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Monday, June 24, 2013

The Baseball Historian's Notes for June 24, 2013: Take the Time to Appreciate Baseball History

Even though no players were elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame this year, the official start of summer is a good reminder that this jewel of a museum is a great place to visit. Whether it is taking the family on vacation or learning more about the National Pastime, Cooperstown, New York houses the definitive treasure trove when it comes to baseball history.

Leading the Hall of Fame in their pursuit to honor and preserve baseball is their president, Jeff Idelson. You won’t find a more well-versed or passionate ambassador to the game anywhere. Listen to his chat with the Podcast to be Named Later to get a sense of who he is and some of the baseball wonders he has to offer to fans from around the world.

On to the Baseball Historian notes for the week…

***The Dunn County News’ John Russell recently wrote an outstanding piece describing his induction into the armed services as a young man in 1943. On a bus trip to Milwaukee to take his official physical, he happened to sit next to Andy Pafko, another potential inductee, who had just completed his first major league season with 13 games as an outfielder for the Chicago Cubs.

Russell tells how he got to know Pafko better on their journey, as the two munched donuts given to the prospective soldiers. While Russell wound up in the Navy, Pafko was spared from service because of a childhood injury. He went on to have a 17-year major league career, which included a .285 batting average, 213 home runs and playing in four World Series.

***Here is a simple yet candid photo of Walter “Big Train” Johnson, one of the best pitchers in the history of the game. The picture was taken in 1928 when he was the manager for the Newark Bears of the International League, the year after retiring from a 21-year major league career.

Despite spending his entire playing career with the Washington Senators, who were frequently a second-division team, Johnson was an astounding 417-279 with a 2.17 ERA and a record 110 shutouts. The right-hander is still remembered as one of the most dominant pitchers of all time, even though he threw his last major league pitch nearly a century ago.

***Left-hander Rick Ankiel was one of the most ballyhooed pitching prospects in recent memory when he was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1997. He was in the majors two years later at the age of 20, and won 11 games while striking out 194 batters the following year. Unfortunately, he suffered a serious loss of control, was sent to the minors and last threw an official pitch in 2004.

Instead of giving up on his career, Ankiel transformed himself into an outfielder and returned to the major leagues in 2007. In addition to some power, he has been known for an excellent glove and throwing arm. In particular, these two amazing catches in the same game against the Colorado Rockies in 2008 show that while his career hit a major roadblock, he has been able to persevere and still be a special player in his own right.

***Ever been curious how Hall-of-Famers view each other and their talents? Wonder no more, as this scouting report on pitcher Tom Seaver, was filed by Tommy Lasorda in 1965, the year before the right-handed hurler was signed by the New York Mets.

Lasorda, a former pitcher, liked what he saw of the youngster, with various iterations of the word “good” appearing frequently throughout the report. It’s clear Seaver was destined for greatness before he ever signed his first contract.

Seaver reached the majors in 1967 and went on to win 311 games in 20 seasons. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1992.

Lasorda managed the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1976-1996, winning 1,599 games, four pennants and two World Series. His Hall-of-Fame enshrinement came in 1997.

No word if any scouting report exists in Seaver’s hand on the managerial tendencies of Lasorda.

***A rare 1919 World Series ring has come up for auction with a reserve price of $25,000. But it could be well worth it to collectors because of its rarity and the provenance of being connected to perhaps the most famous Fall Classic of all-time (when the Chicago Black Sox infamously “threw” the series to the Cincinnati Reds at the behest of gamblers).

The ring belonged to Reds’ manager Pat Moran. It’s a rare piece not only because it’s old and the only known example from that year, but also because World Series rings had not yet become popular, as many players refused such gestures because they viewed jewelry as effeminate.

The ring has actually been out of the possession of the Moran family for more than 50 years, as it was given by his family member to their milkman, who made it into their own family treasure. It looks like the auction, which closes on June 28th, will command a pretty penny. As long as they can afford it, the winning bidder will be getting an amazing part of baseball history.

***Finally, sad news last week that beloved actor James Gandolfini passed away unexpectedly at the age of 51 while travelling in Italy with his young son. Best known for his role as Tony Soprano on the hit HBO show “The Sopranos,” Gandolfini was a talented thespian with an iconic voice. He was also a lover of sports, and in 2002 gave baseball fans a treat by reciting Lou Gehrig’s famous farewell speech during a game at Yankee Stadium. It’s a great way for fans to remember the actor for something other than his amazing work on camera and the stage.

You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

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