Results tagged ‘ Sparky Anderson ’

Lasorda: Portrait of a winner

Muder_90.jpgBy Craig Muder

He was part of a historic stretch in Cooperstown, where six managers were inducted in seven years.

9-22-09-Muder_Lasorda.jpgBut in any group, Tommy Lasorda always stands apart.

The former Dodgers manager — and skipper of the 2000 United States gold medal-winning Olympic baseball team — turns 82 today. He is one of only 19 managers, out of more than 1,000 in the history of pro baseball, enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

Lasorda, who won two World Series, four National League pennants and eight NL West titles in his 21 seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers, remains one of baseball’s most popular figures — and one of the world’s most recognizable faces. Today, a portrait of Lasorda will go on display at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. Painted by renown artist Everett Raymond Kinstler, the portrait — measuring 60 inches by 50 inches — was commissioned to commemorate Lasorda’s legacy as part of the Dodgers’ organization.

Fitting, since Lasorda has always been bigger than life.

9-22-09-Muder_LasordaMug.jpgAs a Hall of Fame manager, Lasorda belongs to one of baseball’s most exclusive clubs — a group that has welcomed only two new members since 2000, when Sparky Anderson became the sixth manager inducted in seven years. But starting this fall, the four living Hall of Famer managers — Earl Weaver, Dick Williams, Anderson and Lasorda — may have some company.

The Veterans Committee considers managers, umpires and executives this year — with the results of the election being announced at the Dec. 7-10 Winter Meetings in Indianapolis. Two years from now — the fall of 2011 — it is possible that at least one of the legendary troika of Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa and Joe Torre could be retired and ready for the next Veterans Committee vote on managers.

But whatever the result of future elections, Lasorda’s place in history is secure.

He may bleed Dodger Blue, but his legacy is one of red, white and blue.

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

New acquisition helps tell story of replacement players

Cox_90.jpgBy Matt Cox

The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum tells the story of the greatest players to ever take the field. But the Museum is also dedicated to preserving the entire history of the National Pastime.

That’s where a recent donation comes in.

8-31-09-Cox_ReplacementBall.jpgBy early 1995, the stalemate between players and Major League Baseball, which led to the cancellation of over 900 baseball games during the 1994 season, was threatening the start of a new season. Teams recruited replacement players from outside the Major League Baseball Players Association to prepare for the scheduled campaign.

The introduction of replacement players created a division among fans, the media and others associated with the game. Some saw the strikebreakers as ushering in what then sports commentator Keith Olbermann called, “a post-apocalyptic nuclear vision of baseball,” while to others it was simply players trying to fulfill boyhood dreams. Despite the controversy, most replacement players never played a major league game. Federal judge Sonia Sotomayor, who was recently appointed to the United States Supreme Court, issued a preliminary injunction against Major League Baseball and the strike ended on April 2, 1995, one day before the start of the season.

Even though the 1995 season would see the return of Major League Players Association members before a regular season game was played, history was still made.

8-31-09-Cox_Runnells.jpgThis baseball was signed by members of the Detroit Tigers replacement team during spring training 1995. Spring training that year was particularly chaotic as more players were brought in for tryouts than usual and many used fake names to avoid harassment from disgruntled fans. Among the 19 signatures on the ball is that of Tom Runnells, the interim manager for the Tigers. Runnells, who had previously managed the Montreal Expos, was the manager for Detroit’s Triple-A team, the Toledo Mud Hens. When Tigers manager Sparky Anderson refused to work with replacement players, Runnells was called up to the big leagues. When the strike ended, he went back to managing minor league teams, but has recently made it back to the majors as bench coach for the Colorado Rockies.

The ball was donated by Karen and John Schenkenfelder, who received it from Willy Finnegan, a business associate who quit his job as a bond trader to play for the Tigers. Finnegan was a pitcher for University of Nevada-Las Vegas and a handful of minor league teams in the 1980s, but never played for a major league club. Then in 1995, the Tigers invited the 35-year-old Finnegan to spring training as a replacement player. Finnegan jumped at the opportunity – and fondly remembers the younger players calling him “Pops” and having a cup of coffee with Hall of Famer Al Kaline on his first day in camp.

The stories to be preserved are not always milestones or records to be documented in Cooperstown. This particular ball will be a useful tool in examining labor issues and the relationship between fans and ballplayers. It will be on display this fall in the new acquisitions case, located in the Cooperstown Room here at the Hall of Fame.

Matt Cox was a curatorial intern in the Class of 2009 Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Billingham strolls down memory lane at Hall of Fame

Francis_90.jpgBy 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.

5-11-09-Francis_Billingham.jpgDuring 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.”

5-11-09-Francis_BillinghamMug.jpgBillingham’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.

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