Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Baseball Place No. 78: Mickey Mantle Memorial Exhibit; and 78A: The Grand Rapids Sports Hall of Fame and an amazing career lasting one at-bat.

I have nothing against Mickey Mantle, mind you.

Other than his Yankee taint, of course. But then, that’s like asking Mrs. Lincoln if there was anything she liked about going to see “Our American Cousin.”

But I can co-exist with the Mick. Josh Pahigain takes us to a Mickey Mantle Memorial Exhibit at the Hollywood at Home video store in the Lakeview Shopping Center in Grove, Okla. As place No. 78 in the “101 Baseball Places to See Before You Strike Out.”

Yes, after giving Josh a couple months off, we’re back on the trail.

The video store tribute is a fan’s appreciation of the slugger, who grew up in nearby Commerce. The owner became friends with Mick and started collecting items that were taking up more and more of the floor space in his store. Now he has all sorts of things, including Mantle’s high school locker.

It’s probably the biggest collection of Mantle memorabilia outside of Cooperstown, and it sounds like it was gathered for the right reasons.

The trouble is that I tend to be more interested in players like Don Eaddy. That takes us to:

Alternative place No. 78A: Grand Rapids Sports Hall of Fame.

To learn about Eaddy, we need to go from exhibits in a in a video store to a displays spread throughout the Van Andel Arena in downtown Grand Rapids.

The Hall of Fame was started in 1995 and is up to 110 inductees, including President Gerald R. Ford for his turns on the gridiron.

The Hall honors people from all sports and even one of my colleagues at the Grand Rapids Press. Naturally, I’m drawn toward the baseball players, including:

Chad Curtis, who I’ve learned is a nice guy despite Yankee taint.

Dave Rozema and Mickey Stanley – a pair of guys with Tigers World Series rings.

Jim Kaat, who actually is from Zeeland, about a half-hour away.

Wally Pipp, who was a darn fine player who did not get a headache, as the myth tells us.

Rick Miller, who played for the Red Sox and the Angels between 1971 and 1985

Connie Wisniewski, a pitcher who holds a record .690 winning percentage for the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.

Benny McCoy, who played for the Tigers and Athletics between 1938 and 1941.

Phil Regan, who piled up a 96-81 record between 1960 and 1972, and later piloted the Orioles. More recently, he took the helm of the West Michigan Whitecap here in Grand Rapids, and I sort of suspect that was kind of a hobby job.

Jim Command, who played parts of two seasons with the Phillies in 1954 and 1955. But more interestingly, Baseball Reference lists that his nicknames were “Igor” and “Gor,” with no indication why.
"Stubby" Overmire's Tigers jersey is among the artifacts on display at the arena.

Frank “Stubby” Overmire, who pitched for the Tigers, Browns and the Yankees between 1943 and 1952.

Then I came to Don Eaddy, who, unlike the other players, I was not aware of. A quick look at his stats tells me he played ever-so-briefly for the Cubs in 1934, appearing in 15 games but having but one plate appearance – a strike out.

I realized there must be more to this story, because you don’t get enshrined anywhere for those numbers.

I poked through out library at the Press, and came across a biography on www.baseballreferece.com.

Eaddy,it seems was an incredible high school athlete and a big star at University of Michigan, playing on a national champion.

He graduated with his bachelor’s degree then signed with the Cubs, starting in the minors in Des Moines -- turning a triple play at shortstop in his first professional game – then hitting .304 in Burlington.

The next season he went to spring training with the Cubs, was sent back to Des Moines and was hitting .390 in 11 games when he was called up to serve in the United States Air Force, not returning until 1958.

Getting back to baseball in 1959, he was allowed to be kept on the Cubs' roster as a 26th player, because of his status as a veteran. He pinch ran in a handful of games, was sent back to the minors and returned to Chicago in July.

Baseballreference.com reports Eaddy “appeared in 15 games for the Cubs, 14 times as a pinch runner, scoring 3 runs. He played one game in the field, at third base on Aug. 1 against the Cincinnati Redlegs. He replaced At Schult in the bottom of the 5th inning. He committed an error in the bottom of the 6th on a Roy McMillan groundball that scored Jerry Lynch. He then batted against Bob Purkey in the top of the 7th and struck out.”

“After the season, he was sent outright to Fort Worth, as he was by now out of options. In Cuba that winter, he led the league in walks and helped Cienfuegos win the 1960 Caribbean Series title.

He stayed in the Cubs organization for five more seasons, playing in San Antonio and at Salt Lake City. In 1963, Eaddy contracted hepatitis but in the winter played in Nicaragua, batting .347 and leading his team to a win in the international Series.

“That winter, Cubs second baseman Ken Hubbs died in an airplane clash, and Eaddy was seen as a potential replacement. He failed to grab the job in spring training and returned to Salt Lake City for the 1964 season, where he played 137 games and hit .271. He called it quits at the end of the year.”

Eaddy, I also learned, was black, playing in the majors less than 10 years after Jackie Robinson’s debut. Even though baseball was integrated, you have to wonder if he would have received more opportunities had he been white.

I thought about Moonlight Graham, the real player W. P. Kinsella introduced us to in Field of Dreams. His dream was to get that one at-bat. Eaddy at least got that opportunity.

Standing at the plate, do you think it ever entered his mind that it wold be the only time? How many times must that chance have replayed in his mind, over and over.

But reading columns from some of our writers after Eaddy passed away in 2008, I didn’t get the sense that he was bitter.

Eaddy was in the third class of players inducted into the Grand Rapids Hall of Fame, enshrined, in fact, alongside President Ford. Not bad company – and a fascinating story for us to remember.

1 comment:

spankie said...

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