In the foyer of the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, there are statues of three great immortal stars – Lou Gehrig, Jackie Robinson and Roberto Clemente.
That triumvirate was selected for many reasons, but perhaps more than anything they were chosen for their character and courage. All three have made benchmark contributions to the national game.
Others could have been included as representatives of their community as Robinson and Clemente surely were. Sandy Koufax could have rounded out this group as a virtual Baseball Mount Rushmore.
Significantly, all of these men played their entire careers exclusively with one team. Even at a young age, I saw something special in every single ballplayer who started and ended his major league career with one team. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the National League had its Stan Musial and the American League had its Ted Williams, both rounding out their great careers. Mickey Mantle was challenging the single season home run record, Bill Mazeroski was hitting his walk-off home run in the World Series, and Roberto Clemente was starting to grow into superstardom. Sandy Koufax was already legendary. These players just jumped out at you.
Being with one team for a lifetime almost always translates into the player being of high character. Respecting teammates, respecting fans, respecting managers and coaches, respecting the game – these players in turn have received respect not just for their accomplishments on the field, but how they played the game. Some twelve years ago, I set about researching all of the stars who qualified for that exclusive fraternity.
As unfamiliar as I was initially with the earliest players in the Deadball Era, I found that as I researched their lives and their careers, I found those same valuable character attributes in each one of them as well. They were all tremendous ambassadors for their game and their hometown team. On another level, I found that a number of these players actually grew up in or near the town where they stayed and completed their careers. Players like Jerry Augustine, Steve Blass, Whitey Ford, Bill Freehan, Jim Gantner, Lou Gehrig, Kent Hrbek, Sandy Koufax, Ed Kranepool, Barry Larkin, Bob Moose, Johnny Mostil, Mike Norris, Ron Oester, Cal Ripken and Frank White all didn’t have to go far from home to ply their trade as Major League Baseball stars.
Each man had a compelling story and served as an excellent representative for the game. The quality of these wonderful ballplayers both on and off the field made the thousands of hours of research, condensation, review and editing well worth it. The compelling stories that were uncovered almost made me feel like the book wrote itself. I developed a real admiration for the entire single franchise fraternity. The one-team baseball star is special indeed.