This week marks the triumphant return of the Baseball Historian’s notes. Keep reading for some of the interesting tidbits from the history of the game that have surfaced recently.
-The completion of the Hot Spring Historic Baseball Trail will be attended by baseball royalty. The family of Babe Ruth will be on hand for the dedication that will occur this March. Hot Springs was a popular location for spring training long before teams made the annual journey exclusively to Florida and Arizona. Many famous players sweated off pounds from lethargic off-seasons by rambling through the woods. which will now be commemorated.
-The comeback efforts of 53-year-old Rafael Palmeiro are still alive and well. Although he last played in the majors in 2005, the left-handed slugger still believes he has what it takes to make a successful return to the diamond. His enthusiasm is impressive but the odds of him achieving this goal are long. Charley O’Leary is the oldest position player ever, as he singled and scored a run in a lone pinch-hitting appearance for the St. Louis Browns in 1934 just before his 59th birthday.
-Baseball’s popularity continues to slip, and it can no longer be accurately described as America’s pastime. A recent poll just found that the sport has slipped to third in popularity in the United States behind football and now basketball. Hopefully, the game will eventually regain its traction with sports enthusiasts, as it continues to produce a strong product.
-Former pitcher Rudy Arias passed away on January 12th at the age of 86. The Cuban southpaw won two games in 34 relief appearances for the 1959 Chicago “Go-Go” White Sox. It was his only major league experience in a professional career that stretched from 1953-1966. He threw a no-hitter in 1958 for the Havana Cubans, which helped propel him to the big leagues. He finished with a 4.09 ERA in his 44 innings with Chicago.
-Former New York Yankees slugger Hideki Matsui has been voted into the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame. Prior to an above average 10-year major league career, the left-handed outfielder had an outstanding decade-long run in the Japanese leagues, winning three MVP awards and three home run titles. Across both levels, he hit a combined .293 with 508 home runs and 1,654 RBIs. Congratulations to Godzilla!
-Hall of Fame umpire Doug Harvey has passed away at the age of 87. The ninth arbiter elected to the Hall, he worked 4,673 games during a 31-year career spent entirely in the National League. He was a crew chief for 18 years of his career and worked five World Series and six All Star games during his distinguished career. This was an especially impressive accomplishment given that he never attended umpiring school. Retired in 1992, he was elected to the Hall in 2010.
-It may be 2018 but legendary pitcher Satchel Paige, who died in 1982, is still in the public’s conscience. His name was invoked in a funny sketch that Saturday Night Live did regarding technology such as the Amazon Echo.
-January 11th marked the 45th anniversary of the American League adopting the designated hitter. The New York Yankees Ron Blomberg was the first player to bat in such a capacity when he drew a walk against Luis Tiant and the Boston Red Sox on Opening Day, April 6th of that year. A thorough breakdown of how the DH evolved is available on the SABR site.
-Although left-handed pitcher Jeff Ballard had a Hall-of-Fame career with the Stanford baseball team, his seven years in the majors (primarily with the Baltimore Orioles) were largely unremarkable. In a small sample size, he was an excellent hitter, collecting five hits in 13 at-bats. One of his most memorable knocks was a ground rule double he hit on September 16, 1993 against and David Weathers and the Florida Marlins. About a year ago collector Gary Stilinovich bought a collection of balls and was amazed to find one of them was the ball Ballard hit into the stands nearly 25 years ago. He went on a journey to reunite the treasured item with the long-retired southpaw, as documented in David Seideman’s excellent piece for Forbes.
-Kevin Youkilis had a strong 10-year career spent primarily with the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees; winning two World Series during that time. A career .281 hitter, he has proven just as successful off the field with his involvement in an award-winning Brewery that he runs with several business partners. Tom Brady’s brother-in-law is building himself quite a career in his post-baseball retirement. If you’re ever in the San Francisco area, check out his Loma Brewing Company for a nosh, and of course, some suds.
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