Results tagged ‘ Major League Baseball ’

Side retired

Berowski_90.jpg8-5-09-Berowski_Henderson.jpgBy Freddy Berowski

“He’s a player Major League history will never forget. His records will never be broken. There will never be another Rickey Henderson.”

These were the words spoken by Rickey Henderson’s best friend Dave Stewart last Saturday. Less than one week after his induction to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Oakland Athletics retired Rickey Henderson’s No. 24 in a pregame ceremony that Master of Ceremonies Ray Fosse called “the start of Rickey Henderson Month.”

8-5-09-Berowski_Rice.jpgOnly four days earlier, another member of the Hall of Fame’s class of 2009 also had his uniform number retired.  In a pregame ceremony, the man Red Sox manager Terry Francona called “one of the most dominating offensive players in the game,” Jim Rice, had his No. 14 retired by the Boston Red Sox, the team he spent his entire career with. Among those in attendance were Rice’s family and many of his former teammates, including fellow Hall of Famers Dennis Eckersley and Carlton Fisk. Boston Mayor Tom Menino dubbed June 28, 2009 as “Jim Rice Day” throughout the city.

Unlike the specific rules for election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, there are no specific guidelines provided by Major League Baseball for the honoring of an individual by retiring his uniform number. That decision – with the exception of the universal retirement of Jackie Robinson’s No. 42 – is left entirely up to the teams.

The practice of retiring a number to honor a player began in 1939, 10 years after permanent uniform numbers were first introduced by the New York Yankees. Ironically, it was the Yankees that first retired Lou Gehrig’s No. 4 in honor of their fatally ill Captain. The Yankees have retired 15 numbers to honor 16 players – No. 8 was retired in honor of both Bill Dickey and Yogi Berra – a Major League high.

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

Historic homers

Berowski_90.jpgBy Freddy Berowski

This past week, a couple of today’s top sluggers surpassed marks set by two of the top stars of yesteryear.

On Thursday, 29-year-old Ryan Howard became the quickest player to reach the 200-home run plateau when he clubbed his 200th in only his 658th major league game. Howard eclipsed the mark set by Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner on Aug. 3, 1950, when Kiner took Cubs hurler Johnny Schmitz deep for his 200th round-tripper in career game number 706.

7-22-09-Berowski_KinerHoward.jpgKiner was two years younger than Howard when he established his mark. But while Howard’s big blasts have come for a very successful Phillies club, Kiner’s bombs came for a Pittsburgh club who struggled in the National League’s second division. After Kiner led the league in home runs for the seventh straight season in 1952, with the Pirates finishing last for the second time in three seasons, Pirates general manager Branch Rickey – another future Hall of Famer – rejected his request for a pay increase, stating: “We would have finished last without you”.

Rickey traded Kiner to the Cubs as part of a 10-player deal only 41 games into the 1953 season, and with that trade proved his statement true as the Pirates once again finished last. Kiner was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1975.

7-22-09-Berowski_RamirezSchmidt.jpgMeanwhile, Manny Ramirez moved into sole possession of 15th place on Major League Baseball’s all-time home run list on Monday, passing Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle with his 537th career long ball.

The Mick hit his 536th-and-final home run off of Boston’s Jim Lonborg on Sept. 20, 1968. Eight days later, the 36-year-old Mantle would have the final at bat of his career, a first-inning ground out to short, also against Lonborg.

Manny’s 537th was a second-inning, two-run shot off the Reds’ Micah Owings. In the last season and a half, the 37-year-old Ramirez has passed no less than eight other Hall of Famers on the home run list, including Lou Gehrig and Ted Williams. Up next for Manny: the No. 14 spot currently occupied by Philadelphia Phillies Hall of Fame third baseman Mike Schmidt, who hit 548 career homers. 

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

Cooperstown stirs Hall of Fame memories

Francis_90.jpgBy Bill Franics

6-15-09-Francis_Doubleday.jpgOn Sunday, Cooperstown’s historic Doubleday Field played host to a pair of Triple-A minor league teams – whose players are one step away from the majors. The game came exactly six weeks to the day before Joe Gordon, Rickey Henderson and Jim Rice are inducted into the Hall of Fame as the Class of 2009.

Cooperstown Classic II saw the International League’s Pawtucket Red Sox come away with a 15-5 win over the Syracuse Chiefs. With the game’s greatest enshrined down the street in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the two squads’ off-field personnel who had played with and against Rice and Henderson shared their thoughts on the duo.

“I think I still have a bruise from a line drive hit off my arm on my first pitch of a spring training game in 1982 by Rickey,” joked Syracuse pitching coach Rich Gale, a 6-foot-7 righty who pitched in the big leagues from 1978-84. “I was saying on the way over here that I should go visit the Hall of Fame because there’s a lot of guys I helped get in there.”

6-15-09-Francis_Rice.jpgActually, Rice had only a .147 batting average (5-for-34) against Gale. 

“I happened to have good success against Jim Rice. But boy, I’ll tell you what, I was never overconfident,” Gale said. “Every time he was in the box you knew that every swing could be a home run. You could make a nasty, nasty pitch and he’d rifle the ball to right, right-center or he’d launch one on to the Mass. Pike at Fenway.”

Gale spent his final big league season in 1984 as Rice’s teammate with the Boston Red Sox. “The first time he saw me in spring training he joked, ‘I hope you make our club. Don’t get traded to somebody.’ He remembered that I had some success against him.”

As for Henderson, Gale said, “I’m sure he saw me pitching out there and when he got on base he licked his chops because I had a big, long, slow delivery. My catchers weren’t too happy about that.

“He’s a guy you could throw one pitch to to lead off a game and be behind 1-0 after he hit a home run. Or you could throw one pitch and he’d be on first base, the next thing it’s second, and the next thing it’s third. And then you get an out from the second guy and you’re still behind 1-0. It was a tremendous, tremendous package.”

Pawtucket batting coach Russ Morman, who spent most of his nine-year major league playing career at first base, remembered the pressure Henderson could put on a pitcher.

“Every time he got on base he was a threat to go and cause havoc on the base paths,” Morman said. “Rickey never stayed at first very long.”

6-15-09-Francis_Henderson.jpgSyracuse batting coach Darnell Coles was another contemporary, spending 14 years in the majors (1983-95, 1997), including one as a teammate of Henderson’s with the World Series-winning 1993 Toronto Blue Jays.

“Rickey is Rickey,” Coles said with a smile. “He’s the catalyst of your team, he gets on base, he sets things in motion on the bases that not a whole lot of people have done.”

Coles spent most of time as a third baseman, always alert when Henderson was on base.

“I think it was more of a matter of when he wanted to steal bases. He could steal them pretty much anytime he wanted because he could see things other guys couldn’t,” Coles said. “And he just continued to do that over the course of his career. Then with all the leadoff home runs, he was just a special player.”

Coles recalled Rice as one of the most prolific right-handed hitters that he’d ever played against.

“Rice was just a guy that you want up with the game on the line,” Coles said. “He’s also one of those guys you wanted on your team if there was a brawl. He was somebody who had a clubhouse presence. He was a guy with a certain stature who’d go out and play the game the right way, break up double plays, do the things it takes to play on championship caliber team.”

Tom Foli, the Syracuse manager, was a 16-year veteran at second base who saw a little too much of Henderson.

6-15-09-Francis_Gordon.jpg“He was ridiculous,” Foli said. “He’d dive head first into second base. He’s probably the only guy that ever actually hurt me when he dove in. Everybody else you could kind of stop, but he was so strong he could actually take you out diving. That’s how fast and how hard he slid.”

Rice was just an RBI machine, according to Foli.

“A great hitter you like that you had to go right at them because if you pitch around them you’re going to make more mistakes,” Foli said. “If you make good pitches you have a chance to get them out seven out of 10 times. You don’t make good pitches they’re going to make you pay.”

The 2009 Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, featuring Rice and Henderson as well as Joe Gordon, will begin at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, July 26. Admission is free.

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

Rock and Roll Hall of Famers visit Cooperstown

Idelson_90.jpgBy Jeff Idelson

One of the great strengths of the Baseball Hall of Fame is its universal appeal. Even though we are a Museum dedicated to baseball, fans of American history will invariably visit because one can’t begin to fully appreciate Americana without seeing baseball’s imprint. 

Those who travel to Cooperstown do so as a pilgrimage – we’re not exactly a place you can stumble upon. Once in a great while, visitors will “just happen to be in town for other reasons” and a Museum visit becomes a secondary undertaking. 

6-15-09-Idelson_CSN.jpgSuch was the case Friday when music icons and 1997 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductees Crosby, Stills and Nash came to town to play a concert at legendary Doubleday Field, the fifth concert ever at the famed venue. Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson got the ball rolling in 2004. Others to have performed include Paul Simon, The Beach Boys with Herman’s Hermits and Dylan, a second time.

Prior to the show, led by three decade-long tour manager Mike “Coach” Sexton, the entire band sans David Crosby, came to visit the Museum. Arriving in golf carts two hours before sound check were Graham Nash and Stephen Stills, along with drummer Joe Vitale, base player Bob Glaub, their newly-anointed organist, and pianist James Raymond — David Crosby’s son.

They spent 90 minutes touring the exhibits and 30 minutes in archival collections. The tour ended with a trip to the photo library so Nash, a well-known photography collector, could have a look at the Library’s famed collection. “Too short of a visit,” lamented Stills after the tour. 

While touring, I learned that Vitale was born in Canton, Ohio, and went to high school with Thurman Munson. “Is he in the Hall?” asked Vitale. When told he wasn’t, he responded: “He should be.”

Stills and Nash loved the Museum and were fascinated with its history. “Ahhh, Mickey Mantle – my first hero,” recalled Stills in the Yankees of 1950s exhibit on the Museum’s second floor. “I loved the Mick, but I am a Red Sox fan. I threw out the first pitch during their run to their first championship and that baseball is one of my prized possessions.”

 In archives, Nash, who played cricket in Blackpool, England as a youngster, picked up one of Hall of Famer George Wright‘s cricket bats, circa 1890. He was intrigued to learn of Wright, the only person in history to play Major League Baseball (Boston and Providence) and First Class Cricket (Longwood Cricket Club of Chestnut Hill, Mass.).

6-15-09-Idelson_Paige.jpgCricket matches are renowned for being seemingly-endless, as they can last for days. I asked Nash if cricket reminded him of acoustic Grateful Dead concerts, which were could also last for hours. “You may have a point there,” he said laughing.

I explained to both musicians the definition of a five-tool player (hit for average, hit for power, run, throw and field) and asked if music had any. “Prince. Definitely Prince,” said Nash. “He can probably play five instruments.”

When I asked Stills if he could go back in time which player he would meet, he answered without hesitation, Satchel Paige. “B.B. King told me that watching Satchel Paige pitch was like watching Jimi Hendrix play guitar. They were both legendary.”

The band thanked Hall of Fame curators Erik Strohl and Tom Shieber for arranging the tour and then headed back to Doubleday Field. After the sound check at 4:30 p.m., the three rock legends posed in Hall of Fame jerseys – as one Hall of Fame honored legends from another: Crosby, Stills and Nash were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997, and are about to enter the Songwriters Hall of Fame (the three are also in the Harmony Hall of Fame). Nash was so appreciative, he opened the show wearing his new garb.

For the photo shoot, to tie music and baseball together even more closely, we brought the bats of three players with which the three musicians posed: Crosby with a Babe Ruth bat, Stills with a Lou Gehrig bat and Nash with a Joe DiMaggio one.

“What a thrill,” said Nash. “What a thrill.”

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

Culture Clubs

Francis_90.jpgBy Bill Francis

If baseball and cricket aren’t brothers, they are probably distant cousins. And sometimes visiting relatives, when they get together, are not always readily accepted.

Such was the point made by Beth Hise, a guest curator for the Marylebone Cricket Club Museum in London, England, during a presentation on Wednesday afternoon in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s Education Gallery. Hise’s work, entitled The Crowd Began to Shout “Atta Boy” With a Lancashire Accent: The English Response to Baseball Exhibition Games in the Early 20th Century, was one of many presentations that took place on the first day of the annual Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture.

6-6-09-Francis_Wright.jpgHise, who lives in Australia but was raised in Cleveland as an Indians fan, is currently working on an exhibit on cricket and baseball. She combined her appearance at the Symposium with her continuing research at the Hall of Fame.

“Today’s talk was looking in detail at one small element of the exhibition, which is the spreading of the two games,” said Hise. “Cricket spread internationally very strongly through the British Empire, where they weren’t imposing a foreign game; they were imposing an entirely foreign system. And the game came as part of it.

“Where baseball is very different is that baseball tried to missionize and send out teams around the world but they sent out two star-studded teams to play each other,” she added, referring to exhibition games held throughout Europe by the Chicago White Sox and New York Giants in both 1913-14 and 1924. “My talk looked at the reception of those two tours in the early 20th Century and how England, in particular, received those tours.”

According to Hise, England saw in those tours something that was outside of anything that they would have anything to do with.

“It was great spectacle, thousands showed up for the matches, they were watched by royalty, but what I did was I looked at the press response,” she said. “I found a lot of different things that the reporters wrote about – very humorous, very good natured, very much enjoying the spectacle, enjoying what they learned about Americans but keeping it all pretty much at arm’s length.”

Hise added the Major League Baseball International is now promoting the fact that our national pastime isn’t strictly an American game but can be adopted for each country’s own needs and have it reflect what they want it to.

“But in the early 20th Century it was really brought over to England as an American export and very much enjoyed in a very strongly American, patriotic sense.”

The annual Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture, co-sponsored by the State University of New York College at Oneonta and the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, runs through Friday. Each year, the event brings baseball scholars from throughout the country together to examine the impact of baseball on American culture from inter- and multi-disciplinary perspectives.

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

A Horne of plenty

Gates_90.jpgBy Jim Gates

Following last week’s blog on the rare 6-for-6 cycle by Ian Kinsler of the Texas Rangers, I was asked if anyone had ever hit for the home-run cycle. The answer is yes, but not in the Major Leagues.

First, what is a home-run cycle? It is when one batter hits a solo, two-run and three-run homer in a game in addition to a grand slam. Hitting four home runs in one game is difficult enough, but the home-run cycle obviously requires the substantial cooperation of your teammates.

5-21-09-Gates_HorneBat.jpgAlthough there are stories of home-run cycles being accomplished at the youth, high school and collegiate levels, only one batter is known to have achieved this feat as a professional ballplayer. On July 27, 1998, Tyrone Horne of the Double-A Arkansas Travelers in the Texas League stroked a two-run shot in the first inning, a grand slam in the second, a solo homer in the fifth and finished off the night with a three-run blast in the sixth inning. Not a bad night at all.

“I hadn’t realized I’d homered for the cycle at first. I’d never even heard of homering for the cycle,” Horne recalled almost a decade after the event.

Known for having some power, Horne hit 37 home runs for the Travelers in 1998 and posted a batting average of .312. He spent 13 years playing Minor League and independent league baseball before a ruptured disc in his neck forced him to retire from active play.

Although Horne never made it to The Show, he donated his bat from the home-run cycle to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, where it now resides along with other artifacts of baseball history.

This just proves that on any given night, almost any player can catch lighting in a bottle. He can perform a little magic and achieve something never before seen on the baseball diamond. You don’t have to be a superstar to make the game special or to make it into the record books. Just ask Tyrone.

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

Get thee a denominator

Gates_90.jpg
4-23-09-Gates_Urdaneta.jpgBy Jim Gates

Perhaps one of the most exclusive clubs in baseball belongs to a group of pitchers who each appeared in only one Major League game in his career, gave up at least one run but never recorded an out. Therefore, their ERAs are ?, also known as the lemniscate, the mathematical symbol for infinity.

Surely it must have been frustrating to have earned your big league cup of coffee but never to have achieved the basic arithmetic feature that every pitcher desires most — an out. Fortunately for us, the statisticians of the game have kept the data we need to track this select group, so without further ceremony, here is “The Brotherhood of the Lemniscate”:

4-23-09-Gates_LemniscateChart.jpgOf the 8,188 players who have pitched in a Major League game (as of April 21, 2009, according to David Smith at Project Retrosheet) only 13 meet the criteria for this group. One of the interesting things about this list (as if we need to take this any further) is that two members (Bruckbauer and Hamann) were born in New Ulm, Minn. (population 13,500 in 2000). Such an august group needs a club motto, something to hang over its clubhouse door, so to speak, and a colleague of mine would propose the following: “He who lemniscates is lost.”

Ah, where would we be without such obscurities?

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

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