Spoiler alert: at the end of this story, we pick the likely winner of this year’s World Series. Hint, it won’t be the Red Sox. (Or the New York Mets.)
But that’s getting ahead of the point here in this Today’s Read feature. Since it is October and World Series season, baseball seems like an appropriate topic to address this morning. Also, it’s a perfect topic because almost everyone loves baseball and its lore, or at least a large group of us over the age of 40 still love the sport and talk about it occasionally.
Even if you don’t call yourself a baseball fan, though, people who work in the optical business should be aware of a couple cool things and instances in which baseball and optical have connected over the years. Without further ado, here are five things to throw out to your friends at any World Series party (are these a thing?) that bring the worlds of eyewear and baseball together in a happy –or at least interesting – combination.
Reggie Jackson, the one-time Oakland Athletic and subsequently the straw that stirred the drink called the New York Yankees, is one of only two baseball Hall of Famers who wore eyeglasses on the field during their playing days. Jackson is probably best known for hitting three home runs in Game 6 of the 1977 World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers (two teams that could meet again this year).
The other Hall of Famer? Chick Hafey of the St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds who played in the 1920s and early 1930s. Eyesight problems did not prevent Hafey from winning a National League batting title and “hitting over .300 in seven straight seasons (1927-33), both before and after he donned eyeglasses,” according to the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR). Read more about Chick Hafey.
Hold onto your drinks because this little cocktail-party nugget is almost unbelievable. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, a really hard-throwing pitcher (we’re talking 100 mph in the 1950s) named Ryne Duren was determined to pitch in the major leagues. However, Duren was diagnosed with myopia and reported to have 20/70 vision in his left eye and 20/200 vision in his right eye (legal blindness is vision that cannot be corrected to better than 20/200 in your best eye), along with poor depth perception and an acute sensitivity to light. When it was said that Duren “put the fear of God into opposing hitters,” it’s understandable why.
“The combination of my eyesight and the poorly lighted minor league ballparks made it very difficult for me to see the catcher's signs,” Duren said after he allowed 114 bases on balls in just 85 innings one year. Persistence paid off though, and after struggling through eight years in the minors, Duren hit it big with the Yankees in 1958. In the first two months of the season, he saved seven games and “amazed fans and sportswriters with his strikeouts,” according to a SABR story about Duren. He finished the season with a league-high 20 saves in 44 games, struck out 87 batters in 75 2/3 innings and limited hitters to a .157 batting average.
Ok, so you want something more recent to talk about? Well, after the Boston Red Sox won the World Series a year ago (beating the Dodgers in five games), the Hall of Fame collected eight “game-used” items from the team for a display at the Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown. Among the eight items: the thick eyeglasses worn by relief pitcher Joe Kelly during the Series. Kelly pitched 11 1/3 innings against the Dodgers and allowed just one earned run. For Red Sox fans, who can forget that in the Series-clinching game Kelly combined with Chris Sale to strike out the last six Los Angeles Dodgers to come to the plate? Kelly pitches for the Dodgers now, and we may see him again in the World Series later this month.
The first umpire to wear eyeglasses on the field was Frank Umont, who worked in the American League from 1954 until 1973. Interestingly, Umont played offensive line for the New York Football Giants from 1943 to 1945. (Hat tip here to former colleague and award-winning sportswriter Andrew Linker, who provided input to this story.) Umont umpired in four World Series, four All-Star Games and a league championship series. Over the latter part of his career, he became known for wearing eyeglasses on the job.
Joe Maddon, who guided the Cubs to a World Series title, may be on his way to the West Coast and a new team next season (he parted ways with the Cubs when his contract expired in September), but it’s not too late to order a pair of over-sized Maddon-like Wayfarers for a wall display. The website Etsy is offering 10-inch look-alike Joe Maddon glasses for $64 as part of its “Eyeglasses for the Wall” collection. But hurry: only two left. You can order the replica glasses on Etsy.
Ok, so now the part you’ve been waiting for: who will win this year’s World Series? It’s going to be a challenging road getting by the Minnesota Twins and (probably) the Houston Astros, but this fall has the feel of another New York Yankees classic. So, with 27 championships already in the bag, we predict the Yankees capture No. 28 this month, in a six-game World Series victory over the Dodgers.