Sports Humanitarians

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Nelson Cruz with the Seattle Mariners in 2015. Photo by Keith Allison via Wikipedia.

Last week, ESPN announced the finalists for the 2020 Muhammad Ali Sports Humanitarian Award – and Nelson Cruz is one of them. The news release states, “Cruz has transformed the infrastructure of his hometown of Las Matas De Santa Cruz in the Dominican Republic. He has secured a fire engine and an ambulance, built a new police station and contributed wheelchairs and crutches, and he annually brings dentists and optometrists to a local clinic to provide checkups, medicine and eyewear.”

According to ESPN, the award, which is part of the ESPY awards, “is given to an athlete whose continuous, demonstrated leadership has created a measured positive impact on their community through sports. The candidate must embrace the core principals that Muhammad Ali embodied so well, including confidence, conviction, dedication, giving and respect. ” The website notes that the award was previously called the Sports Humanitarian of the Year Award; it was renamed in 2017 to honor Muhammad Ali. (Note that the Muhammad Ali Center has a separate award called the Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Award.) Previous MLB finalists have included Curtis Granderson (2017) and Yadier Molina (2019).

In addition to the Muhammad Ali Sports Humanitarian Award, ESPN awards the Sports Humanitarian Team of the Year Award. The Los Angeles Dodgers are again finalists for this award, as they were last year. They were nominated for the 2020 award because of the Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation’s work to improve education, health care, homelessness, and social justice. The Dodgers have developed “Dodgers Reading Champions,” an online reading program, and the “Dodgers Dreamfields” program, which builds and refurbishes ball fields in underserved communities.

Other MLB teams that have been finalists for the Sports Humanitarian Team of the Year Award are the San Francisco Giants (2016), Chicago White Sox (2017), and Boston Red Sox (2018). The Giants won the award in 2016 for their work with the Junior Giants. The Giants created the Junior Giants in 1991 to help address violence in impoverished neighborhoods in the San Francisco area. The Giants Community Fund supports Junior Giants leagues in Northern California, Nevada, and Oregon, and provides assistance to community programs focused on education, health, and violence prevention.

These are just two of ESPN’s Sports Humanitarian Awards, which have been awarded since 2015. The 2020 ESPYS will be awarded on June 21.

~ baseballrebecca



The Sociological Importance of April 15 in Baseball History

Jackie Robinson, Brooklyn Dodgers, 1954.jpgIn this period of no baseball, I’ve been reading up on baseball history. There are several good sites for this, including: Today in Baseball History,, and Baseball Reference. As I checked out these sites today, I was surprised to learn how important April 15th is for baseball – both historically and sociologically.

Of course, we all know April 15th as Jackie Robinson Day. On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson made his debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers, breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball. The 50th anniversary of his feat was commemorated in 1997 and during the celebration the Commissioner of Baseball announced that the number 42 would be retired for every team. On April 15, 2004, MLB began the annual tradition of celebrating Jackie Robinson Day.

April 15, however, was the date for several other important firsts, including:

  • The first game played by a “full-blooded” American Indian. On April 15, 1921, Moses J. Yellow Horse (also known as Chief Yellow Horse), made his Major League debut with the Pittsburgh Pirates. The right-handed pitcher was a member of the Pawnee tribe in Oklahoma and played for the Pirates in 1921 and 1922.
  • The first Puerto Rican to play Major League Baseball. On April 15, 1942, Hiram Bithorn made his Major League debut. Also a right-handed pitcher, Bithorn was born in Santurce, Puerto Rico, in 1916 and spent four years in the majors.
  • The first Major League game played on the west coast. On April 15, 1958, the first File:Reggie Jackson - New York Yankees - 1981.jpgMLB game was played in California as the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers meet for the first time.
  • The first Major Leaguer with facial hair – at least since the 1930s. On April 15, 1972, Reggie Jackson, reflecting the times, played for the Oakland A’s wearing a mustache. This began a trend with the team and the 1972 A’s became known as the “Mustache Gang.”

There were many other baseball firsts on April 15, but perhaps none as sociologically important as the ones mentioned above.

~ baseballrebecca



Sherry Davis


Candlestick Park, where Sherry Davis was PA announcer for the San Francisco Giants

On this date in 1993, the San Francisco Giants hired Sherry Davis, the first woman hired to be a full-time MLB public address announcer. Davis worked from the Giants from 1993 to 1999.

I first wrote about Davis last year and am re-posting about her in honor of Women’s History Month. If you want to learn more about Ms. Davis, check out a video of her at work on the MLB website and a Los Angeles Times article from 1993 about her debut.

~ baseballrebecca





Baseball at the American History Museum

On the second floor of the National Museum of American History in Washington, DC, is an exhibit called, “American Stories.” According to the museum’s website, in this exhibit, visitors “[f]ollow a timeline of American history through objects that highlight both new and familiar stories.” What makes this exhibit particularly interesting is that at the entrance of the exhibit, is a display case containing a glove, cap, and cleats that Willie Mays wore during his time with the San Francisco Giants. According to the museum’s curator of popular culture and sports:

‘When someone sees these items, there are three things that he or she should take away.  That Mays was a great baseball player, that Mays was African-American, and that, with the Barack Obama quote which is included with the exhibit, that Mays was important to many Americans. When President Obama presented Willie Mays with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015, Obama said that it was ‘because of giants like Willie that someone like me could even think of running for president.’’

The artifacts on display in the “American Stories” exhibit are part of a much larger baseball collection maintained by the museum. Though a small portion of the current exhibits at the museum, it is great to see baseball represented – especially when the exhibit includes one of the greats, like Willie Mays!

~ baseballrebecca



Willie Mays Day

Willie Mays in 1954 (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

I don’t know how I keep running across these, but just like I stumbled upon Walter Johnson Day and Brooks Robinson Night, now I’ve discovered Willie Mays Day. On September 25, 1973, the New York Mets held “Willie Mays Night” to honor Mays and celebrate his retirement after 22 years in baseball. Special guests included baseball greats Bobby Thomson, Pee Wee Reese, Stan Musial, and Joe DiMaggio. Mays and his wife were presented with several gifts including three cars, a mink coat, and golf equipment.

One of the first Willie Mays Days was held on August 8, 1954, at the Polo Grounds. The team gave Mays several gifts, which included an air conditioner, a television, and a plot of land in the New York suburbs.  In 1954, Mays won the National League MVP and the New York Giants won the World Series.

Although Mays retired in 1973, that was not the last Willie Mays Day. Naturally, there were more (even if the details are a little confusing):

  • 1983: The San Francisco Giants held Willie Mays Day on August 20 and officially retired his jersey number, 24. (Although, they also retired it in 1972, so I’m not sure what really happened in 1983.)
  • 1986: The governor of California declared April 14 to be Willie Mays Day in California.
  • 2010: On May 6, Mays’ 79th birthday, the California State Senate proclaimed May 6 to be Willie Mays Day in the state of California.
  • 2011: On May 6, the San Francisco Giants held Willie Mays Day to celebrate Mays’ 80th The event tributes included a congratulatory letter from President Barack Obama and a video featuring celebrities from Tony Bennett to MLB Commissioner Bud Selig.
  • 2017: On September 29, the 63rd anniversary of Mays’ catch in the 1954 World Series, New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio proclaimed the day Willie Mays Day. As part of the festivities, a sign for “Willie Mays Drive” was unveiled at the northeast corner of 155th Street and the Harlem River Driveway.

At some point (2000?), Mayor Willie Brown of San Francisco declared May 24 to be “Say Hey Day” in San Francisco. According to Wikipedia, the proclamation was reaffirmed by current governor Gavin Newsom, when he was mayor of San Francisco.

That’s a lot of days to celebrate – and Willie Mays deserves them all!

~ baseballrebecca

Best of the Week: 9/15/2019 – 9/21/2019

Mike Yastrzemski’s visit to Fenway (the O’s should have kept him):

~ baseballrebecca




Happy Birthday, Orlando!

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Orlando Cepeda with the Giants in 1962

Orlando Cepeda turns 82 today. Born on September 17, 1937, in Ponce, Puerto Rico, Cepeda made his MLB debut on April 15, 1958. Between 1958 and 1974, the right-handed first baseman played for San Francisco (1958-66), St. Louis (1966-68), Atlanta (1969-72), Oakland (1972), Boston (1973), and Kansas City (1974). He was the NL Rookie of the Year in 1959, an 11-time All-Star, and the 1967 NL MVP.

Whenever I hear Cepeda’s name, I think of this song by Danny Kaye – even though its about his Los Angeles Dodgers, the San Francisco Giants and Orlando Cepeda are an important part of the tale:



~ baseballrebecca