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“Hammerin’ Hank and Joltin’ Joe” – A Tale of Two Heroes

27 Jun

 I am just finishing up very interesting literary bios on Baseball legends Henry Aaron and Joe DiMaggio. I was pretty surprised to learn they actually had a great deal in common. Both came from lower class urban backgrounds (Joe in SF and Hank in Mobile). Each man’s father worked on the waterfront (Joe’s Pop was a common fisherman, Henry’s Dad labored as a ship builder). Both smoked heavily throughout their careers and had public reputations of being cold and aloof. Both were jealous of more flashy stars of the era (Joe was often overshadowed by Ted Williams, while Hank played in the long shadow of Willie Mays). Each man was married twice. Both loved watching Western movies. Each player was a natural with amazing God-given baseball talents. Both shied away from the media due to their fear of looking uneducated. Neither man graduated high school. And guess who Hank’s idol was as a child? Yup, Joltin’ Joe.

Now for the differences. Joe was a drinker, Hank was not. DiMagg beat his wife, Henry did not. Henry was humble, DiMaggio’s ego was massive. Joe hung around mob figures, married a Hollywood starlet (Marilyn Monroe) and, by all accounts, whored around a good bit. Henry, on the other hand, was a quiet, commited family man. And perhaps most telling, Hank has put his retirement years to good use by doing a lot of community service and civil rights work. Joe, conversely, spent his golden years yearning for the spotlight and chasing the almighty dollar via an unending string of autograph schemes with shady partners. The infamous Mr. Coffee TV campaign was not exactly a great career move either for a man of Joe’s professed class and dignity.

Both books are well written, although the DiMaggio story bogs down a bit after the passing of Marilyn Monroe. Perhaps the most fascinating revelation was regarding “Joltin’ Joe” and NYC’s mafia. DiMaggio was allegedly “watching” three suitcases filled with cash for a local mob friend. When that associate was rubbed out, Joe kept the suitcases and used the countless thousands for spending loot over the next decade or so. Years later, when a major earthquake shook Joe’s native San Francisco, DiMagg managed to deftly cross thru the police tape and enter his luxurious townhome by the Bay. He was later spotted by witnesses leaving the scene toting a rather large, bulky suitcase.

Lesson learned? Our heroes are obviously not perfect. Joe and Henry were surely amazingly gifted athletes, but flawed human beings (DiMaggio certainly more flawed than Aaron). So how do you want to be remembered? I would suggest living your life as if your future biographer is always at your side. Not easy, but surely something to think about — and strive for.

Meeting Willie Mays & Hank Aaron

18 Apr

Hank Aaron Stadium – Mobile, Alabama (April 14, 2010)

Crowd gathering for Hank Aaron’s childhood home dedication. A star-studded group of baseball personalities make the trip to Mobile for the festivities. The guest list included Reggie Jackson, Willie Mays, Commisioner Bud Selig, Ozzie Smith, Rickey Henderson, Bruce Sutter, Bob Feller, and others.

Southern Belles were all gussied up for the big event.

Hank’s home was re-located to Gas Light Park on stadium grounds.

Hank shaking hands with local VIPs & politicians. He looked great.

It was a pleasure to squeeze Henry’s strong right hand.

The exterior & front porch of Hank’s boyhood home, originally built by Hank’s father.

Video exhibit inside the recently renovated home.

Hank Aaron’s “Jackie Robinson Legacy Award.”

Visitors gaze at the extensive collection of Aaron memorabilia.

One of Hank’s nicknames was, of course, “The Hammer.”

Family stove and brick-a-brack once used in the Aaron home.

More of Hank’s awards and memories.

Trophy recognizing Hank’s record setting 715th homer.

Hank was pretty intense when he had a bat in his hands.

Henry’s #44 Braves uniform and portrait (above)

I was gladly re-united with my old pal, Bob “Rapid Robert” Feller. Bob and I first met about 13 years ago when I was the GM of the Meridian Brakemen professional baseball club. Feller once served on the USS Alabama battleship, which now resides in Mobile Bay. “Rapid Robert” was voted baseball’s greatest living pitcher a few years back and you won’t get an argument from me.

Bullet Bob Feller could bring some serious heat way back in the day.

It’s the great “Say Hey Kid” – Willie Mays!

Willie getting ready to toss baseball to anxious fans.

I chatted with Willie as he relaxed in a beautiful Bentley ragtop. He was tired after traveling 12 hours from his home in Northern CA. Willie said he flew from SF to Dallas, Dallas to New Orleans, and then drove from New Orleans to Mobile. Willie apparently does not do small airplanes. What a sweet old guy he turned out to be – I really enjoyed our brief time together. Mays recently had eye surgery for cataracts and doesn’t see very well any more. Plus it was a sticky spring day in Mobile and the intense sun was starting to get to him. It was cool seeing him in a Mobile BayBears hat.

For more pictures from this once in a lifetime event, go to the following link:

http://www.photoshelter.com/c/apexmediawire/gallery/20100414-AL-Hank-Aaron-Childhood-Home-Museum-dedicated/G00008NK0hQPmqQU/?_bqH=eJwLz3NJzPNL9UuuTCx3T0mzTPEsDQzPi0z3C0y3MrKwMjWwsnKP93SxdTcAAgs_b4OMwIDcwsBQtQCQqJq7Z7y7o4.Pa1AkNkUAXGgcFA–&_bqO=27

Montgomery Biscuits Baseball!

17 Apr

I attended my first Montgomery Biscuits (AA Tampa Bay Rays affiliate) game last Monday night. The home team was taking on the Mobile (AL) BayBears (AA affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks). Montgomery’s Riverwalk Stadium is a great new facility, located in the city’s historic downtown.

Our evening began a short block away near this old water tower

We enjoyed dinner at world famous Dreamland BBQ

Here’s a look at “The Alley” – cool space!

Grabbed a pint of microbrew (Hopitoulas IPA from NOLA)

Dinner was BBQ bird, sauce and Sunbeam Bread

Got a complimentary order of Nanner Puddin’ too!

The brick exterior gives the ballpark a classic look

The team’s apparel store is aptly called the “Biscuit Basket”

Team mascot, Monte Biscuit (complete with butter slab tongue!)

The ballpark was built on the site of the old railroad station

Love this exposed brick feature

Some great details remain from the old railyard

Me and the boys hangin’ out with “Big Mo”

Strolling the inner concourse at Riverwalk Stadium

Listen to team theme songs here:

http://www.biscuitsbaseball.com/FANS/songs.html 

Some more of the ballpark’s retro features

Real trains still run just beyond the left field wall

Of course, they serve biscuits at Biscuits’ home games!

www.biscuitsbaseball.com

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