Hello Friends and Family,

Link to this year's index by clicking here.

FanFest 2011, Part 3

One section of FanFest that I thoroughly enjoyed was the traveling Hall of Fame. Here, from that exhibit, is a jersey worn by Babe Ruth, probably the most recognized name in Major League Baseball — known to folks who do not follow the game and who could not name more than a handful of players.

Even the great Lou Gehrig might not make that list to the non-fan — despite the records he set hitting right after Babe Ruth and remembered for playing 2,130 consecutive games. They might recognize the nickname of "Lou Gehrig's disease", which is more properly known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). His name was associated with the disease when he was diagnosed with this disorder, characterized by rapidly progressive weakness, muscle atrophy and fasciculations (small involuntary muscle twitches), muscle spasticity, difficulty speaking (dysarthria), difficulty swallowing (dysphagia), and decline in breathing ability — certainly not what one would associate with a vibrant athlete like Lou Gehrig — but life sometimes throws one curve balls. ALS claimed his life only two years after his retirement from baseball.

One of the curious displays was small plots of grass from various baseball stadiums. This one is from Yankee Stadium in New York. It was interesting that they each use different combinations of seed based on climate and local soil conditions. You could even purchase a seed packet to establish a small plot of Yankee stadium turf in your own back yard. In all practicality, it probably would not survive a Phoenix summer but what a great gag gift for your favorite baseball fanatic.

Appealing to long-suffering Baltimore Orioles fans is the World Championship trophy from 1970 when the Birds beat the Cincinnati Reds four games to one. The Orioles have only won one other Championship since then (1983) but their fans keep hoping that this year is the year.

My dad is one of those long-suffering fans and at age 94, he figures the Orioles have to hurry up and win one soon. When I visit him during baseball season, we gather in front of the television each afternoon or evening to watch every Orioles game (via Direct TV's MLB Extra Inning that allows us to watch nearly every MLB game played). If the broadcast time is inconvenient (like those games played at night on the west coast), we record the games and watch them the next day. Recently my dad has not been in the mood to watch them when we know they have already lost — so we only watch the DVR playback of winning games from the west coast. East coast games, we tend to watch live.

Did you notice the difference in the design of the trophy compared to the 2001 award to the Diamondbacks which I shared last week? The newer design is taller, sleeker and less busy — good improvement in my mind.

This section of the Hall of Fame exhibit was dedicated to the professional Negro Leagues that flourished during the infamous time when MLB would not let a black man play major league baseball. There was one curious story documented that in 1901, the early team in Baltimore tried to get around the ban by claiming that African-American Charlie Grant was an Indian named Tokohama. When the team traveled to Chicago to play the White Sox, President Charles Comiskey recognized Grant and objected to his presence on the field. The team kept him on the bench but the ruse was now out in the open and Grant returned to the Columbia Giants and never played in the white major leagues.

Satchel Paige is a well-know-African American player who played both in the Negro Leagues and later in the integrated Major Leagues. In fact, he was the oldest rookie to play Major League Baseball at the age of 42. He played with the St. Louis Browns until age 47, and represented them in the All-Star Games in 1952 and 1953.

From Wikipedia, "In 2010, Sportswriter Joe Posnanski, writing for Sports Illustrated, named Satchel Paige as the hardest thrower in the history of baseball. He based this, in part, on the fact that: Joe DiMaggio would say that Paige was the best he ever faced. Bob Feller would say that Paige was the best he ever saw. Hack Wilson would say that the ball looked like a marble when it crossed the plate. Dizzy Dean would say that Paige’s fastball made his own look like a changeup. Posnanski further noted that: 'for most of his career Satchel Paige threw nothing but fastballs. Nothing. Oh, he named them different names — Bat Dodger, Midnight Rider, Midnight Creeper, Jump Ball, Trouble Ball — but essentially they were all fastballs. And he was still unhittable for the better part of 15 years. One pitch. It's a lot like Mariano Rivera, except he wasn't doing it for one inning at a time. He was pitching complete games day after day. That had to be some kind of incredible fastball .... [he was] perhaps the most precise pitcher in baseball history — he threw ludicrously hard. And he also threw hundreds and hundreds of innings.'"

He was also famous for many quotes (you can find them online). My favorite? "Don't look back. Something might be gaining on you."

The Homestead Grays were a team in the Negro Leagues, formed in 1912 and in operation for 38 seasons. Homestead is located next to Pittsburgh and the team played games both in Homestead and in Pittsburgh's Forbes Field. From 1940 until 1942, they played half their home games in Washington, D.C. They were so popular in D.C. that eventually two-thirds of their games were played there.

The shame of Major League Baseball's history of discrimination against African-American players has been partially assuaged by recognizing their talents through induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Still one has to lament the opportunities lost for the best players in the sport unable to compete against each other simply because of a difference in the color of their skin.

One interesting factoid was shown here regarding female pitcher Jackie Mitchell of the Class AA minor league team, the Chattanooga Lookouts. In an exhibition game, she struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig on six pitches. Way to go, girl!

As a "reward", Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis voided her contract and declared that women were unfit to play baseball as the game was "too strenuous".

Mitchell continued to play baseball with a barnstorming team, the House of David, famous for their long hair and beards. She would sometimes wear a fake beard for team publicity.

Here is a stage was set up for autograph hounds. Rollie Fingers appeared and I watched him sign baseballs and other baseball souvenirs. I am sure my friends in the Bay Area will remember Fingers who played for the Oakland Athletics from 1968 to 1976. He was the second reliever to be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

A long line of fans stood patiently for Fingers to arrive and then for him to sign each baseball in turn. Once their ball was signed, each fan was directed to another table where a holographic sticker was applied authenticating the signature. It seems that there are unscrupulous people out there who would fake autographs to sell bogus souvenirs. This authentication sticker is Major League Baseball's attempt to provide fans some measure of protection in their souvenir purchases.

One of the last items I noticed — and it really stood out — was this customized motorcycle with a heavy duty baseball theme. I am not a big bike fan but I really had to admire the craftsmanship involved in building it. I wonder if it comes with an authentication stamp.

I hope you enjoyed this visit to FanFest 2011. If the All-Star game is played in your town, I highly recommend a visit — even for people who are just so-so fans like myself — but especially if you have a kid in your life who plays the game.


Life is good.

B. David

P. S., All photos and text © B. David Cathell Photography, Inc. — www.bdavidcathell.com