Baseball legends passed up Springs 

click to enlarge E.J. Buzzie Bavasi, as the Dodgers general manager - from 1951-68, produced four World Series titles. - SCOTT LINNETT, SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE
  • Scott Linnett, San Diego Union-Tribune
  • E.J. Buzzie Bavasi, as the Dodgers general manager from 1951-68, produced four World Series titles.

Editor's note: This week, we bring you a change of pace for End Zone from football and the present tense. Instead, we have a sports version of Your Turn from Tom Cushman, a longtime sports editor and columnist Colorado Springs, Philadelphia, San Diego who now is retired and divides his time between here and San Diego. It's a fascinating tale about two of baseball's towering figures from the last century, who passed up the chance to spend their prime-time years here instead.

By Tom Cushman

At the corner of Union and Lexington boulevards in Colorado Springs' north corridor lies a small park named for the late Ford Frick, a designation that may seem curious to all but those most conversant with this city's history.

Major League Baseball archivists know Frick as that game's commissioner from 1951 through 1965, but others occupied that role both before and since without having a slice of local property set aside to commemorate the fact.

Prior to baseball beckoning, Ford Frick was a journalist with Colorado roots. A native of Indiana, he began his newspaper career at Walsenburg, then became a resident of the Springs, where he was employed by the Colorado Springs Telegraph (1919-21). Moving on to the elite pool, Frick became a reporter and columnist for the New York American, then the New York Evening Journal, had a popular nightly radio program on that city's major station, WOR, and eventually became ghostwriter for Babe Ruth's autobiography. Late in 1934 Frick was offered, and accepted, the position as president of baseball's National League.

Frick still was serving in that capacity when team owners named him commissioner in 1951. However, according to a close friend from those years, baseball's

chain of stewardship and Frick's Colorado Springs profile could have been altered significantly by a situation that developed a year earlier.

Perhaps no one other than family members knew Ford Frick better than E.J. "Buzzie" Bavasi. The two met as college classmates at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., and became close friends. Their paths continually re-crossed, with Frick a baseball administrator at a time when Bavasi was climbing the Brooklyn Dodgers' executive ladder.

According to Bavasi, who was general manager of the Dodgers' AAA franchise at Montreal in 1950, he was contacted toward the end of that year by Frick.

"He told me the owners of the Colorado Springs Gazette-Telegraph had offered him a job as that newspaper's editor," Bavasi recalled earlier this year. "And Ford said one of his stipulations in negotiations was that he be allowed to bring me along as business manager.

"My wife and I discussed it at length, but eventually decided that working for a pal might not be the best thing for a friendship that included all our family members. So, I called Ford and said we'd decided against it. And Ford turned down the job."

A year later Frick became commissioner and Bavasi elevated to general manager of the Dodgers, a position he maintained well beyond the team's move to Los Angeles. During 1969, Bavasi became minority owner and first president of the expansion San Diego Padres. His final tenure was as vice president and general manager of the California Angels.

At age 92, Bavasi these days lives in retirement on one of the highest points in the San Diego suburb of La Jolla, with sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean and a seemingly bottomless supply of stories gleaned from an era when baseball was more about performance and less about serpentine routes to the record book.

Frick preserved history

As we prepared for a summer that would see Hank Aaron's career record for home runs disappear beneath Bonds' spike marks, Bavasi would recall Ford Frick's dilemma during 1961 the first season that baseball's schedule was advanced to 162 games from the previous standard of 154. It also was the year when Roger Maris of the Yankees was making a relentless run at Babe Ruth's single-season mark of 60 home runs. As Maris drew near, baseball writers began asking Frick how a new record would be handled.

Frick's reply was simple. If the mark were broken within 154 games, the Maris record would be the only one in the books. But if the 61st homer were deposited during the final eight contests (which it was), then both the Ruth and Maris totals would be granted equal stature in the record book.

"Ford's ruling was controversial," says Buzzie Bavasi. "I agreed with it, though, because of my regard for rules. If owners could change the number of games played, what was to prevent them from changing the distance between bases, the distance from mound to home plate?

"With Ford, integrity of the game was foremost. You played by the rules. He once fined me $100 because I made out only five copies of a trade agreement instead of the seven specified. He added to money owed by Maury Wills for "making a mockery of our great game' by paying a $100 fine at home plate with a bagful of pennies."

Given Ford Frick's stance on the Maris issue, what might be his reaction to Bonds, who now owns both the single season and career home run records while under a cloud of steroid suspicion?

"Tough question," says Bavasi. "Did Barry do something illegal? If it is proven that he has, and knowing Ford as I did, he'd probably suspend Bonds for life."

There, of course, were scalawags aplenty in earlier years. One of the tales from Bavasi's treasure house of memories is of a visit to St. Louis for a weekend series during the early 1950s shortly after then-Cardinals owner Fred Saigh was convicted of income-tax evasion.

Invited to share the owner's box at Sportsman's Park, several blocks from of the Mississippi River, Bavasi and several family members accepted.

Bavasi's young niece was seated next to Saigh, who, attempting to be gracious, asked if there was anything besides watching baseball she'd like to do while visiting in the city.

"I'd like to take a ride in your boat," the girl replied.

"But, I don't have a boat," Saigh said. "Why would you think I do?"

"Why not?" asked Buzzie's niece. "My uncle told me you were going up the river."


Contest winners

This city has thousands of sports fans, but apparently not sports trivia buffs. In the first batch of entrants for the "Ralph's back" trivia contest, nobody aced the test.

Those who fared best are listed below as Week 1 winners of tickets to a remaining Rockies home game. To identify yourself and redeem, contact Lori at 577-4545.

The winners: Dan Fenner, Rick Guenther, Rich Johnson, Sharon Horrocks, Justin Ratzlaff, Duane Martinez, Patricia Blackburn, Anne Gartin, Robert Garrett, Diana Bayette, Greg Gartin, Dana Delahoy, Cathy Woods, Kay Anderson, Terry Reed, Anne Micklewright, Becky Schack, Sally Sparhawk, Dan Fielding, Sandie Giles, Brad Pedersen, Donelle Valdez, Pat Salazar, Bec Lewton, Sheri James, Tim Cordova, James Howard, Jacqui Gates and John Gartin.

Sports Shot

Long roads back: Air Force receives votes in the AP and USA Today/ESPN college football weekly polls; Colorado College is 2-0 for the first time since 1994.

See the headline? Jim Thome, arguably the best former Sky Sox player (1991-92), hit his 500th major-league homer Sunday, a game-winner for the Chicago White Sox.

Friday matine: Air Academy (3-0) at Sierra (2-1), Harrison Memorial Stadium, 4 p.m. Friday.

TV advice: Unless you're an Air Force fan, check out the aspen Saturday, then sit down Sunday and watch San Diego at Green Bay (11 a.m., CBS), Jacksonville at Denver (2:05 p.m., CBS) and Dallas at Chicago (6:15 p.m., NBC).

Perspective: How big was Air Force's 20-17 win over TCU? It was the biggest for the Falcons since beating Brigham Young for the WAC title in 1998.

Ralph's picks

At least one predicted upset has come through for three consecutive weeks. Never could have expected Utah killing UCLA. Here's Week 4:

Upset specials

N.C. State (taking 8) vs. Clemson

Georgia (taking 4) at Alabama

Ohio U. (taking 3 at home) vs. Wyoming

Against the spread

Tulsa (taking 20 at home) vs. Oklahoma

Air Force (taking 9) at Brigham Young

Miami, Ohio (taking 12) at Colorado

Navy (giving 10) at home vs. Duke

Kentucky (taking 7) at Arkansas


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