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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After Further Review: Nelson lost in the shuffle?

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 21, 2018, 3:40 am

Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On the Nelson's future ...

If the goal was “different” by bringing the AT&T Byron Nelson to Trinity Forest, consider it achieved. But bringing a world-class field south of Dallas could still be tricky.

Yes, the tournament can always rely on local resident and AT&T spokesman Jordan Spieth to throw his hat in the ring. But even with Spieth strolling the fairways this week, the field strength was among the worst all season for a full-point event.

The debut of the sprawling, links-like layout likely did little to sway the undecideds, with only the third round offering the challenging conditions that course co-designer Ben Crenshaw had envisioned. And the schedule won’t do them any favors next year, as a revamped itinerary likely puts the Nelson right before the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black.

The course will inevitably get better with age, and Spieth expects positive word of mouth to spread. But it might be a while before the stars truly align for an event that, for the moment, feels lost in the shuffle of a hectic schedule. – Will Gray


On Jordan Spieth's putting ...

Jordan Spieth’s putting is plainly bad right now, but it isn’t going to stay this bad forever.

He is the second ranked player on Tour in strokes gained: tee-to-green, just like he was last year. This putting slump has lingered, but it’s unfathomable to think this guy just forgot how to putt.

Sooner rather than later he’s going to remember he’s Jordan Spieth and the 40-footers are going to start pouring in. He’ll be telling Greller to go get the ball because he’s too far away and the tee is in the other direction.

Bottom line, the ball striking is for real and the putting slump will pass. He’ll win soon – maybe even as soon as this week. – Nick Menta


On golf and gambling ...

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court over tuned a federal ban on sports betting in most states, a move the PGA Tour and many professional sports leagues embraced as a tool to both build fan interest and grow revenue.

Experts estimate sports betting could become a $150-$200 billion annual industry, and even a small piece of that could be significant for golf, but there will be risks.

Unlike any other sport, golf is played on multiple fields simultaneously, which inherently creates risks when gambling is introduced to the equation. Although the Tour has gone to great pains to head off any potential problems, like all bets gambling comes with great rewards, and great risks. – Rex Hoggard

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Wise continues whirlwind ascent with first win

By Will GrayMay 21, 2018, 3:13 am

DALLAS – Still shy of his 22nd birthday, Aaron Wise continues to prove himself to be a quick learner.

Wise went from unheralded prospect to NCAA individual champ seemingly in the blink of an eye while at the University of Oregon. After eschewing his final two years of eligibility in Eugene, he won in Canada on the Mackenzie Tour in his third start as a professional.

He continued a quick learning curve with a win last year on the Web.com Tour to propel him to the big leagues, and he didn’t flinch while going toe-to-toe with Jason Day two weeks ago, even though the result didn’t go his way.

Faced with another opportunity to take down a top-ranked Aussie, Wise made sure he got the job done Sunday at the AT&T Byron Nelson – even though it took until dark.

With mid-day rains turning a firm and fast layout into a birdie barrage, Wise seamlessly switched gears and put his first PGA Tour title on ice in impressive fashion with a bogey-free 65. Deadlocked with Marc Leishman to start the day, Wise made six birdies in his first 10 holes and coasted to a three-shot win as the leaders barely beat the setting sun to avoid an anticlimactic Monday finish at Trinity Forest Golf Club.


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As it turned out, the hardest part of the day was enduring the four-hour weather delay alongside his mother, Karla, as his afternoon tee time turned into a twilight affair.

“She was talking to me in the hotel about what a win could mean, what a second could mean, kind of taking me through all that,” Wise said. “I was like, I’ve got to calm down. I can’t just sit here. I said, ‘You’ve got to go.’ I kind of made her leave the room.”

Wise displayed some jitters right out of the gates, with a nervy three-putt par on the opening hole. But with several players going on birdie runs to turn what seemed like a two-man race into a much more wide-open affair, Wise went on a tear of his own with four birdies in a row on Nos. 7-10.

That gave him a window over Leishman and the rest of the chase pack, and he never looked back.

“I talked to myself and kind of made myself trust my putting,” Wise said. “These greens out here are really tricky, and for me to roll those putts in on 8 and 9 really kind of separated things.”

Leishman had held at least a share of the lead after each round, and the 34-year-old veteran was looking for his third win in the last 14 months. But a bogey on No. 10 coincided with a Wise birdie to boost the rookie’s advantage from two shots to four, and Leishman never got closer than three shots the rest of the way.

“He holed putts he needed to hole, and I didn’t,” Leishman said. “Hit a couple loose shots where I could have probably put a bit of pressure on him, and didn’t. And that’s probably the difference in the end.”

Instead of sitting next to a trophy in Dallas, Wise could have been closing out his senior season next week with an NCAA appearance at Karsten Creek. But the roots of his quick climb trace back to the Master of the Amateurs in Australia in December 2015, a tournament he won and one that gave him confidence that he could hold his own against the best in the world. He returned to Eugene and promptly told his coach, Casey Martin, that he planned to turn pro in the spring.

The same dogged confidence that drove that decision has been the guiding force behind a whirlwind ascent through every rung of the professional ladder.

“I just have a lot of belief in myself. I didn’t come from a lot. A lot of people don’t know that. I didn’t get to travel a bunch when I played junior golf,” Wise said. “Kind of all along it’s been very, very few moments to shine and I have had to take advantage of them.”

Despite that belief, even Wise admits that he’s “shocked” to turn only his second real chance to contend at this level into a maiden victory. But fueled by the memories of a close call two weeks ago, he put the lessons learned at Quail Hollow to quick use while taking the next step in an increasingly promising career arc.

“It was awesome, everything I dreamed of,” Wise said. “To walk up 18, knowing I kind of had it locked up, was pretty cool.”

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Grace celebrates birthday with final-round 62

By Will GrayMay 21, 2018, 1:51 am

DALLAS – Branden Grace celebrated his 30th birthday in style, making the biggest charge of the final round at the AT&T Byron Nelson.

Grace closed out a 9-under 62 as the sun began to set at Trinity Forest Golf Club, moving from outside the top 10 into a share of third place, four shots behind Aaron Wise. It equaled Grace’s career low on the PGA Tour, which he originally set last summer at The Open, and it was one shot off Marc Leishman’s course-record 61 from the opening round.

“Good birthday present. It was fun,” Grace said. “Little bit of imagination, little bit of luck here and there. You get more luck on the links golf course than maybe on a normal golf course.”


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Weeks after Grace’s wife gave birth to the couple’s first child, he now has his best result on the PGA Tour since winning the RBC Heritage more than two years ago. As a world traveler and former Presidents Cup participant, the South African embraced an opportunity this week to go off the beaten path on an unconventional layout.

“It feels like a breath of fresh air coming to something different. Really is nice. I really enjoyed the golf course,” he said. “Obviously I think we got really lucky with the weather, and that’s why the scores are so low. It can bite you if it settles in a little bit in the next couple years.”

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Scott barely misses qualifying for U.S. Open

By Will GrayMay 21, 2018, 1:33 am

DALLAS – A birdie on the 72nd hole gave Adam Scott a glimmer of hope, but in the end even a closing 65 at the AT&T Byron Nelson wasn’t enough to earn an exemption into next month’s U.S. Open.

Scott entered the week ranked No. 65 in the world, and the top 60 in next week’s rankings automatically qualify for Shinnecock Hills. The cutoff was a big reason why the 2008 tournament champ returned for Trinity Forest’s debut, and midway through the final round it seemed like the Aussie had a shot at snagging a bid at the 11th hour.

Scott needed at least a solo ninth-place finish to pass an idle Chesson Hadley at No. 60, and while his 5-footer on the 18th green gave him a share of sixth place when he completed play, he ultimately ended up in a three-way tie for ninth at 15 under – barely short of a spot in the top 60.


Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

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“I tried to make the most of really favorable conditions today, and I did a pretty good job of it. Just never really got a hot run going,” Scott said. “I feel like I struggled on the weekend reading the greens well enough to really get it going, but I think everyone but the leaders did that, too. They’re not the easiest greens to read.”

Scott has played each of the last three weeks in an effort to earn a U.S. Open exemption, and he’ll make it four in a row next week when he returns to the Fort Worth Invitational on a course where he won in 2013. Scott still has another chance to avoid sectional qualifying by earning a top-60 spot at the second and final cutoff on June 11 following the FedEx St. Jude Classic.

Scott has played 67 majors in a row, a streak that dates back to 2001 and is second only to Sergio Garcia among active players. While he’s prepared to play each of the next three weeks in a last-ditch effort to make the field, he’s taking his schedule one event at a time with the hope that one more good result might take care of business.

“I’ll play next week and hopefully play really well, and give myself a bit of cushion so I can take a week or so off and try to prepare the best I can for the U.S. Open,” Scott said.