Thursday, March 3, 2011

Wally Yonamine 1925-2011

There are several more bespectacled superstars residing in the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame than in it's counterpart in Cooperstown, but only one was American born and a former pro football player: Wally Yonamine.

He died Monday at the age of 85. Unlike the bespectacled Hall of Famer on this side of the Pacific, Chick Hafey, whose sinus infections kept him from collecting the numbers he could have, Wally was famous for a hard nosed, rough-and-tumble style of play that made him few friends in Japan's Central League. And as a manager (above) he became the first foreign born manager to win a Japan Series title, balancing that image of the gruff baserunner with that of the bespectacled manager crunching the numbers and filling out line-up cards. After baseball he ran a successful pearl shop in Tokyo, allowing his glasses clad image to finally take over and allow his sensitive side to shine through. Chick Hafey would have been proud. Look here for more information on Wally and his life.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

RIP Ryne Duren

In the NY Times obituary for Duren (left), Yogi Berra said, "He threw fear into some hitters. I remember he had several pair of glasses, but it didn't seem like he saw good in any of them." Leave it to Yogi to clarify, with true depth, the dilemma of the bespectacled pitcher- do you want the hitter to know that you can see, or terrify him into believing that you can't? Ryne was adept at scaring the hitter, sometimes throwing wild pitches on purpose to strike fear into the batter's heart. Not that the batter was too far off- his vision was atrocious, and, on top of that, he was probably about as hung over as you can be. Below is part one of the complete list of four-eyed players from the 60's:

Hair and free love seemingly define the 60's in the USA, an image of the straight laced tossing their horn rimmed glasses off their rosy cheeks into a field of sunflowers and naked bodies. Fortunately for us at the Bespectacled Spectacle, the truth is a lot easier to see- some of the greatest bespectacled stars of all time played during the decade. Below is a near complete list (though it may be a bit fuzzy so please leave comments if you notice an omission) of those greats:

Faye Throneberry
Steve Korcheck
Eddie Kasko
Bob Will
Bob Nieman

Eli Grba (That may be Grba, right, in the small circle, but , thanks to bespectacled discrimination, it is his ‘doppelganger’ Ryne Duren in the larger photo. One cant help but forgive the lowly Topps staffer for finding Grba as hard to recognize as to pronounce, and the fact that he was confused for the one and only Ryne Duren leads one to believe that he/she was the victim of a drunken prank. There is a story in Duren’s autobiography in which he reminisces about shitting himself while running from the police, case of beer held over his head, after drinking and driving- no other bespectacled superstar can claim a feat anywhere near as badass. Of course, Ryne [namesake for actual HOFer Ryne Sandburg] always required that two of his four eyes be tinted, to shade the other two from the harsh, hangover-punishing sun that a ballplayer unfortunately must work with. There are so many stories about Ryne Duren- all revolving around his drinking- that he has earned a special wing in the Four-Eyed Hall of Fame. Even Mickey Mantle, who narrowly missed getting a bottle of wild turkey on his plaque in Cooperstown, tells a story about ole Ryne- two cases into a plane ride at seasons end, his clowning around led to a near catastrophe as Duren threatened to open the plane door high above ground [check out the full story in the great book Whitey and Mickey (leave it to the bespectacled spectacle to talk about reading about drinking- nerd!)] Nonetheless, Duren proved that all four-eyed professionals weren’t spending Friday night [or Tuesday, or Sunday- hell, every night] in the armchair reading Mallarme. Duren eventually gave up and wrote two great books on the dangers of mixing baseball and booze, and at his death his legacy stood more for helping alcoholics than for being one.)
Grba, on the other hand, experienced the highlight of his career along with Ryne, as a member of the 1960 AL pennant winning NY Yankees, but never had a chance to face Maz or Roberto in that stunning series. His career ended at 28, most likely due to a switch to contacts.

Dave Sisler
Dick Hyde
Ryne Duren (see above [get glasses if you need to!])
Earl Torgeson
Jim Baxes
Ray Sadecki
Clint Courtney
Bob Rush
George Crowe
Chuck Stobbs
Jim Brosnan- See an earlier post on Brosnan and his writing skills here. His two books, The Long Season and The Pennant Race, are classics in the ballplayer-as-memoirist field, and they set the bar for all to follow. Four eyes and a lot of time resting between appearances equals authorship any day of the week!

Bill Virdon
Lee Walls
Ken Walters

Ken MacKenzie-The first bespectacled Met, he was in desperate need of focus as the relief ‘ace’ of the infamous ’62 team. However, the bespectacled power paid off, as his 5-4 record was the only winning percentage on the entire team. A Yale grad (go figure), Ken was a Canadian born dynamo who spent '62 in the Mets pen with the likes of future southern legislator 'Vinegar Bend' Mizell and college football hero Galen Cisco- oh to have been a fly on those Polo Ground walls!
Coming soon, more on the bespectacled stars and not-so-stars of the 60's...

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Four Eyes + Three Swings = Eleven Runs

Shigeya Iijima was seeing double (or quadruple) on the evening of October 5, 1951- dizzy from hitting his second grand slam of the night. Add to that a three run homer, and the bespectacled slugger of the Daiei Stars could claim 11 rbi for a days work. With all four of his eyes he saw 22 runs cross the plate- not bad for someone who didn't even get started until he was 28 years old- either because of the war or due to bespectacled discrimination. His success, including both his duel grand slams and his three all-star game stints, came when he was in his thirties- this delayed gratification is similar to that which you will feel when you finally get to read the next segment of our attempt to list all glasses clad warriors in MLB history. The great four eyed stars of the 60's are coming soon- relocation to another city has occupied much of the Bespectacled Spectacle's time, but the glasses are back on!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Does that ump need glasses?

It's a question that has been asked for a long time. And I don't think Jim Joyce would look too bad with the right frames (some aluminum frames would look killer with that southern highway mustache).

Obviously it was a boner of a call; and everyone, including the ump, knows it. But I don't think it's time to start radically altering the sport with instant replay because of a bad call. Umps have made bad calls since there have been umps- and they have always needed better and thicker glasses (and have been reminded of this fact by crazy and casual fan alike). How many perfect games have been ruined by a bad call in the first inning? Because it is so much less dramatic, and because it is impossible to say how many possible perfecto's were ruined by an early bad call throwing off the pitcher's rhythm, no one has ever kept track. There have been hundreds of one hit performances- how many of those can be attributed to a bad call or break?

The solution? If every MLB player chips in a hundredth of a percent of their salary, the league will have enough bread to buy the thickest, most performance enhancing glasses there have ever been. The answer is always thicker lenses. Spread 'em around.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Butch Edge

The Bespectacled Spectacle was recently featured in a short post in the excellent Number 5 Type Collection. Matthew (the author) also left an amazing comment on a previous Bespectacled Spectacle post featuring Mr. Mark Lee, the sun bleached bespectacled beach bum with the most prized pair of frames this side of Bogota.

The story of Mark Lee's mid-inning retirement features one of our favorite four-eyed mound-bums: Butch Edge.

A former 1st round pick for the Brew Crew, Butch had only a sip of coffee in the bigs- winning 3 and losing 4 for the Blue Jays in 1979. From the looks of his card, he did not take a shower during that entire stretch. It's possible he was just living up to his name- second only to Evil Knievel in pure bravado. Were the glasses just a front, to throw off those who might suspect his second life as a daredevil ne'er-do-well and man of the range?

By the time he was replacing the retiring Lee, one can imaging that he looked even shaggier (and were they sharing glasses at that point?). In our bespectacled minds eye (or eyes), heaven can be found in the bullpen of the Portland Beavers in 1982- Lee and Edge and pray for rain (to clean their lenses).

Whatever happened to Butch seems to be a mystery- a mystery wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a vest wrapped in turtle shell. More than likely he is a lion tamer in Burkina Faso, or a planet hopper in pursuit of Buckaroo Bonzai, maybe just a bartender in Williamsburg, Brooklyn- we may never know.

Coming soon- the long awaited list of Specs from the Sixties...

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Rebel; the Professor

More from the 50's...
Very few ballplayers become writers. Even fewer writers turn into ballplayers. Jim Brosnan was the latter, though he didn't know he was a writer when he stepped on his first Appalachian League rubber in 1947. He was already half-way there, sporting a pair of specs that could write their own novel.

After a few lackluster years with the Cubs, Jim was traded to the Cardinals where he aced the second part of the 1958 season, going 8-4 with 7 saves in 33 games. It was enough to convince new manager Solly Hemus keep him around for at least the first part of '59- but his 1-3 record led to his swift removal to Cincinnatti where, once again, he excelled. The length of that season, the drama, the move- everything went down into his notebook.

From there, into a book unlike any baseball book that came before it- one that would shed light on the everyday, behind the scenes baseball life that many thought should remain part of the mystique of the Major League Baseballist.

Though published in 1960, The Long Season was a chronicle of baseball life in the tail end of the fifties, by a bespectacled bookworm commonly referred to as "The Professor"- a stereotype not often found in 50's baseball but almost always in the four-eyed scene. Not as controversial as the book it inspired, Ball Four, it did have it's critics. But there was no breaking down of the Mantle Myth, so no threats from Elston Howard.

They could have seen it coming- but one can guess that, because of Jim's four eyes, the presence of a pencil and paper seemed normal. Add to that the events of the previous year: his skill had already been recognized by several in the sports writing world- enough to get him several offers to cover the Cards while he was touring Japan with them in October and November of 1958 (see A Noboru Aota Fan's Notes for more on the tour and his articles).

His best season was with the '61 Reds, who hung onto him long enough to get a 10-4-16 season and his assistance to the World Series against the M & M boys (fresh from their 115 home run season), where he tanked in his only relief appearance. It wasn't all bad- that winning season proved to be excellent fodder for yet another book- Pennant Race.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The 1950's

The Project begins- our attempt to chronicle every player who donned a pair of specs in the history of the MLB. To start with, the first real four-eyed decade: the 50's. After WWII, advances in eye wear technology, along with the GI Bill, led to the first bespectacled decade. Below is a list of all those brave warriors to make it on to a line-up card- or, at least, we hope it is. One goal of this project is to fill in any gaps that may exist, so please leave in the comments section any names that should be on the list:

Dom DiMaggio
Bob Dillinger
Bill Rigney (Nicknamed 'specs' when he was with the Oakland Oaks, Rigney [below] had a decent career in the infield for the Giants, though his most productive years were prior to 1950. However, he will be remembered for his managerial work, leading the first Giants of the San Francisco bay. The team consisted of Willie Mays, Orlando Cepeda, Willie McCovey, and other greats, all who would sing his praises for years to come.)

Jim Konstanty
Walt Masterson
Earl Torgeson
Thurman Tucker
Don Richmond
Clyde King
Hal Erickson
Tom Gorman
Dick Cole
Clint Courtney
Dizzy Trout
Al Sima
Ed Blake
Joe Ostrowski
Harry Elliot
Jim Bolger
Ernie Oravetz
Ray McMillan
Dave Sisler
Lee Walls
Charley Thompson
Jim Brosnan
Don Bessent
Del Ennis
Eddie Kasko
George Crowe (Starting at first base for the Braves in their last year in Boston, Crowe [below] was the first bespectacled African American in the Majors. Like George Mikan before him, he excelled at basketball [in college, of course- those four eyes needed to study as well as play ball], but baseball was his true calling. He played in the Negro Leagues as well as in pre-integrated professional basketball with the Harlem Rens, but made his mark in the majors as a pinch hitter. He set the record (since broken) for pinch hit home runs, and had his best season with the Reds in 1957, when he hit 31 homers and had a .989 fielding average [think about playing first with a piece of glass less than an inch from your eye]. George is the last living member of the Rens, and we hope he keeps on going for a long time, glasses and all.)

Dick Hyde
Roy Smalley
Whitey Herzog
Carl Sawatski
Mel Roach
Chuck Coles
Steve Korcheck
Bob Nieman
Howie Nunn
Jim Baxes

Coming next- the 60's, as well as some more 50's profiles. Please comment if you see any errors or glaring omissions.
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