Results tagged ‘ Harmon Killebrew ’

The Kid in the Hall

By Jeff Idelson

I’ll never forget May 20th and 21st of 2011. 

I embarked on a 24-hour journey for an aspect of my job that is never comfortable and always sad: Attending a funeral.   

Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew had passed away in Arizona. After lunch with Robin Yount, Paul Molitor and their wives, as well as Bob Nightengale, my friend with USA Today, I headed back to the airport to take a redeye flight home.

As I sat on the flight and drifted off, I wondered what else could happen. Harmon’s passing was the last of six Hall of Famers who had passed away in the last year: Robin Roberts, Sparky Anderson, Bob Feller, Duke Snider and Dick Williams.

As I de-boarded my flight in Newark to change planes that next morning, May 21st, my phone began to ring. It was The Kid, and I smiled. I always looked forward to conversations with Gary Carter because he was so positive, so uplifting and had a zest for life.

This time, the call was different. 

Gary explained that he had been inventorying equipment with his coaches for Palm Beach Community College, where he was the head baseball coach. He told me he had lost count a few times and even snapped at some of his colleagues, and he did not know why. Very uncharacteristic of the most positive person I had come to know in Baseball.

I immediately thought about what I had been reading, about the recent rash of concussions in football. “I bet you have a concussion from all of those collisions you took,” I quickly blurted out, as if I could solve the problem. Gary waited patiently for me to finish and said, “No, it’s actually four tumors wrapped around my brain.” And then he quickly added, “But I am not scared, because I have my family around me and I am going to beat this.” 

And that was the essence of Gary Carter.

He fought gallantly with his family by his side, at every step. He went to Duke Medical Center to learn more. It was actually one tumor with four tentacles. And he could not have surgery: His cancer was inoperable. 

Gary called the next day.

“It’s inoperable, which is going to make this a little bit tougher, but I’ll beat this,” he told me confidently. “I have my family and my faith and with that, we’ll get through this, Jeffrey,” he said. “I plan to be at Hall of Fame Weekend to see everyone.”

It never happened.

Gary was so generous of time and spirit. He traveled to Cooperstown for the 2010 Hall of Fame Classic over Father’s Day Weekend and then to Cooperstown a month later for the induction of Andre Dawson, Doug Harvey and Whitey Herzog.  That would be his last visit to the place he adored so much and the Classic was the final time he participated in a baseball game. The fans adored him.

“Gary was so proud to be a Hall of Famer,” his widow Sandy told me on the phone yesterday afternoon after letting me know of Gary’s peaceful passing. 

And “proud” sums up the Kid so well. He was proud of wearing a major league uniform for 19 seasons, of being a Hall of Famer, of his family and his friends. 

We lost a good one yesterday. Rest in Peace #8. We miss you.

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

Giving Thanks for Baseball and Family

By Trevor Hayes

I have post-it notes on my bathroom mirror, my front door and my computer monitor. They say things like “Understand where you are,” “Don’t forget to enjoy it,” and “Be thankful.”

When you work at the Hall of Fame – a place people mark on calendars, plan vacations to and pencil in on bucket lists – I’ve found that I sometimes overlook what makes Cooperstown so special. I think to all of us here, it sometimes becomes just going to the office. My desk is in the basement, away from the visitors and artifacts – away from the magic. So I feel like I can’t always be blamed for forgetting.

If I let myself, I could go weeks without setting foot in the actual Museum. But I don’t. In fact over the last few weeks, I’ve given tours of the Hall to friends. About a month ago it was a Royals security guard and his son. The next week, my friend Keith and his die-hard Tiger fan grandparents. Then two weeks ago it was a high school buddy visiting from New York City. It all served as a reminder of how lucky I am – better than my post-its.

The common thread was family. While my fellow Oak Park High alum was alone, he kept he wants to come back with his father. I’m thankful for my father and the time we’ve spent together here. He had surgery last Friday to remove a kidney that most likely had a cancerous cyst.

Hopefully the surgery will be the extent of his battle. But I know from my prior experiences, that one of the best medicines are memories to which you can hold close. My dad helped me move here from Kansas City in 2008. We watched playoff baseball during our first night in town and saw Robin Roberts during a Voices of the Game event, then toured the Hall the next day. My family came for Father’s Day Weekend in 2010. I played catch with my dad at Doubleday and he got to see me working on the field the same field that was hosting legends like Bob Feller, Harmon Killebrew and Ozzie Smith.

Sports – and specifically baseball – have always been a bond between us. He introduced me to athletics and Boy Scouts. I think he did a pretty good job. I’m an Eagle Scout and worked on the same summer camp staff he did. Now I work at the Hall of Fame after two years with the Royals.

Since tomorrow is Thanksgiving, a few of the other things I’m thankful for are: The fact that I’m in Los Angeles right now with my fiancée and we could go to the beach while it might be snowing in Cooperstown; the Royals – if I get to attend my first All-Star Game in KC next summer that will make my 2012 list; and as a uniform geek the Mets and Blue Jays for ditching black. I’m thankful for a seven-game World Series – despite the Cardinals winning it. I give thanks for the game’s greats, especially my favorite Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig and my favorite Gehrig stat which I try to shoe-horn into every Memories and Dreams, social media post or even casual conversation about him. I’m thankful for stars like Justin Verlander, who can hit triple digits in the seventh and eighth; for movies like Bull Durham, Major League and one of my new favorites Moneyball (so sue me, I’m a stat geek, I loved the book, and I hope Brad Pitt wins the Oscar).

But mostly this year, I’m thankful for my family and for my dad.

Oh, I couldn’t leave it like that. That Lou Gehrig stat: Despite playing in 2,130 consecutive games without taking a day off, when they x-rayed his hands in the late 1930s, they found 17 healed fractures. I’m blown away by that.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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

Hall Monitor: Crushing, Curses and the Killer

By Trevor Hayes

Things have settled down for me a bit with our publication season, which means the return of my favorite stat-based blog feature, the Hall Monitor. There’s been a lot already this season that has made 2011 special, including Braves icon Chipper Jones setting career marks by collecting his 1,500th RBI and passing Mickey Mantle on switch-hitters RBI leader board. We’ve had lots of great pitching, including two no-hitters – Francisco Liriano’s cap and game ball made it to the Hall earlier this week – and several near misses. So here’s what’s been going lately:

Giambi’s first three: Jason Giambi, the former Yankee-A’s All-Star slugger turned Rockies part-timer, collected his first three homer game last night to lead Colorado over Philly 7-1. Showing he’s still got some power in the tank, Giambi pulled a comparison to Stan the Man. Stan Musial at 41 years old is the oldest player to hit three home runs in a game, beating out Giambi, who at age 40 years, 131 days is now the second-oldest player to do it.

With 416 homers before Thursday’s contest, he also has the highest total before his fiDerek Jeterrst three homer game in Major League history aside from Babe Ruth, who had 522 career dingers before his first three home run performance. Coincidentally enough, Ruth also collected his first three home run game against Philadelphia – but playing in the AL, it was against the A’s not the Phillies.

Another feather in his cap: Derek Jeter likes hitting against the Birds and this week he added one more feat to his growing list of accomplishments on his journey to reach 3,000 hits. With career hit No. 300 against the Orioles, the Yankees captain became the first player with 300 hits against one franchise since Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn retired after the 2001 season. Mr. Padre had at least 300 against Atlanta, Cincinnati, Houston and San Francisco.

Fall Classic mixing and matching: Interleague Play, which begins tonight, always brings some interesting matchups, from the geographic rivals like the 2000 World Series Subway Series rematch of Mets-Yankees, the Bay Bridge Series re-matching the 1989 Fall Classic combatants in Oakland and San Francisco or the I-70 Series 1985 rematch of St. Louis and Kansas City.

But this year brings a rare pairing of the formerly cursed Red Sox hosting the still-cursed Cubs. The Northsiders will be back in Fenway for the first time since the 1918 World Series – which began a drought of 86 years without a title the following year. Saturday night will pair the two in throwback uniforms and several icons from the teams will be around Beantown like Bill Buckner

Mourning the Killer: The Hall of Fame and the baseball community lost a great man and an incredibly talented ballplayer this week with the passing of Harmon Killebrew. His funeral service was held today in Peoria, Ariz., with several Hall of Famers in attendance including 2011 Electee Bert Blyleven, Rod Carew, Paul Molitor, Robin Yount, Frank Robinson and Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson. Next Thursday, Twins fans will have their chance to show their love for Killebrew with a public Memorial Service at Target Field in Minnesota starting at 7 p.m.

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

A Hall of Fame human

By Craig Muder

For my first four decades, I knew Harmon Killebrew the way I knew most of the 17,000-plus other men who played Major League Baseball: Through ink on a page.

He was the mighty slugger, the six-time American League home run champion. He was the heart of the 1965 AL champion Minnesota Twins, even though an injury that year limited him to just 113 games.

I always thought it spoke volumes about that Twins team that they were able to win the pennant without a dominant season from their best player. Little did I know that Harmon’s mere presence in the clubhouse was – quite possibly – a bigger influence than anything he did on the field.

Killebrew’s passing on Tuesday brought an end to a life that exuded positive energy. Anyone meeting Harmon in the last 20 years – and having never known he was a player – would have felt it a privilege just to know a man for whom decency and honesty was a way of life.

I know I did.

The fact that he hit 573 home runs and played on 13 All-Star teams seemed secondary to the core values Killebrew promoted by his daily actions. The mere mention of his name brought a smile to the lips of anyone who met him.

If his name was erased from every record book ever printed, Harmon Killebrew would still have been a Hall of Fame human being.

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

Fun and games

Muder_90.jpgBy Craig Muder

Seven Hall of Famers, heroes all.

They range in age from 55 to 91, but they remain kids at heart. And on Saturday – the day before the Father’s Day Hall of Fame Classic – they were all thinking about their dad.

06-19-10-Muder_VOG.jpgIn front of a capacity crowd of more than 500 fans at Cooperstown High School, the seven Hall of Famers who will appear at Sunday’s Hall of Fame Classic reminisced about their playing days and told stories about one another.

Bob Feller, Harmon Killebrew, Goose Gossage, Ozzie Smith, Rollie Fingers, Phil Niekro and Gary Carter brought the house down several times with one-liners – and drew applause when remembering their fathers.

“I think all of us on this stage remember when we played catch with our dads,” Smith said. “To be here in the Mecca of baseball on this weekend is very special for me.”

Just being around their former teammates and opponents was pretty special, too. The jokes flowed quickly from the stage – much to the delight of the audience.

06-19-10-Muder_Box.jpg“Phil, you better get some rest,” said Carter to Niekro when Knucksie was told he’ll be starting in Sunday’s Classic.

“Why?” deadpanned Niekro. “I never did when I played.”

After an hour, it was over – the legends were gone. To be continued on Sunday at Doubleday Field. Where the legends live forever.

“I’ve always loved it in Cooperstown,” said Gossage. “To be elected to the Hall of Fame and to play in this game, I still can’t put into words what it means to me.”

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

Outdoor Baseball Returns to Twin Cities

Horn_90.jpgBy Brad Horn

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. – The Minnesota Twins opened a new ballpark on Monday, as Target Field played host to its first official regular-season game, and for the first time since 1981 a major league game took place outdoors in the Twin Cities. The day could not have been more perfect – from the weather, to initial reviews of the stadium, to the reactions of players and those in the stands. The new ballpark is a home run.

04-13-10-Horn_KillebrewCarew.jpgDeployed to bring home items to Cooperstown that represented the Twins’ move from the Metrodome, I was honored to be a part of the day, which was filled with so many familiar faces – all who were united in their reverence for a ballpark that has immediately joined the discussion of best ballparks anywhere in the country.

Hall of Fame Senior Vice President Bill Haase and I encountered several members of baseball’s royalty who were simply thrilled to be a part of the moment. Hall of Famer and Twins legend Rod Carew – along with his wife, Rhonda – and I talked about how the gaps would play for his sweet stroke, and how he might run all day around the bases. Former Twins outfielder Shannon Stewart offered me a contrarian view of the defensive effort that would be required of the new dimensions.

Harmon Killebrew, the “Killer,” and his wife, Nita, enjoyed the beautiful weather conditions and a new era for baseball in Minneapolis with several members of their family, as did fellow Hall of Famer and Twins great Dave Winfield, who along with his brother Steve, watched the game from just past the first base dugout.

As to the game itself, we at the Hall of Fame were fortunate to head home with the ball hit by Boston Red Sox infielder Marco Scutaro, who laced a single to center off Carl Pavano to lead off the game for the first hit at Target Field. A special tip-of-the-cap to home plate umpire Jeff Nelson and crew chief Tim Tschida for pulling the ball out of play to make sure it ended up several hundred miles east of here, in its eternal home in Cooperstown.

04-13-10-Horn_Kubel.jpgThe ball came out of play with a three-inch scuff of fresh-cut grass, a substance not found on a baseball in a major league game in Minneapolis in nearly 30 years. It was the perfect treasure for representing a return to outdoor baseball in a city whose passion for the game has, perhaps, never been more intense.

Following the game, Jason Kubel of the Twins pledged the hardwood used to hit the first home run in the history of Target Field, an eighth-inning solo shot to right field off Boston’s Scott Atchison (like me, a TCU Horned Frog, who is one of the best stories of the early season, winning a spot on an Opening Day roster for the first time at age 34 after a previous brief stint with Seattle in 2004 and 2005).

Kubel was honored by our offer to have the bat preserved forever in Cooperstown, but he was convinced that there are a few more bombs left in the bat. So, we happily agreed to take the bat once it dies… and I’m guessing it is going to be remembered as a hero, with a few more big hits in it for Kubel. This would be his second artifact donation to the Hall of Fame, previously donating his helmet from his cycle in 2009.

Before departing Target Field, I made sure to scoop up some infield dirt to commemorate the day to add to our collection in Cooperstown. Mixed in are several cuts of fresh green grass, a perfect tribute to Minneapolis’ triumphant return to outdoor baseball.

Brad Horn is the senior director of communications 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.

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