Greenberg’s Glory

Muder_90By Craig Muder

With 40 Hall of Famers ready to come home to Cooperstown in a few weeks, there’s a wonderful spirit in the air in Central New York.

But thanks to some tireless work by author John Rosengren, the spirit of one more legend – former Tigers and Pirates star Hank Greenberg – has come to life at the home of baseball.Greenberg-Book

Rosengren’s biography “Hank Greenberg: Hero of Heroes” was published this spring by New American Library and is available at booksellers throughout the country. The 392-page work is a must-read for fans of the slugging first baseman, who later became a respected general manager.

Rosengren documents Greenberg’s entire life, which began on Jan. 1, 1911 in New York City. The son of Jewish immigrants from Romania, Hyman Greenberg was the third child of David and Sarah – his name was recorded on his birth certificate as “Henry” by mistake. By the time he reached his early 20s, “Hank” had become one of the most famous Jews in America – a symbol of pride for his race.

Rosengren meticulously documents Greenberg’s battle with prejudice and his own conscience as he established himself as one of baseball’s most dangerous hitters. He brings to life Greenberg’s pursuit of Babe Ruth’s record of 60 home runs in the 1938 season, when Greenberg fell just short with 58 round-trippers. And readers get an inside look at a man driven to perfection – who was his own harshest critic despite two American League Most Valuable Player Awards, four AL home run crowns and four RBI titles.

“Hank was no longer being asked to carry his team,” Rosengren wrote. “He was being prevailed upon to carry his people.”

One of the most influential Jewish athletes of all-time – and a man who inspired countless Jewish children to strive for greatness – Greenberg is often underrepresented in the analysis of baseball’s greatest sluggers. But despite losing the equivalent of more than four prime seasons during World War II, Greenberg still hit 331 home runs and drove in 1,276 runs in what amounted to nine-and-a-half full campaigns. His career slugging percentage of .605 ranks sixth all time (only Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams, Jimmie Foxx and Barry Bonds rank higher), as does his career on-base plus slugging (OPS) average of 1.017.

Greenberg was also the first major leaguer to re-enlist in the armed forces following the Dec. 7, 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor, having been honorably discharged from the Army after serving eight months in 1941.

Greenberg was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1956 and called it his “greatest” thrill in baseball.

Rosengren captures all this and more in a volume that brings Hank Greenberg back to life. A fitting tribute to a man whose greatness transcended the game.

Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

Breaking a Barrier

By Andrew Kivette

Baseball may be regarded as America’s Pastime, but in baseball-crazed Puerto Rico, the sport is the past, present and future.

Karl Bithorn, whose great great uncle Hiram Bithorn became the first native of Puerto Rico to play in the big leagues in 1942, visited the Hall of Fame on July 3. Karl, a coach for the Cooperstown Hawkeyes of the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League, is holding a photo of Hiram from the Museum's photo archive. (Milo Stewart Jr./National Baseball Hall of Fame)

Karl Bithorn, whose great great uncle Hiram Bithorn became the first native of Puerto Rico to play in the big leagues in 1942, visited the Hall of Fame on July 3. Karl, a coach for the Cooperstown Hawkeyes of the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League, is holding a photo of Hiram from the Museum’s photo archive. (Milo Stewart Jr./National Baseball Hall of Fame)

Prior to 1942, however, no native Puerto Rican had played at the major league level in the United States.

Hiram Bithorn made history as the first player from Puerto Rico to play Major League Baseball. As pitcher for the Chicago Cubs, Bithorn debuted April 15, 1942.

Wednesday, July 3, Karl Bithorn, Jr. – whose great great uncle was Hiram – visited the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Director of Research Tim Wiles showed Bithorn around the Hall’s Giamatti Research Center.

Karl reflected on his great great uncle’s accomplishments. Following in Hiram’s footsteps, Karl too had baseball in his blood. He went on to play college ball at State University of New York-Ulster and Bacone College. “When I was old enough to walk, I remember my dad throwing socks to me and I had a coat hanger in my hand and would swing and hit the socks,” Karl said. “I have been playing baseball my entire life.”

Karl calls Cooperstown home in the summer, as he has joined the coaching ranks with the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League’s Cooperstown Hawkeyes. “My playing days are over now, so now I’m in the coaching scene,” Bithorn said. “I’ve had the privilege of coaching the collegiate summer league here in Cooperstown, which is unbelievable. I started at an early age and plan on staying in baseball as long as I can.”

Karl’s great great uncle opened the door for a whole nation of baseball talents. Since his debut in 1942, over 200 Puerto Rican players have played at the MLB level.

“[Being related to Hiram Bithorn] means a lot. To have somebody that is a relative of yours to open the floodgates – so to speak – to now probably over [200] ballplayers in the major leagues is definitely significant,” Bithorn said. “It’s someone that I look up to even though I was never fortunate to meet him. Knowing that I’m related to someone that was the first – there’s only one first – so that’s unbelievable. It’s a great feeling.”

Overall Hiram Bithorn played four years in the MLB – three with the Chicago Cubs and one season with the White Sox. He won 34 games while posting an ERA of 3.16.

To honor hometown hero Hiram Bithorn, the municipality of San Juan built and dedicated a baseball stadium in his name – Hiram Bithorn Stadium. Since 1962, the stadium has hosted MLB games, Puerto Rican league baseball games and most recently rounds of the World Baseball Classic. The stadium pays homage to the memory of Bithorn and the sacrifice he made by enduring all the trials and criticism against Latin players, while paving a way for all Puerto Ricans that dream to play in the major leagues.

“He definitely a footprint left in the baseball world. To me, it means a lot,” said Karl.

Andrew Kivette is the 2013 public relations intern in the Hall of Fame’s Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program for Youth Leadership Development

Bournigal Keeps It in the Family

By Andrew Kivette

Rafael Bournigal spent seven years at the major league level, and on Thursday, June 27, he and his family stopped by the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum to share some memories about the game.

Former big leaguer Rafael Bournigal, who played with the Dodgers, A's and Mariners during the 1990s, learns about the Hall of Fame Library with his son Grant on Thursday in Cooperstown. (Milo Stewart Jr./National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)

Former big leaguer Rafael Bournigal, who played with the Dodgers, A’s and Mariners during the 1990s, learns about the Hall of Fame Library with his son Grant on Thursday in Cooperstown. (Milo Stewart Jr./National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)

Museum Director of Research Tim Wiles showed the Bournigal family around the Hall of Fame’s Giamatti Research Center, sharing artifacts such as the scorecard from 1951 Shot Heard ‘Round the World game in which the New York Giants won the National League pennant.

Upon seeing Russ Hodges’ scorecard, Bournigal was immediately reminded of his father – George Bournigal – who broadcasted Major League Baseball games in Spanish for audiences in the Dominican Republic.

Growing up in the Dominican, Rafael Bournigal looked up to the stars from his country. “When I was growing up, I grew up liking Manny Mota. I was in his league – the Manny Mota league. So I was always looking up to him. And Alfredo Griffin, because my dad was always so friendly with him and he was so nice to us, (we knew him) when we were kids. And then Pedro Guerrero with the Dodgers. It was always related with the stars, the major league players that were around my dad.”

A lifetime .251 hitter, Bournigal – with the help of his two sons – recalled the best day of his major league career. “You went 3-for-4 against Randy Johnson,” said youngest son Grant, who played in a youth baseball tournament in Cooperstown this week.  “That was the day Randy Johnson struck out 19 guys and Mark McGwire hit the longest ball in Kingdome history,” Bournigal recalled. “The next day – what I thought was my best day – I was 4-for-4 and hit a home run against [Bob Wolcott]. That whole week I was 17-for-25. They couldn’t get me out that week.”

Bournigal’s oldest son – Rafael Jr. – is following in his dad’s footsteps as he will start college in the fall at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn., where he will be playing shortstop.

But Dad’s time in baseball has not subsided quite yet. After Bournigal’s playing days were over, he took over as the Marlins scouting director of Latin America. From 2003-2005, Bournigal served the Director of Scouting for the New York Mets. And now, Bournigal coaches his youngest son Grant’s baseball team.

”I’m able to relate with them and able to pass the things I learned in baseball to the next generation,” Bournigal said. “It keeps us together as a family – the long games, the ups and downs of baseball – there’s always a connection.”

Andrew Kivette is the 2013 public relations intern in the Hall of Fame’s Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program for Youth Leadership Development

It’s a Small World After All

Scrafford_90By Claudette Scrafford

As I was looking through the file of Ken Smith, former director of the Hall of Fame, I came across a letter written on March 8, 1983.  It originally caught my eye because the letterhead said “Baseball Canada.”  Since I’m Canadian, actually dual citizen since March 2011, it naturally piqued my interest.

I looked at the author’s signature and could not believe what I saw. It was written by Paul E. Lavigne, executive director of the Canadian Federation of Amateur Baseball.  That’s my uncle. I was speechless – which doesn’t happen much, just ask anyone.  March-8-1983

My uncle was with Baseball Canada from about the mid-1970s until the mid-1980s. It brought back so many memories of his stopping by the house and telling us stories of what he was doing or who he had met. I remember him giving us little gifts with the Baseball Canada logo on them. Of course as a self-centered teenager, I smiled and nodded and thanked him for the gifts, but really did not understand exactly what he did. I really didn’t like baseball.

A few years back, as I was looking through a few photo files in our archives, I came across a black-and-white photo of him. He was with three other men, two of whom I think were ballplayers. They were to play in a tournament in Nicaragua in November 1977 and were preparing a trip to Cuba to practice for that tournament. When I saw him in that photo, I was floored.

Now, as I look at this letter, it makes me smile and I think that perhaps “Mon Oncle Paulo,” as we called him, is smiling down on me and happy to see that I, too, am working in baseball.

Claudette Scrafford is the Manuscript Archivist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

A Thinking-Man’s Player

Francis_90By Bill Francis

Unlike the other 160 people attending the 25th Annual Symposium on Baseball and American Culture at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum this week, Mario Ramos had the privilege of playing big league baseball. Though his time at the game’s highest level consisted of only three games, the former southpaw hurler left the field with no regrets.

“Honestly, I’m very grateful that the answer to that question is no. I worked hard and I lived clean and I gave myself the best opportunity that I could,” Ramos said. “It wasn’t like I left baseball because I was hurt. I just lost a couple miles an hour, and I was on that fine line to begin with.”

Former big leaguer Mario Ramos fielded questions in front of a capacity crowd in the Museum’s Learning Center about playing professional baseball during the steroid era. (Milo Stewart, Jr./NBHOF Library)

Ramos was part of a Thursday morning panel entitled, Baseball and Cultural Expectations. His presentation, Mario’s Choice: To Cheat or Not to Cheat, held before a capacity crowd at the Hall of Fame’s Learning Center, involved Texas State University Professor Oren Renick interviewing the former Rice University pitcher about playing professional baseball during a period now known for the use of performance enhancing drugs.

“I really enjoyed the questions. I enjoyed the interest that people had in something that was normal to me,” said the 35-year-old Ramos afterward. “One interesting thing is we have these conversations and we talk about character and I wonder how I would feel had I not made it. I do wonder what my responses to the questions would be, and would I be bitter. I probably would be a little bit bitter had I not made it but thank goodness that I did.”

After leaving Rice after being selected by the Oakland A’s in the sixth round of the 1999 amateur draft, Ramos became a hot prospect after combining for a 30-9 in his first two minor league seasons.

“I didn’t even know how it worked as far as moving up,” Ramos said, “so I was just playing the game and that was when I did the best.

“I was a fastball pitcher who threw only in the mid-80s. But I think if you have confidence in a pitch that makes a difference. I was just confidant in the inside fastball. I threw it to anybody.”

Traded to the Rangers prior to the 2002 campaign (“For me it was great because I’m from Texas”), he would eventually make his big league debut with Texas on June 19, 2003. In three starts that season, Ramos would go 1-1 with a 6.23 ERA. Though he would continue in the minors through 2007, he would never make it back to “The Show.”

“There are lots of things you put so much into and you may get there and it may or may not be what you expected. I think the best way to describe getting to the major leagues was it was everything that I expected,” Ramos said. “Even with the highest of high expectations you could have for an experience, it was everything that I expected. And I think that says a lot.”

Ramos attended the Symposium five years ago, talking about the transition of being a player to not being a player. Today, the next chapter of his life involves working with math and science teachers at a local high school near Austin, Texas, and coaching his two sons, ages 8 and 11, in the game of baseball.

“I got into teaching because I had the same holidays as my kids,” Ramos said, “and I thought I’d be pretty good at it.”

As one of 18,000-plus men who have ever played in the majors, Ramos appreciates what it took for the chosen few who have been enshrined for eternity in the Hall of Fame.

“I think in a way it’s affirming of how much I put in to the game. It affirms that I’m not the only one would be willing to do that,” he said. “Most of these faces that you see on the plaques (in the Hall of Fame), they gave it all they had. I know the road that leads there and the sacrifices that you make.”

Bill Francis is a Library Associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

Connecting Three Generations

Muder_90By Craig Muder

Bob Boone held his bat from his 100th home run in his hands and exhaled.

“That was a long time ago,” Boone said. “But I think some of these guys playing today don’t realize about all the history in this game. And when you think about it like that, it wasn’t all that long ago.”

Boone is a keen student of history – for obvious reasons. His dad Ray Boone played for 13 years in the big leagues and was a two-time All-Star, and Bob played for 19 years – winning seven Gold Glove Awards behind the plate and setting a standard (since broken) with 2,225 games caught. His sons Bret and Aaron also played in the majors, making the Boones a three generation big league family.

From left, Bret Boone, Isaiah Boone, Judah Boone and Bob Boone receive a tour of the Hall of Fame Library from Erik Strohl, the Museum's curator of exhibitions and collections. Bret and Bob make up two of the three-generation Boone MLB family. Isaiah and Judah are Bret's eight-year-old sons. (Craig Muder/NBHOF Library)

From left, Bret Boone, Isaiah Boone, Judah Boone and Bob Boone receive a tour of the Hall of Fame Library from Erik Strohl, the Museum’s curator of exhibitions and collections. Bret and Bob make up two of the three-generation Boone MLB family. Isaiah and Judah are Bret’s eight-year-old sons. (Craig Muder/NBHOF Library)

Bob, Bret and some fourth generation Boones – Bret’s eight-year-old sons Judah and Isaiah – visited the Hall of Fame on Sunday following their appearance on Saturday at the Hall of Fame Classic. Bob carefully pored over his player file in the Museum’s Library – one of more than 18,000 player files maintained by the Museum – and also examined photos of three generations of Boone big leaguers in the photo archive during their behind-the-scenes tour.

But it was in the artifact archive where Bob and Bret really connected with the game’s history and their family, cradling Babe Ruth bats with great care while photographing Judah and Isaiah with the artifacts.

“This was a bat used by (Hall of Famer) Paul Molitor,” said Bret to his sons. “He was my hitting coach.”

A three-time All-Star and four-time Gold Glove Award winner at second base, Bret Boone described himself as a “bat freak” who loved picking out the perfect piece of lumber.

Bret Boone, seated, takes a look at some photos of his playing days preserved in the Hall of Fame photo archive while his father, Bob, looks at images of his father, Ray, who was also a big league ballplayer. With Bret are his sons Judah (left) and Isaiah and Hall of Fame curator Erik Strohl. (Craig Muder/NBHOF Library)

Bret Boone, seated, takes a look at some photos of his playing days preserved in the Hall of Fame photo archive while his father, Bob, looks at images of his father, Ray, who was also a big league ballplayer. With Bret are his sons Judah (left) and Isaiah and Hall of Fame curator Erik Strohl. (Craig Muder/NBHOF Library)

His sons, meanwhile, have a good jump on their attempt to make the Boones a four-generation big league family. Isaiah spent part of the quiet moments of the tour playing a video baseball game on his iPad when he and Judah weren’t taking photos of the artifacts.

Bob, the assistant general manager and vice president for player development for the Washington Nationals, got to see his bat from his 100th career home run – hit on June 13, 1988 when Bob was member of the California Angels – which he donated to the Museum.

But after the tour, Bob was in no hurry to see the morning end – taking his family into the public areas of the Museum for more history lessons.

“You could spend days here looking at all the history,” Bob said. “One thing after another – you just say ‘Wow.’”

Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

A Reds-letter day in Cooperstown

Francis_90By Bill Francis

Former big league pitcher Jim Maloney is in the midst of visiting some of the more recognizable and respected spots in America – Mount Rushmore, Yellowstone National Park, Wrigley Field and the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Accompanied by his wife Lyn, the 72-year-old former fireballer made a stop at the Cooperstown shrine on Thursday from their home in Fresno Calif. For Maloney, it was his first visit since he came with the Cincinnati Reds to participate in the 1967 Hall of Fame Game against the Baltimore Orioles.

Former Reds and Angels pitcher Jim Maloney (right) gets a tour of the Hall of Fame Library from Senior Curator Tom Shieber on Thursday in Cooperstown. (Milo Stewart Jr./National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)

Former Reds and Angels pitcher Jim Maloney (right) gets a tour of the Hall of Fame Library from Senior Curator Tom Shieber on Thursday in Cooperstown. (Milo Stewart Jr./National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)

“It’s just unbelievable,” he said after touring the Museum and archive. “I had been here in 1967, and all I remember is going to little Doubleday Field. We didn’t go through the Museum and I don’t know why. We bused in from Utica, N.Y. and after the game we bused back.

“But I have a son-in-law that came through here last summer and he just marveled about the place. And now I can see it’s everything that you dream about. It’s a wonderful, wonderful place.”

Maloney ended his 12-year big league career, spent mostly with the Reds, in 1971. A high school shortstop, he made the successful transition to pitcher and dominated the National League for a number of years before injuries forced him to retire in his early 30s.

“I was blessed with a strong arm. Somehow I could always throw the ball harder than anybody my age or anybody that was three or four years older than I was,” he said. “I would say my fastball was in the high 90s, but I had an excellent curve to go along with my fastball,  just like Sandy Koufax.

“There were a lot of good pitchers when I played – Bob Gibson, Juan Marichal, Don Drysdale, and Sandy Koufax. Every ballclub had a guy that could fire that ball. That was the deal in those days. I was glad I came along when I did.”

Maloney finished with a 134-84 record, a 3.19 ERA, and 1,605 strikeouts in 1,849 innings pitched. A two-time 20-game winner, he won at least 12 games every season from 1963 to 1969. His best campaign may have come in 1963, when the righty compiled a 23-7 record with a 2.77 ERA and 265 strikeouts.

“I had a goal when I started of having a 20-win season, and I did that a couple times,” Maloney said, “and I had a goal of playing in the All-Star Game, and I did that one time, and I wanted to pitch a no-hitter, and I was fortunate to do that a couple of times, and play in a World Series, and I got to do that in 1961.

“So overall, outside of an injury cutting my career short, the only goal I didn’t achieve was winning 200 games, and I just fell a little short of that one.”

Maloney not only tossed two no-hitters, but also lost another one in the 11th inning. Today, his glove used in a 10-inning no-hitter against the Chicago Cubs in 1965 is on display in the Museum’s “One for the Books: Baseball Records and the Stories Behind Them” exhibit.

“I wondered where that glove went,” Maloney joked. “It’s really an honor to go and see your name in the Museum and the glove you had when you threw a no-hitter on display.”

Bill Francis is a Library Associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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