Results tagged ‘ Oakland A's ’

Van Gundys’ Visit

By Bill Francis

Despite the fact that Stan and Jeff Van Gundy have made their names in basketball, the brothers’ affection for a game that uses a much smaller ball was evident with their visit to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum on Wednesday.

“We’ve been meaning to come here for awhile,” said Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy, who also brought with him his 16-year-old son Michael. “With work schedules and we both have families and other things around it was hard, but finally Jeff just said, ‘Get a date and I’ll go,’ so we came up with a date.”

While Stan was making his first visit to Cooperstown, Jeff Van Gundy, who coached the New York Knicks and Houston Rockets prior to his current gig broadcasting the NBA for ABC/ESPN, thinks he might have come years ago, adding, “I think I was here before once when I was in high school but now I’m not totally clear.”

But what was clear was how much the siblings were enjoying their Hall of Fame visit.

“It’s just unbelievable,” Stan Van Gundy said. “We’ve been baseball fans since we were little kids and been meaning to come here for years and years and years. It’s incredible how much stuff is here and how much history is here. You really feel connected to it. There’s just an overwhelming amount of … things.”

With a father who was a basketball coach, the Van Gundy brothers were exposed to that game from an early age. But as Stan explained, baseball brought with it a special family dynamic.

“We’re all involved in basketball and so we weren’t really together at a lot of games. We were watching my dad’s team or watching Jeff play a game or watching me play a game or whatever, but baseball’s something you can do together,” Stan said. “And it’s been the same way with me and my son. He may come to my games or I might go to his games but we’re rarely at a basketball game together. Baseball we can share. It’s a family experience. I remember going to baseball games with my family, so I think that’s been a big part of it.”

For Jeff Van Gundy, an A’s fan whose family lived in the Bay area in the 1970s, an early baseball memory comes from the 1972 World Series between Oakland pitcher Rollie Fingers and Reds batter Johnny Bench.

“I still remember vividly (A’s manager) Dick Williams walking out to the mound and calling for an intentional walk and they throw the strike. It was one of the great memories of my life,” Jeff said. “And I can still remember that we used to go out for a dollar and sit in the bleachers (in Oakland).”

Having lived in Florida for many years, Stan Van Gundy now roots for the Marlins.

“The 2003 World Series with the Marlins, we were living in Miami and got to know some of those guys,” Stan said. “And probably my biggest baseball memory is Jeff Conine throwing J.T. Snow out at home plate in the first round of the playoffs. The only time a play at the plate ended a series. And J.T. Snow tries to run Pudge Rodriguez over and he comes up with the ball.

“Baseball’s so many memories for all of us. And to be here, where there’s memories from the entire history of the game… It’s really overwhelming.”

While the National Football League settled its lockout this week, the National Baseball Association is currently embroiled on one of its own. When asked for their thoughts on the current impasse, Stan Van Gundy politely demurred, explaining that he could be fined by the league for making a comment. But brother Jeff was under no restrictions.

“I think it’ll work out eventually,” Jeff said. “Obviously it’ll involve compromise, the owners will win, and it will start late. And it will harm everybody and everything. What’s always forgotten in these is the person who is just striving to live paycheck to paycheck and gotten laid off. That’s the unfortunate thing about all these things. We talk about what’s in it for the owners or for the players but we often forget so many of the other people that are impacted by these types of lockouts.”

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

Hall Monitor: Big Macs, Pitching Phils and a big Hall of Famer Day

By Trevor Hayes

It’s been a couple of busy weeks – sorry for slacking on our weekly Cooperstown Chatter update from around the Majors. It was a great Father’s Day in Upstate New York and it’s been a great week since.

The Shields Sunshine Express: James Shields has dominated the Marlins this season. On May 22, he threw nine scoreless innings and struck out 13. On Father’s Day, he yet again took advantage of the Fish, striking out 10 in another nine innings of scoreless ball. Since 1990, Shields feat of two nine-inning, 10-or-more K starts against the same team has been accomplished just three other times: Hideo Nomo stymied the Giants twice in 1995, David Cone also got the Giants twice in 1992 and Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan shut down the White Sox in 1990.

Old Big Mac: For the second time in Major League history, there is an 80-plus year old serving as skipper. On Monday, 80-year old Jack McKeon was named interim manager of the Marlins. McKeon joins the Tall Tactician, Hall of Famer Connie Mack, as the only octogenarians to lead big league clubs. Mack ended his career at 87 in 1950, his 50th season leading the Philadelphia Athletics.

Monday’s change at the top in Miami came with McKeon’s Florida squad losing its 19th game in 20 contests. During the slide, 10 of the defeats have been by one run – becoming the second team to go 1-19 over 20 games with 10 one-run losses. The other was the 1943 Philadelphia Athletics, managed by the then 80-year old Mack.

Master-Lee: Cliff Lee’s Tuesday night start continued his Phabulous, Phanatical Phillie pitching with a second straight shutout. In June, he is 4-0 with a 0.27 ERA in four starts and has a chance to run the table with one more scheduled start on the 28th. Since World War II, only four Phils have finished a month with a sub-1.00 ERA, with the last being Hall of Famer Jim Bunning’s 0.87 in August 1967.

With back-to-back shutouts, Lee is the first pitcher to accomplish the feat since 2004 and just the fourth in the last 35 seasons. Should Lee throw a third straight shutout, he would join Robin Roberts in 1950 as the only Phillies pitchers to go back-to-back-to-back in the live ball era.

Speedy Weeks: The A’s have a promising young speedster. Jemile Weeks scored three runs and stole two bases at Citi Field on Tuesday. Just three other Oakland rookies have put together that kind of day since the the A’s moved to Oakland:: Felix Jose (July 11, 1990), Luis Polonia (June 20, 1987) and all-time steals, all-time runs leader, Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson (Sept. 14, 1979).

Around the Majors: There are two major events on the Hall of Fame calendar this weekend. They’ll be taking place in Detroit and the Bronx.

In Detroit on Sunday afternoon, Sparky Anderson’s iconic No. 11 will take its rightful place on the Comerica Park wall alongside the team’s seven other retired numbers. In the Tigers 111-year history, Charlie Gehringer (2), Hank Greenberg (5), Willie Horton (23), Al Kaline (6), Hal Newhouser (16) and Jackie Robinson (42) have had numbers retired. Anderson will be represented by members of his family, including his three children.

Also on Sunday in New York, the Yankees will hold their 65th Old-Timers’ Day with over 50 retired former Yanks on hand. Among those will be Hall of Fame family members Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Goose Gossage, Helen Hunter (widow of Jim “Catfish” Hunter) and Reggie Jackson.

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

Play it again, Phil

Muder_90.jpgBy Craig Muder

Records, they say, are made to be broken. But my favorite record has never been surpassed.

02-18-11-Muder_Garner.jpgIt has, however, been tied… more than 20 times.

Exclusive? Hardly. But Phil Garner’s 1978 mark of back-to-back games with a grand slam home run will always have a special place with me. Because I was there to see it.

Sept. 15, 1978… My dad took me to my second major league game, which was also my first night game. I remember walking around gigantic Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, bounding down the left-field box seats to the bullpen edge. There, before the Expos-Pirates game, I leaned over with my program and got Ed Ott’s signature. Ott, the Pirates’ catcher against right-handed starters, was off that night because lefty Woodie Fryman was pitching for Montreal. Duffy Dyer was the Bucs’ right-handed hitting platoon catcher.

02-18-11-Muder_ThreeRivers.jpgGarner’s home run cleared the bases in the bottom of the first, giving him two grand salamis in two nights following his shot against the Cardinals the night before. Scrap Iron was already one of my father’s favorite players, and I recall Dad jumping out of his seat when the ball cleared the fence.

At that point, it was safe to say, I was hooked on baseball.

It seems inconceivable that in the more than 100 years of pro ball prior to that game – and the 32 years since – no one has hit grand slams in three straight games. But there it is, in the record books and in my memory.

These are the moments that will come alive this spring at the Hall of Fame’s new One for the Books exhibit. The stories, the records… the connection that bonds us to baseball. It’s what makes the National Pastime unique.

It’s what makes us love the game.

Someday, the record may fall. But Garner’s effort – and that night with my Dad – will remain forever.

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

Pirate captain

Muder_90.jpgBy Craig Muder

02-11-11-Muder_TannerPIT.jpgWhen I was 10 years old, Chuck Tanner could do no wrong.

 Tanner, who passed away Friday, was the first manager of my childhood. I have no memories of Bill Virdon or Danny Murtaugh, who both led my Pirates to the postseason in the 1970s. But starting in 1977, Tanner was the leader of my team.

He always looked at the bright side.

The Bucs fell short of the 1978 National League East title after a spirited stretch run. Tanner kept smiling.

His mother passed away just before Game 5 of the 1979 World Series – with the Pirates down 3-1. Tanner kept going.

The Lumber Company teams of the 1970s got older, and the Bucs fell out of contention in the 1980s. Tanner kept believing.

The 1985 Pirates lost 104 games with a lineup more ancient than their manager. Tanner kept pushing.

Finally, he was let go after that terrible ’85 season. He spent the next three years with the Braves, then returned home to New Castle, Pa., unofficially serving as the Pirates’ number one fan.

After so many years of watching Tanner do a pretty convincing impersonation of Norman Vincent Peale, it was easy to peg him as an eternal optimist. But Tanner was so much more.

    02-11-11-Muder_TannerCWS.jpg

  • A decent big league outfielder, who homered on the first major league pitch he ever saw and played for eight seasons
  • A super-intense young manager with the White Sox, who kept the Pale Hose competitive throughout the early 1970s
  • A visionary of bullpen use, who was credited by Hall of Famer Goose Gossage for shaping his career
  • And a World Series winner, who led a diverse 1979 Pirates team to a glorious championship

But for me, it’s much simpler. Chuck Tanner will always be the manager – the first one I remember, and the one everyone else is judged against.

Somewhere, someone is smiling right now – thinking of Chuck Tanner. Who could ask for a better legacy.

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

Hall Monitor: Playoff Pleasures

Hayes_90.jpgBy Trevor Hayes

10-8-10-Hayes_Larsen.jpgThe regular season is done. That means October is upon us and there is no better time to see greatness than during Autumn’s Glory.

Busy at the Hall: With the regular season over and the postseason heating up, donations are rolling into Cooperstown. On Sept. 19, Bobby Abreu clocked his 20th homer of the season, giving him nine seasons with at least 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases. Only Barry and Bobby Bonds – at 10 each – have more 20/20 seasons. To commemorate the achievement, his bat is now in Cooperstown.

Also announced this week following his historic pitching performance on Wednesday, Roy Halladay’s jersey and a ball from the no-hitter will be making their way to join the artifacts from his May 29th perfect game and the items on display from Don Larsen’s 1956 perfecto – the only other no-hitter in postseason history.


10-8-10-Hayes_Sutton.jpgNot to be outdone
: Tim Lincecum of the Giants, whose 1.78 September team ERA is the lowest in the Divisional Era, proved his mettle yesterday. Like Halladay, pitching in his first postseason game, Lincecum was brilliant. The two-time Cy Young winner struck out a postseason record 14 Braves, as he tossed a complete game two-hitter. Lincecum’s mark tied Joe Coleman (1972), John Candelaria (1975), Mike Boddicker (1983) and Mike Scott (1986) for the major league record in a postseason debut.

Walking-off into infamy: Halladay threw his gem against the best offense in the National League, the Cincinnati Reds – a team which punched its first ticket to the postseason since 1995 in dramatic fashion last Tuesday. With the score tied at two, Jay Bruce smashed the first pitch he saw in the bottom of the ninth into batter’s eye grass in left-center field at Great American Ballpark. The walk-off was the fifth game-ending home run to clinch a postseason berth.

The others include Steve Finley’s grand slam for the Dodgers in 2004, Alfonso Soriano’s first career hit that sent the 1999 Yankees on to postseason glory and the famous “Shot Heard Round the World” by Bobby Thomson for the 1951 Giants. The only Hall of Famer walk-off postseason clincher came from Hank Aaron, in the 11th inning for the 1957 Milwaukee Braves.


10-8-10-Hayes_Bresnahan.jpgTrend Tracker
: Twenty-year-old rookie Jayson Heyward drew a walk against Lincecum, one of just three Braves to reach base against the Giants ace. Heyward’s walk was just an extension of the 91 he racked up during the regular season – a number surpassed at his age by only Hall of Famers Mel Ott (113 in 1929) and Ted Williams (107 in 1939).

Also look for Tampa Bay catcher John Jaso. The lefty-swinging backstop only stole four bases this season, but batted leadoff 45 times in his 88 starts. Hitting .272 with a .380 on-base percentage, if the Rays stay alive, he may get a start there again. If he hits leadoff against right-handed Colby Lewis on Saturday, he would join just two other catchers to start in the one-hole in the postseason. The others are noted speedster Jason Kendall for the 2006 Oakland A’s and Hall of Famer Roger Bresnahan for the 1905 New York Giants.

Trevor Hayes is the editorial production manager at 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.

Ichiro, Phat Albert become Hall of Fame-eligible

Muder_90.jpgBy Craig Muder

Someday – 10 to 15 years from now – Monday will be known as the day it became official. The day when the clock started ticking. The day two legends truly began their journey to Cooperstown.

04-07-10-Muder_Pujols.jpgMonday was the day that Albert Pujols and Ichiro Suzuki first became eligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Now, don’t go marking calendars just yet. Phat Albert and Ichiro have a lot of baseball left to play, and their Hall of Fame eligibility doesn’t officially begin until they’ve been retired for five years. At 36, Ichiro looks like he could play for at least 10 more years. And Pujols just turned 30, leaving him with a real chance to take a crack at 700 home runs and 3,000 hits in the latter part of this decade.

But barring the totally unforeseen, Ichiro and Albert are headed for Cooperstown. And on Opening Day, they cleared their primary eligibility hurdle when they appeared in a game in their 10th season of Major League Baseball.

Both Pujols and Suzuki broke into the majors in 2001, and both became instant stars. Each won their respective league’s Rookie of the Year awards that season, and it’s been virtually a non-stop success ride from there.

04-07-10-Muder_Suzuki.jpgIchiro has been named to nine straight All-Star Games, has won nine straight Gold Gloves in right field and was the AL MVP in 2001. He set the all-time single-season hit record in 2004 with 262 base hits, and owns nine straight 200-hit seasons – another big league record.

Pujols has been named to eight All-Star Games, has won three NL MVPs (including the last two in a row), owns a Gold Glove at first base and helped the Cardinals win the 2006 World Series.

But until Monday – when Pujols led his Cardinals over the Reds with two home runs and Ichiro went 1-for-4 for the Mariners in their win against the A’s, the pair had not satisfied the Hall of Fame requirement of playing at least 10 big league seasons.

It would appear to be the last hurdle on a path that will likely take both to Cooperstown.

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

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