Results tagged ‘ Bill Veeck ’

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.

A little anniversary: Veeck sent Gaedel to bat 58 years ago

Bielefeld_90.jpgBy Bridget Bielefeld

Bill Veeck always found ways to lure fans to the ballpark, using elaborate giveaways and exploding scoreboards.

Yet perhaps the most well-known stunt of his career as baseball executive could hardly be seen by the fans in the upper deck. The memory of that promotion, however, will live forever in baseball lore.

Veeck, then the owner of the St. Louis Browns, sent 3-foot-7 Eddie Gaedel to bat 58 years ago today.

8-19-09-Bielefeld_Veeck.jpgThe American League was celebrating its 50th anniversary in 1951, and Veeck wanted to do something memorable. He partnered with a local brewery to deliver a big crowd, and they came through. The Browns recorded their highest attendance mark in four years, as 18,369 fans crammed into Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis for an August 19 doubleheader between the last place Detroit Tigers and the eventual cellar dwellers, the Browns.

He also hired Gaedel -a 26-year-old stunt performer. To keep his plan a secret, Veeck sent the contract to the league office late on Saturday, Aug. 18 – knowing it would not be delivered until Monday.

Between games Gaedel – sporting No. 1/8 – jumped out of a large papier-mâché cake and scurried into the Browns dugout. Little did the fans know at the time – nor did anyone from the league office – that Veeck had discretely signed Gaedel to a major league contract. Gaedel, given strict orders from Veeck not to swing the bat, swapped his elf-like shoes for a pair of cleats.  

“When he heard what I wanted him to do, he was a little dubious,” Veeck wrote in his autobiography, Veeck – As in Wreck.  “I had to give him a sales pitch.  I said, ‘Eddie, you’ll be the only midget in the history of the game. You’ll be appearing before thousands of people. Your name will go in the record books for all-time. You’ll be famous, Eddie. You’ll be immortal.'”

Gaedel waited in the Browns tunnel until the bottom of the first inning, he heard public address announcer Bernie Ebert boom, “Batting for Frank Saucier, No. 1/8, Eddie Gaedel.”

8-19-09-Bielefeld_Keeler.jpgAs he approached the batters’ box, home plate umpire Ed Hurley summoned Browns manager Zack Taylor. Prepared by Veeck, Taylor brought with him a copy of Gaedel’s contract and a roster – proving they had room for him on the team. Appeased, Hurley called for play to resume.

“When Eddie went into that crouch, his strike zone was just about visible to the naked eye,” Veeck wrote. “I picked up a ruler and measured it for posterity. It was 1.5 inches.” 

Tigers pitcher Bob Cain walked Gaedel on four pitches – all high. At first base, Gaedel was lifted for pinch runner Jim Delsing and left to a roaring ovation from the crowd.

“For a minute, I felt like Babe Ruth,” Gaedel said after the game. 

American League president Will Harridge was not amused. He banned Gaedel from Major League Baseball and implemented a rule stating that all player contracts must be approved by the president prior to that player appearing in a game.

Gaedel’s walk also was expunged from the record books in 1951, but was later restored. His career stat line reads one game, one plate appearance, one walk and an on-base percentage of 1.000.

Veeck would own the Browns for two more seasons before selling. In 1959, he purchased the White Sox and would have two separate stints as the team’s owner. He passed away in 1986 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1991.

Bridget Bielefeld is the 2009 public relations intern at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

A passion for the game

Francis_90.jpgBy Bill Francis

They came because of their love of baseball; they left with an enriched knowledge of the game.

More than 160 people from throughout the country converged on the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum from June 3-5 to attend the annual Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture. The 21st edition, with programs held in the Museum’s Grandstand Theater, Bullpen Theater and Education Gallery, featured more than 60 presenters on such wide-ranging topics as baseball in literature, baseball iconography, Babe Ruth and baseball in American dance.

6-8-09-Francis_Symposium.jpgHall of Fame Librarian Jim Gates, a co-coordinator of the event, said the total of this year’s attendees, who traveled from as far as Australia and Hawaii, surpassed the previous high watermark by approximately two dozen participants.

While most of the participants came from the world of academia, there were also two judges, a dentist, former big league first baseman Dan Ardell — who played seven games for the 1961 Los Angeles Angels — and Hugh Hewitt, who broadcast his nationally syndicated radio show from the from the Hall of Fame Library Atrium for two nights.

According to the Symposium’s other co-coordinator, Bill Simons, a history professor at the SUNY College at Oneonta who has participated in all 21 Symposium’s, this year’s was the best quality.

“We have some incredible people here from a variety of disciplines, and there’s a special dimension that you feel,” Simons said. “We have become a Symposium that welcomes new people, whether it is graduate students or women, which add a tremendous vitality. I think this is reflected in the quality of the presentations.

“We have built up a great history, and that history continues and goes forward,” he added. “This is the preeminent academic baseball conference.”

Keynote speaker Paul Dickson, who was at his first Symposium, opened the conference by talking about his work on the recently re-released Dickson Baseball Dictionary.

“It’s just been absolutely beyond my expectations,” said Dickson, who has published 55 books, including eight on baseball, and is currently working on a biography of Hall of Fame owner Bill Veeck. “There’s a great sense of camaraderie here. As a non-scholar, as a straight-up writer, I go to some scholarly events, and you are always considered the outsider, but here it’s just the opposite. They don’t check your Ph.D. at the door to make sure you’re part of the club. It’s a very welcoming, wonderful environment.

“Coming in, I thought it would be a little dryer. I didn’t realize there was going to be such vitality and spirit. And I thought the panel on Curt Flood and anti-trust on Thursday was the level of an Oxford debate.”

On Friday, as his three long days were coming to an end, Gates half-jokingly said he came up with an advertising slogan Thursday night: “This is the ultimate baseball geekfest.”

The annual Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture, co-sponsored by the State University of New York College at Oneonta and the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, examines the impact of baseball on American culture from inter- and multi-disciplinary perspectives.

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

Colorful Browns memories

Hayes_90.jpgBy Trevor Hayes

Bill Purdy was born and raised in St. Louis. But last week, he and his wife, Mary Beth, experienced what felt like a homecoming in Cooperstown.

For a few days at the Baseball Hall of Fame, Purdy relived a youth spent as close to the big leagues as you can get without being listed in a box score.

5-28-09-Hayes_PurdyHornsby.jpgPurdy grew up a fan of the St. Louis Browns and by the time he entered high school, they were his obsession. As a catcher during his teen years, Bill was a fan of Les Moss, who caught for the Browns from 1946-53. They shared a similar trait aside from catching.

“He was about as slow as a turtle running the bases, and I wasn’t fast either,” said Purdy, who supports the Hall of Fame as a Member of the Museum’s development program. “But I sure could hit the ball.”

It was Purdy’s catching ability, however, that dictated his baseball life after 1952. Bill Veeck, who purchased the Browns in 1951, was working to create greater interest in the team. So in 1952, the future Hall of Fame executive held a promotional contest to work as a bat boy for the Browns. Purdy won the contest.

During the middle of the season, the Browns needed someone to catch batting practice, so Purdy started doing that. For the rest of the season, he was the team’s bat boy and batting-practice catcher. In 1953, he served as just the batting-practice catcher and also traveled with the team.

As the bullpen catcher, he caught many legends, including the seemingly ageless Negro league great and future Hall of Famer Satchel Paige; an aging Virgil Trucks, who won 177 big league games; Harry Brecheen, who won three games in the 1946 World Series with the Cardinals; Don Larsen, who threw the only perfect game in World Series history; Bob Turley, who went on to win four World Series games, two rings and five pennants with the Yankees; Ned Garver, who won 20 games for the last-place Browns in 1951; and Tommy Byrne, a left-hander and part of the Yankees dynasty in the 1940s and ’50s.

5-28-09-Hayes_PurdyMug.jpgPurdy also has one great memory from a trip to Yankee Stadium in 1952. Like the players, Purdy kept his uniform, catcher’s mitt and the rest of his equipment in a trunk. The trunks were unloaded from the team’s train and taken straight to the clubhouse at the ballpark. Just before the team went to New York, the Browns were carrying three catchers, something the Yankees apparently knew. St. Louis’ third-string catcher, however, was sent to the Minors before the team arrived and another catcher wasn’t called up — something the Yankees apparently didn’t know.

“I’m assuming that the clubhouse man from the Yankees saw my stuff in there and thought I’d been activated,” Purdy said. “So they printed the scorecard with my name and number on it. I have it to this day, and it will baffle any historian here, because you won’t find my name on the list of active players. But my name is on the scorecard from Yankee Stadium — it’s the same scorecard that had Mantle, Berra and Casey Stengel on it.”

That scorecard, along with autographed balls and other artifacts — including seat frames from old Sportsman’s Park with original Busch Stadium seats in it — are among the memorabilia Purdy still has from his days with the Browns.

But the stories are what he treasures most.

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

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