“There’s trouble on Joe Pepitone’s line,” was the title Bill Madden gave a chapter of his 2003 book Pride of October: What It Was to be Young and a Yankee. The title alluded to what Madden heard when he first called Pepitone at his Long Island home to arrange interviews for the book. Long before he struggled to reach the former first baseman, there was trouble on Joe Pepitone’s line. And there would be again, nine years later.
No, silly, the son of the Hall of Fame outfielder did not shoot across the field with nothing on but the stadium public address system. But Earl Averill, Jr.—an outfielder-catcher who died 13 May at 83 in Tacoma, Washington—accomplished something in 1962 that neither his father nor any Hall of Famer managed to do.
This is nothing against Bernie Williams, the former Yankee center fielder whose number 51 was retired at Yankee Stadium Sunday night, before the game against the Rangers. The man played with class, carried himself with class, and set a major league record for postseason RBIs, among other things. Any time there was a touch of insanity around any Yankee season during his career, Williams seemed often enough the most dignified and accessible Yankee.
In 2011, when he entered the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time (even though he wouldn’t make his retirement official until this year), I wrote thus:
For those curious, and who aren’t always abreast of ancient history, this journal is named for an Original Met (sort of: he was acquired during an in-season deal), Marv Throneberry. God rest his soul in peace, his earnest personality and comic opera play in 1962 earned him the nickname Marvelous Marv.
After the Brooklyn Dodgers lost the 1953 World Series, manager Charlie Dressen asked for a three-year contract. Owner Walter O’Malley demurred, reminding anyone who would listen, “The Dodgers have paid more men not to manage than any other club.” Egged on by his wife, who was said to have written O’Malley a letter demanding a multi-year deal for her husband, Dressen rejoined, “My wife and I got to have security.”
There are those who walk among us in their twilight and inspire us to think that, warts and all, our world still remains a lovely place to be simply because such people still walk among us. In a time when sports seems to yield up more dubious and disreputable characters among its active players, we are comforted to know that some of our past athletic subjects prove better people than they did players, however great they were as the latter.
The Milwaukee Brewers have thrown out the first manager of the season. And while you expect that when a team starts slowly, you also can’t help wondering how often throwing out the manager is the kind of move made by the general manager who should be measured for execution and just might get it yet.
Ron Roenicke, a graduate of the Mike Scioscia school of coaching, wasn’t the garrulous type fellow alum Joe Maddon is, but he is an acute tactician and handler of players. The problem wasn’t Roenicke’s game thinking or personality balancing, the problem was and is the team he was handed from the outset.