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 get past the lockout, let’s take a look at who the sport lost in the past year…
> Henry Aaron, Braves OF 1954-1976 – No matter what the official record book says, this is the greatest Home Run hitter of all. From his humble beginnings in Mobile to the Hall of Fame in 1982, “Hammerin’ Hank” was the epitome of style, grace & class.
> Bobby Brown, Yankees Of 1946-1954 – After winning four World Series titles with the Bronx Bombers, “Doc” went on to become a cardiologist and the President of the American League.
> Del Crandall, Braves C 1949-1966 – Made eight (8) All-Star teams after serving in the military during the Korean Conflict in 1951 & ’52.
> Ray Fosse, Indians & Athletics C 1967-1979 – Won two (2) Gold Gloves in Cleveland and went on to be a long-time broadcaster for the A’s.
> Bill Freehan, Tigers C 1961-1976 –11 All-Star teams and five (5) Gold Gloves, he spent his entire career with the Bengals and hit 200 HR’s.
> Jim “Mudcat” Grant, Indians & Twins P 1958-1971 – Won 145 Games in his lengthy career including 21 victories for Minnesota in their 1965 pennant-winning season.
> Tommy Lasorda, Dodgers Manager 1954-1956 – A short playing career but a Hall of Fame Manager for the Blue Crew from 1976-1995. One of the game’s great ambassadors.
> Mike Marshall, Expos & Dodgers P 1967-1981 – Accumulated 188 Saves in his career and won the 1974 NL Cy Young Award with 15 Wins & 21 Saves pitching 208 innings.
> Jeremy Remy, Red Sox 2B 1975-1984 – Was an All-Star in ’78 and went on to be a beloved broadcaster in Boston for the rest of his life.
> J.R. Richard, Astros P 1971-1980 – Unless you saw him pitch, you wouldn’t understand what greatness was taken from us by illness. Won 74 games from ’76 – ’79.
> Eddie Robinson, AL 1B 1942-1957 – Passed away at age 100 and his career really didn’t flourish until after he served three years during World War II. A four (4) time All-Star in the late 40’s and early 50’s.
> Don Sutton, Dodgers P 1966-1988 – One of the most durable starting pitchers in history, he won 324 Games and was inducted into Cooperstown in 1998.
> Bill Virdon, Pirates OF 1955-1968 – NL Rookie of the Year in ’55, he had over 1,500 Hits in his career. Went on to become a big league Manager for 13 years.
98 former big-leaguers died in 2021 and if you’re a real fan, you’ll remember many of the others. There were guys who played in the late 40’s and early 50’s like Wayne Terwilliger, Paul Foytack, Art Ditmar. Joe Cunningham & Johnny Groth. Also guys who played over 10 years like Rheal Cormier, Don Demeter, Doug Jones, Julio Lugo, Juan Pizzaro, Rennie Stennett & Dick Tidrow. And, a few who played in only one season like Mike Bell, Hy Cohen, Don Leppert, Tom Simpson & Duane Wilson.
They’re all part of the history because they were all in the “Show”.