Results tagged ‘ Arizona Diamondbacks ’

No-spin zone

Francis_90.jpgBy Bill Francis

The brotherhood of big league knuckleball pitchers is relatively small, but one of its former practitioners could be seen floating through the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum on Monday.

Steve Sparks made a name for himself tossing a baseball with no spin to bewildered hitters during a nine-year big league career spent with the Milwaukee Brewers (1995-96), Anaheim Angels (1998-99), Detroit Tigers (2000-03), Oakland A’s (2003) and Arizona Diamondbacks (2004). The right-hander made the trip from his home outside Houston in Sugar Land, Texas, with his 14-year-old son Blake.

07-20-10-Francis_Sparks.jpg“Blake and I have talked about coming to the Hall of Fame for four or five years now,” Spark said. “He’s going into high school next year and just thought with his schedule this might be our last chance for awhile, so we decided to make the trip this year.

“His sisters are in camp for the month of July so this is a chance for him and me to get out and do something by ourselves.”

This was Sparks’ first trip to the Hall of Fame.

“I’d never been here before, so I was very anxious. It’s a dream come true just seeing all the artifacts. I’ve always been enthralled by the game’s history,” Sparks said. “I grew up reading books about the history of the game, and I work with Fox Sports in Houston doing the pre- and post-game shows for the Houston Astros, so I’ve stayed in it and I’ve always enjoyed it. So for Blake and me to enjoy this together has been a lot of fun.”

Sparks, who turned 45 on July 2, ended his major league with a 59-76 record, highlighted by a 14-9 mark with the 2001 Tigers, and a 4.88 ERA.

“I was in my 40s and I just felt like I was ready to be home with my family,” Sparks said. “And the hitters let me know it was time to get out of the game, too.”

While the Hall of Fame boasts two knuckleball pitchers – Hoyt Wilhelm and Phil Niekro – the game has seen at least 250, but fewer than 90 who threw it regularly. This year, only Boston’s Tim Wakefield, R.A. Dickey of the Mets and Los Angeles Dodger Charlie Haeger are regulars at it.

Sparks was your regular fastball, curveball, slider, changeup pitcher before the Brewers approached him about making a radical change.

“I played professionally for 19 years but my first five or six years I was a conventional pitcher,” Sparks said. “I was kind of stalling out at the Double-A level, and the Milwaukee Brewers, the team I was with in the minor leagues at that point, felt like I might be a good candidate for the knuckleball because being shorter in stature helps (he’s 6-feet tall) and also I had pretty clean mechanics.

“They gave me a three-year plan and I started back over in Single-A, and by the end of that three years I was knocking on the door.”

According to Sparks, it was a lot of trial and error in the beginning, but eventually a coach hooked him up with big league knuckleballer Tom Candiotti.

“I had about five pages worth of questions to ask him over the telephone,” Sparks said. “And then actually got a chance to meet him at the Houston Astrodome at the tail end of one of his seasons with the Dodgers and that was very beneficial. It’s a very close fraternity of knuckleball pitchers, and Candiotti, for myself, was probably the most helpful. He was kind of a hybrid knuckleball pitcher, where he threw a lot of curves and sliders and fastballs, and that’s what I did a lot.

“The biggest luxury for me at the major league level was the bounce back factor. You didn’t have to rely on velocity three or four days after you pitched. You could go out there, and as long as you had good feel and took the spin off the ball you had a chance to be successful.”

And while Sparks played with and against a number of Hall of Famers over the years, he grew up in Tulsa, Okla., with fellow pitcher Tom Seaver as his favorite player.

“In 1969 I was five years old and my father taught me how to read the box scores,” Sparks said. “That was the year the Mets had their miracle season, Tom Seaver was the best player on that team at that time, and that’s who I stuck with.”

Bill Francis is a library associate for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Hall Monitor: Vlad laps the majors

Hayes_90.jpg

By Trevor Hayes

Last week, on a ball way out of the strike zone where only he could make an opponent pay, the Rangers’ Vladimir Guerrero sent one of his signature bad-ball home runs over the fence. This particular home run came against his former mates in Anaheim, the Angels – the 30th team he’s homered against. And that round-tripper put him into a small group, as only 32 players have hit a home run against all 30 teams.

But only one of the 203 Hall of Famers who played in the major leagues – Eddie Murray – homered against every active team during his era.

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Retiring in 1997, Murray never had a chance to hit against Arizona and Tampa Bay, but he amassed home runs against 28 opponents. Murray’s march through the majors consisted of 504 home runs during 21 seasons. He played 13 years with the Orioles, four with the Dodgers, three with the Indians, two with the Mets and one with the Angels. The Twins were his most victimized team, as Murray hit 44 home runs against Minnesota – with Detroit following at 38 home runs yielded. Despite his long stint in Baltimore, he still clouted six against them. His least victimized teams were Colorado (one home run), Florida (three home runs) and a three-way tie between Philadelphia, Montreal and the Mets (four home runs).

Because the last round of expansion came so recently, few Hall of Famers have even had the chance to complete Guerrero’s feat of homering against 30 teams. Among current Hall of Famers, only Rickey Henderson, Tony Gwynn, Cal Ripken Jr., Wade Boggs, Dennis Eckersley and Paul Molitor played in 1998 or beyond.

Of them, Eckersley, a pitcher, had three career home runs, Ripken and Gwynn spent their entire careers with one team – making it impossible to hit home runs against the Orioles and Padres, respectively.

Molitor and Boggs played exclusively in the American League, giving them from 1997 on to take advantage of Interleague play. Molitor played just one season with all 30 clubs, homering against 16 total teams – with one each against the Cubs and Astros and none in 11 games against Tampa Bay. Boggs retired in 1999, playing for Tampa in its first two seasons of existence while collecting just one home run against an NL club – the Expos.

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Henderson homered against 27 teams during 25 seasons with 11 teams. The speedster missed out on the Diamondbacks, Braves and Astros.

Other than Henderson, Gwynn, Ripken, Boggs, Eckersley and Molitor, Murray and Ryne Sandberg are the only Hall of Famers to participate in Interleague games – which means in order to accomplish the feat, inductees prior to them must have played for a minimum of four teams (two in each league).

In all, there are 59 Hall of Famers who played with four or more teams. Of them, 35 hit 16 or more home runs in their career – the minimum number of home runs needed to hit one against each team in the modern pre-expansion era. Of those 35, just seven played for two franchises in the AL and two in the NL: Frank Robinson, Jimmie Foxx, Murray, Orlando Cepeda, Al Simmons, Enos Slaughter and Heinie Manush.

Robinson and Slaughter came the closest, falling one team shy of homering against all clubs of their era – leaving Murray, for now, in a class by himself.

Trevor Hayes is editorial production manager at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Tales from the Cactus League

Idelson_90.jpgBy Jeff Idelson

I am so glad Spring Training is here, even if it was warmer in Cooperstown than in the desert for a few of the days I visited Arizona last week. Boy did I miss baseball. And in my job, I am so fortunate to have the opportunity to rub elbows with so many of the game’s greats, bringing them closer to the Hall of Fame.

 
03-12-10-Idelson_KoufaxPalmer.jpgI got to see the Giants, Brewers, White Sox, Mariners, Indians, Reds, Royals and Rangers all play.

It was great to see the two reigning Cy Young award winners – Tim Lincecum and Zack Greinke – pitch. I brought Tim plaque postcards of Sandy Koufax and Jim Palmer. Why? They are the only Hall of Famers to win back-to-back Cy Young Awards. Perhaps they will help inspire Tim, not that he needs inspiration.

Before the Cactus League opener in Peoria, I visited my friends in the Mariners clubhouse: Head athletic trainer Rick Griffin and I talked about the health of his players; Ken Griffey Jr. told me he expected Ichiro to get twice as many regular season hits as he would – including spring training.  “I’m aiming for 150 hits,” said Junior.  “Have you seen Ichiro get hot?  You turn around, and he’s gone 15-for-25. If anyone can get 300 hits, it’s him.” I don’t doubt Griffey’s sense of logic, having seen Ichiro play so many times.

 Did you ever take an advanced or AP class in high school? I took AP Baseball last week with Professor Ryan. Nolan and I sat together for the Rangers-Royals game, where he gave me a breakdown of every player on the field. I had a similar experience a few days later with White Sox owner and Hall of Fame Board member Jerry Reinsdorf, who invited me to sit with him, his vice chairman, Eddie Einhorn, and his special assistant, Dennis Gilbert, the former agent for George Brett. I now know where the White Sox’s strengths and weaknesses lie. Bobby Brett, George’s brother, joined us.

03-12-10-Idelson_Ryan.jpgWe held our annual Cactus League Champions event in Goodyear, where the Indians and Reds train. It’s a great complex. The Indians were very generous in hosting our Champions, those who support us with an annual donation of $5,000 or more.

Team President Paul Dolan and assistant GM Chris Antonetti addressed our group and let them know what to expect from the Indians this year. After the game, we all had dinner with Bob Feller and Fergie Jenkins, where they regaled the group with stories, photos and autographs.

Speaking of dinners, Billy Williams, Ryne Sandberg, Fergie and their wives joined me for dinner the night before. We toasted to a good 2010 Cubs team and the Williams’ 50th wedding anniversary. Quite a feat for the Williamses, a lovely couple.

On my first night in Arizona, I was joined by Mickey Morabito and Steve Vucinich from the A’s, Gary Hughes, the Cubs scout, Roland Hemond, the long-time Bill Veeck disciple who works for the Diamondbacks, and veteran writers Bob Nightengale, of USA Today, and Spink Award winner Tracy Ringolsby. We get together each spring to talk about scouting and the game today. We used to dine each year at the Pink Pony, a popular old-school steakhouse on North Scottsdale Road that finally closed its doors. We miss the Pony.

03-12-10-Idelson_CactusLeague.jpgOn my final evening, I hosted the dinner to end all dinners, at Don & Charlie’s, a popular Scottsdale hangout with great steaks and ribs. We had a large group that included Bob Uecker, Rollie Fingers, Robin Yount and his brother Larry, George Brett and his guest Joe Randa, Mike Murphy, the Giants’ clubhouse man since Day One in San Francisco, Brad Ziegler, my friend who pitches in the A’s bullpen, Jerry, Eddie and Dennis from the White Sox, and Bob Crotty, who is a generous Hall of Fame supporter and owner of Green Diamonds Gallery in Cincinnati, an exquisite baseball gallery of artifacts and art.

Just before we were getting ready to sit down to dinner, Uecker calls me from his cell phone to let me know he invited two other mutual friends – Bob Costas and Joe Torre.

We had a great dinner and talked about the Dodgers impending trip to Taiwan, told Yogi stories, heard all about the Olympics, and tried to recollect if Torre and Fingers ever faced each other. “Did I ever face you?” Joe asked? “I can’t recall,” was Rollie’s response.

So, I emailed Freddy Berowski in the Hall of Fame Library. Sorry Joe: You faced Rollie one time in the regular season, on May 1, 1977, and struck out. You also faced him in the 1973 All-Star Game and popped out in the 9th. None-the-less, you remain one the game’s greatest players, managers and ambassadors and it’s hard to imagine you won’t be in Cooperstown one day.

Jeff Idelson is president of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Baseball, U.S. Naval history intersect in Alabama

Idelson_90.jpgBy Jeff Idelson

I woke up Oct. 1 in Mobile, Ala. and looked at my itinerary. A morning meeting with the Mobile Baybears, the Double-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks, followed by lunch. After that, about five hours to kill until my flight home.

10-5-09-Idelson_Feller.jpgErik Strohl, our senior director of exhibits and collections, and I, decided to take a tour of the battleship Alabama, a massive Navy ship that saw extensive action during World War II. I had wished to see the ship for many years, specifically because Hall of Famer Bob Feller served on it. It is now a museum of sorts, docked in Mobile Bay

Feller left the Cleveland Indians for the Navy, enlisting just two days after Pearl Harbor in 1941.He spent four years in the prime of his career as an anti-aircraft gun captain on the USS Alabama, part of a well-trained fleet that never lost one man to combat. Feller was decorated eight times with five battle stars.

As we boarded the ship, I had the chills. Walking the ship’s deck, I imagined a young Bob doing his part to make the team a success, just as so many other major leaguers had during World War II.

Erik and I walked the entire ship, on every level and were awestruck how it resembled a small town. Mess hall, post office, store, laundry, barber shop… it had everything. The battleship was home to more than 2,500 sailors, more than the population of Cooperstown. I know I would have been claustrophobic, bunking well below the ship’s surface.

10-5-09-Idelson_Alabama.jpgWe could also imagine how unsettling it must have been to be constantly on guard with the potential for attack. The battleship was painted several times, depending on the mission, to match the color of the sky and water.

We saw many photos of the soldiers. We even saw one of the baseball team, each player with a giant “A” on the front of his uniform, akin to the old Philadelphia A’s logo. No Bob in the photos, though he did play.

The Alabama would play other ships and was renowned for having the best team in the Pacific, playing in places like New Hebrides, the Fijis, Ulithi, Kwadulane, Eniwetok. I pictured Feller, between practicing combat exercises, playing catch on the ship’s massive deck.

I know how proud Bob is of his military service and touring the Alabama made me realize just how hard his job was, helping to protect America when a team effort was needed most. It also made me realize how fortunate we are to have the freedoms we do, because of soldiers like him who put his country first

Jeff Idelson is the president of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Timlin trying to go from Cooperstown to majors

Carr_90.jpgBy Samantha Carr

When he arrived in Cooperstown along with Hall of Famers and fellow former major leaguers for the Inaugural Hall of Fame Classic, Mike Timlin made it clear that he was the one player who was not retired.

8-7-09-Carr_TimlinFinley.jpg“Nothing’s totally official,” said Timlin, who last played in 2008 with the Boston Red Sox. “I had my name out there in Spring Training, so something could happen this summer. If someone gives me a call that I would deem worthy to walk away from the family for a little while, it could happen.”

The Colorado Rockies made that call.

The 43-year-old Timlin signed a minor league contract with the Rockies and reported to the Pioneer League’s Casper Ghosts on a rehab assignment July 29.  He threw two scoreless outings for the rookie-league level Ghosts before being promoted to the Rockies’ Triple-A club in Colorado Springs. He made his Sky Sox debut on Thursday night, pitching one-and-two-thirds scoreless innings against Nashville.

8-7-09-Carr_TimlinBack.jpgThe Classic, which took place on Father’s Day, brought five Hall of Famers and more than 20 former major league stars to Doubleday Field in Cooperstown. Although Timlin’s team lost, he made an effort to get everyone who participated to autograph his jersey.

Timlin has played for the Blue Jays, Mariners, Orioles, Cardinals, Phillies and Red Sox in 18 big league seasons, has a 4.26 ERA in 46 postseason appearances with 41 strikeouts and is the all-time leader in relief appearances by a right-hander with 1,054. He got the save in the final game of the 1992 World Series for Toronto.

Fifteen years to the day later, he made an appearance in Game 1 of the 2007 Fall Classic, throwing one inning of scoreless relief for Boston. Timlin was part of World Series championship teams with Toronto (1992 and 1993) and Boston (2004 and 2007).

Samantha Carr is media relations coordinator at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

By the numbers

Hayes_90.jpgBy Trevor Hayes

It’s been a great week for numbers in baseball. And here at the Baseball Hall of Fame, those numbers will be preserved forever.

A sample of the week that was:


7-31-09-Hayes_HeltonSpeaker.jpg500 for Todd:
Last week, Colorado’s Todd Helton became the 50th player to collect 500 doubles. Hall of Famer Tris Speaker holds the record with 792, while 32 of the men who have 500 or more doubles are also enshrined in Cooperstown. Five, including Helton, are active and six others aren’t yet eligible. One other note: Helton achieved the feat in his 1,749th game. Only two players reached 500 quicker: Hall of Famers Joe Medwick (1,714) and Nap Lajoie (1,730).

Dodger Details: Tuesday night marked the 2,000th regular-season contest between the Dodgers and Cardinals, dating back to 1892, when the St. Louis Browns first played the Brooklyn Grooms as members of the National League. Brooklyn/Los Angeles holds a slight edge over St. Louis at 993-992 – with 16 ties – after losing to the Redbirds on Wednesday. The match-up includes a two-game tiebreaker series in 1946 when the Cards swept the Dodgers for the NL pennant.

One man who’s probably seen more of those games than anyone else is Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully. The 1982 Ford C. Frick winner announced this week that he may retire after the 2010 season – his 61st in the booth. The 81-year-old Scully started calling Dodger games in 1950, when they played at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn.


7-31-09-Hayes_MoyerNiekro.jpgAgeless Pitchers:
Jamie Moyer earned his 10th victory of the 2009 season in the Phillies’ 6-2 win over the Diamondbacks on Monday. At 46 years and 251 days, he is the second-oldest pitcher to reach double-digit wins in a season. Hall of Famer Phil Niekro holds the record, earning his 10th in 1986 for the Indians, at 47 years and 145 days. Knucksie won seven more games in 1987 for a total of 318 wins. Moyer’s most recent victory was his 256th.
 
Chasing Rickey: Curtis Granderson hit two home runs to lead off games this week at Texas. With 20 leadoff bombs, he has a long way to go to catch the leader. 2009 Hall of Fame Inductee Rickey Henderson holds the record with 81, followed by Alfonso Soriano, who tied Craig Biggio at 53 in May of this year.

Trevor Hayes is editorial production manager at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Kent, Timlin savor time in Cooperstown

Francis_90.jpgBy Bill Francis

Of the 26 former big league players who participated in Sunday’s inaugural Baseball Hall of Fame Classic, only two were in the big leagues as recently as last season. One says he’s retired for good; the other is willing to listen to offers.

Jeff Kent was a slugging second baseman who captured the 2000 National League MVP Award, while Mike Timlin a stalwart relief pitcher who helped four teams win World Series titles. Between the pair of baseball veterans are 35 seasons and almost 3,400 games of major league action. 

According to Kent, who ended last season with the Los Angeles Dodgers with 377 career home runs, including his record-setting 351 as a second baseman, he’s ready for the next phase of his life.

6-24-09-Francis_Timlin.jpg“I’m 41 now and my desire to compete is going out a little bit,” Kent said before the Classic. “I’ll probably always think I could compete, but at what level I don’t know. It’s time for the younger kids to start taking on the game.

“I think the last 10 years of my career I played the game a lot better in my mind than I did with my body.”

For Timlin, 43, while he sees the writing on the wall, he’s unwillingly to completely concede his playing career has come to an end.

 “Nothing’s totally official,” said Timlin, who played the last six seasons with the Boston Red Sox. “I had my name out there in spring training, so something could happen this summer. If someone gives me a call that I would deem worthy to walk away from the family for a little while, it could happen.”

Both players have been generous over the years about donating artifacts from their careers to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

“They’re probably collecting dust in the basement,” joked Kent, who donated, among other things, the bat he used to hit his 278th homer as a second baseman, breaking Ryne Sandberg‘s former career mark. “It’s neat that I was a part of history for the 17 years that I played.”

Among the Timlin artifacts in the Museum – which like all artifacts are kept in climate-controlled environments – are the spikes he wore when he made his 1,000th appearance as a pitcher. 

“It’s an honor just to be asked to have something in there,” Timlin said. “I know my career numbers are not going to put me in there with a plaque on the wall, so it’s nice to actually have something in there that is part of me.”

Timlin’s last visit to Cooperstown was with the Red Sox as a participant in the 2005 Hall of Fame Game.

“My mom passed away from ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease), so I took a picture with Lou Gehrig‘s first baseman mitt,” Timlin said. “That was pretty neat.”

6-24-09-Francis_Kent.jpgThis was Kent’s first visit to Cooperstown, but with the career he’s had he could one day find himself with a Hall of Fame plaque of his own.

“I’ve never been a baseball historian, so because of that I’ve never really been able to compare myself to anybody else. I never got caught up in the history of the game because I felt like that might erase some of my competitive nature,” Kent said. “I always competed for the moment rather than competing for the past or competing for the future. When you know that history about me, for me to think about where I stand within baseball history, I have no idea.”

But Kent did admit to some curiosity after being around some of the Hall of Famers as part of the Hall of Fame Classic.

“I’m learning more about the intrigue, the specialness, the mystery of the Hall of Fame and the classiness of these players that are in the Hall. And to say that I can be a part of that in the future I appreciate,” Kent said. “I’ve always tried to separate myself from things I can’t control. I played the game and I played it right and hopefully that’ll stand up for itself. We’ll see.

“Being able to say that I was one of the better players is an honor in itself whether somebody votes for me or not.”

And with his long career possibly having come to an end, Timlin can look back with a certain wide-eyed awe.

“God’s blessed me tremendously just to do what I’ve done,” he said. “It has been awesome.”

Bill Francis is a library associate for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

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