By Dan Schlossberg
For the ninth straight year, USA TODAY Sports Weekly editor Steve Borelli has commissioned me to write several features for his annual Hall of Fame Induction Preview.
This year, with three living inductees and four posthumous ones, that meant finding and interviewing more than a half-dozen celebrated baseball personalities.
I already had contact information for most of them but got the others from friends in the industry, including Mets alumni director Jay Horwitz and author Doug Lyons, the ghostwriter of Jim Kaat’s new autobiography.
Then it was off to the races, taping as I went for transcription later.
Kaat was my leadoff man — probably the first time he had that spot in the lineup — but hit for the cycle, offering his thoughts on his string of Gold Gloves (16) and his matching home run total (he hit 16 in an era when pitchers could still hit).
Then there was Tony Oliva, another 83-year-old who starred for the Minnesota Twins. The last player to leave Cuba legally before the Castro crackdown, Oliva not only won batting titles in his first two seasons — a major-league record —and also had more total bases than any other rookie. He also revealed that he almost returned to Cuba after drawing his release from the Twins in training camp!
I talked to Bob Kendrick, the erudite president of the Negro Leagues Museum, about Buck O’Neil, whose election was long overdue, and Bud Fowler, the surprise selection of this year’s class.
For the Gil Hodges piece, I found Gil Hodges, Jr., Carl Erskine, Jeff Torborg, Art Shamsky, and Ron Swoboda, but also remembered that electees who both played and managed can only be considered for one body of work.
That meant, of course, that the man who ran the Miracle Mets of 1969 was actually selected as the finest first baseman of his generation, gifted both at bat and in the field. Erskine, 95, talked about Gil’s role as a peacemaker in the Jackie Robinson era and as a clubhouse leader throughout his long tenure. He also recalled his four-homer game against the Boston Braves.
It’s hard to believe Gil’s son is now 72 and living in Florida or that Torborg, nearly 80, is coping with the debilitating effects of Parkinson’s, robbing him at times of his once-famous strength and ability to speak.
The seven-man Class of 2022, to be inducted July 24 on an open field behind the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown, is headed by David (Big Papi) Ortiz, a first-ballot selection and the only choice of the Baseball Writers Association of America this year.
Another writer was assigned to write about the best designated hitter of all time.
I’ll be in Cooperstown not only to cover for forbes.com but also to sign books in front of the Willis Monie rare books store on Main Street from 10:30-12:30 Saturday morning, July 23. I’ll also be working as a guide for Sports Travel and Tours, official tour operator of the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Signing up with that Massachusetts-based firm eliminates concerns about seating, ticketing, mobility, and housing. Patrons also get all sorts of extra, including special access to the Hall of Fame itself and ample free team to roam Main Street and visit every vendor on the block.
For those who haven’t been, there’s no time like the present.
Dan Schlossberg’s 40 books include ghosted autobiographies of Ron Blomberg, Al Clark, and Milo Hamilton. His byline appears in forbes.com, Latino Sports, USA TODAY Sports Weekly, and Sports Collectors Digest. E.mail Dan at email@example.com.