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Nightengale's Notebook: Four retiring MLB legends you need to know; 2021 award picks

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Each of them have earned World Series rings, but only one ever played Major League Baseball, and that was 50 years ago.

Only one can be found in the daily box score. Only one can be found folding laundry and handing out uniforms. And only one writes press notes, deals every day with the media and in 2021, orchestrates daily Zoom rooms.

Together, they make up baseball’s Mount Rushmore, the kings of their crafts.

And on Sunday each are walking away from the game they love, and, oh, how everyone in this game sure loved them right back.

There is umpire Gerry Davis, who will umpire behind the plate Sunday for the Cardinals-Cubs game in his hometown of St. Louis one last time, and retire after umpiring his 5,000th game.

There is Cardinals broadcaster Mike Shannon, who will be behind the microphone in his luxurious Busch Stadium radio booth, stepping down after 50 years.

There is Mike Swanson – raised in Kansas City where his mom was a revered secretary for the Chiefs and legendary coach Hank Stram – sitting in the Kauffman Stadium press box, retiring after 43 years as the Royals' decorated public relations director.

There is Steve Vucinich, a batboy once recommended for a job by Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio, retiring after 54 years as the revered Oakland Athletics equipment manager.

We’re talking about nearly 200 years combined in the game by this beloved quartet, whose grace and dignity will never be forgotten, and will be sorely missed by those of us privileged to call each of them a friend.

Mike Shannon

He was the colorful radio voice of the Cardinals for the past half-century. He was their version of Harry Caray with the southern charm of Ernie Harwell. His radio booth, the largest in the major leagues, became the most popular place in St. Louis.

You’d have governors, senators, actors, astronauts, generals and dignitaries sitting in the back of the booth during games, enjoying themselves with food and adult beverages, while Shannon was on the air, entertaining folks in between innings.

"The most recognizable figures for Anheuser-Busch are the Clydesdales and Mike Shannon, and not necessarily in that order," says Mike Claiborne, one of Shannon’s broadcasting partner and close friends for the past 40 years. "He probably sold more beer for Anheuser-Busch than all of their Super Bowl ads put together.

"He was a guy that made you feel like you were sitting together at a bar watching the game. You just felt so comfortable."

Shannon, 82, born and raised in St. Louis, won two World Series titles playing for the Cardinals, went to the radio booth after retiring, and became the most celebrated voice for the Cardinals behind only Hall of Fame broadcaster Jack Buck. He’s one of only six baseball broadcasters in history who spent at least 50 years with the same team.

"As a kid growing up in St. Louis, turning on the radio," says former Cardinals World Series hero David Freese, "you couldn’t wait to hear Mike’s voice describe the game and his passion for Cardinals’ baseball. Even when I played there, you’d see him getting us all fired up walking into the clubhouse."

Shannon was also tough. He could have been a Heisman Trophy winner if he went to the University of Missouri to play quarterback instead of signing with the Cardinals, former coach Frank Broyles once said.

Early in his career, Shannon challenged a racist heckler and his friends to a fight and earning the respect and affection of his black teammates.

The only time he ever seemed vulnerable was last winter when he found himself in an ICU unit battling for his life with COVID-19, with doctors telling his wife, Lori, he wasn’t going to make it.

"I remember flying back to St. Louis but we couldn’t see him in the hospital," said Tim Shannon, his son. "He tells me, 'These [bleeps] think I’m going to die. I’m not going to die.’ I said, 'Dad, will you please pay attention to them and listen.’

"Now, here he is, and it’s going to be emotional for him and my family. It’s just been a great love affair between dad and the Cardinals Nation, with so many people across the country listening him over the years. He had that unique relationship with the fan base. The fans felt like they knew him even though they never met him, and he felt the same, loving them right back."

Says Claiborne: "He’s been a mentor, a teammate, and helped make me a better person. Believe me, he’s going to be missed."

Mike Swanson waves goodbye in Kansas City.
Mike Swanson waves goodbye in Kansas City.

Mike Swanson

Swanson can’t remember the last time anyone called him, "Mike."

It’s Swanee, who has been a public relations director with the San Diego Padres, Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies, and finally back home with the Royals since 2006.

Now, after 43 years, he decided the time has come to call it a career, where his retirement is drawing the most attention by a Royal since George Brett.

"The outpouring of congratulations from people I haven’t seen or talked to in years is just silly, but in a good way," Swanson, 67, said. "I keep hearing the word 'impact.' I didn’t realize I made an impact. I just showed up every day and followed my conscience."

When Swanson announced his retirement – well, when his daughter, Rachel, actually broke the news on Twitter in June – he proudly said that he had never missed a day of work in his career. Every single game he was scheduled to work, he was there. The only games he missed were in 2007 when he attended the 2007 Hall of Fame ceremony for Tony Gwynn and Royals broadcaster Denny Mathews.

"So, I pop off that I never missed a game," Swanson says, "and then on July 7 (2021), I had to miss a game to have back surgery. I thought, OK, it’s just one game. Then, on Aug. 5 in Chicago, I got this big fever. I thought I had COVID. I fainted five times in my room. Even in all of my great years of drinking, I never fainted."

He was admitted to the Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago where he was diagnosed with Clostridioides difficile, a bacterial infection of the large intestine. He missed seven games while in the hospital, got out, and immediately went back to work as the Royals returned to Chicago to play the Cubs.

Instead of taking it easy and simply working in the press box, Swanson found himself on the mound, throwing out the ceremonial first pitch. The Cubs told Swanson their mascot would catch him. Swanson asked if he could instead have Cubs announcer Boog Sciambi or Cubs former Cy Young winner Rick Sutcliffe catch him.

Sciambi, his close friend, passed. Sutcliffe, who Swanson has known since high school, volunteered. And the rest is history.

Swanson’s pitch was a little low and outside, Sutcliffe casually stuck his glove out, missed it, and Swanson walked up to Sutcliffe and yelled: "I should have let the mascot catch me. My refrigerator has more range that you."

The Royals had a surprise party for him last week in Detroit where the entire team awaited him. The folks at Fenway gave him his nameplate from the Green Monster. And there have been golf clubs, golf clothes, cakes and gifts given to him through many of his final stops.

The coolest experience, though, was Joe Buck and John Smoltz singing his praises during the All-Star game broadcast with pictures of Swanson on the screen.

"I had a lot of mind-blowing experiences the last few months," Swanson says, "but that was unbelievable."

Swanson, who will assist the public relations crew during the World Series one last time, says the time is right to retire. He wants to play more golf. He may move out of the cold to Arizona. And he can’t wait to ignore the cell phone, no longer needing for it to be by his side 24 hours a day.

"It’s time," Swanson says. "I’ve given all I can give. I don’t want to be that guy in press box watching a guy holding a couple of paddles over me, and yell, 'Clear.’

"This has not been a job, it’s been a privilege."

Gerry Davis during an August game in Cleveland.
Gerry Davis during an August game in Cleveland.

Gerry Davis

Davis was actually planning to retire a year ago.

Then, COVID-19 got in the way, and he sat out all of last season.

This year, he was going to umpire 43 games, and immediately retire, only to have his heart to get in the way.

A physical in spring training revealed that he had atrial fibrillation. He was immediately put on blood thinners. But if you’re on blood thinners, MLB regulations prohibit you from working as an umpire for fear of getting hit by a pitch, or cut, causing excessive bleeding that could lead to death.

Davis opted to have a Watchman implanted in his heart, enabling him to stop using blood thinners after three months, but required therapy.

He started his rehab in late July, went back to work in August, and with the assistance of MLB officials, finagled the schedule where he could work his 5,000th game in his hometown of St. Louis – where he once tended bar at Thurmer’s, a local saloon.

He will step down having umpired a major-league record 151 postseason games, covering six World Series, 11 League Championship Series and 13 Division Series.

There’s only one other person who was on the field for more postseason games.

His name is Derek Jeter, the Yankees’ Hall of Fame shortstop.

"I wanted to go out this way, in my hometown of St. Louis," says Davis, who will have 130 friends and family members at the game, and a celebration afterwards at a downtown hotel. "I’m pretty blessed."

Former umpire Terry Tata, who was on Davis’ crew for more games than any other umpire, joked that it’s not really 5,000 games, saying the postseason doesn’t count, leaving him at 4,849 games.

"He told me, 'Well, I’m counting it! To me, it’s 5,000,' " Tata said. "It’s pretty unbelievable what he’s done. No one is ever going to umpire 5,000 games again."

Indeed, and history was made Thursday night when Davis umpired with Joe West, making them the first duo with at least 5,000 games to umpire the same game.

"I have 40 years of service, Joe has 44 years of service, and with 10,000 games combined, that will never, ever happen again," says Davis, only the fourth umpire to work 5,000 games.

Davis, who attended the first game at Busch Stadium in 1966, and still has the certificate to prove it, also umpired the final game at the original Busch Stadium.

The game he may be most remembered for may be that July 26, 2017 game when he ejected Texas Rangers All-Star third baseman Adrian Beltre.

The Rangers were getting crushed, 22-10, by the Miami Marlins, when Beltre was standing outside the on-deck circle. Davis, who was umpiring second base, ordered him to return to the on-deck circle.

Beltre, who had three hits and a homer in the game, refused, and instead dragged the on-deck circle to where he stood. Davis immediately ejected him.

"It was funny as hell," Davis said. "But obviously, I had kind of drawn the line in the sand. And when he moved the on-deck circle, he didn’t give me a choice.

"The next night, he got on first base, took off his leg guard and said, 'Hello, Mr. Davis.' "

Now, after umpiring his first game on June 9, 1982 in Montreal, with the Cardinals facing the Expos, it’s only fitting his last game is with the Cardinals.

"Father Time catches up with everyone, and I’ve seen too many guys leave our profession because of injuries," Davis says. "But I was lucky. Never once did I have a broken bone. I had a few concussions, but never a broken bone.

"This is the perfect time for me to leave. I don’t have buyer’s remorse at all. I’m looking forward to going straight from behind the plate to my La-Z-Boy."

Steve Vucinich waves to the crowd in Oakland while being honored before a game.
Steve Vucinich waves to the crowd in Oakland while being honored before a game.

Steve Vucinich

Vucinich was hired by the Oakland A’s as a peanut vendor at the Oakland Coliseum in 1968.

Fifty-four years later, he never left.

Until now.

Vucinich, the A’s equipment manager, will work his last regular-season game Sunday. He’ll return to help out the staff in spring training, but when the equipment trucks leave Mesa, Ariz., for Oakland, he’ll stay behind.

Who would ever have thought he’d stay with the A’s just as long as Connie Mack,?

Then again, Mack was never a peanut vendor, ball boy, visiting clubhouse attendant, home clubhouse attendant, or equipment manager.

The man was there for the first game ever played in Oakland, all six World Series appearances, assisting everyone from Billy Martin to Tony La Russa, from Jose Canseco to Carney Lansford, from Dennis Eckersley to Dave Stewart.

And, if not for a certain Hall of Famer named Joe DiMaggio, Vucinich perhaps never gets into baseball, where he has worked in Oakland longer than most of the employees have been alive.

DiMaggio, who was an A’s vice president at the time, heard Vucinich ask equipment manager Al Zych for a job, paying $5 a day, in 1968.

"What high school do you go to, kid?" DiMaggio asked.

"St. Joe’s," Vucinich said.

DiMaggio: "He’s Catholic, Al. Hire him."

Now, 54 years later, Vucinich is asked if DiMaggio really is the reason he landed the job?

"I would have gotten the job anyways," Vucinich says, laughing, "but it makes for a good story."

Vucinch has thousands of others, most he’ll take to the grave with him, but his favorite memory will always be 1972, the year the A’s won their first World Series over the powerful Big Red Machine of the Cincinnati Reds.

"We beat the Big Red Machine," Vucinich says. "And when we flew back to Oakland, there must have been 100,000 fans waiting for us, and they took over the tarmac."

Life was simpler back in those days. There was only one home and road uniform for each players, not the dozens of different jerseys and caps players wear each year, not to mention all of the different style of clothes.

Players used to arrive at 4 p.m. for night games. These days, they are there by noon.

"I remember when I started I’d have to sneak guys a hot dog and sandwich before games because everyone thought players couldn’t play well on a full stomach," Vucinich says.

"And we always had plenty of beer."

These days, there’s a personal chef in every clubhouse. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are out. Salmon and steak are in. And there’s not a tap, or even can of beer, to be found.

Vucinich stayed loyal right to the end, with the A’s honoring him in a pregame celebration last week before their final home game, even naming the clubhouse in his honor. He’ll be inducted into the A’s Hall of Fame next summer.

"Not a lot of guys get to go out on their own terms," Vucinich says. "You see guys pushed out, forced out, or just fired. I get to leave on my own, and now travel. I’ve got a cruise to Alaska planned next summer. A fishing trip to Montana. I was to do all of the things everyone else has always done in the summer.

"The only trouble is that I’ve gotten so many cigars in going-away presents that I’ll never be able to smoke them all."

The envelope, please...

The final day of the regular season is Sunday, and members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America must turn in their ballots for baseball’s most prestigious awards.

There are 30 voters representing every city for the four awards, which are due before the start of the postseason.

It’s an honor and privilege to be a voter for three decades, and although I’m an official voter for only one award, here is my ballot.

American League MVP

Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles Angels: The season Vladimir Guerrero has produced for the Toronto Blue Jays has been sensational with his 47 homers. But what Ohtani has done is historic.

National League MVP

Bryce Harper, Philadelphia Phillies: He singlehandedly kept the Phillies in the NL East race until the final days of the season, with a second-half surge we haven’t seen since the days of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Barry Bonds. Meanwhile, Fernando Tatis Jr. was the face of the Padres’ historic collapse, and called out publicly by teammate Manny Machado, saying, "It’s not about you!"

AL Cy Young

Robbie Ray, Blue Jays: When you lead the league with a 2.84 ERA and pitch more innings than anyone while keeping your team in the playoff race, you've earned yourself the award. He gets the nod over Gerrit Cole of the Yankees, who had a 5.13 ERA in six September starts.

NL Cy Young

Corbin Burnes, Brewers: This race is a doozy, but when the smokes clears, Burnes and his 2.43 ERA gets the nod over Max Scherzer of the Dodgers, who gave up 10 earned runs and 17 hits over 10 ⅓ innings in his last two starts. Burnes is also the first pitcher in history to lead his league in strikeout rate, walk rate and home-run rate.

AL Rookie of the Year

Randy Arozarena, Rays: Arozarena will be the first player to win the ALCS MVP award one year, and the Rookie of the Year the next. Adolis Garcia of the Texas Rangers certainly made it an interesting debate with his 31 homers and 90 RBI.

NL Rookie of the Year

Jonathan India, Reds: Frankly, it wasn’t even close. He leads all NL rookies in hits, runs, RBI, extra-base hits, total bases, on-base percentage, OPS, doubles and walks. He’s the first Reds’ rookie to score at least 96 runs with 56 extra-base hits since Hall of Famer Frank Robinson in 1956.

AL Manager of the Year

Kevin Cash, Rays: They lost two of their top starters in Blake Snell and Charlie Morton in the offseason, lost ace Tyler Glasnow to injury, traded their shortstop and closer during the season, and still managed to win more games than any team in the American League. Yet, if you believe the Rays’ success belongs solely with the front office, Dusty Baker of Houston Astros or Tony La Russa of the Chicago White Sox are perfectly valid choices.

NL Manager of the Year

Gabe Kapler, Giants: When you enter Sunday with 106 victories, managing a team that wasn’t expected to finish better than third, there’s no reason to even talk about any other manager. He’ll be the unanimous choice.

Gabe Kapler is the favorite for the NL Manager of the Year award.
Gabe Kapler is the favorite for the NL Manager of the Year award.

Around the basepaths

– San Diego Padres GM A.J. Preller really had no previous intention to fire manager Jayce Tingler, his close friend. Yet, when players are calling and texting their ownership and front office that Tingler lost the clubhouse and his inexperience exposed for all of the world to see, Preller really has no choice. Tingler will likely be the 22nd manager or coach fired from their big-league team since 2015.

Bruce Bochy is the obvious choice to take over, but don’t rule out Bob Melvin of the Oakland A’s, either, while Buck Showalter also a candidate.

– Carlos Correa of the Houston Astros may be a better all-around shortstop than Francisco Lindor, and believes he deserves a similar 10-year, $341 million contract, but sorry, it’s not happening.

The Astros certainly have no intention of offering a deal that starts at $200 million, let alone $300 million. Remember, the biggest contract they ever gave to a player since Jim Crane became owner was the four-year, $52 million deal for Josh Reddick.

The biggest bidder for Correa’s services could be the Detroit Tigers, who say they will spend, and could reunite Correa with manager A.J. Hinch.

– A year ago, Clayton Kershaw was crying with joy in front of friends and family, hoisting the World Series trophy high above his head in the infield of Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas.

Now, he is faced with the anguish that he might have thrown his last pitch for the Dodgers, and perhaps the last of his career if he needs Tommy John surgery.

He left his last start with sharp pain in his forearm, and is likely out for the year.

"I know that we’re going to do something special this year," Kershaw said, "and I wanted to be a part of that. That’s the hardest part for me right now is just knowing that chances are it’s not looking great for October."

– Was there a worse decision by a baseball team this past year than the A’s letting hometown favorite Marcus Semien leave when he was begging to stay, and replace him with Elvis Andrus?

Semien has 44 homers, 101 RBI and an .869 OPS for the Toronto Blue Jays, and will finish in the top-5 of the MVP race.

Andrus hit three home runs with 37 RBI and a .614 OPS.

– The Rays have won the same number of division titles (four) while appearing in one more World Series than the Yankees since 2008 (2 to 1), despite a payroll that is nearly a combined $2 billion less over the past 13 years.

"I think the guys really cherish the idea of going in and playing teams that have bigger payrolls and have the $25 million and $30 million players," manager Kevin Cash told the Tampa Bay Times. "And then you look up at the end of the year and see where we are."

The Rays aren’t going away, either.

– How awful are the Arizona Diamondbacks?

The entered Sunday with a 51-110 record, 55 games out of first place. It is the furthest any team has finished out of first place since the 1962 Mets.

The Diamondbacks also are the first NL team to lose at least 110 games in two different seasons since expansion in 1969.

– The craziest stat of the season is that the Dodgers are 42-13 since acquiring Max Scherzer and Trea Turner at the July 30 trade deadline.

And have picked up only one game on the San Francisco Giants.

Ouch.

– If the Red Sox reach the postseason, they better score some runs if they’re to last longer than one game.

They are just 10-52 this season (.161) when scoring three or fewer runs. Since the trade deadline, the Red Sox are just 6-20 against the Rays, Yankees, Blue Jays and White Sox.

– There will be a statue of Adam Wainwright one day outside Busch Stadium.

Wainwright, 40, who signed a one-year extension for the 2022 season, is getting better with age. Since the start of the 2020 season, he leads the major leagues with 29 quality starts and five complete games. He ranks second with 22 victories and 272 innings pitched.

Wainwright likely will retire after the 2022 season, joining catcher Yadier Molina – but kept the door slightly ajar.

"I’m almost certainly going to ride off with him, but I’m not formally saying that" Wainwright said. "Several of my favorite athletes growing up retired like three times, and I don’t want to retire three times. When I say I’m done, I want to know that I’m done."

– Giants outfielder "Late Night" LaMonte Wade Jr. now has six game-tying or go-ahead hits in the ninth inning or later, the most by any player in the past 40 seasons, according to STATS Inc. He is hitting .565 in the ninth inning with 12 RBI in 23 at-bats, including a 1.409 OPS.

– Atlanta GM Alex Alex Anthopoulos let everyone in on a secret when they clinched the NL East division this week.

"We added an ice cream machine in the clubhouse during the year," Anthopoulos said. "Freddie really wanted it. We were going back and forth on texts in June and I said, 'If we win the division I’m getting one delivered to your house.' "

– Atlanta second baseman Ozzie Albies, 5-foot-8, is the second-shortest player to produce a 30 homer, 100 RBI, 100-run season – behind only Hack Wilson, who was 5-foot-6.

– The anatomy of the St. Louis Cardinals’ 17-game winning streak:

They outscored the opposition, 115-53, hit .292, slugged .540, hit 34 homers and produced 74 extra-base hits.

The pitching staff yielded a major-league best 2.92 ERA with the most saves (10).

They stole 12 bases, and were never caught once.

They had two shutouts, and nine times held the opposition to two or fewer runs.

– Dodgers Hall of Fame broadcaster Jaime Jarrín, who announced that he’ll retire after next season, his 64th in MLB, is one of the classiest people you’ll ever meet in any walk of life and will be badly missed.

"I’ve been contemplating the decision for the last few months," Jarrín, 85, said. "I think it’s a good time to put an end to my 64-year vacation because my job is a vacation because I like it so much."

Jarrín has called three perfect games, 22 no-hitters, 30 World Series and 30 All-Star games.

– The Rays are rather enjoying Yankee Stadium these days. Tampa Bay was 12-3 (through Saturday) since the start of the 2020 season in the Bronx, compared to 32-64 for all other visiting teams.

– The funniest line of the week belongs to beloved Brewers broadcaster Bob Uecker during their 50-year anniversary celebration.

Uecker, when asked how much longer he’ll continue to broadcast Brewers games: "I don’t want to be in a spot where I’m going to embarrass myself on the air or embarrass the organization. So, I always wear a diaper."

Follow Nightengale on Twitter: @Bnightengale

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: MLB legends are retiring in 2021 – but you may not know these four