Thursday, July 31, 2008

Mack'd Out

Back from a weekend on the banks of the Cuyahoga River, the highlight of the National Association of Sports Officals (NASO) conference, for me anyway, was a research project that started in Cleveland's Renaissance Hotel, took Chad Clark and I out to beautiful Avon Lake along the banks of Lake Erie and finally, back to Detroit with successful procurement of some essential archives.

Don't get me wrong, we met some amazing people from within the officiating industry in Cleveland, including Bill Carollo, Violet Palmer, Ron Foxcroft and Monty McCutchen, to name a select few. The annual NASO convention convenes some outstanding people, but rare is the opportunity to delve headfirst into the 10-Year War between Bo Schembechler's Michigan Wolverines -- that school 'Up North' -- and the Ohio State Buckeyes under Woody Hayes. Even more amazing is to listen to recants of train trips between American League cities, tenuous contract negotiations that bumped salary from $8,000 to $10,000 and busting Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hit streak before becoming a teammate of the Yankee Clipper.

I'm talking about the Mack family from Cleveland's suburban University Heights, Ohio. I'm talking about Cleveland Indian Ray Mack (pictured above) and sons Tom and Dick, but there was nothing harry about the family's Cleveland heritage and lineage.

In spending the weekend immersed in one family's significant sporting history, I was immediately awakened to an undeniable fact: We've lost something in American sports. We've lost our history, our pride and dignity as it relates to professional sports in this country. Today's professional athletics are littered with the 'me' and the 'now' before the 'we' and 'how' gets addressed in the team sports scene. In today's game, I comes before team and respect is paid with a comma on a paycheck instead of the natural respect and admiration of a teammate or a town.

Don't misunderstand -- I'm not a hopeless romantic for the days of top hats and pinstripe suits, of coal-burning locomotives, Nash Ramblers and such. Pro athletes have made some amazing and necessary strides, but with the opportunity to see the actual contracts Ray Mack signed with the Indians and Chicago Cubs (Mack's year with the Yankees was an original Cleveland contract purchased by the Bronx Bombers), it reminded both of us of the merit and hard work one was required to put into their craft as a pro athlete within the team structure in the 1940s and 50s.

It stood out even more when we were invited to join NASO at Progressive Field as the present day Indians hosted their longtime rival, the Detroit Tigers. The Bengals didn't do their long history proud in dropping a 5-0 decision to the Tribe with equal parts of listless precision and lifeless execution. In giving away at-bats and hacking at pitches for no rhyme or reason, the Tigers were held scoreless for the 11th time this season, a season that is the most expensive in team history at nearly $140 million in player payroll.

Not exactly the rivalry the two junior circuit stalwarts had in the 1940s when Mack joined Bob Feller, Lou Boudreau and Bob Lemon while facing Detroit Tigers like Hal Newhouser, Hank Greenberg and Charlie Gehringer almost 70 years ago.

Times changes, that's life. But there's something timeless about the 'old days' that today's athletes don't seem to identify with.

(Ray Mack photo courtesy Mack family archives)

~T.C. Cameron is the author of Metro Detroit's High School Football Rivalries, due August 25th from Arcadia Publishing

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Brad's Dad Knew It Was A Special Night At The Corner

A week ago I wrote about the special night one local prep baseball star had in making his major league baseball debut in the stadium he dreamed of playing in. Brad Havens imagined since he was a lil' slugger of being a real big leaguer and on June 5, 1981, that dream came true at fabled Tiger Stadium when he walked out of the visitor's dugout as the starting pitcher for the Minnesota Twins.
Brad's Dad, Howard 'Bud' Havens, who still lives in the house his big league son grew up in, called me after I ran the original piece and gave me, with apologies to Paul Harvey, the rest of the story.
"Oh man, what a night that was -- there were signs everywhere, and a lot of them were big bedsheets hanging off the rails in the upper deck, all of them rooting for Brad," the elder Havens remembers with an unfailing clarity. "It's a night I'll never forget and it was so special because it was at the stadium Brad dreamed of playing in. There were a lot of Tiger fans who weren't rooting for the Tigers that night."
Federal funding to grant the ole' ballpark the needed liquidity to save the field and a small portion of the stands passed a major hurdle last week when it was approved out of subcommittee in Washington D.C. Whether of not the bill that the funds are tucked within will pass is another matter, but Dems Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow weren't hiding their smiles back even if both were clearly hesitant to claim victory on the issue.
Compared to today's hulking baseball giants, Havens was a minute 155 pounds as a prep pitcher in the mid-1970s, but none of that mattered when the last-place Twins took on the 6th-place Tigers at 'The Corner' in 1981. "Brad pitched so well that night, too," Mr. Havens remembers. "He got the first hitter and then (Alan) Trammell hit a ball at the shortstop (Pete Mackanin), who bobbled it. The official scorer gave Trammell a hit but it should of been an error. It didn't matter, though, because Brad picked him off first a minute later. In the 6th, Trammell hit a ball over the fence in left and it was the only real hit Brad gave up," Havens said. "Brad got the next hitter and then got a blister on his pitching hand. He came out for the 7th but he couldn't continue and was pulled."
More than the thrill of making his debut at 'The Corner' was the way his son got to the bigs. As a high school senior, Havens was planning on going to play college baseball at Western Michigan University when a scout for the California Angels saw Havens throw a bullpen session. The Angels drafted the Royal Oak Kimball product and the next thing you knew, Havens was throwing in the pen with Frank Tanana, former Detroit Catholic Central Shamrock and big league star. The Angels later traded Havens to the Twins for Rod Carew.
"I still have the photo of Frank with his arm around Brad and I will never forget it, because Brad idolized Frank Tanana, being a local player and all," recalls Mr. Havens, who also remembered that Tanana and Havens would be teammates during Brad's last year in big league baseball, the 1989 season with the Tigers. "Those years Brad was in the big leagues were so special, and if you think you worry about your kids when they play youth sports, you sweat it out with every pitch watching them in the big leagues. It's the most nervous times I've ever spent in my life."
Havens would go on to play two seasons in Baltimore with the Cal Ripken Sr. and Jr., a pair of seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers, an organization Bud Havens called the 'classiest' team Brad got to play with. "The Dodgers were so good to Brad, because you have to remember they were still owned by Walter O'Malley, the last non-corporate-owned team in major league baseball. The Dodgers voted Brad a full share and a World Series ring when the team won the '88 World Series."
Clearly, Tiger Stadium holds a place near and dear to hearts of Detroiters and Michiganians statewide. These are the types of stories that Tiger Stadium embodies to so many of us, and why I hope part of the park can be spared from this ugly death.
~ T.C. Cameron is the author of Metro Detroit's High School Football Rivalries, due August 25, 2008 from Arcadia Publishing

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Brad Havens Made Tiger Stadium History, Too

Like most Detroiters who've held a clean, white baseball in their hands as a child, Brad Havens dreamed of playing big league baseball in Tiger Stadium. On June 5, 1981, Havens did. He was the starting pitcher for the Minnesota Twins. Six days after Havens made his major league debut at the stadium he dreamed of playing in, the players' union ordered a strike that lasted 53 days and marred the '81 campaign.

Brad Havens watched the Detroit Tigers play at Tiger Stadium hundreds, if not thousands of times as a child and teen. He was born in Highland Park, Michigan and played baseball on Detroit's suburban sandlots. He prepped at Royal Oak's Kimball High.

One of the few players among the many big leaguers who hail from metro Detroit to have made their debut at the stadium, Havens' story sticks with me because its the kind of memory that should be kept alive instead of becoming a parking lot or armory or high-rise project. I've made a big deal of Tiger Stadium's deconstruction. Her ungraceful demise doesn't sit well with me because of the park's unique place in our region's professional and prep sports past. The last 10 years as it relates to Tiger Stadium have revealed yet another sad chapter about Detroit's political machine and the 'Can't-Do' attitude entrenched in metro Detroit. We let Tiger Stadium molder and fall, pull down the picturesque Statler Hotel, allow the grandiose Michigan Central Depot to become a hulking eyesore and yet, for reasons no one can explain, the Book-Cadillac Hotel at Michigan and Washington is granted the needed liquidity to be resurrected and spared from death row, scheduled to soon shine again.

Havens was an All-State, southpaw pitcher at Kimball. He wore No. 26 for the Knights in the ugliest uniforms imaginable and formed a powerful 1-2 pitching punch with righthander Dave Kopf for coach Frank Clouser. He hurled a no-hitter in the 1977 playoffs before high school baseball was about inflated stats, unbelievable numbers and parents keeping scoresheets that are anything but legitimate. Back then a no-hitter in a district game from Oakland County was a big deal. Bob Welch was from Hazel Park. Kirk Gibson was at Waterford Kettering. Steve Howe was pitching for Clarkston. Oakland County had talent.

Before his graduation ceremony had taken place, Havens was drafted on June 7 by the California Angels in the 8th round of the '77 amateur player's draft. Less than two years later, Havens and fellow Angels Ken Landreaux, Dave Engel and Paul Hartzell were traded to the Twins for Rod Carew.

How many Oakland County prep players can say they were traded for a Hall-Of-Famer like Rod Carew? I'll bet the list is short.

Fast forward to 1981, like a scene from the movie The Rookie, Havens is tabbed to make his debut at The Corner. His prep coach, Frank Clouser, is there along with nearly a thousand fans from Royal Oak who, like Havens, found themselves rooting for the visitors for the first time at Tiger Stadium. A farm boy from pint-size Colfax, Indiana, Clouser was from a town that could have been the real-life studio double for the fictitious Hickory in the movie Hoosiers. In fact, Clouser bought his first insurance policy from Bobby Plump, the motivation for the character Jimmy Chitwood in Hoosiers. The first time he ever witnessed a major league game was in the 1960s, when he traveled from Indiana to Detroit to watch the Tigers sweep a twin bill from the New York Yankees in front of a raucous, sold-out Tiger Stadium.

It's safe to assume both Havens and Clouser can remember this night at the stadium for all that it represented to both of them for the rest of their natural-born lives.

As far as the game went, Havens did himself proud. Havens was opposed by nasty Jack Morris, who was tabbed to start that season's All-Star Game in Cleveland, a game that set MLB's All-Star Game attendance record of 72,086. Morris knew a thing or two about making a memorable debut for a different reason -- he was tabbed as a last-minute replacement for Mark "The Bird" Fidrych as a rookie, and when Morris was announced as the starting pitcher, he was lustily booed by the huge crowd -- because he wasn't Fidrych.

With umpire Larry McCoy calling balls and strikes and Butch Wynegar catching, Havens retired the first hitter he faced, outfielder Lynn Jones, before shortstop Alan Trammell singled. Havens promptly picked Trammell off first and got through the first five frames without much trouble. He fanned Kirk Gibson in the 3rd and got the Kettering grad to line out to first baseman Danny Goodwin to end the 5th.

In the sixth, with two outs and nobody on, Trammell golfed a Havens offering into the lower deck in left. Havens retired Steve Kemp to end the frame and was pulled after six innings trailing 1-0 after allowing one run and two hits in his debut. The Tigers would push across another run across in the 7th and earn a 2-0 decision in front of 23,133 at the stadium, a great crowd considering the last-place Twins and the 6th-place Tigers were anything but marquee attractions.

Havens pitched in eight uneventful seasons. He became a teammate of Kirk Gibson in 1988 with the Los Angeles Dodgers, who voted Havens' a share of the players' winnings from the Dodgers' improbable 1988 World Series title. In 1989, Havens would become a teammate with Trammell when he signed with the Tigers on May 23rd of that season.He made the final appearance of his career against the team that drafted him, the Angels, on July 23, 1989 in a game that was Detroit's '89 season in a nutshell. The '89 Angels were fortified with ex-Bengals Dan Petry, Lance Parrish, Bill Schroeder and Rich Monteleone.

Holding a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the 9th, Tiger closer Mike Henneman retired the first hitter but surrendered back-to-back singles to Dick Schofield and Claudell Washington. Brad Havens was summoned by manager Sparky Anderson to put out the fire. Havens allowed a single to Johnny Ray to score the tying run, walked Devon White to load the bases and then plunked Wally Joyner to plate the winning run in a walk-off, 5-4 win for California.

Havens made his major league debut with a last-place team in the stadium that housed his boyhood dreams and ended his career with his childhood team, also in last place, against the team that started his major league dreams.

One player, one story and one memorable stadium.

~T.C. Cameron is the author of Metro Detroit's High School Football Rivalries, due August 25th, 2008 from Arcadia Publishing.

(Topps baseball card image courtesy

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Tiger Stadium's Last Stand Closes Chapter On Prep Football, Baseball History At The Corner

A considerable piece of Detroit's prep sports history is dying today -- Tiger Stadium is falling at the hands of de-construction crews and an army's worth of earth movers and bulldozers.

I thought I was over it. I told myself I was ready to move on after nine years of seeing the ole' ballpark shuttered. Then I heard the word yesterday on countless news bulletins and it took my breath away. I'm proud to consider Ernie Harwell a friend. He was extremely helpful in pointing me in the right direction to getting published, and he put me in touch with Paul Carey to write my book's foreword. Therefore, I pray I'm wrong when I say I don't think Ernie's best efforts will save the portion of the stadium he dearly wants to spare. Today is probably the beginning of the end of Tiger Stadium's days at 2121 Trumbull Avenue.

Tiger fans are buzzing nationwide via e-mail threads and Internet chat rooms about the stadium's demise. Both Detroit dailies began publishing online photos yesterday of the first, substantial walls to crumble from the weight of the wrecking ball. Even longtime Red Wing fans feel the sting. Those of us, myself included, who remember watching the old Olympia Stadium on Grand River Avenue at Graw fall from grace in 1986 are watching with the same, pained expression we displayed 22 summers ago.

But something more than the hallowed halls that once housed Hank Greenberg, Ty Cobb, Bobby Layne and Joe Louis is being lost. Detroit's considerable prep sports history is waving goodbye to an address that has hosted some of the most memorable prep football games, championship baseball games and a statewide All-Star baseball game.

The Goodfellows Game was a classic that was played at Tiger Stadium after the Lions and Packers battled on Thanksgiving day. The champions of the Catholic League and the Detroit Public School League, then better known as the Metropolitan League, battled for bragging rights, Top 10 rankings and potential state championships on Tiger Stadium's floor. In the spring, both the Catholic League and PSL hosted their respective league championship games in baseball. In the early summer after the state championship games, the state's best baseball players were seeded in the annual East-West All-Star Game.

The Denby Tars, Pershing Doughboys or University of Detroit High Cubs often locked horns with De LaSalle's Pilots, Catholic Central's Shamrocks, the Rustics of Redford St. Mary's or St. Ambrose in the Goodfellows Game. Many times the winner of that game was voted to a high ranking in the season-ending Associated Press poll, and sometimes the winner was declared the state champion by one of the three Detroit dailies from the 1940s and 50s.

In baseball, Birmingham Brother Rice, the Fighting Irish of Harper Woods Notre Dame or Dearborn Divine Child have been regulars in the CHSL title tilts. Detroit Western's Cowboys or the Mustangs of Detroit Mumford have been multiple-time participants from the PSL side. Frank Tanana, Frank Clouser and Frank Sumbera have been among the many ball park franks to have seen games in the first person at Tiger Stadium.

Tiger Stadium belongs to the Tigers and their faithful fans. The Lions and their long-suffering legions have a considerable stake in the stadium's last days, too. But playing a game at Tiger Stadium for your high school was the goal of many a prep football or baseball player. Wearing a school letter jacket to a Lions game or a Tiger opener was oft-seen as well.

Here's to hoping the stories, memories and traditions will outlive our historic park's fall from grace. Sadly, the dreams we all shared, long shuttered for all of us, officially died forever yesterday.

(1952 Goodfellows Game program courtesy of Detroit Catholic High School League)

~ T.C. Cameron is the author of Metro Detroit's High School Football Rivalries, due August 25th, 2008 from Arcadia Publishing

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