May 15 2022

The Interesting Career Of Buck Lai

During this month in many communities, including New York City, we are celebrating Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month. Current Yankees shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa is from Hawaii. He is of Samoan, Hawaiian, Japanese and Caucasian descent. Bet you didn’t know, though, that 100 years earlier another native of Hawaii played locally at shortstop and then third base. He just missed his chance to play in the major leagues before influencing the college game, along with basketball, in our area.

William Tin Lai was born in Hawaii during 1895. Known as Tin Lai or Buck Lai, he was the son of Chinese immigrants who had arrived during the late 1800s. Buck was an exceptional athlete. At age 17, he joined the Hawaiian Chinese University Nine traveling baseball team. From 1912 to 1916, the team barnstormed the U.S. mainland, playing against other college opponents in stadiums around the country. During 1918, Buck was signed to participate in spring training with the Philadelphia Phillies. He never played with the team. He was sent to the Bridgeport Americans, a Phillies minor league affiliate, for more training and experience.

Following several seasons with the Americans, Buck opted to join the semi-pro Brooklyn Bushwicks that played home games at Dexter Park in Woodhaven, Queens. On May 10, 1922, the team moved Buck from shortstop to third base. He would excel at the hot corner, earning raves from teammates, opponents, fans and the press. During his time with the Bushwicks, he played with and against many baseball legends, including Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.

Buck was given another opportunity to play with a major league team when he was signed by the New York Giants during 1928. However, he never appeared in a game. Several years later, Buck returned to Hawaii to create his own traveling team. The All Hawaiian Nine, simply known as the Hawaiians, consisted of Hawaiian-American players of Japanese and Chinese ancestry.

Following his playing days, Buck became a scout and instructor for the Brooklyn Dodgers and then he was named athletic director at Long Island University in Brooklyn. He coached baseball and basketball at the college from 1949 until 1960. Buck also penned two books that have become popular with coaches: “Championship Baseball” provides the techniques about teaching the baseball skills developed at the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers’ College of Baseball and “Winning Basketball” features the basics about individual skill and team strategy.

William Tin “Buck” Lai is a treasure of the Hawaiian and New York sports scenes. Let us forever celebrate his special contributions to collegiate and professional baseball and basketball.

Apr 01 2022

Seeing Baseball With Ed Lucas

This is the first baseball season in 82 years without Ed Lucas. The name might, as with a 100 mph fastball, whiz by you. But, if you have followed the New York teams the last handful of decades, you’ve heard about him, watched interviews with him, or read his articles. A close friend was Phil Rizzuto, who frequently mentioned Ed on Yankee broadcasts.

The New York Giants had just won the 1951 pennant when 12-year-old Ed ran from his Jersey City apartment to play baseball with his friends. He didn’t pitch often due to poor vision (he was legally blind), but he took the ball that day when several other boys had left the field. Without his thick glasses, Ed threw and the batter swung at the pitch. The ball struck Ed between the eyes.

The accident detached Ed’s retinas. His vision continued to deteriorate and he became fully blind on December 11, a day he always associated with the retirement of Joe DiMaggio. Surgery was unsuccessful to reattach Ed’s retinas, which had been weakened at birth due to insufficient oxygen. Mom Rosanna tried to raise her son’s spirits by writing letters to the Giants, Yankees and Dodgers with the hope that players, coaches and broadcasters from the game Ed loved would offer encouragement.

Giants’ manager Leo Durocher invited Ed to the Polo Grounds. When Rosanna learned that the Yankees shortstop worked during the off-season at a men’s clothing store in Newark, she and her husband took Ed to see him and to buy a suit. This started a five decades friendship.

To continue his education, Ed attended St. Joseph’s School for the Blind in Jersey City and then the New York Institute for the Education of the Blind in the Bronx. His love for the game remained strong though he no longer could see the field or the players. At the Bronx school, he formed a group of baseball fans who invited players to speak to the class. Jackie Robinson and Mickey Mantle were among several who visited the students.

Ed then attended Seton Hall University, earning a bachelor’s degree in communications and hosting a show on the school’s radio station that featured interviews with baseball personalities. He also wrote part-time about the game for several newspapers, including The Hudson Dispatch and The Journal. Unfortunately, a full-time professional job in the sports business following graduation did not develop for Ed. It’s not an easy profession to crack even for a cub reporter who could see the game.

To earn a living, Ed became an insurance salesman. He later became a public relations director at Meadowview Psychiatric Hospital in Secaucus and served as an ambassador, fund-raiser and board member of the St. Joseph’s School.

Then, during the 1980s, Ed decided to pursue baseball full-time. Assignments included a weekly radio show on WMCA-AM during the baseball seasons. His contributions to the Yankees’ YES Network website earned him a 2009 New York Emmy Award. The majority of his work was conducted at Yankee Stadium, surrounded by many players, coaches, managers and executives. One of them was Joe DiMaggio, who sat next to him in the press box on opening day of the 1976 season. Joe told Ed to turn off his transistor radio and remove the headset that he always used to follow the games. The Yankee Clipper delivered a personal play-by-play.

Jan 01 2022

A Child’s Baseball Hero

The following was written a long time ago. I don’t know who wrote it or when it was written. I also don’t know the name of the child in the story. But, we all know “The Babe.” He was magical. I wish that I had seen him play.

This story about kindness has not been edited.

_______

Babe Ruth had hit 714 home runs during his baseball career and was playing one of his last full major league games. It was the Braves vs. the Reds in Cincinnati. But the great Bambino was no longer as agile as he had been. He fumbled the ball and threw badly, and in one inning alone his errors were responsible for most of the five runs scored by Cincinnati.

As the Babe walked off the field and headed toward the dugout after the third out, a crescendo of yelling and booing reached his ears. Just then a boy jumped over the railing onto the playing field. With tears streaming down his face, he threw his arms around the legs of his hero.

Ruth didn’t hesitate for a second. He picked up the boy, hugged him and set him down on his feet, patting his head gently. The noise from the stands came to an abrupt halt. Suddenly, there was no more booing. In fact, a hush fell over the entire ballpark. In those brief moments, the fans saw two heroes: Ruth, who, in spite of his dismal day on the field, could still care about a little boy; and the small lad, who cared about the feelings of another human being. Both had melted the hearts of the crowd.

Anonymous

Nov 15 2021

Championing Doc Adams For The Baseball Hall Of Fame

Marjorie Adams left us earlier this year. For most of her adult life, she tirelessly promoted the candidacy of her great-grandfather, Daniel Adams, for the Baseball Hall of Fame.

He was known as Doc, receiving the nickname following graduation from Harvard during 1838. He became Marjorie’s consuming passion. She promoted him on a website, at conferences, at Society for American Baseball Research meetings and at vintage baseball festivals where fans play and celebrate the sport as it was known during the 19th century. She nicknamed herself Cranky for “cranks,” a contemporary term for fans.

During 2014, Marjorie said that baseball, as the national pastime, must ensure the accuracy of its historical records. She wanted them to know that Doc was a baseball founding father.

According to John Thorn, the official baseball historian, the game’s early history was a lie, or folklore, for a long time. Abner Doubleday mistakenly had been seen as the inventor of baseball for many years. Alexander Cartwright, who played a role in the development of the sport, was credited with some of the innovations for the game. These are documented on his plaque in the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. The innovations, however, actually were developed by Doc.

During the 1990s, an article by John in “Elysian Fields Quarterly,” a baseball journal, helped Marjorie see her great-grandfather as an important “builder” of the game rather than just “Daniel, the baseball guy,” as he was known throughout the country and within the Adams family.

Doc began his passion for baseball by playing for the pioneering New York Knickerbockers Base Ball Club during 1845. While on the team, he created the shortstop position (as a relay man from the outfield) and during 1857 he made his most critical contributions to a rulemaking congress. Doc chaired that group and he codified some of the basics of the modern game by setting the distance between bases at 90 feet, the length of a game at nine innings and the number of men on the field at nine.

Most of Doc’s accomplishments remained unknown for decades to those inside the game. But, during 2015, John presented information about Doc to a member of the Pre-Integration Era Committee of the Hall of Fame. This committee votes for players, managers, referees and executives for the Hall of Fame. Doc was placed on the committee’s ballot.

Doc fell two votes short when the committee gathered that year but the media created a buzz about his contributions to the game. Then, Marjorie located new documentary evidence of Doc’s role in baseball history—three surviving pages of “Laws of Baseball” that he wrote and that provided a physical record of his rules at the 1857 convention. Those pages were sold at auction for $ 3.26 million.

Doc continues to wait for his entry into the Hall of Fame. Many other fans have championed Marjorie’s mission. On her behalf and for her great-grandfather, they will continue to lobby for Doc’s proper recognition in Cooperstown.

Sep 01 2021

Remembering 9/11

Bernie Williams has often wondered about the woman from the armory.

In the years since his retirement from baseball, whenever someone would ask him about his most memorable moment in pinstripes, the New York Yankees center fielder would recall a day following September 11, 2001. It has been 20 years, and while many people and nations continue to attempt to harm the United States, 9/11 and the annual commemorations continue to reveal the best in people.

Though stricken with grief and anger, many Americans then and now vowed to uphold President George W. Bush’s words that “These acts shatter steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve.”

A few days after the attack, Bernie was part of a contingent of Yankees who visited several sites around the city engaged in relief and recovery efforts. The first stop was the 69th Regiment Armory on Lexington Avenue between East 25th and 26th streets. Bernie was unsure about what he could do to help and if ballplayers should have even entered the location. He then met a Red Cross volunteer who had been working around the clock.

Bernie told her that he just didn’t know what to say, adding “but can I give you a hug?”

The snapshot of that moment has remained with Bernie, a vivid memory with each passing anniversary. The moment, Bernie thought, also possibly was recalled often by the woman. She likely knew who gave her a hug. But, Bernie did not know her name.

Bernie’s personal manager reviewed tens of thousands of pictures to learn that Eva Usadi was at the armory that day. Two years ago, Eva and Bernie reconnected at the 9/11 Museum.

“It was a real hug. I felt it in my heart,” recalled Eva in an article. “I felt his warmth and his compassion and that he saw something in me that I didn’t even know that I needed. That is a moment that I will never forget, and I’ve spoken of it often to friends and family.”

The events of 9/11 shaped each of their futures. We know that Bernie, professionally, played a number of more successful years for the Yankees and since has focused on his music and charitable programs. Eva, meanwhile, dedicated her life to treating people with post-traumatic stress disorder, founding Trauma and Resiliency Resources, Inc., a nonprofit not too far from the armory that aims to end military veteran suicides.

Aug 01 2021

The Player Who Got Away From Rickey

As a young man, he starred in basketball at Lafayette High School in Brooklyn. He also played baseball for an amateur team in the Coney Island Sports League, informally known as the Ice Cream League, and then enrolled at the University of Cincinnati to pursue a career as an architect.

Sports, though, tugged at him. He played for his school’s varsity baseball team as a freshman. He struck out 51 batters in 31 innings with his fastball.

He had a tryout with the New York Giants at the Polo Grounds. He was so nervous that he forgot to bring his glove. His pitches were wild and the Giants passed on him. He then traveled to Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, where Branch Rickey watched with a scout. A former major league catcher crouched behind the plate. The young man threw harder and harder until one pitch broke the catcher’s thumb though it was protected by the mitt.

Rickey said that he thought the pitcher had the best arm he had ever seen in the game, and considered providing the young man with a generous signing package of approximately $15,000.

The star of the Ice Cream League and Lafayette High School chose to think about it. He went home and then decided to try out with the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field. The team’s chief scout, Al Campanis, stood in the batter’s box. The moment was memorable, with the scout indicating that only twice did the hair on the back of his neck stand straight up. The first was when he saw Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel and the second was when he saw that fastball.

The young pitcher, who received a $20,000 package from the Dodgers, figured that at least it would cover tuition for college if baseball timed out too soon. His arm finally forced him to retire as a young man, but not until his sports career lasted longer than he had expected and hoped. He had pitched so dominantly that he quickly entered the game’s Hall of Fame.

For one of the few times in baseball, Branch Rickey did not get his player. The man who promoted Jackie Robinson, despite all the backlash hitting him square on the jaw as he tried to right a wrong in the game and society, just could not sign one of the few Jewish players at the time.

Sandy Koufax would take Rickey’s former Dodgers, though mostly in Los Angeles now, to new heights during the 1960s.

Jul 15 2021

A Girl’s Dream Comes True 60 Years Later

Sixty years after declaring that the dugout was no place for a girl, the Yankees rectified their error and a fan’s dream finally came true.

During the 1961 baseball season, 10-year-old Gwen Goldman wrote to her favorite team. She asked to be a bat girl. In a letter, the Yankees declined her request. Gwen kept the letter.

“While we agree with you that girls are certainly as capable as boys, and no doubt would be an attractive addition on the playing field, I am sure you can understand that in a game dominated by men a young lady such as yourself would feel out of place in a dugout,” wrote then team General Manager Roy Hamey.

Since that time, girls and women have applied for positions and have achieved success in Major League Baseball. Charley Finley, one-time owner of the Athletics, introduced girls to snag foul balls during games. Women are in management positions, with the Yankees featuring two successful woman assistant general managers. Women have owned or run teams. Women also have been slotted in many other positions from the low minors to the majors.

Not too long ago, Gwen’s daughter, Abby, sent the letter from 60 years ago to the current Yankees general manager. Brian Cashman then wrote a new letter Gwen, stating that she finally could fulfill her childhood dream.

“Despite the fact that six decades have passed since you first aspired to hold down the position as a New York Yankees Bat Girl,” wrote Brian, “it is not too late to reward and recognize the ambition you showed in writing that letter to us as a 10-year-old girl.”

So, during a game a few weeks ago, Gwen served as a Yankees honorary bat girl and threw the game’s ceremonial first pitch.

“The Yankees have just been so gracious to honor me with this…and to see that girls can stand here, and we can be bat girls, too, and we can be in the front office,” said Gwen, who wore the full uniform of the team she loved as a child.

Gwen had attended games with her father. When she was away at summer camp, he mailed to her newspapers clippings about her team. Gwen now hopes that her story will inspire young women, including her daughters and granddaughter, to chase their dreams.

Jun 15 2021

Fields Are Filled With Beautiful People

Everyone enjoyed opening day during May for the Beautiful People baseball league in Orange County. Following the lifting of COVID restrictions, players were able to have some outdoor fun, see old friends, meet other players for the first time and return to the large grass field, the rubberized field and the tee-ball field.

Beautiful People is pleased, as we all are, to begin to place the pandemic far away from the ballpark. The 14-year-old charity unites athletes, parents and volunteers. It is part of the national adaptive baseball Miracle League. The local organization recently added soccer, basketball and cheerleading to its programs.

For some athletes, such as Parimala, this was their first time on these ball fields and possibly their initial exposure to baseball. Meanwhile, a boy in a Day-Glo orange shirt quickly donned a helmet, clutched his bat and ran with old friends toward one of the fields. Elsa, a black lab service dog accompanied nine-year-old Kenny to most places on the field but stood back and only watched as the boy spun his motorized wheelchair to catch the ball when he played first base.

The 120 athletes in the league are from towns throughout Orange but also from Sullivan County and New Jersey. They have autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, epilepsy and other health concerns. The games are not just for children. Since programs for older youth and adults are limited, the players’ ages range from six to 32.

Beautiful People attempted a variety of virtual programs over the last year. Some were more successful than other online activities. The goal was to keep the community engaged during the pandemic and provide a vital outlet and release for the athletes and their parents.

COVID reduced the number of “buddies” to shadow the players now that they are back on the field. The preferred ratio of adults to players at Beautiful People is one-to-one but that is not possible right now. The loss of volunteers is an issue that all nonprofits have endured during the pandemic. League organizers hope the ratio quickly will adjust during the coming months.

It’s one step at a time, with the first day on the fields on a warm Sunday featuring plenty of whoops and cheers.

It’s nice to be back!

May 01 2021

Striking Out Stars Nothing To Sneeze At

Eddie Feigner never played a major league baseball game. But he became famous as a barnstorming showman with his four-man softball team.

Eddie’s team, known as the King and His Court, traveled around the world, similar to basketball’s Harlem Globetrotters. Along with Eddie, the team only fielded a catcher, first baseman and shortstop. Spanning more than five decades beginning during 1946, the team played approximately 10,000 games in all 50 states and more than 100 countries for 200 million fans. Many from Long Island, Queens, Brooklyn, The Bronx and Westchester recall seeing Eddie hold court.

The former U.S. Marine, whose pitches were clocked as fast as 104 miles per hour, was known for throwing from behind his back, between his legs while kneeing and blindfolded. A 2002 list of the 10 greatest pitchers featured Eddie along with Major League Baseball Hall of Famers Walter Johnson and Sandy Koufax.

Eddie’s most impressive feat may have been when he struck out six straight major league hitters during an exhibition game at Dodger Stadium during 1967. The batters were the top stars of the time—Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, Brooks Robinson, Willie McCovey, Maury Wills and Harmon Killebrew. Each player won a Most Valuable Player award during the 1960s, and all but Maury are enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

To honor his service as a U.S. Marine, Eddie and his team often played against military personnel at bases and on the decks of aircraft carriers. Considerable amounts of ticket profits were donated to charity. Following Operation Desert Storm, Eddie placed veteran support as the chief charity for game proceeds.

Eddie made light of his relative unknown status in the sports world. When Sports Illustrated named him the most underrated athlete of his time during 1972, he replied, “I’m a pipsqueak because I’m caught in a nothing game. It’s like being a world-champion nose-blower.”

Eddie has been gone for about 14 years, but he remains vivid in the memories of so many fans and the many others he helped with the proceeds from the games.

Feb 01 2021

Bronx Infielder Hopes To Return To Yankee Stadium

Andrew Velazquez is from the Morris Park section of The Bronx. He grew up at Yankee Stadium, too.

Andrew was good enough to play ball in the minor leagues, and after each season he returned to the big ballpark. Each visit served as personal motivation to improve his game as he strived to wear a major league uniform.

After playing ball all the time while growing up, Andrew toiled the infield at Fordham Prep, where he earned All-Bronx Player of the Year from “The New York Post.” He committed to Virginia Tech but opted to turn pro after high school. A seventh-round draft pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks during 2012, Andrew holds the record for reaching base in 74 consecutive minor league games, a mark he set with the 2014 Class-A South Bend Silver Hawks in the Midwest League. He broke the record of 71 that was held by a couple of players who would become Yankee rivals — Kevin Millar and Kevin Youkilis of the Boston Red Sox.

Andrew already has had his “cup of coffee” in the majors, playing briefly with the Tampa Bay Rays during 2018 and 40 games with the Baltimore Orioles last season. He played in three games at Yankee Stadium, with one plate appearance, as a member of the Rays. A personal dream, though, always has been to wear the Yankee pinstripes. That could occur this year. The 26-year-old infielder recently signed a minor league contract with the Yankees. By chance, Andrew’s personal trainer lives near Yankee Stadium, allowing the young player to picture himself playing at the ball yard as he passes it each day. More motivation.

Growing up a Yankees fan and as an infielder, we shouldn’t be surprised that Andrew wore #2 in tee-ball. But, there is a twist to Andrew’s story. When his father took him to a game at the stadium, Andrew became fascinated with an all-star infielder who happened to feature his number on a Yankees jersey. That is how Derek became Andrew’s favorite player.

“When I was in kindergarten [at St. Francis Xavier], I said I’d play in Yankee Stadium,’’ Andrew recently was quoted in a local newspaper. “I’m gonna bust my ass to get there again.”