Oct 01 2018

An Autograph And A Cherished Memory

The boy was 12 years old when his father took him to Columbia, South Carolina, to watch an exhibition game between the St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds. The father was a Cardinals fan, because throughout the south during the 1940s the games were heard loud and clear on KMOX out of St. Louis.

The son was excited to see “Stan the Man” Musial. After the game, as Stan was boarding the team bus, the boy asked and received the outfielder’s signature, the only autograph he ever had requested from a baseball player.

The talented young infielder eventually played professionally with his favorite team (the Yankees, not the Cardinals). For a few years, he was the teammate of another Cardinals star, Enos “Country” Slaughter, when the outfielder was traded to New York.

When Enos died 16 years ago, the Slaughter family asked his former Yankees teammate to participate in the memorial service. Stan was there, too. They had become acquainted over the years from their participation in Old Timers’ Games. Following the service, the younger “old timer” mentioned the chance meeting so many years earlier in Columbia. He added that the brief moment and the autograph meant a lot to a youngster yearning to play in the big leagues. Stan was surprised to hear the story, adding that he sure was glad that he had not disappointed his now fellow “old timer.”

When the boy had become a major leaguer, he regularly recalled that special day in Columbia. He signed as many autographs as possible. To this day, his autographs showcase his best penmanship, allowing for his name to be completely readable unlike contemporary players who mostly, he said, write a letter or two followed by a squiggle. He understands that a simple signature and a brief moment with a professional athlete is a fantastic memory, especially for a young boy with major league dreams.

If you were a Yankees fan during the 1950s and 1960s, you will recognize the name of the all-star infielder. He left the game too early but did so to return to South Carolina to raise his family. That young boy, that Yankees infielder, that family man and now “old timer” is Bobby Richardson.

Sep 02 2018

Slugger Finds His Fields Of Dreams

Carlos Cruz was the leading slugger on his Queens College baseball team. He then played professional ball in England. Though he never made the leap to the major leagues, Carlos found a way to remain involved in the game.

When Carlos was at college, he sold one of his gloves to a teammate for $100. With that money, he purchased additional gloves. He customized the gloves by adding extra padding and other features, and then he sold these gloves to friends. Carlos landed a human resources position at a large Long Island company when he returned from England. At the same time, he built his small baseball glove business through word of mouth. He created his own brand and sold uniforms along with the gloves. Soon after, he added wooden bats.

Carlos is from Panama City. When he arrived in Queens at 13, he was a good player and starred as a catcher for Newtown High School in Elmhurst. Now, he is starring in his business that is located in a Bronx industrial building.

From the start, Carlos understood that he could not compete with the marketing and production of larger companies. His plan was to make inroads locally through solid customer service. To accomplish this, he has relied on family. His sister helps with the bats. His wife designs uniforms. His nephews help with deliveries.

The seed for this success and for family support was planted years ago. Carlos’ mother struggled financially but she found $39.99 to purchase a glove for him at a Caldor store so he could play the game he loved. Back then as a player and now as a business owner, Carlos found his two fields of dreams.

Jul 15 2018

Sports Opened His Door To The World Of Art

Mort Kunstler lives on Long Island’s north shore. He’s made his professional mark in life as an artist of American history.

Mort began drawing before the age of three. He has sketched cowboys and other characters of the Wild West. He then painted book jackets and cover art for men’s adventure magazines before moving into an advertising career to create movie posters that included The Hindenburg, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 and The Poseidon Adventure. Mort also painted historical scenes for National Geographic and other magazines before he emerged as one of the most prominent painters of American history.

A few years ago, Mort decided to retire. He was 89 at that time. But, one more project required his touch. It was a Civil War scene. The image combined the war with sports, specifically baseball, which has been a significant part of Mort’s life since childhood.

Mort grew up in Brooklyn and his uncle often brought him to Ebbets Field. He painted images of the players from the 1940-1942 teams, and the players signed his creations. At about this same time, sports began to open the doors of opportunity for this artist.

Mort first attended Brooklyn College, playing football in the fall, basketball in the winter and running track in the spring. He also was a regional star in the hurdles and javelin while also a diver on the swim team. He was the first four-letter man in the school’s history. Mort then attended UCLA on a basketball scholarship but he returned to New York before graduation after his father became ill. When he could not enter Pratt Institute due to poor high school grades, Mort’s Brooklyn College basketball coach spoke with the Pratt coach. Mort was admitted to study art.

While Mort played many different sports, he always truly loved baseball. He always wished that he had played it more often than just in pickup games during his younger days in Brooklyn. He did find a way, though, to memorialize his affection for the game in his final work of art.

Mort completed The National Game: White House, November 1862 more than a year ago. He initially thought that the setting for the Civil War-era baseball game should be a Union prison camp with Confederate prisoners playing against their Yankee guards. But, as he began the extensive research that he has incorporated into each of his historical paintings, Mort discovered a book that described soldiers who were bivouacked in Washington and played the game on the White House lawn. In his painting, with the White House in the distance, Mort features pretty women in beautiful gowns and kids who are enjoying the game. The scene suggests a life of normalcy during a hectic and cruel time in our country’s history.

No doubt that Mort probably placed himself within the historical context of the painting. Maybe he is one of the players, or maybe he is the young boy enjoying the game he has always loved.

May 15 2018

A Coach’s Advice Leads To Medical Career

Nicholas Testa was a professional baseball player but the name won’t be familiar to you. He played just one inning of one game on the major league level with the San Francisco Giants during 1958. He never came to bat. Nicholas then played one season in Japan.

Jeff Gilbert remembers Nick. Not as a player but as a college coach. The greatest game of Jeff’s baseball career occurred on April 1, 1969. He was the starting pitcher for the Lehman College freshman baseball team. The opposing team was from C.W. Post.

Jeff got through the first inning, giving up a hit and walk. In the second inning, Post knocked seven consecutive line drive hits off him. That’s when Lehman’s coach, Nick Testa, walked to the mound.

“Son,” said Nick, “what is your index? Jeff answered 3.9. Nick then asked another question. “What is your ERA?” Jeff answered about nine. Nick responded: “When your index is near four and your ERA is more than double your index, it is best that you go home and stick to your studies.”

Jeff never pitched again. Instead, he studied and became a doctor. Then, he reconnected with his coach 10 years later.

Jeff was 27 when he became friends with Mickey Rivers of the New York Yankees. Mickey invited Jeff into the clubhouse one day during the 1979 season. Despite all the noise in the crowded locker room, a familiar voice filtered through to Jeff’s ears. About 15 feet away was Nick Testa. He was working for the Yankees as a batting practice pitcher.

Jeff approached Nick as he was pulling on his socks and offered to shake his hand, calling him Mr. Testa and indicating they had not seen each other in years. Nick asked, “Do I know you?”

Jeff reminded him of the mound conversation a decade earlier. Nick quickly recalled the discussion and then wanted to know why he was in the Yankees clubhouse. At first, Jeff tweaked his old coach a bit by telling him that he had been called up from the minors to pitch that night’s game. Then, he quickly added that he was joking, that he was a physician and a friend of the team’s centerfielder.

For the next 34 years, Nick always claimed credit for Jeff’s career as a doctor. In a way, according to Jeff, Nick was right.

Apr 15 2018

Hall Of Famer Cheers On Vets

Entering a hall of fame is a wonderful achievement and honor. I have had the pleasure on several occasions. The honor—for sports, for business, for community service, or for other achievements—is the acknowledgement from peers that your preparation, your training, your work ethic and your commitment will remain in the spotlight for others to emulate.

The Westchester Sports Hall of Fame inducted a new class of athletes, coaches, officials and broadcasters late last year. One of the inductees was recognized for his sports career and also for his commitment to help others.

Paul Natale coached baseball, football and soccer at Hendrick Hudson High School in Montrose. His baseball teams won Section 1 titles during 1976 and 2000 and he recorded 500 wins. His soccer team reached the state final for the 1988 season. The football program’s success peaked during 1999 but lost to the eventual state champion that season. During a 42-year career as a coach and teacher at Hen Hud, Paul achieved a lot on the field. He accomplished a lot more for the many students who passed through his classroom.

Paul has been retired for several years. His sports and teaching assets presently cheer for handicapped veterans and former soldiers battling post-traumatic stress disorder or substance abuse. Paul is a volunteer adaptive physical education coach at several Veterans Affairs hospitals. Coaching veterans in anything from softball to basketball to touch football has allowed Paul the opportunity to take a different view of his life.

Before Paul’s coaching and teaching days, he was a Vietnam War draftee. He served two years but was never in a fight. Paul often recalls his college fraternity brothers who never came home. He believes that his commitment to today’s soldiers is a proper salute to his college friends.

This is a life that others surely will want to emulate.

Sep 17 2017

No Names (Of Course) Until Now

Baseball purists have battled with the changing times and the changing rules for decades. Early on, the game classified a walk with nine balls, then six balls, to five balls and then to the present four balls. During more recent times, the purists have fumed over artificial turf, domed stadiums and the designated hitter rule in the American League. This season, many have said that baseball should not have changed the intentional walk rule.

Another contemporary, albeit temporary, change occurred on the weekend of August 25-27. It was a change that certainly did upset some of the purists who happen to be Yankee fans. For 115 years, the backs of the home pinstripe and road gray jerseys worn by the New York Yankees either were blank or showcased only a number. The last names of players never were added across the shoulders—until now!

On this specific summer weekend, Major League Baseball promoted its “Players Weekend.” The players were invited to replace their last names on jerseys with their nicknames so “personalities shine through.” All the team uniforms also featured unique colors and designs.

For this event, the Yankees ventured into uncharted territory. The franchise for the first time placed player names, the nicknames, on the backs of its jerseys. After the weekend, all the jerseys from each MLB team were donated with 100 percent of the proceeds supporting baseball’s Youth Development Foundation. The organization focuses on improving the caliber, effectiveness and availability of amateur baseball and softball programs across the United States and Canada.

Here are some of the nicknames that Yankee players placed on their jerseys:

· Aaron Judge: All Rise

· Aroldis Chapman: The Missile

· Dellin Betances: D-Dawg

· David Robertson: D-Rob

· Chad Green: Greeny

· Sonny Gray: Pickles

Having a little fun and raising money for a worthy cause in any line of work is all good. In the baseball world, even many Yankee purists enjoyed the promotion. But, they also were glad when the traditional team uniforms returned for the game against Cleveland on August 28.

Sep 02 2017

Reinventing Yourself – He’s A Pitcher Now

Remember Ike Davis? He was a slugging first baseman with the Mets from 2010 to 2014. During that time, he was diagnosed with valley fever. The disease significantly affected his ability to hit home runs, to swing the bat and to lead a normal life.

While he successfully recovered, Ike’s baseball life became a series of hits and misses. After the Mets, he played briefly with the Yankees, Dodgers, Rangers and Athletics organizations. In the middle of the current season in the minor leagues, Ike decided to leave the batter’s box for the pitcher’s mound.

Maybe Ike found his baseball mojo. During his pitching debut for the Arizona League Dodgers, he threw a scoreless inning while striking out all three batters. His fastball reached 92 mph.

This was not Ike’s first time on the mound. He was in the bullpen during his college days at Arizona State and then he had two scoreless relief appearances for the A’s a couple of years ago. He is a lefty, and teams always are looking for a dominant southpaw to come out of the bullpen. He also has a father who can give him a few pointers. Ron Davis pitched 11 years in the major leagues with several teams, including the Yankees.

Ike has proven that it never is too late to reinvent yourself. This works for sports, in business and in life. Today’s ideas and tactics may not be suitable several years from now. So, always be open to new challenges and new opportunities. Part of the excitement of mastering that new game plan is the surprises and unique experiences that occur along the way.

Aug 02 2017

An Honest Lesson From The Broadcast Booth

A few weeks ago, we lost a sports broadcasting legend. Bob Wolff’s career spanned almost 80 years. He called Don Larsen’s perfect World Series game, the greatest football game ever played—the 1958 National Football League championship game—and the two titles for the New York Knicks.

Bob was cited by the Guinness World Records as having the longest career of any sports broadcaster. He started during 1939 while a student and former baseball player at Duke University. He continued until early this year with our News 12 Long Island. During this span of time, Bob preserved a large amount of tape—about 1,000 hours of video and audio recordings—that included interviews with Jim Thorpe, Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb and Joe Louis. He donated the tapes to the Library of Congress.

Throughout Bob’s life both on and off the air, he touched and helped many people along the way. The tributes shared during his life and since his passing indicate that he always carried himself with class and honesty.

Bob once broadcast a professional basketball game when he was not even in the arena. Bad weather prevented him from flying to Cincinnati for a Knicks game that was to be telecast on Channel 9. So, he worked the game from a television monitor while sitting in the station’s studio on the 83rd floor in Manhattan. As he told the story years later, Bob said that he did not want to make a public confession that he was not at the game, but “journalistic honesty compelled me to make an acknowledgement that circumstances were different.” He told the television audience that while the game was coming from Cincinnati the audio was transmitted from the WOR-TV studios high up in the Empire State Building.

Striving for honesty and integrity is an important lesson that requires the full attention of today’s journalists and broadcasters. For those of us in business, we, too, regularly must remind ourselves about these attributes. Without honesty and integrity, who would want to work with and for any of us?

Aug 16 2016

My Longtime Baseball Friend Is Signing Off

For many years, I have been watching baseball with a friend. He’s become a close friend. He does most of the talking and I only see him occasionally. He doesn’t know me but I enjoy listening to him talk about baseball and life.

When this baseball season ends, Vin Scully will turn off his microphone. He has called the game for 65-plus years, first in Brooklyn and then with the Los Angeles Dodgers. I will miss him.

While never missing a play, Vin effortlessly worked into the conversations all those statistics for which baseball is known. He also shared with me the stories about the game of long ago and vignettes about the players of today that I did not hear anywhere else. He even shared with me his assumptions about the random thoughts running through the minds of managers. All this baseball was just for me – because I felt he was talking just to me — plus a little bit of history, philosophy, theology and commentary about life to put it all in perspective.

Vin is a New Yorker, though he has been in California since the Dodgers moved there for the 1958 season. He was born in The Bronx and raised in the Washington Heights section of northern Manhattan. Vin is a religious man. Brought up in an Irish Catholic family, he attended Fordham Prep and Fordham University with its Jesuit influences.

While at college, he was a student broadcaster on WFUV-FM, the school’s radio station that up until about 30 years ago predominantly was student-run. The roll call from its studios include names of entertainers, broadcasters and journalists you easily will recognize. The names span the pre-Vin years to his contemporaries to those who have followed. Hundreds of others have walked the same halls at Fordham and sat behind its radio microphone but those names will not be known to you. Be assured that they, too, have gone onto highly successful careers.

Vin learned valuable lessons at that station and when he worked with Red Barber on Brooklyn Dodgers broadcasts. Be yourself, Barber told him, because there is no one else like you. He also learned to allow the roar of the crowd to help him tell a story.

As he comes to his ninth inning and eventual postgame, I wonder how Vin plans to close out the game. Will he be philosophical? Possibly poetic? Maybe historical? Or will it be a simple “See you around the ballpark!”

Whatever he decides, he has had a fantastic life in and out of baseball. He has touched—and called—them all!

Jul 16 2016

A Little Business Talk With That Ballpark Frank

Now that we are in the middle of summer, the prominent sports talk around here is about baseball. (Okay, golf, too). While listening to all the baseball talk, I came to realize that so many common baseball expressions have been adapted by those of us in business. This probably goes all the way back in time to when the first pitch was thrown during an organized ballgame.

Here are just a few of the popular terms we use every day that I quickly jotted on my notepad

  • That came out of left field.
  • Cover your bases.
  • Give me a ballpark figure.
  • Hit it out of the park!
  • You’re batting 1,000.
  • Step up to the plate.

I then wondered if the language of baseball — that lingo used by players and managers between the foul lines – had borrowed any words or terms from commerce. After a little digging, I quickly discovered that several expressions from America’s pastime can be traced to business.

  • A “can of corn” refers to an easy catch of a fly ball by an outfielder.

During the 19th century, clerks at general stores were looking for an easy way to reach canned goods such as corn that had been stacked high on shelves. They used long sticks with hooks, pulling the cans from the shelves. They easily caught the cans in their aprons, similar to a fly ball nestling into a glove.

  • When a player is in a difficult situation, such as a rundown between bases, he is caught in a “pickle.”

Shakespeare is thought to be the first to use the idiom “in a pickle” in The Tempest. But, in England, the meaning of the expression is different than our interpretation. “Pickle” refers to a food item similar to relish, and one who is “in a pickle” is “sauced” or “drunk.” On our side of the pond, to relate to our game of baseball, “in a pickle” did come from the food industry. It means “in a tough spot,” similar to a cucumber stuck sitting in vinegary brine for days.

  • The term “butcher boy” refers to the strategy of a batter who draws in the infielders when he squares to bunt but then pulls back the bat to deliver a downward swing.

This term, if not the actual play, is attributed to legendary player and manager Casey Stengel. He was inspired by the motion a boy used in a butcher shop to cleave meat. Stengel ordered it whenever he wanted a player to hit a ground ball, especially when a runner was on third base during a close game and the team needed the run.

So, now that we have come to the end of this little “game,” I guess it is “safe” to say that baseball and business have “covered all the bases” for more than 150 years!