SCOTTSDALE, Arizona — In recent years, the Mesa Historical Museum has been putting together a collection of spring-training memorabilia that’s gone on exhibit in various parts of the Valley as the Arizona Spring Training Experience. It’s also created a Cactus League Hall of Fame honoring players who have been a significant part of spring training in Arizona.
Every year, the Cactus League holds a lunch to mark the beginning of the spring training season. Wednesday in Scottsdale, about 500 baseball people gathered to hear baseball stories and witness the induction of four new players into the Cactus League Hall of Fame, including Ernie Banks. (Incidentally, I was honored to be asked to write the description of Ernie’s career that appears on that page.)
The program was hosted by Diamondbacks TV play-by-play announcer Steve Berthiaume, and a panel consisting of Fergie Jenkins, Gaylord Perry, Mudcat Grant and former D-back Junior Spivey answered questions about the game in general and how spring training was different from when they played:
In particular, Grant and Jenkins noted that segregation was still an issue when they first broke into baseball in the early 1960s. They praised Jackie Robinson for being the trailblazer that he was and for leading the way for future generations. Jenkins and Perry noted the biggest difference in the game now from when they played is the fact that when they got the ball back then, they were expected to go nine innings, and now the specialization of relievers has not only eliminated most complete games, but it’s also put pressure on position players. Fergie’s observation that more players have to play multiple positions due to having only 12 or 13 position players on a roster is quite cogent for today’s game.
Then it was on to the Cactus League Hall inductions. In addition to Ernie Banks, this year’s honorees were Larry Doby, Monte Irvin and Willie Mays. Mays, who will turn 86 in May, was in attendance. He’s not too sure on his feet anymore, but he regaled the crowd with 10 minutes’ worth of stories about Leo Durocher (said he was the best manager he ever had) and his early days playing baseball growing up in Alabama, and then in New York. Willie looks good!
Fergie accepted the award on behalf of Ernie:
And then Fergie spoke about his friend Ernie:
This was the first time I’d seen the trophy, so I got a chance to take a photo with it. It will also be at the rally being held at Sloan Park on Friday, and at the Cubs’ first spring-training game on Saturday, so more fans here in the Valley will have a chance to take those photos. (If you are in the Phoenix area and want to see it at the rally, there will be 1,000 wristbands handed out early Friday morning for photo ops.)
And you can check out the current exhibit of the Arizona Spring Training Experience through April 4 at the Gallery at Civic Center Library, 3839 N. Drinkwater Blvd. in Scottsdale. There are also small satellite exhibits through spring training at Tempe Diablo Stadium and Goodyear Ballpark.