How does this keep turning into the story of The Wrong Jackie Robinson?
(And, we don't mean "wrong" in a "bad person" sense, but rather in the "not right for America at this time" sense)

Jackie Robinson didn't get a chance to play in the tourney in '78 -- not because of the color of his skin or because he wasn't right for America at this time, but because UNLV was on probation.
Not that Tark had anything to do with that.
Just ask him.

Although he had barely a blip of an NBA career, Jackie Robinson got something better than a participation certificate from the NCAA for a tournament which he was denied.

That's right ... Jackie Robinson got a world championship ring as a bench-warner for the '79 world champion SuperSonics and HOLD THE PHONE!!!

We're having a real problem getting on board with which Jackie Robinson we're 'sposed to be r'memb'rin'.

Well, most of The MLB did its job yesterday by paying tribute to the baseball Jackie Robinson and not the basketball Jackie Robinson -- and many, many players did so by wearing #42.
None of us remember what number the basketball Jackie Robinson wore at UNLV.

Nevertheless, the Phillies were scheduled to have all their players wear #42 (as the Dodgers and Cardinals did in separate games), but, alas ... the game was rained out.
That might seem fitting to those who believe that the Phillies of the '50s (like the Red Sox of that time) were an organization which begrudgingly integrated its roster.

As the years went on, the Phillies more than held their own with rosters which had an adequate balance of white, black and brown ballplayers.
Still, some of us don't ever want to see an entire roster of #42 Phillies -- merely for the simple fact that we don't want anything to diminish the mind-numbing mediocrity which Don Carman showcased as the last player of note to wear that number in Philly.

(NOTE: We're pretty sure that pitcher Mike Hartley was THE last Phillie player to wear #42 in Philly -- which shouldn't take anything away from the years of steady relief pitching which Ron Reed logged while wearing that number ... )

Anyway, we hear a lot of negative talk these days about how the percentage of African-American players on MLB rosters has shriveled from 20-something percent in the '70s to an eye-opening low of 8 percent nowadays (FYI: The Braves and the Astros have zero African-Americans).

For the Phillies, an Opening Day '81 outfield of Gary Matthews (LF), Garry Maddox (CF) and Bake McBride (RF) has yielded to an Opening Day '07 outfield of Pat Burrell (LF), Aaron Rowand (CF) and Jayson Werth (RF) -- and, doggone it, it just doesn't get much more milky-white than that.

However, with Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Tom Gordon on the Opening Day roster, the '07 Phillies are 12 percent African-American, so, "yes" ... they're doing their part.

Now, if the mission is to compile a Phillies All-American, All-African-American, All-Star squad, it only makes sense that a starting lineup would look like:

2B -- Dave Cash
RF -- Bake McBride
SS -- Jimmy Rollins
1B -- Ryan Howard
3B -- Richie Allen
LF -- Gary Matthews
CF -- Garry Maddox
C -- Lenny Webster

Offensively, that's some firepower -- the only thing is: "Which black pitcher do we trot out there to protect that 7-0, first-inning lead?"
Ken Howell?
Robert Person?
Charlie Hudson?
Frickin' Floyd Youmans?
Starvin' Marvin Freeman?
Dave Stewart? (Four relief appearances in the final month of the '85 season; eight relief appearances in the first months of the '86 season; released by the Phils, signed two weeks later by the A's; 20-game winner in '87, '88, '89 and '90 ... )

And, what if Richie Allen goes on the DL? Is Charlie Hayes ready to step up at the hot corner?
Is everybody clear on the concept that Ricky Jordan, as one of the most-underrated Phillies ever, is a distinctly better gloveman than Ryan Howard -- which is why he made the roster as a reserve?

It's difficult to round out the reserves on the roster of our Phillie BlackStars -- because there's so much to choose from, especially the incredible depth among the outfielders.

That includes everyone from the always-steady Milt Thompson to the always-Slap-Hittin' Mark Whiten to Downtown Ollie Brown to Ronnie Gant ("he's jih-GANT-tik!") to the Hit Man, Mike Easler (33 unforgettable games in Philly in '87 after the Phils gave up Charlie Hudson to get him) to Phil Bradley (who had his milestone HR in the first night game at Wrigley -- on 8/8/88 -- forever erased by a rainout) to Doug Glanville (not only the middle name "Metunwah" but a middle name of "Metunwah" AND an engineering degree from Penn AND a walk-off HR off of Rocky Biddle -- over the head of Terrmel Sledge -- in the first-ever Sunday game at The Cit).

There probably isn't any room on the bench for sentimental faves such as speedy Jeff Stone and the guy with the wrecked-by-Vet-turf Ron Jones (not to mention Oscar Gamble in the early stages of the baddest 'fro of all-time) -- and unsentimental un-faves such as Wes Chamberlain, Wes Covington, Marlon Byrd, Billy Hatcher and Tony Longmire.
And, you, too, Dwayne Muphy.

No ... that's DWAYNE Murphy, not DALE Murphy, everybody.

Backup infielders could be a little thin with only Hayes, Steve Jeltz (who amazed us all when he switch-hit HRs to erase that 10-0, first-inning deficit in that 15-11 win over the Pirates) and Kim Batiste (blackest of the black men ever to play in Philly) to choose from -- unless you feel as though Marlon Anderson and Joe Morgan should start ahead of Dave Cash at second base.

But, nobody feels that way because Dave Cash was unmistakably "the man."
And many of us would take Rod Booker or Derrel Thomas as our second baseman on the Phillie BlackStars ahead of Joe Morgan.

It's all about everybody knowing their roles.
The only thing is -- is our closer Al Holland, Tom Gordon or Heathcliff Slocumb?
Tough call.
And what about Grant Jackson?
He was the Phillies' lone All-Star in '69 -- and he was 14-18 that year, only his ERA was excellent (3.34) and he tossed four shutouts.
In other words, "yes" ... he was a better pitcher in his era pitching for lousy Phillie teams than Brett Myers in his era pitching for slightly-above average Phillie teams (which, by the way, are not as good as they should be because of Myers, et al).

Look ... the Phillie BlackStars are a shoo-in to reach the semifinals of the all-black tourney, considering that the Chicago Black Sox have a trio of big sticks in Chet Lemon, Thad Bosley and Lamar Johnson, but the only pitching they've got is an ineffective Jesse Jefferson and a washed-up Blue Moon Odom.

The problem which most teams would face in this Dream Team All-Star tourney of American-born black players is that there simply aren't enough black catchers to go around -- which, inevitably, would lead to several forfeits.

We all remember that HOF Roy Campanella was half-black, half-Italian -- and he opened the door for black catchers of the '50s and '60s, such as Elston Howard, John Roseboro, Choo Choo Coleman (34 games w/ the Phillies as a rookie in '61 before making a splash with the 40-120 Mets of '62), Earl Battey, Paul Casanova and Elrod Hendricks.

However, memories of Charles Johnson during the 10-year window of the mid-'90s thru mid-'00s are quite possibly our last of the American-born black catcher.

Which is why the Minnesota BlackTwins will win our fantasy tournament.
With Torii Hunter, Jacque Jones, Kirby Puckett, Lyman Bostock, Dave Winfield, Disco Dan Ford, Larry Hisle, Al Newman, Don Baylor and, yes ... a black catcher (the aforementioned Earl Battey), there's no way that the BlackTwins can be stopped.

Especially not with a pitching staff of Mudcat Grant, Les Straker and Pat Mahomes.

That's right ... Les Straker AND Pat Mahomes.

How ironic for Minneapolis-St. Paul ... which doesn't have very many blacks per capita.

And, ya have to feel for the Houston Blackstros. They have the black catcher (Cliff Johnson), but their all-star pitching staff took quite a hit when J.R. Richard had that stroke at age 30 and Don Wilson -- with two no-hitters to his credit -- committed suicide at age 29.

The thunderous bats of Jimmy Wynn and Bob Watson will not be enough.

Still, Jackie Robinson opened the door for black catchers everywhere.

And because of his football prowess at UCLA, he opened the door for black, left-footed placekickers -- such as Justin Medlock, who'll be available for the NFL draft in two weeks.

Soon, it will be Medlock's turn to blaze a trail for other black, left-footed placekickers.

That is ... the black left-footed placekickers who aren't lining up to become the MLB's next great black catcher ...

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