Results tagged ‘ Jonathan Eig ’

A tribute to character

Francis_90.jpgBy Bill Francis

Hall of Fame legend Lou Gehrig delivered his memorable “…I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth” speech on July 4, 1939. Seventy years later, little Gehrig Hopson was delivered.

It was on June 10 that Jeff Hopson, a supporter of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s Membership Program since 2007, called the Hall of Fame seeking some insight into the life of Lou Gehrig – explaining that he and his wife were considering naming their soon-to-be-adopted son after the longtime Yankees first baseman. 7-9-09-Francis_Hopson.jpgJeff is a big baseball fan, especially the history of the game, and wanted to know if there was anything he may have missed in the Iron Horse’s past that could change his mind.

There wasn’t. In fact, when the Hall of Fame held its first Character and Courage Weekend on Nov. 1, 2008, it unveiled statues of Gehrig, Roberto Clemente and Jackie Robinson as symbols of the finest characteristics of the human race.

Gehrig James Hopson was born in Glendale, Ariz., on June 12, 2009, the 70th anniversary of the Hall of Fame’s official dedication. Soon after, the Hopsons, Jeff and wife Amy, brought their new son back to their home in Hilliard, Ohio, a suburb of Columbus.

Coming up with a middle name was relatively easy, as both Jeff and Amy’s fathers are named James. But that first name would take a little more consideration.

“I probably came up with the idea after I read the Jonathan Eig book (Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig),” said Jeff Hopson in a recent telephone interview. “I’m adopted myself and I started thinking I’d really like to have a boy, and if I have a boy I wonder what I’d name him.

“When I went to the Hall of Fame for the first time two years ago (a 40th birthday present from his wife), I bought three or four Lou Gehrig things. And then I was like, ‘I really like that name Gehrig. It’s unique and it’s different.’ At first I was wondering if my wife would like it.”

According to Amy Hopson, it didn’t take much convincing.

“When my daughter was born (5-year-old Jaelyn) we wanted to come up with a non-traditional name, so hers is a combination of my middle name and the J from Jeff. So when we were thinking of boys names we wanted a non-traditional name as well,” Amy said. “We talked about Gehrig and some other names, and of course that’s the name he’ll have for the rest of his life, so we wanted to make sure we thought about it.

7-9-09-Francis_Gehrigs.jpg“Ultimately, we just liked Gehrig the best. It was nice to find a name that was unique but also stood for something – his character and who he was and how he was courageous through his life. Not just respected as a player but as a man.”

The Hopsons did not tell anyone of their choice until the big day came.

“The first that we told was the birth mom. We told her why, she really liked it, and that made us feel good,” Amy said. “But now that we’ve shared it with family and friends everybody just thinks it’s the greatest. We’ve had a couple people say, ‘Oh, I wish I’d have thought of that.'”

Recently retired pitcher Curt Schilling, a longtime supporter in the fight against amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, named his first son Gehrig.

“Last night the Gary Cooper movie, The Pride of the Yankees, was on and I was watching it and my daughter came in and she said, ‘Why did she call him Gehrig,?'” Jeff said. “I told her, ‘That’s Lou Gehrig. That’s who we named your brother after.’ And she ended up sitting there and watching the whole thing with me.”

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

Jackie Robinson Day

Hayes_90.jpgBy Trevor Hayes

All Major Leaguers wore the No. 42 yesterday in honor of one man. It’s amazing to me that a number can be retired throughout a sport to honor just one person. But then the accomplishments of Jackie Robinson are far beyond amazing.

I recently finished reading Jonathan Eig’s book Opening Day, about Robinson’s first season in the Majors. Let me just say this — I knew what he accomplished was hard, but I really had no clue. The truth about Robinson’s first season goes way beyond anything I ever knew beforehand.

The hatred he faced in the early part of the season is nothing I can even comprehend. Death threats — something Hank Aaron also received while chasing the Babe — were just the tip of it. 4-16-09-Hayes_Mets42.jpgHe had really had no friends other than his wife and infant son. Players threatened to stop playing, thinking the game would continue without Robinson and other black players.

I was born after the Civil Rights Movement, so for me to try to understand the environment is tough. The book, however, gave me a good clue. One of Eig’s main sources was Jackie’s widow, Rachel Robinson. Between the research Eig did in newspapers and interviews with Rachel, the book painted a picture for me that I can more fully appreciate.

I had the good fortune to say hello and shake Rachel’s hand in November when the Hall of Fame dedicated the Character and Courage statues in the lobby of the Museum. Eig was also there that day and participated in a Voices of the Game event with Roberto Clemente‘s sons. I learned that day that baseball can mean so much more. The game follows the ebb and flow of the nation.

A lot of things have been said about why Branch Rickey signed Robinson. Regardless of the original reason, Robinson became an icon not just for African-Americans but for people throughout the country. He was Martin Luther King Jr. before the Civil Rights Movement had a face. Malcolm X charted Robinson’s batting average while listening to Red Barber on the radio.

The Robinsons were celebrated but were also outcasts. They lived a fairly secluded life, but Jackie may have been the most recognizable face in America — and most certainly was the most recognizable African-American next to Joe Louis.

His success that first season proved a color line should have never been drawn. He carried the team for parts of the season, and he made thousands of people instant Dodger fans. His style of play made the game a thrill ride. It was aggressive, it was fast-paced and it was exciting.

Babe Ruth changed the game with the home run, but Jackie Robinson revolutionized it. He opened the door, and talent flooded through. Larry Doby was in the Majors by July. Dan Bankhead joined the Dodgers for the playoff push. But Jackie was first. He faced unreal circumstances and showed he could flourish. The bravery, skill and spirit he displayed are attributes that we can admire.

Robinson deserves every bit of appreciation we can gather. He is immortalized here at the Hall of Fame in the Plaque Gallery. The month of November has been designated Character and Courage Month to celebrate Robinson and two players he shared those characteristics with — Clemente and Lou Gehrig. Their statues in the lobby serve as year-round reminders of traits we should all aspire to exhibit. The entrance to the Mets’ new ballpark, Citi Field, was dedicated to him. The Jackie Robinson Rotunda replicates the entrance to Ebbets Field where Jackie broke the color barrier. His No. 42 hangs in every ballpark, and yesterday it was on the back of every player to take the field.

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

The Luckiest Man

Hayes_90.jpgBy Trevor Hayes

About a week ago, I finished reading Luckiest Man by Jonathan Eig. I got the book in November during the Hall of Fame’s Character and Courage statue unveiling. The event honored three men who deserve a special place in the Hall of Fame. Roberto Clemente, Jackie Robinson and Lou Gehrig now greet every visitor who enters the Museum, reminding them of the values we baseball fans admire.
 

3-27-09-Hayes_CharacterCourage.jpgCompared to the encyclopedias I work with, I’m very much a baseball history novice — actually strike that, and we’ll call it like it is: I’m a baseball novice. In the weeks prior to Character and Courage Weekend, I heard a great deal about these men. Before arriving in Cooperstown, I knew about Jackie and the color barrier, and I’d heard a little about Clemente. Gehrig, however, was just the guy who played with Babe Ruth. He had a disease named after him, but the biggest thing I recognized him for was holding the record that Cal Ripken Jr. broke.

That’s a vivid memory for me. I watched Ripken beat the streak on a TV in a bowling alley in Kansas City. The bartender let me sneak in to watch Chirs Berman’s call. Despite being only 10, I think she knew I needed to see what was happening, even if I didn’t understand it. For some time now, I have understood the magnitude of the streak. It started two years before I was born and when it was over, I was 14. I know it may be one of baseball’s unbreakable marks. But now, the important thing for me about Ripken’s streak is the man who came before Cal.

My baseball career ended in middle school after a broken finger and a broken nose. Gehrig played with broken fingers and didn’t notice them. That’s just the tip of it with Gehrig. He literally played until he couldn’t. ALS sapped his ability and withered his strength. He continued to play every game in 1938, despite starting to lose muscle mass as early as the winter before that season.

ALS strikes quickly and attacks the extremities and coordination first. Gehrig almost immediately lost his baseball skills. Throughout the book, Gehrig was both human and hero. Once he was diagnosed, he became a human, stripped of the athleticism that made him special. But at the same time, he wasn’t. He came to terms with his affliction; he never let it deter his spirit. The way he dealt with his “bad break” — as he referred to it during his farewell speech — is an inspiration that can be admired today.

At 24, I am still finding baseball heroes, and with the 70th anniversary of his final season and his unforgettable speech approaching, I am going to remember Gehrig’s character and courage.

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

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