Showing posts with label Baseball Hall of Fame. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Baseball Hall of Fame. Show all posts

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Gil Hodges Finally Makes His Way To Cooperstown


No more debates about whether Gil Hodges belongs in the Hall of Fame. The 2021 Golden Days Committee voted Hodges in the Hall of Fame during its December vote, giving Hodges the 12 votes necessary for election. 

Leading up to the vote, I debated in my Forbes Sports column whether the Hall of Fame had a financial interest in electing Hodges, as past committees haven't been favorable to deceased candidates from his era. Apparently, the committee went all in on four candidates—Jim Kaat, Minnie MiƱoso, Tony Oliva and Hodges (with Dick Allen narrowly missing), focusing on widening the Hall's reach, instead of focusing on the living candidates who could promote the museum. 

The three-time World Series champion (two as a player, one as a manager) died of a heart attack on April 2, 1972 during spring training with the New York Mets. Prior to his election, Hodges was the only Hall of Fame candidate eligible for the Veterans and Eras Committees that received at least 50% of the BBWAA vote and didn't get enshrined.


Monday, April 22, 2019

Let's Play Two: The Life and Times of Ernie Banks by Doug Wilson | Book Review

As the April sun peaks through the clouds to signal the start of a new baseball season, excited children and parents echo Ernie Banks’ famous “Let’s Play Two!” at fields across the country. While the Hall of Famer died in 2015, author Doug Wilson ensures that fans remember his shining spirit through his new biography, “Let’s Play Two: The Life and Times of Ernie Banks”.

Let's Play Two / Rowman and Littlefield

Wilson provides a fascinating look at Banks’ early life in Dallas, Texas, connecting with Banks’ few living high school teammates and classmates to detail not only his early athletic prowess but also the history of the segregated North Dallas neighborhood.

Wilson pours through a seeming encyclopedia of sources to chronologically reconstruct Banks’ life on and off the field. While fans may be familiar with the narrative of his 512 career home runs, stories like Banks’ ill-fated run for local office serve to spice up the details of a man who projected an overwhelmingly positive public persona.

“He refused to acknowledge that anything other than good existed, in every person and every situation,” Wilson wrote. “He was a true-life Don Quixote de la Mancha, seeing the world not as it was, but as it should be, climbing aboard his trusted steed, ready to charge windmills to undo wrongs and bring justice to those in need.”

Shaving another layer of the seemingly impenetrable curtain that Banks maintained, Wilson dug into the tumultuous relationship between Banks and his manager Leo Durocher. When Durocher arrived after the end of the 1965 season, he sets his sight on Chicago’s largest target, Ernie Banks.

“He turned his wrath on Ernie Banks—something no one has ever done before,” Wilson wrote. “He nagged incessantly about little things … he quickly added complains about Ernie not taking a big enough lead as a baserunner.”

Durocher thought that Banks was damaged goods and wanted to replace Banks with faster and younger talent, similar to what he did when he jettisoned Johnny Mize and Walker Cooper from the New York Giants in 1949. However, with his hands tied by the Wrigley family, Durocher used the only power he had to voice his displeasure—his lineup card.

“Leo really treated him badly,” Cubs first baseman Lee Thomas said to Wilson. “He would ignore him; he wouldn’t play him. Sometimes he would say things in front of the team or in the papers. It bothered me, and I know the other players didn’t like it either.”

Banks maintained his composure and eventually, he played well enough that even Durocher could not keep him on the bench. It was only much later in Durocher’s life that he apologized for how he treated Mr. Cub.

Throughout the remainder of his career and retired life as a Hall of Famer, Banks befuddled the media with his bureaucratic retorts. Wilson explained how Banks frustrated writers in their attempts to gain depth into his thoughts and character.

“For whatever reason, he had decided he would not discuss subjects painful to himself or others. His image was a hard-candy protective coating. No one was ever able to crack it open to find out what was inside. … Ernie’s polished dance with writers was his way of saying the same thing but doing it while still looking like a nice guy. Writers who accepted this at face value and were content with the status quo were allowed to remain, pleasant acquaintances, even friends. Those who didn’t were doomed to frustration.”

After his playing days were finished, Banks encountered many speed bumps as he tried to escape his career in a baseball uniform. He faced multiple divorces, failed business ventures, and a reputation sullied by his inability to follow through on his promises to make public appearances. At the end of the day, there was only one place where he truly found success, and that was being Mr. Cub himself.

Wilson was not able to get Banks to open up for this work, as a Chicago area entrepreneur Regina Rice kept the Hall of Famer protected in his later years through a series of muddy dealings that Wilson explores in detail. As of the writing of his book, Banks’ will remained contested between Rice and his former wife Elizabeth Banks.

“The man famous for cooperation and peace was the subject of a nasty public battle after his death,” Wilson said.

Whatever Wilson's book lacks in the absence of Banks’ direct narratives, is bolstered by the vivid sources used for the intimate details of Banks’ career. “Let’s Play Two” shows that while heroes like Ernie Banks appear to be impenetrable on the field, away from the game, they are susceptible to imperfections that cannot be measured by the stats on the backs of their baseball cards.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Why Gil Hodges' Hall of Fame case is a no-brainer for one Washington Senators player

The annual Baseball Hall of Fame elections are popular topics for hot stove discussions across the country. Currently, the Eras Committee (formerly the Veterans Committee) is debating the merits of those whose careers peaked after the late 1980s. While Gil Hodges is not eligible for this current vote, the mere mention of any Hall of Fame committee meeting is still a hot button issue for many baseball fans.
Gil Hodges 1967 Topps / Topps

Fred Valentine should know a thing or two about Hodges’ Hall of Fame worthiness. He played under Hodges for four seasons (1964-67) with the Washington Senators and recently sat down with Baseball Happenings at the Firefighters Charitable Foundation Dinner in Long Island to express support for his fallen manager.

“He deserves to be in the Hall of Fame,” the 83-year-old Valentine said. “The biggest thing I remember from Gil was that when I came [to] spring training, the only thing he asked was for 100 percent. Regardless of how the game turned out, he just wanted a hundred percent from his players, and I always felt I didn't have any problems with that. He was going to give me an opportunity to play, and I told him that I was going to give him a 110 percent, and I think I did.”

While Valentine’s hustling spirit resonated with Hodges, he suggested that his leader’s stoicism might have contributed to his early demise. He said too often, Hodges would bottle up his emotions when players made boneheaded plays, and on those 1960s Senators teams, they were aplenty.

“He was a great manager,” he said. “The only problem I could see he had was that he wasn't another Earl Weaver. He kept so much in [when] players would make all kinds of dumb mistakes. Instead of throwing them out or cursing them out, he held it in, and I think that was his downfall from holding stuff in like that.”

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Why teammates hold Roy Halladay in elite company a year after his tragic death

The tragic news of Roy Halladay's death has sent shockwaves throughout the baseball community. The two-time Cy Young award winner died at the age of 40 when his plane crashed in the Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday. Frank Catalanotto, Halladay's teammate for four seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays from 2003-2006, was suddenly frozen when a co-worker relayed the news while he was giving a hitting lesson.

“I was shocked and I couldn't believe it,” Catalanotto said in a phone interview on Wednesday. “Obviously, I was very saddened.”

Roy Halladay / Keith Allison - Flickr
Catalanotto arrived in Toronto in 2003 after the Blue Jays signed him as a free agent in the offseason. He was relieved that he no longer had to face the 6'6" right-hander.

“I hated having to face him,” he said. “He had a nasty sinker, he cut the ball, and he had a great breaking ball as well. He could basically put the ball wherever he wanted; one of the few pitchers in the league that was able to do that. I remember facing him when I was with the Tigers and the Rangers and it was never fun. If you went into Toronto, you were hoping that you missed Roy Halladay. [He was] one of the best during my time in the big leagues, probably one of the top two or three best pitchers that I had faced.”

Coming together for the 2003 season, Catalanotto watched as Halladay's blazed through the American League en route to his first Cy Young award. The late pitcher posted a 22-7 won-loss record with nine complete games, while only walking 32 batters in 266 innings. His mound dominance gave his Blue Jays teammates the confidence that they were never in danger of going on an extended losing streak.

“We knew whenever he was pitching he was going to bring his 'A' game,” he said. “During those times, whenever you lost a game or maybe two-to-three games in a row, you knew that Roy was going to be pitching and that streak was going to stop. You always had that in the back of your head. We never went on big losing streaks because we had this ace that we knew that we could fall back on. It was great.”

While Halladay worked his magic on the mound, his teammates were often able to just sit back and admire his wizardry as he sent most challengers back to the bench with their hopes of getting on base dashed into oblivion. He was so stingy on the mound that Catalanotto likened it to having a vacation defensively whenever he pitched.

“It was almost like a day off defensively,” he said. “Playing behind him, you didn't get a lot of work in the field because he was striking guys out, and when you did get work in the field, it was never pressure situations because he very rarely had guys on base.”

Even though Catalanotto acknowledged that Halladay made their jobs a little bit easier every fifth day, there was no chill when it came to what Halladay did to create his electric nature on the mound. Early in Catalanotto's tenure with Toronto it was evident that Halladay's focus on preparation was unparalleled.

“I quickly realized that he was an intense individual and extremely focused in what he did every single day,” he said. “There wasn't a time when I ever saw just him sitting down doing nothing. He was always trying to get better whether it be through watching video of the hitters that he's going to face or video of himself and his mechanics. Whether [he was] going through scouting reports or working out and working on his mechanics and things like that, he always seemed like he was dedicated to his craft and left no stone unturned. For me, he was the biggest competitor that I have ever played with and it rubbed off on other guys on the team.”

When Catalanotto was able to get Halladay away from his intense moments on the mound, he found a different side of the pitcher that was hidden to baseball fans. Halladay had a jovial nature that included pulling pranks on his teammates, especially the rookies.

“The more you got to know Roy, you realized that he had a lighter side,” he said. “He wasn't always just ultra-focused on pitching. He did have a lighter side. And he was a jokester. He loved pulling pranks on the younger guys.”

Reflecting on Halladay's tremendous accomplishments that included multiple Cy Young Awards, a lifetime .659 winning percentage, and a postseason no-hitter, Catalanotto cited how Halladay's 2001 demotion to the low minor leagues fueled his transformation into an elite pitcher. Catalanotto feels his eventual selection to the Hall of Fame will vindicate Halladay's tremendous life and career.

“He accomplished a lot,” he said. “I know that early in his career he got sent down to Single-A to work some things out. He took that personally and he wasn't happy about it. I know that he wanted to prove a lot of people wrong, and that's what he did. He became one of the best pitchers of his generation and I do think that he deserves to be a Hall of Famer.”

More of Catalanotto's interview is featured in the video below.



Friday, August 31, 2018

A teammate recalls how Frank Robinson's star growing up in Oakland was overshadowed by a big time bonus prospect

Oakland Tech's J.W. Porter was the Bay Area's most heavily recruited high school baseball player since Joe DiMaggio. Earning California State Player of the Year honors in 1950 after batting .558 as a senior while leading Oakland's Bill Erwin Post 337 to consecutive national American Legion championships, his performance sent all of the 16 major league teams into a bidding frenzy for his services.

When the dust finally settled, the phenom catching prospect scored a $70,000 bonus from the Chicago White Sox. Helping Porter's American Legion team to victory was a remarkable freshman from neighboring McClymonds High School, Frank Robinson.

J.W. Porter Photo / Author's Collection

Sharing written correspondence with Porter on Robinson's 83rd birthday, the six-year major league veteran was proud to recall his time playing with the Hall of Famer during their youth.

"It brought back some fond memories," Porter wrote in a recent letter to the author. "Frank Robinson played on our American Legion team as we won back to back world championships when he was only in the 9th grade."

Bobby Mattick, a former major leaguer turned scout, was responsible for signing not only Porter to the White Sox, but later Robinson to the Cincinnati Reds. While Robinson record-setting Hall of Fame career was well documented, it was Porter, the big-league journeyman, who was the center of attention on a team where Robinson was in his own words, "just another player."


August 2018 Letter from J.W. Porter to the Author / Author's Collection

Monday, March 19, 2018

Why Bob Gibson told one of his St. Louis Cardinals pitchers that he should quit pitching

Bob Gibson never won any awards for having a friendly persona, especially when Joe Torre hired him as baseball's first "attitude" coach. In 1995, Torre brought Gibson along as his pitching coach with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Bob Gibson / Wikimedia Commons
Queens native Allen Watson was a starting pitcher on the staff and shared a story of when an irate Gibson told one of his pitchers to quit during his tirade.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

2017 Topps Gallery Review - How Topps Gallery delivers museum grade design to collectors

Topps's selection of artist Mayumi Seto to design the 2017 Topps Gallery set has paid immediate dividends for baseball card enthusiasts everywhere. The 200-card base set contains vivid portraits of MLB’s finest talent, largely due to her artistic vision expertly capturing the spirit of each ballplayer. Collectors will be drawn to the cards by her designs, making it a popular addition to shopping carts during the holiday season.

2017 Topps Gallery / Topps

The base set is comprised of 150 cards and an additional 50 short prints, narrowing the focus of the set to the top stars and prospects in the game (including both Rookie of the Year Award winners – Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger). By Topps limiting the players included within the set, this exclusive group further contributes to the excitement of opening each five-card pack.

The short prints create an interesting quandary for set collectors due to their relative scarcity. The box provided for this review yielded only one of the 50 short prints in the set. Mixing current players with retired legends for the short prints will drive collectors to complete this attractive set on the secondary market.

Each box contains two autographs, both which illustrate how even more impressive Seto’s portraits look behind a sharp signature. Due to the post-season release of this set, the cards contain sticker autographs, which will undoubtedly give collectors mixed feelings about adding them to their stockpiles. Some will pass on them, giving less discerning fans the opportunity to make a fine display of these autographs. As collectors move into the offseason, look for the hardcore autograph collectors to get the base cards signed in-person throughout spring training and beyond.

2017 Topps Gallery Autographs / Topps

A deeper dive into the inserts reveals even finer artwork by both Seto and Dan Bergren in the form of the Masterpiece and Hall of Fame Gallery sets. The Hall of Fame Gallery set is minted with a glossy finish that captures the essence of the game's legends at the pinnacle of their careers. The Masterpiece set could easily double as large portraits that are worthy of a museum display.

2017 Topps Gallery Inserts and Short Prints / Topps

The 2017 Topps Gallery set is a welcome shot in the arm for collectors that are looking for a different feel from the standard Topps releases during the season. While the obvious stars of this set are the artists and their handcrafted designs, 2017 Topps Gallery is designed with the reminder that baseball cards are created to be on full display for all to admire.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Book Review: They Call Me Pudge - Ivan Rodriguez with Jeff Sullivan

The intense emotion displayed on Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez ‘s face on the cover of his new biography “They Call Me Pudge," perfectly captures the spirit with which he played throughout his 21-year major league career. Newly minted in 2017 as a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, Rodriguez became part of an exclusive group, joining only Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk, and Mike Piazza as the living catchers currently enshrined in Cooperstown.

They Call Me Pudge / Triumph Books

It is obvious after reading through the early chapters of “They Call Me Pudge,” that Rodriguez’s story is one of commitment to the game. From a young age, he showed an insatiable desire not only to play the game, but to love the training that made him into a Hall of Famer. His legendary workouts including making 150-mile roundtrips from Key Biscayne to Key Largo, kept his engine pumping when many thought he was out of gas.

Rodriguez stressed that it was his dedicated training and not anything else that kept him as the top player at his position for two decades. Multiple times during the book, he vehemently denied using steroids.

"Let's make that as crystal clear as possible — I never took steroids," Rodriguez said. "If anyone says differently, they are lying. Here's what I did do: I worked my ass off. I was a guy who played the game the right way. I was disciplined in my workouts and my diet. I worked as hard as I could to do the best that I could - every day for 20-plus years. I loved the game of baseball."

Perusing deeper into Rodriguez’s book uncovers the strategies of the Hall of Fame catcher, as he carefully breaks down how he handled a nubile World Series pitching staff with the Florida Marlins, as well as how he approached Barry Bonds during their faceoff in the 2003 National League Division Series.

“If you don’t have to pitch to him — meaning it’s not bases loaded in a tie game in the ninth inning —put him on first base,” he said. “If you need to pitch to him, our deepest sympathies. And don’t strain a neck muscle or anything turning around.”

When the Texas Rangers thought that Rodriguez was on the decline, he bet on himself, signing a one-year deal with the Marlins in 2003. His leadership steadied their pitching staff, guiding them to an improbable World Series Championship.

Once again left to fend for himself at the end of the season, Rodriguez proved doubters wrong when he signed with the Detroit Tigers in 2004. Detroit’s team doctors felt that Pudge was only worthy of a two-year contract due to his injury history. In order to make the deal work, he gave up guaranteed money to sign a four-year, $40 million contract. This time, Pudge came out a winner, as the Tigers went to the World Series in 2006.

“I knew I was healthy,” he said. “I know I could play the five years, depending on if they picked up the option. And I played eight more years after that. I mean, the doctors can tell you whatever they want to say, but it’s how you feel that counts.”

Omnipresent throughout the book is the fact that Pudge was always a gamer. When he wasn’t playing baseball, he was breaking down video, going over scouting reports, or watching highlights on ESPN. If you are looking for tales of carousing, innuendo, or hi-jinks, look elsewhere, but if you want an inspirational story of how a kid with a golden throwing arm made it to the Hall of Fame all the way from Vega Baja, Puerto Rico, feel free to step in the batter’s box with “They Call Me Pudge.”

Monday, January 30, 2017

Baseball Happenings Podcast: Kevin L. Mitchell - Author of Last Train to Cooperstown

Kevin L. Mitchell, author of Last Train to Cooperstown: The 2006 Baseball Hall of Fame Inductees from the Negro League Baseball Era, is the guest for this episode of the Baseball Happenings Podcast. In this episode, Mitchell discusses how his love for the history of Negro League Baseball motivated him to capture the careers of this most recent group of Negro Leaguers to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Mitchell profiles the 17 inductees who might likely be the last members of the Negro Leagues to ride the train to Cooperstown.

Last Train to Cooperstown / Black Rose Writing


Saturday, January 23, 2016

Cool Papa Bell shares the details of Satchel Paige's tryout with the Cleveland Indians in 1948

Cool Papa Bell, Negro League Hall of Fame speedster, shares in the video below the details of Satchel Paige's tryout with the Cleveland Indians in 1948. The audio of Bell's interview is part of a larger project by the Baseball Hall of Fame to digitize their vast audio library. Paige was signed by Bill Veeck and made an immediate splash with the Indians, debuting to a sellout crowd on his 42nd birthday.

Cool Papa Bell (bottom center) with Satchel Paige (middle row, far right) on the 1937 Ciudad Trujillo team

Paige finished with a 6-1 record, helping to lead the Indians to the 1948 World Series. Due to the dominant pitching performances of the Indians starting rotation, Paige was only called upon to pitch one inning during the series. Despite his limited role in the World Series, Veeck's investment paid dividends through Paige's stellar work in the regular season.


Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Lou Boudreau Documentary: Covering All The Bases

Lou Boudreau was a rarity in Major League Baseball. A talented shortstop with Hall of Fame credentials, he was the last player-manager to win a World Series, earning MVP honors in 1948 as his Cleveland Indians bested the Boston Braves in that year's Fall Classic. During his 15-year playing career, Boudreau led the American League eight times in fielding at shortstop, while posting a career .295 average with a walk-to-strikeout ratio of greater than two-to-one.

Lou Boudreau (r,) with Satchel Paige (l.) / Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.

His granddaughter Jessica Boudreau created a wonderful tribute to her grandfather entitled, "Covering All the Bases: Lou Boudreau Documentary." The video features an in-depth interview with Ernie Banks, personal family photos, and explains how his grandchildren have kept the legacy of his number five alive after his 2001 passing.




Sunday, December 7, 2014

Mudcat Grant champions the case for his teammates on the Golden Era Ballot

With a career that started under the watchful eye of Larry Doby during his 1958 rookie season with the Cleveland Indians, Jim “Mudcat” Grant was always surrounded by Hall of Fame talent. During his 14 major league seasons, Grant was teammates with 19 different Hall of Famers. On December 8th, he hopes to see that number increase in size.

Four of Grant’s former teammates — Jim Kaat, Minnie Minoso, Tony Oliva, and Maury Wills are up for consideration on the Baseball Hall of Fame’s Golden Era ballot. A 16-member panel of former players, executives and media members will decide on their collective fates for enshrinement at the Winter Meetings in San Diego.

Jim "Mudcat" Grant / N.Diunte
When Grant broke in to the majors in 1958, always hustling for him in the outfield was Minnie Minoso. Even though Grant was already familiar with Minoso’s aggressive style of play, as they had faced each other previously in the Cuban Winter League, he couldn’t help but notice the variety of ways in which he contributed on the field.

“I noticed one thing about Minnie,” Grant said in an interview at last month’s Firefighter’s Charitable Foundation Dinner in New York, “he was an all-around ballplayer. He knocked in a lot of runs as an outfielder and he stole a lot of bases. He could do anything. He wasn’t a big guy, but he went all out all the time. He was like Pete Rose; even on a short pop-up he would run like he was beating out a base hit. …. I think Minnie [Minoso] should be in, but he’s not going to make it. … He’s in my Hall of Fame if that counts.”

As he started to think about the Hall of Fame chances of his aforementioned teammates, he found fault with the entire process. He related the process to one of a popularity contest.

“When I talk about the Hall of Fame,” he said, “I don’t have a lot of respect for those people who vote for the Hall of Fame because they miss so many people that should be in the Hall of Fame. It seems like they called up one another and said, ‘Let’s put this guy in.’”

Grant stuck out over 1,200 batters in his major league career, but the amount of swings-and-misses on what should have been home runs that he’s seen from the Hall of Fame electorate has baffled him. He turned his attention to two other pitchers Lee Smith and Jim Kaat, the latter who is the leading returning vote getter from the 2012 Golden Era ballot.

“I know some guys that [have a Hall of Fame] vote and when they miss Lee Smith, when they miss Jim Kaat — who should be in the Hall of Fame … There are so many pitchers in the Hall of Fame that have less victories than Jim Kaat. … How does this work now? You have to wonder why you are holding out on this guy and that guy who should be in the Hall of Fame.”

The further he thought about who the various committees have missed, he immediately turned to another teammate, Tony Oliva. Grant played alongside Oliva on the Minnesota Twins when they challenged the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1965 World Series. The Cuban-born Oliva was another slam dunk choice for Mudcat.

“He should be in the Hall of Fame,” he said. “There’s no answer to this even when you ask some of the guys that got votes; there’s no answer to it. You have to think about Vada Pinson, Al Oliver; there are so many people.”

With the newly formed committees from the Hall of Fame to assess players against those of their own eras, opportunities are being created to potentially right some of the wrongs made by the BBWAA and past Veterans Committees. Grant still feels like these groups have lost the chance to honor those deserving of the Hall.

“When you get to the Veterans Committee,” he said, “they miss out too because it seems like they compare who they’re voting for to themselves. If you’re in the Hall of Fame and you’ve got a chance to put the veterans in, you’re missing out on an opportunity. A Hall of Fame vote should be thought about for players who deserve to be in the Hall of Fame. You have to do a little research on these guys to see what they did.”



Sunday, December 26, 2010

Jackie Robinson discusses morality from 1958 TV program

Via PingNews
Excellent footage was discovered recently of Jackie Robinson from a 1958 TV program discussing the morality of firing workers. This is of special interest due to Robinson's position at the time as vice president of personnel at Chock Full o’ Nuts, where he often had to make employment decisions.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Remembering Bob Feller

With the news of Bob Feller's death at the age of 92, his appearance at the 2009 MLBPAA Legends for Youth Dinner in New York City became lucid once again in my mind.

Bob Feller regales the crowd during the 2009 MLBPAA Legends for Youth dinner
When Feller grabbed the microphone that evening, everyone was on the edge of their seats, eager to find something to grasp in Feller's words. After he finished addressing the crowd, he was showered with a rousing ovation; a sure sign of respect and reverence for baseball's longest tenured Hall of Famer. The then 91-year-old Feller excitedly vowed to return to New York City to join next year's festivities. Sadly, he never returned.

During his talk, Feller made it clear that he respected the rare fraternity of major league ballplayers, and took every chance to represent the history and integrity of the game. Driven by the industrious values of growing up on a farm in Iowa through the depression, Feller insisted in his speech that his success in baseball directly resulted from the spirit he developed as a young kid laboring in the fields.

Always eager to speak, the vigorous Feller answered questions all night from seemingly every fan in attendance, deftly fielding a constant stream of visitors to his table trying to get a glimpse into the legend's vaults. Stopping his interactions only to take small bites from his plate, Feller simultaneously signed countless autographs and held court with whomever wanted to listen. In a gentleman's fashion, he thanked just about everyone who asked him for an autograph.

Watching Feller operate that evening with his guard down, it was difficult to tell that he was the most accomplished player in the room. His display of humility and sincerity while greeting his fans was an attitude that seemed to be lacking from the current generation of players.



Thursday, December 9, 2010

Bob Feller eneters hospice care

The longest living tenured member of baseball's Hall of Fame has entered hospice care. Bob Feller, a 1962 inductee of baseball's greatest shrine was placed into hospice care Wednesday after suffering a bout with pneumonia. It unfortunately looks like baseball is going to shortly lose one of their greatest pitchers and World War II heroes.



Saturday, June 12, 2010

Book Review: Willie Mays: The Life, The Legend


Willie Mays: The Life, The Legend
James S. Hirsch
Scribner, 2010
640 pp.

Epic. The word describes both the career of Willie Mays and the new book penned by James Hirsch chronicling his life, "Willie Mays: The Life, The Legend". Clocking in at over 600 pages, it would be trite to call it in-depth. Hirsch reveals how the legend of Mays developed from his humble beginnings in Alabama playing in the segregated Negro Leagues to becoming the grand regality of Baseball's Hall of Fame.

While Mays' career has been well chronicled and documented, a few things are evident from Hirsch's work. A yeoman's job was done in researching this book. Countless interviews with teammates, friends and family as well as citations from newspapers both national and regional propel the story farther than Mays' lofty accomplishments on the baseball field.

What also becomes apparent as you get familiar with Mays, that while having no biological children of his own, he held a lifelong appreciation for the innocence of childhood. Mays was never too busy to make an appearance to speak and visit with the legions of kids that idolized his play. From playing stick ball with the Harlem locals and taking them for ice cream to making countless appearances at children's hospitals, Willie would literally give the shirt off of his back for a child in need.

While Mays has been distant and guarded in public during recent times, Hirsch allows baseball fans to get to know Mays through this insightful look into his life and career. While it might take you the entire summer to finish reading “The Life, The Legend”, it will give you enough time to digest the totality of the enigma that is Willie Mays just in time for the pennant races.



Saturday, May 8, 2010

Robin Roberts and his strange journey with the New York Yankees

They say famous celebrity deaths come in groups of three, and with the passing of Hall of Famer Robin Roberts today, and legendary Hall of Fame announcer Ernie Harwell earlier this week, one has to wonder which legend is next. Roberts was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1976 after a stellar career with the Phillies, Orioles, Astros, and Cubs that spanned from 1948-1966. He died Thursday, May 6, 2010, in his home in Temple Terrace, Florida of natural causes. He was 83.




One of the teams that are not listed on his plaque at the Hall of Fame is the New York Yankees. Roberts was signed by the Yankees in the fall of 1961 to add depth to their pitching roster for the 1962 season. Some were apprehensive about the signing, pointing to Roberts' 1-10 record the previous season with Philadelphia. Many in baseball began to write off Roberts as damaged goods. Speaking with the New York Times, Roberts attempted to silence the critics.

"There was nothing wrong with my arm or shoulder. Let's say my failure was due to my lack of stuff," Roberts said on January 19, 1962. "However, I believe I'll be able to pitch for the Yankees. I anticipate being able to pitch well and hope to be a starting pitcher for Ralph Houk."

At the beginning of spring training, pitching coach Johnny Sain remarked about Roberts' ability to bolster the Yankees staff.

"I think the big fellow will help us, and everyone I've talked to from the National League tells me he still can be a fine pitcher with a good club behind him," Sain said in a February 20, 1962, New York Times article.

Two months later, Roberts was gone. An Associated Press report from April 20, 1962, cited Roberts' release from the Yankees without making an appearance for the club in a major league game. In five exhibition games, he pitched 11 innings, allowing 15 hits and eight runs. Manager Ralph Houk regretted that he was not able to pitch Roberts more and that Roberts needed, "every chance to get another job."

With that, the Yankees bid him adieu. A month later, Roberts signed with the Orioles and posted a 10-9 record with a 2.78 ERA. He would go on to pitch another four seasons with Baltimore and Houston before retiring after the 1966 season with the Chicago Cubs. He finished with a career record of 286 wins and 245 losses with 2357 strikeouts.


Sunday, April 11, 2010

Ferguson Jenkins and Montclair youth baseball pay homage to the Negro Leagues

Hall of Fame pitcher Ferguson Jenkins was in Montclair this past Saturday to support their youth baseball league's tribute to the Negro Leagues. Yogi Berra Stadium was filled with players aged 12 and 13 fitted in uniforms that not only sported the names of championship teams such as the Chicago American Giants, Homestead Grays Kansas City Monarchs and Newark Eagles, but also displayed the names of legends such as Cool Papa Bell, Larry Doby, Josh Gibson, Ray Dandridge and Satchel Paige. This event was the brainchild of Richard Berg and league president Garland Thornton. Berg hopes that the uniforms provide a sense of pride for the youngsters.

Ferguson Jenkins (standing) among all of the Montclair players honoring the Negro Leagues / N. Diunte

"Each time these kids go to bat or make a play in the field, they will be representing one of the greats of the Negro Leagues," Berg said.

Berg should know a thing or two about the history of the Negro Leagues, as he was the former president of the Negro League Baseball Players Association. During the opening day festivities Berg presented Jenkins with a proclamation from Montclair's Mayor Jerry Friend, who deemed April 10th Ferguson Jenkins Day for his support of Montclair baseball and his philanthropic efforts nationwide. Jenkins took the time to explain the current efforts of his foundation.

"I work with the Fergie Jenkins Foundation in St. Catharines, Ontario," Jenkins said. "We were just in spring training in Mesa. We worked with the Cubs, Texas, Oakland and the Giants. We brought players in, they gave their time, signing autographs and letting people know that the foundation was raising money for all different types of charities.

"Bob Feller, Vida Blue, Gaylord Perry, and Rollie Fingers have all signed on with us. We raise money for the Boys and Girls Clubs, Big Brothers / Big Sisters, Make a Wish Foundation, American Red Cross, Institute for the Blind, and cancer research. We try to let people know that we're raising money on a daily basis to help these organizations. It gives people the opportunity to come and get an autograph, and when you bring in other Hall of Famers, I think that brings the public in and raises the awareness for the causes we support."
 
Jenkins who was also in town for a pitching clinic later that day, participated in the opening day photo shoot with the league's players and coaches. Even though Jenkins did not play in the Negro Leagues, he recognized the importance of promoting the league's history.

"The Fergie Jenkins Foundation has been in touch with the Kansas City Museum with Buck O'Neil before he passed away," he said. "The museum in Kansas City is struggling right now. Unfortunately, without donations, it might go under. I'm not sure if its going to go under. Right now, they're looking for pledges and donations across the country. Everyone is hoping that they can get enough money to keep it open. It used to be open all day, now it is open only on the weekends."

Knowing that the museum is experiencing difficulties, Jenkins has hit the pavement to spread the word directly to a growing diversity of fans. He aimed to increase awareness about how the game has grown due to integration and globalization.

"We try to enhance the knowledge of youngsters and adults that the Negro Leagues were in existence like the Major Leagues, and that a lot of players didn't get the opportunity to play because of their skin color," he said. "Jackie [Robinson] was the first, [Larry] Doby was second, and then it was a kind of a snowball effect that brought players in. It enhanced the game even more; it made teams better. Now what you see in baseball is an international game. Kids from all different places like Canada, Australia, Germany, Phillippines, Puerto Rico, and Cuba are playing."

Jenkins first learned about the history of Negro League baseball from his father Ferguson Holmes Jenkins, who played in the Negro Leagues in Canada. It is a legacy that he continues to pass on wherever he travels.

"My father played in the Negro Leagues in Ontario," he said. "His nickname was Hershey; he played on two championship teams in 1938 and 1939. The Chatham team was called the Chatham Black All-Stars, the next year they were the Black Panthers. They toured through Detroit, also in Buffalo, all across Ontario. They barnstormed a lot. My dad didn't tell me they had a lot of problems. People went out to the park to see baseball. That was fundamentally what they were trying to do, play the game of baseball."

He viewed Saturday's clinic as an avenue to share his advanced knowledge about the game to children who are at a younger age then when he was able to receive it.  He hopes that they will take that information and use it on the field.

"I hope that the kids grasp a little bit from what I'm trying to get across to them," he said. "When I was younger, I didn't learn how to pitch until I was 16 years old. These youngsters are 12 and 13. I played a lot of hockey growing up and on the advice from one of my coaches, I stopped playing hockey at 17. I was able to get my interests more in the game of baseball and pitching, and I was able to sign after my senior year in high school. I just hope that the kids understand that what I am trying to get across is something that was taught to me at an older age. They're getting taught at an younger age, and if they can grasp it they can use it when they play in their leagues."

While not every player at the clinic is going to play baseball in high school and beyond, Jenkins wanted to deliver the message that baseball is to be enjoyed. It is a message that he feels is often lost in today's current hyper-competitive climate of youth sports.

"I tell kids to have fun," he said. "Learn to play as a team with your teammates and understand that all of your coaches try to give the best advice they can, because none of them are ex-MLB players, so they're just trying to pass on the same knowledge that I am getting across to them. The game is fun, have fun! What you try to learn now at a young age, you try to build on so that by the time you get into high school, the coaching aspect will be a lot more and you will be much better ballplayers."

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Ernie Harwell keeps on after cancer diagnosis

Kansas City Royals vs Detroit Tigers.
ESPN.com's Elizabeth Merrill wrote an excellent article on Ernie Harwell's busy life and the special people around him that keep him going after being diagnosed with inoperable cancer at the age of 91. Harwell is a standout in the baseball community; one who has given so much of his life to the sport and helping others. I selfishly hope that he continues to elude the grasp of cancer so he can reach many more while he is still with us.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Whitey Herzog and Doug Harvey Elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame

Former St. Louis Cardinals Manager Whitey Herzog and Umpire Doug Harvey were elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee on Monday.

Herzog won the 1982 World Series and three NL pennants with the St. Louis Cardinals and three division titles with Kansas City.

Harvey umpired in the National League for 31 seasons before retiring in 1992. He worked five World Series and six All-Star games, and handled more than 4,600 games overall.

The 79-year-old Harvey was picked on 15 of 16 ballots this time, becoming the ninth umpire in the Hall.

The two will be enshrined into the Hall of Fame on July 25.