Raplh Kiner

Ralph Kiner passed away yesterday and along with him a bit of baseball history. The slugging and broadcast legend lived a long and full baseball life. One of the best stories I found on Kiner was Hank Greenberg’s segement in the must-read baseball classic, The Glory of Their Times. Greenberg and Kiner played one season together for the 1947 Pirates. It was Greenberg’s last and Kiner’s second. There was an amazing bit of mentoring there. It is worth the time to read.

1954 Brooklyn Dodgers Topps Baseball cards

My father in-law gave his Topps baseball card collection to my son. Like most boys did at the time, the cards were taped on to loose leaf paper. Here are the “Boys of Summer” 1954 Brooklyn Dodgers: Roe, Snider, Gilliam and Robinson.

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American League All Stars from the 1983 ASG. Purchased from the Halper Collection in 2000.

This was my first All Star Game at old Comiskey Park. Fred Lynn hit the first, and only, Grand Slam in ASG history off of Atlee Hammaker in the 3rd inning in the 13-3 rout.

Whitey Ford Autograph Baseball
Autograph from around 1982.

With Spring Training starting, thoughts turn to the National Pastime. I recently read Change Up. Generally it is excellent. The format of interviews with key people was quite engaging and through the first 6 changes. It was truly engaging. The last 2, Cal Ripken’s Streak and Ichiro Comes to America, were disappointing. On the Streak, there was too much build up about Cal Sr and Cal Jr’s rise to the big leagues. The Ripken’s are baseball royalty because of the same core values shared by father and son. Each took those to the park every day and gave to the game they loved. The interviews did not fully capture the essence and meaning of the streak well. On Ichiro, and I am an Mariners and Ichiro fan, it overlooks a lot about that amazing season and that Ichiro was the right player at the right time. The Mariners had lost superstars Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez in the previous season respectively. The team was solid but needed a catalyst. 116 wins tied a major league record and they blew away the AL that season. They had 7 All-Stars. There was little mention of the contention around the Rookie of the Year or even the MVP vote in spite of his batting title that season. Personally, I will remember the amazing defense, the 10 seasons of 200+ hits and hordes of Japanese fans filling Safeco in right field’s “Area 51” near my season’s tickets.

Change Up is solid ground rule double, just shy of a home run.

The last few posts have featured autographed baseballs. The collection is substantial. Here is how it began.

I was 9 years old. My dad and I were watching the Game of the Week. I was also sorting my baseball cards. I do not recall all the game’s details, but the Dodgers were playing Vin Scully and Joe Garagiola were calling the game. I always loved how Garagiola, the old catcher, would say “hard slider.”

“Wouldn’t it be cool to have a baseball card autographed?” I asked my dad holding up a Steve Garvey, who happened to be batting.

“A card? That would be cool. But why would you want Steve Garvey?” he asked. Dad was never a Garvey fan. At the time both hometown teams, the Cubs and White Sox, were terrible. Dad, from Boston, was Red Sox Nation, before the term ever existed. “Why not a baseball?” he asked.

Now, dad was, is and forever shall be a huge baseball fan. He also loved the history of the game. At that moment, there was inspiration and a way to teach his son about the history of our great game. Autographed baseball’s from Hall of Fame players, the best of the best. I would research the players and we would get their autographs. This was just at the beginning of the memorabilia boom in the early 1980’s. We would put a package together with a letter, a baseball and return postage. My dad would hunt down the players addresses. I would research the players. We put together a trial run of 10 baseballs and sure enough all 10 came back. Ted Williams and Mickey Mantle were in the first group. Over the next 2-3 years, all 70 living Hall of Famers at the time had returned a baseball. James “Cool Papa” Bell, Stan Musial, Hank Arron, Monte Irvin, Joe DiMaggio, Willie Mays, you name’em.

Since then we have added to the collection as new players are inducted and other balls from games and times that are important to dad and me. As I look back, I have always been touched by this return letter from Joe Sewell, who played with Cleveland Indians and the New York Yankees and a lifetime .312 hitter. He is most famous for being the hardest to strike out which only happened 114 times in 7,132 at bats over 14 years. For perspective, 2012 AL Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera strike out 98 times last season alone. For me, it is a great reminder of how this game unites our present with our past and deep down everyone wants to be remembered.

Joe Sewell autographed letter from the collection

Mickey Mantle Autograph Baseball 1981
Autograph from 1981.

Ted Williams Autograph Baseball
Autograph from 1981.

Edgar Martinez final at bat October 3, 2004
Edgar’s final at bat

Edgar Martinez was overlooked by the Baseball Writers of America again yesterday. Total shame.
The DH rule has been in place for 40 years this season. Ironically, the rule is older than the Mariners.
The statistics are real and even more impressive given the steroid fueled era in which he played.
He lead teams by example: 7 All Star Games, 2 batting titles and 4 playoff appearances. It is time for a truly great DH to be honored at Cooperstown.

As is often said in baseball, “Wait ’til next year.”

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By far and away the most exciting baseball player I have ever seen play is Ichiro Suzuki. Traded from my Mariners yesterday. As a fan, thank you for 12 exciting seasons.