Results tagged ‘ Oakland A's ’
By Jeff Idelson
Just back to Cooperstown after a nine-day road trip to Los Angeles, for the WBC; Phoenix, to meet with a couple of owners; and Florida, for some fundraising initiatives. My trip home from Florida on Sunday was fine, though my string of six straight Southwest flights in seat 11C – exit row aisle – came to an end. Hey, at least I got an aisle seat.
The main thrust of my visit to Florida was our annual Hall of Fame Champions Grapefruit League trip. We have a great circle of Champions - individuals and couples who support the Hall of Fame at $5,000 or more. In return for supporting our educational mission, Champions receive invitations to events across the country with Hall of Famers, spring training games in Florida and Arizona, exhibit openings, Hall of Fame Weekend and the Hall of Fame Classic, all with exclusive access.
Two weeks ago we were in Arizona to see the A’s and Mariners play. A’s General Manager Billy Beane joined us for a while before the game, and we had dinner with Hall of Famer Billy Williams.
For our Grapefruit League endeavor, we headed for Ft. Myers. Hall of Fame Vice President and Chief Curator Ted Spencer, named after Ted Williams, Senior Development Director Ken Meifert, whose heart belongs to the Indians, and I, were joined by Hall of Famer Robin Roberts.
We picked up the Hall of Fame right-hander at his home outside Tampa. ”The Rays are selling out every game this spring,” beamed the longtime Phillie, about his hometown Tampa Bay Rays.
We headed south to Naples, where I talked to Robin about his career. “Sure I met Cy Young. I asked him how he won all those games and he told me he held the ball way back in his hand. I met Cobb too. He told me, ‘I wish I had a few less hits and a few more friends.’”
In Napes, we met Champion Jay Baker for lunch. Jay is a long-time Yankees fan and history buff, and along with his wife Patty, an ardent supporter of many philanthropic causes, such as the Hall of Fame.
Over lunch, I asked Robin if he had ever been in a movie. “No, but Ashburn and I met Spencer Tracy when he was filming Judgment at Nuremberg,” he said. ”What a nice man.”
Robin then quipped, “I was on television once, on What’s My Line (YouTube clip of Robin). The panel had to try and guess my off-season job, which was with the Neptunalia Seafood Company. I was president of Gold King and we sold frozen shrimp. No one could figure out what I did, but they sure came close.”
“I was on Murphy Brown,” quipped Baker. ”If you watch carefully, you can see me. I was so smooth we did it on one take,” he laughed.
We spent the afternoon seeing two impressive private baseball collections – Jay’s and the one of another area Champion, Don Gunther. Both are wonderful examples of how the game means so much to people personally. They are both inspired by their love of the game and its history, akin to what happens to visitors every day in Cooperstown.
Jay and Patty generously hosted a Champions recruiting dinner that evening in Naples. There were 24 dinner guests, including former major leaguer Sterling Hitchcock, and we spent the evening all sharing personal stories about what the game means to each of us.
Robin reminisced about meeting Grover Cleveland Alexander in grade school in Springfield, Illinois. ”We had a two-room school house for 8 grades. Alexander was the special guest one day when I was in the eighth grade. He told us, ‘Baseball is a great game. Don’t drink. Look what it did to me.’ Sad, but true.”
Hitchcock recounted how he grew up unhappy with George Brett who once refused to sign an autograph for him as a high school student. He told his fiancée (who became his wife) that if he ever made the majors, he would hit Brett with a pitch.
Not too many years later, making his major league debut at Yankee Stadium, Hitchcock hit Brett on the elbow, very much by mistake. The phone rang that night, and Sterling’s mother-in-law, who was watching the game, remembered the story and thought he had done it on purpose. ”Of course, I hadn’t, nor would I ever do that” said Hitchcock, laughing.
The dinner conversation was delightful, with everyone sharing childhood memories of how they first fell in love with the game.
Jim Collias, a retired neurosurgeon from Yale-New Haven Medical Center, recalled growing up in Boston’s South End. ”Mr. Yawkey gave a bunch of us jobs working in the clubhouse during the Depression. I have fond memories of being in Fenway Park and Mr. Yawkey was a nice man. We also were sent to the train station to get the players’ bags when the team arrived in town. We all got very excited to welcome the Yankees, though Joe DiMaggio would never let us carry his bag. He would just shake his head, ‘No.’”
Saturday was spent in City of Palms Park, home to the Red Sox, who played the Twins. Brad Penny and Francisco Liriano pitched, and – aided by some serious wind blowing out to left field - Rocco Baldelli, Big Papi and Jason Bay all hit home runs in a Red Sox victory.
Thanks to the generosity of the Red Sox, we enjoyed the afternoon from the owners’ suite. A number of our Champions and recruits enjoyed the beautiful weather and the pristine ballpark while talking baseball all afternoon.
Cincinnati-based champion Buck Newsome and his wife Robin traveled in for the game with Robin keeping a detailed scorebook. “This book’s only for spring training,” she explained to me “and I like this style scorebook, because it allows me to count pitches.” The Newsomes are my kind of people — ones who adore the game.
Robin (the pitcher, not the scorekeeper) and I were on the field before the game and we spoke with Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. “Things sure have changed in pitching,” said Robin to Ron. “My pitching coach and mentor, Cy Perkins’, instruction to me was pretty simple. He said, ‘Kid, you can really pitch, keep it up; stay ahead of the batter, and; don’t get past 2-2 on a hitter.’ That was it.”
After the game, we headed north to Sarasota to have dinner with Reds’ owner Bob Castellini and his wife, Susie, along with their son Bob, Jr., team general manager Walt Jocketty and Hall of Fame champion Bob Crotty. The dinner was wonderful. We talked to the Castellinis about the Hall of Fame and its programs and shared a lot of laughs.
On the way back to Tampa, I asked Robin about how he developed such an effective curveball. ”Sal Maglie,” said Robin. ”I pitched against ‘The Barber’ on opening day in 1952 and watched how he really shortened up his delivery with the curveball. So, I copied it, won 28 games that year, and never told him.”
We dropped Robin off at home around 11:30 pm, concluding a great couple of days with a group of friends who truly love the game of baseball.
Jeff Idelson is the president of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
By Jeff Idelson
Thank goodness for Spring Training. It means baseball has finally returned and the regular season is just around the corner.
I recently spent a week in Arizona. Can’t believe there are 14 teams there now, and when the Reds migrate west next spring, there will be an even split between Florida and Arizona. It seems like only yesterday when almost every team was in the Sunshine State.
I had a chance to reminisce about my Yankees Spring Training memories a couple of weeks ago when Gov. Charlie Crist invited me to speak at the recently rejuvenated annual Florida Baseball Dinner at Tropicana Field in St. Pete.
Sitting on the dais with Hall of Famers Tony Perez, Bill Mazeroski, Al Kaline, Mike Schmidt, Phil Niekro and Wade Boggs brought back great thoughts about my five springs in Ft. Lauderdale from 1989-93. There’s nothing better than 10 weeks in Florida to beat the cold, dreary New York winters.
In Arizona, I was based in Scottsdale, which is conveniently located in close proximity to the Giants, Brewers, Angels, A’s and Cubs Spring Training facilities. I spent my time visiting with team owners, Hall of Famers, current players, media members and fans.
For instance, White Sox owner Jerry Reinsorf is on the Hall of Fame Board of Directors. After lunch with Jerry, his general manager, Kenny Williams, and his special assistant, Dennis Gilbert, at the team’s new facility in Glendale, the Sox played the Dodgers. Jerry, Dennis and I watched the game from Jerry’s suite, and Dodgers owner Frank McCourt, a native New Englander like me, joined us in the eighth inning, just in time to see his Dodgers rally from a two-run deficit to win in their last at-bat.
My visit was a chance to catch Frank and Dennis up on the inner-workings of the Hall of Fame. The silver lining for me was watching White Sox first-round draft pick Gordon Beckham, picked eighth overall out of the University of Georgia, play shortstop and show why he’ll likely soon join Alexei Ramirez (whose swing reminds me a lot of Alfonso Soriano) in the middle of the infield. Keep an eye on Beckham. He won’t be wearing uniform No. 80 for long.
Reality hit home when I realized that Beckham was born Sept. 16, 1986, 12 days before the Red Sox clinched the pennant while I was working for them after recently graduating from Connecticut College. Nothing like a dose of reality …
Later in the week, I headed over to Scottsdale Stadium with friend Rick Swig, one of our Hall of Fame Champions from the Bay Area. I also had a chance to spend some time in the Giants clubhouse and speak with Randy Johnson, Barry Zito and Tim Lincecum.
Lincecum and I first met in January when I presented him with his 2008 National League Cy Young Award at the Baseball Writers dinner. I presented him with plaque postcards of our only two Hall of Famers from Washington state — Ryne Sandberg and Earl Averill. I told him that I doubted he would need inspiration, but if he ever did, to take a look at these two legends’ plaques. He has the build of Juan Marichal, the delivery of Goose Gossage, the dominance of Sandy Koufax and the velocity of Bob Feller.
Zito loves the history of the game. We talked quite a bit about the Museum and our collections, as well as Bruce Hurst, one of his favorite players growing up in San Diego. I said to him, “I thought your 12-6 curveball looked familiar.” Hurst was his model and used his devastating out pitch to perfection in Fenway Park when I worked in Boston.
With Johnson five wins away from 300, I wanted to be sure he has us in his thoughts when he reaches the magical milestone. He’s always been generous, and I know he won’t disappoint us when he reaches that plateau. I told him that I doubted anyone would ever get to 300 wins again, unless the economy got so bad that teams were forced to scale back to smaller rosters and the old three-man rotations returned.
Randy also loves the history of the game and a signed Christy Mathewson book has a spot in his library.
While in the Giants clubhouse, I also exchanged pleasantries with Mike Murphy, the wonderful clubhouse manager who’s been there since the club went west, as well as the two Willies — Mays and McCovey. Both guys were in great spirits and were looking forward to coming back for Hall of Fame Weekend.
During the game, I sat with Cubs scout Gary Hughes and USA Today national writer Bob Nightengale, two longtime friends, in scout seats, right behind home plate. The Rockies and Giants were playing. I had no idea Sal Fasano was still playing, catching for the Rockies.
Dinners are meant for catching up with Hall of Famers and friends. Dinner with Robin Yount and his brother Larry, George Brett, White Sox vice chairman Eddie Einhorn and longtime Hall supporter Bob Crotty was a lot of fun. Robin dragged us to a restaurant he liked. “The general manager’s from Milwaukee. How could it be bad?” Robin said. He was right. It was terrific. He also let us know about his new product endorsement — Robinade — a form of lemonade sold only in Wisconsin and promoted in commercials by Bob Uecker. “Flying off the shelves,” he quipped.
Toward the end of my stay, we had a day-long event for our Champions — those who support the Museum with an annual contribution of $5,000 or more. The day, put together and co-hosted by A’s team doctor and Hall of Fame Champion Elliott Schwartz and his wife, Patti, consisted of going to see the A’s and Mariners play, where A’s GM Billy Beane talked to our group for a while. “I lockered next to Rickey Henderson in 1980,” remembered Beane. “I was sent down to Triple-A for three weeks and then was recalled. ‘Where were you?’ said Henderson upon my return,” Beane laughed.
Dinner that night was wonderful, with Hughes, Nightengale, Marty Lurie, who handles A’s pregame, and A’s announcer Ken Korach joining us and sharing stories. Williams and his wife, Shirley, were our guests of honor. “Good, better, best,” said Billy. “Never let it rest, ’til good is better and better is best.”
Lots of laughs, lots of baseball, lots of fun.
Over and out.
Jeff Idelson is the president of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.