On November 30, 1961, Billy Williams of the Chicago Cubs was selected as the National League Rookie of the Year by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. The outfielder hit 25 home runs and drove in 86 runs that year, and was selected on 10 of the 16 ballots cast by the writers. The runner-up in the voting, Braves catcher Joe Torre, received five votes from the writers.
I have no problem with cheating. Whatever you can get away with.
Gene Budig is a former American League President. He’s also a former chancellor of the University of Kansas, where I happen to work. Budig’s tenure as chancellor happened before my time at KU, but when his book Clearing the Bases came out, it was made available to employees of the university. A few weeks ago, a lady I work with came across a long-forgotten stack of the book, and knowing that I am a baseball fan, offered one to me.
Clearing the Bases: Nine Who Did It with Grit and Class offers biographical sketches of nine individuals who had an impact on the game of baseball. The book discusses Cal Ripken, Jr., Bobby Brown, George Brett, Joe Torre, Bob Feller, Mike Ilitch, Marty Springstead, Bill Madden, and Frank Robinson. Budig gives information about their backgrounds, their careers, and their accomplishments. Furthermore, Budig knew each of these individuals personally and offers his own candid insights into their character and impact.
Perhaps my favorite part about these biographies, however, is that they also make mention of community contributions that each of these men have made. Bobby Brown, for example, went to medical school and became a cardiologist. Joe Torre and his wife created the Joe Torre Safe at Home Foundation, and he campaigns against any type of domestic abuse. Bob Feller served for four years in the United States Navy, right as he would’ve been in his prime as a baseball player.
Furthermore, Budig doesn’t talk merely about baseball players. He includes figures who have impacted the game in other ways. Marty Springstead was an umpire. Michael Ilitch owns the Detroit Tigers, the Detroit Red Wings, and founded Little Caesar’s Pizza. Bill Madden is a sportswriter.
This book is a fast read, too. I made my way through it in one afternoon and enjoyed every minute of it. Budig’s writing style is engaging and certainly not the over-complicated rhetoric that one often sees with academics. It appears there was a second edition of the book released a couple years after this one, titled Swinging For the Fences. I do not know whether there are any significant differences between that edition and Clearing the Bases. So far as I have been able to tell from what I’ve seen online, they appear to be the same book. That would be another title to watch for, if you are considering giving this one a read.
There is a power to both patience and persistence. Baseball is a game of life. It’s not perfect, but it feels like it is. That’s the magic of it. We are responsible for giving it the respect that it deserves. Our sport is part of the American soul, and it’s ours to borrow just for while, to take care of it for a time, and then pass it on to the next generation.
~Joe Torre, from his 2014 Hall of Fame induction speech
Congratulations to the Hall of Fame Class of 2014! The induction ceremony for these six greats took place yesterday in Cooperstown, New York. Those inducted: 300-game winners Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, slugger Frank Thomas and managers Joe Torre, Bobby Cox and La Russa. Having been witness to the Braves of the ’90s as I grew up, a part of me wishes fervently that I could have attended the ceremony. Maddux and Glavine were masters of their craft, and it was always a treat to watch these pitchers pinpoint their pitches with remarkable accuracy. These men were proof that one did not have to be big, strong, and bulky to be successful in professional sports, and that style, brains, and finesse, in many ways, counts for so much more than brawn.
Don Zimmer passed away last night.
It’s difficult to be a baseball fan and never have heard of the man, even if I never did pay very close attention to him. He’s like the foul pole on the baseball diamond: most of the time, nobody pays attention to it, but everyone knows it’s there, and it stands out and makes its presence known in its own way. I will forever remember him as the man who sat next to Joe Torre in the Yankees dugout.
Reading the stories about Zimmer this morning, however, has my interest particularly piqued. He married his wife on a baseball diamond in between the two games of a double header. He played for the Brooklyn Dodgers World Series championship team and accumulated twelve years in the Majors, primarily as an infielder. He spent thirteen years as a manager and was named the NL’s manager of the year in 1989, when he led the Chicago Cubs to a division championship.
Zimmer lived and breathed baseball. Every year, he wore a new jersey number, changing it to reflect the number of years he spent in baseball. This year, he wore number 66.
As a player, Don Zimmer hit .235 with 91 home runs and 352 RBIs in 1,095 games. Not stellar numbers, perhaps, but his biggest impact on the game came as a coach and an advisor. Zimmer’s passion for the game knew no boundaries, and even at the age of 83, he still served as a senior advisor for the Tampa Bay Rays.
It feels strange, now, to be writing this, as if I had always followed the man, because I didn’t. I guess for me, and for a lot of people, Zimmer was a given when it came to baseball. For as long as I’ve known about baseball, I’ve heard the name Don Zimmer, and I now find myself struck with the realization that he, too, was merely mortal.
Farewell and rest in peace.