Preserved in Cooperstown

Hall of Fame Classic players glad their artifacts came to Hall of Fame

June 22, 2010
Jeff Kent has donated artifacts from his career as the all-time home run leader for second baseman. (Milo Stewart Jr./National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)

Sprinkled among the two teams in the 2010 Hall of Fame Classic were seven honored inductees with bronze likenesses in the Plaque Gallery. But for a quartet of the 22 other former major leaguers that participated in Sunday afternoon’s game at Doubleday Field, a part of the careers will forever be part of the Cooperstown institution.

The Hall of Fame is constantly adding new artifacts to its vast collection, and for the four players in town this weekend who have donated something from their playing careers the honor has been everlasting.

“I just wish I was here, too,” laughed Bill Madlock, a 15-year big league third baseman and four-time batting champion who donated a bat he used while a member of the 1984 Pittsburgh Pirates. “Just to be a part of history, it’s just unbelievable. When you come here it takes you waaaaaaay back.”

Madlock hasn’t had the opportunity to see the bat in 16 years, but a relative has.

“It’s really funny because my aunt, she’s from New York, and she was walking through the Hall of Fame and she was shocked: ‘Oh, that’s my nephew’s bat,’” Madlock said. “She called me and asked me if I knew it was here. I’ve never seen it since it’s been in Cooperstown, but she’s seen it.”

Steve Grilli finished his big league career, spent mostly with the Detroit Tigers, with a record of 4-3. But his claim to fame is as the losing pitcher in the longest game in professional baseball history, a 33-inning International League contest in 1981 that saw Pawtucket Red Sox come away with a 3-2 win over Rochester Red Wings.

“After the game was over, somebody from the Hall of Fame was present and asked me if I would donate my hat,” Grilli recalled. “I kind of joked and told them they could have anything I wore in that game that they wanted. It’s great to be remembered for something. I was well short of winning 300 games in the big leagues, so I wasn’t going to get into the Hall of Fame that way.

“We’re all going to be dead and gone someday, but in a sense it’s almost like a tombstone etching right there in the Hall of Fame. If you can leave something there and be part of the history of this wonderful game, I think you’ve got be a fool not to give it up.”

After slugging outfielder Mark Whiten hit four home runs and drove in 12 runs for the St. Louis Cardinals in a game against the Cincinnati Reds on Sept. 7, 1993, tying Hall of Famer Jim Bottomley’s record for RBI in a game and becoming the 12th big leaguer to hit four homers in a game, a clubhouse attendant passed along word that the Hall of Fame was hoping he would donate the batting helmet he wore on the historic day.

“If they wanted it, I was going to give it to them. But I want to go see it, I’ll tell you that right now,” Whiten said with a big smile. “I’m going to check it out just to get the nostalgia out of the way of just knowing that something of mine is in there.”

Jeff Kent, who retired after the 2008 season, was a five-time All-Star, the 2000 National League MVP Award winner and holds the record for home runs hit by a second baseman with 351. Generous during his career, he has donated to the Hall of Fame a bat and Houston Astros cap from the final week of 2004 when he became the new leading home run hitter among second basemen, a bat used from Aug. 16, 2006 to the end of the season, and the bat used in the 2009 Inaugural Hall of Fame Classic to win the pregame hitting contest.

“I have not toured the Museum, but next year my family, and I’ve been waiting purposely, I’m going to gather all the kids (three boys and a daughter) in an RV and we’re going to take a trip up here, and take a tour, and get an understanding of all the history,” Kent said. “I’ve been waiting for them to get old enough to enjoy it, so maybe they’ll dust all those things off and bring them out and say, ‘Remember you donated this?’”

While Kent doesn’t become eligible for election to the Hall of Fame until 2014, his career numbers dictate that he will at least in the discussion for induction some day.

“Some of the older guys here wish me luck and think I have a chance. I wish I could really sit down and compare myself to what the other players were like back in the day and what my status was in the era that I played,” Kent said. “Because there’s a chance, I’ve really stayed away from it. I know it exists and I think I played the game well, but I take more appreciation from the fact that it’s a hot stove topic, if you will, and people argue about it and kick it around.

“But more than anything, what’s happened for me now is some of the older players come to me, and they never made comments before when I played, but they come to me now and they say, ‘You now what? You should have played when we played. We appreciated the way you played. You’re a throwback guy.’

“And those are words that really that mean a whole lot to me.”

Bill Francis is a library associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum