Results tagged ‘ Phil Niekro ’

Bo Duke comes to Cooperstown

Francis_90.jpgBy Bill Francis

Was that really Bo Duke?

John Schneider, who famously portrayed Bo Duke on the television series “The Dukes of Hazzard” from 1979-85, could be found on Cooperstown’s Main Street in front of the KeyBank building signing autographs on Friday.

7-24-09-Francis_Schneiders.jpg“My brother Bob lives in Cooperstown right around the corner, and he teaches people how to paint beautiful landscapes right up here at the top of the bank building,” said Schneider between posing for pictures and signing photos for fans. “I was doing a movie in Florida and Bob said, ‘Hey, you’re on the East Coast. Come through Cooperstown on your way. It’s Induction Weekend.’ I wish my 17-year-old son was here.”

Besides “The Dukes of Hazzard,” Schneider has had starring roles on such series as “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman” and “Smallville.” He’s even portrayed a few baseball players over the years.

“I played several baseball players, mostly knuckleball players, on television,” Schneider said. “On a show called “Grand Slam” (1990) I played a guy named Dennis Bakelenekoff and another one for Aaron Spelling I played a dead guy who was a knuckleball pitcher called “Heaven Help Us” (1994), and that didn’t last very long either.”

While he played a knuckleball pitcher, he couldn’t master the elusive pitch. But he did get to meet one of the pitch’s masters today.

7-24-09-Francis_DukesCast.jpg“Here’s the thrill of a lifetime. It’s when somebody says, ‘I’d like to shake your hand,’ and I turn and it’s (Hall of Famer) Phil Niekro,” Schneider said. “What a nice man and what an honor to have Phil Niekro want to meet me. He’s a hero. So my weekend was made right there.”

Though he was a baseball fan while growing up in Mt. Kisco, N.Y., Schneider has been away from the game for a little while.

“I played Little League as a kid. I was a first baseman and they called me Stretch. But I’ve been so busy I haven’t been following it a lot,” Schneider said. “I grew up a Tom Seaver fan, an Amazing Mets fan. We’re talking about ’69. One of the first Super 8 movies I had on my Kodak projector was called “The Amazing Mets.” In those days Gil Hodges and the gang were my favorites.”

Today, Schneider’s 17-year-old son is a big fan.

“I went to the Baseball Hall of Fame with my son a couple years ago and Chasen read every word on every plaque in that building. It was the greatest thing,” Schneider said. “We use to call him Stats because at 14 he could tell you everything about anybody.”

Schneider can be found outside the KeyBank building in Cooperstown for the rest of Induction Weekend.

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

As American as baseball and apple pie

Carr_90.jpgBy Samantha Carr

The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. – Terence Mann

As demonstrated in this iconic quote from the film Field of Dreams, our National Pastime has reflected and often shaped American culture. It is woven into the very fabric that makes up America. Baseball has a connection and an undeniable relevance to this country, which can be seen simply by looking back at the history of baseball on Independence Day.

7-2-09-Carr_Gehrig.jpgToday, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. – Lou Gehrig

Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig stood in front of a crowd at Yankee Stadium and uttered these now famous words seventy years ago Saturday. The speech took place on Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day, about a month after he learned of his terminal diagnosis. Less than two years later, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis – a disease that would one day bear his name – would claim the life of the Iron Horse, who played 2,130 consecutive games for the New York Yankees.

The July 4, 1939, ceremony was held between games of a doubleheader against the Washington Senators in front of fans, dignitaries and former teammates. The Yankees retired his uniform No. 4 – making Gehrig the first player ever afforded that honor. The crowd stood and applauded for two straight minutes following Gehrig’s speech.

The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum houses numerous artifacts in its collection from both Gehrig’s career and that special day in 1939 – including a 21 ˝ inch silver trophy given to Gehrig by his 1939 Yankee teammates. But the connection between July 4 and baseball spans much more than one special day.

The Museum’s collection also contains a glove used by future Hall of Famer Rube Waddell in a 1905 pitching matchup with fellow Hall of Famer Cy Young; and a ball and Yankees cap from Dave Righetti’s no-hitter in 1983.

7-2-09-Carr_RyanNiekro.jpgFor almost 100 years, future Hall of Famers have recorded historic performances on July 4. In 1925, the New York Yankees beat the Philadelphia A’s in a classic pitching duel between two future Hall of Famers. Herb Pennock of the Yankees retired the final 21 batters he faced to beat Lefty Grove.

And two soon-to-be Hall of Famers, Nolan Ryan and Phil Niekro, recorded their 3,000th strikeouts on July 4th. Ryan struck out Cesar Geronimo in 1980 and Niekro sat down Larry Parrish in 1984.

Baseball is forever tied to our nation’s history, and as we fire up the grills and make some of our own baseball memories on July 4, it is clear that those ties will not soon be broken.

Happy 4th of July!

You can find the history of any day in baseball on our Web site.

For more on Lou Gehrig’s farewell speech, check out the Induction issue of the Hall of Fame’s Members magazine Memories and Dreams. To become a Member, please click here.

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

Classic Hall of Famers thrill packed crowd, promise more

Hayes_90.jpgBy Trevor Hayes

There were literally no empty seats in the Grandstand Theater for the Hall of Fame Classic Voices of the Game. And this special Father’s Day edition delivered with the same impact the four Hall of Famers on stage had during their careers.

The sellout crowd listened for as Triple-Crown winner Bob Feller, 300-game winner Phil Niekro, 3,000-hit Club member Paul Molitor and 16-time Gold Glove Award winner Brooks Robinson reflected on their careers and talked about the game they love.

6-20-09-Hayes_VOG.jpgAll four legends and fellow Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins headline the signature event of the weekend, the Hall of Fame Classic on Father’s Day at Doubleday Field.

The theme of fathers and sons has been a principal element throughout this inaugural Hall of Fame Classic Weekend and was present during Voices of the Game. Niekro spoke vividly of his relationship. As a youngster in Ohio, he looked up to his father, who taught him the weapon that would be his bread and butter in a 24 season career.

“”If it wasn’t for the knuckleball, I probably would have ended up coal mining,” Niekro said. “I didn’t know what it was. I just had fun playing knuckle ball in the back yard. Then I was able to get Little League guys out.”

His success continued and he hitched a ride to a tryout with the Milwaukee Braves. He signed for $500. Early on, Knucksie as he became known, was unsure of his talents. When the Hall’s manager of museum programs Steve Light, who moderated the event asked Niekro how he fared against the two accomplished hitters on either side of him, Knucksie started laughing.

6-20-09-Hayes_RobinsonNiekro.jpg“I faced Brooks early on during a Spring Training game,” he recalled. “One of my 77-mph fastballs got away from me and I hit him in the head.”

Robinson countered, “Didn’t hurt a bit.”

“I thought I was going to be done the next day for hitting Brooks Robinson with a fastball,” Niekro said.

Robinson’s start wasn’t something to brag about either, though he did. He played most of the 1955 season for the York (Penn.) White Roses – a B-League team in the Piedmont League. Robinson got the call at the end of the season and got two hits in his first start.

“I called home and said, ‘This is cake. Why did I play in [the minors] all year? I should have been in the big leagues.'”

He then went 0-for-18. He recovered and became one of the cornerstones of the great Orioles teams of the 1960’s and 70’s. He appeared in four World Series, winning a pair of rings. Robinson played on a lot of great teams, but he feels one of the best didn’t achieve to the level that some of his other teams might have.

6-20-09-Hayes_Robinson.jpgIn honor of the 40th Anniversary of the Miracle Mets, Light asked Robinson about the 1969 World Series.

“I thought our ’62 team was our best,” he said. “But anything can happen in a seven-game series. We beat [Hall of Famer Tom] Seaver and lost the next four, straight.”

Baltimore was back in the Series again the next season and Robinson took the MVP honors, hitting .429 against the Big Red Machine from Cincinnati. He drove in six and hit a pair of home runs. Molitor like Robinson achieved October glory by winning the MVP Award in 1993 with the Blue Jays.

During that Fall Classic, he hit .500 with a pair of doubles, a pair of triples and a pair of homers while driving in eight against the Phillies. Molitor’s best memory of that Series however, was not one of his personal achievements.

“The ’93 Series, I was on first base when Joe Carter hit that ball over the wall,” he said. “I was thinking if it goes off the wall and I hustle, I can score and end this thing, but then it went out and it was all over anyway.”

Another highlight of Molitor’s career was reaching 3,000 hits. Pure consistency throughout his career allowed The Ignitor to retire with a career .306 batting average and 3,319 hits. In 1987, he took a run at one of the game’s longest standing records, Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak. Molitor hit safely in 39 straight.

6-20-09-Hayes_Niekro.jpg“Whether it’s milestones or streaks, players don’t really play for those, but numbers are big in baseball,” he said. “Falling 17 games short is still a long way away from that number and my perspective changed after that streak.

“I always tell people: The way you handle success is directly related to the way you handle failure, because 3,000 hits means 7,000 outs.”

Knucksie, a member of another elite club – the 300-game winners – applauded Molitor on the achievement. He said pitchers have help in winning games, but hitters are alone. 

Niekro’s 300th came in his last start of 1985 as a Yankee. It was a special moment for him and his father, who was faltering in health. Niekro was 46 at the time and at the end of his contract.

“If I didn’t win it, I would have had to wait until the next spring and he wasn’t going to hold on that long,” he said. “So really that was a blessing for both of us.”

6-20-09-Hayes_Feller.jpgFeller missed 300 wins by 34. But he recorded a career-high 27 in 1940 followed by 25 in 1941 before leaving baseball for most of four seasons to serve in the Navy during World War II. Light noted that the Grandstand Theater is a replica of Chicago’s Comiskey Park where Feller authored one of his three no-hitters and the only Opening Day no-no in the history of the game.

“Well it was 69 years ago and I remember it quite well,” the Indians ace recalled. “It wasn’t my best no-hitter. I didn’t have great stuff that day. I only struck out eight and we won 1-0. I remember that my catcher, Rollie Hemsley, hit a triple with my rommmate on base to score the only run.”

At 90, Feller’s memory is as sharp as if he were reading a box score. Light asked him about his famous high-leg kick and he laughed.

“That high leg kick…You’ve seen the picture taken in Yankee Stadium in 1936 or ’37 with my leg kicked over my head and the photographer laying flat on the ground,” Feller said. “That is all for show. It was just symbolism. But it’s the most popular picture they’ve got of me and it sells well at card shows.”

6-20-09-Hayes_Molitor.jpgAnother Feller myth was confirmed, when Light asked the former fireballer about the motorcycle and his fastball. Feller said that, that also happened in Chicago. He was wearing a tie and a dress shirt during the exhibition, but when he wound up with the motorcycle ten feet behind him, the ball beat the bike to the target. Using a timer and the vehicles speedometer, it was figured that he threw the ball 104 mph. Later a similar event was held and Feller clocked in at 107 mph.

Apparently worried by this, Molitor interrupted the story, “Can I ask him how his arm is feeling, since I have to leadoff against him tomorrow? I’ve heard stories of him hitting the first batter, so I’m just curious.”

Once the laughter subsided, and it was confirmed that Molitor would be the first batter to face the Classic’s starting pitcher – the 90-year-old Feller – Light asked Robinson how he felt knowing that he’d be the first guy to dig in against Knucksie in the bottom of the first.

6-20-09-Hayes_MolitorFeller.jpgRecalling their Spring Training encounter, Robinson looked worried and Niekro laughed, “Put your helmet on big boy, it’s coming.”

It is coming. In less than 24 hours, the legends will take the field at Doubleday and the inaugural Hall of Fame Classic will begin with Molitor facing Feller and Robinson against Niekro. Feller’s words seemed to sum up the entire weekend.

Baseball is a game of luck and there’s a lot of good and a lot of bad,” he said, noting the rain that fell on Cooperstown for most of Saturday. “We’re going to have a lot of fun tomorrow, rain or shine.”

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

The Felice Brothers are coming to Cooperstown

Horn_90.jpgBy Brad Horn

Stars from the music industry will head to Cooperstown on Sunday to join the stars of baseball at Doubleday Field in Cooperstown.

6-19-09-Horn_Felice.jpgBefore Sunday’s Baseball Hall of Fame Classic, Catskill Mountain natives The Felice Brothers, a band with folk, rock and country roots, will perform the American National Anthem. Band members Greg Farley, Josh Rawson, Jeremy Backofen will join brothers Ian and James Felice in the Father’s Day performance.

The band is home following a successful tour and will leave soon for another national tour.

Tickets for the Classic — which features Hall of Famers Bob Feller, Fergie Jenkins, Paul Molitor, Phil Niekro and Brooks Robinson, along with 21 other former Major Leaguers — are $12.50 for infield seats, $11 for outfield seats and are available through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the Hall of Fame’s Museum Store. Starting at 8 a.m. Sunday, tickets will be available at Doubleday Field.

Brad Horn is the senior director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

Baseball and family a winning combination

Meifert_90.jpgBy Ken Meifert

Last month I was in Columbia, S.C., for a Hall of Fame Champions fundraising dinner hosted by John D. Baker. Hall of Famer Phil Niekro joined us for what proved to be a wonderful evening of stories, laughs and friendship.

Phil shared many wonderful stories about his career and his brother Joe, who also pitched in the major leagues. In fact, Phil and Joe Niekro have more combined wins in the major leagues than any brothers in the history of the game with Phil having 318 and Joe have 221, for a combined total of 539.

6-18-09-Meifert_Niekro.jpgPhil shared a story of giving up a home run to his brother Joe – and it just happened to be the only home run Joe hit in the majors! For anyone who has a sibling, it is easy to imagine the good natured ribbing that went on between the brothers about that home run. It was obvious as Phil told the story that he and Joe shared a very special bond that baseball served to strengthen. Family is very important to Phil, who lost his brother Joe suddenly a few years ago. Reflecting on the loss, Phil took comfort in the fact that his last words to his brother had been “I love you Joe.”

Phil’s stories about his family caused me to reflect on the way that baseball brings people together – literally how it connects families across generations. Sound familiar? It is part of the Hall’s mission to preserve history, honor excellence and connect generations. I am thankful to be part of this great Game and I am thankful for the friends that baseball has brought me – friends like our host John Baker – and so many others.

John is a Columbia native and a lifelong Braves fan. I chuckled as he recounted his parents telling him years ago that if he spent as much time on his homework as he spent following the Braves he would be an A+ student. Now, please don’t get the impression that John did not get his homework done – he is a successful real estate developer today. But I believe it was a combination of great family and friends, his faith and the lessons learned from baseball that made John the outstanding person he is today. 

As we approach Father’s Day Weekend and the Inaugural Hall of Fame Classic Weekend, I hope you will take the time to enjoy a game (The Hall of Fame Classic on Sunday) or play catch (Family Catch on Doubleday Field Saturday afternoon) with your family this weekend. Make some new memories, share some old ones, and tell them you love them.

Ken Meifert is the senior director of development for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Getting Excited for the Classic

Carr_90.jpgBy Samantha Carr

I work at the Baseball Hall of Fame and am surrounded by some of the greatest baseball minds and scholars in the world on a daily basis. But the other night when I was watching a ballgame on TV and had a question, I still picked up the phone and called my dad.

The bond we have was only strengthened over the years as my father coached me in Little League, just as he had my brother and sister before me. He never missed a game in high school or college and was always there to give me advice on my swing. Although my playing days are behind me, my dad is still always there for me to fix my computer or find out why my car is making that funny noise. Now that all of his kids are coaches, you can still find him at the diamond, showing his support and sharing tips.

6-11-09-Carr_Classic.jpgBaseball runs in my family. My dad’s father loved the game and his older brother does too. My dad passed that love on to us. This Father’s Day, my family is coming to Cooperstown to celebrate Dad and watch some legends of my childhood, and his, compete at Doubleday Field.

We are excited to watch Phil Niekro dazzle hitters again with his knuckleball, and see Bob Feller prove that at 90 years old, he’s still got it. Not to mention the chance to meet Brooks Robinson, Fergie Jenkins and Paul Molitor. It will be fun to see a few players who just recently retired like Jeff Kent, Mike Timlin and Steve Finley – and I know my dad will be happy to see some Yankee greats like Mike Pagliarulo and Kevin Maas.

People are always in awe of my job because I get to work in baseball and meet some legendary players. But June 21st will be pretty special this year – because I get to share it all with my dad.

For tickets to the June 21 Hall of Fame Classic, call 1-888-Hall-of-Fame weekdays between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

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

300-game winners just keep coming

Muder_90.jpgBy Craig Muder

For a generation of baseball fans, Randy Johnson’s win over Washington on Thursday night marks a moment they may not see again.

But history suggests that — while another 300-win pitcher may be at least a decade away — Johnson will not be the last man to reach pitching’s holy grail.

6-5-09-Muder_Johnson.jpgJohnson became just the 24th pitcher to record 300 big league victories, and his countdown to immortality has officially started. Of the 23 other pitchers with 300 wins, 20 are enshrined at the Baseball Hall of Fame. The other three — Roger Clemens, Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux — are not yet eligible.

But along with the comparisons to baseball’s best-ever pitchers, Johnson’s milestone has brought out the naysayers: Those who insist that this 300-game winner will be the last.

After five pitchers — Gaylord Perry, Steve Carlton, Tom Seaver, Phil Niekro, Don Sutton — joined the 300-club in the 1980s, many pundits insisted that they were the last of their breed. The decline of the complete game combined with the rise of relief pitchers would surely mean the end of the 300-winner, they said. 

And yet, the 300-game winners kept coming. Nolan Ryan in 1990. Roger Clemens in 2003. Greg Maddux in 2004. And Tom Glavine in 2007.

In fact, the four pitchers to reach the milestone since 2000 represent the most for any decade — save the 1980s (5) and the 1890s (4) — in baseball history.

6-5-09-Muder_JohnsonAction.jpgSure, a few years may pass before the next 300-game winner emerges. Jamie Moyer is second behind Johnson on the active list with 250 wins, but Moyer is already 46 years old. Next up is 36-year-old Andy Pettitte with 220 wins. In fact, only two active pitchers under the age of 30 have at least 100 victories: Jon Garland and CC Sabathia.

Yet baseball history is full of long gaps between 300-game winners — even back in the complete-game era. From 1964-1981, no pitcher joined the 300-win club. And in the 36-year span from 1925-1960, only Lefty Grove reached the milestone.

So while Randy Johnson’s performance on Thursday should be celebrated, it should also be a reminder. History happens every day in baseball — something that won’t change any time soon.

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

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