Tag Archives: baseball

Even the Royals doctored the field

I came across this article earlier today about how, allegedly, the Giants groundscrew might’ve doctored the infield dirt a bit in hopes of slowing down the Royals’ running game. Wouldn’t you know it…I happened to write about legendary groundskeeper George Toma in the book, “100 Things Royals Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die.” The piece on Toma is a Q/A. So, although I’d like you to buy the book, here is an excerpt of that interview with Toma.

Royals 100 Cover

You eventually ended up here in Kansas City at Municipal Stadium. Even though the A’s, Chiefs and Royals love you and your fields, one player who wasn’t a fan of coming to Municipal was Mickey Mantle.

GT: Sometimes we would do things that we’ll call “groundskeeping by deceit.” Mickey Mantle didn’t care for (Municipal) because I kept centerfield hard and it was hard on his legs. One of my best buddies and a guy who serves as a coach for the Twins during spring training is Harmon Killebrew, who played with the Royals. I used to keep third base like concrete. The trainer would tell me, “you’re going to get my third baseman killed down there” because Harmon could hit that ball but he was a little slow. So we’d make it hard to make sure the ball would get through the infield. Groundskeeping by deceit.

Royals pitchers will say how they liked the way you could doctor the mound or a part of the infield a certain way when they were pitching.

GT: Guys like Steve Busby always wanted a little hole next to the rubber so he could push off. In the batter’s box, there used to be a special hole for George Brett and a special hole for Amos Otis and for Hal McRae. You could say we did a lot of cheating because we moved the batter’s box back about 10 inches. If we got caught, I’d blame it on my son, Chip. Everything went great until the Royals traded Buck Martinez to Milwaukee. The first time they came to town, manager George Bamberger came up to me and said, “George, I don’t want any of that stuff, moving that batter’s box.”

We could do a lot of things. At Municipal Stadium we had a Butternut clock on the left-field tower. It had two dots. … We would send Bobby Hoffman into the scoreboard before the game and then we’d get the other team’s signals. If those two dots were on, it was a fastball. If one dot was on, it was a breaking pitch. Or, they could look down the third-base line to (the mule) Charlie O’s pen. If the lantern was on, that was a fastball. If the lantern was off, it was a breaking pitch. All of that was just part of the game back then.

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“Chat with Matt” … Jim Sundberg

Former Royals catcher on 1985 and the best slide in a World Series game

One key for the Royals beating the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1985 World Series was catcher Jim Sundberg, who was a six-time Gold Glove winner during his 16-year career. His veteran leadership helped counter the young pitching staff that season. Sundberg, who works in the front office for the Texas Rangers, spoke with Matt Fulks on “Behind the Stats” radio last year. Considering worlds have collided, with Sundberg’s Rangers facing the Cardinals in this season’s World Series, plus Sundberg’s Game 6 dive happened 26 years ago yesterday, this seemed like an appropriate time to re-post this. (Don’t worry, Cardinal fans, I’ll re-post one geared for you later today.)

Matt Fulks: You came here in January 1985 from Milwaukee as part of a six-player, four-team trade. … This was still a hard-nosed club with an outstanding pitching staff, but they needed a catcher who could work with a great mix of guys, young and experienced, with different dispositions on the mound. What were you able to do to help them along that season?

Jim Sundberg: It was a good mix. We had three left-handers and they were all different. Danny Jackson, for instance, was an extreme power pitcher with a sinking fastball and hard slider. Bud Black used three to four pitches, and then Charlie Leibrandt was a finesse guy who moved his fastball around. Then on the right side you had Bret Saberhagen and Mark Gubicza, who were both power guys. Sabes probably had the best fastball I ever caught. It was an accelerator. It gave the impression that it popped at the end. Gubie had a hard sinker and a hard slider. They all competed internally against each other, but they all pulled for each other. It’s also the only time in my major-league career when the entire staff remained intact the entire season.

MF: Was anyone on that staff hard to catch?

JS: Danny Jackson was one of the hardest guys for me to catch in my career because of his explosive fastball. He wasn’t quite sure if he’d cut it or sink it, so that was tough because I had to set up and be ready to go in either direction.

The key to that season for the pitching staff was that they all went into high gear at the same time in early September. Sometimes you have two or three pitchers throwing well at one time, but seldom do you have all five guys throwing well at the same time, and to be doing so in the second week of September in the real drive to catch the California Angels. They stayed that way throughout the World Series.

MF: I’ve talked to most of that pitching staff, as well as the infielders. I keep hearing stories from guys like Frank White and George Brett about how intense Jackson and Gubie were, and if you made an error behind Gubicza, for instance, you’d get the “Gubie stare.” Whereas, if you made an error behind Saberhagen, he’d turn around and laugh. As a catcher, is that something you saw and had to help harness?

JS: The temperaments of the pitchers were very different. Danny was probably one of the more intense guys I’ve caught, and he could get very angry between innings and be hard on himself. Gubie might get mad at other guys. But keep in mind that Jackson, Sabes and Gubie were all young guys with great confidence and poise on the mound. Sabes was very happy-go-lucky. Pressure didn’t affect him. In the seventh game of the World Series, he was so good that I came in after the first inning and told the guys in the dugout that he was throwing so well that if we got one run, we’d win. Those last four innings — with our big lead and how well he was pitching — were probably the most fun I ever had on the field, just knowing we were going to win.

MF: A listener to our “Behind the Stats” show, Bryan Skelton in Nashville, sent this question through our Facebook page. What’s the best World Series slide you’ve ever seen?

JS: [Laughs.] I would say mine in ’85 in the sixth game. It’s interesting because there’s part of me wondering if Dick Howser was going to pinch-run for me. I was the winning run at second with the bases loaded. I remember thinking that I wanted a big lead and to get a good jump. As the play happened, I saw (St. Louis catcher) Darrell Porter move in front of the plate, so that caused me to slide headfirst to the backside of the plate. It was the fastest I ran at that age. [Laughs.] It was fun. Lonnie Smith and Buddy Biancalana met me at the plate and I jumped up in their arms. Of course, Dane Iorg got a bloody nose because guys were pounding on him so much after he hit those two runs in.

MF: That trip to the postseason in 1985 was the only one in your 16-year career. Can you put that experience into words?

JS: You never know if you’ll get that chance. Some incredible players never get that opportunity. It was remarkable. I remember that as we continued to win, the pressure for me was released. The most pressure to me was just trying to get to the postseason. Once we got there, it was easier to play. Once we beat Toronto in the playoffs and were headed to the World Series, I felt like a 10-year-old giggly kid with the honor of being one of the two teams left playing. The greatest thrill was playing in the World Series, and the greatest fun was the last four innings of the seventh game against St. Louis. That World Series ring that you get on opening day of the following season is what you play this game for. The bonus check is nice, but you play for that ring.

MF: Every boy who plays this game dreams of being on the field for a World Series celebration. As the final fly ball was headed toward Darryl Motley, what was going through your mind?

JS: It was suspended animation. The ball goes up and you know that as soon as it’s caught, the game is over. The ball was hit so high that George (Brett) ran to the mound as the ball was in the air, and I started to run out there. Once it was caught, it’s just mass chaos. It’s such a tremendous feeling. The cover of Sports Illustrated was of six or seven of us celebrating at the mound. I have that framed in my home office, and it’s just a wonderful feeling and memory.

MF: Jim, I can’t thank you enough for sharing those memories and feelings.

JS: Thank you, Matt.


To contact Matt Fulks, visit www.MattFulks.com. Or comment below. Or just hit “subscribe” to this blog. And feel free to share it with your friends.

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Behind the Stats: Remembering not to be one of THOSE parents

On Saturday, my youngest son had his final “machine pitch” baseball game of the fall season. His team was facing a club that’s basically that … a club, an organization, a franchise at the youth level. Immediately I noticed that the coach of this opposing team was the same coach (and, yes, the same franchise) that I wrote about a couple of years ago for Metro Sports. His antics were basically the same. So, I wanted to dig out this column and re-read it. Decided to re-post, as well.


A memo to the Mallory Holtmans and the NAIAs of the world. Sportsmanship is dead. Take it from a parent who’s now one of those parents. Sportsmanship is being replaced by showmanship in our smack-talking, highlight-driven sports society.

Maybe you remember the story of Holtman. She was a power-hitter for Central Washington’s softball team. Late last season, Central Washington, which had never reached the NCAA Division II tournament, trailed Western Oregon by one game in the standings. Holtman and her Central Washington teammates happened to be playing host to Western Oregon for a doubleheader.

During the second game, Western Oregon senior Sara Tucholsky, who had yet to hit a collegiate home run and who was 3-for-34 on the season, hit her first homer. Only problem is that out of excitement or euphoria or whatever, she missed first base. When she turned around to go back and touch, she tore her ACL.

The possibility of her scoring was bleak. If she were to be replaced, the runner couldn’t finish rounding the bases for her. She’d have to do it. Holtman stepped up and offered to help carry her opponent around the bases for the home run. Tucholsky touched every base with Holtman’s help and recorded her first — and only — collegiate home run.

Sorry, Holtman, that type of sportsmanship is no longer acceptable.

Same with the NAIA and its “Champions of Character” program. As the name suggests, “Champions of Character” promotes sportsmanship on and off the field or court for players, coaches and fans.

Sorry, NAIA, I’ve failed in my quest to help your initiative. I’m now officially one of those parents. You know the ones, the ones who constantly yell at the umpire because he called the pitch to little Johnny a strike. Clearly, from the stands, you could tell that it was outside the black of the plate. Those parents also bemoan to the coach about why little Johnny isn’t playing. After all, if he played more, he could have a college scholarship in eight years.

There’s no telling how many times I’ve made fun of those parents at a game.

Last week, I pretty much reached the verge of being one of those parents.

Here’s the scenario: my son plays on a team in 3&2. During this one game, they weren’t playing so well. In the third inning of a game, they were down something like 17-0. Offensively, they were hitting the ball right at the defense. And, defensively, at times they looked like Buttermaker’s Bears.

It didn’t help matters that the other team’s third-base coach, who was a short, um, stocky fella (no offense to shorter, stocky fellas) sent the runners as far as they could go any time my son’s team overthrew the ball or dropped the ball or otherwise just weren’t ready to make a play.

Hence the scoring imbroglio.

Needless to say, one of my son’s coaches, who understands the concept of “station to station baseball” — when you’re scoring at will and you have a comfortable lead, as a coach you just send runners from base to base on each play — was questioning this shorter, stocky fella.

After the inning, our coach tried to explain his stance. (Keep in mind, this is a little league complex. From the stands you can hear when a kid dips into his Big League Chew.) A minute or so into the discussion, the shorter, stocky fella said how he’s just teaching his kids how to play baseball “the right way.” And then, as he walked back toward his team’s dugout, he delivered a sarcastic line I never would’ve expected.

“Hey, I’m sorry your kids can’t catch.”

What? “Sorry your kids can’t catch”?

Really, coach? “Sorry your kids can’t catch,” is the best you can come up with?

Oh, by the way, we’re not talking about high school players here. Or sixth grade. Or even third grade. No, we’re talking about first graders!

So, this rotund coach is sorry that my kid and his first-grade teammates can’t catch?

Sportsmanship — or lack thereof — rearing its head.

Of course, at that moment I became one of those parents, at least deep down. (Sportsmanship, huh.) So did everyone else around me who heard those words: “Sorry your kids can’t catch.” So did my son’s coaches. I believe our team scored the maximum seven runs in the inning. Seems, when pressured with runners running, the other team’s first graders weren’t the second coming of Frank White and Amos Otis, either.

After all, they are kids. Young ones just learning how to play the game. And, kids, who, through their coach’s words, are missing at an early age the message of people like Mallory Holtman and the NAIA’s “Champions of Character.”

It’s much better to embarrass the other team and talk smack. Long live showmanship! Just ask the short, stocky fella.

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