Are you a real baseball fan? A true baseball fan? Don’t reply too quickly because membership in this exclusive club requires certain criteria. Can you answer yes to most of the following questions…?
> Do you still have a vivid memory of that Home Run you hit in Little League?
> Does it take you back in time when you remember that first autograph from a major leaguer?
> Did you study statistics and do you still know the lifetime batting average of your favorite player?
> Is there at least one big league jersey hanging in your closet?
> Do you have a T-shirt that shows an outline of the state of Iowa and says, “Is This Heaven?
> Does a 3-2 count with the bases loaded still put you on the edge of your seat?
> Is there a Bill James publication somewhere on your bookshelf?
There are dozens more on the baseball SAT, but you get the idea. This marvelous sport we love is part of the fabric of our lives. If you’re a baby boomer or a millennial, the history of the game speaks to you and you’re always ready for a baseball-themed conversation…or debate. You can probably name most of the 32 players who have reached 3,000 hits but a football fan wouldn’t even know some of the 31 players with 10,000 career rushing yards if you gave them the names. If you doubt that, ask some of your Fantasy Football buddies about Thomas Jones or Corey Dillon.
So, as we celebrate the history of the game and try to overcome the disaster known as 2020, let’s take a look at who the sport lost in the past year…
> Tom Seaver, Mets P 1967-1986 – Incredibly, seven HOF players passed away during the year and “Tom Terrific” was possibly the most famous. He won 311 games in his amazing career and led the “Miracle Mets” to the World Series championship in 1969. That was the first of his three Cy Young seasons.
> Joe Morgan, Reds 2B 1963-1984 – Arguably, one the greatest all-around players in history, he won two MVP Awards, five Gold Gloves and swiped 689 bases.
> Al Kaline, Tigers OF 1953-1974 – One of the few players to never appear in the minor leagues, he joined the Bengals at age 18 and accumulated over 3,000 hits and won 10 Gold Gloves.
> Bob Gibson, Cardinals P 1959-1975 – One of the most intimidating hurlers of his time, batters didn’t dig in against “Gibby”. His 1.12 ERA in 1968 earned him the Cy Young Award and the MVP.
> Whitey Ford, Yankees P 1950-1967 – Posted a record of 236-106 as the ace of the Yankees dynasty. Won the Cy Young Award in ’61 with a mark of 25-4.
> Lou Brock, Cardinals OF 1961-1979 – Had over 3,000 hits and led the NL in SB’s eight times. Ironically, Ernie Broglio was on this list a year ago.
> Phil Niekro, Braves P 1964-1987 – A master of the knuckleball, he pitched until age 48. Won 318 games in his storied career and in 1979, he started 44 games (completing 23 of them) and had a record of 21-20.
> Dick Allen, Phillies 3B 1963-1977 – Somewhat controversial in his day, his prowess with the bat can’t be denied. ROY in ’64, MVP in ’72 and a lifetime OPS of .912.
> Jim Wynn, Astros OF 1953-1977 – “The Toy Cannon” stood less than six feet tall but hit 291 HR’s.
> Ron Perranoski, Dodgers P 1961-1973 – Won two World Series rings with L.A. in the mid-60’s and then led the AL in Saves in ’69 & ’70 with the Twins.
> Lindy McDaniel, Cardinals P 1955-1975 – How about 141 Wins and 174 Saves? Led the NL in Saves three times.
> Tony Fernandez, Blue Jays SS 1983-2001 – Won four consecutive Gold Gloves in the 80’s and had over 2,200 hits.
> Don Larsen, Yankees P 1953-1967 – Will there ever be another World Series moment like Game 5 in 1956?
Over 100 former big-leaguers died in 2020 and if you’re a real fan, you’ll remember many of the others. There were guys who played in the 40’s like Johnny Antonelli, Gil Coan, Ed Fitzgerald & Bob Miller, guys who played over 15 years like Mike McCormick, Tony Taylor, Claudell Washington & Bob Watson and guys who made us laugh like Jay Johnstone. And, a few more who played in only one season like Tom Yewcic, Hank Workman, Bob Stephenson, Bobby Prescott and Rich Hacker.
They’re all part of the history because they were all in the “Show”.