Showing posts with label Barry Larkin. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Barry Larkin. Show all posts

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Honoring the tremendous character of Don Lund

I made my first contact with Don Lund via telephone late in 2007 when I started my research to find out what the experience was for the major league players who debuted as the color line was slowly eroding.

He shared his stories of being signed to the Brooklyn Dodgers only a few weeks before Jackie Robinson, and how both of them were offered positions on the major league club on the same day in 1947. We talked about his travels through a variety of major league organization, and his long standing career at the University of Michigan as a three-sport athlete, coach, and later assistant athletic director.

Don Lund with the author in 2008
His bird's eye view at Michigan of the budding talents of Bill Freehan, Barry Larkin, and Jim Abbott all rolled off his tongue as he beamed with pride describing his favorite stories of each player. He glowingly spoke about his 1962 National Championship team and the influence that Ray Fisher had on his career. He had energy to continue telling stories, not about himself, but the many people he met along the way. Our conversations routinely lasted an hour or more.

Earlier this week, I sadly received the news that Lund passed away last week at the age of 90 at an assisted living facility in Ann Arbor. The mention of his death immediately brought back memories of our 2008 meeting in New Jersey.

Knowing that he would be coming to the local area for what was most likely to be the final Brooklyn Dodgers reunion, we made plans to meet at the show and spend some time together. My only picture of Lund was what was on his baseball cards, so it was difficult for me to imagine what I was going to encounter. Time works differently on our baseball heroes, and Lund was 55 years removed from the portrait on his 1953 Topps card.

I walked up to the room, and there was Lund, holding onto a walker, partially stooped forward, smiling as we finally made our acquaintance in person. It was hard for me to envision him as the square shouldered running back that garnered a first-round draft choice from the Chicago Bears, but his grip was still incredibly firm as he reached out to shake my hand.

Within minutes of our meeting, Don made me feel like we were old pals from yesteryear. He introduced me to all of his old teammates as his friend. I watched as he signed away at all of the items the promoters put in front of him, and then as he happily met with the many fans that traveled from far and near to spend some precious moments with the living members of New York's bygone team.

As the signing finished, I went with Don to pick up his check from the promoters, as he had a few hours left before his ride to the airport. He never once scoffed at the amount, even though the quantity of items he signed brought the total to maybe $1-$2 per signature. The money wasn't his motivation for being there; it was to see teammates that he hadn't seen in some fifty years—guys like Howie Schultz, Lee Pfund, Mike Sandlock, Ralph Branca, and Clyde King, all teammates when he made his debut in 1945.

We sat around with Schultz and a few others in the hotel lobby, talking baseball while we shared some refreshments. As I went to pay, he steadfastly refused to let me do so, insisting that I was his guest for the day. As I wished him a safe trip home, he extended a handshake and a hug, wishing me well in my endeavors.

The way Don treated me that was was the embodiment of his spirit; a classy gentleman who went out of his way to treat others well.

I kept in touch with him on the phone and in the mail, exchanging correspondence once or twice a year. He always was willing to talk baseball, and in between the lines, sprinkle a few guiding thoughts for life's travels. We last spoke shortly after he moved to an assisted living facility in Glacier Hills, and even as recently as a month prior to his passing, he still had hope that he would be up and walking again, able to hit fungoes to the Michigan baseball team.

His had a profound effect on Michigan athletics, not only for their program, but for the many players he reached. Dave Campbell, who was the first baseman on Michigan's 1962 National Championship team, (who later played eight seasons in the majors, and spent two decades as a baseball analyst on ESPN) called Lund in the wake of his passing, a man of, "great leadership ... and great integrity," and was one who, "had a great influence on me while I was there."

I wish I had the opportunity to have met Lund earlier than I did, or even to have been one of his players, because in the short time we interacted, I could see how his tremendous character helped to shape the lives of so many young men.


Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Franco continues to represent as an ambassador for the New York Mets

John Franco is the epitome of New York baseball. Born and raised in Brooklyn, the Lafayette High School graduate went on to play at St. John's University in Queens before being drafted by the Dodgers in 1981. Little did he ever imagine that he would play 15 years in the major leagues with the New York Mets and earn a spot in their Hall of Fame. Earlier this year, Franco was inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame in a wonderful ceremony at Citi Field. A few months later, he’s still amazed at the honor.
John Franco Signing Autographs / N. Diunte
“If you would have told me as a kid growing up that I would be in the Mets Hall of Fame, I’d say you were crazy,” said Franco at his Tuesday afternoon appearance at Citibank in Tarrytown, N.Y. “It’s a great honor to be on that wall and [have] my plaque next to great players like Tom Seaver, Jerry Grote, Bud Harrelson, Tommie Agee, all my heroes growing up. ... It’s a great honor, I’m humbled and I’ll truly cherish it.”

The subject of the Hall of Fame this year for Franco is one that hits close to home, as his former Cincinnati Reds teammate Barry Larkin was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame a few weeks ago.

“Barry, you knew he was going to be something special when he came up to the big leagues early," Franco said. "He had a five tools [as a] player, speed, he could hit with power, a great fielder, great arm, and [was] very very smart. It was just an honor to play with Barry and I’m happy that he got into the Hall of Fame; he deserved it.”

Franco, like many of his Brooklyn brethren, honed his skills at the famous Parade Grounds. Even though the diamonds were a little rough, they still provide Franco with the opportunity to develop and mature as a player.

“Back then, the fields weren’t in great shape, but there were always games going on," he said. "There were seven or eight diamonds, and at every field, a game was going on. You’d start at nine in the morning and sometimes play until three in the afternoon. You’d go from field to field or play doubleheaders. It was a great experience, great baseball in the New York City area. We had some great teams from all over Brooklyn and it was very competitive.”

Currently, Franco works as an ambassador for the Mets and keeps busy by making appearances all over the city.

“This is my 3rd year with the Mets [as] one of their ambassadors," he said. "What I do, I go around to the various [Citi] branches … and they have these branches that myself and other veteran, retired players who are involved with the Mets go around and do some signings. I get to meet and greet the fans and talk a little bit about baseball. I go into the community, do some community service, some baseball stuff, some announcing, and some TV stuff; a little bit of everything.”

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Barry Larkin leaving the MLB Network?

Baseball barry larkin 2004An anonymous source told us that Barry Larkin will be leaving his post at the MLB Network for ESPN. The 1995 National League MVP was part of the Hot Stove crew that debuted the flagship program for the station in 2009. Larkin made an excellent "double play" combination with Harold Reynolds, often providing excellent insider commentary on the "how-to's" of the game.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Fallout over 2010 Baseball Hall of Fame voting



In light of Andre Dawson's election to the Baseball Hall of Fame, much attention has been given to the BBWAA writers whose votes put Dawson in, but kept out the likes of Roberto Alomar, Bert Blyleven and Barry Larkin. Many non-voting writers, fans and bloggers cried foul when some BBWAA writers said they didn't vote for the likes of Alomar and Larkin just to make them wait a year. There was also outrage over the reportedly five BBWAA writers who submitted blank ballots, including Jay Mariotti who said he didn't care if he was thrown out of the BBWAA.

Howard Bryant of ESPN.com wrote an excellent piece entitled, "Outrage at HOF voting baseless", where he reminds us the likes of Cy Young, Joe DiMaggio, Whitey Ford, Rogers Hornsby, Roy Campanella and Yogi Berra weren't elected on the first try. Look at that list. Cy Young (the most wins ever), Rogers Hornsby (2nd highest career batting average all-time), Joe DiMaggio (arguably the best centerfielder ever) weren't "first-time" Hall of Famers. Bryant argues that, "Alomar cannot claim superiority over anyone on that list. Each was eventually inducted, and the free world survived." Bryant is right, the clock keeps turning and Alomar and Larkin will see their plaques next to these legends in the near future. This doesn't mean that the process isn't flawed.

While past transgressions in voting don't justify this year's results, maybe the publicity given to this year's vote will start a shift in voting where the BBWAA writers vote for candidates that are Hall of Fame material starting from the first year they are on the ballot. There is no need to make a candidate wait just because the sole reason for not voting is that it is their first year of eligibility. Let's begin to dissolve the mythical sanctity of the "first ballot" Hall of Famer by voting for players like Alomar and Larkin as soon as they're eligible.