Results tagged ‘ Ty Cobb ’
It has been a bottoms-up situation for the Yankees’ batting order in recent games. Monday night, the six-through-nine hitters in the Yankees’ starting lineup were a combined 7-for-14 (.500) with four runs, one doubles, one triple, one home run, four RBI and two walks in the 6-2 victory over the Rangers at Arlington, Texas.
Sunday, the 6-9 hitters drove in all seven runs in the Yankees’ 7-2 victory over the Twins at Minneapolis. Over the past two games, 6-9 in the order are batting a combined .393 (11-for-28) with eight runs, one double, one triple, three homers, 11 RBI and two walks. For the season, the seven-through-nine hitters (not counting pitchers in inter-league competition) rank fifth in the American League with a .649 OPS (on-base plus slugging averages) and have the second most home runs (28).
Third baseman Chase Headley has been as hot as the weather this month. In 17 games in July, Headley is batting .369 (24-for-65) with 11 runs, six doubles, one home run, and 11 RBI in 65 at-bats. He has reached base safely in 15 of the 17 games, has a .400 on-base percentage and raised his batting average 22 points to .268. . . Shortstop Didi Gregorius has also been hot. Derek Jeter’s successor homered and drove in a career-high four runs Monday in his second three-hit game over the past five in which he is 8-for-15 (.533) with three runs, one homer and six RBI to raise his season batting average from .234 to .248. The home run ended a homer-less stretch of 103 at-bats.
Yankees closer Andrew Miller has converted all 23 of his save opportunities this year, which is the longest streak of consecutive saves to begin a stint with the Yankees since saves became an official statistic in 1969 and tied for third longest for any team, equaling those of Huston Street with the Padres in 2012 and LaTroy Hawkins with the Twins over the 2000 and ’01 seasons. The longest is 44 straight saves by Brad Lidge with the Phillies over the 2008 and ’09 seasons. Second is Guillermo “Willie” Hernandez with 32 for the Tigers in 1984, the year he won both the AL Most Valuable Player and Cy Young Awards.
Alex Rodriguez, who turned 40 Monday, hit his sixth career home run on his birthday to set a major league record. He had shared the previous mark of five with Todd Helton, Chipper Jones, Derrek Lee and Al Simmons. A-Rod also became only the fourth player to homer in his teens and his 40s. The others were Ty Cobb (who played from 1905-28) Rusty Staub (1963-85) and Gary Sheffield (1988-2009). Since 1914, Rodriguez is the ninth right-handed batter (10th occasion) to hit at least 24 home runs in his age-39 season or older, and the first since Frank Thomas in 2007 (26 at age 39). The only player to hit as many as 30 homers at 39 or older was Hank Aaron, who hit 40 in 1973 when he was 39. Nine of A-Rod’s past 14 hits have been home runs, including each of his past four hits.
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — One of the many distinctions Mickey Mantle had in his legendary career was that for 45 years he was the only player who wore No. 7 to have his number retired. That changed this year when the Astros retired No. 7 in honor of Craig Biggio, who will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame Sunday alongside Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz.
I chatted with Biggio, a native New Yorker from Smithtown, Long Island, who has made Houston his home, on the veranda of the Otesaga Hotel here about that situation. I asked him if he wore the number because of Mantle.
“No,” he said. “Actually, I sort of got the number by accident.”
Biggio recalled that in his second spring-training camp he asked for a number lower than the 67 he wore the previous year as a late-season callup.
“I had worn No. 44 when I played baseball and football in high school and hoped to get that number again,” Biggio said. “But the equipment manager said I was too thin to wear a double number. So I asked him if I could have ‘4.’ The problem was that another infielder had that number — Steve Lombardozzi, who was senior to me and had played on a World Series championship team [1987 Twins]. So they gave me No. 7, the only single digit that was available at the time.
“The irony is that Lombardozzi was cut just before we broke camp, and I made the team. I could have taken ‘4,’ but since I made the team wearing ‘7’ in camp, I figured I better keep it.”
Biggio would have made Mickey proud. He was an All-Star at three positions (catcher, second base, center field) and banged out 3,060 hits, of which 668 were doubles, the fifth highest total in history and the most by a right-handed batter. The only players in front of him are left-handed hitting Tris Speaker (792), Stan Musial (725) and Ty Cobb (724) and switch hitter Pete Rose (746). The active leader among right-handed batters is Angels first baseman Albert Pujols with 574. Yankees designated hitter Alex Rodriguez has 532.
That single moved Jeter into sixth place on the all-time hit parade ahead of the major leagues’ first great shortstop, Honus Wagner. This was a very big deal.
DJ has passed quite a few legends on the hit list this year, Hall of Famers such as Eddie Collins, Paul Molitor and Carl Yastrzemski. But Honus Wagner? Now you are talking actual royalty.
Wagner, who was known as “The Flying Dutchman,” goes back to the game’s early days. He broke into the National League in 1897 with the old Louisville Colonels, a club that was absorbed by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1900, and played in the very first World Series, in 1903. Wagner was a great star of the dead-ball era, an athletic master at shortstop and one of the game’s best hitters. He won eight batting titles and finished with a career .328 average.
Wagner was a charter member of the Hall of Fame. He was elected in the original class of 1936 with Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson. Wagner accepted his position as a role model to youth and famously demanded a trading card sponsored by a tobacco company be removed from circulation so adamantly opposed was he to tobacco usage. The few cards from that 1909 set remain the most precious pieces of memorabilia among collectors.
Years after his retirement as a player Wagner was a coach for the Pirates. Players did not wear numbers on their uniforms when he played but did by the time he coached. His No. 33 has long been retired by the Pirates.
By passing the old Dutchman, Jeter now has more hits than anyone who ever played shortstop. The only players ahead of him on the career hit list are mostly outfielders — Pete Rose (who also played first, second and third base but not shortstop), Cobb, Hank Aaron, Stan Musial (also a first baseman) and Tris Speaker.
This was not lost on the Captain, who knows his baseball history and did not have to be told who Wagner was anymore than any of the other greats he has passed.
“He’s the last one on the list that ever played shortstop, so this one really hit home,” Jeter said. “To have the most hits of any player at one position is pretty special.”
Jeter is 83 hits behind Speaker and probably does not have enough time left (46 games) to make a run for fifth place. But being No. 6 on this list is an enormous accomplishment, not to mention appropriate. After all, 6 is the official scorers’ designation for a shortstop.
With his sixth-inning single Thursday night at Cleveland, his second hit of the game, Derek Jeter achieved his 1,000th multi-hit game of his career. He became only the sixth player in history to accomplish the feat. The other five are among the greatest hitters of all time — Ty Cobb (1,293), Pete Rose (1,225), Stan Musial (1,059), Tris Speaker (1,059) and Henry Aaron (1,046).
Jeter’s first hit of the game was an infield single in the first inning only moments after former teammates Nick Swisher and Jason Giambi along with Indians manager Terry Francona took part in a pregame ceremony in which the shortstop was honored in his last trip to Cleveland.
The Captain received an artwork made up of Legos depicting his first career home run at Progressive Field, then known as Jacobs Field, and a pinstriped guitar with his No. 2 on the front. After all, Cleveland is the home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Just the night before, Jeet drew his 1,070th career base on balls in the 10th inning of the Yanks’ 5-4, 14-inning victory, which moved him past former teammate Bernie Williams for sole sole possession of fourth place on the Yankees’ all-time walks list. The week began for DJ Sunday at Minneapolis with his collecting his 3,400th career hit.
The Yankees keep coming off the mat. After a 4-6 trip that included two losses in three games to the last-place Blue Jays, the Yankees opened the final homestand of the season in a big way with a 5-1 victory over the Giants, who are trying to stay out of last place the year after winning the World Series.
The matchup of a pair of former Cy Young Award winners, CC Sabathia and Tim Lincecum, had the potential to be a riveting a game, which it was for six innings. The Yankees broke it open in the bottom of the seventh on a record-breaking grand slam by Alex Rodriguez. Lincecum was out of the game by then, but he had put the three runners A-Rod drove home on base. Hitting Brendan Ryan with a pitch was a huge blunder by Lincecum. Third baseman Pablo Sandoval’s failure to complete a double play on a grounder to third by J.R. Murphy kept the inning alive, and Lincecum dug himself in deeper by walking Ichiro Suzuki.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy replaced Lincecum at that point by George Kontos, who may be a familiar name to Yankees fans. The righthander was the Yankees’ fifth-round draft choice out of Northwestern University in 2006 and pitched in seven games for them in 2011. He went to the Giants in April 2012 in the trade for catcher Chris Stewart.
Rodriguez, who had one hit in his previous 25 at-bats, was certainly overdue. He batted. 182 on the trip but did have two home runs. A-Rod drove a 2-1 fastball to right field that made a 1-1 game 5-1 Yankees lead that held up in the steady hands of David Robertson in the eighth and Mariano Rivera in a non-save situation in the ninth.
The 654th career home run for Rodriguez was his 24th with the bases loaded. That broke the tie he had for most grand slams with Lou Gehrig. This was one of those records I thought when I was a kid would never be broken.
Of course, I thought the same thing about Gehrig’s streak of 2,130 games, Babe Ruth’s home run records for one season (60) and career (714), Ty Cobb’s stolen-base marks for one season (96) and career (897), Cobb’s career standard for hits (4,189) and George Sisler’s mark for hits in a season (257).
They are all gone.
This was a record set not in some obscure game in the middle of the season but during a game in the last week for a team that is trying to win a playoff spot under increasingly difficult odds.
Sabathia bounced back after two straight losses with one of his best games of the season. This was a tight game for nearly all the time he was in it. He gave up seven hits and three walks but was helped by a couple of double plays. The Yanks turned a third double play in the eighth behind Robertson after he entered the game following a leadoff single off Sabathia.
The Yankees still need some help from other teams to make their way through this wild-card maize, but for one night at least they helped themselves.
There is no question that what Ichiro Suzuki has done is an amazing accomplishment. Banging out 4,000 hits in a professional baseball career is nothing short of astounding. Yet in his case some perspective is in order. Those who are already comparing Ichiro to the major leagues’ only 4,000-hit batters, Pete Rose and Ty Cobb, are not entirely accurate.
Suzuki’s 4,000 hits are a combined total, that of 2,722 here in the major leagues and 1,278 in Japan’s Pacific League. That is why his achievement is more in line with Henry Aaron and Stan Musial than with Rose and Cobb, who surpassed 4,000 hits entirely in the majors, Rose with 4,256 and Cobb with 4,189.
Aaron and Musial also had more than 4,000 hits if you count what they did in the minor leagues. Aaron had 3,771 career hits. Add his 324 hits in the minors and you get 4,095 (and that’s not counting what he had in the Negro Leagues, a number no one is quite sure of). Musial had 3,630 career hits. Add his 371 hits in the minors and you get 4,001.
Like it or not, Ichiro falls into their category.
Why? All he has to do is look at his American League Rookie of the Year trophy for the answer. If he was considered a rookie when he broke into the majors with the Mariners in 2001, then the statistics Suzuki piled up in Japan were not considered equal to the major-league standard. That is the opinion of Major League Baseball.
You can argue left and right about whether that is fair or not, but the fact is that if Ichiro was considered a rookie in 2001 then the hits he had in Japan are akin to what minor league records are in North America.
This issue was first broached in 1995 when Dodgers pitcher Hideo Nomo began the migration of Asian players to the majors. As the secretary-treasurer of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America and responsible for conducting the annual awards voting, I contacted the commissioner’s office for a clarification of Nomo’s status. Did he or did he not qualify for the Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year Award?
Yes, I was told, which was not good news for Chipper Jones that year. He finished second to Nomo in the voting. The reasoning used was that players who entered the majors from the Negro Leagues in the late 1940s and early 1950s were considered rookies in the majors even though they had been professionals playing in organized leagues, and that Asian players entering the majors fit the same profile. That opened the door for Kazuhiro Sasaki and Ichiro to also win Rookie of the Year honors in 2000 and 2001, respectively, the same way that Jackie Robinson, Don Newcombe, Sam Jethroe, Willie Mays, Joe Black and Junior Gilliam won the award five decades earlier.
Not all the writers agreed with this viewpoint. Some still don’t. I remember how upset Yankees principal owner George Steinbrenner was in 2003 when Hideki Matsui finished second to Royals shortstop Angel Berroa for AL Rookie of the Year. Two writers on that committee later admitted that they did not believe Matsui should have been considered a rookie and left him off their ballots.
Steinbrenner called me personally to complain about the balloting. I told him the two writers’ prejudice was expressed after the fact. How could I know when counting the ballots what was on the minds of every voter? I told him that if those writers had told me of their opinions beforehand I would have excused them from voting and replaced them. On Rookie of the Year ballots, it clearly states that players from foreign leagues who are in their first year of play in the American or National League are considered rookies.
What I am getting at is that it is a bit murky about how we should treat the statistics that Nomo, Ichiro and Matsui put up in Japan in comparison to their major-league achievements. In no way am I undermining what Ichiro has done. I have already written stories in two prominent Japanese publications that Ichiro is on a fast track to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
What Suzuki has done in the States is phenomenal — 10 straight seasons of 200 or more hits and the all-time record for hits in a single season (262 in 2004), breaking the previous mark of Hall of Fame first baseman George Sisler of the old St. Louis Browns that stood for 83 years. Despite that, Ichiro cannot fairly be placed in the same category with Rose and Cobb, but I would take being compared with the Hammer and the Man any day of the week.
Sheesh! I cannot leave this team for a minute. I was in Cooperstown, N.Y., the past four days for the National Baseball Hall of Fame Induction Weekend, and the Yankees end up losing each day to the Athletics by one run. What a stunner.
Okay, let’s settle down. Not even the Yankees could have stayed as sizzling as they have been in recent weeks. Credit Oakland with some first-rate pitching and defense against the Yankees, who continue to have trouble hitting with runners in scoring position that caught up with them against the A’s.
Now it is off to Seattle where they will welcome a new teammate. Ichiro Suzuki will walk from the home clubhouse to the visitors’ quarters at Safeco Field. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman pulled off the deal for one of the game’s hitting machines at the cost of only two 25-year-old pitchers, D. J. Mitchell and Danny Farquar.
With Brett Gardner out for the remainder of the season and Nick Swisher out of the lineup in recent days with a strained left hip flexor, the Yankees were in need of outfield help. They have designated DeWayne Wise for assignment to make room for Ichiro, who burst on the American scene in 2001 by winning both the American League Most Valuable Player and Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year Awards, a feat accomplished by only one other player, Red Sox center fielder Fred Lynn in 1975.
The question of the day, naturally, is how much does Ichiro have left at the age of 38? He was a magnificent player in his first 10 seasons in the majors as the first Japanese-born position player. He piled up one 200-plus hit season after another. That streak ended last year when he fell under .300 (.272) and 200 hits (184) for the first time. In 95 games and 402 at-bats this year, Ichiro has 105 hits and is batting .261.
The hope, of course, is that Suzuki will be rejuvenated by getting onto to a contender and that he will be helped by making hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium his home over pitcher-friendly Safeco.
Howard Lincoln, the Mariners’ chief executive officer, said late Monday afternoon that Suzuki had recently requested a trade.
“On behalf of our ownership group and everyone in the Seattle Mariners organization, I thank Ichiro for the great career he has had here in Seattle,” Armstrong said in a statement. “Several weeks ago, Ichiro Suzuki, through his long time agent, Tony Attanasio, approached [team president] Chuck Armstrong and me to ask that the Mariners consider trading him. Ichiro knows that the club is building for the future. He felt that what was best for the team was to be traded to another club and give our younger players an opportunity to develop.
“Ichiro will be missed. He owns a long list of Major League Baseball and Mariners club records, has earned many prestigious awards, and in my opinion, he will someday be a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. I know that I speak for all of Ichiro’s fans, here in the Pacific Northwest, around this country and also throughout Japan, in wishing him and his wife Yumiko the very best as he continues his baseball career with the Yankees.”
Suzuki is a .322 career hitter in the U.S. with 2,533 hits, including 295 doubles, 79 triples and 99 home runs. He has scored 1,176 runs and driven in 633. Ichiro has a .366 career on-base average with 513 walks, plus 438 stolen bases. Since his American debut 11 years ago, he has 330 more hits than any player.
Ichiro will become the sixth Japan-born player in Yankees franchise history, joining Hideki Irabu (1997-99), Hideki Matsui (2003-09), Kei Igawa (2007-08), Hiroki Kuroda (2012) and Ryota Igarashi (2012).
Suzuki has won two AL batting titles (.350 in 2001, .372 in 2004) and has led or tied for the major-league lead in hits seven times (2001, ’04, ‘06-10), which is tied with Ty Cobb and Pete Rose for the most such seasons. Ichiro is the only player to do it in five consecutive years. He finished first or second in his every season from 2001 to 2010 and placed ninth in 2011.
In 2004, Suzuki totaled 262 hits to set the all-time modern era (since 1900) single-season hits record. Along with his 242 hits in 2001 and 238 hits in 2007, Ichiro owns three of the top 20 single-season hits totals in major-league history. He had at least 200 hits in 10 straight seasons from 2001 through 2010, tying Rose for the most 200-hit seasons in a major-league career.
Suzuki’s 2,533 career hits in the States are the most by any player through his first 12 seasons. At the conclusion of all but one of his 12 seasons, Ichiro has held the distinction of having more hits to start a career than any other major leaguer. The lone exception occurred after his third season, when only Lloyd Waner (678) had more hits than Suzuki’s 662 (according to data at http://www.baseball-reference.com).
Ichiro has made 1,790 starts as an outfielder (1,525 in right field and 265 in center field) and has a career fielding percentage of .992 with just 33 errors in 4,181 total chances. He has won 10 Gold Gloves for fielding. The Yankees now have two of the six outfielders to have won 10 or more Gold Gloves. The other is 10-time Gold Glove winner Andruw Jones. Willie Mays and Robertp Clemente won 12 each, and Al Kaline and Junior Griffey 10 apiece.
Prior to playing in the majors, Suzuki spent nine seasons (1992-2000) with the Orix Blue Wave in Japan’s Pacific League was named the league’s MVP three times (1994-96). He hit .353 and led the Pacific League in batting average for seven straight years (1994-2000).
It is as impressive a resume as a player can have. The question remains, how much is left in that tank? We shall find out.
The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum placed on display Friday the earliest-known uniform top worn by Babe Ruth, a circa-1920 Yankees road jersey that was recently purchased via auction this past May. The Hall received the shirt on loan from its purchaser, a passionate baseball fan whose wished to remain anonymous.
The road gray jersey features “NEW YORK” across the chest in blue lettering, with Ruth’s name and initials written inside the collar in faded pink script – Ruth, G.H. – for George Herman Ruth. Though Ruth last played in the major leagues in 1935, interest in his career remains larger than life, and this loan provides yet another reason for fans to visit Cooperstown.
“We are thrilled to have this valuable piece of baseball history on display in Cooperstown, so fans everywhere can enjoy another relic from The Bambino’s career,” Hall president Jeff Idelson said. “The jersey’s new owner wants to share this piece of history with fans and historians alike. We’re equally excited to provide a home to display this vintage item for fans around the globe.”
The Ruth jersey went on display Friday in Ruth’s locker in the BabeRuthGallery. The jersey is expected to remain on display through Hall of Fame Weekend 2013 but will be off display from July 24 through Aug. 9 this year.
Ruth was sold by the Red Sox to the Yankees during the winter before the 1920 season. In his first year with the Yankees, Ruth hit 54 home runs, more than every team in the major leagues except the Phillies. Ruth was elected to the Hall of Fame as part of its inaugural class in 1936 with Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson.
A “Bustin’ Babes” jersey that Ruth wore in 1927 and ‘28 when barnstorming against teammate Lou Gehrig’s “Larrupin’ Lous” is the earliest Ruth jersey in the Hall’s collection. There are numerous artifacts on exhibit in Cooperstown related to Ruth’s storied career, including a silver crown presented to him after his 59-home run season of 1921, the bat from his record-setting 60th home run in 1927 and the ball from his final career home run (May 25, 1935).
The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is open seven days a week year round, with the exception of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Days. The Museum observes summer hours of 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. from Memorial Day Weekend until the day before Labor Day. From Labor Day until Memorial Day Weekend, the Museum observes daily regular hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Ticket prices are $19.50 for adults (13 and older), $12 for seniors (65 and older) and for those holding current memberships in the VFW, Disabled American Veterans, American Legion and AMVets organizations, and $7 for juniors (ages 7-12).
If the Yankees start hitting with runners in scoring position and with the bases loaded more regularly, they might just run away and hide in the American League East. The Yanks entered play Tuesday night against the Indians with a three-game lead in the division despite hitting a combined .220 in 592 at-bats with runners in scoring position and .176 in 74 at-bats with the bags full.
Despite those horrendous figures, the Yankees rank fifth in the league in runs. They lead the majors in home runs, which is a chief factor in their winning ways, along with a pitching staff that ranks fifth in the AL with a 3.65 ERA and a bullpen that is second in the majors with a 2.63 ERA.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi is tired of talking about the team’s problems in the clutch and is confident that the numbers will even out. If that ever happens, watch out!
All that came to mind in the second inning when the Yankees got three consecutive hits with runners in scoring position, including one with the bases loaded. That is not a typographical error.
And on top of that, all the hits came after two were out. DeWayne Wise, who earned another start in left field after his fine game Monday night (triple, home run, three RBI), set up the situation with a single to right that moved Nick Swisher, who had reached base on a fielder’s choice, to third base.
Instead of getting stuck there as has often been the case in such situations for the Yankee this year, Swish came trotting home on a single to center by Chris Stewart. Birthday boy Derek Jeter, who turned 38, singled off the leg of Tribe pitcher Justin Masterson, which loaded the bases. No ducks left on the pond this time as Curtis Granderson singled home Wise and Stewart.
It was the sort of rally the Yankees could use on a more consistent basis instead of relying so often on the long ball. That was one reason Girardi put Wise in the lineup again, to make use of his speed, a facet in short supply with regular left fielder Brett Gardner on the disabled list the past two months.
Wise became the center of attention in the game with a tumbling catch or non-catch as it turned out into the left field stands in the seventh inning for the final out with a runner at third base. Wise disappeared into the seats as he reached for the ball. Third base umpire Mike DiMuro made the out call, even though it was unclear whether Wise ever had control of the ball. It appeared to have hit off the heel of his glove, but he and the ball were soon out of sight.
“Truthfully, the ball popped out,” Wise said afterward. “He never asked to see the ball. It was a tough angle for the umpire. I wasn’t going to argue with him. That’s why I got back up and ran on to the field and headed for the dugout.”
Fans in the area apparently tried to put the ball in Wise’s glove as he lay prone but failed to do so. Wise returned to the dugout with an empty glove.
“He disappeared into the stands, and I believed that the ball was in his glove when he came out of the stands,” DiMuro said. “In hindsight, I should have asked him to show me the ball since he fell into the stands and out of my line of vision.”
DiMuro added after the game that he had seen the replay and “It’s obvious that the ball fell out of his glove.”
Wise is having a good series with the umpires. On his triple Monday night, video replays showed that he was actually out at third base. The catch loomed large when the Indians, held scoreless for eight innings by a very strong Phil Hughes, scored four runs in the ninth off Cory Wade and needed Rafael Soriano to save the 6-4 victory.
How fitting such a play as the best catch Wise never made should come on Jeter’s birthday. Diving into the left field stands is one of the captain’s specialties. Jeter had 2-for-5 to improve his birthday batting average to .327 with two doubles and three RBI in 11 games and 49 at-bats. The only players to accumulate more hits prior to turning 38 were Ty Cobb (3,666) and Hank Aaron (3,272). He has 13 more hits than all-time leader Pete Rose (3,170) at the time of his 38th birthday.
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.