Yesterday, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum hosted this talk with author Ron Rapoport about Ernie Banks. Rapoport is the author of the biography on Banks appropriately titled Let’s Play Two. This book is currently on my to-read list, but I look forward to getting to it, especially in the wake of this talk with the author. I love how Rapoport makes a point to stress how good of a ballplayer Banks was, a fact that sometimes gets overlooked as so much focus revolves around his sunny personality.
Today would have been Ernie Banks’s 90th birthday. Happy Birthday, Mr. Cub!
As much as I lacked confidence in my ability to communicate verbally, I always had confidence in my athletic ability. Sports were as natural to me as speaking was unnatural. And sports turned out to be my ticket to acceptance — and more. I wasn’t easily intimidated in a game, so even when I stuttered, I was always the kid who said, “Give me the ball.”
This one truly breaks my heart. I have been a Hank Aaron fan for almost as long as I have been a baseball fan. I Had A Hammer is one of the first baseball biographies I ever picked up. When I attempted to play high school basketball one year (I was terrible at it), I was assigned jersey #44. And even though it was a different sport altogether, I still felt honored to wear the same number as the great Henry Aaron.
Henry Louis Aaron was born February 5, 1934 in Mobile, Alabama. He played a total of 23 seasons in Major League Baseball, from 1954 through 1976. Twenty-one of those seasons he played with the Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves and two seasons were with the Milwaukee Brewers. His 755 career home runs broke the long-standing MLB record set by Babe Ruth and stood for 33 years. Aaron also hit 24 or more home runs every year from 1955 through 1973 and is one of only two players to hit 30 or more home runs in a season at least fifteen times.
Aaron’s chase after Babe Ruth’s career home run record stands as a notable period during his career, and not just because he ultimately did break the record. Aaron received thousands of letters every week during the summer of 1973; and during the 1973-1974 offseason, he received death threats and a large assortment of hate mail from people who did not want to see him break Ruth’s home run mark. Fortunately, Aaron also received mounds of of public support in response to the bigotry. As his autobiography demonstrates, Aaron handled himself with a tremendous amount of dignity throughout this period of undeserved hardship.
Hank Aaron holds the record for the most All-Star selections, with twenty-five, while sharing the record for most All-Star Games played (24) with Willie Mays and Stan Musial. He was a three-time Gold Glove winner, and in 1957, he won the NL MVP Award when the Milwaukee Braves won the World Series. Aaron also holds MLB records for the most career RBIs (2,297), extra base hits (1,477), and total bases (6,856).
After his retirement, Aaron held front office roles with the Atlanta Braves, including senior vice president. Hank Aaron was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982, his first year of eligibility, with an astonishing 97.8% of the vote. He was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2002.
Henry Aaron died in his sleep on January 22, 2021. Rest in peace.
In case you missed it, yesterday, the minor league team Kansas City T-Bones announced they have changed their name to the Kansas City Monarchs. The name change comes as part of a partnership with the Negro Leagues Museum (also located in Kansas City).
Donald Howard Sutton was born on April 2, 1945 in Clio, Alabama. In a career that spanned 23 years, Sutton had a career record of 324-256 and an ERA of 3.26 while pitching for the Dodgers, Houston Astros, Milwaukee Brewers, Oakland Athletics, and California Angels. 58 of his wins were shutouts, five of them one-hitters, and 10 were two-hitters. He is seventh on baseball’s all-time strikeout list with 3,574, and he was named to the All-Star team four times.
Sutton entered broadcasting after his retirement as a player. He worked in this capacity for a number of teams, the majority of which were with the Atlanta Braves. Sutton was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1998 with 81.61% of the vote. Sutton was also inducted into the Braves Hall of Fame in July 2015 for his work as a broadcaster.
According to the Baseball Hall of Fame, Sutton died at his home in Rancho Mirage, California, after a long struggle with cancer. He was 75 years old.
On January 15, 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt penned the famous “green light” letter to Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis. In the letter, President Roosevelt addressed Commissioner Landis’s query about playing baseball in the wake of the Second World War. FDR believed that playing the sport would be good for Americans, and he encouraged baseball owners to hold more night games in order to allow workers to attend games.
This infographic baffles me in its sparseness. According to the Environics Analytics website, the graphic was created in light of the Toronto Blue Jays’ first playoff appearance in 22 years (going on to lose the 2015 ALCS to the Kansas City Royals). Compared to what appears to be less than 20% Canadian interest in the sport, a 2006 Gallup poll found that 47% of the U.S. public considers themselves to be baseball fans.
I haven’t been able to find a statistic revealing how many Canadians took the time to watch any of the 2015 playoffs, though attendance at the Rogers Centre was just under 50,000 for each of Games 3-5. Of course, Canadian attendance at Blue Jay games in 2020 was pretty much zero thanks to the pandemic and the Blue Jays getting kicked out of their own country for the season.