Results tagged ‘ Most Valuable Player ’

Joe, Jim, Rickey … and Tom Burgmeier?

Francis_90.jpgBy Bill Francis

Longtime big league pitcher Tom Burgmeier’s baseball career includes almost 750 games played, over 100 saves, and one All-Star Game. But when it comes to the 2009 Hall of Fame electees, he holds a special place amongst all other players.   

7-24-09-Francis_Burgmeier.jpgWhile baserunning phenom Rickey Henderson, slugging outfielder Jim Rice and slick-fielding and powerful second baseman Joe Gordon will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame this Sunday, Burgmeier has the distinction of being the only major leaguer to have been teammates of both Henderson and Rice and to have played under Gordon when he was a manager.

In his fourth season as the pitching coach for the Omaha Royals, the Triple-A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals, Burgmeier reflected on his unique connection to the Class of 2009.

“Actually, we were talking about it the other day,” said Burgmeier, whose past visits to Cooperstown came via the Hall of Fame Game, first as a player with the Twins in 1977 and later as a coach with the Royals in 1999. “Somebody mentioned Joe Gordon and said, ‘Gee, you played under him and you played with the other two. I wonder if you’re the only person who did that?’”

Burgmeier enjoyed a 17-year big league playing career (1968-1984), spent mostly as a relief pitcher, with the California Angels, Kansas City Royals, Minnesota Twins, Boston Red Sox and Oakland A’s. The lefty finished with a 79-55 record, 102 saves and a 3.23 ERA.

7-24-09-Francis_Gordon.jpgA fourth-round selection by the Royals in the expansion draft, Burgmeier played under manager Joe Gordon in 1969. Following his stellar 11-year playing career with the New York Yankees and Cleveland Indians, Gordon served managerial stints with the Indians (1958-1960), Detroit Tigers (1960), Kansas City Athletics (1961) and Royals (1969).

“Joe was very vibrant and was a good manager. We had a lot of fun and for an expansion team we actually won a few games, too,” said Burgmeier, of the 69-73 Royals. “He was a heck of a player and a good manager and I really enjoyed playing for him.”

Burgmeier would finish the 1969 season with a 3-1 record in 31 games. “What’s that baseball cliché? He was a players’ manager,” Burgmeier said. “What I mean is you get the players, you put them in the lineup, and if they do well, you become a good manager.”

Sometimes Gordon would talk to the players about his career as a nine-time All-Star and winner of five World Series crowns. “But I don’t think that happens as much anymore: guys sitting around the clubhouse after the game talking about old times. And that’s too bad,” Burgmeier said.

In February of 1978, after four seasons with Minnesota, Burgmeier signed as a free agent with the Red Sox. “I was with the Twins in 1974 and we were playing Boston. I had some friends of mine on the Red Sox and I was standing in the bullpen and asked them, ‘Hey, do have any good players in the minor leagues?’ I’ll never forget that they said, ‘Yeah, we have a couple kids probably be up next year. We got this kid Rice and this Freddy Lynn.’ I said, ‘Do they hit pretty good?’ And they said, ‘Yeah, they’re good minor league players. They’ll probably make the team next year.’ Well, the rest is history.”

7-24-09-Francis_Rice.jpgBurgmeier and Rice were Red Sox teammates for five seasons (1978 to 1982).

“Jim hated to come out of the lineup. Any kind of minor injury didn’t get him out of the lineup — there had to be a bone sticking out or he’d have to be bleeding to where they’d have to bandage him up,” Burgmeier said. “He was a funny guy around the clubhouse. He liked to have a good time and loved to play golf in his off days. We did that a lot on the road.

“If he was in a little slump, which everybody goes through, he’d always tell the press to talk to him at the end of the year. I remember there was one stretch he went a few weeks without hitting a home run and I remember him telling a guy, ‘Don’t talk to me now. Just talk to me at the end of the year and see how I’m doing.’”

Rice was arguably the top right-handed hitter of his era. Against Burgmeier, Rice batted .357 (5-for-14) with one homer.

“He struck fear in the hearts of many a pitcher, especially in Fenway. He (Rice) could hit them as far as anybody — right field, center field, left field,” Burgmeier recalled. “And like anybody else who’s a good hitter, it’s the same basic thing: keep the ball down, stay away from him, pitch inside a little bit. It’s a formula that has been around for 130 years.”

7-24-09-Francis_Henderson.jpgBurgmeier spent his final two major league seasons (1983 and 1984) with the Oakland A’s. During that stretch, Rickey Henderson stole 174 bases.

“Rickey was one of the best base stealers of all time. The score or who was catching or who was pitching really didn’t make a difference,” said Burgmeier, who lockered next to Henderson. “If he was going to steal, he was going to steal. And not only second, but steal third, too. The years I was there he was well into being one of the best ever as far as not being able to throw him out.”

Though Burgmeier faced Henderson only five times in his career, he got to experience the threat the future Hall of Famer posed.

“What sticks out is that because of his speed, when he got on, you knew you had to do all of the things to combat that. And even if you did, it didn’t mean that he wasn’t going to run anyway,” Burgmeier said. “You had to slide step more and throw over more. But did it stop him from running? No, he still ran. He was as fast as anybody going today.”

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

Musial always a star in St. Louis

Berowski_90.jpgBy Freddy Berowski

It was 61 years ago – July 13, 1948 – that Stan Musial made his first All- Star appearance in the Gateway City. At only 27 years of age, the Cardinals’ star outfielder was midway through his third MVP season, in which he led the Senior Circuit in every major offensive category except home runs.

7-16-09-Berowski_Musial.jpgDuring the 1948 Midsummer Classic in St. Louis, Musial continued his dominance of major league pitching by launching a first-inning two-run home run off Senators hurler Walt Masterson. Those would be the only two runs the NL would muster that day, falling to the AL 5-2.

On Tuesday night, the 88-year-old Hall of Famer was back on the field in St. Louis for the pre-game festivities, presenting President Barack Obama with the ceremonial first pitch baseball.

When the 80th annual All-Star game action commenced, the eyes of the St. Louis faithful were on Albert Pujols. At age 29, already with two MVP awards under his belt, this modern day “Stan the Man” is on pace to have his best season yet. Unfortunately his regular season performance didn’t translate to All-Star Game competition this year, as Pujols went 0-for-3 at the plate.

Ironically it was Albert’s Cardinal teammate, Yadier Molina, who would be a catalyst for the NL, accounting for all three NL runs when his second-inning single plated David Wright and Shane Victorino. He later scored on Prince Fielder’s RBI double.

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

Carl Cooperstown has another historic night

Horn_90.jpgBy Brad Horn

ST. LOUIS — At this rate, he might want to consider a formal name change to Carl Cooperstown.

Crawford, better known to his Tampa Bay and American League teammates as “C.C.,” earned Most Valuable Player honors in Tuesday’s 4-3 All-Star Game in St. Louis, extending the A.L.’s unbeaten streak to 13 straight. The win assures the World Series will start in an American League city.

7-15-09-Horn_CrawfordCatch.jpgCovering ground has made Crawford a major league star, and since last October, he’s covered enough earth to orbit Cooperstown thrice. Donating an artifact from an historic achievement is a rare honor, as the Museum typically requests about 30 items per year from major league achievements.

With the donation of the cap he wore in Tuesday’s Classic, essentially the only part of Crawford now not in Cooperstown is the rising star himself.

“What is it going to be this time?” Crawford asked me last night after receiving the MVP award on the field at Busch Stadium. Beaming with a smile that shows a natural love for the game, Carl gladly handed over his cap… after a quick trip to the interview room. Next stop: Cooperstown.

At the conclusion of the World Series last October, we asked Carl for the road jersey he wore in Philadelphia. Though his Rays came up short against the Phillies, his all around dynamic play represented the spirit of baseball’s upstarts in 2008. He was all too willing then to give, as he was again last night.

7-15-09-Horn_Crawford.jpgJust six weeks into the 2009 season, Crawford ran – almost at will – against the Red Sox, stealing six bases in a game to tie a modern record. The spikes he wore in that game kept running a bit further… to Cooperstown. On the day they arrived in May, another fellow five-tool leftfielder happened to be in the Museum and inspected the spikes as they arrived.

Rickey Henderson was on his orientation visit that day and was among the first to see Carl’s spikes in their new home.

And so this week, for the third time in 10 months, Carl Crawford will be represented with an artifact at the home of baseball. 

The road from Houston’s Jefferson Davis High School to major league stardom in Tampa Bay apparently runs right through Cooperstown.

Brad Horn is the senior director of communications at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Happy Birthday Harmon!

Muder_90.jpgBy Craig Muder
 
The gray hair and quick smile make the nickname seem almost laughable.

Killer? This light-hearted, friendly man playing golf and shaking hands? But when he swung a bat 40 years ago, there was no one more valuable in the American League.
 
6-29-09-Muder_Killebrew.jpgHarmon Killebrew turns 73 today, and during his career was one of the most feared hitters in the AL. Killebrew topped the 40-home run mark eight times, finished with 573 home runs (fifth all-time at the time of his retirement and still ninth overall) and won the 1969 AL Most Valuable Player Award.
 
The 5-foot-11 Killebrew made up for in power what he lacked in size — yet was a limber enough fielder to play more than half of his big league games at either third base or left field. He led his Minnesota Twins to the postseason three times and was named to 13 All-Star teams.
 
Today, Killebrew remains an ardent ambassador of baseball — and one of the game’s true gentlemen.
 
But for baseball fans in the 1960s — especially those of opposing teams — Killebrew’s lethal nickname was truly appropriate.
 
Happy birthday, Harmon.

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

Kent, Timlin savor time in Cooperstown

Francis_90.jpgBy Bill Francis

Of the 26 former big league players who participated in Sunday’s inaugural Baseball Hall of Fame Classic, only two were in the big leagues as recently as last season. One says he’s retired for good; the other is willing to listen to offers.

Jeff Kent was a slugging second baseman who captured the 2000 National League MVP Award, while Mike Timlin a stalwart relief pitcher who helped four teams win World Series titles. Between the pair of baseball veterans are 35 seasons and almost 3,400 games of major league action. 

According to Kent, who ended last season with the Los Angeles Dodgers with 377 career home runs, including his record-setting 351 as a second baseman, he’s ready for the next phase of his life.

6-24-09-Francis_Timlin.jpg“I’m 41 now and my desire to compete is going out a little bit,” Kent said before the Classic. “I’ll probably always think I could compete, but at what level I don’t know. It’s time for the younger kids to start taking on the game.

“I think the last 10 years of my career I played the game a lot better in my mind than I did with my body.”

For Timlin, 43, while he sees the writing on the wall, he’s unwillingly to completely concede his playing career has come to an end.

 “Nothing’s totally official,” said Timlin, who played the last six seasons with the Boston Red Sox. “I had my name out there in spring training, so something could happen this summer. If someone gives me a call that I would deem worthy to walk away from the family for a little while, it could happen.”

Both players have been generous over the years about donating artifacts from their careers to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

“They’re probably collecting dust in the basement,” joked Kent, who donated, among other things, the bat he used to hit his 278th homer as a second baseman, breaking Ryne Sandberg‘s former career mark. “It’s neat that I was a part of history for the 17 years that I played.”

Among the Timlin artifacts in the Museum – which like all artifacts are kept in climate-controlled environments – are the spikes he wore when he made his 1,000th appearance as a pitcher. 

“It’s an honor just to be asked to have something in there,” Timlin said. “I know my career numbers are not going to put me in there with a plaque on the wall, so it’s nice to actually have something in there that is part of me.”

Timlin’s last visit to Cooperstown was with the Red Sox as a participant in the 2005 Hall of Fame Game.

“My mom passed away from ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease), so I took a picture with Lou Gehrig‘s first baseman mitt,” Timlin said. “That was pretty neat.”

6-24-09-Francis_Kent.jpgThis was Kent’s first visit to Cooperstown, but with the career he’s had he could one day find himself with a Hall of Fame plaque of his own.

“I’ve never been a baseball historian, so because of that I’ve never really been able to compare myself to anybody else. I never got caught up in the history of the game because I felt like that might erase some of my competitive nature,” Kent said. “I always competed for the moment rather than competing for the past or competing for the future. When you know that history about me, for me to think about where I stand within baseball history, I have no idea.”

But Kent did admit to some curiosity after being around some of the Hall of Famers as part of the Hall of Fame Classic.

“I’m learning more about the intrigue, the specialness, the mystery of the Hall of Fame and the classiness of these players that are in the Hall. And to say that I can be a part of that in the future I appreciate,” Kent said. “I’ve always tried to separate myself from things I can’t control. I played the game and I played it right and hopefully that’ll stand up for itself. We’ll see.

“Being able to say that I was one of the better players is an honor in itself whether somebody votes for me or not.”

And with his long career possibly having come to an end, Timlin can look back with a certain wide-eyed awe.

“God’s blessed me tremendously just to do what I’ve done,” he said. “It has been awesome.”

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

Classic Hall of Famers thrill packed crowd, promise more

Hayes_90.jpgBy Trevor Hayes

There were literally no empty seats in the Grandstand Theater for the Hall of Fame Classic Voices of the Game. And this special Father’s Day edition delivered with the same impact the four Hall of Famers on stage had during their careers.

The sellout crowd listened for as Triple-Crown winner Bob Feller, 300-game winner Phil Niekro, 3,000-hit Club member Paul Molitor and 16-time Gold Glove Award winner Brooks Robinson reflected on their careers and talked about the game they love.

6-20-09-Hayes_VOG.jpgAll four legends and fellow Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins headline the signature event of the weekend, the Hall of Fame Classic on Father’s Day at Doubleday Field.

The theme of fathers and sons has been a principal element throughout this inaugural Hall of Fame Classic Weekend and was present during Voices of the Game. Niekro spoke vividly of his relationship. As a youngster in Ohio, he looked up to his father, who taught him the weapon that would be his bread and butter in a 24 season career.

“”If it wasn’t for the knuckleball, I probably would have ended up coal mining,” Niekro said. “I didn’t know what it was. I just had fun playing knuckle ball in the back yard. Then I was able to get Little League guys out.”

His success continued and he hitched a ride to a tryout with the Milwaukee Braves. He signed for $500. Early on, Knucksie as he became known, was unsure of his talents. When the Hall’s manager of museum programs Steve Light, who moderated the event asked Niekro how he fared against the two accomplished hitters on either side of him, Knucksie started laughing.

6-20-09-Hayes_RobinsonNiekro.jpg“I faced Brooks early on during a Spring Training game,” he recalled. “One of my 77-mph fastballs got away from me and I hit him in the head.”

Robinson countered, “Didn’t hurt a bit.”

“I thought I was going to be done the next day for hitting Brooks Robinson with a fastball,” Niekro said.

Robinson’s start wasn’t something to brag about either, though he did. He played most of the 1955 season for the York (Penn.) White Roses – a B-League team in the Piedmont League. Robinson got the call at the end of the season and got two hits in his first start.

“I called home and said, ‘This is cake. Why did I play in [the minors] all year? I should have been in the big leagues.’”

He then went 0-for-18. He recovered and became one of the cornerstones of the great Orioles teams of the 1960′s and 70′s. He appeared in four World Series, winning a pair of rings. Robinson played on a lot of great teams, but he feels one of the best didn’t achieve to the level that some of his other teams might have.

6-20-09-Hayes_Robinson.jpgIn honor of the 40th Anniversary of the Miracle Mets, Light asked Robinson about the 1969 World Series.

“I thought our ’62 team was our best,” he said. “But anything can happen in a seven-game series. We beat [Hall of Famer Tom] Seaver and lost the next four, straight.”

Baltimore was back in the Series again the next season and Robinson took the MVP honors, hitting .429 against the Big Red Machine from Cincinnati. He drove in six and hit a pair of home runs. Molitor like Robinson achieved October glory by winning the MVP Award in 1993 with the Blue Jays.

During that Fall Classic, he hit .500 with a pair of doubles, a pair of triples and a pair of homers while driving in eight against the Phillies. Molitor’s best memory of that Series however, was not one of his personal achievements.

“The ’93 Series, I was on first base when Joe Carter hit that ball over the wall,” he said. “I was thinking if it goes off the wall and I hustle, I can score and end this thing, but then it went out and it was all over anyway.”

Another highlight of Molitor’s career was reaching 3,000 hits. Pure consistency throughout his career allowed The Ignitor to retire with a career .306 batting average and 3,319 hits. In 1987, he took a run at one of the game’s longest standing records, Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak. Molitor hit safely in 39 straight.

6-20-09-Hayes_Niekro.jpg“Whether it’s milestones or streaks, players don’t really play for those, but numbers are big in baseball,” he said. “Falling 17 games short is still a long way away from that number and my perspective changed after that streak.

“I always tell people: The way you handle success is directly related to the way you handle failure, because 3,000 hits means 7,000 outs.”

Knucksie, a member of another elite club – the 300-game winners – applauded Molitor on the achievement. He said pitchers have help in winning games, but hitters are alone. 

Niekro’s 300th came in his last start of 1985 as a Yankee. It was a special moment for him and his father, who was faltering in health. Niekro was 46 at the time and at the end of his contract.

“If I didn’t win it, I would have had to wait until the next spring and he wasn’t going to hold on that long,” he said. “So really that was a blessing for both of us.”

6-20-09-Hayes_Feller.jpgFeller missed 300 wins by 34. But he recorded a career-high 27 in 1940 followed by 25 in 1941 before leaving baseball for most of four seasons to serve in the Navy during World War II. Light noted that the Grandstand Theater is a replica of Chicago’s Comiskey Park where Feller authored one of his three no-hitters and the only Opening Day no-no in the history of the game.

“Well it was 69 years ago and I remember it quite well,” the Indians ace recalled. “It wasn’t my best no-hitter. I didn’t have great stuff that day. I only struck out eight and we won 1-0. I remember that my catcher, Rollie Hemsley, hit a triple with my rommmate on base to score the only run.”

At 90, Feller’s memory is as sharp as if he were reading a box score. Light asked him about his famous high-leg kick and he laughed.

“That high leg kick…You’ve seen the picture taken in Yankee Stadium in 1936 or ’37 with my leg kicked over my head and the photographer laying flat on the ground,” Feller said. “That is all for show. It was just symbolism. But it’s the most popular picture they’ve got of me and it sells well at card shows.”

6-20-09-Hayes_Molitor.jpgAnother Feller myth was confirmed, when Light asked the former fireballer about the motorcycle and his fastball. Feller said that, that also happened in Chicago. He was wearing a tie and a dress shirt during the exhibition, but when he wound up with the motorcycle ten feet behind him, the ball beat the bike to the target. Using a timer and the vehicles speedometer, it was figured that he threw the ball 104 mph. Later a similar event was held and Feller clocked in at 107 mph.

Apparently worried by this, Molitor interrupted the story, “Can I ask him how his arm is feeling, since I have to leadoff against him tomorrow? I’ve heard stories of him hitting the first batter, so I’m just curious.”

Once the laughter subsided, and it was confirmed that Molitor would be the first batter to face the Classic’s starting pitcher – the 90-year-old Feller – Light asked Robinson how he felt knowing that he’d be the first guy to dig in against Knucksie in the bottom of the first.

6-20-09-Hayes_MolitorFeller.jpgRecalling their Spring Training encounter, Robinson looked worried and Niekro laughed, “Put your helmet on big boy, it’s coming.”

It is coming. In less than 24 hours, the legends will take the field at Doubleday and the inaugural Hall of Fame Classic will begin with Molitor facing Feller and Robinson against Niekro. Feller’s words seemed to sum up the entire weekend.

Baseball is a game of luck and there’s a lot of good and a lot of bad,” he said, noting the rain that fell on Cooperstown for most of Saturday. “We’re going to have a lot of fun tomorrow, rain or shine.”

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

Rice remains the biggest of stars

Muder_90.jpgBy Craig Muder

The hand enveloped mine like a huge oven mitt: firm, secure and warm. I reminded myself not to wince.

Jim Rice remains as powerful as ever, though at 6-foot-2, he easily blends into most crowds. But after one handshake, you quickly realize why this man hit 382 home runs en route to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Rice spent Friday touring the Hall of Fame in preparation for his July 26 induction. Alongside his wife, Corine, Rice strolled through the Museum’s timeline and down into the archives, marveling at the history of the game.

5-15-09-Muder_Rice.jpgIt seems that, in the 124 days since his election to the Hall of Fame, Rice has yet to stop smiling.

“Looking at these guys [the plaques of the Hall of Famers], you remember how special it is to be here,” Rice said. “I never even thought I’d get to the big leagues. So this is just incredible.”

Rice was elected to the Hall of Fame on Jan. 12 in his final year of eligibility on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot. An All-Star in eight of his 16 big league seasons, Rice led the American League in home runs three times and total bases four times and won the AL Most Valuable Player Award in 1978.

Yet Rice downplays his own success in comparison to the legends he will soon join in the Hall of Fame.

“Guys like Ruth and Cobb, they wore wool uniforms and played every day,” Rice said. “They were men. We were just kids.”

That “kid,” however, was the most feared hitter of his generation. And someday, another new Hall of Famer will feel the same way about the legendary Jim Rice.

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

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