Notes from the 19th annual Pacific Coast League reunion

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Rugger Ardizoia didn’t know he was the oldest living New York Yankee until a few days ago. It’s probably fitting.

Though the 93-year-old San Francisco resident still keeps his team identification card in his wallet, he┬ácomes across soft-spoken and reserved, not one to boast about his past or demand attention for it. It’s probably appropriate he not brag too much of his time with the Yankees. Rugger pitched all of two innings in the majors, his sole appearance coming April 30, 1947 when he scattered four hits and two runs.┬áBut sit and talk a little while with Rugger– who became the oldest Yankee following the death of Virgil Trucks in March– and the surreal stories I love as a baseball historian start coming out.

They’re stories of making road trips with Joe DiMaggio; of playing for Casey Stengel in the Pacific Coast League; of being on a USO team during World War II with DiMaggio, Red Ruffing and a slew of other major leaguers. I’ve interviewed Rugger four or five times in the past decade, and I imagine there are still a wealth of good stories I haven’t heard. It’s one thing that keeps me coming back– that, and he’s a kind, charming man. The widower told the crowd at the 19th annual Pacific Coast League reunion that he still considers himself married to a wife of 71 years.

As a historian and a journalist, part of my calling is to capture stories. I enjoy preserving and sharing them, and I feel both a sense of duty and urgency. With players like Rugger and nine other former players who attended the reunion, held Saturday near Oakland, California, time is running out to record the stories. Most veterans of the old PCL, who played in it before the Giants and Dodgers came west in 1958, are in their mid-70s or older. The ever-present possibility lurks of great stories dying with these men. Maybe it’s not more than a collection of untold quirky anecdotes, but I like to think the world’s a little better with them accessible.

I didn’t get a ton of stories Saturday, but here are a few anecdotes from Rugger:

  • Stengel, who managed Rugger on the Oakland Oaks in 1946, would buy two cases of beer for the clubhouse after every win. (As noted in Jane Leavy’s biography on Mickey Mantle, Stengel’s the same manager whose advice on temperance for players was to not drink in the hotel bar “because that’s where I do my drinking.”)
  • Rugger noted he had 117 complete games in professional baseball and wondered how many pitches he threw. He said Stengel was never one to pull pitchers.
  • Rugger spoke of going to an event with DiMaggio’s first wife, Dorothy Arnold and seeing her bedecked in jewelry. Upon closer inspection, he learned it was all fake costume jewelry. Arnold explained that as the wife of DiMaggio, she had a certain appearance to keep up.

It remains to be seen how many more reunions can be held. A fellow member in my chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research estimated that 100-110 men who played in the PCL prior to 1958 are still living. I’m reminded of the final reunion of Pearl Harbor veterans, held just a few years ago.

My personal Hall of Fame: The inaugural class

Months ago, a friend asked me to make a personal Hall of Fame for a project he’s doing. It sounded like a fun idea. The Hall of Fame has been a topic of frequent discussion here in the past, and I annually do a project on the 50 best players not in Cooperstown. Off the top of my head, I can name 100-200 surefire Hall of Famers and another 50-100 who aren’t currently enshrined but make my list. It’s fun to make these kinds of lists. I guess it’s how my mind works, and I assume others who frequent this site think similarly.

An interesting thing happened when I started to write down names, though. After exhausting the obvious picks for me, I turned to Baseball-Reference.com and found a number of long-ago players I knew little about beyond stats. This threw me. Being into baseball history, I rely on statistics and basic sabermetrics to have a more complete understanding of the game, but I don’t like being utterly beholden to numbers, particularly when it comes to making a personal Hall of Fame. It kind of takes the fun out of it for me.

Faced with this dilemma months ago, I set my list aside and put off coming back to it. Recently, though, I had an epiphany that I’d rather share my personal Hall of Fame, imperfect though it may be than stay quiet. I talk myself out of writing posts to often for fear of being wrong or mediocre. I’m calling bullshit on this. I’d like to start writing more about baseball history again because I enjoy the process and it adds something to my life.

I will present the following names without comment besides to say a few things. One, I only considered players who’d been retired at least five years, though I’ve included a few guys who wouldn’t meet Cooperstown’s eligibility requirements. I also favor a big Hall of Fame; it wasn’t this way for me when I started this website a few years ago, though the more I’ve written about players not in Cooperstown, the more I’ve found guys worth celebrating. It doesn’t water down the institution to me to tell more of their stories. That being said, I imagine I neglected to include a few players here. If there’s one thing I know about Hall of Fame voting, it’s that it’s very easy to forget players. Even Babe Ruth only got 95 percent of the vote.

All this being said, here are the players for my personal Hall of Fame. Let me know who else belongs here:

  • Hank Aaron
  • Grover Cleveland Alexander
  • Dick Allen
  • Roberto Alomar
  • Cap Anson
  • Luis Aparicio
  • Richie Ashburn
  • Earl Averill
  • Jeff Bagwell
  • Ernie Banks
  • Cool Papa Bell
  • Johnny Bench
  • Chief Bender
  • Yogi Berra
  • Craig Biggio
  • Bert Blyleven
  • Wade Boggs
  • Barry Bonds
  • Bobby Bonds
  • Ken Boyer
  • George Brett
  • Lou Brock
  • Dan Brouthers
  • Kevin Brown
  • Mordecai Brown
  • Roy Campanella
  • Rod Carew
  • Steve Carlton
  • Gary Carter
  • Bob Caruthers
  • Cesar Cedeno
  • Orlando Cepeda
  • Frank Chance
  • Ray Chapman
  • Oscar Charleston
  • Will Clark
  • John Clarkson
  • Roger Clemens
  • Roberto Clemente
  • Ty Cobb
  • Mickey Cochrane
  • Rocky Colavito
  • Eddie Collins
  • David Cone
  • Roger Connor
  • Sam Crawford
  • Jim Creighton
  • Joe Cronin
  • Bill Dahlen
  • Ray Dandridge
  • George Davis
  • Andre Dawson
  • Dizzy Dean
  • Ed Delahanty
  • Bill Dickey
  • Dom DiMaggio
  • Joe DiMaggio
  • Larry Doby
  • John Donaldson
  • Don Drysdale
  • Hugh Duffy
  • Dennis Eckersley
  • Darrell Evans
  • Dwight Evans
  • Johnny Evers
  • Bob Feller
  • Wes Ferrell
  • Rollie Fingers
  • Carlton Fisk
  • Curt Flood
  • Whitey Ford
  • Nellie Fox
  • Jimmie Foxx
  • Frankie Frisch
  • Pud Galvin
  • Lou Gehrig
  • Charlie Gehringer
  • Bob Gibson
  • Josh Gibson
  • Lefty Gomez
  • Dwight Gooden
  • Goose Goslin
  • Goose Gossage
  • Hank Greenberg
  • Bobby Grich
  • Lefty Grove
  • Ron Guidry
  • Tony Gwynn
  • Billy Hamilton
  • Isao Harimoto
  • Gabby Hartnett
  • Harry Heilmann
  • Rickey Henderson
  • Keith Hernandez
  • Orel Hershiser
  • Gil Hodges
  • Rogers Hornsby
  • Frank Howard
  • Dummy Hoy
  • Waite Hoyt
  • Carl Hubbell
  • Monte Irvin
  • Joe Jackson
  • Reggie Jackson
  • Ferguson Jenkins
  • Tommy John
  • Judy Johnson
  • Walter Johnson
  • Addie Joss
  • Al Kaline
  • Tim Keefe
  • Wee Willie Keeler
  • King Kelly
  • Harmon Killebrew
  • Ralph Kiner
  • Ted Kluszewski
  • Sandy Koufax
  • Nap Lajoie
  • Barry Larkin
  • Tony Lazzeri
  • Buck Leonard
  • Pop Lloyd
  • Kenny Lofton
  • Mickey Lolich
  • Ernie Lombardi
  • Mickey Mantle
  • Rabbit Maranville
  • Juan Marichal
  • Roger Maris
  • Dennis Martinez
  • Edgar Martinez
  • Eddie Mathews
  • Christy Mathewson
  • Don Mattingly
  • Willie Mays
  • Willie McCovey
  • Joe McGinnity
  • John McGraw (as a player)
  • Fred McGriff
  • Mark McGwire
  • Minnie Minoso
  • Johnny Mize
  • Paul Molitor
  • Joe Morgan
  • Jack Morris
  • Tony Mullane
  • Thurman Munson
  • Dale Murphy
  • Eddie Murray
  • Stan Musial
  • Don Newcombe
  • Kid Nichols
  • Phil Niekro
  • Lefty O’Doul
  • Buck O’Neil
  • Sadaharu Oh
  • Tony Oliva
  • Al Oliver
  • Mel Ott
  • Satchel Paige
  • Jim Palmer
  • Dave Parker
  • Gaylord Perry
  • Mike Piazza
  • Lip Pike
  • Vada Pinson
  • Eddie Plank
  • Spottswood Poles
  • Kirby Puckett
  • Dan Quisenberry
  • Old Hoss Radbourn
  • Tim Raines
  • Pee Wee Reese
  • Rick Reuschel
  • Sam Rice
  • Cal Ripken Jr.
  • Phil Rizzuto
  • Robin Roberts
  • Brooks Robinson
  • Frank Robinson
  • Jackie Robinson
  • Bullet Rogan
  • Pete Rose
  • Red Ruffing
  • Amos Rusie
  • Babe Ruth
  • Jimmy Ryan
  • Nolan Ryan
  • Ryne Sandberg
  • Ron Santo
  • Eiji Sawamura
  • Curt Schilling
  • Mike Schmidt
  • Tom Seaver
  • Al Simmons
  • Ted Simmons
  • George Sisler
  • Ozzie Smith
  • Duke Snider
  • Warren Spahn
  • Al Spalding
  • Tris Speaker
  • Victor Starffin
  • Willie Stargell
  • Vern Stephens
  • Dave Stieb
  • Harry Stovey
  • Don Sutton
  • Sam Thompson
  • Luis Tiant
  • Joe Torre
  • Alan Trammell
  • Cecil Travis
  • Fernando Valenzuela
  • George Van Haltren
  • Dazzy Vance
  • Arky Vaughan
  • Rube Waddell
  • Honus Wagner
  • Larry Walker
  • Ed Walsh
  • Paul Waner
  • Monte Ward
  • Willie Wells
  • Lou Whitaker
  • Deacon White
  • Hoyt Wilhelm
  • Billy Williams
  • Smokey Joe Williams
  • Ted Williams
  • Maury Wills
  • Dave Winfield
  • Smoky Joe Wood
  • Early Wynn
  • Carl Yastrzemski
  • Cy Young
  • Robin Yount