It is that time of year when winter turns to a season of hope. We hope for a beautiful spring as we welcome warm weather. Also, we hope that this year will be “the year” for our baseball team. But no matter what happens with the season, every team at least has a chance on opening day.
For anyone who played baseball growing up, there is one position where they would stick the kids who were not very skilled at the game. These were the kids who were hopeful enough to play the game. But the coaches did not have much hope in them. I know, because I was one of those kids.
I still love baseball. So it is worth celebrating those of us who grew up in right field.
Peter, Paul & Mary wrote a touching ode to playing right field “watching the dandelions grow.”
I’d dream of the day they’d hit one my way; They never did, but still I would pray, That I’d make a fantastic catch on the run, And not lose the ball in the sun; And then I’d awake from this long reverie, And pray that the ball never came out to me, Here in . . . Right field.
Below, Peter Yarrow, Paul Stookey, and Mary Travers perform “Right Field” at their 25th Anniversary Concert. Check it out.
Leave your two cents in the comments. Photo of Ruth card via public domain.
On September 29 in 1954, Willie Mays made one of the greatest and most famous catches in baseball history. During the eighth inning of Game 1 of the 1954 World Series, Cleveland Indians player Vic Wertz hit a drive that centerfielder Mays chased toward the wall of the Polo Grounds to make an over-the-shoulder catch on the warning track.
“The Catch” prevented two runs from scoring in a tie game. Mays’s throw also kept the runners from advancing. And the Giants went on to win the game in the tenth inning. Then, the team completed a sweep of the World Series. The win was the Giants’ last championship in New York.
Mays’s catch and the Series helped cap a great season for Mays. During the year, he hit 41 home runs and led the league with a .345 batting average.
What makes the season even more amazing is that Mays had not played Major League Baseball the previous season or for most of 1952. Mays, who started his professional career in the Negro Leagues, had his rookie year in Major League Baseball in 1951 after a short stint in the Minor Leagues. But in May 1952, the United States Army drafted Mays during the Korean War. He missed most of the 1952 season and all of the 1953 season, although he did play some baseball while in the Army.
“Say Hey (The Willie Mays Song)”
There is another reason 1954 was a big year for Willie Mays. Early in the season he became a part of one of the greatest baseball songs of all time, “Say Hey (The Willie Mays Song).”
When Mays returned from the army, a New York public relations man, Ted Worner, thought it would be a good idea to have a song about the player known as the “Say Hey Kid.” So Worner arranged for columnist Dick Kleiner to write some lyrics and then for Jane Douglass create the music and the chorus.
Epic Records liked the song and gave it to the R&B group The Treniers, but insisting that Mays participate in the recording. Mays agreed, and he ended up adding some dialogue to the song. Quincy Jones produced the recording.
“Say Hey (The Willie Mays Song)” did not become a hit that summer, perhaps because it had to compete with at least three other songs about Willie Mays. But like few other baseball songs, “Say Hey” would live on as one of the most popular baseball songs of all time.
Say hey, say who? Say Willie, That Giants kid is great.
After Ty Cobb died on July 17, 1961 in Georgia, Lawrence Ritter realized that the full story of early twentieth century baseball was dying with the people involved in the game during that era. So, he came up with the idea to document that era of baseball and began a trip across the United States interviewing many of the legends of the sport.
I discovered Ritter’s work when I was a child and happened to catch a documentary he made of The Glory of Their Times, which was produced by him and Bud Greenspan in 1977. The documentary used audio from Ritter’s interviews, accompanied by photographs and film. I loved the movie. I even recorded it with my childhood hand-held tape recorder and listened to the cassette over and over again.
I have not seen the documentary since I was a child, and it does not appear to be available on video (and I have since lost the cassette). But in 1966, Ritter did release a record that included audio of many of the interviews that he used in his book and that appeared in the documentary. Fortunately, it is available through YouTube. It is a fascinating look at another era. Check it out.
Henry Louis Aaron was born in Mobile, Alabama on February 5, 1934. Hank Aaron went on to become one of the greatest baseball players of all time. Still, the first memory of the man that usually comes to mind is one swing of the bat on April 8, 1974.
Aaron had started his professional baseball career with the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro American League in 1951. Aaron experienced the effects of racism during that time and throughout his career. He endured, though, to became a hero to many people.
Breaking Babe Ruth’s Home Run Record
While playing for the Atlanta Braves late in his career, Aaron received a large amount of racist hate mail. The mail came in response to his approach to Babe Ruth’s all-time home run record of 714 home runs.
Aaron ended the 1973 season with 713 home runs. On the cusp of the record, he endured various death threats in the off-season. Many others, though, voiced their support for The Hammer.
Aaron persevered. He hit home run number 714 on April 4, 1974 in his first at-bat in the 1974 season. That home run came in Cincinnati off Reds pitcher Jack Billingham.
Then, back in Atlanta on April 8, 1974, the 40-year-old Aaron came to bat against Los Angeles Dodger pitcher Al Downing. This video shows what happened next.
After Breaking the Record
After his famous home run in 1974, Aaron continued to play baseball. He continued to follow the motto that helped him through tough times: “Always keep swinging.”
And, on May 1, 1975, now a Milwaukee Brewer, Aaron broke baseball’s all-time RBI record. Babe Ruth had held that record too.
On July 20, 1976, Aaron hit his 755th and final home run. Aaron’s record stood until Barry Bonds broke it on August 7, 2007. Despite the controversy about Bonds’s alleged used of steroids, Aaron graciously appeared on the JumboTron in the San Francisco Giants stadium to congratulate Bonds.
Since his playing days, Aaron has worked as an executive with the Atlanta Braves, run his own business, and helped others through his charitable work. In 1990, he published his excellent autobiography, I Had a Hammer, which I listened to as an audio book years ago.
In 1982, Aaron was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. His election came with one of the highest vote percentages ever. But by then, he had long been enshrined in our hearts.
James Francis “Jim” Thorpe was born around May 28, 1887 near the town of Prague, Oklahoma. Because there was no birth certificate, different sources list different birth dates with one official website listing the May 28, 1887 date while Wikipedia lists the birth date as May 22, 1887. The Bio website lists the birth date as a year later on May 28, 1988. Either way, the Native American would grow up to be regarded as one of the great — if not the greatest — American athlete of all time.
Thorpe’s athletic career included two All-American honors while playing college football (1911 and 1912). He won the pentathlon and the decathlon at the 1912 Summer Olympics. He later played professional baseball and football, even doing a stint on a basketball team. Despite his great talents, he faced great difficulties in his life, including ongoing racism, a controversy about his Olympic medals, alcoholism, and struggles to make a living wage. Even after his death in 1953, his body has not been able to rest in peace, as battles continue about his remains, which were bought by a Pennsylvania town named after the athlete as a tourist attraction. But Thorpe left a lasting legacy, continuing to receive honors after his death, such as the 1963 induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Below is a short video about Thorpe’s career. Below is Part 1.
Here is Part 2 of the documentary from ESPN.
Regarding longer feature films, Jim Thorpe had a cameo in Knute Rockne, All American (1940), and Burt Lancaster played Thorpe in Jim Thorpe – All-American (1951).