Results tagged ‘ Lou Gehrig ’

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.

A perfect storm

Hayes_90.jpgBy Trevor Hayes

The White Sox can slug. Last season they hit 235 home runs, tops in the Majors and 21 ahead of the world champion Phillies. This season, they’ve hit 10 — tied for ninth at the moment, with the Rangers leading the way with 17 homers in this young season.

But Chicago has a fearsome heart of the order with Carlos Quentin, Jim Thome, Jermaine Dye and then Paul Konerko. And their bats are coming alive. Quentin deposited a pair of balls over the outfield wall at Comerica Park on Monday, and it was the team’s first four-homer game of 2009. They had 11 last year.

The story of Monday’s Tigers-White Sox game was, of course, two men making history by hitting their 300th career home runs in back-to-back at-bats. Dye and Konerko became the first teammates to reach a century milestone of at least 300 in the same game, let alone doing so in back-to-back fashion.

4-15-09-Hayes_KonerkoDye.jpgIt was the fifth time in Major League history that two men have reached a century milestone of at least 300 in the same day, and Thome has been involved in two of those events. The others are Mark McGwire (400) and Andres Galarraga (300) on May 8, 1998; Albert Belle (300) and Rafael Palmeiro (300) on July 17, 1998; Juan Gonzalez (400) and Thome (300) on June 5, 2002; and Thome (500) and Todd Helton on Sept. 16, 2007.

Thome, Dye and Koneko have been together since 2006 and are fairly well represented at the Hall of Fame. Dye’s jersey from Game 4 of his Most Valuable Player performance during the 2005 World Series is here, as are the jersey Thome wore when he hit his 400th career home-run on June 29, 2004, and his 500th home-run ball. In fact, Thome came to Cooperstown last August and presented the ball to the Hall’s chief curator, Ted Spencer.

Something to think about as the Sox home-run machine gets its engines turning is this: With Dye in right field, Konerko at first base and Thome as the designated hitter, the White Sox have 1,143 career home runs in their lineup between just three men. Of course dropping Dye or Konerko for Ken Griffey Jr. at the end of last 2008 considerably ups the total. Both Konerko and Dye ended 2008 with 298 and Thome ended with 541, while Griffey had 611 for an unreal total of 1,450 home runs. That kind of slugging is historic in nature.

An incomplete look at some of the great home-run hitting trios in baseball history turns up very few teams featuring a lineup with that much pop. I was only able to find one team that can overtake the current Sox. In 2006, the Yankees had Alex Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield and Jason Giambi. Those three Bronx Bombers finished the season with a combined 1,269 career homers (Rodriguez at 464, Sheffield at 455 and Giambi at 350). The next season, Sheffield was traded to Detroit, breaking up the unit.

Many teams have come close. Mr. Cub’s Lovable Losers fall just short of their Windy City successors. In Hall of Famer Ernie Banks‘ final year, the North Siders had 1,131 career homers between their three top sluggers. Banks had 512, Hall of Famer Billy Williams had 319 and Ron Santo had 300.

Babe Ruth‘s final year with the Yankees, 1934, was another homer-happy squad, but even they can’t match the Sox mashers despite having three prominent Hall of Famers. With Ruth at 708 and Lou Gehrig at 348, the two sluggers had 1,056. Like many teams however, they fell short of finding a third player. Bill Dickey‘s 62 give the 1934 Yankees a combined 1,118 career home runs.

The 1971 Giants, featuring two Hall of Famers with a 40-year-old Willie Mays at 646 and Willie McCovey at 370, also had a young Bobby Bonds with 100 career homer runs, combining for a total of 1,116.

Eddie Murray played in Baltimore for many years and came back at the tail end of 1996 with 474 homers at the end of the season and teamed with Cal Ripken Jr. (353) and Palmeiro (233) for 1,060 total home runs. 

4-15-09-Hayes_MantleAaron.jpgThe ’04 Cubs had Slammin’ Sammy Sosa with 543, Moises Alou at 278 and Derrek Lee with 162 for a total of 983. That team also featured Aramis Ramirez with 127 at the time.

The hardest part of finding a team with over 1,000 career homers between three players is finding three prolific hitters at that point in their careers. 2009 inductee Jim Rice and Hall of Famers Carl Yastrzemski and Ted Williams all played in Boston and overlapped each other’s tenures, but they never played together that late in their careers.

The Milwaukee Braves of the late ’50s and ’60s were known for their slugging threesome. In 1962, the Braves featured Hall of Famer Eddie Mathews at 399, Hall of Famer and eventual home-run king Hank Aaron at 298 and Joe Adcock with 270 for a 967 total. Four years later, Adcock was gone, but by then Mathews (493) and Aaron (442) had come a long way. Felipe Alou’s 148 give the new threesome 935 homers in 1966.

Mickey Mantle ran into the same problem. He played with Joe DiMaggio as a youngster and Yogi Berra for a long period of time. By 1963, Mantle had 419 longballs, Berra had 358 and slugger Roger Maris contributed 214 for a total of 991.

It takes the perfect storm to put 1,143 career home runs into one lineup. Right now, the White Sox have it, and it’s fun to watch.

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

Japan a true world champion

Gates_90.jpgBy Jim Gates

I enjoyed watching the World Baseball Classic and was not particularly surprised to see Japan playing for the championship once again. Baseball in Japan has a long history, and there is as much baseball folklore and tradition on this island nation as exists in any
4-9-09-Gates_JapanvAmerica.jpg
 
 country. The national high school tournament is conducted with the same fervor as Americans attach to the NCAA basketball tournament, and the Japanese major leagues have some of the most vocal fans on the planet.

An American expatriate educator named Horace Wilson is credited with introducing the Japanese to baseball in the early 1870s, and we have tried to reflect this nation’s long history in our collection. As I go through the files in our archive, I often come across artifacts that relate to the relationship between Japan, the United States and the game of baseball. Among the hundred of items from Japan, one of my favorites is a program from the 1931 Major League tour featuring Lou Gehrig, Frankie Frisch, Lefty Grove, Rabbit Maranville and Mickey Cochrane, who together compiled a record of 17-0. I wonder if they ever thought that baseball would become such an international sport and that the Japanese would become such a baseball power?

The Japanese have had a chance to fully develop their own baseball history, and this has led to a strong sense of pride in their game and to the players that have been introduced to the rest of the world. This includes the Olympic Games, the World Baseball Classic and right into Major league Baseball. It will be interesting to see what type of artifacts and documents we acquire in future years relating to this element of the game.

Jim Gates is librarian of the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library.

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.

Character, Courage and Curt

Muder_90.jpgBy Craig Muder

By the numbers, Curt Schilling may be the best postseason pitcher baseball has ever known. But when he visited Cooperstown last November to help dedicate the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s new Character and Courage statues, Schilling’s steely nerves and icy demeanor betrayed him.

Schilling, invited to speak on behalf of Lou Gehrig at the ribbon-cutting for statues honoring Gehrig, Jackie Robinson and Roberto Clemente, was visibly moved during a short speech in front of a packed Museum foyer.

3-23-09-Muder_Schilling.jpg“I can’t believe I’m standing here,” said Schilling, who — after missing all of the 2008 season — announced his retirement Monday. “I’m embarrassed to be standing here, really. These three men accomplished so much.”

Not that Schilling is any slouch in the stats department. The six-time All-Star and three-time World Series champion posted a 216-146 career record with 3,116 strikeouts (one of only 16 pitchers to reach the 3,000 plateau) and a 3.46 ERA. His 4.38 career strikeout-to-walk ratio ranks first among pitchers in baseball’s modern era.

In the postseason, Schilling posted a 2.23 ERA and an 11-2 record, good for an .846 winning percentage, the best of any pitcher with at least 10 decisions.

Schilling, who will become eligible for the Hall of Fame in time for the 2013 Baseball Writers’ Association of America vote, has been a generous Hall of Fame donor over the years. The bloody sock from Game 2 of the 2004 World Series is currently on display in the Museum, and Schilling has also donated these items:

  • a Phillies cap from 1997, when he led the Majors with 319 strikeouts;
  • a Diamondbacks cap from the 2001 World Series, when he was the co-Most Valuable Player along with teammate Randy Johnson;
  • and spikes from Game 2 of the 2004 World Series with the Red Sox.

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

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