Results tagged ‘ New York Mets ’

Historic end to a Rocky trip

Muder_90.jpgBy Craig Muder

The two-state drive was longer than any other coast-to-coast flight Jim Tracy will endure as manager of the Colorado Rockies.

08-09-10-Muder_Tracy.jpgBut the destination was worth it.

Tracy and a crew from FSN Rocky Mountain made the trip to Cooperstown on Monday – an off day for the Rockies. Following Colorado’s 8-4 win over the Pirates in Pittsburgh on Sunday, Tracy and crew jumped in the car at about 6:30 p.m. and drove more than nine hours – construction delays included – through Pennsylvania and New York to Cooperstown, arriving at about 3:30 a.m.

After a short night, Tracy received a tour of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum from Erik Strohl, the Hall’s senior director of exhibits and collections. Clad in a golf shirt and jeans, Tracy took his time in the always-crowded Museum – enjoying his moment with history. Fans poured past Tracy, pausing when they saw the FSN cameras but largely unaware their brush with the big leagues.

After his tour, Tracy – a veteran of nine seasons as a big league manager – jumped back in his car and headed for New York City and a Tuesday date with the Mets, another four hours on the highway.

But while he could have made the trip from Pittsburgh to New York in just over an hour via the air, the two-day car trip gave Tracy a chance to experience the game’s most historic moments at the Hall of Fame.

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

No-spin zone

Francis_90.jpgBy Bill Francis

The brotherhood of big league knuckleball pitchers is relatively small, but one of its former practitioners could be seen floating through the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum on Monday.

Steve Sparks made a name for himself tossing a baseball with no spin to bewildered hitters during a nine-year big league career spent with the Milwaukee Brewers (1995-96), Anaheim Angels (1998-99), Detroit Tigers (2000-03), Oakland A’s (2003) and Arizona Diamondbacks (2004). The right-hander made the trip from his home outside Houston in Sugar Land, Texas, with his 14-year-old son Blake.

07-20-10-Francis_Sparks.jpg“Blake and I have talked about coming to the Hall of Fame for four or five years now,” Spark said. “He’s going into high school next year and just thought with his schedule this might be our last chance for awhile, so we decided to make the trip this year.

“His sisters are in camp for the month of July so this is a chance for him and me to get out and do something by ourselves.”

This was Sparks’ first trip to the Hall of Fame.

“I’d never been here before, so I was very anxious. It’s a dream come true just seeing all the artifacts. I’ve always been enthralled by the game’s history,” Sparks said. “I grew up reading books about the history of the game, and I work with Fox Sports in Houston doing the pre- and post-game shows for the Houston Astros, so I’ve stayed in it and I’ve always enjoyed it. So for Blake and me to enjoy this together has been a lot of fun.”

Sparks, who turned 45 on July 2, ended his major league with a 59-76 record, highlighted by a 14-9 mark with the 2001 Tigers, and a 4.88 ERA.

“I was in my 40s and I just felt like I was ready to be home with my family,” Sparks said. “And the hitters let me know it was time to get out of the game, too.”

While the Hall of Fame boasts two knuckleball pitchers – Hoyt Wilhelm and Phil Niekro – the game has seen at least 250, but fewer than 90 who threw it regularly. This year, only Boston’s Tim Wakefield, R.A. Dickey of the Mets and Los Angeles Dodger Charlie Haeger are regulars at it.

Sparks was your regular fastball, curveball, slider, changeup pitcher before the Brewers approached him about making a radical change.

“I played professionally for 19 years but my first five or six years I was a conventional pitcher,” Sparks said. “I was kind of stalling out at the Double-A level, and the Milwaukee Brewers, the team I was with in the minor leagues at that point, felt like I might be a good candidate for the knuckleball because being shorter in stature helps (he’s 6-feet tall) and also I had pretty clean mechanics.

“They gave me a three-year plan and I started back over in Single-A, and by the end of that three years I was knocking on the door.”

According to Sparks, it was a lot of trial and error in the beginning, but eventually a coach hooked him up with big league knuckleballer Tom Candiotti.

“I had about five pages worth of questions to ask him over the telephone,” Sparks said. “And then actually got a chance to meet him at the Houston Astrodome at the tail end of one of his seasons with the Dodgers and that was very beneficial. It’s a very close fraternity of knuckleball pitchers, and Candiotti, for myself, was probably the most helpful. He was kind of a hybrid knuckleball pitcher, where he threw a lot of curves and sliders and fastballs, and that’s what I did a lot.

“The biggest luxury for me at the major league level was the bounce back factor. You didn’t have to rely on velocity three or four days after you pitched. You could go out there, and as long as you had good feel and took the spin off the ball you had a chance to be successful.”

And while Sparks played with and against a number of Hall of Famers over the years, he grew up in Tulsa, Okla., with fellow pitcher Tom Seaver as his favorite player.

“In 1969 I was five years old and my father taught me how to read the box scores,” Sparks said. “That was the year the Mets had their miracle season, Tom Seaver was the best player on that team at that time, and that’s who I stuck with.”

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.

05-28-10-Hayes_Murray.jpg

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.

05-28-10-Hayes_Guerrero.jpg

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.

Grapefruit stories

Idelson_90.jpgBy Jeff Idelson

I’m sitting in Tampa International Airport awaiting the one non-stop Southwest Airlines flight back to Albany, having just concluded my Grapefruit League spring training jaunt. My Spring Training mission each year is to visit with those who are close to the Museum – current players and management, Hall of Famers, owners and supporters.

03-24-10-Idelson_DawsonPerez.jpgHaving spent eight years combined in the Red Sox and Yankee front offices before being hired in Cooperstown in 1994, my knowledge was limited to Florida Spring Training: the Yankees were in Ft. Lauderdale and the Red Sox in Winter Haven. Since, I have traveled to the desert, too.

The differences are stark: The air is markedly drier in Arizona, because of the elevation. The ballparks in Arizona are surrounded by mountains; most of the ones in Florida, by water. Thirteen of 15 ballparks in Arizona are within 60 miles of each other. In Florida, they span across the state. I spent seven nights in one hotel in Scottsdale, Arizona; I was in six different places in six nights in Florida and flew in and out of airports across the state from each other.

The one similarity? I had a game rained out in each state.

I had a chance to visit with a number of our Hall of Famers. Andre Dawson and I had dinner in North Miami Beach, near his home. He’s already made great progress on his speech and is getting ready for Induction. “I’ll try not to get too emotional,” the stoic “Hawk” told me. I let him know that if he did not get emotional, I would be worried. Almost every speech I have heard since 1994 has been emotional. 

Hall of Fame Chairman Jane Clark, Ken Meifert from the Hall, and I, saw Mike Schmidt and his wife Donna in Palm Beach Gardens. We talked about a variety of topics, from baseball to bull riding to music to living in Florida. Mike is very excited about our inaugural Hall of Fame Classic Golf tournament in June, in which he will participate. He was thrilled to know that a number of the 28 spots available are already filled.

03-24-10-Idelson_Jupiter.jpgLast Saturday, we hosted our Hall of Fame Champions in Jupiter. John and Kathy Greenthal became the first Champions in Hall of Fame history to attend events in both Spring Training states. Jim and Tina Collias made the trip over from Naples to Jupiter, and Dan Glazer also joined us. Hall of Fame Board member Bill DeWitt, owner of the Cardinals, was generous in hosting us for his team’s game with the Mets. Spring Training games are usually not that interesting, but this one featured the Mets scoring three runs in the 9th, the last on an Ike Davis game-tying home run, only to have Ruben Gotay lead off the bottom of the 9th with a walk-off home run.

Speaking of walk-off home runs, we dined with Dennis and Jennifer Eckersley after the game. I asked Dennis what he thought of Doug Harvey. “He was behind the plate for Kirk Gibson’s home run in the 1988 World Series,” Dennis reminded me, as I began to suffer the symptoms of foot-in-mouth disease. He still thought Harvey was an excellent arbiter. 

I headed across the state to Yankee camp and saw many old friends in the clubhouse before the game: Billy Connors, Ron Guidry, Goose Gossage, Steve Donohue, the team athletic trainer, Joe Girardi, Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter, whom we drafted when I worked for the team. The game was rained out as Gene Michael, his minor league teammate and Tigers broadcaster, Jim Price, and I had lunch. Also saw Tiger friends Dave Dombrowski and Al Aliva in the dining room and learned more about the Tigers.

Dinner that night was with Wade and Debbie Boggs and Reggie Jackson. Eddie Fastook, the team’s traveling security director and a long-time friend, also joined us. 

Unbeknownst to me, Boggs grew up a big Reggie Jackson fan, even wearing No. 9 in honor, the number Reggie wore early in his career in Oakland. Wade told the story of how in the mid 1980s, Reggie gave him one of his bats to use in 1985. “I used it for 33 straight games and hit five home runs,” said Wade. “I loved that bat and then I broke it on a Dave Stieb pitch,” a dejected Wade recalled.

03-24-10-Idelson_Zimmer.jpgThe next morning, I visited City of Palms Park in Fort Myers to see the Red Sox and the Rays. I met up with Don Zimmer, who is very bullish on the Rays this year. “The best club we’ve had in my seven years with them,” Zim said.

Zim told me how much he admired Dawson and Ryne Sandberg when he managed the Cubs. “Two guys who led by example,” he said. “The other players watched these guys and saw greatness in the making.”

I told Don I would be seeing Jim Rice and Bob Montgomery later that day. 

“Monty was the best hit-and-run guy I ever had,” recalled Zim. “I remember in a game with Cleveland, the bases were loaded. They had a sinker-baller on the mound so I rolled the dice and gave (coach) Eddie Yost the hit-and-run sign on a 3-2 count. Monty put the bat on the ball and we stayed out of the double play. Everyone looked at me like I was crazy, but I really thought it would work, and it did.”

Rice later told me that he believed Thurman Munson and Lou Piniella were among the best hit-and-run guys he saw when he played.

I concluded my trip with dinner at Carlton and Linda Fisk’s home in the Sarasota area. We had a wonderful visit and a great dinner. Pudge joked about how some of the evenings in Florida this year were as cold as those he experienced growing up in New Hampshire.

I’ve had my fill. Let the regular season begin.

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

2014 could mean a Brave New World in Cooperstown

Muder_90.jpgBy Craig Muder

The Class of 2014 might just mean a Brave New World at the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Former Braves and Mets ace Tom Glavine officially announced his retirement on Thursday, ending stellar 22-year big league career. Glavine did not pitch at the major league level in 2009, meaning he will be eligible for Hall of Fame consideration in 2014.

02-11-10-Muder_Glavine.jpgThe numbers indicate Glavine will get strong support.

One of just 24 300-game winners in Major League Baseball history, Glavine finishes with a record of 305-203. He won two Cy Young Awards (1991 and 1998), was named to 10 All-Star Games and posted 20-or-more wins in five seasons – leading the National League lead win victories in all five years.

In the postseason, Glavine won 14 games and was the World Series MVP in 1995 when the Braves defeated the Indians in the Fall Classic.

Glavine joins a star-studded roster of players who will be eligible for the Hall of Fame for the first time in 2014. Former Braves teammate Greg Maddux, who won 355 games, is scheduled to be on the 2014 BBWAA ballot – setting up the possibility of a Braves reunion in Cooperstown.

Other candidates who are slated to become eligible in 2014 include two-time American League Most Valuable Player Frank Thomas, 270-game winner Mike Mussina and Jeff Kent, the all-time home run leader among second basemen.

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

Postseason drama

Berowski_90.jpgBy Freddy Berowski

On Tuesday, the Detroit Tigers and Minnesota Twins met in the 12th tie-breaker play-in in major league history. The 12-inning affair also matched Game Seven of the 1924 World Series for the second-longest elimination game in major league history, a game in which 12 Hall of Famers saw on-field action.

10-9-09-Berowski_Gomez.jpgTuesday night’s game ended in dramatic fashion when Tigers closer Fernando Rodney, pitching in his fourth inning (something unheard of for a closer in this era), gave up the game-winning hit. Alexi Casilla, hitting a major league low .202 in 2009 for batters with more than 200 at-bats, drove a single to right allowing the speedy Carlos Gomez, the primary piece of the 2008 Johan Santana trade, to score the winning run from second base and secure the AL Central title for the Twins. This Tigers loss also marked the fifth time since 1900 that a team lead by as many as seven games in September and lost the lead, ultimately missing the post-season. The other teams to suffer the same fate as the Tigers: the 1934 Giants, the 1938 Pirates, the 1964 Phillies and the 2007 Mets.

The 1924 World Series between the New York Giants and the franchise that is today known as the Minnesota Twins – the Washington Senators – would take all seven games to decide. Eight future Hall of Famers competed for the Giants that day while the Senators fielded four, including Game Seven’s winning pitcher, Walter Johnson.

10-9-09-Berowski_Johnson.jpgAlready 0-2 in the Series, The Big Train played a pivotal role in this game from the time he entered in relief in the 9th inning, striking out five and allowing only three base hits until the game’s end. With one out and nobody on in the bottom of the 12th, Giants backstop Hank Gowdy dropped a foul pop-up by his Senators counterpart, Muddy Ruel. Ruel took full advantage of his second chance, driving a double to left field. Johnson was up next and he too reached base, on an error committed by future Hall of Fame shortstop Travis Jackson. Instead of a three-up, three-down inning, runners were now on first and second with one out. Light-hitting Earl McNeely, batting only .192 in the Series and already 0-for-5 in the game, proved the unlikely hero, doubling home the winning run.

Incidentally, the record for most innings played in an MLB elimination game – where both teams could be eliminated – is 13, when the Colorado Rockies defeated the San Diego Padres to become the 2007 National League Wild Card winner.

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

Sept. 30, 1972: Clemente records 3,000th hit

Lawrence_90.jpgBy Thomas Lawrence

Thirty-seven years ago Wednesday, Roberto Clemente recorded a career milestone.

On Sept. 30, 1972, Clemente and the defending world champion Pirates were taking on Yogi Berra‘s Mets at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh. Clemente, a native of Puerto Rico, was hitting an impressive .311 heading into the season finale against New York.

9-30-09-Lawrence_Clemente.jpgBatting third against Mets starter Jon Matlack, the eventual National League Rookie of the Year, Clemente looked to push his career hit total of 2,999 into an historic category. At the time, only 10 other players were members of the 3,000-hit club, and only three — Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Stan Musial — had done so in the latter half of the 20th century.

Clemente, aside from being a world-renowned humanitarian, had a chance to become the first Latin ballplayer to reach 3,000 hits.

In the bottom of the fourth inning, Clemente led off against Matlack after striking out in his first at-bat. Clemente promptly roped a double to the Three Rivers outfield — the 3,000th and last regular-season hit of his exceptional career.

But it wouldn’t be his last impact on Major League Baseball. The Pirates won the National League East and were set to take on Sparky Anderson‘s Reds in the league’s championship series. Clemente only had four hits in the five-game series loss, which officially unseated the 1971 world champions, but a double and a home run were among the four hits.

9-30-09-Lawrence_ClementeHit.jpgAfter 18 magical seasons of watching Clemente control the diamond as few ever did, the world was dealt a huge blow when Clemente was killed on Dec. 31. Flying to Nicaragua to deliver goods to earthquake victims, Clemente was the victim of a plane crash that took his life at the young age of 38.

But to dwell on Clemente’s tragic passing is a disservice to the incredible life he led — one which began on Aug. 18, 1934, in Carolina, Puerto Rico. One of more than 200 Puerto Rican players to play in the big leagues, Clemente remains the commonwealth’s all-time hits leader, 276 in front of runner-up Roberto Alomar.

Clemente became the first Latin American player to be elected to the Hall of Fame in 1973, and dozens of artifacts from Clemente’s life are housed at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown. In the brand-new °Viva Baseball! exhibit, which celebrates the Latin influence on the game, Clemente is recognized alongside other Latin American stars.

9-30-09-Lawrence_Chart.jpgA No. 21 Pirates jersey retired on Opening Day 1973, a scrapbook of newspaper clippings covering his untimely passing and the “Roberto Clemente Memorial Album” vinyl record are all on display in °Viva Baseball!.

“Roberto Clemente touched us all,” Pirates pitcher Steve Blass once said. “We’re all better players and people for having known him.”

Thomas Lawrence was the 2009 publications intern at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 63 other followers