Results tagged ‘ Phil Niekro ’

The greatness of Hank Aaron

Idelson_90.jpgBy Jeff Idelson

“Here’s the pitch from Downing … swinging … there’s a drive into left-center field. The ball is gonna beeee … out of here! It’s gone! It’s 715! There’s a new home-run champion of all time, and it’s Henry Aaron.”

That was the radio call of Braves broadcaster Milo Hamilton on April 8, 1974, when Aaron broke Babe Ruth‘s long-standing home-run record. As important as that milestone was, and as immortal as Hamilton’s words have become, that singular event is precisely why Aaron ranks among baseball’s most underrated ballplayers.

4-24-09-Idelson_Aaron.jpgFans tend to remember Lou Gehrig because he died from ALS. Outside of Baltimore, Cal Ripken Jr. is remembered for “the streak.” And Aaron is often remembered for the home runs, though he accomplished so much more.

On this — the eve of the opening of Hank Aaron: Chasing the Dream, our new exhibit dedicated to Aaron at the Baseball Hall of Fame — it is appropriate to consider the magnitude of what Aaron accomplished on and off the field.

Who is the all-time leader today in RBIs, total bases and extra-base hits? Hank Aaron. “The Hammer” also ranks second all time in home runs, third in hits and fourth in runs. He showed up to play every day, which is why he is among the top five all time in games played, at-bats and plate appearances.

Aaron’s also a member of the prestigious 3,000-hit club. Take away each and every one of his 755 home runs, and he still has 3,016 hits.

Said teammate Phil Niekro of Aaron’s home runs after No. 700, “It’s like the sun coming up every morning. You just don’t know what time.”

Over 23 seasons, Aaron was great, averaging 33 home runs and 100 RBIs with a .305 batting average. He was a 25-time All-Star, representing his league every year except his rookie year and final season. Aaron was in the top 10 in the Most Valuable Player voting 12 times, winning it in 1957 when the Braves won the World Series. By the way, Aaron hit .393 with three home runs and seven RBIs in the Braves’ victory over the Yankees in the Fall Classic.

4-24-09-Idelson_Aaron2.jpgNot only was he great, but Aaron was consistently awesome: He hit 20 or more home runs 20 times, drove in 100 or more runs 11 times and hit better than .300 14 times. He hit .303 with 385 home runs at home and .306 with 370 home runs on the road. His batting average never varied by more than 10 points, month to month, over his career.

The Hammer was raised in Mobile, Ala., a hotbed for talent. Hall of Famers Willie McCovey, Satchel Paige, Ozzie Smith and Billy Williams were all born in Mobile, a city with a population under 200,000.

Aaron accomplished so much with a quiet grace and dignity which he brought to the ballpark every day in a time of racial divide in America. He was also among those who integrated the South Atlantic League, and he broke Ruth’s home-run mark in the face of intense hatred and racism. It’s no surprise that his hero was Jackie Robinson, who paved Aaron’s way to the way to the Majors.

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

Championing the Classic

Muder_90.jpgBy Craig Muder

At 49, Mike Pagliarulo almost blends in with the crowd.

Wearing blue jeans and sneakers, the former big league third baseman strolled into Cooper Park next to the Baseball Hall of Fame on Saturday and drew little attention. But quickly, the fans in the ticket line for the Hall of Fame Classic noticed it: The World Series ring Pagliarulo won in 1991 as as a member of the Minnesota Twins.

 
4-18-09-Muder_Pags.jpgAnd suddenly, the buzz started.

Pagliarulo, who spent 11 seasons in the major leagues with the Yankees, Padres, Twins, Orioles and Rangers, visited the Hall of Fame on Saturday in advance of the June 21 Hall of Fame Classic. Pagliarulo will play third base during the Classic as well as sign autographs and share memories from his big league career.

On Saturday, he thrilled fans with his homespun advice and easy-going style.

Really, what I’m most proud about my big league career is that it allowed me to put my kids through college,” Pagliarulo said. “But when you come (to Cooperstown), you think about all the game gave to you. That’s why this is such a special place.”

After visiting with fans in the ticket line, Pagliarulo entertained more than 100 Museum fans in a 30-minute question-and-answer session. Ironically, his biggest baseball thrill came not on the field — but at the Yankees’ Old Timers Day 24 years ago.

I walked into the locker room, and Joe DiMaggio was at my locker. And he just started talking to me,” Pagliarulo said. “Then, Billy Martin and Mickey Mantle came in — and Mickey gets me in a headlock and drags me into the trainers room. God forbid I hit him back! That’s Mickey Mantle!
 
“I don’t remember anything on the field that day. But I remember the time in the clubhouse.”

Pagliarulo will join Hall of Famers Fergie Jenkins, Paul Molitor, Phil Niekro and Brooks Robinson at the June 21 Classic — along with about 20 other former major leaguers, including George Foster, Jim Kaat, Bill Lee, Steve Rogers and Lee Smith. More participants will be announced at www.baseballhall.org next week.

For ticket information, call 1-866-849-7770 or visit www.baseballhall.org.

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

Thinking Spring

Idelson_90.jpgBy 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.

3-18-09-Idelson_Arizona.jpgFor 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.

3-18-09-Idelson_Johnson.jpgWith 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.

I also caught up with three of our Cubs Hall of Famers — Fergie Jenkins, Billy Williams and Sandberg — for dinner one night. They all feel good about the Cubs in 2009.

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. 

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