Of course Jack's first baseball game was all-time great

By Joe PosnanskiApril 7, 2016, 10:12 pm

AUGUSTA, Ga. – My friend Buck O’Neil, the great player, manager and spokesman of the Negro Leagues, would always ask strangers a question to break the ice: “What was the first baseball game you ever attended?” It was a fantastic question, and it always inspired huge smiles and great stories. See, almost everyone remembers something about their first baseball game. But it’s usually just that: You remember something.

I remember three things from my first baseball game:

1. Gaylord Perry started the game.

2. Don Hood picked off somebody.

3. Oscar Gamble hit a home run.

I have had a very hard time locating that game … as it turns out, this is because it was two games. I should have guessed. My dad, being, uh, let’s go with “frugal,” believed strongly in the doubleheader. It was two games for the price of one. Why would you EVER go to just a single game?

Quickly (because you don’t care about my first game), Gaylord Perry started the first game of a May 4 doubleheader at Cleveland Municipal Stadium and got utterly lit up in an 11-1 loss to Baltimore. That tracks both with my memory and my history as a sports fan – OF COURSE my team lost 11-1 in the first game I ever saw. Don Hood did pick off Ken Singleton in the second game and Oscar Gamble homered as Cleveland won 4-3.

The point is that my first game did not MATTER except to me. I suspect none of the PLAYERS who were in that game remember it. There was nothing great about it. That’s how it almost always goes. I just asked Paul Arnett, sports editor of the Honolulu paper, if he remembered his first game – he remembered that it was 1964, he was 9 years old, and that his hero, Mickey Mantle, went 0-for-5.

This is fun: I just asked legendary sportswriter Dave Kindred if he remembered his first baseball game – he told a story of going to Sportsman’s Park in 1951. Then I asked Associated Press columnist Jim Litke, and he remembered going to Wrigley Field when he was 9, and it was all but empty and all he really remembers was one of his friends yelling at Cubs middle infielder Jimmy Stewart, “You play like a girl.” Nine-year-olds were just as witty in 1964 as they are now.

And so on. Nobody’s first game ever MEANS anything.

Then there’s Jack Nicklaus’ first baseball game.


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Nicklaus was talking about his first baseball game Thursday morning just after he and Gary Player ceremoniously teed off the Masters while Arnold Palmer watched. The ceremonial tee shot is one of the cooler things in sports. It’s nostalgic for those of us old enough to have watched those guys play, but it’s also very cool for kids who have only heard stories about Nicklaus. Someone asked Nicklaus if he could relate to the feelings of those kids who watch him hit.

“Oh sure, absolutely, of course you do,” Nicklaus said. And then he told the story of his first game. In many ways, Jack Nicklaus’ first baseball game tells you everything you need to know about his golfing life.

Nicklaus grew up in Columbus, Ohio, of course, but he was visiting cousins in New York when they decided to go to Yankee Stadium for a ballgame. It was July 22, 1948, a Thursday night and Cleveland was in town.

Something crazy happened between the Yankees and Cleveland in 1948 – the two teams played 17 dates (including five doubleheaders) and drew almost 900,000 fans, an average of more than 52,500 per game. This was at a time when average attendance across baseball (not counting Cleveland and New York) was less than 15,000 per game. Those Yankees-Indians games were the biggest thing in American sports in 1948, and an 8-year-old Nicklaus got to go to one of those games.

But he did not go to just ANY of those Cleveland-New York games. Young Jack Nicklaus went to an all-time classic. Hall of Famer Bob Feller started for Cleveland and the Indians had three Hall of Famers in their lineup – Joe Gordon, Lou Boudreau and Larry Doby. The Yankees also had three future Hall of Famers in their lineup – Phil Rizzuto, Yogi Berra and Joe DiMaggio.

Cleveland took a 2-0 lead, but Feller gave it back when he allowed a two-run homer to a fantastic player named Tommy Heinrich. Cleveland took a 3-2 lead into fifth when Feller gave up a leadoff single to Snuffy Stirnweiss and back-to-back walks to Heinrich and King Kong Keller. That loaded the bases for DiMaggio, who mashed a grand slam. Feller, the newspapers reported, was roundly booed.

And as if that’s not enough – Bob Feller pitching, Joe DiMaggio slam, Yogi Berra behind the plate – the greatest thing of all happened next. Satchel Paige came into the game for Cleveland. He had been signed just two weeks earlier after becoming a legend in the Negro Leagues. He pitched two scoreless innings, allowing just one hit and striking out Joe DiMaggio. The Yankees held on to win 6-5.

It’s hard to imagine a more iconic regular season game in baseball history.

So, OF COURSE that was Jack Nicklaus’ first baseball game. Because that’s Nicklaus. His greatness as a golfer is not easily defined. Yes, in his prime, he hit the ball higher and farther than anybody else. Yes, he was a spectacular clutch putter who never seemed to miss the important ones. Yes, Nicklaus was the smartest golfer, the one who never seemed to make a strategic mistake.

But there was also something charmed about Nicklaus, something the legendary writer Dan Jenkins put like so: “You can’t compare Jack with anyone else. It was almost as if he felt it was his birthright to win major championships.” Nicklaus so deeply believed in his destiny … and why not? Look: In his first game, he saw Joe DiMaggio hit a grand slam off Bob Feller in his very first baseball game, then saw Satchel Paige strike out DiMaggio in the same game.

First game. After that, how can you not believe that you are meant for something great? 

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"


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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.