Results tagged ‘ Hall of Fame Game ’

Blyleven revels in Hall of Fame tour

By Craig Muder

The fan in the Red Sox cap got to within 20 feet of the Cooperstown visitor when he stopped dead in his tracks, eyes wide-eyed and mouth agape.

A moment later, Bert Blyleven approached the gentleman with a smile and his hand extended.

“How are you today?” Blyleven asked.

“I’m great,” the fan replied. “You know, Bert, it’s about time you got into the Hall of Fame.”

With that, the fan was gone – and Blyleven continued his stroll down the Main Street sidewalk. A Hall of Fame pitcher, and a down-to-earth person.

Blyleven took his Orientation Tour with his wife Gayle on Tuesday, preparing for his July 24 induction in Cooperstown as a member of the Class of 2011. Before touring the Museum and the archive, he took a short stroll over to Doubleday Field – reminiscing about his trip to Cooperstown in 1980 for the Hall of Fame Game while a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

On the way back to the Museum, Blyleven – dressed in a Twins windbreaker (he has broadcast Twins games on TV for the last 16 years) and blue jeans – chatted with fans on Main Street and even stopped by a few stores.

On his tour, Blyleven cheerily greeted fans lucky enough to be visiting the Hall of Fame on a once-in-a-lifetime day.

“I want to learn about Cy Young; I want to see a baseball used by Walter Johnson,” Blyleven said of his Hall of Fame brethren. “Walter Johnson had 110 shutouts? Are you kidding? How do you do that?”

Blyleven had 60 shutouts himself, powering a Hall of Fame career that included 287 wins and 242 complete games. But it was the majesty of the moment that impacted Blyleven the most on Tuesday.

“I got to play a kids’ game for 23 years in the big leagues,” Blyleven said. “That’s what this is all about, right? A kid’s dream is to be here in Cooperstown.

“If you love baseball, you have to come here. This is a baseball fan’s dream come true.”

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

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.

Joe, Jim, Rickey … and Tom Burgmeier?

Francis_90.jpgBy Bill Francis

Longtime big league pitcher Tom Burgmeier’s baseball career includes almost 750 games played, over 100 saves, and one All-Star Game. But when it comes to the 2009 Hall of Fame electees, he holds a special place amongst all other players.   

7-24-09-Francis_Burgmeier.jpgWhile baserunning phenom Rickey Henderson, slugging outfielder Jim Rice and slick-fielding and powerful second baseman Joe Gordon will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame this Sunday, Burgmeier has the distinction of being the only major leaguer to have been teammates of both Henderson and Rice and to have played under Gordon when he was a manager.

In his fourth season as the pitching coach for the Omaha Royals, the Triple-A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals, Burgmeier reflected on his unique connection to the Class of 2009.

“Actually, we were talking about it the other day,” said Burgmeier, whose past visits to Cooperstown came via the Hall of Fame Game, first as a player with the Twins in 1977 and later as a coach with the Royals in 1999. “Somebody mentioned Joe Gordon and said, ‘Gee, you played under him and you played with the other two. I wonder if you’re the only person who did that?'”

Burgmeier enjoyed a 17-year big league playing career (1968-1984), spent mostly as a relief pitcher, with the California Angels, Kansas City Royals, Minnesota Twins, Boston Red Sox and Oakland A’s. The lefty finished with a 79-55 record, 102 saves and a 3.23 ERA.

7-24-09-Francis_Gordon.jpgA fourth-round selection by the Royals in the expansion draft, Burgmeier played under manager Joe Gordon in 1969. Following his stellar 11-year playing career with the New York Yankees and Cleveland Indians, Gordon served managerial stints with the Indians (1958-1960), Detroit Tigers (1960), Kansas City Athletics (1961) and Royals (1969).

“Joe was very vibrant and was a good manager. We had a lot of fun and for an expansion team we actually won a few games, too,” said Burgmeier, of the 69-73 Royals. “He was a heck of a player and a good manager and I really enjoyed playing for him.”

Burgmeier would finish the 1969 season with a 3-1 record in 31 games. “What’s that baseball clich? He was a players’ manager,” Burgmeier said. “What I mean is you get the players, you put them in the lineup, and if they do well, you become a good manager.”

Sometimes Gordon would talk to the players about his career as a nine-time All-Star and winner of five World Series crowns. “But I don’t think that happens as much anymore: guys sitting around the clubhouse after the game talking about old times. And that’s too bad,” Burgmeier said.

In February of 1978, after four seasons with Minnesota, Burgmeier signed as a free agent with the Red Sox. “I was with the Twins in 1974 and we were playing Boston. I had some friends of mine on the Red Sox and I was standing in the bullpen and asked them, ‘Hey, do have any good players in the minor leagues?’ I’ll never forget that they said, ‘Yeah, we have a couple kids probably be up next year. We got this kid Rice and this Freddy Lynn.’ I said, ‘Do they hit pretty good?’ And they said, ‘Yeah, they’re good minor league players. They’ll probably make the team next year.’ Well, the rest is history.”

7-24-09-Francis_Rice.jpgBurgmeier and Rice were Red Sox teammates for five seasons (1978 to 1982).

“Jim hated to come out of the lineup. Any kind of minor injury didn’t get him out of the lineup — there had to be a bone sticking out or he’d have to be bleeding to where they’d have to bandage him up,” Burgmeier said. “He was a funny guy around the clubhouse. He liked to have a good time and loved to play golf in his off days. We did that a lot on the road.

“If he was in a little slump, which everybody goes through, he’d always tell the press to talk to him at the end of the year. I remember there was one stretch he went a few weeks without hitting a home run and I remember him telling a guy, ‘Don’t talk to me now. Just talk to me at the end of the year and see how I’m doing.'”

Rice was arguably the top right-handed hitter of his era. Against Burgmeier, Rice batted .357 (5-for-14) with one homer.

“He struck fear in the hearts of many a pitcher, especially in Fenway. He (Rice) could hit them as far as anybody — right field, center field, left field,” Burgmeier recalled. “And like anybody else who’s a good hitter, it’s the same basic thing: keep the ball down, stay away from him, pitch inside a little bit. It’s a formula that has been around for 130 years.”

7-24-09-Francis_Henderson.jpgBurgmeier spent his final two major league seasons (1983 and 1984) with the Oakland A’s. During that stretch, Rickey Henderson stole 174 bases.

“Rickey was one of the best base stealers of all time. The score or who was catching or who was pitching really didn’t make a difference,” said Burgmeier, who lockered next to Henderson. “If he was going to steal, he was going to steal. And not only second, but steal third, too. The years I was there he was well into being one of the best ever as far as not being able to throw him out.”

Though Burgmeier faced Henderson only five times in his career, he got to experience the threat the future Hall of Famer posed.

“What sticks out is that because of his speed, when he got on, you knew you had to do all of the things to combat that. And even if you did, it didn’t mean that he wasn’t going to run anyway,” Burgmeier said. “You had to slide step more and throw over more. But did it stop him from running? No, he still ran. He was as fast as anybody going today.”

Bill Francis is a library associate 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.

Future Iron Man in Cooperstown

Carr_90.jpgBy Samantha Carr

Dick and Mary Lue Brown didn’t expect to see anyone famous when they entered the Museum on a summer morning in 1983. They had traveled from their home in Portland, Mich., to Cooperstown for the Hall of Fame Game between the Orioles and Cardinals with their four young sons.

But Dick Brown recognized a star in the Museum, walking around quietly by himself, just taking in the history.

3-26-09-Carr_Ripken.jpg“It was 9:30 in the morning and there was Cal Ripken, holding a bottle of Coke, cordial as all get out,” Brown said. “This was before he knew he would be a Hall of Famer.”

The 22-year-old Ripken was still fairly unknown, despite having won the American League Rookie of the Year Award the previous season. Brown asked if he could take a picture, and Ripken happily agreed.

Ripken singled in the game that weekend, although the Orioles lost, 4-1. The team went on to win the World Series, and Ripken won his first American League Most Valuable Player Award.

Brown told his wife, “If he ever gets into the Hall, I want to be there.”

So, return they did in 2007 with the 1983 photo and a record crowd to see Ripken and Tony Gwynn inducted into the Hall of Fame. Friends who own a bed-and-breakfast in town told the Browns to donate their photo to the Hall’s collection. They made a few copies for themselves, and the Hall of Fame gladly accepted the donation.

The Browns even had a chance to meet Ripken’s brother Billy that weekend. They wanted to give a copy of the photo to the family, and Billy Ripken took down their name and address. A few weeks later, the photo came back in the mail, autographed by Cal Ripken himself.

“On the photo was written, ‘Looks like we’ve come full circle.’ This is such a great memory, and Cal has been such a wonderful ambassador to baseball,” Brown said.

The Browns returned to Cooperstown on Monday, March 23, and got to peek at the file containing the Hall of Fame’s photos of Ripken.

“There are some wonderful photos in there, taken by professional photographers,” Brown said. “To see our photo among them, taken by an average Joe with an Instamatic camera, is pretty special.”

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

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