Elliott on baseball: Fregosi, Millar, Strait, Ted Williams
By: Bob Elliott
Canadian Baseball Network
Ted Williams and Kevin Millar.
You don’t often find the two Boston Red Sox lumped in the same breath.
Yet, 50 years after my first byline (April 4, 1966), following 39 opening days covering the Montreal Expos and the Toronto Blue Jays, we have made mistakes, missed the point and backed into leads.
The two biggest regrets I have writing baseball are: Ted Williams and Kevin Millar.
In 1993 John Olerud was making a run at .400. Attempts to reach Williams fishing on the Miramichi River in New Brunswick were unsuccessful. One night at home the phone rang.
“Hello Mr. Elliott, my name is Bobby Doerr, I understand you are trying to reach Ted,” Doerr said softly from Oregon.
A couple of phone calls with the Hall of Fame second baseman and all was set. I would fly Toronto-to-Fredericton and head to the cabin.
Two days before I left the phone rang. It was Doerr.
“We have a problem,” he said.
“Ted?” I shuddered.
“No, the person with him had a stroke and had to be airlifted to Boston, I’m sorry, we have to cancel,” Doerr said.
Doerr explained that the Jays hitter Williams loved to watch was Paul Molitor, not Olerud.
Six summers later as president of the Baseball Writers Association of America I spent the night at the Otesga Hotel, woke up Saturday morn and headed to Bruce Sutter’s press conference the day before his Sunday induction. When I returned from writing there stood Buck Martinez in the lobby, hands on his hips.
“Where were you?” as if I was late arriving an hour after curfew.
“Well, you missed it: Ted Williams. Telling stories. Talking hitting. Back veranda. For hours. My son Casey and I were there. It was great. You missed it.”
The next morning at breakfast I bumped into Doerr.
“Hey did you ever get the chance to talk to Ted?”
“C’om let’s go, there is an empty spot beside his wheel chair, be quick,” Doerr said.
Off we went, attempting to navigate going left around the table when a log jam occurred. We went the other way and as Doerr approached Williams, with me at his heels, Warren Spahn plopped down into the empty seat:
“NOW, WHERE DID WE LEAVE OFF LAST NIGHT ... YOU OLD GOAT?”
The argument was on and Doerr apologized, but it was not his fault.
“A bad luck,” as my mother-in-law used to say.
Three times I was oh so close to interviewing the man my father always said was the greatest hitter of them all. And three misses.
Williams you understand, but Kevin Millar?
When Millar arrived with the Jays in 2009 it was as a platoon player, sharing the DH spot with Adam Lind. I thought he was a loudmouth from Boston. I was right. He was loud and he was from Boston.
It took a while for me to realize it, but it was much, much more than that. Problem was I didn’t realize it until watching him on Intentional Talk on the Major League Network. Only then did I comprehend what a sense of humor he has, how fast on the draw he is with an answer.
He would have been fun to talk ball with, providing insight and sharing a laugh with. Much like the likes of Mark DeRosa, Mark Buehrle, Adam Lind, Jeff Mathis, Scott Rolen, John Buck, Orlando Hudson, Al Leiter, Alfredo Griffin, Dave Stewart, Pat Borders, Todd Stottlemyre, Jerry White, Wallace Johnson, or Woody Fryman over the years.
Two big regrets.
When you can write “regrets I’ve had a few, but only two to mention,” like old Blue Eyes, well that’s a good gig.
SWEET WORDS: Ever since Steve Simmons column on Wednesday that I was stepping away from the daily grind of the baseball beat, people have been very kind. I have been asked what it’s like to read so many of your own obit-like tributes? Nice? It is more than that. Surprising? Yes. Flattering? Enough to change your mind and act like Brett Farve? Almost.
Simmons started something and John Lott, Alexis Brudnicki, Don Brennan and Doug Falconer followed in Toronto, Ottawa and Kingston.
A number of people emailed how John Gibbons spilled the beans by kicking off his post-game presser Tuesday by mentioning I was walking away. The news had been out for hours. When I walked into the dugout at 3:15 that afternoon Jose Bautista asked what I was going to write my final two days.
And in the second inning pal Bob Dutton of Tacoma who covers the Seattle Mariners tweeted the update.
Edwin Encarnacion, Devon Travis and Bautista have been very kind with their comments or personal notes, along with Pat Hentgen, Jeff Francis and Stubby Clapp.
We heard from four big-league managers, two club presidents, two general managers and scouts from 26 teams, including a Jays scout congratulating me “on my wonderful career at The Star.” Thanks for reading.
People from across the country -- coaches, administrators and players -- sent notes from all 10 provinces and some day they will all be answered.
UP NEXT: I am retiring from the Sun when it comes to writing daily, but I am not retiring from writing. So I’ll sit at home and sift thru all the offers a guy about to turn 67 expects to get: GQ model, co-host of CITY-TV Breakfast TV, Diet Coke pitch man or Weight Watchers spokesperson.
The Sun wants me to continue and we should have that worked out one way or another in a couple of weeks,
Regardless I’ll be writing about the Jays, the draft and Canadians on the Canadian Baseball Network site.
And I plan on spoiling grand children Xander, 10 months old, and Xavier, six, of Moncton, N.B.
It’s what grandpas are supposed to do, since we’ve been told “grand children are life’s desert.” It is ... the way of the road.
You expected maybe I would take up golf, fishing or follow soccer?
REMEMBER: When John Farrell departed during the 2012 World Series we ran a chart how the Jays had had eight managers since Cito Gaston was fired in 1997: Mel Queen, Tim Johnson, Jim Fregosi, Buck Martinez, Carlos Tosca, John Gibbons, Gaston and Farrell. The chart showed how many games each had managed and the average life expectancy of a manager post 1997.
I filed the chart from the park in San Francisco and the office asked for a short lead. I did a rush job and desker Donald Deneuch pointed out I failed to mention Fregosi in the copy. He fixed it.
I said to Mike Rutsey “that was close, I almost left Fregosi out of the lead to the chart.”
Moving faster than I have ever seen him Rutsey sprinted to another section of the press box to tell pal Tracy Ringolsby of MLB.com and he phoned Fregosi, who he had covered managing the 1978 Anaheim Angels.
The next season Fregosi carried a color picture of himself in a Toronto uniform to show to me -- usually in front of a large audience -- he had indeed managed the Blue Jays.
Ringolsby sent a email last week he had received a cosmic message from the late Fregosi: “maybe the next ball writer at the Sun will remember that I actually managed the team.”
I won’t miss the deadlines.
I’ll miss the teasing.
FINALLY: George King of the New York Post might be the funniest man in the park -- as long as Mark Whicker (Los Angeles) and Ray Ratto (San Francisco) are not around.
Standing behind the batting cage last week King had an audience: Yankees broadcaster David Cone, Jays bench coach DeMarlo Hale, Gibbons and myself.
King told Gibbons: “You know, you could you could win five World Series here and the only good thing you will be remembered for in this city is running Elliott out of town,” King said. “Well done.”
I won’t miss the deadlines.
I will miss the laughs.
WALK-OUT MUSIC: George Strait’s Troubadour.