I had the opportunity to host a broadcast on “Blacks Do Play Baseball“ (DFWiRadio.com) at 6 pm CST on Sunday Night, June 22. This show was about Williams, Gwynn and Bob The Baseball Man. The following was the opener to the show.
Good Evening and welcome to tonight’s show of “Blacks Do Play Baseball“ on DFWiRadio.com. This is Bob “The Baseball Man” May, author of The Best Season – The First Ninety Games, the first of a two book series that honors Black Ball (Negro League or segregated baseball) through baseball game simulation.
At 2 pm this afternoon, God gave me a nudge and told me to change the opening to tonight’s show. I do not know about you, but last-minute changes to anything I have to do, usually do not thrill me! But God is so good at how he blesses me.
I had just turned the page in my Dallas Morning News, Sport Section to page 5C. The headline at the top of the page is “Watching Tony Gwynn was among life’s joys” written by Michael Granberry (sports writer). Tony Gwynn, Hall of Fame right fielder for the San Diego Padres passed away, this past week at the young age of fifty-four, a victim of salivary gland cancer. He spent most of his ball-playing years chewing tobacco.
Michael had the pleasure of getting to know Tony during Michael’s 19 years in San Diego (1978-1997), working for the Los Angeles Times. One of Michael’s first assignments was to interview the hotly recruited San Diego State athlete named Tony Gwynn – a basketball player.
For the longest time Michael did not know, Tony played baseball! Gwynn, of course, now shares immortality with the likes of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and fellow San Diegan, Ted Williams. Tony Gwynn and Ted Williams shared a special bond. Let’s review what they shared and how I was blessed to be connected with them.
Let’s begin with Ted Williams batting .406, the last .400 hitter (seventy-three years running) in the year 1941 (by the way, I was born on August 29, 1941 in Stoneham MA, twelve miles north of Fenway Park in Boston). My first Major League baseball game was at Fenway Park in 1949 when I was seven years old (Joe DiMaggio and the Yankees vs. Ted Williams and the Boston Red Sox)!
In 1994, Tony Gwynn was hitting .394 when the season ended in early August (balance of season cancelled due to failed labor negotiations). He had an excellent chance of hitting over .400. At the time, I was President of Pursue the Pennant Baseball Game Company. The last set of cards we produced for our loyal customers was the 1994 card set with Tony Gwynn and his .394 batting average. The baseball strike/lockout contributed to our shutting the doors to the company in 1995.
Ted Williams lifetime batting average was .344 (fifth all-time I believe). Tony Gwynn had the highest life time batting average since Ted Williams, .338.
Tony Gwynn spent his entire career with the Padres, 1982-2001. Ted Williams spent his entire career with the Red Sox, 1939-1960.
Tony Gwynn, according to Michael, was fun to be around. He was a force in the community. Many people remember Ted Williams for his tantrums, cussing and abuse of sports writers, three divorces. He was loved by so many because of the kindness he would show to the people that were struggling especially dying children. Ted was a key force behind the Jimmy Fund (foundation for kids with cancer). He took care of his family in San Diego (Mom, Dad, younger brother). Also, Ted Williams served his country in two conflicts (World War ll, Korea) as a Marine fighter pilot.
I believe the greatest contribution to baseball that Ted Williams made came during his Hall of Fame Induction Speech in 1966 (to paraphrase – Ted had just shared how lucky he was to have had the chance to play the game of baseball. He then shared it was sad that Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson and other stars of the Negro Leagues were not represented in The National Baseball Hall of Fame). Five years later, Satchel Paige was inducted. Today thirty-nine players from the Negro Leagues are in the Hall of Fame. In my book, I share Ted’s contribution.
If the Negro League stars were never inducted into the Hall of Fame, there might not have been a book. When I was President of Pursue the Pennant and we decided to make the four hundred player card set of the greatest players from 1881-1987 our first criteria was if a player was in the Hall of Fame as of 1992, they would be in the set. There were eleven Negro League Players in the Hall of Fame, therefore, Negro League players were included. We added ten more Negro League players, in case some of our customers wanted a Negro League team (eight of those ten players are in the HOF, today).
One final thing on Ted Williams – for Father’s Day, I used a portion of money from our three kids to purchase “The Kid”, The Immortal Life of Ted Williams by Ben Bradlee, Jr. It is an excellent book. I am nearly finished. At this point in the book, he is managing the Washington Senators. He had a great first season, but season two is a struggle.
My other connection to Tony Gwynn would have been about six weeks ago. I was in Albuquerque NM (invited by some baseball historians, SABR). I was supposed to meet Tony Gwynn, Manager of San Diego State baseball team. They were in town to play New Mexico Lobos. However, Tony had stopped traveling with team in March, because of his cancer. Tony rest in peace. I know you are having a blast in heaven playing on God’s baseball team. It makes sense, after all Tony was a PADRE!
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Bob, The Baseball Man