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Steve Light, the Hall of Fame’s manager of museum programs, ran a live blog from the 2009 Baseball Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony in Cooperstown. Readers of his live banter had the ability to comment or ask questions.
11:00 a.m. Good morning everyone, and welcome to the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s official live blog for the 2009 Induction Ceremony as we get ready to induct the Hall of Fame’s newest members, Joe Gordon, Rickey Henderson, and Jim Rice. My name is Steve Light, and I am the manager of museum programs here at the Hall of Fame. Right now I’m sitting on “Radio Row” here at the Induction Site – The Clark Sports Center. I’ll be bringing you live updates on the ceremony all afternoon, so stay tuned and send me your questions and comments.
The Induction Ceremony is just about two and a half hours away. Right now Hall of Fame staff and volunteers are busy wrapping up all the final preparations. Wondering about the forecast? Right now it’s mostly cloudy and 75 degrees. We do have a threat of isolated thunderstorms this afternoon, but hopefully we’ll stay dry for the ceremony.
11:10 a.m. The crowd has already started to build here. In fact, some fans set up chairs to stake out their spots yesterday morning. If you are in or near Cooperstown, don’t forget that the ceremony is free and open to the public! If you can’t get here, you can catch live coverage on the MLB Network beginning at 12:30. We will also stream the ceremony live on our website, www.baseballhall.org
11:16 a.m. Red Sox Nation has turned out in full force this weekend to celebrate Jim Rice. Catering to the crowd, the big screen next to the stage is playing highlights from the 2004 Red Sox season.
11:35 a.m. 51 Hall of Famers have turned out to welcome their three newest members this weekend. Of course, today is not just about Jim, Joe, and Rickey. We will also honor J.G. Taylor Spink Award winner Nick Peters, and Ford C. Frick Award winner Tony Kubek. Peters covered the San Francisco Giants for 47 years, 1961 – 2007. Kubek has worked as an analyst for NBC’s Game of the Week, the Toronto Blue Jays, and the New York Yankees for 30 years. He is also the first exclusively television analyst to win the Frick Award.
11:36 a.m. [Comment From Kevin Brazee]
Do you know who will speak first Henderson or Rice?
11:36 a.m. Great question Kevin! The final order has not been decided yet, but Jim Rice will likely speak first.
11:53 a.m. We’ve had a great weekend here in Cooperstown already. On Friday our annual PLAY Ball! with Ozzie Smith event raised $10,000 for the Hall of Fame’s Educational programs and gave some fans the opportunity of a lifetime to interact with Ozzie, Wade Boggs, Harmon Killebrew and Eddie Murray on Doubleday Field. Yesterday at the Clark Sports Center a crowd of over 750 people watched four families’ compete against Dick Williams, Goose Gossage and Ryne Sandberg in our annual Connecting Generations, a Family Feud-like game show. Harold Reynolds served as the host.
11:56 p.m. The gates have opened in the seated sections and fans begin to stream to their seats as the excitement begins to build. Just about an hour and a half away.
12:04 p.m. Red Sox Nation isn’t alone here in Cooperstown this weekend. The section 3 seats directly behind me are filled with Oakland Athletics’ gear. Feel free to send any questions you might have about today’s Induction Ceremony, and be sure to include where you are from!
12:17 p.m. Let’s talk some stats now, starting with Rickey. Henderson is the 44th player elected on the first ballot. He received 94.8% of the vote from the Baseball Writers Association of America.
Henderson played in 10 All-Star games, won three silver sluggers, and was named the 1990 AL MVP. During his 25 year career he set career records for runs, stolen bases, and walks. The records for runs and stolen bases still stand. Rickey also holds the single season steals record, and led the league in steals a record 12 times.
12:22 p.m. Jim Rice was elected on his 15th year on the Baseball Writers ballot, receiving 76.4% of the vote. He joins two other famous Hall of Fame Red Sox leftfielders, Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski. In his 16-year major league career Rice was one of the most feared sluggers in the American League. He was an 8-time All-Star, led the league in home runs 3 times and won an AL MVP in 1978.
12:25 p.m. [Comment From C Itle]
I can’t find the stream link. Could you please post it here?
12:26 p.m. The live stream will be posted on the Hall’s website at 12:30 eastern time. Just visit www.baseballhall.org.
12:30 p.m. Nine-time All-Star Joe Gordon was elected on the pre-1943 Veterans Committee ballot. He received 10 of the 12 committee votes. Gordon was a member of five World Series winning teams, and won the 1942 Most Valuable Player Award. During his first six seasons, Gordon and the New York Yankees won five pennants and four World Series titles. He was traded to Cleveland in 1946, and helped lead the Indians to their World Series title in 1948, hitting 32 home runs and driving in 120 runs.
12:33 p.m. A lot of people are asking who is representing Joe Gordon here today. It will be Joe’s daughter, Judy Gordon.
12:35 p.m. A note for all you fans out there who might be attending a major league game today: save your tickets! The Hall will grant free admission to all fans who present a ticket stub from a major league game bearing the date July 26, 2009. This opportunity is good right up until next year’s Induction.
12:47 p.m. I’m getting some more questions about where to find the televised broadcast, so for those joining our live blog late, you can catch live coverage on the MLB Network (their broadcast has already started!) or you can stream them onto your computer via our website, www.baseballhall.org.
Casey is on stage warming up for his annual presentation of “Casey at the Bat”. That surely means the start of the ceremony is getting closer.
12:55 p.m. With Joe Gordon, Rickey Henderson, and Tony Kubek all being honored today, it’s no surprise that Yankees GM Brian Cashman has arrived and is in the audience for today’s ceremony. Another notable name spotted in the audience: Keith Olberman.
Right now on the big screen, 2009 Steele Intern Daniel Sampson interviews MLB Network commentator and former major leaguer Harold Reynolds.
1:00 p.m. [Comment From Fitz - Boston]
Have you seen Freddie Lynn in the crowd? Any other Rice teammates?
1:00 p.m. Haven’t seen Fred Lynn, Fitz. But Dwight Evans is in town.
1:05 p.m. Other former teammates expected today: Dave Henderson and Bob Montgomery for Rice and Dave Stewart for Henderson.
Casey is at the bat on the Induction Stage right now, 25 minutes to go!
1:11 p.m. Can’t make it to Cooperstown today? How about tomorrow morning? We conclude our Hall of Fame Weekend festivities with our annual Legends Series event right here at the Clark Sports Center. Rickey and Jim will sit down for an interview to reflect on their experiences this weekend, which must have been a whirlwind for them. Tickets ($10) are still available by contacting the Hall of Fame’s membership department.
1:17 p.m. Well if Brian Cashman is here for the Yankee Inductees, it shouldn’t surprise you that the Red Sox’s John Henry and Larry Lucchino are here to support Jim Rice (and of course Rickey Henderson, who played for the Red Sox as well).
1:24 p.m. Five minutes to go! Who do you think will get the biggest cheers as the Hall of Famers are announced?
1:30 p.m. The Hall of Famers are on the stage, we’re just about ready to go.
1:30 p.m. And Rickey and Jim have just arrived on stage, to a great ovation from the crowd.
1:37 p.m. President Jeff Idelson and Chairman of the Board Jane Forbes Clark offer welcoming remarks. As Ms. Clark points out, 51 of the 65 living Hall of Famers are on stage today. Where else can you get such a collection of greats in one place at one time?
Now the MC of today’s ceremony is introduced, George Grande. George begins the player introductions.
1:40 p.m. George did a great job having fun with fans and introducing the Hall of Famers during the Red Carpet Arrivals event at the Museum last night as they arrived for a private reception. If you are ever in Cooperstown for Hall of Fame Weekend that is definitely an event to check out.
1:47 p.m. [Comment From Shawn Anderson, Illinois]
Which Hall of Famer elicits the biggest hush when he enters the room? Meaning…who makes everyone stop what they are doing?
1:47 p.m. Great question Shawn! I can’t speak for everyone, but for me I am in awe any time I see Willie Mays.
1:48 p.m. Biggest ovation yet? Yaz get’s a prolonged standing O.
1:52 p.m. Juan Marichal is introduced. Juan was at the Hall of Fame earlier this year as we opened a brand new exhibit on baseball in the Caribbean called ¡Viva Baseball! If you haven’t seen it make sure you come on out to Cooperstown!
Speaking of new exhibits, the Hall also has a brand new exhibit this year entitled Hank Aaron: Chasing the Dream. Hank is introduced, and the fans deliver another loud ovation.
1:58 p.m. And now this year’s Inductees are introduced, along with Judy Gordon on behalf of her father.
The Red Sox fans make their presence known as Jim Rice is introduced, while shouts of “Rickey” echo through the crowd as George Grande introduces “the greatest leadoff hitter of all time.”
2:12 p.m. A bit of rain has moved in but it hasn’t dampened any spirits. The ceremony is going to be moved along a bit however due to storms expected later this afternoon. After the invocation and national anthems, it’s Joe Gordon’s turn! Bud Selig reads the inscription on the plaque as Hall President Jeff Idelson presents it to the crowd.
2:12 p.m. Judy Gordon takes the podium.
2:16 p.m. Judy talks about how her father reached out to Larry Doby in his first ever day in the major leagues as he desegregated the American League. “This was not an isolated incident. This was how my dad lived his entire life.” She then notes that today marks the 11th anniversary of Doby’s Induction into the Hall of Fame.
2:19 p.m. Here’s an interesting story about the 1948 season with the Cleveland Indians, in which Gordon hit 32 home runs. According to Judy, he received a case of Wheaties and a case of gum for every home run he hit. Judy Gordon: “As I remember, even the dog got more athletic eating the Wheaties.”
2:24 p.m. A very touching moment and a loud standing ovation here as Judy Gordon concludes by indicating that her family considers Cooperstown and the National Baseball Hall of Fame as her father’s final resting place where he will be remembered forever.
Next up: Jim Rice.
2:25 p.m. Anyone have any special memories about watching Rice play? Send them along!
2:28 p.m. Jane Forbes Clark welcomes Jim to the Hall of Fame family, and Bud Selig reads the inscription on his plaque as it is presented to the crowd. Later tonight, that plaque will join Gordon’s and Henderson’s as the Hall of Fame’s curatorial staff will hang them with the other 286 in the Hall of Fame Gallery.
2:29 p.m. The crowd breaks out into a chant of “Let’s Go Red Sox!”
2:36 p.m. Where was Jim when he received the call that he had been elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame? Watching The Young and the Restless.
Jim thanks the Boston Red Sox, with whom he spent his entire major league career. Not only did he help lead them to the AL pennant in his rookie season, but from 1977-1979 he became the only player in big league history to record 35 home runs, 100 RBIs, and 200 hits for three consecutive seasons. One of those years, 1978, he hit 46 home runs and drove in 139 on his way to earning the AL MVP.
2:41 p.m. Another standing ovation for Rice as he concludes his speech, stating that he cannot think of a better place to be – with his fans and with the greatest living ballplayers.
Now, it’s time for Rickey. The fans here have been waiting for this since the announcement in December.
2:46 p.m. The cap on Rickey’s plaque? The A’s of course. The inscription on his plaque begins “Faster than a speeding bullet….” As Selig reads off all nine of Rickey’s team, a loud ovation from the crowd as the Red Sox are mentioned. Now: Rickey takes the podium.
2:47 p.m. Any special memories of watching Rickey play? Send them along!
2:51 p.m. Rickey says that he played so long (25 seasons!) because of his love for the game of baseball. Apparently his dream was to play football for the Oakland Raiders, but his mother was afraid he would get hurt and told him to play baseball. As Rickey points out, mothers always know best.
2:54 p.m. Rickey’s nine teams ties him for second place among Hall of Famers with Goose Gossage and Hoyt Wilhelm. Anyone know who’s first?
2:59 p.m. The answer to that previous question: Dan Brouthers.
Rickey’s take on his nine teams – it was a great chance to meet fans all across the country. Henderson: “It is the fan who make the game fun. To the fans: Thank you, thank you, thank you, for all your support over the years.”
3:01 p.m. Rickey closes his speech by stating how humbling it is to now be considered in a class of the greatest players of all time. He receives a prolonged ovation from the fans.
3:03 p.m. Don’t go anywhere folks – we have plenty of ceremony left, and we haven’t yet heard from Tony Kubek or Nick Peters! Now on the big screen – a video of Stan Musial (who could not be in attendance tonight) playing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” on his harmonica.
3:09 p.m. On the stage now we have George Grande and Billy Williams remembering 1969, as it is the 40th anniversary of that season. An incredible season perhaps best remembered for the Miracle Mets.
Billy Williams is the spokesman for the Hall of Fame’s Membership Program. Billy thanks all Hall of Fame members out there for supporting the Hall and helping to keep baseball’s history and tradition alive here in Cooperstown.
Now Don Sutton takes the podium to introduce this year’s Ford C. Frick Award winner, Tony Kubek. Sutton points out that his first day as a broadcaster was spent sitting alongside Kubek.
3:15 p.m. Tony’s turn. He points out Moose Skowron, his first road roommate, who is sitting just to the right of stage today.
Of course, Kubek played baseball himself, for nine seasons with the New York Yankees, making four All-Star games.
3:24 p.m. Tony speaks about how the game of baseball has pioneered so many of the changes in American culture, drawing particular attention to the racism and bigotry that Jackie Robinson and Hank Aaron overcame during their playing careers, breaking down barriers in the process. This draws a loud ovation from the crowd.
As a member of the Hall’s Education department, I’m glad to see Tony mention this. At the Hall we try to teach our visitors about how baseball has been at the forefront of many changes in American culture.
3:29 p.m. Kubek closes and Jane Forbes Clark returns to the podium to present the J.G. Taylor Spink Award winner, Nick Peters. Peters covered the Giants for 47 years, more years than any sports journalist in history. David O’Brien, President of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, comes to the podium to introduce Peters.
3:32 p.m. Here’s a good Rice memory:
3:32 p.m. [Comment From Scott Downer]
I was at a game in Cleveland in 1979. I saw Rice his a pitch out of old Municipal Stadium that cleared the center field wall, I’m going to say 410. The ball never got over 20 feet off the ground. I’ve never seen a shot lie this one. It must have gotten out in two seconds. Just a blast.
3:37 p.m. Nick Peters talks about listening to Red Sox games on the radio on Sunday drives with the family. His idol? Ted Williams naturally. Peters then recalls how he learned how to do math through computing batting averages and other statistics. Sounds kind of like the Batter Up math unit that the Hall of Fame uses to teach kids across the country using video-conferencing technology
3:42 p.m. Nick Peter’s closes by pointing out that he was able to do something he loved without every having to go too far from home or looking for another job. While he laments that the Giants never won a World Series in his 47 years covering them, he also points out that the A’s won 4 of the 6 they played in during that span.
With that, the ceremony concludes! The rain held off. One last round of applause for the class of 2009.
3:48 p.m. So don’t forget to get the 2009 Hall of Fame Weekend on your calendar now, the last weekend in July as always!
It’s never too early to start thinking ahead to next year. On this year’s ballot, Andre Dawson received 67% of the vote, with Bert Blyleven receiving 62.7%, and Roberto Alomar will be on the ballot for the first time.
3:50 p.m. The weekend isn’t over yet, as Jim Rice and Rickey Henderson will be back here tomorrow for a special Legends Series interview on the Induction Stage.
I think it’s about time for me to sign off. But before I do I’d like to thank you all for joining me this afternoon, and hope you enjoyed the coverage! Don’t forget to log onto www.baseballhall.org for more coverage of Hall of Fame Weekend 2009!
Stephen Light is manager of museum programs at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
By 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.
While 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.
A 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.”
Burgmeier 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.”
Burgmeier 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.
By Bill Francis
Terrence Long, who became accustomed to postseason baseball during big league playing career, found time during his first trip to Cooperstown to show his young family the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum on Thursday.
Long, his wife and four sons made the trip from their home in Montgomery, Ala., because 9-year-old Jalon has been playing in one of the local baseball camps. According to Long, Jalon, a right fielder on his 10-and-under travel team, and his brothers are all good athletes.
“They are star players on their teams,” said Long, after looking at his clippings file at the Hall of Fame Library’s A. Bartlett Giamatti Research Center. “Hopefully, I rubbed off on them in some kind of way.
“They might be a little bit better than me,” said Long. “They’ve got a lot more tools than I think I had.”
Long played for eight big league seasons from 1999 to 2006, spending time with the New York Mets, Oakland A’s, San Diego Padres, Kansas City Royals and New York Yankees. But it was his years in Oakland where both he and the team excelled.
For four straight seasons, from 2000 to 2003, with Long a starting outfielder, the A’s qualified for the postseason – only to get knocked out each time in the American League Division Series.
“I do miss it,” said the 33-year-old Long. “My first couple of years out of baseball I missed October baseball. I got a chance to play in October in four of my six full seasons, so that was a blessing. I do miss my teammates, but I really miss playing in October.”
In one of the more famous plays of recent postseason action, Long’s two-out double in the seventh inning against the Yankees nearly scored Oakland teammate Jeremy Giambi from first base in Game 3 of the 2001 ALDS. The A’s had won the first two games of the five-game series, and were losing 1-0 in Game 3 when Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter picked up an errant throw from the outfield and flipped the ball to catcher Jorge Posada. Giambi, who didn’t slide, was tagged out on a close play.
“We had Eric Byrnes, who was probably the fastest guy on the team, ready to pinch-run,” recalled Long. “But I can’t… Jeremy was my buddy. It will be on TV forever, though.”
Long was a first round draft pick of the Mets in 1994, but didn’t establish himself in the majors until he was traded to the A’s for pitcher Kenny Rogers on July 23, 1999.
“It was exciting having been in the Mets organization and not getting to play much and then getting traded to Oakland. They gave me a chance to play and we had some good teams,” Long said. “Thanks to the Mets for drafting me and a special thanks to Billy Beane (A’s general manager) for giving me a chance to play. That started my career off.”
It was in 1999, the year Long made his big league debut with the Mets, that he became teammates with Rickey Henderson. Henderson will be inducted into the Hall of Fame along with Joe Gordon and Jim Rice on Sunday, July 26.
“I got a chance to hang out with Rickey then. It was great,” Long said. “He took care of me. He taught me a lot and that was good. He’s a great guy, teaches the game, great sense of humor. A real laid back, down to earth guy. I wish I could be here to see him get inducted.”
These days Long spends his time coaching his sons and fishing.
“Just teaching the kids the game of baseball. I enjoy it. It takes up a lot of my time,” Long said. “I never thought that I would spend eight seasons in the big leagues. Maybe one day we’ll come back and my sons will be in the majors.”
Bill Francis is a library associate for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
By Craig Muder
Growing up a baseball fan in the 1970s, you quickly learned the rules.
And Dick Williams‘ players NEVER gave less than 100 percent.
Of course, there was a price to be paid for Williams’ managerial work. It seemed like every few years, his players began to grumble, his owner became worried — and Williams was eventually shown the door. But six months later, Williams would be back at Spring Training with yet another team — molding winners out of teams that never won.
Fast-forward to 2008, when Williams is elected to the Hall of Fame. It looked like the same guy: white mustache, piercing eyes… But this person was smiling all the time. In fact, he was moved to tears more than once.
Seems like the disciplinarian manager found out that — along the way — he was loved and respected more than he knew.
Today, Williams becomes one of just 13 living Hall of Famers who have reached their 80th birthday. And after a career filled with hard knocks and hard work, Dick Williams surely deserves to celebrate.
Happy birthday, Mr. Nice Guy!
Craig Muder is director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
By Lenny DiFranza
Two photo exhibits are being installed right now at the Hall of Fame that show the passion of Latin baseball, the international pastime of the Caribbean.
Viva Cuba Béisbol focuses on Cuba, the island nation whose people have remained true to baseball through war, revolution, and peace. American photographer Byron Motley’s stunning images reveal a deep love for the game in the fabric of everyday life, from sandlots to international competitions. Viva Cuba Béisbol is in the third floor of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
The Latino Baseball Story, based on a 15-year project by photojournalist José Luis Villegas, explores the dedication needed for the difficult journey Latino players take to play major league baseball. Although some realize their dreams and some do not, the love for the game remains. The Latino Baseball Story is on the Halper Gallery on the first floor of the Museum.
These temporary exhibits will be in our museum only through the end of this year. They open on Saturday, May 23, along with our permanent exhibit, ¡Viva Baseball!, which traces the history of Latin baseball from its roots — which are almost as old as those in the U.S. — to today’s Latin big league stars.
Lenny DiFranza is the assistant curator for new media at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
By Bill Francis
Former big league pitcher Jack Billingham, a witness to some of the game’s greatest moments of the 1970s, has been walking through the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum the past few days.
Billingham — along with his wife, Jolene, and his sister and brother-in-law — has been touring the country in a pair of RVs over the past three weeks, making stops, among other places, in Cincinnati, Cleveland and Detroit. The brief stay in Cooperstown isn’t Billingham’s first: The 6-foot-4 right-hander, now retired and living in New Smyrna Beach, Fla., made the trip in 1969 to participate in the Hall of Fame Game as a member of the Houston Astros.
During this visit, Billingham and his group spent Monday morning getting a behind-the-scenes tour of the baseball institution from Senior Curator Tom Shieber. The 13-year veteran, who spent time with the Dodgers (1968), Astros (1969-71), Reds (1972-77), Tigers (1978-80) and Red Sox (1980), looked at both his clipping and photo files in the Library before viewing some of the Museum’s vast archives.
“Growing up, you always heard about the Hall of Fame, but I wasn’t a Hall of Fame candidate, and I knew that from the start,” Billingham said with a chuckle.
Though he might not have had the resume of some of his more celebrated teammates, the sinkerballer ended his career with 145 wins, winning at least 10 games for 10 consecutive years.
“You thought of the Hall of Fame in terms of who you were playing with,” Billingham said. “When I came up as a rookie, I was playing with Don Drysdale. I went to Spring Training with Sandy Koufax. Walter Alston was my manager in 1968, and I came up in the Minor Leagues with Tommy Lasorda when he became a manager. And then I go over to Houston, and I tell people all the time I played with Joe Morgan three years in Houston when he was an All-Star player, but when he came to Cincinnati, he became a Hall of Famer.”
After he was traded to the Reds from the Astros with Morgan prior to the 1972 campaign, Billingham became a stalwart moundsman of Cincinnati’s famed Big Red Machine of the mid-1970s, when his teammates included future Hall of Famers Johnny Bench, Tony Perez and Morgan, as well as manager Sparky Anderson.
“We had Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, Tony Perez, Davey Concepcion, an All-Star lineup,” Billingham said. “You knew you were playing with special guys who would be in the Hall of Fame.”
The Big Red Machine cemented its reputation by winning consecutive World Series titles in 1975 and ’76.
“The World Series is exciting and great, and it’s a dream to be there, but you have to win to make a name for yourself. We were there in 1972 [against the Oakland A's] and didn’t win,” Billingham said. “Then we played Boston in 1975 — it went seven games. A lot of people think it was one of the better World Series ever played. But we won. And I think the thing that really put the mark on us and really made our name is when in 1976, we played the Yankees and swept them in four games.”
Billingham’s star shined the brightest in the Fall Classic. He posted a 2-0 record and a 0.36 ERA in 25 1/3 innings pitched. Billingham still holds the record for lowest career World Series ERA with a minimum of 25 innings pitched.
“I think [the record] was just being at the right place at the right time. You go through streaks pitching. I was just on,” Billingham said. “I wasn’t a strikeout pitcher, so I needed gloves behind me. And though we were known as the Big Red Machine as far as scoring runs and hitting the ball, we also could catch the ball. Up the middle is where you make your defense, and we had guys like Davey Concepcion, Joe Morgan, Cesar Geronimo and Johnny Bench. We had the best at that time.”
Billingham also became the answer to a trivia question when he surrendered Hank Aaron‘s 714th career home run on April 4, 1974. The bat and ball from Aaron’s 714th home run are now on display in the Hall of Fame’s new exhibit, Hank Aaron: Chasing the Dream.
“It was almost like being in the World Series; there was so much press there. Everybody wants to interview you — ‘How do you feel? How will you feel if you give up 714? If Hank comes up, and you’re leading by nine runs, would you throw one right down the middle so he could hit it out?’ — so I was aware of it, but it didn’t bother me,” Billingham said.
“Once the game started, you just get in your own little world. You know Hank Aaron is up there. He came up with two men on in the first inning. We’re playing at home, and there are 40,000 fans in Cincinnati booing me because they want to see Hank Aaron hit. I was 3-1, and I wasn’t going to back off, and tried to throw a fastball sinker on the outside part of the plate. And when you’re behind in the count, and you have a good hitter up there, that’s when you get in trouble. And he hit the ball, a three-run homer. But like I told everybody, I had one of the best seats in the house, and we won the ballgame when it was all over with.”
Looking back on his long professional baseball career, Billingham admitted the game meant everything to him.
“It was my life,” he said. “I started playing the day I got out of high school, and I played 20 years. I got 13 years in the big leagues. I played with some great players. I have nothing but great memories.”
Bill Francis is a library associate for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
By Brad Horn
This week, Major League Baseball and New York will welcome two new shrines, as the Mets christen Citi Field on Monday night and the new Yankee Stadium (everything old is new again) will host its formal inauguration Thursday.
We’ll be documenting both of these openings in Cooperstown with artifacts that capture this moment in time for future generations. Look for updates this week as we share our latest donation items with you.
When future generations of fans look back on this week, it’s likely they’ll say these stadiums represent the last of a new breed. For the last 20 years, baseball stadiums have been constructed at a rate, and a cost, never before seen in our game’s history.
The 1990s unleashed a fury of new ballparks, when the old seemingly was not enough. Toronto (’89), Chicago, Baltimore, Cleveland and Arlington got the ball rolling. Soon, Atlanta, Seattle, Detroit, San Francisco and Houston followed suit, as did an entirely rebuilt Angels Stadium in Anaheim. Expansion clubs Colorado (’95) and Arizona (’98) christened new ballparks, while Tampa Bay and Florida also established new traditions, albeit in fairly older structures. The 21st century welcomed new parks in Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, San Diego, St. Louis and Washington. Just this offseason, Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium underwent a major renovation. Boston’s Fenway Park, long a stalwart, has had multiple facelifts throughout the last 10 years.
In fact, only Wrigley Field (Chicago), Dodger Stadium (Los Angeles), the Metrodome (Minneapolis) and Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum (Oakland) are the last major structures not enduring entire overhaul or replacement since the era of the new ballpark began 20 years ago. The Met will join the list of replaced stadiums next year as Minneapolis welcomes a new outdoor home.
What will become of the next phase of ballparks? Which of the “new” will be the first to be deemed “outdated?”
One thing is for sure — no period in baseball history is likely to see as much change as we have witnessed in the last two decades.
Visitors to Cooperstown can celebrate stadiums of past and present in Sacred Ground, an exhibit dedicated to the ballpark experience, only at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
Brad Horn is the senior director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.