Hall of Fame

Blyleven makes important jump

Tuesday, January 8th, 2008

Bert Blyleven didn’t get elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Tuesday, but he made a big enough jump to suggest he’ll get there eventually.

In his 11th year on the ballot, Blyleven received 61.9 percent of the vote. A player needs 75 percent of the vote to gain entry, and they are eligible on the Baseball Writers Association of America ballot for up to 15 years.

Blyleven’s percentage slipped from 53 percent to 47 percent in the previous two elections, but he just got a 15 percent bump. He finished fourth in the balloting behind Goose Gossage (86 percent, the only player elected this year), Jim Rice (72 percent) and Andre Dawson (66 percent).

In his ninth year on the ballot, Jack Morris received 42.9 percent of the vote. That’s up from 37 percent last year, but he probably would have felt better about his eventual chances if he had been closer to 50.

Update: I spoke to Bert, and he was in good spirits. He said his wife, Gayle, predicted he’d receive 62 percent of the vote, and she was right.

“I’m very happy for Goose Gossage,” he said. “That’s something that should have happened years ago. I know Goose vented last year, and Jim Rice will probably vent this year. You find yourself — when you get to close, and you know your numbers are there — you get upset. I was upset before, and now I just look at it and say it’s out of my hands, what can I do?”

Cooperstown is calling

Monday, January 7th, 2008

If you’re one of those people who has to know first, you can find this year’s Hall of Fame election results by clicking on baseballhall.org, Tuesday at 1 p.m. (Central).

This was my second year voting, and it continues to be a hair-pulling decision process. I made eight selections, down from nine a year ago. Many will argue that I was still too generous:

My chosen eight: Bert Blyleven, Andre Dawson, Rich Gossage, Jack Morris, Dale Murphy, Tim Raines, Jim Rice, Alan Trammell.

My notable snubs: Tommy John, Don Mattingly, Mark McGwire, Dave Parker, Lee Smith.

Getting to know Tony O.

Sunday, June 3rd, 2007

TonyO.jpgI’d interviewed Tony Oliva a few times but never really gotten to know him, never fully grasped the legend, until I started working on today’s feature story. I had a lot of fun gathering material. Everyone I talked to seemed so happy for the chance to sing Oliva’s praises. Jim Palmer spoke of a home run Tony hit in the Appalachian League in 1961 that people were still talking about years later. “They said it’s still heading for the mountains,” Palmer said.

Twins minor league director Jim Rantz spoke of a home run Tony hit in Oklahoma City in 1963 that traveled over an outfield light tower. “Furthest home run I ever saw,” Rantz said. Just then, Rantz remembered Harmon Killebrew’s epic blast at Met Stadium in 1967 and said, “Put it in that category.”

Oliva is one the few who hit a ball completely out of Kansas City’s old Memorial Stadium. It happened on June 29, 1969. George Toma, who was then Kansas City’s head groundskeeper, remembers that ball hitting a house across the street.

KCMuni.jpg“We had a hill back there we called Lambchop Hill,” Toma said. “That ball went over Lambchop Hill, over a sidewalk, over a four-lane road, and it would have kept going if it didn’t hit that house. Whenever I see him, I say, ‘Have you paid for the broken window?’ “

Buck Martinez, a rookie catcher for Kansas City that day, recalled the same story this week as he looked up the box score on the Internet. “It was a Sunday doubleheader,” Martinez said. “He went 3-for-4 with a double in Game 1. Then in Game 2, he went 5-for-5 with a double, two home runs and five RBI. So he went 8-for-9 that day. [Laughs] That’s just how I remember it.”

For me, it was unforgettable sitting down several times to talk with Oliva. We met for lunch. He and his wife, Gordette, allowed me and a photographer into their home. Then, my wife and I had a chance to join them as they watched their son, Ric Oliva, play guitar last week in Hopkins. Ric graduated from the Berklee College of Music, which has a list of prominent alumni that includes John Mayer and Quincy Jones. We saw Ric play blues alongside Jimmy Russell in their band “Soul Shack Sessions.” Ric also plays in the rock band “8 Foot 4,” and we’re definitely going to check them out sometime. Music always has been a big theme in the Oliva home.

Everywhere we went, people would walk up to Oliva, asking for his autograph. He’s truly honored when it happens. Tony told me he used to have a real phobia about asking people for their autograph himself. He played in all those All-Star games and never once asked another player to sign a baseball. It wasn’t until years later, at old timer’s games, that he got over it and started a collection that includes the likes of Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio and Sandy Koufax.

Kojak.jpgI guess the way to sum it up best is to let Oliva tell the story about the time he was on the same flight to Atlanta with Telly Savalas, star of the TV show “Kojak.” Keep in mind, this is after Oliva had played in all those All-Star games and won all those batting titles:

I love Kojak. I love it. I watched each episode. Every time it was on TV, I watched it. He was on the plane with me, and I recognized him, and I say, ‘I’ve gotta have his autograph.’

I’ve got the pen in my hands, and I want him to write on the back of my picture. It takes me about 20 minutes to decide to go to see him. … When I go there, he was speaking to some lady. I say, ‘I’ll get him later.’

Later, I come back to his seat again, he was sleeping.

The third time I come back there, he was speaking to somebody again.

We get to Atlanta, and some people recognized him. I watched him sign all these autographs. Here I was behind him, I never asked. I was so chicken. And today, I regret that because I was afraid. I know it’s hard to believe.

Actually, it’s not hard to believe. Baseball players, even the best ones, are human. Some just have an easier time showing it than others. And that’s what made getting to know Tony O. so special.

Oliva, others snubbed again

Tuesday, February 27th, 2007

Once again, the National Baseball Hall of Fame Veterans Committee elected nobody.

The biannual announcement was made Tuesday, and Tony Oliva received 47 of 84 votes (57 percent). Players need 75 percent of the vote to get in. Ron Santo came the closest with 57 votes (70 percent), followed by Jim Kaat (52, 63 percent), Gil Hodges (50, 61 percent), Oliva, Maury Wills (33, 40 percent) and Joe Torre (26, 32 percent).

Since the Veterans Committee was reconfigured earlier this decade, it hasn’t elected anyone, snubbing the field in 2003, 2005 and 2007. Oliva, who received similar vote percentages in the previous two elections, left the Twins spring training complex 30 minutes before the announcement, not expecting good news.

“If it happens, it would be a surprise,” Oliva said. “The way it’s set up now, it’s very hard.”

Oliva’s next Hall of Fame chance

Monday, February 26th, 2007

Tony Oliva had a hard time containing his disappointment two years ago when he wasn’t elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee. Astonishingly, the committee chose nobody. Players need to be picked on 75 percent of the ballots to get in, but if it happens again, they ought to rename these 84 voters The Grizzled Veterans Committee.

Oliva’s next chance comes Tuesday, at 1 p.m. (Central), when this year’s announcement gets made. Other players on the 27-member ballot include Roger Maris, Gil Hodges, Jim Kaat and Ron Santo. Here’s the complete list and more information from Cooperstown.