The Legend of Vada Pinson

For the first time in my fourteen month Twitter history, someone other than “Bad Henry” Aaron serves as the avatar for my account. Many in the Twitter-verse change avatars frequently, but I never felt a need for Aaron to leave as the icon for my account. But, my participation in Jeff Polman’s Mysteryball ’58 inspired me to honor Jeff’s effort in some way. So why is it that Vada Pinson follows Henry Aaron?

In October, 1995, Vada Pinson passed away. I never saw Pinson play. But that autumn day as my favorite team was three games away from a World Series victory, I flipped through the sports section of USA Today at work and read about Vada Pinson. I believe it was an article by Tom Weir entitled “Pinson’s Greatness Lost Among Legends of 60’s“. At the time of his death, Pinson was one of four players to collect 2,500 hits, 250 home runs and 250 stolen bases. The other three are in the Hall of Fame: Willie Mays, Joe Morgan and Andre Dawson. Pinson was one of those true under-appreciated superstar players who I enjoy to discover in my baseball simulation replays. However the author continued, sharing a memory from his childhood in which he discovered the local hotel in which the Reds were staying during a road trip during the season. The author made his way through the lobby and found his way to the room of Vada Pinson. He knocked on Mr. Pinson’s door, and then, recounted how gracious Mr. Pinson was to this young fan who interrupted his period of rest. Vada Pinson was one of those people that received and gave respect from all whose path he crossed.

In my mind, I have grouped this newspaper article with other stories that kindled my interest in baseball history. Five years earlier, there was William Nack’s story of Willard Hershberger that appeared in Sports Illustrated. In 1993, there was the secret from the 1925 World Series that Steve Wulf revealed Sam Rice kept to his grave. In fact, that summer issue of SI is a treasure trove of baseball lore. I read about Kenny Hubbs, about a marathon game in 1963 between Juan Marichal and Warren Spahn, and I read about Vada Pinson. These stories led me to books by David Halberstam and Robert Creamer, and as they say, the rest is history.

So why Vada Pinson? Vada Pinson represents the journey to my appreciation for baseball history as well as that overlooked gem from days gone by. Or maybe it’s just that Pinson’s 1958 rookie card fits the film noir feel of Mysteryball ’58 perfectly.

A Legendary Voice Departed

As I prepared to write a post on the passing of legendary announcer Larry Munson of the University of Georgia, I surfed through the plethora of online tributes and obituaries. I came across this tribute compiled by the University. This video is better than anything I could have written. Anyone who watches this and bleeds Red and Black will get goosebumps and possibly well up with tears. For anyone else, I’m sorry if you don’t get it, but I hope there is another announcer in your life, past or present, who verbalizes and memorializes the passion you feel for your home team.

One of his overlooked radio calls, as possibly his finest, came from the final minutes of the 1997 UGA – Georgia Tech game. Tech scored a touchdown to take a 24-21 lead with 48 seconds remaining in the game. Munson summed it up (paraphrasing from my memory of listening to this call probably over 20 times) “And they just cut out our heart and the blood is pouring down North Avenue!” Graphic, yes. Over the top, yes…but that is how every Bulldog fan felt at that moment. It was a complete heartbreak. Miraculously, Mike Bobo and the Bulldogs engineered a furious 65 yard drive (aided by a pass interference call) and hit Corey Allen on an eight-yard pass with just eight ticks left on the clock. “Oh my, oh it couldn’t have happened! … and we just picked up our heart and stuffed it back in!” Munson summed up the game later, “Michigan State had rocked Penn State 49-7 but nothing has rocked like this one. Nothing. Has. Rocked. Like This One.”

(Another great tribute from Tommy Tomlinson, columnist with The Charlotte Observer)

See why UGA fans chose to turn down the television sound and turn on Munson: the final drive vs. Georgia Tech, 2006. Larry was 84 years old on this call.

“Fifty years from now, some grandparent is going to remember him as the sports voice of their childhood. ‘Yes,’ they’ll say to a grandson or granddaughter, ‘[fill in the blank] is good, but you should have heard Larry Munson. He was absolutely the best.'”

– Verne Lundquist, CBS Sports

Larry Munson retired in 2008 after 42 years in the booth. His classic calls echo throughout campus each football Saturday in Athens, and they will continue to do so for years to come. Yes, I am biased. Herschel Walker is the greatest running back in college football history, and college football will never have an announcer with the passion of Larry Munson. Look at the sugar falling from the sky! Rest in Peace, Larry. This really feels like a death in my family.

First Month of 1920 Replay in the Books

The standings of the 1920 replay at the end of April may shed little or a lot of light on the remainder of the season. Rain has abbreviated what already is a short playing month so there is plenty of baseball to be played. The Boston Braves, enjoying a three game win streak that began as the games began on their home reservation, hold a game and a half lead over McGraw’s Giants. The Cardinals left their nest for an eastern road trip and plummeted from their perch atop the senior circuit. In the American League, the Washington Senators hold a one game lead over a trio of pursuers: Cleveland, Chicago and New York. And perhaps this race may prove this tightly contested all season long. Babe Ruth is creating quite the stir in the Polo Grounds but has yet to powder the ball over the fence. The current home run leader is a surprise and a future Yankee great in his own right: Casey Stengel of the Phillies.

post-script: One of the seminal events of the 1920 baseball season was the death of Cleveland shortstop Ray Chapman. However, Chapman was not the only major leaguer to pass away during the season. On May 1, 1920, Senators infielder Joe Leonard died as a result of complications from an operation for appendicitis. Leonard made only one pinch-running appearance in 1920. An article in the Washington Post, May 2nd, states that he deferred the operation until the team arrived in Washington. He joined the Washington club in 1916, coming from Cleveland. He missed the 1918 season while serving in the Navy in World War I. The article notes that Leonard was one of the more popular players in the game, and his loss would be felt by the Nationals. He left behind a widow.

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