Results tagged ‘ Los Angeles Dodgers ’

Future history

Francis_90.jpgBy Bill Francis

It has been a decade since Hank Conger visited the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. His bat is staying for good.

 Conger came away with Most Valuable Player honors for the 2010 Futures Game held at Angel Stadium on Sunday afternoon. He donated the bat he used to club a three-run home run with two out in the fifth inning off of Henderson Alvarez that gave his U.S. Team a 5-1 lead on the way to a 9-1 victory over the World Team.

Conger, a switch-hitting Angel farmhand playing catcher for the Triple-A Salt Lake City squad, finished the game batting 1-for-3. 

“It’s awesome,” said Conger in the winning team’s clubhouse after the game, referring to being asked to donate his bat. “It’s a great honor. I wasn’t really expecting it, to be honest.”

The Hall of Fame has made it a point over the years to ask for an artifact from the game’s MVP honoree.

“The Futures Game showcases the greatest minor leaguers,” said Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson, “and by being able to represent them and document them in Cooperstown before they make that final step in a lot of ways talks about the journey of all major league players.”

It was Idelson who first approached Conger, who grew up 15 miles from Angels Stadium in Huntington Beach, Calif.,about the possible donation.

“I was like, ‘Really, you want my bat?'” said Conger with a laugh. “This whole event has been great, so to have that be in the Hall of Fame is just unbelievable.”

Conger knows of the Hall of Fame firsthand, having visited back in the summer of 2000 as a 12-year-old when his travel baseball team from California played in one of the Cooperstown-area baseball camps.

“I loved Cooperstown,” Conger said. “I was really expecting something different. You think its going to be in a big city, but there was just so much green. Even for me as a little kid I thought it was an awesome view.

“The Hall of Fame, just looking at everything that was in there, the jerseys, the plaques, for any baseball fans it’s a must.”

Asked if had any more hits left in the bat, Conger smiled and said: “For the Hall of Fame, I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to give that one up.

“And I’ll get to tell everybody for the rest of my life that I have something in the Hall of Fame.”

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

Breaking barriers

Francis_90.jpgBy Bill Francis

Claire Smith is accustomed to working outside the status quo, so being the first female keynote speaker in the 22 years of the annual Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture is par for the course.

Held at the different venues at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, the three-day event kicked off Wednesday afternoon with Smith’s keynote, titled “Race and Gender: Perspectives from the Press Box.” Smith is not only a female in a male- dominated field, but she’s also African-American.

06-02-10-Francis_Smith.jpgCurrently a news editor at ESPN who covered baseball for 27 years at the Hartford Courant, the New York Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer, Smith offered a unique perspective on the trails and tribulations she had to endure as a woman and a minority in her chosen field.

Honored for her writing numerous times over the years, Smith, a longstanding member of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, admits that “being a woman and being African-American in the field of baseball writing remain somewhat unique and far too unusual in this day and age.”

Smith talked about being drawn to the field because of her mother’s love of Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson, who faced hardships as he crossed the big league color line in 1947.

“I knew of his story from the moment I could walk and talk, I think, because my mother, more so than my father, was a Jackie Robinson fan,” Smith said. “America was always represented as what is possible. She passed that on to me.

“I wanted to know as much as I could about sports. The older I got the more I wanted to know. I was able to dovetail this interest that never made me want to think about anything other than baseball.”

Smith would late joke about another Hall of Famer: “As Yogi Berra would say, Jackie (Robinson) –  thanks for making this necessary.”

Encouraged by her mother’s love of Jackie Robinson (her father was a Willie Mays fan), Smith has always bled Dodger blue. So it should come as no surprise when visiting the Hall of Fame Plaque Gallery prior to her speech she made sure to check out the bronze likenesses of Robinson and Sandy Koufax.

Moving on to gender, Smith said that’s always been the more intriguing and difficult aspect of her life in baseball.

“It’s safe to say by the time I started covering baseball it wasn’t politically correct to show any kind of prejudice in terms of race in major league clubhouses,’ Smith said. “Not so much to show prejudice against women. It happened early, it happened often.”

Often the only women in a baseball clubhouse, Smith called it “tough, it really was tough.”

“I don’t believe there is a female writer of my generation who didn’t have a tale to tell that wouldn’t bring another female writer to tears because it was a very vulnerable place to be,” Smith added. “And often your male peers were so busy doing their job that they couldn’t interrupt their jobs and come to your aid.”

Smith then recalled her defining moment, her “tipping point,” came in the 1984 National League Championship Series between the Chicago Cubs and San Diego Padres when she was physically removed by players from the Padres clubhouse after Game One. While the situation was eventually resolved, thanks to Baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth, it left scars for a number of years.

But despite the hardships Smith suffered due only to the profession she chose, she told those in attendance to encourage their students, daughters, nieces and granddaughters to pursue sports writing as a career. Not only are there numerous opportunities with the Internet, but also it can be a very rewarding.

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

Hall Monitor: Vlad laps the majors

Hayes_90.jpg

By Trevor Hayes

Last week, on a ball way out of the strike zone where only he could make an opponent pay, the Rangers’ Vladimir Guerrero sent one of his signature bad-ball home runs over the fence. This particular home run came against his former mates in Anaheim, the Angels – the 30th team he’s homered against. And that round-tripper put him into a small group, as only 32 players have hit a home run against all 30 teams.

But only one of the 203 Hall of Famers who played in the major leagues – Eddie Murray – homered against every active team during his era.

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Retiring in 1997, Murray never had a chance to hit against Arizona and Tampa Bay, but he amassed home runs against 28 opponents. Murray’s march through the majors consisted of 504 home runs during 21 seasons. He played 13 years with the Orioles, four with the Dodgers, three with the Indians, two with the Mets and one with the Angels. The Twins were his most victimized team, as Murray hit 44 home runs against Minnesota – with Detroit following at 38 home runs yielded. Despite his long stint in Baltimore, he still clouted six against them. His least victimized teams were Colorado (one home run), Florida (three home runs) and a three-way tie between Philadelphia, Montreal and the Mets (four home runs).

Because the last round of expansion came so recently, few Hall of Famers have even had the chance to complete Guerrero’s feat of homering against 30 teams. Among current Hall of Famers, only Rickey Henderson, Tony Gwynn, Cal Ripken Jr., Wade Boggs, Dennis Eckersley and Paul Molitor played in 1998 or beyond.

Of them, Eckersley, a pitcher, had three career home runs, Ripken and Gwynn spent their entire careers with one team – making it impossible to hit home runs against the Orioles and Padres, respectively.

Molitor and Boggs played exclusively in the American League, giving them from 1997 on to take advantage of Interleague play. Molitor played just one season with all 30 clubs, homering against 16 total teams – with one each against the Cubs and Astros and none in 11 games against Tampa Bay. Boggs retired in 1999, playing for Tampa in its first two seasons of existence while collecting just one home run against an NL club – the Expos.

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Henderson homered against 27 teams during 25 seasons with 11 teams. The speedster missed out on the Diamondbacks, Braves and Astros.

Other than Henderson, Gwynn, Ripken, Boggs, Eckersley and Molitor, Murray and Ryne Sandberg are the only Hall of Famers to participate in Interleague games – which means in order to accomplish the feat, inductees prior to them must have played for a minimum of four teams (two in each league).

In all, there are 59 Hall of Famers who played with four or more teams. Of them, 35 hit 16 or more home runs in their career – the minimum number of home runs needed to hit one against each team in the modern pre-expansion era. Of those 35, just seven played for two franchises in the AL and two in the NL: Frank Robinson, Jimmie Foxx, Murray, Orlando Cepeda, Al Simmons, Enos Slaughter and Heinie Manush.

Robinson and Slaughter came the closest, falling one team shy of homering against all clubs of their era – leaving Murray, for now, in a class by himself.

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

Legendary visit

Francis_90.jpgBy Bill Francis

As founder, chairman and CEO of Legendary Pictures, Thomas Tull has been responsible for some of the most popular films of the past half dozen years. So maybe it’s appropriate that the first movie produced by this baseball fan’s company was Batman Begins.

Tull, born and raised in Binghamton, N.Y., less than 70 miles from Cooperstown, visited the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum on Friday afternoon with his wife Alba and stepson Bret. During a break in the family’s tour, Tull talked about what brought him to the home of the National Pastime.

04-23-10-Francis_Tull.jpg“I haven’t been here in over a decade, which is a travesty,” Tull said. “Living in Los Angeles it’s a little tougher, but I was in New York on business and just thought with the start of the season and everything that I had to get over here.

“For me, it’s the connective fabric between the past, today and the fact that you guys are such amazing custodians of the game. Baseball, I think more than any other sport, has a reverence for the past – records, statistics – and it’s all here under one roof.”

Tull, 39, estimates that he has been to the Hall of Fame 10 times over the years, the first when he was brought by an uncle at the age of nine.

“I remember being excited to see everything but not quite having an appreciation for the plaques and the older players,” he said. “I’ve always been in awe of the Hall of Fame. This place is absolute hallowed ground for me.”

A multi-sport athlete at Maine-Endwell High School, Tull had the rare opportunity to play baseball a few times on Cooperstown’s historic Doubleday Field. An outfielder, he continued his ball playing at nearby Hamilton College, eventually getting a tryout with the Atlanta Braves where, he joked, he was “not quite good enough to get a paycheck for it, so that’s why I keep on hanging around places like these.”

Besides Batman Begins (2005), other Legendary Pictures productions include Superman Returns (2006), 300 (2007), The Dark Knight (2008), Watchmen (2009), The Hangover (2009) and the recently released Clash of the Titans (2010).

“Since I was a little boy I’ve been a total movie geek, so it’s a real privilege to do it. We make movies that I want to see, and when that stops working that I’ll be done with that,” Tull said. “Sometimes it’s a lot of pressure, but at the same time I get to work with some amazing directors like Chris Nolan and Zack Snyder.”

04-23-10-Francis_Nettles.jpgAccording to Tull, who counts The Natural as one of has favorite all-time films, he can see one day making a baseball movie.

“As far as baseball, I would love to do that if I could find the right story. Jackie Robinson is a story I think needs to be told,” he said. “I would love to make a baseball movie if we could find the right story just because I’m so passionate about the game.”

A Yankee rooter since childhood, with third baseman Graig Nettles a favorite, Tull is also a football fan and part-owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

“I love sports and I’m unbelievably fortunate,” Tull said. “I sometimes feel like I’m Forrest Gump, like I just kind of wander in. It’s pretty great.”

Though his allegiance lies with the Bronx Bombers, and he makes it to as many Yankee games as possible, he does have season tickets for the Los Angeles Dodgers “just because it’s baseball and it’s in town.”

As for why baseball still has this pull on him after all these years, Tull explained that “every spring I walk near a field and you can smell the dirt in the air. There’s something unbelievably poetic about it in a way.”

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.

Managing greatness

 
Berowski_90.jpgBy Freddy Berowski

Noted baseball author and historian Harold Seymour penned the book “The Golden Age of Baseball” about early 20th century baseball – a time when Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Walter Johnson and Christy Mathewson were the stars of the game. Some would say that what we are experiencing now is the golden age of the baseball manager.

03-17-10-Berowski_LaRusaCoxTorre.jpgEntering the 2010 season, three of baseball’s five all-time winningest managers are active. At 2,552 wins, Cardinals skipper Tony LaRussa sits about three seasons away from moving into second-place all-time, ahead of New York Giants Hall of Fame manager John McGraw. Thirteen times LaRussa has piloted clubs to a playoff birth, including two World Championships.

Bobby Cox of the Braves and Joe Torre of the Dodgers, with a combined five World Series championships and 29 postseason appearances, come in at Nos. 4 and 5, respectively, on the all-time manager win list. With the exception of the strike-shortened 1994 season, Cox lead Atlanta to a first-place finish every season from 1991 to 2005, a mark that is unparalleled in Major League Baseball history.

Meanwhile, for 14 seasons beginning in 1996, Torre has lead either the Yankees or the Dodgers to the postseason with either a first-place finish or a wild-card berth.

To find the last time that three of baseball’s top five winningest managers were active in a season, we have to go back 60 years. The 1950 season was the last for Connie Mack and Joe McCarthy, and also marked the beginning of Bucky Harris’ third stint with the Washington Senators.

At 3,731 wins, no one will be closing in on Mack’s spot at No. 1 on the list anytime soon. But if history holds true it is only a matter of time before Cooperstown comes calling for LaRussa, Cox and Torre. Other than those three active skippers, the rest of the top 11 all-time winningest managers are already enshrined in Cooperstown.

Freddy Berowski is a library associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Tales from the Cactus League

Idelson_90.jpgBy Jeff Idelson

I am so glad Spring Training is here, even if it was warmer in Cooperstown than in the desert for a few of the days I visited Arizona last week. Boy did I miss baseball. And in my job, I am so fortunate to have the opportunity to rub elbows with so many of the game’s greats, bringing them closer to the Hall of Fame.

 
03-12-10-Idelson_KoufaxPalmer.jpgI got to see the Giants, Brewers, White Sox, Mariners, Indians, Reds, Royals and Rangers all play.

It was great to see the two reigning Cy Young award winners – Tim Lincecum and Zack Greinke – pitch. I brought Tim plaque postcards of Sandy Koufax and Jim Palmer. Why? They are the only Hall of Famers to win back-to-back Cy Young Awards. Perhaps they will help inspire Tim, not that he needs inspiration.

Before the Cactus League opener in Peoria, I visited my friends in the Mariners clubhouse: Head athletic trainer Rick Griffin and I talked about the health of his players; Ken Griffey Jr. told me he expected Ichiro to get twice as many regular season hits as he would – including spring training.  “I’m aiming for 150 hits,” said Junior.  “Have you seen Ichiro get hot?  You turn around, and he’s gone 15-for-25. If anyone can get 300 hits, it’s him.” I don’t doubt Griffey’s sense of logic, having seen Ichiro play so many times.

 Did you ever take an advanced or AP class in high school? I took AP Baseball last week with Professor Ryan. Nolan and I sat together for the Rangers-Royals game, where he gave me a breakdown of every player on the field. I had a similar experience a few days later with White Sox owner and Hall of Fame Board member Jerry Reinsdorf, who invited me to sit with him, his vice chairman, Eddie Einhorn, and his special assistant, Dennis Gilbert, the former agent for George Brett. I now know where the White Sox’s strengths and weaknesses lie. Bobby Brett, George’s brother, joined us.

03-12-10-Idelson_Ryan.jpgWe held our annual Cactus League Champions event in Goodyear, where the Indians and Reds train. It’s a great complex. The Indians were very generous in hosting our Champions, those who support us with an annual donation of $5,000 or more.

Team President Paul Dolan and assistant GM Chris Antonetti addressed our group and let them know what to expect from the Indians this year. After the game, we all had dinner with Bob Feller and Fergie Jenkins, where they regaled the group with stories, photos and autographs.

Speaking of dinners, Billy Williams, Ryne Sandberg, Fergie and their wives joined me for dinner the night before. We toasted to a good 2010 Cubs team and the Williams’ 50th wedding anniversary. Quite a feat for the Williamses, a lovely couple.

On my first night in Arizona, I was joined by Mickey Morabito and Steve Vucinich from the A’s, Gary Hughes, the Cubs scout, Roland Hemond, the long-time Bill Veeck disciple who works for the Diamondbacks, and veteran writers Bob Nightengale, of USA Today, and Spink Award winner Tracy Ringolsby. We get together each spring to talk about scouting and the game today. We used to dine each year at the Pink Pony, a popular old-school steakhouse on North Scottsdale Road that finally closed its doors. We miss the Pony.

03-12-10-Idelson_CactusLeague.jpgOn my final evening, I hosted the dinner to end all dinners, at Don & Charlie’s, a popular Scottsdale hangout with great steaks and ribs. We had a large group that included Bob Uecker, Rollie Fingers, Robin Yount and his brother Larry, George Brett and his guest Joe Randa, Mike Murphy, the Giants’ clubhouse man since Day One in San Francisco, Brad Ziegler, my friend who pitches in the A’s bullpen, Jerry, Eddie and Dennis from the White Sox, and Bob Crotty, who is a generous Hall of Fame supporter and owner of Green Diamonds Gallery in Cincinnati, an exquisite baseball gallery of artifacts and art.

Just before we were getting ready to sit down to dinner, Uecker calls me from his cell phone to let me know he invited two other mutual friends – Bob Costas and Joe Torre.

We had a great dinner and talked about the Dodgers impending trip to Taiwan, told Yogi stories, heard all about the Olympics, and tried to recollect if Torre and Fingers ever faced each other. “Did I ever face you?” Joe asked? “I can’t recall,” was Rollie’s response.

So, I emailed Freddy Berowski in the Hall of Fame Library. Sorry Joe: You faced Rollie one time in the regular season, on May 1, 1977, and struck out. You also faced him in the 1973 All-Star Game and popped out in the 9th. None-the-less, you remain one the game’s greatest players, managers and ambassadors and it’s hard to imagine you won’t be in Cooperstown one day.

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

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