Results tagged ‘ Spring Training ’

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.

Mr. Nice Guy turns 80

Muder_90.jpgBy Craig Muder

Growing up a baseball fan in the 1970s, you quickly learned the rules.

Jim Palmer was THE Cy Young Award winner. Reggie Jackson  was ALWAYS in the World Series.

And Dick Williams‘ players NEVER gave less than 100 percent.

5-27-09-Muder_Williams.jpgOf 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!

Watch Williams’ speech from the 2008 Induction Ceremony

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

Love of baseball grows in spring

Idelson_90.jpgBy 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.

4-3-09-Idelson_Roberts.jpgTwo 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.

4-3-09-Idelson_Hitchcock.jpgNot 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.

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