Results tagged ‘ Kirby Puckett ’

50 years ago, Kirby Puckett began Hall of Fame journey

Muder_90.jpgBy Craig Muder

It should have been a milestone birthday, with friends and family gathered around Kirby Puckett to celebrate the big 5-0.

Instead, it is a reminder of what the baseball world lost with the premature death of the ebullient Puckett – and a chance to remember a player whose spirit will never die.

03-15-10-Muder_Puckett.jpgSunday marked the 50th anniversary of Puckett’s birth. The 2001 Baseball Hall of Fame inductee died in 2006 of complications from a stroke.

In between, Puckett lit up the baseball landscape with his smile, enthusiasm and all-around play in center field for the Minnesota Twins.

“He deserved the best,” said former Twins star Tony Oliva. “I know he was the best.”

Puckett was the third pick overall in the 1982 Major League Baseball Amateur Draft and became the Twins’ starting center fielder in 1984. Two years later, after four home runs in his first 1,248 big league at-bats, Puckett hit 31 home runs and drove in 96 runs while hitting .328. He won his first of six Gold Gloves that year for his defensive play.

“I was nervous when I got to the big leagues, but I was never afraid,” Puckett said. “Like every ballplayer and every human being, I failed lots of times throughout my career. But I understood how to overcome and recognize the true power of learning from failure.”

In all, Puckett played 12 major league seasons before glaucoma in his right eye forced his retirement at age 35. He led the American League in hits four times, was named to 10 All-Star teams and helped the Twins win World Series titles in 1987 and 1991.

In 2001 in his first year eligible, he was elected to the Hall of Fame after receiving 82.1 percent of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America vote.

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

Nov. 18, 1966: Koufax calls it quits

Lawrence_90.jpgBy Thomas Lawrence

When Sandy Koufax called it quits 43 years ago today — Nov. 18, 1966 — he ended a six-year run that scouts only dream about.

It was a six-year run good enough for a place in Cooperstown.

11-18-09-Lawrence_Koufax.jpgKoufax, who grew up in Brooklyn playing in the city’s “Ice Cream Leagues,” debuted with his hometown Dodgers in 1955. He posted five wins and a 3.02 ERA in his rookie year. The powerful lefty averaged only six wins per year for the first half of his career, but in 1961 Koufax began quite possibly the most impressive six-year span for a pitcher.

Koufax led the bigs in wins in 1963 (25), 1965 (26) and 1966 (27). His average ERA during his tyranny on National League hitters was an exceptional 1.99.

“I can see how he won 25 games,” said Hall of Famer Yogi Berra of Koufax’s 1963 season. “What I don’t understand is how he lost five.”

In 1963, Koufax also became just the second pitcher to ever take home an MVP and a Cy Young in the same season – after Don Newcombe did it with Brooklyn in the first year of the Cy Young award of 1956. Only six have earned that dual honor since (Vida Blue, Roger Clemens, Willie HernŠndez, Denny McLain and Hall of Famers Dennis Eckersley, Rollie Fingers and Bob Gibson).

And it wasn’t just soft-hitting utility men that had trouble with the mighty southpaw. Try a Hall of Famer with 475 career home runs.

“Hitting against Sandy Koufax is like drinking coffee with a fork,” said Pirates’ slugger Willie Stargell.

11-18-09-Lawrence_KoufaxNoHitters.jpgHarry Hooper, a four-time champion with the early 20th century Red Sox, echoed Stargell’s sentiments.

“You name a better left-hander in the history of baseball and I’ll eat my hat,” he said, referring to Koufax.

Koufax also became the first pitcher to reach four career no-hitters on Sept. 25, 1965, surpassing Larry Corcoran, Cy Young and Bob Feller. He is also one of only six pitchers to toss a perfect game and a regular no-hitter, along with Young, Jim Bunning, Addie Joss, Randy Johnson and the newest member Mark Buehrle.

It was severe arthritis in the once-in-a-generation left arm of Koufax that led to the demise of his young career. In fact, in April of 1966 Koufax was told that he couldn’t go another season, but he did – winning a career high 27 games with a career-best 1.73 ERA.

“Sandy pitches in extreme pain that can only be overcome by his motivational urge,” said team physician Dr. Robert Kerlan, according to an article in the New York World-Telegram and Sun.

11-18-09-Lawrence_Chart.jpgAnd despite this mental resolve that allowed the vaunted ace to pitch through immense pain, he was a gentleman of the highest order.

“There is hardly a strong enough word for the way the other players feel about Koufax,” said Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post. “It almost goes beyond affection… for a man so gentle he seems misplaced in a jock shop.”

Koufax was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972, just the 10th player (at the time) to be inducted in his first year of eligibility.

Thomas Lawrence was the 2009 publications intern at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Rising in the fall

Hayes_90.jpgBy Trevor Hayes

A look at some of baseball’s record chasers as the last month of the season gets under way:


9-4-09-Hayes_HowardKlein.jpgRanking Ryan:
With August coming to a close, Ryan Howard cemented his name in the Phillies record book yet again. Last Friday marked his third multi-homer game of the month, tying the Phils record for a single calendar month. Among the five others to do it are Hall of Famers Chuck Klein (August 1931) and Mike Schmidt (August 1974 and August 1983). Howard’s teammate Chase Utley (September 2006) is on the list as well.

The last week also saw Howard drive in his 600th career run in just his 693rd game. That’s the fastest for any major-league player since 1946, when Ted Williams collected his 600th RBI in his 675th game.

Elite Pettitte: Though he lost a perfect game bid in the seventh inning, Andy Pettitte’s win on the final day of August made him the third winningest pitcher in Yankees history. He had been tied with Hall of Famer Lefty Gomez at 189. Only Whitey Ford (236) and Red Ruffing (231) have more wins in Yankee history.

9-4-09-Hayes_Uggla.jpgPower at second: Florida’s Dan Uggla belted his 25th homer Wednesday, making him the third second baseman to hit at least 25 dingers in four straight seasons. The others are Alfonso Soriano (2002-05) and Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg (1989-92). Unlike the others, however, Uggla has done it all in the first four years of his career.

Remembering Roberto: In October, the Hall of Fame will hold its second Character and Courage weekend to honor the achievements and spirit of Jackie Robinson, Lou Gehrig and Roberto Clemente. Major League Baseball, meanwhile, is in the midst of its own celebration of the Pirates’ legend.

9-4-09-Hayes_Clemente.jpgWednesday was the eighth annual Roberto Clemente Day, and MLB’s teams announced their nominees for the Roberto Clemente Award, which seeks to find the player “who best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual’s contribution to his team.”

Prior to Clemente’s tragic death on New Year’s Eve 1972 while delivering supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua, the award was simply called the Commissioner’s Award. Last year’s winner was NL MVP Albert Pujols, and the names on the award read like a who’s who of the game’s greats since 1971 – the first year it was given out.

Hall of Famers have won the award 13 times, including Willie Mays, who received the honor the first year, Al Kaline, who was the first winner of the award after it was renamed in Clemente’s honor; Clemente’s teammate Willie Stargell. Other Hall of Famers who won the Clemente Award include Brooks Robinson, Lou Brock, Rod Carew, Phil Niekro, Gary Carter, Cal Ripken, Jr., Dave Winfield, Ozzie Smith, Kirby Puckett and Tony Gwynn.

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

Cooperstown is home to biggest of stars

Hayes_90.jpgBy Trevor Hayes

Back in December, we did some research on the All-Star Game. The Veterans Committee had just elected Joe Gordon to the Hall of Fame, and we found that Gordon played 11 seasons and was an All-Star nine times – a pretty good ratio, but how good?

We figured that at 81.8 percent, he would be fairly high. The numbers show that Gordon was the highest among all Veterans Committee inductees – and that the percentage of seasons he was an All-Star was 13th overall among all Hall of Famers.

7-6-09-Hayes_Gordon.jpgBut en route to finding Gordon’s numbers, we found some other interesting stats concerning All-Stars and Hall of Famers. Two caveats: For purposes of this research, a season is counted for a player only if they debuted before June 1. And time spent in the armed services does not count as a season.

Hank Aaron holds the MLB record for both the most seasons as an All-Star (21) and the most selections (25). From 1959-62, two All-Star Games were played every season.

Following Aaron are Willie Mays and Stan Musial at 20 seasons and 24 games apiece. These three players and seven others have percentages above 90 (among players with at least six All-Star selections). The 90-to-99 club includes Aaron (91.3), Bill Dickey (91.7), Ted Williams (94.4), Rod Carew (94.7), Cal Ripken Jr. (95) and Mays and Musial (both at 95.2).

Only three players in the history of the Midsummer Classic have been selected to every game for which they were eligible. Lou Gehrig, who began his playing career 10 seasons before the creation of the All-Star Game, spent his last seven as All-Star (including a 1939 selection, despite playing his final game in April of that year). Joe DiMaggio spent three seasons in the military during World War II, but all of his 13 seasons on either side of his service time were All-Star years.

7-6-09-Hayes_Pujols.jpgThe only non-Hall of Famer to have been selected as an All-Star in at least 90 percent of his seasons is Mariners outfielder Ichiro Suzuki – who is not yet eligible for the Hall of Fame. After a successful career in Japan, Ichiro debuted in the major leagues in 2001 and has been an All-Star each of the nine seasons since.

Keep your eye on Albert Pujols. The Cardinals first baseman received 5.3 million votes this year – the second highest total in the history of fan balloting. And with each All-Star selection, Pujols is inching up a very select ladder. His current percentage of 88.9 is tied with Mickey Mantle and is trailing only those 10 above 90 percent.

Listed below are the top 15 Hall of Famer percentages for seasons as an All-Star:


 
7-6-09-Hayes_ASGTable.jpgTrevor Hayes is the editorial production manager at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

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