Results tagged ‘ Most Valuable Player ’

Happy 84th birthday, Yogi

Muder_90.jpgBy Craig Muder

On this, his 84th birthday, at least four decades of baseball fans know only the post-playing-career Yogi Berra.

The funny quotes. The managerial stints. The commercials with the talking duck.

Yet for the generation of fans from the 1940s and ’50s — the ones that saw Berra in his prime — Berra is much more.

Catchers with Berra’s combination of skill at the plate and behind it are few and far between in baseball history. He hit 20 or more home runs 11 times and drove in 100 or more runs five times. He threw out an incredible 47.8 percent of runners who tried to steal against him.

5-12-09-Muder_BerraPitch.jpgOnly seven players won as many Most Valuable Player Awards — three — as Berra did. Only Barry Bonds won more.

Factor in leadership — 14 World Series appearances and 10 championship rings in his 18-year career — and Berra rises to a level almost without peer.

As a cultural icon, however, Berra reaches an even greater audience. Those who have never been to a baseball game know his name. His wit and wisdom will live forever. Just say the word “Yogi,” and everybody — save for a few Hanna-Barbera cartoon fans — thinks of Lawrence Peter Berra.

Still, it all comes back to the game on the field. Thank heaven we have the numbers to prove it was real.

It’s a body of work that still seems to good to be true.

Happy birthday, Mr. Berra.

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

Happy 78th Birthday, Willie Mays

Muder_90.jpgBy Craig Muder

I can still see the pencil in my hand and the primitive cursive on the paper.

I’m in sixth grade in May of 1981, and we have a writing assignment. A biography about a famous person born this month. There is only one — in my baseball-filled mind — to consider.

Willie Howard Mays was born May 6, 1931, in Alabama…”

At that point, my memory fades. The paper is lost, the words gone.

5-5-09-Muder_Mays.jpgBut the feelings remain.

Even at 12 years old, I could recognize that another Willie Mays might be more than fate could provide. Twenty-eight years later, I am sure of it. Baseball will not see his like again.

What remains are the incredible numbers, the grainy film, the name “Vic Wertz” that instantly brings to mind one of the iconic plays in baseball history. As for the numbers, just the mention of “660 homers” is enough.

But consider this: During his 22-year big league career, Mays led the National League at least once in runs, hits, triples, home runs, stolen bases, walks, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and total bases. His 12 Gold Gloves would likely have been at least 15 had the award existed in his first five seasons. And for 13 straight years — 1954-66 — Mays finished in the top six of the NL MVP vote, save for the 1956 season (when he finished 17th).

“Best Ever” is not something easily formatted to the game of baseball. Too many facets, too many ways to be “best”. But if you work to exclude players from the “Best Ever” list, Willie Mays would be awfully difficult to vote off the island.

To Gloria Brown, who gave me a B+ on my Willie Mays essay: Thanks for the memory.

Happy birthday, Willie Mays.

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

Happy birthday, Luis Aparicio

Carr_90.jpg
Muder_90.jpgBy Samantha Carr and Craig Muder

Few players can say they changed the way baseball is played. Before Luis Aparicio revitalized the running game 50 years ago, the stolen base was on its way to becoming an archaic footnote.

Aparicio, who turns 75 Wednesday, turned the baseball world upside down in 1959 by stealing 56 bases for the Chicago White Sox. Only one other American League team — the Detroit Tigers with 68 — had as many steals as Aparicio that year. The Sox shortstop finished second in the AL Most Valuable Player voting that year, leading Chicago to the AL pennant.

4-30-09-Carr-Muder_Aparicio.jpgAparicio had led the AL in steals in each of his first three seasons before 1959 and went on to lead the league every season through 1964. That year, with a career-high 57 steals for the Orioles, Aparicio swiped more bags than six other AL teams.

But baseball was catching up to Aparicio — especially in the National League, where Maury Wills and the Dodgers were building an offense around speed. By 1969, when Aparicio topped the 20-steal mark for the 12th and final time, five AL clubs recorded at least 100 stolen bases — a mark not reached in the Junior Circuit from 1946-56.

The Venezuelan-born Aparicio, a 13-time All-Star, played every one of his 2,583 Major League games in the field at shortstop, winning nine Gold Gloves. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame 25 years ago after an 18-year big league career with the White Sox, Orioles and Red Sox.

Happy birthday, Little Louie!

Samantha Carr is the media relations coordinator at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Craig Muder is director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

The greatness of Hank Aaron

Idelson_90.jpgBy Jeff Idelson

“Here’s the pitch from Downing … swinging … there’s a drive into left-center field. The ball is gonna beeee … out of here! It’s gone! It’s 715! There’s a new home-run champion of all time, and it’s Henry Aaron.”

That was the radio call of Braves broadcaster Milo Hamilton on April 8, 1974, when Aaron broke Babe Ruth‘s long-standing home-run record. As important as that milestone was, and as immortal as Hamilton’s words have become, that singular event is precisely why Aaron ranks among baseball’s most underrated ballplayers.

4-24-09-Idelson_Aaron.jpgFans tend to remember Lou Gehrig because he died from ALS. Outside of Baltimore, Cal Ripken Jr. is remembered for “the streak.” And Aaron is often remembered for the home runs, though he accomplished so much more.

On this — the eve of the opening of Hank Aaron: Chasing the Dream, our new exhibit dedicated to Aaron at the Baseball Hall of Fame — it is appropriate to consider the magnitude of what Aaron accomplished on and off the field.

Who is the all-time leader today in RBIs, total bases and extra-base hits? Hank Aaron. “The Hammer” also ranks second all time in home runs, third in hits and fourth in runs. He showed up to play every day, which is why he is among the top five all time in games played, at-bats and plate appearances.

Aaron’s also a member of the prestigious 3,000-hit club. Take away each and every one of his 755 home runs, and he still has 3,016 hits.

Said teammate Phil Niekro of Aaron’s home runs after No. 700, “It’s like the sun coming up every morning. You just don’t know what time.”

Over 23 seasons, Aaron was great, averaging 33 home runs and 100 RBIs with a .305 batting average. He was a 25-time All-Star, representing his league every year except his rookie year and final season. Aaron was in the top 10 in the Most Valuable Player voting 12 times, winning it in 1957 when the Braves won the World Series. By the way, Aaron hit .393 with three home runs and seven RBIs in the Braves’ victory over the Yankees in the Fall Classic.

4-24-09-Idelson_Aaron2.jpgNot only was he great, but Aaron was consistently awesome: He hit 20 or more home runs 20 times, drove in 100 or more runs 11 times and hit better than .300 14 times. He hit .303 with 385 home runs at home and .306 with 370 home runs on the road. His batting average never varied by more than 10 points, month to month, over his career.

The Hammer was raised in Mobile, Ala., a hotbed for talent. Hall of Famers Willie McCovey, Satchel Paige, Ozzie Smith and Billy Williams were all born in Mobile, a city with a population under 200,000.

Aaron accomplished so much with a quiet grace and dignity which he brought to the ballpark every day in a time of racial divide in America. He was also among those who integrated the South Atlantic League, and he broke Ruth’s home-run mark in the face of intense hatred and racism. It’s no surprise that his hero was Jackie Robinson, who paved Aaron’s way to the way to the Majors.

Jeff Idelson is the president of 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.

Future Iron Man in Cooperstown

Carr_90.jpgBy Samantha Carr

Dick and Mary Lue Brown didn’t expect to see anyone famous when they entered the Museum on a summer morning in 1983. They had traveled from their home in Portland, Mich., to Cooperstown for the Hall of Fame Game between the Orioles and Cardinals with their four young sons.

But Dick Brown recognized a star in the Museum, walking around quietly by himself, just taking in the history.

3-26-09-Carr_Ripken.jpg“It was 9:30 in the morning and there was Cal Ripken, holding a bottle of Coke, cordial as all get out,” Brown said. “This was before he knew he would be a Hall of Famer.”

The 22-year-old Ripken was still fairly unknown, despite having won the American League Rookie of the Year Award the previous season. Brown asked if he could take a picture, and Ripken happily agreed.

Ripken singled in the game that weekend, although the Orioles lost, 4-1. The team went on to win the World Series, and Ripken won his first American League Most Valuable Player Award.

Brown told his wife, “If he ever gets into the Hall, I want to be there.”

So, return they did in 2007 with the 1983 photo and a record crowd to see Ripken and Tony Gwynn inducted into the Hall of Fame. Friends who own a bed-and-breakfast in town told the Browns to donate their photo to the Hall’s collection. They made a few copies for themselves, and the Hall of Fame gladly accepted the donation.

The Browns even had a chance to meet Ripken’s brother Billy that weekend. They wanted to give a copy of the photo to the family, and Billy Ripken took down their name and address. A few weeks later, the photo came back in the mail, autographed by Cal Ripken himself.

“On the photo was written, ‘Looks like we’ve come full circle.’ This is such a great memory, and Cal has been such a wonderful ambassador to baseball,” Brown said.

The Browns returned to Cooperstown on Monday, March 23, and got to peek at the file containing the Hall of Fame’s photos of Ripken.

“There are some wonderful photos in there, taken by professional photographers,” Brown said. “To see our photo among them, taken by an average Joe with an Instamatic camera, is pretty special.”

Samantha Carr is the media relations coordinator at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

A second Brooks glove in Cooperstown

By John Odell

Brooks Robinson was known for his work with the leather. His play at the hot corner set a standard to which all third basemen are compared. His uncanny ability to pick up ground balls also led to comparisons to a vacuum cleaner.

3-25-09-Odell_BRobinsonGlove.jpgWe just installed a new acquisition: Robinson’s 1966 glove, recently donated by the family of a fan of both Brooks and the Hall of Fame.

1966 was a great year for Orioles named Robinson. While Frank enjoyed his trade to the Birds by winning the Triple Crown and the American League Most Valuable Player Award, Brooks was the All-Star Game MVP, finished second in the season’s AL MVP tally and won the seventh of his 16 consecutive Gold Glove Awards. Together they led the O’s to the world championship.

This is the second of Robinson’s gloves in our collection. The glove he wore while winning the 1970 World Series MVP Award had long been a popular artifact in the Museum, but it only recently returned from a six-year tour of the country as part of Baseball As America, seen by 2.5 million visitors in 15 cities. That glove was then added to the Museum’s World Series exhibit, Autumn Glory.

John Odell is the curator of history and research at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

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