Howard is the hero at Hall of Fame East-West Classic

Written by: Bill Francis

Ryan Howard walloped a three-run home run over the right field fence that proved the difference in Saturday’s Hall of Fame East-West Classic.

But in the end, all the players – and fans – were the winners.

Held under brilliant blue skies with temperature in the mid-70s, the game took place at Cooperstown’s historic Doubleday Field. In the end, the six-inning affair saw the East squad victorious, 5-4, with Howard, the former Philadelphia Phillies slugger with 382 career dingers, earning the Bob Feller Player of the Game Award.

“I think it’s a great way to cap off the entire weekend,” Howard said. “The guys came out here trying to put on a good show for everybody.”

Asked about Doubleday Field and its 312-foot wall in right field, Howard, a left-handed hitter, smiled and said, “I’ll take it.”

Hall of Fame Chairman of the Board Jane Forbes Clark, Ryan Howard and President Josh Rawitch
Hall of Fame Chairman of the Board Jane Forbes Clark and Hall of Fame President Josh Rawitch present the Bob Feller Player of the Game Award to Ryan Howard following the 2024 Hall of Fame East-West Classic. (Milo Stewart Jr./National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum)

The game was part of a weekend celebration of Black baseball history as the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum opened its new exhibit, The Souls of the Game: Voices of Black Baseball.

The East-West Classic feature 14 Hall of Famers serving as coaches, including Harold Baines, Rollie Fingers, Pat Gillick, Ken Griffey Jr., Fergie Jenkins, Jim Kaat, Fred McGriff, Eddie Murray, Jim Rice, Ryne Sandberg, Lee Smith, Ozzie Smith, Joe Torre and Dave Winfield.

Sandberg, who is currently battling cancer, shared a health update.

LaTroy Hawkins and Ryne Sandberg at the East-West Classic
LaTroy Hawkins, left, poses with Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg before the Hall of Fame East-West Classic. Both represented the Chicago American Giants, one of nine Negro League teams honored at the Classic. (Milo Stewart Jr./National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum)

“I’m feeling pretty good. As good as can be expected at this point. But I’m here in Cooperstown on a much needed little trip at this time with my wife, so happy to be here.

 “Anytime I come to Cooperstown, I get energized while I’m here, while I’m traveling here, and when I leave, and it lasts for some months afterwards. So this is about as good medicine I could have right now.”

Taking part in the game were two dozen recently retired big leaguers, a group that included captains CC Sabathia and Chris Young along with Josh Barfield, José Contreras, Ian Desmond, Prince Fielder, Dexter Fowler, Doug Glanville, Curtis Granderson, Tony Gwynn Jr., Jerry Hairston, Scott Hairston, LaTroy Hawkins, Ryan Howard, Edwin Jackson, Jeremy Jeffress, Adam Jones, Russell Martin, Darrell Miller, Melvin Mora, David Price, Tyson Ross, Tony Sipp, B.J. Upton and Justin Upton.

Ken Griffey Jr. shakes hands with Mo'ne Davis
Ken Griffey Jr., right, shakes hands with Mo'ne Davis during introductions at the Hall of Fame East-West Classic. (Milo Stewart Jr./National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum)

Also taking part was Mo’ne Davis, a Little League World Series hero who gained international acclaim back in 2014 when she became first girl to earn a win and to throw a shutout.

“I’m excited,” she said before the game in which she ultimately batted once and played center field. “I mean, I get to be on the field with a bunch of great players, so it’s really cool.”

Ryan Howard in his left-handed batting stance
Ryan Howard went 2-for-3 with a pivotal three-run home run to earn Bob Feller Player of the Game Award honors at the 2024 Hall of Fame East-West Classic. (Milo Stewart Jr./National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum)

In the 2024 East-West Classic, the West took a 2-0 lead in the top of the second inning when Curtis Granderson walloped a ball off Edwin Jackson over the right field fence with Justin Upton on first base. The East, the home team, got on the board an inning later when Tony Gwynn Jr. hit a line drive homer to right off Contreras.

In the top of the fifth, the West plated a pair thanks to RBI singles from Desmond and Justin Upton to take a short-lived 4-1 lead.

This East-West Classic contest was like other ballgames one might run across anywhere around the country. It had a bubblegum blowing contest, a T-shirt toss, the wave circled the ballpark, and the traditional singing of Take Me Out to the Ball Game. But for those participating, the weekend had a higher meaning.

“It continues to show the growth of this game, being able to recognize how important Black baseball is to the game of baseball and being able to showcase it up here in Cooperstown I think is very big,” Howard said. “There’s always been the underlying stories that take place and not only just in baseball but in society. And so to be able to have that situation now where we’re able to come out here and continue to showcase. And for those that came before me. My fellow colleagues here are going to be able to look down and see the Hall of Famers that are here. Those guys that paved the way for us. But also remember the gentlemen that paved the way for them but didn’t get the opportunity to play in the Major Leagues.

“For me, it’s just to continue to pay homage to those who paved the way for guys like myself.”

Granderson said when you think about the history of baseball, it’s important to remember all of it, which includes Black baseball.

“There’s so many nuggets and tidbits that are in today’s game that you don’t recognize and realize actually started with Black baseball,” Granderson said. “Just some of those things today that we just take it for granted. So it’s really cool to just say thank you. It’s an honor to be here this weekend.”

Hall of Famers and East-West Classic players
Fourteen Hall of Famers and two dozen recently retired major league players took part in the 2024 Hall of Fame East-West Classic in front of a sellout crowd of 5,740 fans. (Milo Stewart Jr./National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum)

Glanville struggled to find the right words to describe his feelings about being in Cooperstown celebrating the Black baseball experience.

“I don’t even think ‘awesome’ does it justice. It’s really incredible,” Glanville said. “I was part of the committee that was tasked with thinking about these ideas. This actually brings it into something really tangible, historical, researched, concrete, with passion and soul but also the fact that it’s now available to everybody. It’s laid out and explained in ways that you could never really do justice on your own. It also brings you to place where you’re not alone. That’s some of the challenges of being a pioneer.”

Bill Francis is the senior research and writing specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum