Results tagged ‘ Walter Johnson ’

Babe’s earliest Yanks jersey on display at Hall of Fame

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).

Bob Feller, American legend

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.

Why Joe D. had to wait

I need to take issue with a discussion on YES between Michael Kay and Ken Singleton on Sunday’s telecast of the Yankees-White Sox game. It is not a criticism but rather an explanation or, better put, an attempt at one.

Former White Sox first baseman Frank Thomas, a two-time American League Most Valuable Player, was honored Sunday at U.S. Cellular Field and had his uniform No. 35 retired. In reviewing Thomas’ career, Kay and Singleton fittingly talked about his credentials as a candidate for the National Baseball Hall of Fame. There was even a text-message question to viewers on the topic.

Thomas retired after the 2008 season and will be eligible for consideration by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America on the 2014 ballot. I have no dispute here about Thomas’ legitimacy as a candidate for first-ballot election. Interestingly, the result of the text poll was 71 percent yes and 29 percent no, which means that according to texters the “Big Hurt” is not first-ballot worthy, since 75 percent of ballots cast is required for election.

But in the discussion about the writers’ vote, Kay and Singleton save some examples of first-ballot electees and questioned why Joe DiMaggio isn’t among them. At one point, Singleton said, “What were the writers thinking?”

Well, here goes. First off, the rules were different when DiMaggio, an obvious choice for the Hall of Fame if there ever was one, first went on the ballot, which was 1953. He had retired after the 1951 season when he was only 37 years old (the 1952 ballot had already been formed by the time of the announcement, which is why he was not on it).

Unlike today, there was no five-year waiting period before a player become eligible for the ballot. DiMaggio went on the ballot one year after he retired. Remember, no one had been elected on the first ballot up to that time since the original class of 1936 (Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Babe Ruth, Christy Mathewson, Walter Johnson). Lou Gehrig was elected by acclamation by the BBWAA in 1939.

According to veteran writers I talked to over the years, it was not uncommon for voters at that time to dismiss first-year candidates out of the thinking that the player might un-retire. There was no five-percent rule at the time, either, which came about in the mid 1980s requiring candidates to get at least five percent of the vote to stay on the ballot.

There was apparently some feeling at the time that DiMaggio, still in his 30s, might get himself back in shape and return to the Yankees. This was a period not too far removed from World War II when former players, most notably Jimmie Foxx, did precisely that.

In fact, that is one of the reasons the five-year rule came into being in 1954, which was DiMaggio’s second year on the ballot. Joe D. was actually the first test case. The writers allowed anyone who had received more than 100 votes on a previous ballot to be grand-fathered onto the ballot without having to wait five years. The only player to which that applied was DiMaggio, who came close to being elected in 1954 (69.4 percent) before making it in 1955 (88.8).

Another rule of thought in voting in those years was that players had to “wait their turn.” One writer once told me that he could not vote for DiMaggio while Joe Cronin and Hank Greenberg, who preceded Joe D. to the majors by quite a few years (10 for Cronin, six for Greenberg) were not yet in. They were elected in 1956, the year after the “Yankee Clipper.”

I am by no means saying that I agree with the thinking of that time, only that it was different. I am fairly confident that if DiMaggio did not go on the ballot until 1957 in satisfying the five-year waiting period he would have been elected on the first ballot. As it was, he got into the Hall two years earlier than that.

Best of times, worst of times

A little more than 40 miles south of Baltimore, a sellout  crowd at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., watched the overly hyped debut of pitcher Stephen Strasburg, the No. 1 amateur draft choice of 2009 who was performing before a national cable-television audience that brought the MLB Network’s Bob Costas to the beltway.

Costas may have gotten a bit carried away by reading off some of Walter Johnson’s stats from his first game. Walter Johnson? Hey, can we put this in better perspective. Let’s take the world off this kid’s shoulders, shall we? Costas said he brought up the stuff about the “Big Train” because the audience might have been looking at the next great pitcher in the history of Washington baseball.

Well, Walter Johnson was more than that. He was probably the greatest pitcher in major league history. Can we let this young person get his career started before comparing him to the likes of Walter Johnson.

Meanwhile, Camden Yards was half empty with more fans cheering the Yankees than the Orioles. Phil Hughes, a former first-round draft pick by the Yankees, joked when he walked into the clubhouse and saw only a smattering of reporters, “Is everybody covering Strasburg?”

Not everybody, it just seemed that way. Beat writers at the time were on a telephone hookup with Cito Culver, the Rochester, N.Y., shortstop whom the Yankees chose first in Monday’s draft.

The atmosphere was an indication of how much things have changed for major league baseball in this market. What is coming up is not a second guess because I wrote this at the time. MLB should not have put a second team in the Baltimore-Washington area. The Nationals are the transplanted Montreal Expos, who had bottomed out in Quebec.

The Orioles have more problems that just their D.C. neighbors, but they could have done without the competition. All you heard in MLB circles at the time was that there was no place else to go. There had to be somewhere other than a market that was already in place with a franchise that had a pretty rich history, at least pre-Peter Angelos.

So while the Nationals show off one of their hood ornaments before a full house the day after drafting another one (Bryce Harper), the Orioles try not to get blown out of their own building by the Yankees and keep pace with the 1962 Mets for futility.

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