Alvin Dark 1978 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for October 23, 2017

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I am sure I say things now that future generations will call “insensitive” and maybe bigoted or perhaps even racist. Our knowledge of what is appropriate language grows with each  passing years.

Some people complain, whine about “political correctness” or some other euphemism. But as we as a culture evolves to a more tolerant and understanding society, there will always be those who express the points of view of the past.

Transitions will always be hardest for them. But we should not be quick to forgive with the blanket “they are from a different time.” An ignorant statement is an ignorant statement. They should be treated as such. And hopefully the people who say the ignorant statement can learn from their mistakes.

I hope Alvin Dark did. He lived a wonderful baseball life but said something publicly that expressed a point of view of bigoted mindset. Later in Dark’s life, he predicted his statement would be mentioned in his obituary.

He was right.

Dark accomplished just about everything one could hope for in a baseball career. The Oklahoma native grew up in Louisiana. He served our country in World War II, was courted by the Philadelphia Eagles to play football and signed with the Boston Braves. His service time may have cost Dark a shot at the Hall of Fame.

He won the NL Rookie of the Year in 1948 and led Boston to the World Series where they fell to the Cleveland Indians. Later he became the captain of the New York Giants under Leo Durocher. He was a part of the 1951 NL champs and 1954 World Series winners. Durocher considered him to be the cement of the team.

After bouncing between the Cardinals, Cubs, Phillies and Braves between 1956 and 1960, he retired and became the manager of the 1961 Giants.

In his second year, the San Francisco squad beat the Dodgers for the pennant and locked horns with the Yankees. Willie McCovey hit a deep foul ball and a line drive with two outs and the tying and winning runs in scoring position in the bottom of the 9th of Game 7 of the 1962 World Series. Had the foul ball stayed fair or the line drive was a foot to the left of Bobby Richardson, the Giants would have won the World Series.

Instead the Yankees won 1-0 and took the Series.

Later he would manage the Kansas City A’s and the Cleveland Indians. In 1974, he joined a turbulent Oakland A’s squad that had just won back to back World Series. Dark was taking over for Dick Williams who led them to the post season in 1971, 1972 and 1973 and won it all in the last two years.

Dark was a lot different than Williams, laying on his Christian faith thick in the clubhouse and going along with all of owner Charlie Finley’s hairbrained schemes. There might not have been a lot of harmony in the A’s clubhouse, but there was success.

Oakland would win the 1974 World Series over Los Angeles. Dark successfully managed both Bay Area teams to the World Series. It should have been the crowning achievement of a long career.

He was let go after 1975 and after a brief stint managing the Padres, as shown in this Topps Card, he retired. He lived until November 2014.

But alas, that isn’t his legacy. His long term legacy is expressing a mindset probably forged from growing up in Depression Era Louisiana but can be still heard from bigots today.

During the 1964 season, he was quoted by Newsday reporter Stan Isaacs complaining about the racial makeup of the San Francisco Giants.

“We have trouble because we have so many Negro and Spanish-speaking players on this team. They are just not able to perform up to the white players when it comes to mental alertness.”

That’s what he was quoted as saying. He was referring to a team featuring Willie Mays, arguably the greatest player in baseball history, plus Hall of Famers Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda and Juan Marichal plus Jesus, Matty and Felipe Alou.

Dark did damage control, claimed his words were “deformed” and he was misunderstood. What is there to misunderstand about this?

The players on his team, including Cepeda, remembered him asking the Spanish speaking players to only speak English. Felipe Alou thought Dark was a nice man who was “totally separated from the reality of the world.”

I bet he just held long unchallenged views that he never expected to have to defend. Either way, his days on the Giants were numbered.

It was not his racial views that got him removed from the team but a hypocrisy of his devout Christian life. The loud Bible thumper was carrying on a long term extra marital affair. The revelation of that mixed with his racial controversy led to his dismissal after the 1964 season.

Was Dark a racist? No doubt he was a product of a racist environment. Willie Mays and Jackie Robinson both defended his character but that does not diminish what he felt comfortable to express as a truism.

It is clear over this year that we have a long way to go with racial peace in this country. There are still plenty of people who hold points of view, whether they are insidious or not, that an entire ethnic group is superior to another.

That must always be combated and the people who express that must be made to understand the folly of their point of view.

Alvin Dark never lived it down but perhaps we can learn from it and improve. Maybe he did. We may never know.

But the player and manager who was ironically nicknamed “Blackie” had his wonderful baseball life tarnished by his words.

Roger Craig 1988 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for October 18, 2017

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One of the remarkable things about the way the world and information is set up now is in many ways, we can learn information about other places much quicker. There was a time when everything seemed to be regional with a few collectively shared experiences.

In terms of following sports, it takes virtually no effort to find out who plays for what team, what shows are popular where or anything about an area.

When my family moved from Massachusetts to California in 1987, in the pre-internet age, I might as well have been moving to a different country. In many ways it felt like I did.

Among the many things that I didn’t know moving to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1987 was some of the details of the sports teams.

Sure, I knew Joe Montana was the quarterback of the 49ers, I knew who Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco was and the Giants still had a Clark at first base, but now it was Will, not Jack.

One thing confused me. One of the stars of the 49ers, whose team was filled with all time beloved fan favorites, was named Roger Craig.

The manager of the Giants? He was named Roger Craig.

Imagine moving to a new place and having THAT to sort through in your head? I met the 49ers Roger Craig a few times. Nice guy. Very funny and self effacing.

I have never met the former manager of the Giants. He seems like a nice guy. He looks like a classic old time manager, which I suppose is a euphemism for “old white guy.” He would fit in Bull Durham, possible because he was from Durham, North Carolina.

As a player,he was part of several championship teams including the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers, 1959 Los Angeles Dodgers and 1964 St. Louis Cardinals. He won a pair of World Series games as a starting pitcher and earned 3 rings.

Craig also pitched on the 1962 Mets, arguably the worst team of all time. Everything balances out.

Craig was the manager for the Padres in the 1970’s and became Sparky Anderson’s pitching coach in the 1984 World Series.

In 1985, he took over a disastrous Giants team that was coming off a 100 loss season. By 1986, they had a winning record and Roger Craig had his infectious optimism pour out onto the roster. He dubbed players who gave it their all “Hum Babies” and Hum Baby became a rallying cry.

Right around the time we arrived in California, the Giants passed the Reds in the standings and for the first time since 1971, the Giants had a post season team. He managed the Giants to Game 7 of the NLCS. Two years later, the Hum Babies won the National League pennant. The Giants were swept by Oakland in the Earthquake Series, but Craig turned a last place team into a pennant winner.

He remained the Giants manager through 1992 when he retired and Dusty Baker took over.

It is hard to imagine now a time when the Giants making the playoffs seemed so unlikely. But that had not played in October in MY life time until Roger Craig was at the helm.

And once the Giants packed up Candlestick, the 49ers would come in. Either way, there was a Roger Craig there.

Joe Strain 1980 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for September 8, 2017

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Some kids when they are growing up hang out with the jocks and hope to become a professional athlete. Other kids when they grow up mock the jocks and want to be in a band.

Then you have the Joe Strains of the world who get to do both.

A native of Colorado, Strain signed as an undrafted free agent in 1976 with the Giants. Surprisingly, the kid that nobody wanted was a good hitter with solid speed. He batted. 333 in rookie ball and played 136 in Class A, he batted .338, posted an OPS of .872 and stole 42 bases.

Was being overlooked the source of attitude for Strain? Did it put a chip on his shoulder? In 1978 he was hitting well in AAA and by 1979, he was in the majors playing for the Giants.

There, according to the blog “Sons of Johnny LeMaster“, he teamed up with fellow recent call ups John Tamargo and Greg Johnston to form a punk rock band called Giants Prospects.

Granted, they didn’t seem to put that much effort into the name of their band, but they did indeed perform. In fact Joe Strain was the lead vocals.

Now how do you get to be a major league baseball player AND the lead singer in a band. That is almost Buckaroo Bonzai level crazy.

Strain started 65 games for the 1979 Giants. He reached base 3 times in his second game. He also hit a go ahead homer off of Rudy May in the 9th inning in a July 10th game against Montreal.

But in 1980, Rennie Stennett joined the team and was the every day second baseman. Strain was reduced to a bench role, but managed to hit .286 as a part time player.

After the 1980 season wrapped up, Strain was sent with Phil Nastu packing to the Cubs for Jerry Martin, Jesus Figueroa and Mike Turgeon. The band in San Francisco was broken up.

Things did not work out in Chicago and 1981 was his final big league season.

Strain became a minor league manager and a big league scout after his playing days and actually contributed to the Giants winning the World Series in 2010, 2012 and 2014. One of the players he scouted was Sergio Romo, who was dancing on the mound when San Francisco defeated Detroit for the 2012 title.

No word if he ever requested his entrance music to be one of the songs performed by “The Giants Prospects.”

And if anyone out there has one of Joe Strain’s recordings, please send it along to info@sullybaseball.com