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Old 12-31-2005, 06:22 PM   #1
Bruce Markusen
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Default Cooperstown Confidential--December 31, 2005 (Part 1)

Farewells
Of the many baseball people who passed away in 2005, I had to the chance to interview four of them. Although the encounters were relatively brief, they all left a favorable impression. Here’s to the good memories left behind by Messers Hendricks, Clendenon, Broeg, and Briles.


Elrod Hendricks

It’s especially sad when someone dies so close to the Christmas holiday, and even more so in Ellie’s case because he passed away just one day before his 65th birthday.

While I certainly can’t claim to have known Hendricks as well as someone like fellow blogger Brooks Robinson (the truest of baseball gentlemen), I did have the pleasure of interviewing Ellie one time in spring training. As I recall, it was during the spring of 1996, at the Yankees’ new spring training facility in Tampa, Florida. With the Orioles preparing to play the Yankees, Hendricks was in his usual location—on the playing field, where he loved to be whenever possible. At the time, I was conducting video interviews for the Hall of Fame’s archive, and found Hendricks, who would talk to anyone, to be as approachable as anyone. I started asking him about his favorite memories, including World Series moments. And while I don’t remember off-hand too many of the details of what Hendricks had to say, I do remember him smiling, being affable at all times, and doing his best to offer some legitimate insights for the Hall’s archive. From what I hear, this was typical Ellie Hendricks.

While star players often become the faces of franchises, sometimes journeyman ballplayers became synonymous with a team through hard work, longevity, a community-minded spirit, and a general amicability. Hendricks embodied all of those qualities, making him as recognizable to Orioles diehards as superstars like Cal Ripken, Jr. or Brooksie himself. In many ways, Hendricks was the Orioles—from 1968 through this past season, as a player, player-coach, and bullpen coach. If not for brief pitstops with the Chicago Cubs in 1972 and the New York Yankees in 1976-77, Hendricks would have been associated continuously with the Orioles from 1968 to the current day—for a total of 37 consecutive years.

A few other thoughts on Hendricks:
*Although hardly a star, he was one of those critical role players that Earl Weaver used so expertly during Baltimore’s glory years from 1969 to 1971. As a left-handed hitting catcher, Hendricks platooned with Andy Etchebarren giving the Orioles an occasional home run, solid defense behind the plate, and a catcher who capable of forging a good rapport with his talented pitching staff.

*I’m not sure why the Orioles traded Hendricks to the Cubs in the middle of the 1972 season, but they quickly realized their mistake and reacquired him prior to 1973. And then again, the Orioles traded him in 1976, this time as part of the massive deal that brought Rick Dempsey to the Birds. Hendricks became a backup catcher with the Yankees, playing behind the durable and gritty Thurman Munson. As a left-handed hitter and strong character guy in the clubhouse, Hendricks seemed like a perfect fit as a backup catcher in the Bronx. That’s why I don’t understand why the Yankees let him go after the 1977 season, allowing him to return to Baltimore for a third stint with the Birds.

*Hendricks didn’t look like your typical catcher. Built tall and lean, he featured the wiry frame of a rangy shortstop or a light-quick center fielder. He was also a catcher at a time when few African Americans were given the chance to play behind the plate, in part because of racist inclinations that regarded blacks as somehow lacking the needed intelligence to call a game. Not surprisingly, catchers like Hendricks and Manny Sanguillen proved the racists wrong.

*Hendricks’ career statistics are hardly overwhelming, but for fans of baseball in the 1970s, his value exceeded the numbers. More importantly, Ellie was one of baseball's good people—positive, upbeat, and always willing to give back to the game. For that—and many other reasons that Orioles fans surely understand—Ellie Hendricks will be missed considerably.
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Old 12-31-2005, 06:25 PM   #2
Bruce Markusen
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Default Cooperstown Confidential--December 31, 2005--Part 2

Donn Clendenon
Donn died in September at the age of 70, the victim of a long battle with leukemia. I once co-hosted a show on MLB Radio with him, and while I can hardly say that I knew him well, he could not have been more friendly or cordial during our brief time on the air. Donn never once reminded me that he had played professional baseball, and that I had not, instead treating me with respect. He seemed like a true gentleman.

Clendenon was one of the few African-American players of his era who attended college. As an amateur athlete in the collegiate ranks, Clendenon had several options to choose from in picking his career path. The six-foot, four-inch Clendenon was a talented basketball and football player—he was given the nickname “Big Train” because of the powerful style as a running back—which resulted in contract offers from both the Harlem Globetrotters and the NFL’s Cleveland Browns. Ultimately, Clendenon chose baseball, signing a professional contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Clendenon played most of his prime seasons with the Pirates, enjoying a career year in 1966, when he hit a career-high 28 home runs. (That was an especially impressive number given that he played half his games at cavernous Forbes Field.) Yet, his contributions to the New York Mets in 1969 remain his most lasting legacy. In many ways, the 1969 season was the most tumultuous season of Clendenon’s career. After having been taken by the Montreal Expos in the 1968 expansion draft, Clendenon found himself on the trading block. In January, the Expos made him and outfielder Jesus Alou the centerpiece of a four-player package that brought star outfielder Rusty Staub over from the Houston Astros. It was a bad trade for the Astros, and it was only made worse when Clendenon decided he did not want to play for Houston. When spring training rolled around, Clendenon announced that he intended to retire and would not report to his new team.

In the past, a player announcing his retirement usually would have resulted in the voiding of the trade. The Commissioner’s Office, led by the newly elected Bowie Kuhn, decided to take a different task, allowing Staub to report to Montreal and Alou to Houston, permitting Clendenon to remain with Montreal, and demanding that the two teams restructure the rest of the deal. The Expos eventually sent right-hander Jack “Bone” Billingham and left-hander Skip Guinn to Houston as replacements for Clendenon.

Clendenon’s “retirement,” which was really more strategic than genuine and displayed his off-the-field intelligence, showed other players that they didn’t necessarily have to comply with undesirable trades that put them with unwanted teams. In April of 1969, Ken “Hawk” Harrelson tried a similar strategy when the Boston Red Sox traded him to the Cleveland Indians. Not wanting to play in Cleveland and give up his many business interests in the Boston area, Harrelson “retired” for 48 hours, finagling a new two-year contract from the Indians during his brief layoff. Even more significantly, Clendenon’s maneuver may have also had influence on Curt Flood, who was traded by the St. Louis Cardinals to the Philadelphia Phillies after the 1969 season but refused to report to his new team, setting the stage for one of baseball’s greatest court battles.

In the short term, Clendenon’s strategy would help the Mets—enormously. The Mets probably didn’t know it at the time, but Clendenon’s brief retirement and his subsequent return to Montreal would eventually place him on the trade block again. Unhappy with Clendenon—who in turn became unhappy because of sporadic playing time in Montreal—the Expos decided to trade Clendenon a second time. On June 15, which was formerly baseball’s trading deadline, the Mets made themselves a fortuitous deal with the Expos, sending backup infielder Kevin Collins and three minor league pitchers north of the border for Clendenon. (Of the players dealt, only young right-hander Steve Renko did anything of consequence for the expansion Expos, becoming an effective member of the starting rotation in the franchise’s early years.)

This time, Clendenon didn’t balk at the deal. He joined the Mets, at first becoming a platoon partner with Ed Kranepool at first base. Clendenon immediately strengthened the Mets’ lineup against left-handed pitching and deepened a relatively thin and inexperienced bench. In due time, he became the Mets’ everyday first baseman—in an important decision made by manager Gil Hodges. In 72 games with the Mets, Clendenon finished with 12 home runs and 37 RBIs, solid numbers to be sure, but hardly earth-shattering. Still, Clendenon gave the Mets a more powerful presence against left-handed pitching, deepened the bench by allowing Hodges to bring Kranepool over the bench, and played a smooth first base, fitting in well with a team that emphasized pitching and defense. With Clendenon providing a boost, the Mets overcame a nine-and-a-half game deficit and won the Eastern Division by eight games over the far more talented Chicago Cubs.

More significantly, Clendenon saved his best hitting for the postseason. He became the centerpiece of the Mets’ offense during the World Series against the substantially favored Baltimore Orioles. In Game One, Clendenon doubled and singled in a Series-opening loss. In Game Two, he powered a critical solo home run that lifted the Mets to a 2-1 victory. Clendenon then homered in Game Four, and again in the clinching Game Five, as the Mets finalized their stunning upset of the seemingly invincible Birds of Baltimore. After the clinching victory, Clendenon was voted World Series MVP.

While the Mets probably could have won the National League East without Clendenon, they would have been hard-pressed to overpower the talented Orioles—in five games no less—without the presence of Big Train. That’s why fans of the “Amazin’ Mets” will always remember the importance of Donn Clendenon.


Bob Broeg
The likeable sportswriter, who died in late October after battling a number of illnesses, was the first baseball figure I interviewed after joining the Hall of Fame staff in 1995. I was a little bit nervous about the interview, in part because it was my first for the Cooperstown audio archive. There was also the matter of Broeg’s last name, a tricky moniker that could be pronounced in a variety of different ways, including the phonetical pronunciation of BROAG. Not wanting to embarrass myself, I did some research into his name, determining that the proper pronunciation was BRAYG.

I started the interview by introducing Bob as Bob BRAYG and then posing my first question. Before answering the question, Bob corrected me. He pointed out that his name was pronounced BRAYG. Of course, that was what I had just said—BRAYG. I think that Bob had become so used to hearing people mispronounce his name that he assumed that I had just done the same.

Naturally, being corrected after having done nothing wrong unnerved me a bit. By the end of the interview, I had mostly forgotten that momentary feeling of awkwardness. Rather, I came away from the interview remembering Bob’s love of baseball—and his knowledge of everything St. Louis. I also took note of that booming laugh, one of the Broeg trademarks. That laugh, which was often drawn at his own expense, only displayed more of the passion that Bob felt about the stories he had to tell.

A lot of baseball fans will go through their lives knowing little about the sportswriters who cover the game. Their focus—and I guess this is understandable—is on the players. Yet, if you really want to learn something about the history of the game, you need to listen to what the Bob Broegs of the world have to say. Here’s a man who knew Jackie Robinson personally, who could have told you anything about Frankie Frisch, who came up with the nickname “The Man” for Stan Musial, and who knew the daily routine of Bob Gibson on days he pitched. A man with that kind of information is something special.

Every time a man like Bob Broeg passes away, we lose a little bit of our link to baseball’s past generations. In the case of Broeg, I’m glad that I had a chance to interview him—and preserve just a bit of that all-encompassing St. Louis knowledge on a tape recorder.
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Old 12-31-2005, 06:26 PM   #3
Bruce Markusen
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Default Cooperstown Confidential--December 31, 2005--Part 3

Nelson Briles
I can’t say that I was with friends with former major league pitcher Nelson “Nellie” Briles; I simply didn’t know him that well. But I did get to spend some time with him, mostly through an interview I did with him about the 1971 Pirates and during a Hall of Fame Weekend visit in 2001, when Nellie’s friend, Bill Mazeroski, officially entered the Hall. Based on the few experiences I did have with Nellie, I wish that I would have had more opportunities to talk baseball with him.

Articulate, thoughtful, and knowledgeable, Nellie Briles could talk baseball with anyone. More importantly, he liked to talk about other people in baseball, people that he liked. When I called him up on short notice in 2001 to ask him if we could do a program with him in the Hall of Fame’s Bullpen Theater about Bill Mazeroski, he didn’t hesitate. He was accommodating, gracious, and charming. It was as if Nellie didn’t want to lose the opportunity to honor his friend on the weekend that he was entering Cooperstown.

Nellie died in February, just before the start of spring training. He was far too young—only 61. In perhaps his most lasting legacy as a ballplayer, Nellie was an important part of the 1971 World Championship Pirates, both on the field and in the clubhouse. His masterful two-hitter in Game Five remains one of the greatest World Series pitching performances of all time, perhaps only second to Don Larsen’s perfect game in 1956. Even after Nellie’s playing days, he continued to do great work—he and people like Sally O’Leary—in running the Pirates’ Alumni Association, the best group of its kind in all of baseball. Nellie Briles was one of the good ones.


Baseball lost many other good people over the past 12 months. Here is the roll call for 2005:

Bob Allen (age 91)—pitcher, MLB

Monty Basgall (age 83)—coach and second baseman, MLB
Joe Bauman (age 83)—record-setting minor league slugger
Don Blasingame (age 73)—second baseman, MLB, and Japanese Leagues manager
Ted Bonda (age 88)—Cleveland Indians owner
Nelson Briles (age 61)—pitcher, MLB, and Pittsburgh Pirates executive
Bob Broeg (age 87)—sportswriter, Spink Award recipient
Lyman Bostock, Sr. (age 87)—first baseman, Negro Leagues
William “Bud” Black (age 73)—pitcher, MLB
Bob Carpenter (age 87)—pitcher, MLB
Chico Carrasquel (age 77)—shortstop, MLB
Bob Casey (age 79)—Minnesota Twins public address announcer
Tom Cheek (age 66)—Toronto Blue Jays broadcaster
Donn Clendenon (age 70)—first baseman, MLB
Nick Colosi (age uncertain)—umpire, MLB
Sandy Consuegra (age 85)—pitcher, MLB
Ray Cunningham (age 100)—third baseman, MLB

Harry Dalton (age 77)—executive, MLB
Brandy Davis (age 76)—outfielder, MLB
Dick Dietz (age 63)—catcher, MLB

Mario Encarnacion (age 30)—outfielder, MLB, and Chinese Professional Baseball League

Danny Gardella (age 85)—outfielder, MLB
Pete Gebrian (age 81)—pitcher, MLB
Al Gettel (age 87)—pitcher, MLB
Louis “Sea Boy” Gillis (age 80)—catcher, Negro Leagues
Milt Graff (age 74)—second baseman, MLB
Hal Griggs (age 76)—pitcher, MLB
Marv Grissom (age 87)—pitcher, MLB
Cesar Gutierrez (age 61)—infielder, MLB

Kent Hadley (age 70)—first baseman, MLB
Barry Halper (age 66)—baseball memorabilia collector and New York Yankees limited partner
Elrod Hendricks (age 64)—catcher, MLB
Pancho Herrera (age 70)—first baseman, MLB
Eli Hodkey (age 87)—pitcher, MLB
Cal Hogue (age 77)—pitcher, MLB
Frank “Pig” House (age 75)—Alabama state legislator and catcher, MLB
Bennie Huffman (age 90)—scout and catcher, MLB

Byron “Mex” Johnson (age 94)—shortstop, Negro Leagues
Vic Johnson (age 84)—pitcher, MLB

Pat Kelly (age 61)—outfielder, MLB
Bob Kennedy (age 84)—utility player, manager, executive, MLB
Bill King (age 78)—Oakland A’s broadcaster

Hal Lebovitz (age 89)—sportswriter, Spink Award recipient
Don “Ducky” LeJohn (age 70)—third baseman, MLB, and minor league manager
Bob Lennon (age 76)—outfielder, MLB, and noted minor league slugger
Al Lopez (age 97)—Hall of Fame manager and catcher, MLB
Walt Lundy (age 69)—infielder-outfielder, Negro Leagues

Rick Mahler (age 51)—pitcher, MLB
Mal Mallette (age 83)—pitcher, MLB
Gene Mauch (age 79)—manager, MLB
Bob Mavis (age 86)—pinch-runner, MLB
Eddie Miksis (age 78)—infielder, MLB
Al Milnar (age 91)—pitcher, MLB
Herb Moford (age 77)—pitcher, MLB
Ron Mrozinski (age 75)—pitcher, MLB
Charlie Muse (age 87)—executive and pioneer

Mickey Owen (age 89)—catcher, MLB

Jim Pearce (age 80)—pitcher, MLB
Vic Power (age 78)—first baseman, MLB

Dick Radatz (age 67)—pitcher, MLB
Ted “Double Duty” Radcliffe (103)—catcher-pitcher, Negro Leagues
Don Rowe (age 70)—coach and pitcher, MLB
Marius Russo (age 90)—pitcher, MLB

Luis Sanchez (age 51)—pitcher, MLB
Carroll Sembera (age 64)—pitcher, MLB
Dick Sipek (age 82)—deaf outfielder, MLB
Frank Smith (age 77)—pitcher, MLB
Paul C. Smith (age 46)—Tampa Bay Devil Rays beat writer for MLB.com
Lee Stine (age 91)—pitcher, MLB

Chuck Thompson (age 83)—Baltimore Orioles broadcaster, Frick Award recipient

Mike “Slugs” Ulisney (age 87)—catcher, MLB

Harold “Corky” Valentine (age 76)—pitcher, MLB
Pedro “J.P.” Villaman (age 46)—Boston Red Sox Spanish language broadcaster
Bill Voiselle (age 86)—pitcher, MLB

Walter Ward (age 42)—Atlanta Braves director of communications
Ken Weafer (age 91)—pitcher, MLB
Al Widmar (age 80)—coach and pitcher, MLB
Charlie Williams (age 61)—umpire, MLB
Clyde “Lefty” Williams (age 85)—pitcher, Negro Leagues
Earl Wilson (age 70)—pitcher, MLB, and BAT executive

Bob Zuk (age 77)—scout
Frank “Noodles” Zupo (age 65)—MLB


A freelance writer and broadcaster, Bruce Markusen serves as an advisor and consultant to museums that feature exhibits about baseball and other sports. To contact him about exhibit consultation, send an e-mail to bmark@telenet.net. Markusen can also be heard every Wednesday morning at 11:00 am on WHAM Radio (1180 AM) in Rochester, New York, discussing the latest issues in baseball.
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