Go Pro Baseball Wise: Hall Of Fame

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The Hall of Fame and the personal stories of its players are part of baseball history.

"My baseball career was a little different than most fellas in the Hall of Fame because pro baseball was never my dream as a child.....No scouts ever talked to me in high school, not once......."
— Ozzie Smith,
Major League player [18 seasons] Padres, Cardinals; member, Hall of Fame
Hall of Fame Players Remember

Frank Robinson: "Going into the Hall of Fame pretty well wraps it up for a guy's playing career. Then it's time to give back to the game."

Working on this book was the thrill of a lifetime. Getting time with members of the Hall of Fame was an unexpected treat. They shared their personal stories and offered advice for you young players eager to get scouted, get drafted, get that baseball contract and begin your own baseball careers. Because they played many years ago when the game was much different than it is today, their stories give us an inside look at another piece of baseball history.

Billy Williams: "As you know, I signed to play pro baseball in 1956, and of course conditions weren't too conducive them. I'm talking about racial conditions. This was a problem with me because I'm a black ballplayer and I didn't get a chance to live in hotels. I had to go to a private home in every town we played in. The organization found homes for us from town to town. I started off in Parker City, Oklahoma. I was a kid from Whistler, Alabama, and when I moved to Parker City to play in the Sooner State League I had to go into a private home. I didn't know what a bed in a hotel felt like at the time.

"When I was playing baseball in 1959 in the Texas League, there were some places there where I had to eat in the kitchen because the restaurants couldn't serve us where all the white customers ate. Truthfully. So in those days, in a way, there were two things to deal with. The desire to play baseball and the stamina…if you will…of dealing with that other stuff.

"There are a lot of things and I'd like to forget about them because they happened a long time ago. It's like a part of baseball history that nobody talks about much now.

"Those things happened way back then and I'm so glad things are happening the right way now. You could talk a lot about it. There's numerous things. I remember coming out here, my first couple of weeks out here in Phoenix, Arizona, and I had to stay in Scottsdale. At first, we couldn't stay in the hotel in Scottsdale or at Mesa. But that was a long time ago.

"As I say, those are things I like to forget about because it brings back some dull memories and I don't like to live in the past. Today's kids don't have to fight this anymore, thankfully, and all they have to worry about is playing baseball."

Bob Feller: "Minor League baseball is by far the best family entertainment, the cheapest and most wholesome entertainment in the United States of America. It's part of our culture and nostalgia.

"The hope that the young fellas are going to make it to the big leagues or make it in the Minor Leagues even if they don't make it to the big leagues, well, they're going to enjoy this all their lives. And it's going to be important to them as long as they live.

"Let me give a big tip to all the fellas out there starting their baseball careers. Remember this is a business and you must work at it year round. That means you have to pay attention to baseball things during the season. No smoking, no alcohol. At least two good meals a day. Avoid junk food.

"Of course to be great at pro baseball you have to make your wind good, your legs good, your body strong, and have good endurance and stamina. To do that during the season, you must always listen to your coaches and instructors because their goals are the same as yours. They want to make you the best player you can be and get you to the Major Leagues.

"Then you have to do baseball things in the off season to stay in shape. For me, that was easy. I was born on an Iowa farm where I used to milk cows twice a day, pick corn by hand, and do everything else by hand before things became as mechanized as they are today. I did an awful lot of manual labor, like chopping wood, pitching bundles, throwing around bales of hay, and all the things necessary on an Iowa farm before World War II. If we had any free time we played baseball, a lot of it. We played in the winter when the weather allowed. And I threw the ball in the gym. I'm saying this because you need to know that your responsibility to your baseball career is there all year round. It's especially important in the winter that you do baseball things every day so it'll be easier to go to spring training."

Eddie Matthews: "I want to mention what I consider the biggest change in the game since I started playing. It can be summed up in one word, and that's attitude. When I came up as a player, all the rookies and everyone in the Minor Leagues, actually, had the same attitude. We were hungry and wanted to make it to the big leagues. We knew we had to play well on a daily basis or that wouldn't happen. We had to work hard to improve ourselves. The attitude we had was to improve ourselves and turn our minuses into pluses which made us better players.

"But, after I retired as a player and first started as a roving instructor in the Minor Leagues I noticed several things about the young players there. The physical ability is obvious, but the rest of it often leaves much to be desired. Obviously, we'd like them all to be like Pete Rose type players, which they can be. That's the funny part. We can help them with their physical ability to a certain extent, just by merely playing. IF they take the same approach to the game as a Pete Rose, they'd be much better. But the youngsters today don't realize that Rose had very little natural ability, and it was his attitude…his heart…that saved him. He made himself into a ballplayer with hard work followed by more hard work. I mean, that attitude is what it's all about and you can't teach that part. You can't teach the desire. You can't teach heart. Some have it and some don't.

"It's a sad thing to see a kid with all the inner qualities but isn't the best player. I mean the kid who doesn't have quite the ability but has a heart as big as a football. I'd rather have that kid on my team than the player with outstanding ability who just dogs around.

"When I was at the Hall of Fame a couple of weeks ago at the dinner they have for just the members of the Hall, we were talking about Pete Rose. Stan Musial said, 'You know, it's funny that they call him Charlie Hustle and he still gets so much notoriety because I played that way every day of my life.'

"We all agreed with Stan. That's just the way baseball was back then. We all played like Pete Rose when I grew up, and that was the way of life when I played in the big leagues. All of us gave a hundred percent every day, day after day, and nobody thought anything about it.

"But today, you can certainly see how agents and the super contracts they get for the players have changed the game. It's really influenced the attitude of these guys because they're not hungry any more. I mean, just look at how many of them just go out there and laze around rather than putting their heart and soul into the game."

Willie McCovey: "One of my favorite memories of my playing days is of a baseball man named Sal Taormina. He was very special to a lot of young players. When I first met Sal, I was nineteen and had just joined the Phoenix ballclub in the Pacific Coast League. This was right after the Giants moved to San Francisco and relocated the Seals to Phoenix making them the Phoenix Giants. They also moved some of the players that were on the roster of that team, and Sal was one of those guys.

"When I first met Sal I was nineteen and had just joined the Phoenix ballclub. I think he took a special interest in me because I was very young playing AAA baseball, and he was one of the old veterans who'd been around that league for quite a few years.

"He and I were complete opposites. Sal was the guy who more or less kept the clubhouse loose. He was the center of attention in the clubhouse and everybody liked him. I didn't think he even noticed me because we were so opposite. I mean, I didn't even speak to anybody unless they spoke to me first. So he more or less hung around me at my locker and tried to make me feel a little more at home with my teammates and a little more comfortable in the league. At that time, being nineteen in that league was really young because in those days they had a lot of former Major League players in that league. And AAA was considered a much higher level than it is now, I think.

"So Sal recognized that I was just a green kid and we became good friends for that reason. But a lot of things he did baffled me. I mean, he would get up to the plate and he had that chew in his mouth dripping down the front of his uniform. He did it on purpose to get the guys loose by laughing at him. So they all called him Hoghead. And I used to play innocent and ask him, 'Sal, why do they call you Hoghead? You don't look like a hog?' And he laughed and got a kick out of that.

"Or he'd get up to the plate and talk to the pitchers while he was hitting. He'd holler stuff like, 'Get that crap over!' And the pitchers would throw at him and knock him down. So he'd get up off the seat of his pants and get back in the box and start yelling again. 'You can't hurt me with that crap!' I was always amazed because he'd start yelling at them again and they kept throwing at him. Sometimes they actually hit him, but that was his strategy. He'd do anything to get on base, and we all knew hitting the batter was the last thing the pitcher wanted. But he got himself on base and that's what he wanted. It was all part of Sal's game. He'd get the pitcher to throw at him and he'd get his base.

"We had a lot of crazy players on that team and lots of fun. There were a lot of pranks and Sal was usually at the center of it. I mean there were guys like Dusty Rhodes and other former Major Leaguers and I was in awe of a lot of those guys because of that.

"So I went up to the big leagues the next year and went on to have a successful Major League career, and Sal and I continued to be friends. He even joined the Giants' Major League club briefly after that. I know Sal felt he contributed to my career and he was always proud of that.

"Even when he was the Head Baseball Coach at Santa Clara University [near San Francisco] there was always one kid he took a special interest in. He sought me out whenever the Giants played an exhibition game there and asked me to talk to that kid. And on many other occasions he brought a couple of his players to our games at Candlestick and after the games they'd come down to the clubhouse and he'd have me talk with them. Those kids usually reminded me of myself at the same age. Maybe the kid was having a problem and was taking it bad, so Sal would ask me to talk with him and make him feel good. He would always do that.

"Surprisingly, when my playing days ended, I found I don't really miss the playing part that much, probably because I'm still affiliated with the Giants Organization and don't feel separated from the game. But the memories come back if I really get involved with watching a bunch of games or seeing a bunch of the guys I used to play with.

"The hardest thing is to see so many changes in the game, when not all of them are good for the game. But I suppose people who played ahead of me said the same thing about my era."

Ozzie Smith: "My career was a little different than most fellas in the Hall of Fame because baseball was never my dream as a child. It was just something that happened along the way. I played everything when I was young and it wasn't until I was a junior in high school that I realized what a gift I had and that baseball was what I loved doing more than anything else.

"No scouts ever talked to me in high school, not once, so I went to college. When I was a junior at Cal Poly/San Luis Obispo, the Tigers drafted me, but I chose not to sign. That was 1976. In 1977 I was drafted in the fourth round by the San Diego Padres, signed, and went to rookie ball in the Northwest League in Walla Walla, Washington, that summer.

"I played a total of 67 or 68 games in the Minor Leagues, had a .303 average, and was invited to Instruction League after that season. Alvin Dark was managing the Padres at that particular time, and he saw me play a couple of times there, and I got invited to the big league camp. I was so excited, I mean, going from rookie ball directly to the big league camp. But Dark got fired during spring training. But, I apparently showed them something because they told me I was their opening day shortstop for the 1978 season.

"I played for the Padres through the 1981 season and was then traded straight across to the Cardinals for Gary Templeton, and that's where I had my baseball career.

"I had a gift and I knew it. I'm small, but I could hit, run with speed, and had quick feet on defense and a solid glove. Oh yes, and I could throw out the best of 'em at first base. And I was able to do it every day for many seasons.

"Hopefully people will remember me as a Hall of Fame player now. But during the playing days they always talked about the backsprings. It wasn't an everyday thing, but just something I have the ability to do. Anyway, one day after a game in spring training when I was with the Padres, Gene Tenace asked me to do one because there were some local girls into gymnastics who wanted to see it, but we could never coordinate a time. So on the last day of the season, Fan Appreciation Day, the girls were there and we decided, 'what the heck,' and I did a backspring on my way out to my position. That was the first time I did it. And from then on I've done it on the first and last day of the season. So if people remember that as part of who I am, that's fine with me."

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