Thursday, April 30, 2015

[393] Ken Griffey Sr. hits it out of the park as MTSU Baseball Conference closes

MURFREESBORO — Middle Tennessee State University rolled the tarpaulin over the infield Friday (April 3) and said goodbye to the Baseball Literature and Culture Conference.

The gathering of baseball aficionados and scholars will be hosted next year by Ottawa University in Ottawa, Kansas, about 100 miles from Kansas City, Missouri.

“Strategically, it makes some sense,” said Andrew Hazucha, a professor of English at Ottawa University, who will be coordinating the conference next year.

In addition to the presence of the Kansas City Royals major league team about 100 miles up the road, Hazucka said, “The Negro Baseball Hall of Fame is in Kansas City. In Lawrence, Kansas, 20 miles from Ottawa, Bill James, the statistician lives. You have Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas, where Jim Thorpe attended school.”

“We’ve done it for 10 years,” said Warren Tormey, a professor of English at MTSU and co-coordinator of the conference with fellow English professor Ron Kates. “We’ve had a great run. The time is right to pass it on to a new set of organizers.”

The conference was located in Terre Haute, Indiana, from 1996 to 2005 and at MTSU from 2006 to 2015.

During MTSU’s tenure as the host campus, the conference welcomed an all-star lineup of former major leaguers, including Bill “Spaceman” Lee, Mudcat Grant, Denny McLain, Tommy John, Ferguson Jenkins, Willie Wilson and Jim Bouton.

Batting last in the lineup for MTSU was luncheon speaker Ken Griffey Sr., whose tenure with “The Big Red Machine” of the 1970s netted him World Series championship rings in 1975 and 1976 and trips to the All-Star Game in 1976, 1977 and 1980.

Griffey Sr., the father of 13-time All-Star Ken Griffey Jr., now is a roving instructor for the Reds. He said he tells young up-and-coming players that persistence is the key to a successful major league career.

“They think they have to hit 50 home runs, drive in 150,” said Griffey. “Instead of that, just be steady — steady and consistent, and they’ll find out they’ll be up there a lot longer.”

Griffey Sr. criticized modern changes in the game, such as the experimental 20-second pitch clock and the option for managers to call for an instant replay ruling on an umpire’s call by throwing a flag onto the field.

“When you have a manager who has to have a flag in his back pocket, that’s crazy,” Griffey said.

As new MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred considers reinstating former Reds player and manager Pete Rose to baseball, Griffey Sr. defended his former teammate. Rose was banned from the sport by Commissioner Bart Giamatti in 1989 amid reports he gambled on baseball. Griffey said the all-time career hits leader should be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

“I played with Pete for six years, and he was probably more of a teammate than anybody I’ve played with ever,” Griffey said. “People don’t know that about Pete. All they see is his hard-nosed tactics out on the field.”

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