A VERY TOUGH 48 HOURS:  LOSING DON BAYLOR AND KEN KAISER

The deaths this week of Don Baylor and Ken Kaiser were tough to take. One of the worst things about growing old is seeing people you’ve known and admired pass on before your time comes. Everyone knows the feelings of emptiness. But we remember the good times, too.

Don Baylor and Bobby Grich were the superstars on the great 1971 Rochester Red Wings. It was in my first season as part of the newspaper crew covering the team. Don and Bobby were about the same age and we hit it off. They made my job easier and more fun. I was proud to get to know them.

I was shocked to hear that Don died early Monday. Bobby was on my News Radio WHAM 1180 show Tuesday night to share his thoughts on his long-time friend and roommate. He told me how often Don and he shared fond memories of their two great seasons at “Chester.” They remembered their teammates and the support of the fans.

I learned of Kenny’s death Wednesday morning.

Kenny was a larger-than-life character. He was a huge man and could be loud -- but if you were fortunate enough to know him, you had to like the big guy. He was full of life and held nothing back. He had strong opinions and was a blast to be around.

Kaiser, who grew up in Rochester and attended West High School, was a frequent guest on my radio show. I know my listeners enjoyed his takes on baseball. He was an umpire in the minors for 13 years and in the American League for 23 years. He loved the game and his job.

Before the umpires collectively submitted their resignations during labor negotiations in 1999, I cautioned Kenny on the air that it was a huge risk to threaten to walk out at a time when Major League Baseball was prepared to cut ties with many of the veteran umpires – including him.

When the labor battle dust cleared, Kaiser was among the umpires not invited back. It hurt him deeply.

Some of my fondest memories of Ken Kaiser:

He talked about life in the low minors for a young umpire – when he traded “game-used” stolen baseballs to pay for food and gas.

To help make ends meet as a young umpire, he was a pro wrestler – “The Hatchet” – wearing a black hood to hide his identity.  He usually lost – to the likes of Andre The Giant, Haystacks Calhoun and Dino Bravo. His cover was blown during a match Philadelphia, when his mask came off and a fellow umpire in the crowd recognized him.  It ended his mat career.

As an American League umpire, he worked the 1987 (30 years ago) and 1997 (20 years ago) World Series, the ALDS in 1981, 1996 and 1997; and the ALCS in 1980, 1988, 1993 and 1995. He also worked the 1991 All-Star Game.

He was a controversial umpire. He had feuds with fiery high-profile managers Billy Martin and Earl Weaver, who intimidated many umps – but not Kenny.

One sweltering summer afternoon in Chicago, Ken was umpiring at first base. The shadow from the right-field roof crept closer to the right field wall as the game progressed, and he followed the shade accordingly. In the late innings, he was standing roughly between first base and the right field fence.

In a 2004 column for ESPN MLB Insider, former pitcher Tom Candiotti remarked that Kaiser “wouldn’t move three steps to call a play.” An exaggeration, of course.

In a poll of fans, Ken was selected “most colorful umpire.” He liked that. In a poll a poll of American League players, he was voted “best balls-and-strikes” umpire. He loved that. In another poll of players, he was selected “worst umpire.” He scoffed and laughed that one off. He said the naysayers were mostly bad hitters and poor pitchers.

For many years in the 1980s, the annual “Ken Kaiser Celebrity Sports Dinner” was the best winter baseball dinner in the country. His mix of mostly American League superstars, managers and pro wrestlers sold out every time.

At one of the dinners, Ken invited me into a small room where the head table was assembling to be introduced. I’ve always been a baseball junkie and I was awed to be in the midst of Roger Clemens, Nolan Ryan, Don Mattingly, George Brett, Wade Boggs, Kirby Puckett, etc.

Kaiser’s 2003 book “Planet of the Umps” was a sports best-seller and a hilarious account of his life in and out of baseball.

Kenny loved horse racing. I remember the time he invited me to the old downtown OTB parlor on State Street. His buddy, Don Zimmer, was in town and Kaiser rented the parlor from noon to 3 p.m. The doors were locked to the public. By the time I arrived – around 2:30 p.m. – Kenny and Zimmer were gone. They left stacks of losing tickets worth a small fortune.

Kaiser was a frequent guest on my radio show for many years. I used to see him at the OTB parlor or at Finger Lakes quite a bit. I hadn’t seen him years. I had heard that he was in poor health. But it was a shock to learn of his death.

Knowing Don Baylor for a short time and respecting him for always and being a friend of Ken Kaiser for many years were blessings. R.I.P. guys. And thanks for all the great memories.

CAN THE DODGERS WIN 117 GAMES THIS REGULAR SEASON?

The Los Angeles Dodgers entered Wednesday night with a 79-33 record, including 44-8 since June 7.

Can they win a MLB-record 117 games this regular season?

Here are the winningest teams in MLB history:

1—1906 Chicago Cubs. They were 116-36 in the regular season for the all-time MLB-best .763 winning percentage. They outscored opponents 704-381 (+323). But they were upset in the World Series by the crosstown “Hitless Wonders” Chicago White Sox.

2—2001 Seattle Mariners. They were 116-46 (.716) and outscored opponents 927-607 (+300), but they lost 4-1 to the New York Yankees in the ALCS.

3—1998 New York Yankees. They were 114-48 (.704) and outscored opponents 965-656 (+309). They beat Texas (3-0) and Cleveland (4-2) in the AL playoffs before a 4-0 sweep over the grossly overmatched San Diego Padres in the World Series.

4—1954 Cleveland Indians. They were 111-43 (.721) and outscored opponents 746-504 (+242). They featured one of the all-time great pitching staffs but were swept 4-0 in the World Series by the underdog New York Giants, featuring Willie Mays and Johnny Antonelli.

t5—1909 Pittsburgh Pirates. They were 110-42 (.724), outscored opponents 701-448 (+253) and won the World Series 4-3 over the Detroit Tigers.

T5—1927 New York Yankees. They were 110-44 (.714), outscored opponents 976-605 (+371) and swept the Pittsburgh Pirates 4-0 in the World Series.

Only three of the six teams with at least 110 wins in the regular season went on to win the World Series.

Winning 117-or-more gamers would be a tremendous accomplishment for the 2017 Dodgers, but they’d need to cap it off with a World Series championship to merit as spot in the all-time best MLB debate.

Entering Tuesday night, the trusty FiveThirtyEight sports computer had the Dodgers on pace for 112 wins with a 13.5 percent probability of winning at least 117 games. It ranked the Dodgers the sixth-best team in MBL history through 111 games.

HOT PROSPECT STEPHEN GONSALVES COULD GIVE THE WINGS A BOOST

The Minnesota Twins recently promoted left-handed pitching prospect Stephen Gonsalves from the Double-A Chattanooga Lookouts to the Red Wings and he has the stuff to help Rochester make the playoffs. He’s expected to make his Red Wings debut Thursday night.

Here is Gonsalves’ pitching line for Chattanooga in 2016-17: 16-4 record; 2.28 ERA; 28 games, all starts; 161 2/3 innings; 110 hits allowed; 60 walks; 185 strikeouts; 1.052 WHIP (walks + hits per inning).

Minnesota’s fourth-round pick in the 2013 June amateur draft is 23 years old, 6-foot-5 and 213 pounds. The Twins expect him to be fixture in their starting rotation for many years to come.

GRANITE IN A TWO-MAN RACE FOR THE IL BATTING TITLE

The 2017 International League batting championship looks like a two-man race between Rochester center fielder Zack Granite and Columbus third baseman Yandy Diaz:

Entering Wednesday:

1--Diaz – .350 (92-for-263)

2—Granite .347 (87-for-251)...and then a big drop to...

3—Jesse Winkler (Louisville) -- .314.

The minimum plate appearances to qualify for the IL batting title is 384 (142 games times 2.7). Entering Wednesday, Granite had 278 plate appearances in 63 games.

SHORT SHOTS

Floyd Mayweather Jr., in an obvious move to boost interest in his “superfight” against Conor McGregor, says he has “lost a step” and that it gives McGregor a chance to beat him.

 I don’t know about you, but I like the switch of Mike Tirico for Al Michaels on Thursday Night Football starting this this NFL season. I didn’t always think Tirico was the best sportscaster in the business but I do now. He’s versatile, does his homework and is easy to listen to. And he’s also a proud and loyal Syracuse University alum.

Red Wings 2016 Most Valuable Player Adam Brett Walker hit a home run Monday night for the Louisville Bats. Louisville is his fifth team this season. He was also has played for Gwinnett, Mississippi, Bowie and Norfolk. Will he ever get an at-bat in the majors?

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO...

Wednesday, August 9

Alexa Bliss (26)...Jason Heyward (28)...JaMarcus Russell (32)...Matt Moore (33)...Drew Butera (34)...Tyson Gay (35)...Chamique Holdsclaw (40)...Derek Fisher (43)...Chis Gedney (47)...Rod Brind’Amour (47)...Troy Percival (48)...Deion Sanders (50)...Vinny Del Negro (51)...Brett Hull (53)...Kevin Mack (55)...Louis Lipps (55)...Doug Williams (62)...John Cappelletti (65)...Junior Kennedy (67)...Jim Miick (71)...Rod Laver (79)...Bob Cousy (89). Sam Elliott (73) is invited to the birthday party.

Thursday, August 10

Andre Drummond (24)...Marcus Foligno (26)...Ramon Humber (27)...Wilson Ramos (30)...Matt Prater (33)...Gino Torretta (47)...Riddick Bowe (50)...John Starks (52)...jockey Mike Smith (52)...Rocky Colavito (84). Antonio Banderas (57) is invited to the birthday party.

Friday, August 11

Jockey Jose Ortiz Jr. (25)...Patty Mills (29)...Pablo Sandoval (31)...Colby Rasmus (31)...Melky Cabrera (33)...Robert Geathers (34)...Eduardo Alfonzo (44)...Mike Lodish (50)...Marc Bergevin (52)...Craig Ehlo (56)...Ken Linseman (59)...Hulk Hogan/Terry Bollea (64)...Otis Taylor (75).