Results tagged ‘ Triple-A ’

Baseball Gene

By Bill Francis

Born and raised in Chicago, young Gene Walter was a fan of such Windy City legends as Ernie Banks, Fergie Jenkins and Billy Williams. Recently, the former big league hurler visited the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum to not only revisit his childhood but share his past with his family.

On his way to Boston for business from his home outside Louisville, Ky., Walter, a southpaw relief pitcher for four big league seasons (1985-88) with the San Diego Padres, New York Mets and Seattle Mariners, made a stop in Cooperstown along with his wife and two young sons on Saturday afternoon.

“I definitely wanted to have the family visit Cooperstown and I wanted to get a chance to see it again,” said Walter, soon after he and his family checked out his clipping and photo files at the Hall of Fame Library. “Obviously being a baseball player your dreams at an early age involve one day being a member of the Hall of Fame, but certainly being a part of Major League Baseball was a great thrill and a great honor.”

Walter, who has worked as a financial planner since retiring as a professional player in 1993, made his only other Hall of Fame visit back in 1992 when he and a few teammates from the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs, including future big leaguer David Weathers, made the trek on an off-day.

“It sends chills up your spine,” is how Walter explains his feelings when walking through the Cooperstown institution. “When you grow up watching the greats, and I grew up watching baseball in the late 1960s and early ‘70s before free agency when teams played together for long periods of time, those guys are special to me.”

A trio of Walter’s former big league teammates would end up with their bronze likenesses in the Hall of Fame Plaque Gallery.

“With the Padres, Tony Gwynn was a consummate professional and just a great teammate, Goose (Gossage) was a great competitor who just gritted his teeth and reared back and intimidated and basically threw the heck out of the ball,” Walter recalled. “And with the Mets, Gary (Carter) was someone who just loved being out on the field.”

Reflecting on his own playing career, which included a 4-7 won-loss record and 3.74 ERA in 128 big league games, Walter says it was just a great opportunity to get to the majors.

“There was nothing etched in stone that I’d play one day professionally let alone get to the big leagues,” Walter said. “I was the Padres last pick in ’82 and I had a hurt arm in college that year and was fortunate enough to get drafted. I was the 29th round pick for the Padres and their last, and I was the first guy to make it to the big leagues out of that draft with them. The only thing that was disappointing is that the arm didn’t hold up long enough to give me the opportunity to play as long as I wanted to play.

“When you reach the big leagues and have a certain level of performance, and that performance lasts a year and a half and then you have an injury and you’re no longer a major league pitcher it’s tough. But you battle and you try to hang in there,” he added. “You’ve got to love to compete, you’ve got to love to put that uniform on and go out there. At the end of my career I was better at working out than getting people out, and you can’t hang around a long time like that.”

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

Baseball, fathers and Cooperstown

By Bill Francis

The father-son bond in baseball undoubtedly goes back to the sport’s beginnings and continues to thrive, whether that entails playing catch in the front yard, attending a game together, or debating the travails of a favorite team.

With Father’s Day just around the corner, that special relationship was in evidence with a trio of minor leaguers who visited the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum on Wednesday afternoon.

Throughout major league history, there have been slightly more than 200 players whose father also spent time in The Show. Included in this unique group are infielder Josh Barfield, outfielder John Mayberry Jr. and pitcher Jason Grilli – all current members of the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, the Triple-A affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies, who visited Cooperstown.

For Josh Barfield, a big leaguer from 2006-09, his father Jesse – a 12-year major league right fielder with the Blue Jays and Yankees who led the American League with 40 home runs in 1986 – was the main reason he chose to pursue baseball as a career.

“He’s the reason that I play,” Josh Barfield said. “I loved watching him. He was always my hero, my favorite player growing up. He’s why I play, he’s the reason I am who I am as a person, so it’s cool that he gets to see me play now.

“I think we (teammates Mayberry Jr. and Grilli) all have that unique situation of growing up around the game, which is pretty special. I was at the field every day, and for me it was fun. You get to go and watch the game that you love, you get to be around your buddies, so it was a lot of fun for me.”

So what are Josh Barfield’s plans on Sunday?

“I talk to him every day,” he said, “but Father’s Day is special just because it’s a time to just say: ‘Thank you for what you’ve done.’”

John Mayberry Jr. has spent parts of the last three seasons with the Phillies, following in the footsteps of his father, a first baseman who clubbed 255 homers over 15 major league seasons spent with four different clubs.

“I grew up around the game and I’ve always loved it, so it’s a dream come true for me to be able to play,” John Mayberry Jr. said. “It was great to get a firsthand glimpse of what big league life is all about.”

It’s connections like these that will be celebrated on Sunday at the Hall of Fame Classic in Cooperstown. Tickets for the annual Father’s Day legends game are available this week at the Hall of Fame and on Sunday at Doubleday Field.

As for his relationship with his father, John Mayberry Jr. said: “My dad and I are in pretty consistent contact, but I’m guessing it’s no different than any other close father-son relationship.”

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

Hall Monitor: Hot Stove Around the Corner

Hayes_90.jpgBy Trevor Hayes

Not much is left of 2010 and even less remains of the baseball season. With the Rookies of the Year, Cy Youngs and Manager of the Year Awards doled out this week, two awards remain – the League MVPs. The remnants of the season that was haven’t stopped a flurry of action building toward 2011.

Classic impact: Monday saw a pair of new-bloods honored with the Rookie of the Year Awards. And for the third time in history, both players helped lead their club to the World Series. The Giants’ Buster Posey and Rangers’ Neftali Feliz were the first pair since 11-19-10-Hayes_KoufaxCarltonMaddux.jpgFernando Valenzuela and Dave Righetti in 1981 for the Yankees and Dodgers. The first pair was Gil McDougald and Hall of Famer Willie Mays in 1951 for the Yankees and Giants, respectively.

Seven is Three’s Company: Your National League Cy Young Award winner, author of two no-hitters – one a perfect game and the other the second ever thrown in the postseason – is Roy Halladay. The Doc’s second Cy Young shows he is among the game’s elite, but he remains five behind the all-time lead in that category. His team however, just became one of only three teams with at least seven Cy Young Awards. Hallday is joined in Phillies history by Hall of Famer Steve Carlton (four), Steve Bedrosian and John Denny (one each).

Interestingly enough, the other two clubs with seven are also NL teams. The Braves racked up seven with Greg Maddux (three), Tom Glavine (two), Hall of Famer Warren Spahn and John Smoltz (one each). And the Dodgers out-rank all major league teams with nine Cy Young Award winners: Hall of Famers Sandy Koufax (three) and Don Drysdale (one), along with Eric Gagne, Orel Hershiser, Mike Marshall, Don Newcombe and Fernando Valenzuela (one each).


11-19-10-Hayes_810WManagers.jpgNine years is a heck of a start
: Minnesota’s Ron Gardenhire won his first Manager of the Year Award, and Twins fans think it’s about time. Gardy had previously finished second in voting five times. His teams have won 90 games five times and he is the first manger in history to win six division titles in his first nine years. With 803 career wins, only five managers had more wins in their first nine seasons than Gardenhire. All five now call Cooperstown home: Sparky Anderson (863), Al Lopez (836), Joe McCarthy (828), Earl Weaver (812) and Frank Chance (810). Current Angels manager Mike Scioscia, also had exactly 803 wins through his first nine seasons.

Hot Stove action: While the heat really turns up around the Winter Meetings, a least one big trade has already gone down. All-Star utility man Omar Infante is taking his talents to South Beach while slugging second baseman Dan Uggla shifts to Atlanta. Losing an All-Star who can play almost any position on the field is big, but the Braves may have picked up a steal. Uggla owns the third-best batting average of anyone at Turner Field since it opened in 1997 at .354. Only Albert Pujols and Barry Bonds have hit better.

11-19-10-Hayes_GordonBanksRipken.jpgBut batting average aside, Uggla’s best skill is his power. He’s the first second baseman to produce four 30-home run seasons, let alone consecutively. And among the first five years of any middle infielder’s career, Uggla’s 154 home runs are tops. Three MVP-wining Hall of Famers round out the top five, with 500-home run club member Ernie Banks second (136), Joe Gordon third (125) and Cal Ripken Jr. fifth (108). Nomar Garciaparra is fourth with 117.

King Felix’s Mariners vs. Lefty’s Phils: Announced Thursday was the American League Cy Young winner, Seattle’s Felix Hernandez. The honor continues a trend of moving away from wins in the voting. In fact, the AL wins leader has won only five of the last nine Cy Young Awards.

With the lowest win total for a Cy Young winner ever, King Felix and his team set a new precedent. Previously, Steve Carlton’s 1972 Phillies were the worst team to boast a Cy Young winner. While the Hall of Fame lefty lead the league with an incredible 27 wins, his Phillies won 59 games – a .378 win percentage. This season, run support torpedoed Hernandez, who went 13-12, while Seattle posted a winning percentage of .377.

11-19-10-Hayes_CarewGwynn.jpgCatching up with the Hall of Famers: Drafted in 1978 and debuting in 1981 with the Phillies, Ryne Sandberg is returning to Philadelphia. After four seasons managing in the Cubs’ farm system, the 2010 Pacific Coast League Manager of the Year was hired to manage the Phillies’ Triple-A affiliate. Starting next season, Ryno will head the Lehigh Valley IronPigs as he continues his quest to pilot a big league club.

Stan Musial made news this week as the Cardinals legend was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama. The St. Louis faithful campaigned all season to get Stan the Man the nation’s highest civilian honor.

Also, two more Hall of Famers grace Studio 42 with Bob Costas tonight. Legendary hitters Tony Gwynn and Rod Carew will drop by to talk baseball and the art of hitting with the veteran broadcaster at 8 p.m. ET on MLB Network.

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

Future history

Francis_90.jpgBy Bill Francis

It has been a decade since Hank Conger visited the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. His bat is staying for good.

 Conger came away with Most Valuable Player honors for the 2010 Futures Game held at Angel Stadium on Sunday afternoon. He donated the bat he used to club a three-run home run with two out in the fifth inning off of Henderson Alvarez that gave his U.S. Team a 5-1 lead on the way to a 9-1 victory over the World Team.

Conger, a switch-hitting Angel farmhand playing catcher for the Triple-A Salt Lake City squad, finished the game batting 1-for-3. 

“It’s awesome,” said Conger in the winning team’s clubhouse after the game, referring to being asked to donate his bat. “It’s a great honor. I wasn’t really expecting it, to be honest.”

The Hall of Fame has made it a point over the years to ask for an artifact from the game’s MVP honoree.

“The Futures Game showcases the greatest minor leaguers,” said Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson, “and by being able to represent them and document them in Cooperstown before they make that final step in a lot of ways talks about the journey of all major league players.”

It was Idelson who first approached Conger, who grew up 15 miles from Angels Stadium in Huntington Beach, Calif.,about the possible donation.

“I was like, ‘Really, you want my bat?'” said Conger with a laugh. “This whole event has been great, so to have that be in the Hall of Fame is just unbelievable.”

Conger knows of the Hall of Fame firsthand, having visited back in the summer of 2000 as a 12-year-old when his travel baseball team from California played in one of the Cooperstown-area baseball camps.

“I loved Cooperstown,” Conger said. “I was really expecting something different. You think its going to be in a big city, but there was just so much green. Even for me as a little kid I thought it was an awesome view.

“The Hall of Fame, just looking at everything that was in there, the jerseys, the plaques, for any baseball fans it’s a must.”

Asked if had any more hits left in the bat, Conger smiled and said: “For the Hall of Fame, I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to give that one up.

“And I’ll get to tell everybody for the rest of my life that I have something in the Hall of Fame.”

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

All-Stars headed to Cooperstown

Francis_90.jpgBy Bill Francis

Prior to Sunday afternoon’s All-Star Futures Game of minor league talent, Hall of Fame second baseman Ryne Sandberg, a coach for the World Team, was looking forward to his trip to Central New York in two weeks to welcome an old teammate to the game’s most exclusive fraternity.

Currently the Triple-A manager of the Iowa Cubs, Sandberg talked in the visiting team clubhouse of Angel Stadium in Anaheim, Calif., prior to the U.S. Team’s 9-1 win over the World Team.

07-12-10-Francis_Sandberg.jpg“I’m looking forward to coming to Cooperstown. Andre Dawson’s election was well overdue,” said Sandberg of his Cubs teammate from 1987-92. “I’m looking forward to seeing him take his spot there.”

The last time Sandberg saw Dawson was during this past spring training.

“I was just touching base, seeing how busy he had been. He’d been very busy doing things,” Sandberg said. “That’s always part of that first year. But he’s loving every minute of it, so I think that’s the key thing.

“And he’s looking forward to that day. So I’ll be there pulling for him. And I’ll be right there sitting behind him.”

Sandberg used part of his induction speech in 2005 to plead Dawson’s case for enshrinement. 

“So that makes it somewhat gratifying to see a fellow teammate go in,” Sandberg said. “A guy that is very deserving, worked hard, maybe a little bit overshadowed through the steroid era, and now he’s right where he should be.”

Sandberg then talked about the kind of teammate that Dawson was. 

“Just his work ethic. He was team-first, he played the game hard all the time, gave it his best, and at times he really overdid what he had to do to be able to play,” he said. “He was the first one at the ballpark working on his body and working on his knees to be able to play a game. And he was the last one to leave.

07-12-10-Francis_Dawson.jpg“And with that being said, he was in the lineup every single day, never complained about anything, played hard, never took anything for granted, and really played the game the right way, even with two sore knees. I was very impressed with that and just the Hall of Fame quality of play that he’d bring year to year. Very impressive.”

Sandberg was also eyewitness to Dawson’s historic 1987 season with the Cubs, leading the National League with 49 home runs and 137 RBI en route to capturing the senior circuit’s MVP Award while playing outfield for a last-place team.

“That was one of the most impressive seasons I watched first-hand like that,” Sandberg said.

As for Sandberg, he has attended every Induction Ceremony since his induction and has no plans to end the streak any time soon.

“I haven’t missed one yet. I’ll try not to miss one as long as I can help it,” he said. “It’s a big thrill every time and it’s great to see the new guys go in and reflect back what that felt like. It was just like yesterday. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that feeling of the year going in 2005.”

And so far, the team’s he has been managing have been more than accommodating when the last Sunday of July rolls around.

“The organizations have been all for that. They’re very understanding about that. Not only that, they tell me to go. Sometimes it’s hard to leave the team, but it’s a good getaway and it’s for the right reasons and I’m looking forward to it once again this year.”

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

 

Strasburg at home in Central New York

Francis_90.jpgBy Bill Francis

SYRACUSE, N.Y. – A half hour before the 7:05 p.m. start of Friday night’s game, traffic was backed up a mile away from the ballpark. A broadcaster on a local radio station said the game might be pushed back some 10 minutes to allow more fans to get inside. All due to a record-setting crowd on hand in anticipation of baseball’s latest phenom.

05-11-10-Francis_Strasburg.jpgThe distance between the upstate New York outposts of Syracuse and Cooperstown is about 66 miles. If projections prove true, baseball’s latest pitching sensation, Stephen Strasburg, currently learning his craft in the Salt City, might one day find himself with a plaque that short distance down the New York State Thruway at the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

The 6-foot-5, 225 pound Strasburg, the first overall pick in the 2009 Major League Baseball Draft by the Washington Nationals, was making only his sixth professional start as well as his Triple-A debut for the Syracuse Chiefs against the visiting Gwinnett Braves on Friday night. The 21-year-old right-hander proved more than prepared, going six innings while allowing one hit and one walk in the 7-0 win. When it was all over, he had faced just 20 batters, striking out six, in his 65 pitches.

“It felt pretty good,” said Strasburg after the game to the 30-or-so assembled media that included reporters from USA Today, the Associated Press and The Washington Post. “I was just trying to keep doing what I’ve been doing, trying to build off of what I learned in Harrisburg and trying to do that up here, and I was able to do that tonight.”

Strasburg had made five starts for the Double-A Harrisburg Senators this season, in which he compiled a 3-1 record and 1.64 ERA in 22 innings.

An announced crowd of 13,766 was on hand at Alliance Bank Stadium that chilly night to see Strasburg, a record attendance for a professional baseball game in Syracuse dating back to 1876.

“It’s great to be pitching in front of a sellout crowd,” Strasburg said. “Everybody was really excited, and you can tell a lot of the players were ready to play today.”

Known for his combination of velocity and control, Strasburg was armed with a fastball that topped out at 99 miles per hour this night. Also in his arsenal are a knee-bending curve, sinker and changeup.

05-11-10-Francis_Gwynn.jpg“The bottom line is you can’t really worry about what caliber of hitter you’re facing,” Strasburg said. “You have to worry about what’s in your control and that’s executing the pitches to the best of your ability. Good pitches should get good hitters out, bottom line.

“I’ve got six starts under my belt, five in Double-A, and I’m starting to get comfortable.”

According to Strasburg’s catcher, Carlos Maldonado, he wasn’t shook off once by his new teammate.

“That’s what was fun about it. I just called the game. I put my fingers down and he executed every pitch,” Maldonado said. “He was like what I was expecting. It was fun to catch him in the bullpen; it was fun to catch him in the game. Every pitch was working for him today.”

Might Strasburg one day join his former coach at San Diego State, Tony Gwynn, as a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame? He joins a long line of young fireballers that have dotted the national pastime’s history. Some have ultimately succeeded like Bob Feller, Sandy Koufax and Nolan Ryan; others have flamed out for one reason or another such as Steve Dalkowski, David Clyde and Mark Prior. 

“This game is not easy,” Strasburg said. “I’m happy with where I’m at. I’ll let you guys place a timetable for that. Right now I’m happy to be in Syracuse and happy to be learning from these guys.

“Personally, I’m not going to make any expectations for myself. This is my first year. I’m just going out there to learn. A lot of these coaches and players have a lot more games under their belt than I do and I’m trying to soak it all in and just become a better player and help whatever team I’m on win some ballgames.”

Bill Francis is a library associate 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.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 61 other followers