As some of you know, I’ve been writing a book for the past year…make that almost two. Yes, I may have underestimated how long this takes.
I interviewed 50 ball players and personalities, many of them Hall of Famers. There are three I’m the most proud of. Sitting with George Brett in the President’s box in Kauffman Stadium ranks up there. Interviewing my childhood idol, Dave Winfield also makes that top list, as does my interview with Cito Gaston. Ok, maybe I have more than three favourites. But this interview I hadn’t mentioned to many people. This one was very special, and I was planning on keeping as a surprise. Well, perhaps now is an appropriate time to say that it was Yogi Berra, and let us all take this time to say goodbye to a baseball legend.
Yogi was a man who beat the odds. What do I mean? Just like Pete Rose was told, Yogi was probably too small for baseball, at 5’7″ and 185 lbs. The Yankee catcher would go on to hit 358 HR’s over his 19-year tenure, being selected to the All-Star team 18 times! He was also a 13-time World Series Champ, and won the MVP 3 times. Not bad for 5’7″, eh?
I was talking to a seasoned veteran baseball writer back when my book was just an idea, and mentioned I wanted to interview Berra.
“You need to be more realistic”, he said. “Yogi doesn’t do interviews anymore”.
Well that was true, as I discovered. But I persisted, and Yogi agreed to an interview via his son Dale, who asked Yogi my questions for me. I asked Yogi to tell me the funniest conversation he had on a baseball field. This was his response:
In St Louis, playing against the Browns, the temperature was in the high 90’s and Casey made me catch both games of a double header. I started arguing every call the umpire made in an effort to get thrown out…the umpire said to me, “Yogi, you can curse me and call me every name in the book, but if I’m staying out here, you’re staying, so shut up!”
Shortly after my interview with Yogi had been completed, Yogi’s wife Carmen passed away. 18 months later, the great Yankee slugger has joined her.
Yogi was perhaps most famous for his hilarious stories and sayings. “It ain’t over ’till it’s over”, is perhaps one of the best known.
Well, it ain’t over Yogi.
Your legend will live on forever.
This week signifies two very important things: The first day of Summer (finally!), and the Induction Ceremony for the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame (which falls on the same day). What better way to kick of the season?
I had the pleasure of attending the induction ceremony last year, and interviewed Rob Ducey, George Bell, Tim Raines, who were all being inducted into the 2013 Class. I also connected with Shirley Cheek, who was accepting the induction award on behalf of her late husband, Toronto Blue Jays’ broadcasting legend, Tom Cheek. More on that here.
This year, the festivities span several days, offering something for the whole family. The Hall of Fame is proud to announce this year’s inductees: Tim Wallach, Dave Van Horne, Murray Cook, & Jim Ridley.
The events kick-off on Thursday, July 19th with a celebrity softball game, which I’m honoured to have been invited to participate in (obviously as media, not as a celebrity!). The teams will be represented by Tim Wallach, and Hall-of-Famer Fergie Jenkins. Other celebrities include Dave Van Horne, Murray Cook, Jim Fanning, Paul Spoljaric, Billy Atkinson, many other notable former professional players, as well as representatives from Team Canada Fastball. There will also be a Slo-pitch homerun derby.
I was discussing past celebrity games with the Director of Operations of the HOF, Scott Crawford, who outlined one of his favourite memories from just a few years ago being Larry Walker hitting a homerun out over right field corner wall. Last year Tim Raines and George Bell played. This year there will be even more celebrities. This is an event you don’t want to miss!
Friday (June 20th) is possibly the busiest day of the week. The day kicks off with the 4th Annual “London Salutes Canadian Baseball” fundraising breakfast, sponsored by Lerners Lawyers and the London Convention Centre. There with be a Q & A with the celebrities, a live auction, and O’Canada by Canadian legend Michael Burgess. Also in attendance will be George Bell, Devon White, and Duane Ward.
Later that morning is the 18th Annual Celebrity Golf Classic & Sports Banquet. The list of incredible celebrities is way too long to list, but include the likes of Tom Henke, Tony Fernandez, Paul Beeston, and Babe Ruth’s Granddaughter Linda Ruth Tosetti. There is a banquet following the tournament, and tickets can be purchased separately as well.
Finally, Saturday June 21st kicks off with a Baseball Family Street Festival from 9 am to Noon, with a variety of events for kids of all ages. The induction ceremony starts at 1 pm, with a Blue Jays Honda Super Camp following, at 3 pm, where youth will get the opportunity to receive baseball instruction from Duane Ward, Devon White, and George Bell. I attended the Guelph Honda Super Camp, more on that here.
If you needed any more reasons to attend, this year is very special in that the inductees cover all facets of the game of baseball. Tim Wallach played for the Expos for the majority of his career, Dave Van Horne was an announcer for the Expos for 32 years and now covers Marlins games, Murray Cook is a Canadian who was the General Manger of the Yankees, Expos, and Reds, and Jim Ridley was a scout from 1976 – 2002. The Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame continues to build and expand, and is well worth the drive to St Marys.
For more information click here, or call the Hall of Fame directly at: Phone: 519-284-1838, Toll-free: 877-250-2255
The St. Louis Cardinals fans have a lot to be proud of. A Championship-calibre team, a thriving baseball city, Hall-of-Fame alumni like Lou Brock & Ozzie Smith, and now, a world-class facility called Ballpark Village, which features a series of bars and restaurants, new seating decks in left field (across the street from Busch Stadium), and a new Cardinals Hall-of-Fame and Museum. In a recent series of interviews, I connected with Lou Brock, Ozzie Smith, Chris Carpenter, and Museum Designer Kelly Giles. You can listen to my review of the facility, the weekend, and some clips from the aforementioned interviews here.
You can check out more pics from Ballpark Village and the stadium in a recent blog post, here.
Ozzie Smith on Twitter: @STLWizard
I rode the metro link from my hotel and got off right at the foot of the stadium. It was the night before the Cardinals home opener, as well as the official ribbon cutting for Ballpark Village’s Museum and Cardinals Hall of Fame. There’s something special about a baseball stadium at night. It could be the stories it holds. It could also be the excitement in the air, and the anticipation of another potentially successful season for the baseball-crazed city.
I took some time to admire the bronze statue of Stan Musial, then continued my walk and stopped to check out more statues honouring Cardinal greats, some of whom I would be interviewing the following day.
Upon approaching Ballpark Village, I heard a familiar voice. ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball was being broadcast on the giant outdoor screen, so of course it was Dan Shulman I was hearing. Dan was a guest on my show last year, you can listen to that here. What a terrific spot to watch ball games, especially when the weather is nice!
There was a brief press conference the following morning, and the official ribbon cutting for the museum. After being the first official group to tour the museum (along with the inductees), I had the opportunity to interview Tony La Russa, Lou Brock, and Ozzie Smith. I made friends with a local photographer, Robert Rohe, who was kind enough to snap these great shots for me.
I even managed to grab former Toronto Blue Jays pitcher, and Cardinals 2006 & 2011 World Series Champ Chris Carpenter for an interview. Following my interview, he bravely ventured downstairs and through a sea of Cardinals fans. Can you spot him? It’s like playing a giant game of “Where’s Waldo”.
Despite the steady rain that had been falling all day, the Cardinals home opener commenced. The “Cardinals Nation” boasts a strong following of some pretty serious fans. In St. Louis, baseball is #1. After what I witnessed, I would say it’s really a culture. Cards fans take their baseball seriously. One group of young fans I made friends with snapped this great shot for me from a balcony in Ballpark Village. You can see what a terrific view you get of the field from across the street.
Overall, I would have to put Busch Stadium & Ballpark Village toward the top of my list of “must-see” baseball destinations. Regardless of whether or not you are a Cardinals fan, touring through the museum and Cards Hall of Fame is a real treat, and you can grab a frosty beverage from any number of happening spots to watch the game live, or on any number of ridiculously large televisions.
On April 15th every year we celebrate Jackie Robinson day. Jackie was a pioneer of the civil rights movement, as a result of breaking major league baseball’s colour barrier in 1947. To say that Jackie was an incredible baseball player, is just listing one of his many significant accomplishments, as his brave actions paved the way for other civil rights activists, where Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. followed suit years later. Worthy to note is that Jackie was really just one of many talented ball players who made sacrifices far greater than most of us have experienced, and endured racism and hatred far worse than what most of us can even fathom. Several weeks ago I did an interview with the President of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, Bob Kendrick, which you can listen to here. I had the pleasure of meeting up with Bob recently and he took me on a tour through the museum:
John “Buck” O’Neil, was the first black coach in the Major Leagues, and discovered the eventual Hall-of-Famer Lou Brock, signing him to his first big-league contract. In a press conference for the Negro Leagues Baseball “Hall Of Game” Ceremony on April 12th, 2014, Lou said jokingly that, “Buck thought he was my father”. Truth be told, Buck was a father figure to many, especially Brock, as well as another Hall of Fame player, Ernie Banks. He was also instrumental in signing Toronto Blue Jays World Series hero, Joe Carter.
If it weren’t for Jackie making the sacrifices he did, when he did, who knows how different the history books might have been. It’s possible we could be much further behind in both baseball and human civil rights.
Some of the greatest ball players to have ever played the game had reached the end of their careers before major league baseball started signing black and Hispanic players. Bob Kendrick stated that Buck always used to say, “the Negro Leagues Museum represents the men who built the bridge over the chasm of prejudice in our country”. Indeed then, it was Jackie Robinson, and many others following him who would be the ones to cross over that bridge.
It happened before Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech, in 1963. It happened before Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the bus, in 1955. It was in 1947 that Jackie Robinson broke the major league colour barrier, when he played baseball for the Brooklyn Dodgers. It was this single event that is said to have been the catalyst of the modern-day civil rights movement, paving the way for Parks, King, and many other great civil rights activists.
So who paved the way for Jackie Robinson?
It is hard to say that just one person was responsible for laying the foundation. Surely there are far too many to mention. In 1920 the Negro Baseball Leagues were formed, led by Rube Foster, owner and manager of the Chicago American Giants. One player/manager named Buck O’Neil was indeed instrumental in the development of players and talent, and eventually the formation of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. Buck, Jackie, and too many others to mention are celebrated in the Museum, and I discussed the history of the leagues and formation of the museum with the President, Bob Kendrick in an interview you can listen to here.
On April 12th, 2014 the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is launching an annual awards gala called the Hall of Game, to honour former Major League Baseball greats who exhibited the same passion, determination and swagger that the heroes of the Negro Leagues did. James Timothy “Mudcat” Grant will be recognized at the gala, receiving the Jackie Robinson Lifetime Achievement Award, and the inaugural class will also include Joe Morgan, Lou Brock, the late, great Roberto Clemente, and Dave Winfield. Surely Toronto fans remember Winfield’s heroic two-run double in the 11th inning of the 6th game in the 1992 World Series.
As a result of the kindness of many contributing to my indiegogo campaign for the book I am writing, I can say that I am fortunate and excited to be attending the Hall of Game ceremony in Kansas City in several weeks to cover the event and conduct interviews. I look forward to visiting this world-class establishment, expanding my baseball history knowledge, and sharing the stories of legends with all of you. The Hall of Game awards event and gala is April 12th, 2014, and you can learn more about the event here and purchase tickets directly here.
Follow the Negro Leagues Museum President, Bob Kendrick on twitter: @nlbmprez
Torontonians in the winter months must brave everything from frigid temperatures to ice storms and loss of hydro. For many, summer sports such as baseball couldn’t be further from their minds (even though Spring Training is less than a mere 50 days away). But for a select few Blue Jays fans (45 to be exact), on January 9th, 2014 they donned their baseball gear and took to the field at Rogers Centre, having the rare opportunity to interact with baseball greats such as Pat Tabler, Jesse Barfield, Lloyd Moseby, and the most decorated Blue Jays player, Roberto Alomar. The special occasion? Another successful fundraising effort by the Jays Care Foundation, WINTER TRAINING DAY.
The official charitable arm of the Blue Jays was the 2012 recipient of the MLB Commissioner’s Award for Philanthropic Excellence, as well as the 2013 recipient of the Beyond Sport Sports Team of the Year Award. The mission of the organization is to focus energy and resources toward community-based endeavours that develop baseball programs and help children in need to excel academically, get active, and lead healthy lives. To date, Jays Care has invested over $8.2 million in Canadian children and communities. This Winter Training Day raised over $38,000!
Greeted by a young and cheerful staff, myself and my cameraman made our way down onto the field. The participants were being taken through warm-up drills. Safety first, of course. We spoke for several minutes with Pat Tabler, who would spend a good portion of the day at the soft-toss station, giving hitting tips. In speaking with Tabby about his success in pressure situations (hitting nearly .500 with the bases loaded over his career), he attributed it to “being mentally tough”.
We then connected with the Executive Director of the Jays Care Foundation, Danielle Bedasse for a short interview:
While sitting in the dugout, I had the opportunity to speak with several participants, one admittedly in awe at moments, especially of Alomar. For baseball fans – and Blue Jays fans, it’s hard not to be. One fan approached Alomar, shook his hand, and said “I was at the game where you hit back-to-back homeruns from opposite sides of the plate”. Alomar’s eyes lit up, and responded, “right, against Chicago”. Even Hall-of-Famers have their favourite moments. This was obviously one of them.
Alomar looked on while men and women took batting practice throws from Tabler and Moseby. After one participant fouled off a few pitches, Moseby could be heard from the mound saying, “I’ll stay here all day until you hit one hard, baby”. Everyone’s “baby” to Lloyd. Super-friendly with a large grin, Moseby threw pitch after pitch for what must have been half-an-hour. Before interviewing Moseby, we were warned that he had come straight from the airport, and had no sleep. “Could have fooled me”, I thought. His energy is infectious. We reminisced about Lloyd’s infamous base-running blunder, back in 1987 when he stole second base, then in a moment of confusion ran back to first (as the ball had sailed into centre field). The errant throw from the centre fielder by-passed the first baseman, thus allowing Moseby to steal second again! “I’m suing major league baseball for airing that footage” Moseby joked.
Attention to detail and terrific organization was apparent within the entire Winter Training Day event. Announcements over the PA system signaled the rotation of groups between stations (batting practice, soft-toss, hitting instruction, and shagging flies). I can only imagine (as participants experienced) what a thrill it would be to hear your name called over the sound system in Rogers Centre.
Walking beyond the left field wall that Joe Carter’s famous homerun sailed over, we headed down a ramp and into the Jays batting cages where participants would be taking hitting instruction from Jesse Barfield. Always good for a story, Jesse re-enacted a moment in a game where an opposing team’s fan relentlessly heckled him from the stands in right field. Barfield’s response to the fan? A monstrous homerun. The fan never spoke another word.
Upon quietly observing the event from the dugout, I noticed how much fun everyone was having – staff included. The Jays Care Foundation appears to be in great hands. The dedicated team had put together an event that everyone in attendance was bound to remember, for years to come. After all, at the end of a baseball game all you are left with are memories and experiences. It’s even better when they are special ones.