By Karl Cicitto
Alan Cohen Photos
About 40 attended the March 17 general chapter meeting at Quinnipiac. Steve K. led off the meeting with welcoming remarks and announcements.
Karl moderated a media panel in honor of retired Courant Sports Editor Jeff Otterbein. Otto was joined on the panel by Jack O’Connell of the BBWAA, John Altavilla, award winner sports reporter of The Courant/NH Register, and Tom Yantz, award winning author of 10,000 stories in The Courant. Claire Smith was unable to appear due to illness. A discussion of Otto’s career (4 Sports Section Triple Crowns) gave way to a vigorous audience Q & A session. Otto explained that athletes are people just like you or I and he found it critical to use restraint in determining what got into the paper. Mr. Altavilla spoke about how he fulfilled his dream of scribing for The Courant, covering the MLB, NHL, UConn and nine Super Bowls. The segment closed with Joe Williams asking about legendary schoolboy reporter Bo Kolinsky, who Otto and Yantz described as a tireless, generous, good natured reporter who passed too young, and whose coverage seemed to touch the entire state. The panel concluded with the presentation of a citation to Otto from the Hon. John Larson, and a cake.
Following a break, Mickey Tangel spoke about Lipman Pike, the 19th Century slugger who was MLB’s first Jewish superstar. Mickey covered Lip’s family, early years, and the influences that led him to become a famed and well-traveled amateur. Mickey explained that Pike was a master of the fair-foul hit, a batting technique that caused the batted ball to at first strike fair ground and then zoom away from the fielders into foul territory. Since a ball struck in that fashion was considered a fair ball in the 1870’s, the speedy Pike made the most of it while batting .346, .355 and .377 in his prime. Pike is Mickey’s personal work in progress and the research goes on.
Bill Nowlin spoke about his new book, Tom Yawkey: Patriarch of the Boston Red Sox. Some of what Bill uncovered included how rich kid Yawkey voluntarily worked in an Arizona coal mine and was embarrassed by his wealth. He worshipped ballplayers, having met Cobb as a kid. Even with his favorites like Yaz his familiarity with players did not extend outside Fenway; Yawkey ate most of his dinners in Boston alone at the Ritz Carlton. Bill spoke about the racist label that Yawkey continues to wear. He mentioned that Reggie Smith received special and personal financial support from Yawkey and that Jim Lonborg said that Yawkey underwent a gradual transformation about race. Bill made an overarching point: We blame baseball for not being better about integration but seldom credit the game for integrating before everyone else did everywhere else.
There were some announcements between speakers. Alan mentioned that four new SABR books would be out soon about the Pirates, Rockies, Mets and Rangers. Tom Monitto announced a Strat-O-Matic event (The next one is on May 5.) Steve proposed a chapter project that would create a calendar of CT born MLB player birthdays. Bill Ryczek talked about his upcoming 19th Century radio broadcast of the famous 1870 Red Stockings-Atlantics game.
Greg Rubano spoke about his book, In Ty Cobb’s Shadow: The Story of Napoleon Lajoie, Baseball’s First Superstar. Greg clarified the pronunciation issue with Lajoie’s name by explaining that Nap’s neice said that despite many alternatives the family pronounces it “Lajoy”. Greg established how towering a figure Lajoie was. In 1901, Nap helped the new American League establish credibility as he became the #1 draw. He was beloved from Woonsocket to Cleveland. He was among the few with his image on a decal bat and perhaps the first player to appear in a Coke ad. He received more HOF votes in 1936 than Cy Young — and Speaker, Hornsby and Sisler. Lajoie was baseball’s biggest star until a comet named Cobb arrived. Greg is involved in the legacy of Lajoie beyond the book. He also wrote a young readers book about the star and has worked in the community to send the message of how humble origins are not necessarily a barrier to transcendent success, as was the case with Nap.
George Pawlush presented on his upcoming book, Dawn and Dusk of the Colonial League, a league which operated from 1947 to 1950 as a Class B minor loop in Waterbury, Bristol, New London, Stamford and Bridgeport. George showed slides of the ballplayers, most of whom did not reach the Bigs, with the notable exception of Preston Gomez, Ruben Gomez and Carolos Bernier. George also featured men who succeeded but not as players including MLB umpire Ed Sudol, NBA Ref Sid Borgia, and NBA Commissioner J Walter Kennedy. The Colonial League story is that of a circuit that constantly hovered on the edge of financial collapse while bringing a fine article of baseball to such old CT parks as Muzzy Field in Bristol, Municipal Stadium in Waterbury and spanking new Candelite Stadium in Bridgeport, complete with a midget racing track on the diamond’s perimeter. The book is a great blend of post-war baseball and local CT history.
Last but not least, the book sale as set up by Alan Cohen and more than a dozen books found new homes.