Alabama port city a gateway to Hall of Fame
By John Zenor
Associated Press Writer
MOBILE — Hammerin' Hank and Willie McCovey would be the middle-of-the-lineup guys.
With Satchel Paige the flamboyant pitcher, Billy Williams roaming the outfield and Ozzie Smith handling the defensive wizardry, it sounds like the start of an all-time baseball team.
There's another connection, too — the Hall of Famers simply top the roster of stars from Alabama's port city.
"Sixty years ago, when you came here, you had those semipro teams and sandlot ball all over Mobile," recalls Ed Scott, a former Boston Red Sox scout who still lives in Mobile. "There were so many very good ballplayers back in those days."
Some became great.
Scott discovered an unknown Hank Aaron hitting line drives in softball, wasn't exactly wowed by McCovey's skills and played against Paige in the Negro Leagues.
The Williams he remembers was a skinny kid who didn't seem big enough to hit a major league fastball.
"I think he filled out his questionnaire that he weighed 135 pounds," Scott said.
Mobile, a city of about 200,000 flanked on Alabama's coast by the Florida and Mississippi borders, is the answer to a treasure trove of baseball trivia:
Where do the most baseball Hall of Famers per capita hail from?
What city spawned a home run king and a defensive wizard?
What's the hometown of Bill Buckner's defensive replacement? You know, the one who wasn't used in that infamous Red Sox World Series game?
Where is the only player to homer in his lone career World Series at-bat from?
As listed by the Hall, five Mobile natives have been enshrined in Cooperstown — Aaron, Paige, McCovey, Williams and more recently the Wizard, Ozzie Smith (whose family moved to the West Coast when he was a youngster). That's more than 31 other states and nearly every city in America.
The only cities to produce more Hall of Famers are New York (12), Chicago (nine) and San Francisco/Oakland (six). There are also five from metropolitan Los Angeles.
"I think it's just really extraordinary that there are that many ballplayers who came from Mobile," said John Odell, a curator at the Hall of Fame.
"It just shows the rich baseball heritage of Mobile from the '30s and '40s on up," said Bill Shanahan, president of Mobile's Double-A BayBears.
Mobile has garnered some attention lately during Barry Bonds' pursuit of Aaron's major league record 755 home runs.
The city produced great baseball players, but also great baseball tales.
Dave Stapleton was the defensive stand-in for Boston first baseman Bill Buckner in 1986, when Mookie Wilson's dribbler rolled between Buckner's legs in a pivotal World Series game with the New York Mets.
Stapleton, a native of suburban Fairhope across the bay from Mobile, didn't get into the game because manager John McNamara wanted Buckner on the field for a postgame celebration.
Playing for the Yankees, Jim Mason hit a solo homer in his only World Series at-bat in 1976 against Cincinnati. Mason homered 12 times in 1,584 career plate appearances.
For several games, the 1969 World Series champion New York Mets had an all-Mobile outfield during the season: Tommie Agee, Cleon Jones and Amos Otis. Now that's Amazin'.
Plus, former major league player and manager Eddie Stanky was a Fairhope native.
But the Hall of Fame Five is the source of most of Mobile's baseball-related pride, particularly Aaron. Two monuments to him in the city are flanked by markers outlining the stats of the other four Hall of Famers at the park and stadium both bearing Aaron's name.
Combined, the five made 54 All-Star teams, won two MVPs, two Rookie of the Year awards and 16 Gold Gloves.
And the numbers could be even more impressive if segregation hadn't prevented Paige from making the leap from the Negro Leagues to the majors until 1948, when he was 42.
"I can remember all the guys that should have been major leaguers from Mobile that never left Mobile to play for anybody," Scott said.
He signed Aaron for the Indianapolis Clowns after seeing him hitting softballs practically "through the fence" if not over it.
Scott's first impression of McCovey, watching him play at Mobile's Mitchell Field: "He couldn't run. He wasn't all that good a fielder at first base, but he had that long swing and when he made contact, he hit the ball a long way."
Also the hometown of recent No. 1 NFL draft pick JaMarcus Russell, Mobile still is producing major leaguers, including Padres ace Jake Peavy. Peavy played for the BayBears and even worked for the minor league team in the offseason.
Dodgers outfielder Juan Pierre is also from Mobile, one of 35 major leaguers the city has produced.
Peavy said he wasn't motivated by following in the past stars' spike marks, but is aware of it.
"There's a sense of pride that you come from such a baseball-rich town that's got some great history," said Peavy, who has met Aaron and Smith. "It's something to put your name in among some of the greats there, and say, 'Hey, I'm a big leaguer from this city, I'm proud to be from (the same town as) such greats, the likes of Hank Aaron, Satchel Paige and Billy Williams and McCovey and these guys.'
"That's pretty special."
Top cities for Hall of Fame players
New York 12
San Francisco/Oakland 6
Los Angeles 5
Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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