Results tagged ‘ USA Today ’

The Kid in the Hall

By Jeff Idelson

I’ll never forget May 20th and 21st of 2011. 

I embarked on a 24-hour journey for an aspect of my job that is never comfortable and always sad: Attending a funeral.   

Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew had passed away in Arizona. After lunch with Robin Yount, Paul Molitor and their wives, as well as Bob Nightengale, my friend with USA Today, I headed back to the airport to take a redeye flight home.

As I sat on the flight and drifted off, I wondered what else could happen. Harmon’s passing was the last of six Hall of Famers who had passed away in the last year: Robin Roberts, Sparky Anderson, Bob Feller, Duke Snider and Dick Williams.

As I de-boarded my flight in Newark to change planes that next morning, May 21st, my phone began to ring. It was The Kid, and I smiled. I always looked forward to conversations with Gary Carter because he was so positive, so uplifting and had a zest for life.

This time, the call was different. 

Gary explained that he had been inventorying equipment with his coaches for Palm Beach Community College, where he was the head baseball coach. He told me he had lost count a few times and even snapped at some of his colleagues, and he did not know why. Very uncharacteristic of the most positive person I had come to know in Baseball.

I immediately thought about what I had been reading, about the recent rash of concussions in football. “I bet you have a concussion from all of those collisions you took,” I quickly blurted out, as if I could solve the problem. Gary waited patiently for me to finish and said, “No, it’s actually four tumors wrapped around my brain.” And then he quickly added, “But I am not scared, because I have my family around me and I am going to beat this.” 

And that was the essence of Gary Carter.

He fought gallantly with his family by his side, at every step. He went to Duke Medical Center to learn more. It was actually one tumor with four tentacles. And he could not have surgery: His cancer was inoperable. 

Gary called the next day.

“It’s inoperable, which is going to make this a little bit tougher, but I’ll beat this,” he told me confidently. “I have my family and my faith and with that, we’ll get through this, Jeffrey,” he said. “I plan to be at Hall of Fame Weekend to see everyone.”

It never happened.

Gary was so generous of time and spirit. He traveled to Cooperstown for the 2010 Hall of Fame Classic over Father’s Day Weekend and then to Cooperstown a month later for the induction of Andre Dawson, Doug Harvey and Whitey Herzog.  That would be his last visit to the place he adored so much and the Classic was the final time he participated in a baseball game. The fans adored him.

“Gary was so proud to be a Hall of Famer,” his widow Sandy told me on the phone yesterday afternoon after letting me know of Gary’s peaceful passing. 

And “proud” sums up the Kid so well. He was proud of wearing a major league uniform for 19 seasons, of being a Hall of Famer, of his family and his friends. 

We lost a good one yesterday. Rest in Peace #8. We miss you.

Jeff Idelson is the president of 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.

Tales from the Cactus League

Idelson_90.jpgBy Jeff Idelson

I am so glad Spring Training is here, even if it was warmer in Cooperstown than in the desert for a few of the days I visited Arizona last week. Boy did I miss baseball. And in my job, I am so fortunate to have the opportunity to rub elbows with so many of the game’s greats, bringing them closer to the Hall of Fame.

 
03-12-10-Idelson_KoufaxPalmer.jpgI got to see the Giants, Brewers, White Sox, Mariners, Indians, Reds, Royals and Rangers all play.

It was great to see the two reigning Cy Young award winners – Tim Lincecum and Zack Greinke – pitch. I brought Tim plaque postcards of Sandy Koufax and Jim Palmer. Why? They are the only Hall of Famers to win back-to-back Cy Young Awards. Perhaps they will help inspire Tim, not that he needs inspiration.

Before the Cactus League opener in Peoria, I visited my friends in the Mariners clubhouse: Head athletic trainer Rick Griffin and I talked about the health of his players; Ken Griffey Jr. told me he expected Ichiro to get twice as many regular season hits as he would – including spring training.  “I’m aiming for 150 hits,” said Junior.  “Have you seen Ichiro get hot?  You turn around, and he’s gone 15-for-25. If anyone can get 300 hits, it’s him.” I don’t doubt Griffey’s sense of logic, having seen Ichiro play so many times.

 Did you ever take an advanced or AP class in high school? I took AP Baseball last week with Professor Ryan. Nolan and I sat together for the Rangers-Royals game, where he gave me a breakdown of every player on the field. I had a similar experience a few days later with White Sox owner and Hall of Fame Board member Jerry Reinsdorf, who invited me to sit with him, his vice chairman, Eddie Einhorn, and his special assistant, Dennis Gilbert, the former agent for George Brett. I now know where the White Sox’s strengths and weaknesses lie. Bobby Brett, George’s brother, joined us.

03-12-10-Idelson_Ryan.jpgWe held our annual Cactus League Champions event in Goodyear, where the Indians and Reds train. It’s a great complex. The Indians were very generous in hosting our Champions, those who support us with an annual donation of $5,000 or more.

Team President Paul Dolan and assistant GM Chris Antonetti addressed our group and let them know what to expect from the Indians this year. After the game, we all had dinner with Bob Feller and Fergie Jenkins, where they regaled the group with stories, photos and autographs.

Speaking of dinners, Billy Williams, Ryne Sandberg, Fergie and their wives joined me for dinner the night before. We toasted to a good 2010 Cubs team and the Williams’ 50th wedding anniversary. Quite a feat for the Williamses, a lovely couple.

On my first night in Arizona, I was joined by Mickey Morabito and Steve Vucinich from the A’s, Gary Hughes, the Cubs scout, Roland Hemond, the long-time Bill Veeck disciple who works for the Diamondbacks, and veteran writers Bob Nightengale, of USA Today, and Spink Award winner Tracy Ringolsby. We get together each spring to talk about scouting and the game today. We used to dine each year at the Pink Pony, a popular old-school steakhouse on North Scottsdale Road that finally closed its doors. We miss the Pony.

03-12-10-Idelson_CactusLeague.jpgOn my final evening, I hosted the dinner to end all dinners, at Don & Charlie’s, a popular Scottsdale hangout with great steaks and ribs. We had a large group that included Bob Uecker, Rollie Fingers, Robin Yount and his brother Larry, George Brett and his guest Joe Randa, Mike Murphy, the Giants’ clubhouse man since Day One in San Francisco, Brad Ziegler, my friend who pitches in the A’s bullpen, Jerry, Eddie and Dennis from the White Sox, and Bob Crotty, who is a generous Hall of Fame supporter and owner of Green Diamonds Gallery in Cincinnati, an exquisite baseball gallery of artifacts and art.

Just before we were getting ready to sit down to dinner, Uecker calls me from his cell phone to let me know he invited two other mutual friends – Bob Costas and Joe Torre.

We had a great dinner and talked about the Dodgers impending trip to Taiwan, told Yogi stories, heard all about the Olympics, and tried to recollect if Torre and Fingers ever faced each other. “Did I ever face you?” Joe asked? “I can’t recall,” was Rollie’s response.

So, I emailed Freddy Berowski in the Hall of Fame Library. Sorry Joe: You faced Rollie one time in the regular season, on May 1, 1977, and struck out. You also faced him in the 1973 All-Star Game and popped out in the 9th. None-the-less, you remain one the game’s greatest players, managers and ambassadors and it’s hard to imagine you won’t be in Cooperstown one day.

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

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