DEE FONDY: REMEMBERED BY BUD SELIG AND WILLIE MAYS

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

In memory of the 1973 World Series.

Dee Fondy, an ex-major league baseball player who lived in Redlands for years, never seemed to show up in the spotlight. He was completely without fanfare. His son, Jon, said his late father never sought the publicity of local newspapers, preferring a low-key existence. A war hero and a local product (though he was born in Texas) from San Bernardino, Fondy was a golf-playing member at Redlands Country Club during his retirement years.

It wasn’t all that well-known, however, that Fondy was a premiere advance scout for the New York Mets — a spot that is most likely among baseball’s under-appreciated roles. A year after nearly producing a scouting report that nearly helped win the 1973 World Series, Fondy landed a spot with the Milwaukee Brewers.

It was Fondy who scouted the defending champion Oakland A’s for the Mets in its 1973 showdown against a Hall of Fame-led team, namely Reggie Jackson, Rollie Fingers, “Catfish” Hunter and manager Dick Williams.

The Mets, injured and suffering throughout the season, managed to package an 83-79 season together. It was good enough to win the National League Eastern Division.

In the National League playoffs, New York outlasted a 99-win Reds’ teams loaded with Hall of Famers — Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench, Sparky Anderson, plus the likely Cooperstown inductee Pete Rose — in five games.

The A’s were baseball’s defending champions, having beaten the Reds one season earlier. This time, it was Oakland taking on the Mets, whose Hall of Fame talent included Tom Seaver and Willie Mays, playing his final season.

The Mets had a 3-2 lead in the Series, based off 10-7, 6-1 and 2-0 wins over the A’s in Games 2, 4 and 5. Hunter outdueled Seaver in Game 6, 3-1, before Kenny Holtzman beat Jon Matlack in Game 7, 5-2.

Fingers, the loser in Game 3, saved three of those games. It took Oakland’s best efforts.

“Dad’s scouting report was in Yogi Berra’s back pocket,” said Jon Fondy, Dee’s son, who had produced the report. “They almost pulled it off and beat the A’s.”

Berra, a Hall of Famer, was New York’s manager. Part of Fondy’s scouting report had to be data that led to Mets’ pitchers holding A’s hitters to a .212 Series average with just two HRs.

The comparative rosters of both teams should have left Oakland in position to sweep the Mets, or at least take them in five games. Fondy’s notes on the A’s, however, gave New York’s pitchers a strong advantage.

One season later, Fondy was off to Milwaukee.

Dee_Fondy_1953
Virgil Dee Fondy spent four decades in major league baseball, notably as a first baseman over eight seasons, later as an advance scout (photo by Wikipedia Commons).

Fondy, a lefty during his playing days, wound up with the young, expansionist Brewers – eventually heading a scouting department that signed Robin Yount and Paul Molitor. In the Brewers’ only World Series appearance, 1982, those future Hall of Famers were paramount in the teams’ success.

CONSTRUCTING AN OBITUARY

Upon Fondy’s death – Commissioner Bud Selig responded to a call from a local newspaper – to laud the career and life of the onetime Pirates, Cubs and Reds first baseman. Fondy had once been traded with Chuck Connors, who went on to fame as television’s “The Rifleman,” a CBS production.

Selig, of course, knew Fondy from his days as Brewers’ owner. Fondy had worked for Selig.

In August of 1999, Dee Fondy died at a retirement home in Redlands.

In his obituary, I wrote: “He had played for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati Reds and was the last player to bat in Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, died of cancer. He was 74.

“Fondy, who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer a year earlier, died at Plymouth Village.”

His death reverberated through baseball.

While working on Fondy’s obituary, I’d placed a call to the MLB offices in New York City, seeking comment — a standard procedure. Baseball usually responded quickly. In this case, it was the commissioner, Bud Selig, who had placed the return call.

Bud_Selig_on_October_31,_2010
Alan “Bud” Selig, a Hall of Famer as onetime Commissioner of Baseball, weighed in personally on Dee Fondy’s 1999 death (photo by Wikipedia Commons).

I was out of the office when Selig called. Mike Brown, the news editor, took the call, jotted down Selig’s comments, and forwarded them to me. I must’ve missed the commissioner’s call by just minutes in August 1999.

“Dee Fondy was one of my favorite people,” Selig told Brown. “He had a great sense of humor. He and I used to kid each other a lot.”

FONDY’S MAJOR LEAGUE CAREER 1951-58

Fondy hit .286 with exactly 1,000 hits (69 HRs) over eight seasons in the majors, having batted .300 over four full seasons. His debut, in April 1951, came just a month before Willie Mays’ legendary MLB entry.

Signed originally by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1946, Fondy came to spring training in 1949 and competed with Gil Hodges and Connors for the starting job at first base. Dodger lore shows, of course, that the spot was won by Hodges.

Fondy played in the Dodgers’ farm system until being traded, along with Connors, to the Cubs for outfielder Hank Edwards. It was a golden era of Dodger baseball that included Hall of Famers Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider, Roy Campanella, plus Hodges, Pee Wee Reese and a host of highly popular Dodger players.

He won a spot on Chicago’s roster. His first major-league hit was a bases-loaded triple off St. Louis pitcher Ken Raffsenberger. It was opening day, April 17, 1951, at Wrigley Field.

By 1957, Fondy was traded to Pittsburgh. In that deal, the Cubs sent Gene Baker and Fondy for the Pirates’ Dale Long and Lee Walls. Midway through that ’57 season, Fondy was leading the National League with a .365 average, finishing at .313.

Traded to Cincinnati for Ted Kluszewski, a transaction mentioned by Tom Cruise’s character in the 1988 movie “Rainman,” his career concluding in that 1958 season.

Fondy grounded out for the last out at Ebbets Field in Pittsburgh’s 2-0 loss to the Dodgers on Sept. 24, 1957. That grounder went to Don Zimmer, whose throw to first baseman Jim Gentile ended an era.

The Dodgers moved to Los Angeles the following year.

Jon Fondy had some fun memories.

“I ran into Willie Mays once and he said, ‘I’ve still got the bruises from the tags your dad used to give me. He was a hard-nosed player,’ ” said Jon, a freelance cameraman who has covered major league games.

Willie Mays
Willie Mays once told Dee Fondy’s son, Jon, that he laid some pretty hard tags on him. “I’ve still got bruises,” said the inimitable Mays (photo by Wikipedia Commons).

It was off to work, eventually, as a scout for the Mets and in Milwaukee, where he signed Molitor, who went on to collect over 3,000 hits.

Fondy retired from baseball in 1995 after serving as a special assistant to the Milwaukee general manager.

“He was as good a judge of talent as I’ve ever known,” Selig said. “He played a great role in the development of the Brewers. I had as much faith in his baseball knowledge as anyone I know.’”

FONDY’S FUNERAL: ONE FINAL HURRAH

It was at Fondy’s funeral that several ex-players – Ray Boone and Sal Bando included – had shown up to pay final respects. Another funeral-goer was a man named Fred Long. For years, Long coached local baseball, eventually rising to becoming a major league baseball scout.

Fondy’s influence had been felt in Long’s scouting life.

Long, who was nearing 80 at the time of Fondy’s funeral, had plenty of stories to share, sporting World Series ring — Florida Marlins, 1997.

Fondy, said Long, was one of the best guys he’d ever known. “And the guy knew baseball, too. You should’ve heard him.”

His minor league career included stops at Santa Barbara (California League), Fort Worth (Texas League) and Mobile (Southern League), each a Brooklyn Dodger farm club.

Before his climb into the major leagues, Fondy racked up 863 minor league hits, whacking out 130 doubles and 52 triples.

His career as a minor leaguer, major leaguer, scout and scouting director covered exactly 40 years — 1946-1995.

Isn’t it interesting that Fondy worked as a scout for the same organization in which Hodges — who edged him for Brooklyn’s first base job — was the manager?

Born on Halloween in 1924, Dee Virgil Fondy’s death took place on Aug. 19, 1999 in Redlands. Fondy, a native of Slaton, Texas, served in the Army during World War II and was part of the forces that landed on Utah Beach in Normandy in 1944, three months after D-Day. He received the Purple Heart.

Fondy had also been survived by twins, Jon Fondy and Jan Cornell of Las Vegas. His wife, Jacquelyn, had died a year earlier. Fondy’s funeral was in nearby San Bernardino, almost directly next door to Perris Hill Park’s Fiscalini Field.

Growing up in San Bernardino, Fiscalini Park was where Fondy had played plenty of baseball.

 

 

 

PART 3: 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

That was Jordan Snider out in center field, wearing jersey No. 44. The site was The Yard, which is the home field for the University of Redlands. Snider was a senior Bulldog.

Temecula Chaparral High, located about an hour’s drive from the University of Redlands, was where this right-handed ballplayer had come from only a few years earlier.

Batted .295 in 2008, .361 as a sophomore in 2007, .252 in his frosh season right out of the Pumas’ Varsity program, where he’d hit .305 with two HRs in Temecula.

Starting all 36 games as a Bulldog senior in 2009, he’d played four straight seasons with winning teams, hitting .321 with 4 HRs.

His grandfather watched him play a plus number of games.

I’d shown up to chat with University of Redlands baseball coach Scott Laverty. Game still taking place. I’d have to wait. Sitting on the first base side of the bleachers, I took a seat near an older gentleman, wearing a hat to keep the sun off his head.

Seemed to be a nice guy. You run into that occasionally at ball games. Nice guys. Friendly. Talkative. It’s always fun to talk a little baseball, right?

After the game, I approached Laverty for a little post-game chat.

We talked a little about the game. At one point, he said, “I saw you out there talking to Duke.”

Duke?

There was no need to explain. The second he said that, I knew he’d meant Duke Snider. Something told me. I was a little tongue-tied, though. I’d been talking to a baseball Hall of Famer and didn’t even know it. I was a little ashamed.

Duke Snider (Photo by Wikipidia Commons)
Duke Snider, from his Brooklyn Dodgers days, wound up in Fallbrook, where he drove from to watch his grandson play at the University of Redlands.

“That’s his grandson out there in center field,” said Laverty.

Well, that adds up, doesn’t it?

It was a Snider from Temecula.

Edwin “Duke” Snider, the Duke of Flatbush, lived a little south of there. The kid was all-conference one year. A good fly-chaser out in center – just like his grandpa.

There might’ve been something symbolic about Jordan wearing No. 44, especially since his grandfather wore No. 4 in Brooklyn for the Dodgers. A tribute, most likely.

DUKE OF FLATBUSH ORIGINALLY FROM COMPTON

The Duke of Flatbush really came from Compton, Calif. At the end of his life, he lived near Temecula in the San Diego County city of Fallbrook – a nice retirement area.

A couple games later, I showed up … looking for Duke. Sure enough, he was there.

“Do you have a minute?” I asked him.

You always hesitate when asking someone – a Hall of Famer, celebrity, well-known, you know – if they’d mind an interview. He was there to watch his grandson who, at that moment, was playing in the same part of the field he’d played in 45 years earlier.

“For crying out loud,” I could just hear anyone say, “I’m here to watch my grandson play. Maybe later.”

But he didn’t say that.

Brooklyn, L.A., New York Mets and, finally, the Giants in San Francisco.

I’ve got to say it. There was nothing all that special about the interview. My questions would’ve been stale and useless. What do you ask a guy like that? Nothing that hasn’t been asked a hundred times before, right?

I settled on an angle about how he finished his career in a Giants’ uniform, 1964. Sold to San Francisco by the Mets. I tried to have a conversation rather than an interview.

“I can’t say I was all that upset at the trade,” he said at Redlands’ The Yard with a few people listening to the chat. “I was friends with a lot of those guys, anyway, Willie (Mays), Al Dark (Giants’ manager), Don Larsen …”

Besides, he said, “I lived out here on the West Coast.”

Oh, man – Don Larsen! The guy who’d pitched a perfect game against the Dodgers in the 1956 World Series?

How many times must he’d have been asked about Larsen?

I skipped the topic.

Did he remember his last home run?

“I do,” he said. “Candlestick Park. San Francisco. Jim Bunning, a very good pitcher. Yeah, that was my last one. Only hit four that year. Fourth of July game, I think, pretty sure. I never hit another one.”

That was his 407th.

You play much center field?

Duke laughed. “For the Giants? Not quite. Somebody named Willie Mays was already playing there.”

Though he was mostly a pinch-hitter, he said, “I played either left or right.

“I remember being in the lineup one day … can’t remember where we were playing, though. Dark had me leading off. Mays was second. McCovey was third and Cepeda was hitting clean-up. What’s that? A couple thousand home runs between us, or something like that?”

Mays at 660, McCovey’s 521, Duke’s 407 and Cepeda’s 379 equals 1,967 lifetime bombs. There may not have ever been another quartet in major league baseball hitting back-to-back like that with those kinds of impressive numbers.

Said Snider: “I can’t remember anything about the game, though – who won, nothing.”

Upon reflection, I should’ve asked him about Jackie Robinson.

Or Leo Durocher. Roy Campanella. Gil Hodges. Don Newcombe. Sandy Koufax, mystery man.

That would’ve been a nice tack. What was it like to have Koufax on the Dodgers for those six or seven years before he started blazing away?

Never got another chance, either.

A couple years later, the Duke died in Escondido.

We’d talked baseball in Redlands.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

PART 4: HALL OF FAME CONNECTIONS INFILTRATES FAMILIES

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, plus NCAA Final Four connections, 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

Check out the earlier parts first if you haven’t yet!

After getting his college degree at Humboldt  State (Calif.) – Giants and A’s country, incidentally – my baseball-loving son Danny moved away to Tallahassee, Florida. Master’s degree. Marriage to Sara. Job. Career. A son, Elliott. While he claimed that his baseball interests died a little because he had no one around to share it, I’d long suspected that baseball’s PED controversies chipped away at how he viewed baseball.

“I don’t think it’s fair, Dad, that those guys are kept out of the Hall of Fame.”

I blame the unfairness and ineptitude of the media for killing Danny’s baseball love. I think he does, too.

Danny, plus my youngest son, Chet, aren’t advocating PED use. All they see is a widespread dose of unequal justice. They see media corruption. In other words, the players didn’t do any more wrong than the media did in failing to properly cover the corruption. How can they be allowed into the selection process when they failed at their own reporting assignments?

By voting those same players – Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, et al – as MVP or Cy Young winners, that fraternity of media was also part of the problem. It’s some of the more disgusting acts of hypocrisy. Many held out their votes for the Hall of Fame.

Many of those media types show up on TV, or as columnists, or on blogs, nodding, saying, “See? See? We told ya.”

They watched Verducci, “Game of Shadows” and Jose Canseco break the stories, or write their books. In effect, they got scooped. They piggy-backed on their research to stand up against PED users.

Jose Canseco (Photo by Wikipedia Commons)
Maybe Jose Canseco was as much of a hero off the field as he was on the field – using PED, then later confessing to the process. (Photo by Wikipedia Commons)

Where were they when it counted? As sports editor of a small-city newspaper, I relied on their expertise and frontline coverage to properly present readers with stories. I wasn’t in MLB clubhouses like they were.

They’re not guardians of the Hall of Fame gates as they proclaim themselves. In fact, it wasn’t until after all of those golden on-field moments took place when they took action. Too late.

It’s a simple fact for Danny: Baseball’s over, at least in his mind. The sport has lost a fan.

Chet continues to surge ahead. His love for the game continues. His disgust for the Hall of Fame criteria, however, has increased. For the media. For the Hall voters, he’s spewing out total acrimony. Each January for the past few years, Chet seethes over the perceived injustice.

Brown_Chet
My son, Chet, doesn’t like the current Hall of Fame practices, but he still loves the game.

He questions Selig’s own 2017 induction, claiming that it was under his watch that baseball’s PED involvement had surged to unforeseen heights.

How dare Selig be allowed in while Bonds, among others, has been kept out. If the media, Commissioner’s office, not to mention each team had done its respective jobs, PED usage would’ve been exposed early enough and, perhaps, stamped out.

I don’t think Chet’s the only one that feels this way.

Previous Hall inductees Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa and Joe Torre should’ve and could have known. La Russa fronted for McGwire with the media. He took up on McGwire’s side, pushing away media that dared to assault the single season HR record holder. For years, too.

Until McGwire confessed.

Torre and Cox, too, had guys in their clubhouses – Sheffield, Canseco, Man-Ram, A-Rod, plus others – that enhanced their playing efforts by using PED. World Series championships were claimed with “dirty” players on their rosters.

Weren’t those managers also part of the problem? Let’s give them benefit of the doubt.

Perhaps they didn’t encourage PEDs. But it was happening under their very noses. In their clubhouses. Did nothing to help clean up their sport.

Somehow, they all got a Hall pass to Cooperstown.

You almost get tired of hearing the refrain from voters, or the observers that don’t have a vote but want to interfere.

“Bonds was on his way to the Hall of Fame until 1998. But …”

There is no “but.”

What’s left is a mess. Millions like Danny and Chet continue to, perhaps, fret at the notion that suspected PED users Jeff Bagwell, Mike Piazza and Ivan Rodriguez have been inducted. Meanwhile, some of baseball’s brightest stars have been left out.

It’s a deeply personal conclusion to a saga that won’t go away.

PART 3: HALL OF FAME CONNECTIONS INFILTRATES FAMILIES

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, plus NCAA Final Four connections, 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

If you haven’t yet, check out parts 1 and 2 first!

Like baseball fans throughout the world, the Hall of Fame means something in my household. When one of your own gets inducted, there’s an almost electric feeling of pride connected to that honor.

Every time a Yankee – Yogi, Mickey, Joe D., Whitey, the Babe and Lou, among others – goes into Cooperstown, an entire legion of fans springs into emotionally-charged action. Right? Fans from each MLB team have a connection to every Hall of Famer.

Despite its many “connections,” no one from Redlands has ever been inducted into baseball’s sacred Hall.

From my own memories, the only Hall of Famers to show up in Redlands – I know, there has to be more – were pitcher Ferguson Jenkins and hitting star Duke Snider.

Ferguson Jenkins (Photo by Commons)
Ferguson Jenkins, a baseball Hall of Famer, was one of two known such inductees to show up in Redlands – for a youth baseball clinic. (Photo by Wikipedia Commons)

Jenkins showed up at Redlands Community Field – white stretch limousine and all – in the mid 1990s. He was part of a youth baseball camp. Along with Redlands’ own Julio Cruz and former MLB outfielder Rudy Law, that trio gave a free clinic to dozens of local ball-playing youth.

Then hung around for an autograph session later. Danny, my oldest, was one of those kids who got autographs. Jenkins, Law and Cruz couldn’t have been nicer. In fact, a newspaper photo published the day after showed Danny next to Jenkins, a Cy Young Award winner.

Memorable.

As for Snider, the one-time legendary center fielder for the Dodgers – both in Brooklyn and Los Angeles – he showed up at the University of Redlands to watch his grandson play. Multiple times, in fact.

After one game, Bulldog coach Scott Laverty came up to me just outside Redlands’ dugout.

“I saw you sitting next to Duke,” he said.

Duke?

I had no idea what he was talking about, or who he was talking about. I’d just been talking to some guy. I had no idea I was sitting next to a Hall of Famer.

“Duke Snider,” Laverty said. “I thought I saw you talking to him.”

Duke Snider (Photo by Wikipidia Commons)
Duke Snider, whose legendary batting helped lead the Brooklyn Dodgers into five World Series, showed up in Redlands to watch his grandson play. (Photo by Wikipedia Commons)

Duke Snider? Are you kidding? THE Duke Snider?

“That’s his grandson playing for us in center.”

Jordan Snider, an all-conference outfielder in 2007, had played center field for Redlands that day. From nearby Temecula. The Duke lived just south of there, in Escondido, perhaps – San Diego County.

Neither Jenkins nor Snider were ever caught up in the PED nonsense that plagued the sport as we turned into this century. Their places in the Hall are safe and secure.

Not quite, though, for other significant ballplayers.

I interviewed both men for stories in local media. Both were fabulous.

They came from a different era, long before the sport was affected by PED use. Suddenly, guys like Jenkins and Snider were overshadowed by known PED users like Clemens and Bonds.

“It’s like they stamped out the guys I used to root for,” said my oldest son, Danny, who at one time was a rabid baseball fan. Hey, there are some guys that made it clean. Cal Ripken, Jr., Frank Thomas, Ken Griffey, Jr., and Tony Gwynn were in his card collection.

Check out part 4 here!

PART 1: HALL OF FAME CONNECTIONS INFILTRATES FAMILIES

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, plus NCAA Final Four connections, 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

Here is how baseball’s Hall of Fame PED controversies has affected me, my family and, perhaps, a generation of baseball fans:

The raucous, unfair and unprofessional behavior of around 500-plus voting media members has rendered the process as complete buffoonery. It’s a cartoon of mass proportions. While the media continues to swing and miss in all its political coverages – whether you lean politically left or right – its Hall of Fame contributions may be among the most shameful display of professional conduct.

It’s almost as if the Hall-selecting committee exhibits no code of conduct.

It’s deep and personal when the likes of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are kept out of the Hall. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, plus Rafael Palmeiro and Manny Ramirez. Jose Canseco could’ve had a shot. And Gary Sheffield, plus Alex Rodriguez.

On Jan. 22, 2018, four more players were elected by the Baseball Writers Association of America. None of the afore-mentioned claimed a spot, though A-Rod is not yet eligible.

My son, Danny, collected all their baseball cards in the early 1990s. Born in 1984, the kid followed my lead into following a sport in which many fathers and sons enjoyed together. Danny bought, traded and craved baseball cards.

Danny mug
My son, Danny Brown, was a rabid baseball fan who, perhaps, stepped away from the sport once inequality of media bias started to stain the Hall of Fame.

That little guy, age eight on up, adored those cards.

He memorized their stats.

We went to games, seeking autographs afterwards.

When it was time for the World Series, or the playoffs, or a huge pennant race game, we had the TV on full bore.

My youngest son, Chet, had pictures. Cards. Autographs. Autographed balls. He stared relentlessly at TV screens whenever Bonds came to bat. On those trips to the ball park, there were no trips to the rest room or snack bar when the Giants’ lineup was only a couple players away from Bonds’ spot in the batter’s box.

As the PED drama played out, dozens of players were spotlighted for using performance enhancing drugs. In the cases of the afore-mentioned players, it’s possible they’ll never be inducted into the sport’s greatest showcase.

I remember Danny saying to me, “Dad, I don’t know who to believe any more. It’s like they’re taking my childhood heroes away.”

Eight years younger than Danny, Chet completely bought in – BIG TIME – to the San Francisco Giants. At a time when Bonds was asserting himself into baseball’s home run chase, Chet was like millions of others.

Barry Bonds (Photo by Wikipedia Commons)
Barry Bonds, a San Francisco treat, was considered a traitor to the game by almost every other baseball fan other than the Giants. There are plenty that believe he belongs in Cooperstown. (Photo by Wikipedia Commons)

Watching. Admiring. Enjoying those magical moments.

Milestone moments like 500 home runs. 600. 660, tying Willie Mays. 700. Then 715, cracking the Babe. Finally, 756, working his way past Hank Aaron.

He was almost at the game against Washington when Bonds slugged No. 756. I wouldn’t let him, nor his sister, Kelli, go to a night game by themselves. They went up to the Bay Area to stay with my mom and grandparents. Kelli was just 18. Chet wasn’t yet 14. Imagine letting two kids at that age loose on the subway train – alone in The City. With all those vagabonds? Not at night. It was hard enough letting them go in daylight hours.

Meanwhile, I was on the road with Danny, heading for Tallahassee, so I could drop him off at Florida State.

I’d picked the game after – a day game – in trying to predict when Bonds would go deep for No. 756. Got them game tickets. Airline tickets. They missed seeing the record-breaker by a day. By the way, Bonds wasn’t in the Giants’ lineup in that game.

To this day, I’m kidded and reviled for being such a bad father.

A few years earlier, Chet had been at World Series Game Six. October 2002. Angels and Giants. In Anaheim. Leading 3-2 in games, anticipating the Giants’ first World Series championship since 1954, he watched Bonds strike a massive HR off Frankie “K-Rod” Rodriguez. It was a Hall of Fame moment.

It wasn’t so pretty to watch a 9-year-old boy crying after the game. The Giants had blown a 5-0 lead. They lost. One day later, the Angels claimed the World Series trophy.

Chet, like millions of others, was in total awe of Bonds. His swing. His power. His complete dominance of pitchers, some of whom may have been using PEDs.

Hall of Fame selectors missed their chance to cover the story when it was taking place. They cannot now re-enact their mistakes by voting to keep the top candidates from their chance at glory.