From Honolulu to Cooperstown
By Bill Francis
A special anniversary brought former big leaguer Mike Lum and a guest to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum on Monday.
“One reason why my daughter and I took this trip is to celebrate my 50th year in professional baseball,” said Lum, the veteran of 15 major league seasons as an outfielder/first baseman with the Atlanta Braves, Cincinnati Reds and Chicago Cubs. “I told my daughter, Ginger, I said, ‘Let’s go to the Hall of Fame and celebrate this occasion.’
“If you’re interested in baseball, and even if you’re not interested in baseball, this is such a great place to come and see everything.”
For Lum, it was his first trip to Cooperstown since 1964, when he was an 18-year-old playing for the nearby Binghamton (NY) Triplets of the New York-Penn League.
“I remember we made a trip over here back then,” Lum said. “And the countryside is still beautiful.
“The Hall has really changed. Just to see all the artifacts is incredible. This has been my life, baseball has, and to see all the artifacts it’s just an awesome, awesome sight to see.”
The 67-year-old Lum’s affection for the national pastime began while growing up in Honolulu, Hawaii.
“Baseball and football were my loves,” he recalled. “But I signed in 1963 out of high school with the Milwaukee Braves and went to the Georgia-Florida League. After putting my time in in the minor leagues, I was fortunate enough to get to the big leagues in 1967.”
As a member of the Braves, Lum was a longtime teammate of Hall of Famer Hank Aaron and one of the only players to ever pinch-hit for the slugger. Traded to the Reds prior to the 1976, he was able to capture a World Series title with the famed “Big Red Machine.”
“I played with a lot of great players with the Reds, such as Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan and Tony Perez, and also Hank Aaron with the Braves,” Lum said, “and of course now to see everything they have done in their careers, to see them all honored in one spot, it’s just incredible.
“Hank Aaron was the first big league player that I got to know when I was called up to the big leagues with the Braves. He was a great teammate and obviously a great ballplayer,” he added. “As for the Reds, there was an air on that team. They all had a confidence in what they were doing. You knew you had a chance every day to win a ballgame.”
After leaving the playing field as a player in 1981, Lum has embarked on a career as a coach and instructor for a number of big league teams.
“I’m still in the game,” he said. “I work for the Pittsburgh Pirates in player development and I love it. I’ve been a coordinator for over 25 years and I’ve also coached in the big leagues.
“And what I’m doing now is no traveling, it’s a 9-to-5 job (at the Pirates’ minor league outpost in Florida) where we play games during the day, and I’m just enjoying my last few years of coaching.”
Looking back on his five decades in the game, Lum said, “I had the opportunity, I was lucky to have the opportunity, and I appreciated what I had and what I still have. It’s just such a great, great sport.”
Bill Francis is a Library Associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum