UMPIRE JOHN MCSHERRY PART OF NOON ROTARY RIB-TICKLING VISIT

This is part of a series of mini-Redlands Connections. This is Part 3 of the series, Quick Visits. Magic Johnson and John Wooden showed up at the University of Redlands as part of a Convocation Series. This piece on Tom Flores was another one. Hall of Fame pitcher Ferguson Jenkins, former NBA player John Block, legendary high school coach Willie West showed up. There are others. Cazzie Russell, for instance, came to Redlands with an NCAA Division III basketball team from Savannah, Ga. Russell, out of Michigan, was the NBA’s overall No. 1 draft pick by the New York Knicks in 1966.

Today’s feature: Former major league umpire John McSherry.

So who was the toughest character to take on a major league umpire?

Redlands Rotary took their opportunity to bring in a guest speaker so far off the radar in early 1981. How about National League umpire John McSherry.

It was McSherry who gave a rib-tickling address to a packed house of Noon Rotarians, jammed into a downtown location not far from City Hall. At the moment, McSherry was working in nearby San Bernardino, training young umpires during the off-season at Little League Western Regional headquarters.

The Bronx, N.Y. native, who began his pro umpiring career in the Carolina League in 1967, told the locals, “Redlands is not to be confused with New York.”

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National League umpire John McSherry was a featured guest speaking at Redlands Noon Rotary on one memorable weekday afternoon (photo by Wikipedia).

He started umpiring sandlot games there, games sometimes starting at 8:30 a.m.

“The first thing we had to do was go out to center field and wake up the drunks who’d been sleeping there all night.

“They didn’t want to be moved, so they just sort of wandered into the stands and watched the games. During the games, they used to bet their nickels and dimes on whether or not the kids would get a hit.

“If we called a kid out, some of them would lose their money. They wanted to win so they could get an early start on the evening’s festivities.

“And if you did call them out,” he said, “often they would throw the empties.”

He cracked about getting a police escort away from the sandlot field, he said, “and the two teams were on our side.”

It was life as an umpire, he told me, “I figured pro ball wasn’t any tougher than sandlot.”

Upon his visit to Redlands, Cardinals’ pitching great Bob Gibson had just been elected to the Hall of Fame.

“Gibson was excellent,” said McSherry. “The thing that made him so great was how he just moved the game along.

“He just said, ‘gimme the ball, let’s go.’ That guy just had a positive attitude and played to win. He’s definitely a Hall of Famer.”

One of his personal favorites was Gil Hodges, a Dodger legendary who led the Miracle Mets of 1969 to the World Series.

“You know how people get built up sometimes as being an all-around super guy? And then you meet them and none of it’s true.

“Well, Gil Hodges was not like that. He didn’t disappoint me. He was just a super man in everything.”

Major league umpires, at that moment, numbered only 50 to 60. It was tough to move into the major league level.

Toughest part of umpiring, he said, “was the travel. But I like the flying, all the moving around from city to city.”

Umpires like McSherry expect the question, though. Which managers were toughest on the umps. He’s heard the question often.

“Tommy Lasorda.

“(Leo) Durocher.”

“I’m glad I wasn’t in the American League. I felt bad for anyone that called Earl Weaver’s games.”

And, he said, “thank goodness Billy Martin wasn’t in the National League, either.”

Truth is, there was the World Series and the All-Star game. McSherry crossed paths with both managers in those classics.

There were no further explanations.

“I’ve got a job to do,” he said, “and so do they.”

 

JULIO CRUZ BECAME FIRST TERRIER MAJOR LEAGUER

I met Julio Cruz exactly three times – once in the clubhouse at Anaheim Stadium when he was a member of the Seattle Mariners.

The other times came years later. He had long since retired. His onetime home city, which had been Redlands, was near Seattle. Someone had convinced him to come back for an off-season baseball clinic at Community Field.

A few years later, Julio was inducted into the newly-formed Redlands High School Terrier Hall of Fame.

Brooklyn-born. Moved to Redlands. Graduated. Headed for San Bernardino Valley College. Signed as a free agent. California Angels. That was just the beginning.

Julio hit .237 over nine seasons in the major league. He is, indeed, a Hall of Famer. In Redlands. The guy has taken part in some of baseball’s greatest moments.

JUlio Cruz
Julio Cruz, a Redlands High product, became the first Terrier to ever play in the major leagues (photo by Wikipedia Commons).

Sports Editor Jeff Lane, my predecessor at the Redlands newspaper, had done plenty on Julio during his five-year stint. Julio was a popular product. To that point, no Redlands player had ever drifted their way from that city into the major leagues.

Ed Vande Berg, a southpaw pitcher, would be next. In fact, the two would eventually be teammates in Seattle.

Julio, a 1972 Redlands High graduate, played at nearby San Bernardino Valley. Though undrafted, he was signed by the California Angels on May 7, 1974 as a free agent.

The Angels sent him into their minor league system. As a 19-year-old, he batted .241 for Idaho Falls of the Rookie League in 1974. On he went, right up the Angels’ chain – .261 for Quad Cities, .307 for Salinas, .327 for El Paso and .246 for Salt Lake City at age 22.

EXPANSION — A REAL BREAK FOR CRUZ

The American League, about to expand from 10 teams to 12 teams by 1977, had to make players available in a draft pool. Julio, left unprotected by the Angels, who had ex-Red Sox second baseman Jerry Remy at the MLB level. No room for Julio.

While Julio batted .366 for Hawaii of the Pacific Coast League – stashed with the Padres’ chain while Seattle organized its minor league system – it wouldn’t be long before he got his shot at the major leagues.

On Nov. 5, 1976, Julio had been the 52nd player taken in the American League expansion draft when two new franchises appeared in the American League – Seattle and Toronto.

Suddenly, he was suddenly a Mariner.

In a curious draft footnote, pitcher Butch Edge was taken by Toronto out of Milwaukee’s chain. Edge would eventually wind up in Redlands years later as the University of Redlands’ men’s golf coach.

Other players taken in the draft included Pete Vuckovich being plucked away from the White Sox by Toronto. Vuckovich would eventually wind up with the Brewers, winning the 1982 Cy Young Award.

As for Julio, he quickly turned into a Seattle stalwart. Longing for star players, Julio’s base-stealing skills turned him into a popular Mariner.

He stole 59 bases in 1978, then swiped 49, 45, 43 and 46 bags over the next four seasons. What’s lost in those numbers is that he stole 49 in just 107 games in 1979. During the strike-shortened 1981 season, he stole 43 times in 94 games.

If there was a weakness to his game, Julio’s on-base-percentage was awfully low – his highest at .363 in ’79 – but he put a lot of bunts in play to try and get on base.

There were some decent hitters in Seattle – Al Cowens, Richie Zisk, Dave Henderson, Willie Horton, Bruce Bochte, Ruppert Jones, among others – with pitchers like future White Sox teammate Floyd Bannister and Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry playing in Seattle with Julio.

Gaylord Perry
Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry notched his 300th career victory in a Seattle uniform. In fact, teammate Julio Cruz made the final out when he fielded Willie Randolph’s grounder (photo by Wikipedia Commons).

In fact, Julio was on the field on May 6, 1982 when Perry (10-12 that season) won his 300th game. He beat the Yankees in the Kingdome to notch this milestone victory.

In fact, it was Cruz who fielded the grounder off Willie Randolph for the final out.

TRADED TO THE CHISOX

On June 30, 1983 — MLB’s trading deadline — Cruz was swapped to the Chicago White Sox for second baseman Tony Bernazard. The results of that trade might’ve been the impetus for the ChiSox vaulting to an American League Western Division title by 20 games over Kansas City.

“Let’s Do It Again” was the theme for 1984.  What the ChiSox did was fall back to fifth place, 14 games under .500.

General Manager Roland Hemond, who leveraged the Bernazard-for-Cruz swap, brought in pitcher Ron Reed and practically stole future Hall of Famer Tom Seaver from the Mets.

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Chicago White Sox General Manager Roland Hemond was responsible for landing Julio Cruz in a trade with the Seattle Mariners in 1983 (photo by Wikipedia Commons).

Their contributions weren’t enough to offset poor showings, perhaps reflected by 1983 ace pitchers Lamarr Hoyt (13-18) and Rich Dotson (14-15) one season later.

There were 54,032 fans at Yankee Stadium when Seaver beat the Yankees for his 300th career win. Cruz, in the dugout batting less than .180, wasn’t part of that ChiSox 4-1 triumph.

On the field, though, were Hall of Famers like Rickey Henderson and Dave Winfield, MVP Don Mattingly and, of course, Seaver. Managers Tony La Russa and Billy Martin squared off against each other.

One night later, Cruz was back in the lineup, going 2-for-2 off Ron Guidry — caught stealing by Yankee catcher Butch Wynegar.

The ’85 White Sox club bounced back to win 85 games and actually led the division in June.

By 1986, the club was in disarray with new general manager Ken Harrelson, who had replaced Hemond, and manager Jim Fregosi. It would be four more seasons before the Chicago White Sox finished over .500.

Julio was living off an impressive free agent contract that was signed in December 1984, a six-year deal between $3.6 and $4.8 million. He never finished out his contract.

Julio played in 1,156 games; swiped 343 bases; don’t forget impressive .982 defense at second base.

Released by the White Sox in July 1987, Cruz signed as a free agent with Los Angeles. But the 1987 Dodgers already had a second baseman. Steve Sax would go on to lead his team to a World Series title a year later. Julio never actually played in L.A.

A TERRIER HALL OF FAME RETURN

He was part of the second class of Hall of Fame inductees at his former high school. In fact, Julio unwittingly opened the door to a humorous line given by fellow inductee Brian Billick, of Super Bowl fame.

Julio had spoken emotionally about his Terrier days. The memories. Boy, he had fun. The teams he’d played on. There was some success. The Terriers, with Cruz in the lineup, won the first Citrus Belt League title in 1971 — 44 years after their previous championship from 1927.

At the Redlands Hall of Fame podium, Cruz shared a memory.

“Just being in the showers with guys like Brian Billick was a thrill. Those were highlights for me. I’ll never get over that.”

Billick, the Terrier great defensive back/QB who was head coach of the Baltimore Ravens when they won the Super Bowl, was being inducted the same night.

In fact, Billick broke the crowd up when he said, “Julio, it’s amazing to me that you felt like the highlight of your high school career was taking a shower with me.”

A few years before that Hall of Fame moment, Cruz, along with ex-major leaguer Rudy Law and Hall of Fame pitcher Ferguson Jenkins took part in a baseball clinic at Community Field. Former Pirates and Yankees pitcher Dock Ellis, I was told, showed up late.

Hundreds of youth had shown up for that historic event at the corner of Church and San Bernardino. This was a rare moment for local youth.

Dads let their kids know who this guy was. Julio Cruz, of Redlands. Former major leaguer. Little guy. Second baseman. Switch hitter. Lots of speed. Wanna be a big leaguer? Listen. Watch.

Jenkins and Law couldn’t have been more classy.

Julio, the ex-Terrier, knew he was at home.

They gave tips. They shared stories. They shook hands. Smiled. They signed autographs.

Julio became a coach. Broadcasting games for the Mariners, Julio Cruz took his Brooklyn-to-Redlands-to-Seattle-to-Chicago travels really well.

Why not a Terrier Hall of Famer? He fit the mold. While playing with, or against, all those MBL Hall of Famers, he played for one Cooperstown-bound manager, La Russa.

It was a diamond-style Redlands Connection.

PART 2: WILLIE … ALMOST MICKEY … AND THE DUKE

Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open and the Olympics, plus NCAA Final Four connections, NASCAR, the Kentucky Derby and Indianapolis 500, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown

Subbing for the Cashman part of the song, “Willie, Almost Mickey and the Duke.”

I never came close to chatting with The Mick. I’d only seen him play in person a couple times. That came in 1968, his final season, but only because the Oakland A’s had moved to the Bay Area. It meant the Yankees had a few stops to make out there.

About a decade later, during the 1977 season in Oakland, I got myself a press pass to a mid-week afternoon game with the visiting Yankees, a team managed by Billy Martin. These were the Reggie Jackson Yankees who, incidentally, wasn’t in the lineup against his old team.

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For some reason, Billy Martin, one of baseball’s fiercest managers, showed up in Redlands sometime in the early 1980s (Photo by Wikipedia Commons).

It was Vida Blue against Ron Guidry.

The world champion A’s had long since been disbanded – trades, free agency, you name it. The Yankees, meanwhile, had picked up Jackson and Catfish Hunter from those old A’s teams.

Guidry, leading 2-0, had tamed the A’s for 8 1/3 innings before he gave up ninth inning home runs to Manny Sanguillan and Dick Allen to knot the score at 2-2. Martin replaced Guidry with Sparkly Lyle, who was the Cy Young Award winner the season before.

The game went 15 innings. Blue lasted 13. Finally, in the 15th, the Yankees broke through for three runs, winning, 5-2. There weren’t even 10,000 fans in the stands that day.

I couldn’t wait for the post-game chat in the clubhouse. I wasn’t really working for anyone. I’d gotten a media credential through my college, Chabot. There was no difficulty getting a pass – not like it is today.

As a budding reporter, I wanted to watch the New York reporters talk about the game with Martin. I wanted to experience the give and take between media and manager. I’ll never forget that as long as I live. I figured that was part of my “education.”

With Martin, the media discussed Guidry’s brilliant game, despite giving up the ninth inning HRs. There was the expected second-guessing: Why didn’t you bring Lyle in to start the ninth. Martin, a little annoyed, told them he felt Guidry had “enough gas left.”

There was some discussion of Jackson not being in the lineup on his return to Oakland. He’d played the day before and struck out three times. Martin said, “We just wanted to give him a day off.”

Vida Blue, he told reporters, looked sharp and strong.

The chat lasted, maybe, 20 to 30 minutes. It started to break up. Guys had deadlines. Martin probably had plans, too, especially since he was a Bay Area guy. I was one of about a dozen guys that circulated in the visitor’s office.

I won’t ever forget how he looked right at me, saying, “Something I can do for you, son?”

In all honesty, I had a couple questions for him. I’d hesitated to ask. After all, I was a nobody.

“That play (Graig) Nettles made on a double play,” I said, “was unbelievable. Went to his left. Sort of a semi dive. That bailed Lyle out of a tough spot.”

It came in the ninth. Sanguillan and Allen had homered. Wayne Gross drew a one-out walk off Lyle. Earl Williams, a home-run hitting catcher, was looking to drive one out, too. But he cracked a shot into the hole toward left field. Nettles, reacting quickly, got the ball to Willie Randolph at second in a hurry.

Double play, ending the threat.

I also asked him about a couple of steal attempts that catcher Thurman Munson had shut down. A’s speedster Bill North was one of those. There was some dispute on the call at second by North, but he was called out.

There were a couple other plays I wanted to ask about, but I didn’t want to press my luck.

Martin took those questions on with a full head of steam. Those N.Y. reporters ready to depart instead hung around. On Nettles and Munson, Martin rhapsodized about how “this game wouldn’t have been won without those plays. Big keys to the game.”

Was I done? He wanted to know. Yeah, I said.

“You know, we’ve got a lot of high-priced talent here from New York that didn’t even pick up on those plays,” said Martin. “You keep asking questions like that, young man, you’re going to go a long way in this business.”

Where was my Mom? My friends? A tape recorder?

I couldn’t believe this.

Billy Martin said that to me? In later years, I wondered if he was just picking away at his regular press corps.

SHOWING UP AT A REDLANDS AMERICAN LEGION

No more than seven or eight years later, I was sitting in my Redlands newsroom office. I got a call from an area baseball-lover, Fred Long. Guy had been a scout for Montreal, maybe Kansas City or Milwaukee. Can’t remember.

“O.B.,” he said, “Billy Martin’s here.”

He was drinking beer at a local American Legion Post.

What the hell was Billy Martin doing in Redlands?

I dropped everything. Rushed over to the legion post. Sure enough, there was Billy Martin, a beer in front of him, four guys sitting around. Talking baseball. I snuck myself into the mix, listening, hearing the chat back and forth.

For nearly three hours, I watched him down one beer after another. He never cracked. Kept talking baseball. There was talk of Mickey Mantle, his good buddy. “No one,” said Martin, “could come close to his power … or speed.”

How he shouldn’t have lost his jobs in Minnesota or Texas or even the Yankees. He’d just gotten finished managing in Oakland, of all places – Billy Ball!

He was in the Redlands area because he’d married a gal who had Yucaipa connections. Yucaipa was the city just east of Redlands. While she was visiting, Billy visited the legion post. He’d had a little military in his background. He felt comfortable in such a place.

Finally, when I felt comfortable enough, I mentioned that Yankees-A’s game in Oakland from a few years earlier. How he’d been real classy to me in the clubhouse after the game. I asked him, despite all the beer he’d downed, if he’d remembered.

He stared right at me. Took a swig of beer. He even grabbed a pretzel and stuck it into his mouth, kind of smiling as he thought. I figured he was getting ready to say he’d remembered.

“No,” he finally said, “I can’t quite remember anything like that. It’s been a few years, right?”

Oh, yeah.

Said Martin: “A lot’s happened since then.”

To this day, I still wonder if he remembered me.

Part 3 of Willie, Almost Mickey and The Duke next week.

PART 1: “WILLIE … ALMOST MICKEY … AND THE DUKE”

Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open and the Olympics, plus NCAA Final Four connections, NASCAR, the Kentucky Derby and Indianapolis 500, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown

Talkin’ baseball. Terry Cashman. His song, released in 1981, seemed to summarize a special part of baseball. A musical contribution to baseball history. It surrounded the great center fielders in three New York boroughs – the Bronx, Brooklyn and Manhattan.

Cashman wrote about … “Willlieeeeee … Mickey … and The Duke.”

Duke Snider came to Redlands.

Mickey Mantle came to … well, as far as anyone knows, he didn’t come to Redlands. But his longtime friend, Billy Martin, showed up here at least once.

Then there was Willie Mays. I can’t honestly say that the “Say Hey Kid” ever set foot on Redlands soil. But the sports editor from Redlands took part in a rare discussion that probably never came up in baseball circles.

It would’ve made a nice little change in Cashman’s song, “Willie … Almost Mickey … and the Duke …”

Say, hey!

Say, hey!

Say, hey!

Willie_Mays_cropped
Willie Mays talked about a “trade” that could’ve happened regarding a Dodger pitcher named Koufax? (Wikipedia Commons photo)

It was in the early 1980s. Bob Hope Desert Classic. Coachella Valley. Willie Mays, a golf lover, was playing in the celebrity Pro-Am, along with plenty of others from music, film and sports.

There we were in the VIP tent. Food was being served. It was the middle of the day. Willie had played his round. I was talking a break. Other than the serving staff, no one else seemed to be around.

Sitting at a table near him, I could just feel the opportunity. I grew up in the Bay Area watching this guy play in the twilight of his career in the late 1960s.

What should I ask him?

“Willie,” I said, “tell me something about your career that didn’t get much attention.”

He responded crudely, which shouldn’t have come as a complete shock. In sports, you often run into replies like that. In the clubhouse. In a locker room. On a field or court. Willie had probably been approached by thousands of media guys looking for something – stories, opinions, recollections, you name it.

He wouldn’t be talking – at least to me. It’s okay. I tried. No big deal.

Suddenly, out of the blue, he blurted, “We almost got Koufax.”

Huh? What? Say that again!

Yeah, he said. A year, or two, before Dodger southpaw Sandy Koufax really hit his Hall of Fame stride, the fireballing southpaw was stewing about how the Dodgers were using him.

Translation: Or not using him.

Apparently in Willie’s presence in San Francisco – likely at Seals Stadium – Koufax approached team general manager Buzzie Bavasi to request a trade.

Said Willie: “He told Bavasi, ‘you’re not using me. Why even keep me? It’s better to let me go. Trade me somewhere so I can pitch.’ ”

Willie said he jumped right into the discussion. “Trade him to the Giants,” he remembers telling Bavasi. “Trade him to us.”

There was some discussion. Wow! The Giants’ star player was discussing a trade with the GM of their chief rival, the Dodgers.

Willie was told by Bavasi to tell Horace Stoneham, the Giants’ owner who made all deals for the San Francisco-based team.

“Did you do it?” I asked him.

He nodded. “I talked to Mr. Stoneham. Didn’t hear much about it for awhile.”

Willie was chewing his food. Some guys were entering the VIP tent. Hoping that it wasn’t people looking for Willie – which would interrupt our chat – I prodded him a little.

“Any discussions take place about Koufax going to the Giants?”

Willie Mays nodded again. He was chewing. Swallowing. Didn’t seem to be in much of a hurry to answer.

“They wanted Cepeda.”

Orlando Cepeda, one of baseball’s younger star sluggers, was a San Francisco favorite. He was an established star.

Koufax had yet to reach that portion of his career that would get everyone’s attention. At that time, Cepeda-for- Koufax might not have seemed logical for San Francisco.

(Funny thing, though, was in 1966, the Giants sent Cepeda to St. Louis for southpaw Ray Sadecki – not quite the same caliber of pitcher that Koufax had been. At least Sadecki had won 20 games a couple years earlier.)

Koufax had a little success in his early years, but had yet to really hit his consistently great stride. In his mind, apparently, the Dodgers weren’t treating him respectfully.

Between 1961 and his final season, 1966, Koufax was unhittable, unforgettable and, evidently, untradeable.

I summarized this for Willie Mays.

“Are you telling me that you guys almost had Sandy Koufax, Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry on the same pitching staff?” It would have been a couple of years before Perry joined the Giants’ staff.

Wow!

Willie didn’t answer. Just kept chewing. I wasn’t all that much of an interest to him. At the moment, though, I was the only one sitting near him to chat about this remarkable trade possibility.

“How close do you think this came to happening?”

I should mention this: During this entire chat, Willie Mays never looked at me. Not once. Didn’t have to, though. This was more than I’d bargained for. I don’t even know if he had even heard that last question.

At that point, more people started entering the tent. Food was being served. Willie Mays acknowledged some of the people he’d played golf with that day. My time with him was apparently over.

It was exciting, to say the least. I was practically finished with my sandwich and potato salad. I was nursing my drink when Willie Mays got up to leave. My heart kind of sank. I’d have really liked to get more conversation with him.

I watched him shake hands with a few guys.

“Nice to see you again, Willie.”

“Thanks, Willie.”

“Let’s get together soon, Willie.”

You know, typical sendoff lines.

Willie Mays was leaving. He’d walk right behind where I was sitting. When he walked past me, he said into my good ear (I only hear out of one ear), “Stoneham would’ve never traded Cepeda.”

One-third of the Cashman song – done.

Part 2 of Willie … Almost Mickey … and The Duke next week.