Today the World Children’s Baseball Fair is hosting a luncheon in celebration of its 20th anniversary. In attendance will be two of my all-time favorites: Hank Aaron and Sadaharu Oh.
I was fortunate enough to be working with the Tokyo Giants when Oh was on their team, and I was also the third base coach on the Dodgers when Aaron broke Ruth’s record. I would just like to present a couple of facts about these sluggers: Oh hit 868 home runs in his career in Japan, and of course Hank Aaron hit 755 home runs in the Major Leagues.
Aaron and Oh came together to found the WCBF 20 years ago in an effort to bring the world closer together through baseball. I applaud their efforts, as I have done similar work in Japan, Korea, Taiwan, China and 24 other countries.
The WCBF recognizes that the sport of baseball promotes teamwork, good health, discipline and friendship, which are characteristics that people around the world embrace.
Today countries on five continents participate in the WCBF, and there is no doubt that world is better place because of it.
Since I’m in Boston none other than the great Ted Williams comes to mind. I was in Toronto and for a dinner honoring a young hockey player by the name of Wayne Gretzky. I was making my remarks when I looked in the audience and saw Fergusun Jenkins and Ted Williams. The emcee had failed to introduce them, so I made a point to.
As I said Ted’s name he looked at me and motioned for me to call him in his room after the dinner. I did so and came up to visit with him. While we were talking he told me that he has always been a huge fan of Frank Sinatra since I knew him well.
“Why don’t you tell him yourself,” I said.
I looked at my watch and it was 3:00 a.m. in Toronto, but I knew Frank was at home in Palm Springs and certainly wasn’t sleeping at midnight. I picked up the phone and called Frank.
“Francis,” I said. “I have someone who wants to say hello to you.”
I gave the phone to Ted and he went on and on to Frank about what a huge fan he was, how much he admired him and how I always spoke so highly of him.
As it turns out, frank was telling Ted the same thing. Talk about the mutual admiration society; I had the greatest singer of all time talking to the greatest hitter of all time, and everybody was happy.
Both Frank and Ted were truly amazing men. I am so fortunate to have been friends with both of them. As an Italian, or just a music lover, Frank was more than just an entertainer; he was special. He had more than a great voice; he had stage presence that made you feel like he was singing just to you.
As a baseball lover, Ted was best hitter who ever lived. He hit for power, and he hit for average. And believe it or not, he hit .406 in 1941 and didn’t win the MVP. Of course 1941 was also the year DiMaggio hit in 56 straight games. Joe of course was a hero too for baseball fans and Italians….
I knew Eddie Pellagrini for a long time. Unfortunately he passed away five years ago, and the baseball world has missed him ever since. However, his contributions to baseball were many, as he coached Boston College for many years and helped many young men become better ball players and better people.
I am in Boston to speak at a fundraiser tonight for Boston College baseball, and to remember my good friend Eddie. He coached the Eagles from 1957-88 and amassed 359 victories and three appearances in the College World Series. Eddie not only coached, but he played in the Major Leagues for eight years with Boston, St. Louis, Philadelphia, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.
I remember a great story Eddie once told me. Like mine his parents were from Italy and didn’t know anything about baseball. One day Eddie was being honored with Eddie Pellagrini Day at the ballpark. He invited his father, and in broken English his father said, “Base-a-ball? You have-a to work Eddie!”
His father decided to go after all to support his son. Eddie had a brutal day at the plate, but after the game was over his father was ecstatic.
“Eddie,” he exclaimed. “I am-a so proud of you!”
“What do you mean pop?” he asked.
“You-a were the best-a player out there today! You hit-a the ball-a higher than anyone else!”
He was talking about when Eddie popped up to the catcher!
But Eddie learned a lesson that day from his father that he used many times over the years; treat your players like family and always be supportive of them through good times and bad times.
Players don’t need you when they hit home runs and doubles, and drive in the winning run. They need you to put your arm around them when they go 0-4 at the plate or make a crucial error in the field.
Eddie treated everybody like family. He was a consummate teacher and a friend to all, especially a fellow Italian. I loved Eddie and miss him tremendously. He made his mark at Boston College as a mentor for youngsters and a Hall of Fame coach; just ask anyone that knew him.
I am on my way to the College Coaches convention and looking forward to seeing some good friends, especially Paul Mainieri and Ron Maestri. I have the utmost respect for college baseball coaches. In fact, every year I try to speak at as many fundraisers for college baseball programs as my schedule allows. I do so because college coaches are unsung heroes of baseball. They work very hard to prepare their players not just to win on the field, but to be young men prepared to succeed in life.
Parents give college coaches the same responsibilities that other coaches have, but they have to do the job with far fewer resources than football or basketball coaches have. And they never break NCAA rules. When is the last time a university has been put on sanctions because of a baseball violation?
College baseball coaches have to prepare the fields themselves, keep the baseballs in shape, and keep the uniforms clean all the while preparing the players to compete. They do outstanding jobs for their universities, and for their players.