TORONTO - Golf and baseball have co-existed going back to Babe Ruth in the 1920s.
Yet, not always in a peaceful manner.
In some eras, such as Bobby Cox’s Atlanta Braves of the 1990s, it was a blissful wedding. A foursome of Braves starters would tee off on early mornings and chop together in the post-season every fall.
And in others instances, as with Cox’s Blue Jays in the 1980s, golf almost led to punches being thrown during a clubhouse meeting.
Josh Beckett is a completely different golfer.
Is the veteran right-hander headed for divorce proceedings with the Boston Red Sox and manager Bobby Valentine?
Will a string of zeros in the next few outings put Beckett’s week deep in the memory bank alongside the winner of last year’s Valero Texas Open (won by Ben Curtis)?
The Bosox skipped Beckett in the rotation last week because he had tightness in his lat muscle, according to Valentine. The next day, an off-day, Beckett and teammate Clay Buchholz went golfing.
Then on Thursday, Beckett lasted just 2 1/3 innings, allowing seven runs on seven hits, including two homers, and two walks in an 8-3 loss to the Cleveland Indians, leaving the mound to a loud chorus of Fenway Park boos.
Beckett was always brash, confident and a kick-butt Texican from the time he was a first-round pick in the 1999 draft to walking into Yankee Stadium at age 23 and, on three days rest, shutting out the Yanks to win the 2003 World Series for the Florida Marlins.
It’s fine that he is still brash, confident and bullet-proof, but his post-game answers were not what Red Sox Nation was wanting to hear.
“My time off is my time off,” Beckett told reporters. “We get 18 off days a year, we deserve a little time to ourselves.”
It was an attitude that said: Who gives a Fenway rat’s butt about the team?
Players do get precious few days off from April until the end of the season. Yet, last year’s Red Sox had 4 1/2 months off after they fell apart in September.
This is the same Beckett who was named in those in-game fried chicken and beer consumption (on days he was not pitching) stories, which many blamed for part of the team’s woeful finishing stretch of 20 losses in 27 games.
With the Braves, starters Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Steve Avery and Kent Mercker (the Zeppo Marx of the group), would take their golf clubs on the road. They’d play every day. Whoever was starting didn’t play, while the others make up the fearsome foursome.
Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz will all be in the Hall of Fame some day. Glavine and Smoltz told us they’d spend time on the course talking about hitters tendencies.
With the Jays, Heathcliff Johnson was quoted as saying he was tired of the “country club atmosphere,” surrounding the team after a losing trip.
An angry Cox called a team meeting the next day at Exhibition Stadium.
Johnson walked around the clubhouse in his booming voice, yelling: “Meeting! Meeting! Everybody sit down, Skip wants a meeting.”
“Okay Skip, I’ve rounded everyone up,” Johnson reported as Cox stomped into the clubhouse.
Cox began by asking Willie Upshaw if he had taken his tennis racquet on the road?
Upshaw said: “No, sir.”
Cox asked Jesse Barfield if he brought his golf clubs on the previous trip. Barfield said no.
Cox then wheeled and screamed at Johnson asked:
“Now, Cliff, did I see you in the lobby on our last trip with your clubs? Did you golf? Now, you have the gall to say this team has a country club atmosphere?”
The meeting Johnson had helped arrange was for Cox to air him out in front of the team.
Beckett’s future? Knowing him a little, we don’t see him apologizing.
But he will need a whole string of zeros to get the fans back on his side.
Philadelphia Phillies lefty Cole Hamels deserved his five-game suspension for admitting he threw at Washington Nationals’ Bryce Harper on Sunday night.
And Washington general manager Mike Rizzo deserved to be fined for calling Hamels “classless, gutless chicken (bleep),” as well as “fake tough” and comparing a pitch in the ribs to “the bounty (stuff) going on in pro football.”
“This goes beyond rivalry,” Rizzo told the Washington Post. “Take the youngest guy in baseball. He’s never done a thing. And then Hamels pats himself on the back. Harper is old-school. Hitting him on the back, that ain’t old-school. That’s (bleeping) chicken (bleep).”
Rizzo was the first GM fined for yelling at an umpire.
“I’m not sure I get this Nationals-Phillies rivalry business,” said an executive from another club. “The Phillies have won their division the last five years. The Nationals have been in first place for five weeks.”
The late Don Drysdale or Bob Gibson might have welcomed Harper the same way.
The Jays, with help from the Indians, knocked legendary broadcaster Ernie Harwell from the record books when they took their opening-day game to 16 innings.
Harwell’s first game was opening day 1960 when the Detroit Tigers were at Cleveland Stadium before 52,756 fans. Broadcaster George Kell and Harwell weren’t given a booth, so a plank was laid across the seats and the pair sat amongst the fans.
Al Kaline’s two-run single in the 15th gave the Tigers a 4-2 win to equal the Washington Senators’ 1-0 win over the Philadelphia Athletics in 1926 as the longest opening-day game ever.
“It was bitter cold and they didn’t have a booth. We were out in the open and the wind came in off of Lake Erie,” Harwell told the Detroit Free Press in one of the final interviews before his death. “It was about as cold as I’ve ever been. George and I were anxious to get back to the hotel and warm up.”
LEAD PIPE LEAKING
If there was one common theme this spring talking to scouts, it was how there was only one lead-pipe lock to win its division — the American League Central where the Detroit Tigers would romp.
This was before Albert Pujols struggled, before Mariano Rivera went down, before the Red Sox imploded.
Would they start the season 35-5 as did the 1984 Tigers under Sparky Anderson? But these Tigers were in second place, going into their weekend series at Oakland, hovering around the .500 mark.
Even after landing Price Fielder, the Tigers are fifth in team batting average, eighth in runs scored and OPS. The Blue Jays are fourth in runs scored, ninth in OPS and 11th in hitting. Detroit’s team ERA is ninth.
Meanwhile, this has been a rough year for closers on many teams, including Detroit, where Jose Valverde, a perfect 49-for-49 converting saves last year, already has blown two of eight chances.
And, for luck, Miguel Cabrera was hitting on Monday with runners on first and third with one out. His smash deflected off the right elbow of Mariners starter Blake Beavan and bounced to third baseman Kyle Seager, who started a 5-4-3 double play.
Octavio Dotel then pitched the ninth, as Valverde was given the night off, and the ex-Jay allowed three runs to take the 3-2 loss.
LIKE FATHER, BUT HOPEFULLY, NOT LIKE SON
Righty Lance McCullers, Jr., of Tampa Jesuit High projects as a first-round draft pick next month. Baseball America draft guru Jim Callis has the Jays taking him with the 17th overall pick in his mock draft. Callis then has the Jays selecting outfielder D.J. Davis of Wiggins, Miss., with the 22nd pick.
You may recall the prospect’s dad, Lance McCullers, a hard-throwing reliever who pitched seven seasons with the San Diego Padres, New York Yankees, Texas Rangers and the Detroit Tigers.
Promoted to the majors in August of 1985 as a 21-year-old, the Padres next trip was a Montreal-New York-Philadelphia swing. San Diego manager Dick Williams used McCullers to pitch a scoreless eighth as Dave Dravecky and the bullpen blanked the Expos 1-0.
When the series was over, the Padres took a bus to Dorval and a charter to LaGuardia. A bus picked up the team in Queen’s and took the club to its downtown hotel.
One problem. McCullers fell asleep on the ride and did not wake up when the players disembarked at their mid-town Manhattan hotel. He didn’t wake until the bus was parked in the bus barn and the driver had departed.
Eventually, McCullers found someone who knew where the Padres were staying.
There used to be a room at the back of the Fenway Park press box, where sometimes after games, or when the box was really crowded, I’d sit to wrtie.
Usually in the same room — before I arrived and after I left — was Boston radio reporter Carl Beane.
He’d come up from the cramped clubhouse, make a call and say “Carl Beane in Boston.” Except he said it so quickly it came out: “CarlBeaneinBoston.”
And then he’d start: “I’ve got tape of manager John McNamara, Marty Barrett, Wade Boggs, Mike Greenwell, Dwight Evans and Oil Can Boyd from the Boston side ... and manager Jimy Williams, Ernie Whitt, Lloyd Moseby and Dave Stieb from the Toronto room.”
And away he’d go, filing lead-ins to the tape.
Beane, 59, was killed in a single-car crash Wednesday in Sturbridge, Mass. He left the radio business to become PA announcer at Fenway Park in 2003.
When we’d pass in the hallway, I’d say “CarlBeaneinBoston.”
He was respected as a professional and as a diligent worker who could recite Red Sox moments good and bad. Deepest sympathies.
WISE OL' GROUNDSKEEPER
When writers return to the press box on the 300 level post-game at the Rogers Centre, an empty stadium lays below.
Then, cleaners begin with their loud blowers, moving hot dog wrappers to the aisle. That sound remains. There also used to be a loud pounding accompanying the vacuum. Groundskeeper Paul Eagan would be bent over digging at the mound, watering and tamping it down.
Eagan is no longer part of the grounds crew at the dome. But we recall him making the mound moist for some starters, dry for others ... and all the extra work involved when they went back-to-back nights.
One Sunday night, two sandlot teams were playing, with each pitcher slated to throw one inning. An usher approached Eagan, complaining that the game had gone on too long and that it was time to call it. The coach, however, explained he had three pitchers remaining.
Using the wisdom of Solomon, Eagan told the usher: “I’m not telling kids who have waited all this time to pitch, that they can’t.”
We’d like to wish a good ball man a belated happy birthday.