Mehno: Coghlan slide into Kang isn’t dirty

PITTSBURGH – “Hard” and “aggressive” are among the words that can describe the slide that ended Jung Ho Kang’s season.

“Dirty” isn’t one of them.

Chris Coghlan of the Chicago Cubs went hard into second base to break up a potential double play. That’s what he was supposed to do.

It’s a common play at second base. If there have been 300 of them this month, 299 ended without incident. This one didn’t. Kang’s injuries will require a recovery period of at least six months.

Kang’s mistake was planting his left leg in the path of the base runner. Coghlan had nowhere to go, and Kang’s leg was destined to take the brunt of the impact.

There’s a ballet at second base that plays out game after game. The fielder either darts to the side or leaps above the sliding runner to avoid the contact. Kang did neither, and he would up in the hospital.

Unfortunate? Of course. But it wasn’t dirty.

Milo Hamilton

Milo Hamilton was the wrong guy in the wrong place at the wrong time when he took over as the Pirates’ chief announcer in 1976.

Anyone following Bob Prince would have been in trouble, especially given the controversial circumstances of Prince’s firing after 28 years in the booth.

The job called for someone who could shrug off the inevitable criticism. That wasn’t Hamilton, who died last week at 88.

He was thin-skinned to the point that he attempted to track down people who wrote critical letters to the newspaper. He was paranoid to the point that he claimed Prince was manipulating writers to give him bad press.

Hamilton was fresh from Atlanta, where he had been fired after 10 years. Pittsburgh was another stop in a nomadic career that befit an announcer of Hamilton’s generic talents.

He was incredibly thorough and meticulous in his preparation. He kept statistical records so detailed the Braves’ public relations department often borrowed his legders.

He bragged that he never went to bed after a game until he had updated his books.

He was clinically efficient. His facts checked out, he described the game accurately, and he had a classic big announcer voice. But there was no soul, and listeners picked up on that. Hamilton was a guy keeping stats and punching a time clock that happened to be in Pittsburgh.

His connection to the region went no further than his frequent references to Poli’s, his favorite restaurant.

His people skills were minimal. He treated junior partner Lanny Frattare like an intern. He was in the habit of addressing the elderly engineer who worked in the booth by his last name.

He lasted four seasons, and the criticism never went away. He escaped to Chicago after the 1979 season, hand-picked by longtime announcer Jack Brickhouse to succeed him as the Cubs’ voice.

That plan blew up when the Cubs were sold to the Tribune Corporation and Harry Caray was lured away from the White Sox. Caray’s ego exceeded Hamilton’s, and the two renewed a rancorous relationship that had festered years earlier in St. Louis. Hamilton denigrated Caray as “The Canary” behind his back. Hamilton fled at the first chance, finding a home in Houston, where he closed his career in 2012.

He was a hard worker who traveled the full schedule well into his 70s. He soldiered on through leukemia. He endured the deaths of his wife and daughter and called games on a curtailed schedule until he was 85.

There were things to admire about Hamilton. But there’s a story that speaks volumes about him.

In Hamilton’s first season, 1976, the Pirates were leaving Shea Stadium. The bus driver had two choices and took the wrong one, trapping the bus in hopeless New York City gridlock.

The bus didn’t move. The embarrassed driver turned to general manager Joe L. Brown, who was in the first seat with manager Danny Murtaugh, and said, “I’m sorry, I thought going this way would avoid the traffic.”

Before Brown or Murtaugh could respond, Hamilton’s baritone boomed from several rows back, “That’s why you’re only a (expletive) bus driver.”

A lot of people will remember Hamilton for calling Henry Aaron’s 715th home run. Others will remember the way he thought it was his right to cruelly humiliate a bus driver who made a mistake.

(Mehno can be reached at: johnmehnocolumn@gmail.com)


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