Baseball’s bloodlines are clogging up my arteries
My favorite baseball bat as a kid was an Al Kaline Louisville Slugger.
When there was nobody around in the neighborhood to play ball, I’d take some hacks against the willow tree in my backyard. Every once in a while, the bat bounced back with a palpable weightlessness upon impact: I’d connected on the sweet spot, a simple joy seldom duplicated.
This was, oh, about a century ago. It must be a century, because during the baseball amateur draft the other day, the Tigers selected Florida Southern second baseman Colin Kaline, Al Kaline’s grandson.
“I’m happy for him,” Florida Southern baseball coach Pete Meyer told a Detroit area newspaper. “Colin is a baseball player. That’s about as high of a compliment as you could get. He lives, eats and sleeps baseball.”
I’m happy for Colin Kaline, too, but the fact his grandfather’s Louisville Slugger model was my favorite bat only reiterates how darn old I am.
Don’t be smug. If you can remember Dante Bichette and Jamie Quirk and Sid Bream, you’re probably feeling a little bit older yourself. Their kids were among the 1,530 players selected last week. Dan Lockhart, the son of former journeyman second baseman Keith Lockhart, also was drafted. Keith Lockhart can’t be more than 30 years old – can’t be, no way, because I just saw him in the 1999 World Series – and yet, his son, a high school shortstop from Atlanta, was taken by the Cubs in the 10th round.
How is this possible?
It’s possible because Keith Lockhart, according to my Baseball Encyclopedia, is 46.
I can understand that Steve Garvey’s son, third baseman Ryan Garvey, was drafted by the Phillies in the 15th round. Steve Garvey was an All-Star first baseman in the 1970s. There’s a cycle-of-life symmetry to that generation gap.
But Dwight Smith Jr.? (To the Blue Jays, in the second round.) And Shawon Dunston Jr.? (To the Cubs, in the 11th round.) I could swear it was just last month that their fathers were growing up together as Cubs teammates.
Shawon Dunston is still learning how to take a pitch out of the strike zone, isn’t he? (Well, uh, no. A rookie in 1985, he retired in 2002.)
And Dwight Smith. I can still see him like it was yesterday as a young man with an exuberant smile, singing “the Star Spangled Banner” at Wrigley Field.
On second thought, Smith performed the anthem in 1989. Yikes!
The 2011 baseball draft was big on bloodlines. Trent Boras, a high school third baseman selected by the Brewers in the 30th round, is the son of agent Scott Boras. Trent has been offered a scholarship to play baseball at USC, but if he considers signing with Milwaukee, it will make for the most intriguing contract negotiations in the history of 30th-round draft choices.
California high school first baseman Trevor Gretzky, the son of hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, was taken by the Cubs in the seventh round. Trevor Gretzky now must choose between playing for San Diego State coach Tony Gwynn and a pro baseball career that’ll target him for a lot of interminable bus rides around a Class A Rookie League.
The more pressing question: How did the son of the best hockey player ever to lace up a pair of skates gravitate to baseball?
“He’s grown up in the Southwest, and he’s never really had a desire to skate,” Wayne Gretzky told ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” in 2008. “If you can’t skate, you can’t play in the NHL. It’s pretty simple.”
Kyle Gaedele, chosen by the Padres out of Valparaiso University in the sixth-round, has a family connection to the goofiest scheme ever concocted by the late Bill Veeck. Which is saying something: During his years as principal owner of the Indians, St. Louis Browns and White Sox, Veeck had no peers as a salesman and showman.
In 1951, Veeck signed Kyle Gaedele’s great uncle, Eddie Gaedel, to a one-day contract. Weighing 65 pounds, standing 3-foot-7 and wearing the uniform number of 1/8, Eddie Gaedel emerged from a cake between games of a Browns-Tigers doubleheader, then had an at-bat in the second game. Crouched in a stance that limited the pitcher’s strike zone to an inch and a half or so, Gaedel walked on four pitches.
Although the American League would void the contract – after he was replaced by a pinch runner, Gaedel never again took the field – the stunt has been preserved in the baseball record book, which lists Eddie Gaedel’s career on-base percentage at a perfect 1.000.
As for Kyle Gaedele – the “e” at the end of the last name is the family’s traditional spelling – he’s a 6-4 outfielder who remains proud of his great uncle’s quirky legacy.
There are some other names to ponder from the draft, such as Rock Shoulders, a 25th round selection of the Red Sox. A junior college first baseman from Florida, his real first name is Roderick. But, c’mon. With a nickname like Rock and a last name like Shoulders, his baseball card will be worth a million bucks should he ever advance to the bigs.
The Giants selected St. John’s shortstop Joe Panik in the 29th round – headline writers are drooling – before the Mets chose University of Georgia reliever Malcolm Clapsaddle in the 48th round.
Just typing that name is fun.
And, finally, in this, the year of the pitcher, the A’s used their last-round pick – the 1,516th selection of the draft – on a Cypress College pitcher whose last name is Pitcher.
While I’m anxiously awaiting the day when I check out the baseball schedule and see a matchup between Clapsaddle vs. Pitcher, I dread the possibility I was classmates with their grandfathers.