TROY, N.Y. – How did you become a baseball fan?
That question was recently posed to me by Rene LeRoux, executive director of the New York State Baseball Hall of Fame. It’s a great question. And here at Baseball or Bust we want to know how you became a fan. What was the moment?
This past Sunday I was humbled to be inducted into the NY State Baseball HOF with the likes of four-time Yankees World Series champion Tino Martinez, the great Lou Piniella, Carl Erskine – the last living Boy of Summer – and Mike Pagliarulo, a 1991 World Champion with the Twins, who was a sixth-round draft pick of the Yankees in 1981 and spent six years in Pinstripes. Pags told a wonderful story of showing up to play at Yankee Stadium one day as a rookie, only to shockingly see Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and other Yankee legends all assembled in the locker room for Old-Timer’s Day with Pags having no idea what the heck was going on, it was as if he was dropped into the center of a baseball dream because there was DiMaggio sitting at his locker, saying, “Hello, Pags.’’
In addition, Jerry Koosman of the 1969 Mets and Gil Hodges, Brooklyn Dodgers first baseman and manager of those ’69 Mets and that incredible staff he managed to keep healthy.
“The challenge comes in the actual execution of these time-tested fundamentals. Learning to embrace this basic premise has provided lessons of a lifetime.” – John Morris
Here is today’s Amazin’ BallNine statistic for you.
In 1969, Mets pitchers under Hodges combined for 51 complete games.
In all of baseball this season, there have only been 42 complete games a good number of games have gone only seven innings as Rob Manfred & Co. continue to lower the bar of competition. In ’69, Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman accounted for 34 of those 51 Mets complete games.
Hodges, of course it’s a no-brainer he should be in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, only 90 minutes from Troy in Cooperstown, as should Sweet Lou Piniella for his playing days combined with his managerial career.
Other NY State Baseball HOF inductees included John Morris, now a scout with the Reds, and was an outfielder who played seven years in the majors; St. Bonaventure’s Kevin Lester and legendary baseball coach Fred Handler, father of the YES Network’s VP of communications Eric Handler; women’s baseball legend Mickey Watts Stapleton; Cooperstown Hall of Fame librarian Jim Gates; Victor Field, president of the Greater NY Sandlot Athletic Alliance, Albany Twilight League’s Pierce Mahar and Yankees scout Cesar Presbott.
Everlasting love of the game came through in every speech that night and in multiple conversations with fans at the dinner. In the NY State Baseball HOF commemorative magazine, many of the inductees wrote what made baseball so special to them.
John Morris pointed out the humbling aspects of the game, noting baseball is “a game designed for failure. There are just too many things that can go wrong for players over the course of a long season. I’ve seen this game bring even the most strong-minded players to their knees. So I learned that the best way to achieve long term success is to have a short term memory.’’
After his playing career, Morris, who was a first-round pick (10th overall) out of Seton Hall University in 1982 put in 10 years in player development as a coach and manager after his playing career ended, has seen the game from every perspective.
“I’ve come to realize that there are a lot of things in life that are simple to do, but are not easy to accomplish,’’ Morris said. “Baseball is a shining example of that concept. Baseball is a simple game, but it is not easy. The simplicity of the game asks players to hit the ball, catch the ball, throw the ball, touch all the bases and score more runs than the other team. The challenge comes in the actual execution of these time-tested fundamentals. Learning to embrace this basic premise has provided lessons of a lifetime.’’
Baseball author Erik Sherman noted of Koosman that he understood what the Mets meant to not just New York during that era, but to the country, and pointed to these words from Kooz.
“I still get letters from guys that were in Vietnam at that time,’’ Koosman said. “So it’s never been lost on me that they were out there fighting for you and putting their lives on the line. It made me think, ‘Hey, maybe baseball isn’t the life and death situation that I think it is.’ They’re putting their lives on the line and I’m playing a game and having fun doing it. But for many of them, what we were accomplishing on the field made those guys feel better. And that meant a lot to me.’’
As I said, being inducted to the NY State Baseball HOF was a truly humbling experience and yes, even AMBS can be humbled.
Hearing the kind and heartfelt words offered to me by Rene LeRoux in his introduction of me and Tino Martinez during his wonderful speech, where he told some great Lou Piniella stories, meant so much as well as being with family, my beautiful wife Anne, children Kelly, Casey and Corey as well as son-in-law Marc, daughter-in-law Rebecca, brother-in-law Paul and the BallNine team, led by Chris Vitali and Rocco Constantino, was so much fun.
As for me, not only do I know the exact day baseball worked its way into my soul, I know the exact time: October 13, 1960 at 3:36 in the afternoon.
Kevin Kernan gives his induction speech at the NYS Baseball HOF Ceremony in Troy, NY.
That was the moment Bill Mazeroski’s home run sailed over the 406 sign of the left field wall at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh to give the Pirates a Game 7, 10-9 victory in the World Series. For a seven-year-old Yankee fan in New Jersey who had sprinted home from school to see Mickey Mantle & Co. win another World Series, it was a crushing moment.
I was so upset, my father, a police sergeant named George F. Kernan in Kenilworth, N.J., who came from the WWII school of “suck it up and move on, kid’’ went out and bought me a white football the next day to get my mind off baseball, off the Yankees and off Maz’ home run. In the 1950s the NFL started using a white football for night games.
With the weather changing to October crispness, that football became a temporary diversion. But I, like so many Yankee fans, never really got over that loss when the light-hitting Mazeroski became the home run hitting hero with his second home run of the Series.
Decades later I was in Pittsburgh on assignment and stopped at one of those small corner bars that used to be everywhere around the Steel City. I ordered an Iron City beer, and of course, it was a commemorative can of beer that celebrated Maz’ home run. There he was again jubilantly running around the bases, waving his helmet in his right hand in wild celebration.
I took a couple of big swigs to finish the beer and promptly ordered a Rolling Rock.
All this was a good thing, though.
With the Yankees losing despite out-scoring the Pirates 55-27 in that World Series, out-hitting the Pirates 91-60, out-homering them 10-4 and hitting .338 as a team to the Pirates’ .256, this showed that anything is possible in baseball. On a given day or World Series, a team can rise above and that is what happened that October 13th.
It proved to be a valuable lesson for a young boy. Your team doesn’t always win. You don’t always win. You do have to suck it up and move on.
Chris Vitali and Kevin Kernan.
As my friend John Sterling – we share the same July 4th birthday, along with George Steinbrenner – often says to my other Yankee broadcasting friend: “That’s baseball, Suzyn.’’
Baseball can break your heart and it can mend it as well. You have to hang with ‘em.
Baseball itself though, can’t panic now and make life easier for either the hitters or the pitchers and change the basic rules of the game. That is a big mistake. We all love baseball because it is baseball. It’s that simple. Don’t drastically change the game.
I was lucky enough to play baseball at David Brearley High School and at Ramapo College in N.J. and then get a job covering baseball for oh, about the next 45 years … and counting. To be inducted into the New York State Baseball Hall of Fame is truly an honor and it is wonderful to see that our children and grandchildren love the game too.
Along the baseball trail on one October day in 2000, I got to talk to Mazeroski, who was 64 at the time, about that 1960 day and what happened at 3:36 in the afternoon.
“It’s funny,’’ the Hall of Famer said with 40 years of history at his feet. “I never showed emotion on the field, except for that one day. It was something I just couldn’t hold in. I got to live every kid’s dream.’’
Yes he did and to Yankee fans it was a nightmare. “That home run touched a lot of people’s lives,’’ Mazeroski said of the Pirates first World Series victory in 35 years.
How did he celebrate such a big moment after the game? Maz, who hit .320 in that World Series, and his wife Milene, walked out of Forbes Field and into Schenley Park, which is just beyond the ivy-covered left field wall.
“There we were, just a young couple like so many other couples that day, enjoying the park,’’ Milene told me back in 2000. “Nobody knew who we were. We just sat with the squirrels for a while. This was a World Series that had everything. It was unbelievable, the stuff stories were made of and we just needed a place to get ourselves together. We couldn’t believe we had just beaten the Yankees.’’
Neither could a seven-year-old kid in New Jersey.
The great thing about baseball, though, is a new season begins the following spring. You move on. In 1961, the Yankees won 109 games to win the American League pennant and beat the Cincinnati Reds in five games to win the World Series, leaving nothing to chance, overpowering the Reds, 13-5 in the final Game 5.
With that final victory, an eight-year-old boy in New Jersey again celebrated his love for the game. And now 60 years later I get to celebrate another baseball triumph being inducted into the prestigious New York State Baseball Hall of Fame.