Results tagged ‘ Hall of Fame Champions ’

Grapefruit stories

Idelson_90.jpgBy Jeff Idelson

I’m sitting in Tampa International Airport awaiting the one non-stop Southwest Airlines flight back to Albany, having just concluded my Grapefruit League spring training jaunt. My Spring Training mission each year is to visit with those who are close to the Museum – current players and management, Hall of Famers, owners and supporters.

03-24-10-Idelson_DawsonPerez.jpgHaving spent eight years combined in the Red Sox and Yankee front offices before being hired in Cooperstown in 1994, my knowledge was limited to Florida Spring Training: the Yankees were in Ft. Lauderdale and the Red Sox in Winter Haven. Since, I have traveled to the desert, too.

The differences are stark: The air is markedly drier in Arizona, because of the elevation. The ballparks in Arizona are surrounded by mountains; most of the ones in Florida, by water. Thirteen of 15 ballparks in Arizona are within 60 miles of each other. In Florida, they span across the state. I spent seven nights in one hotel in Scottsdale, Arizona; I was in six different places in six nights in Florida and flew in and out of airports across the state from each other.

The one similarity? I had a game rained out in each state.

I had a chance to visit with a number of our Hall of Famers. Andre Dawson and I had dinner in North Miami Beach, near his home. He’s already made great progress on his speech and is getting ready for Induction. “I’ll try not to get too emotional,” the stoic “Hawk” told me. I let him know that if he did not get emotional, I would be worried. Almost every speech I have heard since 1994 has been emotional. 

Hall of Fame Chairman Jane Clark, Ken Meifert from the Hall, and I, saw Mike Schmidt and his wife Donna in Palm Beach Gardens. We talked about a variety of topics, from baseball to bull riding to music to living in Florida. Mike is very excited about our inaugural Hall of Fame Classic Golf tournament in June, in which he will participate. He was thrilled to know that a number of the 28 spots available are already filled.

03-24-10-Idelson_Jupiter.jpgLast Saturday, we hosted our Hall of Fame Champions in Jupiter. John and Kathy Greenthal became the first Champions in Hall of Fame history to attend events in both Spring Training states. Jim and Tina Collias made the trip over from Naples to Jupiter, and Dan Glazer also joined us. Hall of Fame Board member Bill DeWitt, owner of the Cardinals, was generous in hosting us for his team’s game with the Mets. Spring Training games are usually not that interesting, but this one featured the Mets scoring three runs in the 9th, the last on an Ike Davis game-tying home run, only to have Ruben Gotay lead off the bottom of the 9th with a walk-off home run.

Speaking of walk-off home runs, we dined with Dennis and Jennifer Eckersley after the game. I asked Dennis what he thought of Doug Harvey. “He was behind the plate for Kirk Gibson’s home run in the 1988 World Series,” Dennis reminded me, as I began to suffer the symptoms of foot-in-mouth disease. He still thought Harvey was an excellent arbiter. 

I headed across the state to Yankee camp and saw many old friends in the clubhouse before the game: Billy Connors, Ron Guidry, Goose Gossage, Steve Donohue, the team athletic trainer, Joe Girardi, Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter, whom we drafted when I worked for the team. The game was rained out as Gene Michael, his minor league teammate and Tigers broadcaster, Jim Price, and I had lunch. Also saw Tiger friends Dave Dombrowski and Al Aliva in the dining room and learned more about the Tigers.

Dinner that night was with Wade and Debbie Boggs and Reggie Jackson. Eddie Fastook, the team’s traveling security director and a long-time friend, also joined us. 

Unbeknownst to me, Boggs grew up a big Reggie Jackson fan, even wearing No. 9 in honor, the number Reggie wore early in his career in Oakland. Wade told the story of how in the mid 1980s, Reggie gave him one of his bats to use in 1985. “I used it for 33 straight games and hit five home runs,” said Wade. “I loved that bat and then I broke it on a Dave Stieb pitch,” a dejected Wade recalled.

03-24-10-Idelson_Zimmer.jpgThe next morning, I visited City of Palms Park in Fort Myers to see the Red Sox and the Rays. I met up with Don Zimmer, who is very bullish on the Rays this year. “The best club we’ve had in my seven years with them,” Zim said.

Zim told me how much he admired Dawson and Ryne Sandberg when he managed the Cubs. “Two guys who led by example,” he said. “The other players watched these guys and saw greatness in the making.”

I told Don I would be seeing Jim Rice and Bob Montgomery later that day. 

“Monty was the best hit-and-run guy I ever had,” recalled Zim. “I remember in a game with Cleveland, the bases were loaded. They had a sinker-baller on the mound so I rolled the dice and gave (coach) Eddie Yost the hit-and-run sign on a 3-2 count. Monty put the bat on the ball and we stayed out of the double play. Everyone looked at me like I was crazy, but I really thought it would work, and it did.”

Rice later told me that he believed Thurman Munson and Lou Piniella were among the best hit-and-run guys he saw when he played.

I concluded my trip with dinner at Carlton and Linda Fisk’s home in the Sarasota area. We had a wonderful visit and a great dinner. Pudge joked about how some of the evenings in Florida this year were as cold as those he experienced growing up in New Hampshire.

I’ve had my fill. Let the regular season begin.

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

Baseball and family a winning combination

Meifert_90.jpgBy Ken Meifert

Last month I was in Columbia, S.C., for a Hall of Fame Champions fundraising dinner hosted by John D. Baker. Hall of Famer Phil Niekro joined us for what proved to be a wonderful evening of stories, laughs and friendship.

Phil shared many wonderful stories about his career and his brother Joe, who also pitched in the major leagues. In fact, Phil and Joe Niekro have more combined wins in the major leagues than any brothers in the history of the game with Phil having 318 and Joe have 221, for a combined total of 539.

6-18-09-Meifert_Niekro.jpgPhil shared a story of giving up a home run to his brother Joe – and it just happened to be the only home run Joe hit in the majors! For anyone who has a sibling, it is easy to imagine the good natured ribbing that went on between the brothers about that home run. It was obvious as Phil told the story that he and Joe shared a very special bond that baseball served to strengthen. Family is very important to Phil, who lost his brother Joe suddenly a few years ago. Reflecting on the loss, Phil took comfort in the fact that his last words to his brother had been “I love you Joe.”

Phil’s stories about his family caused me to reflect on the way that baseball brings people together – literally how it connects families across generations. Sound familiar? It is part of the Hall’s mission to preserve history, honor excellence and connect generations. I am thankful to be part of this great Game and I am thankful for the friends that baseball has brought me – friends like our host John Baker – and so many others.

John is a Columbia native and a lifelong Braves fan. I chuckled as he recounted his parents telling him years ago that if he spent as much time on his homework as he spent following the Braves he would be an A+ student. Now, please don’t get the impression that John did not get his homework done – he is a successful real estate developer today. But I believe it was a combination of great family and friends, his faith and the lessons learned from baseball that made John the outstanding person he is today. 

As we approach Father’s Day Weekend and the Inaugural Hall of Fame Classic Weekend, I hope you will take the time to enjoy a game (The Hall of Fame Classic on Sunday) or play catch (Family Catch on Doubleday Field Saturday afternoon) with your family this weekend. Make some new memories, share some old ones, and tell them you love them.

Ken Meifert is the senior director of development for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Love of baseball grows in spring

Idelson_90.jpgBy Jeff Idelson

Just back to Cooperstown after a nine-day road trip to Los Angeles, for the WBC; Phoenix, to meet with a couple of owners; and Florida, for some fundraising initiatives. My trip home from Florida on Sunday was fine, though my string of six straight Southwest flights in seat 11C – exit row aisle – came to an end.  Hey, at least I got an aisle seat.

 The main thrust of my visit to Florida was our annual Hall of Fame Champions Grapefruit League trip. We have a great circle of Champions –  individuals and couples who support the Hall of Fame at $5,000 or more.  In return for supporting our educational mission, Champions receive invitations to events across the country with Hall of Famers, spring training games in Florida and Arizona, exhibit openings, Hall of Fame Weekend and the Hall of Fame Classic, all with exclusive access.

4-3-09-Idelson_Roberts.jpgTwo weeks ago we were in Arizona to see the A’s and Mariners play. A’s General Manager Billy Beane joined us for a while before the game, and we had dinner with Hall of Famer Billy Williams.

For our Grapefruit League endeavor, we headed for Ft. Myers. Hall of Fame Vice President and Chief Curator Ted Spencer, named after Ted Williams, Senior Development Director Ken Meifert, whose heart belongs to the Indians, and I, were joined by Hall of Famer Robin Roberts.

We picked up the Hall of Fame right-hander at his home outside Tampa. “The Rays are selling out every game this spring,” beamed the longtime Phillie, about his hometown Tampa Bay Rays.

We headed south to Naples, where I talked to Robin about his career. “Sure I met Cy Young. I asked him how he won all those games and he told me he held the ball way back in his hand. I met Cobb too. He told me, ‘I wish I had a few less hits and a few more friends.'”

In Napes, we met Champion Jay Baker for lunch. Jay is a long-time Yankees fan and history buff, and along with his wife Patty, an ardent supporter of many philanthropic causes, such as the Hall of Fame. 

Over lunch, I asked Robin if he had ever been in a movie. “No, but Ashburn and I met Spencer Tracy when he was filming Judgment at Nuremberg,” he said. “What a nice man.”

Robin then quipped, “I was on television once, on What’s My Line (YouTube clip of Robin). The panel had to try and guess my off-season job, which was with the Neptunalia Seafood Company. I was president of Gold King and we sold frozen shrimp. No one could figure out what I did, but they sure came close.”

“I was on Murphy Brown,” quipped Baker. “If you watch carefully, you can see me. I was so smooth we did it on one take,” he laughed.

We spent the afternoon seeing two impressive private baseball collections – Jay’s and the one of another area Champion, Don Gunther. Both are wonderful examples of how the game means so much to people personally. They are both inspired by their love of the game and its history, akin to what happens to visitors every day in Cooperstown.

Jay and Patty generously hosted a Champions recruiting dinner that evening in Naples. There were 24 dinner guests, including former major leaguer Sterling Hitchcock, and we spent the evening all sharing personal stories about what the game means to each of us. 

Robin reminisced about meeting Grover Cleveland Alexander in grade school in Springfield, Illinois. “We had a two-room school house for 8 grades. Alexander was the special guest one day when I was in the eighth grade. He told us, ‘Baseball is a great game. Don’t drink. Look what it did to me.’ Sad, but true.”  

Hitchcock recounted how he grew up unhappy with George Brett who once refused to sign an autograph for him as a high school student. He told his fiance (who became his wife) that if he ever made the majors, he would hit Brett with a pitch.

4-3-09-Idelson_Hitchcock.jpgNot too many years later, making his major league debut at Yankee Stadium, Hitchcock hit Brett on the elbow, very much by mistake. The phone rang that night, and Sterling’s mother-in-law, who was watching the game, remembered the story and thought he had done it on purpose. “Of course, I hadn’t, nor would I ever do that” said Hitchcock, laughing.

The dinner conversation was delightful, with everyone sharing childhood memories of how they first fell in love with the game.  

Jim Collias, a retired neurosurgeon from Yale-New Haven Medical Center, recalled growing up in Boston’s South End. “Mr. Yawkey gave a bunch of us jobs working in the clubhouse during the Depression. I have fond memories of being in Fenway Park and Mr. Yawkey was a nice man. We also were sent to the train station to get the players’ bags when the team arrived in town. We all got very excited to welcome the Yankees, though Joe DiMaggio would never let us carry his bag. He would just shake his head, ‘No.'”

Saturday was spent in City of Palms Park, home to the Red Sox, who played the Twins.   Brad Penny and Francisco Liriano pitched, and – aided by some serious wind blowing out to left field –  Rocco Baldelli, Big Papi and Jason Bay all hit home runs in a Red Sox victory.

Thanks to the generosity of the Red Sox, we enjoyed the afternoon from the owners’ suite.  A number of our Champions and recruits enjoyed the beautiful weather and the pristine ballpark while talking baseball all afternoon. 

Cincinnati-based champion Buck Newsome and his wife Robin traveled in for the game with Robin keeping a detailed scorebook. “This book’s only for spring training,” she explained to me “and I like this style scorebook, because it allows me to count pitches.” The Newsomes are my kind of people — ones who adore the game.

Robin (the pitcher, not the scorekeeper) and I were on the field before the game and we spoke with Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. “Things sure have changed in pitching,” said Robin to Ron.  “My pitching coach and mentor, Cy Perkins’, instruction to me was pretty simple.  He said, ‘Kid, you can really pitch, keep it up; stay ahead of the batter, and; don’t get past 2-2 on a hitter.’ That was it.” 

After the game, we headed north to Sarasota to have dinner with Reds’ owner Bob Castellini and his wife, Susie, along with their son Bob, Jr., team general manager Walt Jocketty and Hall of Fame champion Bob Crotty. The dinner was wonderful. We talked to the Castellinis about the Hall of Fame and its programs and shared a lot of laughs.

On the way back to Tampa, I asked Robin about how he developed such an effective curveball. “Sal Maglie,” said Robin. “I pitched against ‘The Barber’ on opening day in 1952 and watched how he really shortened up his delivery with the curveball. So, I copied it, won 28 games that year, and never told him.”

We dropped Robin off at home around 11:30 pm, concluding a great couple of days with a group of friends who truly love the game of baseball.

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

Thinking Spring

Idelson_90.jpgBy Jeff Idelson

Thank goodness for Spring Training. It means baseball has finally returned and the regular season is just around the corner.

I recently spent a week in Arizona. Can’t believe there are 14 teams there now, and when the Reds migrate west next spring, there will be an even split between Florida and Arizona. It seems like only yesterday when almost every team was in the Sunshine State.

I had a chance to reminisce about my Yankees Spring Training memories a couple of weeks ago when Gov. Charlie Crist invited me to speak at the recently rejuvenated annual Florida Baseball Dinner at Tropicana Field in St. Pete.

Sitting on the dais with Hall of Famers Tony Perez, Bill Mazeroski, Al Kaline, Mike Schmidt, Phil Niekro and Wade Boggs brought back great thoughts about my five springs in Ft. Lauderdale from 1989-93. There’s nothing better than 10 weeks in Florida to beat the cold, dreary New York winters.

 In Arizona, I was based in Scottsdale, which is conveniently located in close proximity to the Giants, Brewers, Angels, A’s and Cubs Spring Training facilities. I spent my time visiting with team owners, Hall of Famers, current players, media members and fans.

3-18-09-Idelson_Arizona.jpgFor instance, White Sox owner Jerry Reinsorf is on the Hall of Fame Board of Directors. After lunch with Jerry, his general manager, Kenny Williams, and his special assistant, Dennis Gilbert, at the team’s new facility in Glendale, the Sox played the Dodgers. Jerry, Dennis and I watched the game from Jerry’s suite, and Dodgers owner Frank McCourt, a native New Englander like me, joined us in the eighth inning, just in time to see his Dodgers rally from a two-run deficit to win in their last at-bat.

My visit was a chance to catch Frank and Dennis up on the inner-workings of the Hall of Fame. The silver lining for me was watching White Sox first-round draft pick Gordon Beckham, picked eighth overall out of the University of Georgia, play shortstop and show why he’ll likely soon join Alexei Ramirez (whose swing reminds me a lot of Alfonso Soriano) in the middle of the infield. Keep an eye on Beckham. He won’t be wearing uniform No. 80 for long.

Reality hit home when I realized that Beckham was born Sept. 16, 1986, 12 days before the Red Sox clinched the pennant while I was working for them after recently graduating from Connecticut College. Nothing like a dose of reality …

Later in the week, I headed over to Scottsdale Stadium with friend Rick Swig, one of our Hall of Fame Champions from the Bay Area. I also had a chance to spend some time in the Giants clubhouse and speak with Randy Johnson, Barry Zito and Tim Lincecum.

Lincecum and I first met in January when I presented him with his 2008 National League Cy Young Award at the Baseball Writers dinner. I presented him with plaque postcards of our only two Hall of Famers from Washington state — Ryne Sandberg and Earl Averill. I told him that I doubted he would need inspiration, but if he ever did, to take a look at these two legends’ plaques. He has the build of Juan Marichal, the delivery of Goose Gossage, the dominance of Sandy Koufax and the velocity of Bob Feller.

Zito loves the history of the game. We talked quite a bit about the Museum and our collections, as well as Bruce Hurst, one of his favorite players growing up in San Diego. I said to him, “I thought your 12-6 curveball looked familiar.” Hurst was his model and used his devastating out pitch to perfection in Fenway Park when I worked in Boston.

3-18-09-Idelson_Johnson.jpgWith Johnson five wins away from 300, I wanted to be sure he has us in his thoughts when he reaches the magical milestone. He’s always been generous, and I know he won’t disappoint us when he reaches that plateau. I told him that I doubted anyone would ever get to 300 wins again, unless the economy got so bad that teams were forced to scale back to smaller rosters and the old three-man rotations returned.

Randy also loves the history of the game and a signed Christy Mathewson book has a spot in his library.

While in the Giants clubhouse, I also exchanged pleasantries with Mike Murphy, the wonderful clubhouse manager who’s been there since the club went west, as well as the two Willies — Mays and McCovey. Both guys were in great spirits and were looking forward to coming back for Hall of Fame Weekend.

During the game, I sat with Cubs scout Gary Hughes and USA Today national writer Bob Nightengale, two longtime friends, in scout seats, right behind home plate. The Rockies and Giants were playing. I had no idea Sal Fasano was still playing, catching for the Rockies.

Dinners are meant for catching up with Hall of Famers and friends. Dinner with Robin Yount and his brother Larry, George Brett, White Sox vice chairman Eddie Einhorn and longtime Hall supporter Bob Crotty was a lot of fun. Robin dragged us to a restaurant he liked. “The general manager’s from Milwaukee. How could it be bad?” Robin said. He was right. It was terrific. He also let us know about his new product endorsement — Robinade — a form of lemonade sold only in Wisconsin and promoted in commercials by Bob Uecker. “Flying off the shelves,” he quipped.

I also caught up with three of our Cubs Hall of Famers — Fergie Jenkins, Billy Williams and Sandberg — for dinner one night. They all feel good about the Cubs in 2009.

Toward the end of my stay, we had a day-long event for our Champions — those who support the Museum with an annual contribution of $5,000 or more. The day, put together and co-hosted by A’s team doctor and Hall of Fame Champion Elliott Schwartz and his wife, Patti, consisted of going to see the A’s and Mariners play, where A’s GM Billy Beane talked to our group for a while. “I lockered next to Rickey Henderson in 1980,” remembered Beane. “I was sent down to Triple-A for three weeks and then was recalled. ‘Where were you?’ said Henderson upon my return,” Beane laughed.

Dinner that night was wonderful, with Hughes, Nightengale, Marty Lurie, who handles A’s pregame, and A’s announcer Ken Korach joining us and sharing stories. Williams and his wife, Shirley, were our guests of honor. “Good, better, best,” said Billy. “Never let it rest, ’til good is better and better is best.”

Lots of laughs, lots of baseball, lots of fun.

Over and out.

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

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