Results tagged ‘ Hall of Fame Classic ’

A pitch for Cooperstown

Francis_90.jpgBy Bill Francis

During a May 29 visit to Syracuse to catch a Syracuse Chiefs home game at Alliance Bank Stadium, I ran into former big league pitcher Steve Grilli. Though fireballing phenom Stephen Strasburg was pitching that night, Grilli seemed more excited about the news he had recently received.

06-17-10-Francis_Grilli.jpg“I just got my invitation to play in this year’s Hall of Fame Classic,” a smiling Grilli said. “If I didn’t, I was going to beg to go back because I had such a wonderful time with my family there last year. It’s a great weekend. I just think Cooperstown is a Norman Rockwell city. You can’t help but have a good time over there.”

Grilli, who calls Syracuse home now, pitched for the Chiefs for four seasons (1978-81) and broadcasts their games on TV and radio. A frequent visitor to Cooperstown over the years, he pitched a scoreless fifth inning to help Team Wagner to a 5-4 win over Team Collins in last year’s Hall of Fame Classic at historic Doubleday Field.  

“I can always say I relieved Bob Feller, which I did last year,” said Grilli, referring to the Hall of Fame hurler. “I was on the same team with Bob and I was one of the relievers that relieved him, so I can always say I pitched with Bob Feller.”

Grilli admits to enjoying the change in format from the previous Hall of Fame Game, in which two big league teams played.

“I think this new way of doing it is exciting because you’re getting to see the Hall of Famers, and the guys that I played with that are in the Hall of Fame had a ball, as well as some of us serviceable players like myself,” said Grilli, the father of major league pitcher Jason Grilli. “I got to ride in the parade with my grandson and rub shoulders with some of the better players who have ever come through the game.”

Grilli finished his four-year big league career (1975-77, 1979), spent mostly with the Detroit Tigers, with a record of 4-3. His claim to fame is as the losing pitcher in the longest game in professional baseball history, a 33-inning International League contest in 1981 that saw Pawtucket come away with a 3-2 win over Rochester.

06-17-10-Francis_GrilliPitch.jpgWhen asked about Strasburg, the Syracuse pitcher we were both waiting to see this night, Grilli had only high praise.

“What I’m most impressed with is his breaking stuff. There are guys in the big leagues that throw 96, 97, 98, this kid was two other really well developed pitches to go along with that 98 mile per hour fastball,” Grilli said. “He pitches at 96, 97, he’ll touch 98, 99, 100 when he has to, but his breaking ball is devastating. I was comparing it to Kerry Wood breaking ball when he struck out the 20 or the Nolan Ryan type of curveball. It’s hard and it’s sharp.”

Grilli referred to a former teammate when asked what it had been like to witness in person all of Strasburg’s Syracuse starts.

“It’s something I can only compare to one thing and that was Mark ‘The Bird’ Fidrych. I was part of that club when Mark broke in with Detroit when he went 19-9 in his rookie season (1976),” Grilli said. “This kid’s got that same kind of electricity. And the attention he’s drawn in this town is something I’ve never seen.”

With Cooperstown only 60 miles from Syracuse, could Grilli see Strasburg with his own plaque in the National Baseball Hall of Fame one day?

“He has the stuff to be a Hall of Famer some day if he continues to throw as he has.”

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

Classic dream fulfilled

Francis_90.jpgBy Bill Francis

A defensive whiz on par with the game’s greatest of all time, longtime center fielder Paul Blair fielded numerous questions pertaining to his distinguished big league career when he recently sat down for an interview with the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

03-29-10-Francis_Blair1.jpgIn Cooperstown on March 20 to greet visitors in line to buy tickets for the second annual Hall of Fame Classic, the 66-year-old Blair will trade in his beloved golf clubs for another chance to get out on the field in the June 20 legends game. Tickets for the Classic are on sale at www.baseballhall.org or by calling 1-866-849-7770.

During a 17-year big league career, spent mainly with the great Baltimore Orioles teams of the late 1960s and 1970s, the eight-time Gold Glove Award winner and four-time World Series champion was known for his play in center field. But, surprisingly, Blair was a shortstop until he signed his first professional contract.

“I went to my first spring training the manager said, ‘Everybody go to their positions.’ Seven guys went to short – I was going to be the eighth shortstop,” Blair recalled. “They had two in left, two in center and one in right, and I saw (the player in right field) running and throwing and I knew I could beat him out, so I went to right field and became an outfielder. It just came natural to me for some reason.”

Known as the premier center fielder of his era, Blair was renowned for how shallow he played.

03-29-10-Francis_Blair3.jpg“What I tried to do was play where most of the balls were going to be hit. I didn’t play guys like Harmon Killebrew and Reggie Jackson or the big home run hitters right behind second base, but most guys can’t hit the ball straightaway center field out of the ballpark. If they hit balls to center field they are basically going to be line drives or high pops,” Blair said. “The line drives are not going to go out of the ballpark, so what I tried to do was take some of those line drives away. I wanted to be the best center fielder, head and shoulders, over anybody on my team. That way those pitchers would make the manager play me.”

Raised in Los Angeles, Blair was a Dodgers fan but Hall of Fame center fielder Willie Mays of the hated San Francisco Giants was his idol.

“Whenever the Giants played the Dodgers, I would hope Mays would get four hits but the Dodgers would win,” Blair said. “When I was growing up I used to do the basket catch even though I was at shortstop, but when I became a professional I thought I better do my own thing and not copy Willie because if I ever droped one then it’s going to be heck to pay.”

A star athlete in high school, Blair’s decision to pursue baseball as a profession was influenced by another Hall of Famer.

“I guess that came from Jackie (Robinson),” Blair said. “As long as I can remember, since I was eight years old, I wanted to be a major league baseball player. That was my one desire, my one goal, and I was just fortunate that I had some athletic ability.”

Blair became a regular with the O’s at the tender age of 21 in 1965 and appeared in the postseason six times with Baltimore over his 13 seasons with the club.

03-29-10-Francis_Blair2.jpg“Our whole thing, and it came from (Hall of Fame manager) Earl (Weaver) and he was the catalyst of those ball clubs, is that you went out there and you played great defense, you pitched well, and you played the whole game,” Blair said. “The team came first. You did everything you possibly could to help win a ballgame.

 “We already had a very good ball club but then (future Hall of Famer) Frank (Robinson) came in 1966 that really put us over the top. He was that big gun that all the other pitchers had to concentrate on. The rest of us just had to do our thing. When Frank said, ‘Let’s go,’ we just followed him.”

Looking back on his baseball career, Blair says that he is proudest of the fact that he got to play in the big leagues for 17 years.

“It’s a very big achievement for me because that’s something I always wanted to do, and it’s the only thing I ever want to do,” Blair said. “The bonus was winning the eight Gold Gloves and the four World Series championships.

“I was very fortunate being on the teams that I played on. I played on 10 first place teams. Every time I went to spring training I knew I had a chance to be in a World Series. I wound up getting in eight playoffs, six World Series, and we won four of them. Hopefully I did my part and contributed to us winning. That was very important to me.”

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

Classic stories from Paul Blair

Muder_90.jpgBy Craig Muder

The gold ring on his pinkie finger sparkled in the morning sun as Paul Blair signed one autograph after another.

03-19-10-Muder_Blair.jpgSome remembered Blair as the Gold Glove centerfielder of the 1960s and 70s Baltimore Orioles. Others recalled him as the super-sub on the New York Yankees’ title teams of 1977 and 1978.

But all the fans who lined up to purchase tickets for the Hall of Fame Classic on Saturday enjoyed listening to Blair’s stories – and eagerly anticipated his appearance in the Father’s Day legends game at Doubleday Field in Cooperstown.

Blair, who will join Hall of Famers Gary Carter, Bob Feller, Rollie Fingers, Goose Gossage, Harmon Killebrew, Phil Niekro and Ozzie Smith at the June 20 Classic, posed for pictures and signed balls and caps for fans waiting to purchase tickets at the Baseball Hall of Fame. The four-time World Series champion was easily identifiable with his 1978 World Series ring, but admitted that the 1966 title he won as a member of the Orioles is his favorite baseball memory.

“We beat the Dodgers, not by scoring a bunch of runs but by playing winning baseball,” said Blair, an eight-time Gold Glove centerfielder. “We shut them out for the final 33 innings of that World Series because our pitchers had two goals when they went to the mound: Don’t walk anyone, and keep the ball in the ballpark. They knew if they did that, we’d make the plays behind them.”

03-22-10-Muder_Blair2.jpgBlair’s fifth-inning home run in Game 3 of the 1966 World Series provided the only run in a 1-0 Orioles’ win, putting Baltimore up 3-games-to-0 and effectively clinching the Series. He would finish his 17-year big league career with two All-Star Game appearances and more than 1,500 hits. Only seven players have ever won more Gold Gloves for their outfield play.

This summer, however, Blair expects to man the infield at the Hall of Fame Classic on Father’s Day.

“I started as an infielder, and that’s where I’m playing now,” said the 66-year-old Blair, who today carries a six handicap on the golf course. “I’m looking forward to coming back in June.”

Participants the Hall of Fame’s Membership Program can purchase tickets for the June 20 Hall of Fame Classic exclusively through March 28 by calling 1-866-849-7770 or visiting www.baseballhall.org. For more information about becoming a Member, please visit http://www.baseballhall.org.

Any tickets remaining on March 29 will be made available to the general public.

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

Pagliarulo reminisces in Cooperstown

Francis_90.jpgBy Bill Francis

He turns 50 years old in 10 days, but Mike Pagliarulo looks as if he could still turn on an inside fastball and deposit it in the right field seats at Yankee Stadium.

The one-time lefty swinging slugger, who spent 11 big league seasons patrolling the hot corner for the New York Yankees, San Diego Padres, Minnesota Twins, Baltimore Orioles and Texas Rangers, was at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum on Friday as the keynote speaker for the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Baseball Coaches Clinic.

03-05-10-Francis_Pagliarulo.jpgAfter the morning session, “Pags,” as he was known, talked about his life in the National Pastime. In fact, it was game that ran in the family, as his father played a few years of minor league ball and his son played ball at Dartmouth University.

“There are things that tear families apart and there are things that bring them together. I’m just glad it was baseball (bringing things together) for us,” he said. “We really don’t talk about it too much, but we like playing.”

After the Massachusetts native and lifelong Red Sox fan was selected by the Yankees in the sixth round of the 1981 amateur draft, Pagliarulo made his big league debut with the Bronx Bombers in July 1984.

“One of the great things about growing up with the Yankees and being part of that organization was the way we felt about each other. It’s a tough organization, and they made it that way on purpose because they develop players to play in New York City,” he said. “You’re not playing in some other town where nobody really cares, but in New York the fans understand the game, they know the game, so you can’t mess up out there. You have to be ready and you have to be able to play. Whether you are good or bad, you have to be able to play. The Yankees did prepare us for that.”

So after hitting 28 home runs in 1986 and 32 in ’87, it was a surprise to Pagliarulo when he was traded to the Padres in July 1989.

“I didn’t want to be traded from New York. I didn’t care how I played, I just didn’t want to be traded,” he said. “So I went out to San Diego … that’s a different world out there. I had to yell at a couple of the fans sometimes, ‘Look, I’m stinking it up. Throw something at me, yell, do something, will you?’ A beautiful place, but I liked playing in New York.

03-05-10-Francis_PagsTickets.jpgEventually finding his way to Minnesota, Pags saw his only postseason action with the 1991 Twins. Not only did he hit a 10th-inning, pinch-hit homer off Toronto’s Mike Timlin to win Game Three of the ALCS, but was also played the entirely of the classic Game Seven of the World Series, in which Minnesota’s Jack Morris, who went 10 innings, outdueled Atlanta’s John Smoltz in a 1-0 triumph.

“What a great experience that postseason was for me. I’m glad I played well, but it was just great to be a part of that. One of the best experiences of my baseball career,” Pagliarulo said. “The great thing about Game Seven was that even though it was deafening in the Metrodome – I was standing up in the dugout and (shortstop) Greg Gagne was standing right next to me and I couldn’t hear a word he was saying – when you are on the field the thing that was different I thought was the awareness that the players have.”

Pagliarulo was a participant in last year’s inaugural Hall of Fame Classic, a seven-inning legends game played at Doubleday Field in Cooperstown. And he drove in the winning run with a double.

“Being on the field brought back a lot of memories for me. The performance end of it was a little tough. Maybe I’ll get a jog in once in awhile before the game this year,” Pagliarulo joked. “It was great to see the other players, and the players really loved it. Being on the field, the fans are out, the weather’s great, you are in Cooperstown, not much beats that. I think it’s a great thing for Cooperstown and I know the guys really want to do it too.”

This second annual Hall of Fame Classic, featuring seven Hall of Famers and 20 other former big leaguers, takes place at 1 p.m. on Sunday, June 20. For more information, click here.

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

Golf with Goose

Muder_90.jpgBy Craig Muder

For 22 big league seasons, Goose Gossage scared big league batters like no other pitcher.

03-01-10-Muder_Gossage.jpgBut put Gossage on a golf course, and the fearsome reliever turned into a terrified rookie.

“I never golfed – or rarely golfed – when I was a player,” Gossage said. “I didn’t want to be on a golf course all day and then come to the park and screw up a game. But I remember the first golf tournament I ever played in was a day off in Chicago with White Sox. I duck-hooked a ball – I used to swing from my butt – and I hit a ball right over Whitey Ford’s head in the other fairway. I was petrified. If it had hit him, I’d have killed him.”

Ford, a Hall of Famer like Gossage, survived his brush with fate. And this summer, a few lucky fans will share their moment with a legend when Gossage and six other Hall of Famers play in the Cooperstown Golf Classic June 19 at the Leatherstocking Golf Course.

The Cooperstown Golf Classic, a fundraiser for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, is part of Hall of Fame Classic Weekend. The Classic, to be held on Father’s Day at historic Doubleday Field in Cooperstown, will feature seven Hall of Famers along with more than 20 recently retired major leaguers in a legends game.

03-01-10-Muder_GossageGolf.jpgThe Cooperstown Golf Classic will be held the day before on June 19 and will feature Gary Carter, Rollie Fingers, Harmon Killebrew, Phil Niekro, Mike Schmidt, Ozzie Smith and Gossage. Limited to just 28 golfers, participants will have a chance to team with a Hall of Famer and share in the camaraderie with golfers of all skill level in a scramble format.

“I really didn’t start golfing until I left baseball in 1994, but now I’m out there all the time,” said Gossage, a Spring Training instructor with the Yankees who has spent time on the golf course recently with players like Andy Pettitte. “At this stage of my life, golf is one of the only things left to challenge you. It’s going to be a lot of fun to golf in Cooperstown. I can’t wait to get out there with the guys.”

For information and to reserve your spot for the Cooperstown Golf Classic, call 607-547-0310 or visit us online.

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

Feller joins Club 91

Muder_90.jpgBy Craig Muder

11-2-09-Muder_Feller.jpgAt little more than four months ago, Bob Feller was standing on the mound at Doubleday Field in Cooperstown – preparing to throw the first pitch of the Baseball Hall of Fame Classic.

Today, Feller will celebrate his 91st birthday. And the man who has been a Hall of Famer longer than any other shows no signs of slowing down.

Feller, born Nov. 3, 1918, in Van Meter, Iowa, becomes the 12th Hall of Famer to reach his 91st birthday. He is the third-oldest living Hall of Famer – behind 92-year-old Lee MacPhail and 91-year-old Bobby Doerr, who is a little more than six months older than Feller

11-2-09-Muder_Chart.jpgA little perspective: Feller was born eight days before the end of World War I. And at the June 21 Hall of Fame Classic, Feller faced Hall of Famer Paul Molitor – who was born in 1956, Feller’s final year in the major leagues.

Feller, MacPhail, Doerr and Monte Irvin are the only living Hall of Famers who have reached their 90th birthday (Irvin turned 90 on Feb, 25, 2009). Stan Musial will be the next Hall of Famer to turn 90 when he celebrates his birthday on Nov. 21, 2010.

Al Lopez remains the oldest Hall of Famer, having reached the age of 97 before passing away on Oct. 30, 2005.

Feller was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1962, meaning he has lived more years as a Hall of Famer (47) than not (44). No one has worn the title of “Hall of Famer” with more pride.

Happy birthday, Bob Feller!

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

A class by themselves

Bielefeld_90.jpgBy Bridget Bielefeld

To baseball fans and Cooperstown natives, the Class of 2009 consists of Joe Gordon, Rickey Henderson and Jim Rice.  

But to a group of interns, the class of 2009 refers to 21 students from 14 states who bonded over a summer working at the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Now in its ninth year, the Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program is a 10-week experience that offers college students an opportunity to work alongside Museum and Library professionals. 

6-1-09-Wade_Intern.jpgWith 13 specialized departments ranging from collections to curatorial and membership to multi-media, the internship allows students to gain hands-on training in a field that closely matches his or her major.

As a public relations student, the chance to work in the communications department was invaluable.  I was able to hone writing and editing skills while receiving constructive feedback. However, to pinpoint the best experience would be too difficult. How do you choose between meeting Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith and attending a press conference with Henderson and Rice? Or between working at the inaugural Hall of Fame Classic and handling timeless baseball artifacts?

And then there are those 20 other interns.

They are some of the brightest and most charismatic people I have ever met – and while 3,000 miles will soon separate some of us, we will forever be bonded by our experience in Cooperstown.

After all, we are the class of 2009.

To learn more about the Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program including how to apply, visit www.baseballhall.org/education.

Bridget Bielefeld is the 2009 Public Relations intern at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

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