Results tagged ‘ New York Baseball Writers Dinner ’
Regular readers will be familiar with my fondness for Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, although the welcome mat I place for him at Yankee Stadium over the years hasn’t been matched by the Yankees. The Stadiums old and new have been horror houses to the affable skipper whom I have known since I covered him on the Mets in the early 1980s.
One of my responsibilities as secretary-treasurer of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America is to contact the winners of the annual awards as well as those elected to the Hall of Fame, and it was an absolute pleasure to break the news to Gardy last November that he had finally won the American League Manager of the Year Award after having finished second five times. I asked him where he had put the trophy.
“I haven’t seen it yet,” Gardenhire said. “I’ll get my first look when we go back home after this series.”
Truth be told, the Manager of the Year trophies are not given out at the New York Baseball Writers Dinner with the other awards, Most Valuable Player, Cy Young and Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year. Yes, the official presentations are made there, and the managers speak from the dais, but a token gift is handed to them. The shape of the trophy, which is impressive, is such that for some reason it does not travel well, so the BBWAA likes to send the trophy to what will be its final destination. In Gardenhire’s case, it was sent to Target Field in Minneapolis.
Trophies shipped to both Joe Torre when he won for the first time with the Yankees in 1996 and Joe Girardi when he won the National League award with the Marlins in 2006 cracked during transport, and each had to be replaced. Gardenire might have expected a damaged trophy if the writers have given it to him at Yankee Stadium.
Gardy’s record here is nothing short of horrible – 4-25 during the regular season and 2-5 in the AL Division Series. Awards voting is done prior to the start of post-season play, so the Yanks’ sweep of the Twins was not a road block for Gardenhire.
Writers took into account that Gardenhire did not have one of his former MVP players, first baseman Justin Morneau, for the second half of the season. Morneau suffered a concussion July 7 at Toronto and was sidelined for the remainder of the season. Morneau’s situation still bears monitoring, and Gardenhire applauds Major League Baseball for establishing a new disabled list rule regarding players with concussions.
A player sustaining a concussion may not be placed on a seven-day DL, which would allow a team to replace him without putting the onus for the injured play to suck up what has proved a serious condition so as not to let down his teammates. If the player needs to remain on the DL for the full 15 days, the period can begin retroactively.
“It’s an important step for baseball,” Gardy said. “We didn’t know much about concussions in the old days. I was knocked out twice in my career and played the next day. In one case, I kept on playing in the game that I was knocked out.”
Gardenhire recalled that while playing shortstop for the Tidewater Tides, then the Mets’ Triple A affiliate, against the Columbus Clippers, then the Yankees’ top farm, he was struck in the head with a pitch and lost consciousness.
“When I came to,” he said, “they asked me if I wanted to keep playing. ‘Sure,’ I said. No one wants to come out of the lineup. So I kept on playing. Of course, I don’t remember anything about the rest of the game. A rule like this goes a long way to understanding this condition.”
Also in Minnesota’s traveling party is the newest Hall of Famer, Bert Blyleven, the 287-game winner as a pitcher and the long-time television analyst for the Twins. Bert told me he is enjoying his “Blyleven in ‘11” year and brings good news about another Twins Hall of Famer.
Harmon Killebrew, the former slugger who is undergoing treatment for esophageal cancer, will throw out the ceremonial first pitch at Target Field Friday for the Twins’ home opener against Oakland.
The New York Chapter of the BBWAA honored Killebrew with its Casey Stengel “You Can Look It Up” Award in recognition of his outstanding 1961 season that was overshadowed by the Roger Maris-Mickey Mantle chase of Babe Ruth’s home run record. He was unable to attend the dinner, and Gardenhire accepted in his place. The writers have an open invitation for Killebrew to attend the dinner next January, and we’re rooting for him to be able to make it.
There is a great void in baseball now that Bob Feller has left us. He was a Hall of Famer more than half of his life, a distinction for which he took great pride. Somehow, Induction Weekend in Cooperstown will never be the same.
Feller, fallen by leukemia at the age of 92, represented the epitome of the American Dream, the Iowa farm boy who made it to the big leagues before he graduated from high school and became one of the icons of an era depicted so memorably in Tom Brokaw’s book, “The Greatest Generation.”
Of all his accomplishments – and there were many – Feller was most proud of the four years he served in the United States Navy as a gunner on the U.S. Alabama during World War II. It cost him four precious seasons at the height of his pitching career, but he never regretted a single day he devoted to his country.
I remember his appearance at the 1986 New York Baseball Writers Dinner when he did me a huge favor. That year, Yankees first baseman Don Mattingly and Mets pitcher Dwight Gooden were co-winners of our Sid Mercer Award for the player of the year. The original plan was to have Stan Musial present the award to Mattingly and Feller to Gooden.
The day of the dinner, Musial’s plane was re-routed to Albany due to fog in New York that forced the three metro airports to close for several hours. I offered Stan a private car to come down to Manhattan, but he declined. “I don’t know how old you are, Jack, but I’m 65, and three hours in a car is not something I’m comfortable with anymore,” The Man said.
I thanked him and told him he should just go back home. Less than an hour later, I found out that Gooden couldn’t come, either. Just a couple of hours before the dinner, I had lost two marquee attractions. Mattingly and Feller had come to New York the night before, so I knew we still had them. The idea now was to ask “Rapid Robert” to present the award to “Donnie Baseball.”
Prompt as usual, Feller was the first to arrive in the dais room an hour before the dinner. I explained my dilemma and asked him if he would give the award to Mattingly.
“I’d be honored to,” he said. “Just do me two favors. One, write down some of Donnie’s statistics; I know he had a helluva year, but I don’t know the exact numbers. Two, make sure in your introduction of me that you mention my four years’ service in the Navy in World War II. Nothing I have done in my life is more important than that.”
My father and uncle were at a table up front with Anne, Feller’s wife, and got pretty friendly during the dinner. The last award presentation was Mattingly’s, and I introduced Bob with emphasis on his war record. At that point, Anne leaned over to my father and uncle and said, “He made that poor boy say that.”
Several years later, I did a piece in the Hartford Courant on Feller in connection with the Hall of Fame honoring World War II veterans. He had just come home from a tour of Okinawa where he had served in the war. I figured he was suffering from jet lag and suggested we do the interview when he was more rested.
“Come on, O’Connell, let’s do it now; I’ll have plenty of time to rest when my eyes close for good,” he said and spent the next 90 minutes detailing every step of his tour of duty in the Pacific.
Feller was proudest of the fact that he was the first major league player to enter the armed services after Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese fleet. Another Hall of Famer, Hank Greenberg, also lay claim to being the first, but Feller said, “I checked it out; I beat Hank by about half an hour.”
Here’s the rub. At the time of Bob’s enlistment, his father had terminal cancer. As the sole support of his family, Bob Feller could have been excused from serving in the war, but he felt it was his duty. Think for a minute what his career statistics would have looked like had Feller not joined the Navy and played in those four seasons from 1942 through ’45.
Considering the shape of many of the war-depleted lineups in the early 1940s, Feller might have had seasons of 30-plus victories. Heck, he might have even challenged Jack Chesbro’s 1904 record of 41 victories. Since Feller had pitched in 44 games in 1941, it is conceivable that a 41-win season might not be out of the question. I have a feeling, however, that Feller would have never been able to live with the asterisk that might have been attached to all those victories against hollow lineups.
He had a tremendous career anyway with three no-hitters, including the only Opening Day no-no in 1940, and 12 one-hitters and a ring from the 1948 World Series, still the most recent championship by the Indians. He remains the greatest player in the history of that franchise, which was a charter member of the American League in 1901.
When he and Jackie Robinson were elected to the Hall of Fame in 1962, they were the first to do so in their first year on the ballot since the original class of 1936: Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Babe Ruth, Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson.
No one wore his Hall of Fame stature more gallantly. Here are some thoughts on Feller from his Hall teammates:
Bobby Doerr: “Bob was just a regular, solid person. He was the same guy, all the time. He gave his opinions and he said what he thought. He didn’t hedge around anything. He was one of the top pitchers I saw in my time. He was timed at 100 miles per hour, and he had a real good curve ball. You had to always be alert with him. He was a real competitor.”
Gaylord Perry: “I really enjoyed Bob’s company, and hearing his stories about history – from baseball to war and everything else, from out of the cornfields to the major leagues. He did so much for baseball and had so many great stories, particularly about barnstorming and his memories of players like Cool Papa Bell and Satchel Paige. I was very fond of Bob. I traveled to his Museum in Van Meter to support his Museum. I consider Bob a great American.”
Cal Ripken Jr.: “The passing of Bob Feller is a great loss for the game of baseball. Clearly Bob was one of the greatest pitchers in history, and anyone who knew him understood that he was one of the game’s great personalities as well. That said, baseball didn’t define Bob. His service to our country is something that he was very proud of and something we are all grateful for. Bob lived an incredible life, and he will be missed.”
Nolan Ryan: “I am deeply sorry to hear of the passing of Bob Feller. He was baseball’s top power pitcher of the 1940s and 1950s and was a source of inspiration for all Americans for his service during World War II. He was a true Hall of Famer.”
Dennis Eckersley: “Bob was truly a great American and a great ambassador for the game of baseball.”
Hall of Fame board chairman Jane Forbes Clark: “We are all saddened to hear of the passing of Bob Feller. He represented the National Baseball Hall of Fame longer than any individual in history, as 2011 would have been his 50th year as a Hall of Fame member. No one loved coming back to Cooperstown more than Bob, which he and Anne did often. Bob was a wonderful ambassador for the Hall of Fame, always willing to help the Museum. Watching him pitch just shy of his 91st birthday at the Hall of Fame Classic in Cooperstown will be a memory that we will always treasure. He will always be missed.”
Hall president Jeff Idelson: “The Baseball Hall of Fame has lost an American original – there will never be anyone quite like Bob Feller ever again. He was truly larger than life – baseball’s John Wayne – coming out of the Iowa cornfields to the major leagues at age 17 and then dominating for two decades. Bob loved being a member of Baseball’s Hall of Fame, but he was most proud of his service as a highly decorated soldier in the Navy in the Pacific during World War II. He reached the pinnacle of individual achievement in 1962, earning enshrinement in Cooperstown, spending more than half his life as a Hall of Fame member.&nbs
p; He probably flew more miles, signed more autographs, met more people and visited more places than anyone, a testament to his ceaseless zest for life, baseball and country. Cooperstown will never be the same without Rapid Robert.”
That’s for sure.