Friday, July 31, 2009

To the catcher goes no glory

A baseball fan just noted on his blog that when a major league pitcher throws a perfect game, the catcher -- the one calling the pitches and keeping the hurler focused through 27 straight batters -- gets little or no recognition. Sure, the pitcher has to make the pitches, but he has eight players supporting him -- and none more important than the other member of the battery.

Ray Schalk, who caught Perfect Game No. 5 in the majors, appreciated that fact. (He also caught 2 or 3 no-hitters, depending on how and when the records were kept.) Throughout his life, Schalk made it a point to personally congratulate the catcher of every no-hitter or perfect game.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Buehrle's gem and the Schalk connection

When Mark Buehrle threw a perfect game this afternoon, it was only the second such gem in Chicago White Sox history.

Until today, the only Sox perfecto occurred in Detroit on April 30, 1922, when rookie Charlie Robertson, making his third start of the season, blanked the Tigers. His catcher that afternoon was the subject of my upcoming book, Ray Schalk.

With 25,000 Tigers fans booing and howling at him, the 26-year-old Robertson kept throwing whatever Schalk signaled. In the bottom of the fifth, the Tigers tried to rattle the Texan. Batter Harry Heilmann complained that Robertson was doctoring the baseball. Umpire Dick Nallin found no evidence. Later, Tigers star Ty Cobb walked to the mound and boldly inspected Robertson’s uniform for foreign substances or a device to scuff the ball. Cobb then walked over to first baseman Earl Sheely and did the same.

Decades afterward, Schalk said, “They did everything they could to upset Charlie,” he recalled. “But it didn’t bother him a bit. I could have caught every pitch sitting in a rocking chair.” Following Schalk’s signals, Robertson continued to mow down each Detroit batter.

The Chicago defense was not particularly challenged. The 1922 game featured no record-saving catches like Dewayne Wise's homer-stopping catch in the ninth inning today.

By the time Robertson stepped on the mound in the eighth inning, the spectators in Navin Field were well aware that they might witness something special. Though they booed him just an inning earlier, Detroit fans in the eighth started cheering Robertson to keep it going.

Having retired all 26 opponents to that point, Robertson coaxed pinch-hitter Johnny Bassler to lift a fly to left fielder Johnny Mostil, who squeezed the ball for the historic final out.

Afterwards, Chicago Tribune reader “R.F.” made this observation: “All praise to Pitcher Robertson of the White Sox for his perfect game – he surely deserves it – but I have not read one word of commendation for the wonderful little player who caught him. Schalk probably called, as a conservative estimate, 90 percent of the balls pitched. Why not give him a share of the glory? Think the result would have been the same with a second- or third-rate catcher?”

To that end, Schalk made it his personal practice to personally contact and congratulate the catcher of every no-hitter (or perfect game). He appreciated their contribution to history.
For the record, the catcher for Buehrle was Ramon Castro.

By the way, when Buehrle threw a no-hitter in April 2007, the home plate umpire was Eric Cooper (no relation). Today, the ump was -- yes -- Eric Cooper.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Back to work on Schalk book

My inactive period during the Ray Schalk biography process is over.

After a few months away -- the manuscript was submitted at the end of January -- I'm back on duty for Ray Schalk: A Baseball Biography. Today, a box containing page proofs of the book reached my doorstep.

My task is to proofread the book and complete an index -- and do so in short order. The publisher expects to receive my changes and index, make the fixes and print the book in less than one month. The book is scheduled for printing on August 6.

I start this work with some sadness. On Monday, I learned of the death of Gene Carney, the leading expert on the Black Sox scandal, who provided me feedback on the Black Sox section of my manuscript and wrote a favorable advance review of my work. I regret that Gene won't receive a copy of the finished product with my note of appreciation.