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March 1, 2012

Host: Ted Simons

Cactus League History

  |   Video
  • Susie Steckner, author of the new book Cactus League: Spring Training, and Cactus League expert Rodney Johnson talk about the rich history of Arizona’s Cactus League.
  • Susie Steckner - Author, Cactus League-Spring Training
  • Rodney Johnson - Cactus League
Category: Sports   |   Keywords: sports, baseball, fall, history,

View Transcript
>>> Spring training baseball has been an important part of Arizona's first 100 years of statehood. And the cactus league has become one of Arizona's most celebrated traditions. Tonight we'll meet the author of a new book about the cactus league and we'll hear from a baseball researcher who traces Arizona spring training roots to before statehood. But first a little something from "Horizon's" video archives. A cactus league story we first aired back in 1994.

>> Each spring Arizona becomes a baseball lover's paradise.

>> Bases loaded, 3-3 tie in the sixth. Fouled up and the count evens up at 2-2.

>> Make the cubs win and buy a program.

>> Whoa! Go get 'em!

>> Baseball was popular in the west long before Arizona became a state. But the excitement of spring training didn't begin taking shape until 1947. That's the year Cleveland Indians and New York giants came to Arizona to establish their preseason training camps. Cleveland chose Tucson as its base. Largely because the Indians owner had a ranch nearby. The New York giants set up shop in Phoenix, a decision based at least partially on the proximity of the buck horn mineral wells east of Mesa.

>> We put a big banner up when we first welcomed them to our place back in '47. We had a big banner, welcome to buck horn, New York giants.

>> Alice and her husband Ted discovered the hot springs in 1939. When the giants came to town, their business boomed. Team owner was sold on the therapeutic effect the bath and massages could have on his players.

>> One time they told us if one of the boys back was giving him trouble, and he said if we could have him so his back wouldn't give him trouble, we would win the pennant.

>> We helped him and his back got better and they won the pennant.

>> Buck horn remained the giants spring home until the team built its own facility south of Phoenix near Casa Grande. The cactus league is rich in baseball history. Willie mays, Ernie banks and Ted Williams are just a handful of the many baseball legends who trained in Arizona. Another big treat for baseball fans came in 1951. For that one year, the New York Yankees came to Arizona, trading places with the New York giants. It was Dimaggio's last spring and the first for a young player by the name of Mickey mantle.

>> That's a homer.

>> In 1952, the Chicago cubs became the third ball club to come to Arizona. Establishing a training camp in the city of Mesa.

>> He wanted to know the name of the stadium. So I told him I'd introduce him to the name. The stadium's name is Patterson field. His name. Same guy.

>> Dwight Patterson is the man credited with making the deal that brought the cubs to the east valley.

>> Well, he's done a lot for not only the cactus league, but the community and for a lot of baseball people.

>> To the people of Mesa, Patterson is somewhat of an institution. They call him the father of the cactus league, and in 1991, they named the cubs ball field in his honor.

>> It's Patterson field. I'd take it or leave it. It doesn't make any difference to me. Just so they play ball.

>> As of 1994, nine teams are members of the cactus league. And each year they bring millions of dollars to the state.

>> I do as much business in February and march as I do almost the rest of the year. It's packed solid day and night. We have to turn down oh, 200 reservations a night during baseball season.

>> Charlie has owned the pink pony restaurant in Scottsdale for 40 years. The business has thrived due to its reputation as a baseball hangout. It's a reputation that began through Charlie's friendship with Hall of Famer dizzy dean.

>> Mickey mantle, Billy Martin, you name them, they've been in here. And then we have our collection of World Series bats. This is one of them here. It's got all their names and everything on it. You get American and national league.

>> Since I've been to the pink pony, I have got to know and became -- become good friends with guys like Joe Dimaggio and Ted Williams, and Jimmy fox, TY COBB, who used to be a loner and he used to come in and eat by himself.

>> The players don't visit the pink pony as often as they used to, but the fans still show up, searching for a piece of baseball history. The cactus league has a history that spans nearly 50 years. It has become a vibrant part of Arizona's economy, and a unique component of our western culture.

>> No upper body movement. That's his problem.

>> And quite a bit has changed since we first aired that story about two decades ago. Some of the people and places are gone, but the cactus league is stronger than ever. Here to tell us more about Arizona's cactus league history is Susie Steckner, the author of "Cactus League: Spring Training." Published just this year, the book features more than 200 photos, portions of the book sales benefit the nonprofit Mesa historical museum and its permanent collection of cactus league artifacts and memorabilia. Also joining us is Rodney Johnson, an Arizona baseball his terrorral and --an and president of the local chapter of the society for American baseball research. This book, this book, this cactus league -- there's so many photographs, so much history here, how did you get started? Why did you get started on it?

>> The Mesa historical museum has been working to preserve the history of the cactus league, and I'm a writer and a history geek, and when they asked me to do this project, I jumped at the chance. And my family also donated a New York giants banner that was used to welcome the team back to spring training in the '50s, so I'm just hooked on the project.

>> It's so fascinating. We learned '47 was the official start with the Cleveland Indians and the giants, New York giants, but before that, barnstorming teams played through Arizona for decades, correct?

>> Right. Teams that trained in California mainly would barnstorm their way back from their training camps to their eastern homes for the opening of the season. And they would make stops based on the train schedule. Yuma was popular, and then eventually Phoenix and Tucson as well as the train lines expanded. But they would make stops on their way back, and Phoenicians would get a chance to see big league ball.

>> Why did -- do we know why the orange league in California, why that faded and the cactus league bloomed?

>> Well, in the case of the cubs, Catalina island was a very remote location, and it was tough to get fans over to that part of California. And Rodney --

>> I think the biggest reason that the orange league, or teams that trained in California stopped training in California was the Pacific coast league. The Pacific coast league had the power. They were designated open classification. They were nearly a major league. They were between minor league and major league ball, and they proclaimed a rule that because of their classification, that major league teams could not hold exhibition games there. One week before the start of the Pacific coast league season. And that left not enough time for teams to train out there. So slowly they migrated to Arizona, and that's one of the last year that the orange league had the teams trained in California, was 1953.

>> Now, years before that, I want to look at a photograph here of riverside park in Phoenix. This is literally along the river bottom down there on central Avenue, 1929, Detroit tigers training in Phoenix. This is courtesy of you, Rodney. I didn't realize it, we had teams training here in 1929.

>> You had a team training here. The Detroit tigers were the first team to hold spring training camp in Arizona, and that was 1929. The reason they came here is primarily a guy named George grantHAM suggested it to the tigers, and they had a new manager, Bucky Harris, and they thought, why not? The rail line had opened that year to go directly to the West Coast, making it possible for them to take trips out to the West Coast to train out there. So they came and trained for one year in 1929, found that nobody came much came to their practices or their games, they did play two spring training games against major league teams, one against the cubs and one gets the pirates before leaving here. But that was the extent of spring training in Arizona for an Arizona-based team until 1947.

>> And Detroit left and never came back and they're still not back.

>> Never came back.

>> We've got a photography of the giants, welcoming back the New York giants. We heard a little bit in the package as well, a big attraction there.

>> Big attraction. And a big piece of cactus league history. Not only the giants there, but players from other teams there, and Alice slagger and Ted slagger were almost the ambassadors of the cactus league for years and years.

>> Our next photograph is I think we saw this in the package as well, Boston red Sox players in Scottsdale, and on the far right if we get to the next one in a second, we will see Ted Williams standing by a horse and I didn't -- I had forgotten the red Sox were here, and were here for quite a while.

>> They came after the Orioles left. They were here from 1956-1965.

>> There's a splinted splinter right there.

>> Mt. Middle is the manager, and on the left is jackie Jensen. The golden bear.

>> All right. We have a schedule as well here of the New York giants, 1966 spring training schedule. And it's fascinating to look at this visual, because it's also -- it's all so quaint. From a previous time.

>> It is.

>> 1956. Let's keep it moving. We've got "Sports Illustrated" on the cover. This one is interesting in a variety -- we've got Willie Mays, everyone looks happy, they're in Arizona somehow, but this was a controversial photograph.

>> Right. This photo was taken at Phoenix municipal stadium where the giants trained, and Leo's wife was the movie star, Lorraine day. They took this picture in center field and it graced the cover, and before you knew it angry letters were coming in to "Sports Illustrated" because Lorraine day had her hand on willie mayes' shoulder. And it prompted many racial epithets being thrown around, and people threatening to cancel their subscriptions and it was -- it gist went to show that we had -- still had a long way to go toward integration.

>> And cactus league had a long way to go as well. There's a picture of Ernie banks, it's actually on the cover of your book. He's basically pointing to a spring training schedule for the cubs. And again, quaint. Wooden boards, it was such a different time.

>> It was such a different time. Just a dreamy time. I love looking at all these photos and hearing all these stories from people who remember the games back then.

>> And from 1971, our last photograph, is an amazing one of Reggie Jackson, and Hank Aaron. The Atlanta braves had not trained here, but Rodney, they came through and freedoms the grapefruit league would come through, wouldn't he?

>> Especially after baseball expanded to the West Coast. The dodgers and the Angels. 1971 the braves opened their season in Los Angeles against the dodgers for opening day. So at the end of spring training on their way back they made a stop in Arizona before they went on to the California and opened the season against the dodgers.

>> We got about 30 seconds left. Cactus league in good shape right now? Healthy?

>> Strong as ever. For shush. 15 team powerhouse, 1.5 million fans going to games last year.

>> 15 teams, 16 would be better, wouldn't it?

>> Soon to come.

>> You think so?

>> Oh, we're not far behind away from that.

>> Is the cactus league a stonger unit than the grapefruit league?

>> Definitely. The stadium, the facilities are better, the weather is better, john what you, say is better about the grapefruit league. I just -- this is the place to be if you're a major league May it's great to change.

>> The book is fascinating. Thank you for being here.

>>> Friday on "The Journalists' Round Table," we'll take a look back at the state's presidential preference election and more candidates are jump nothing Arizona's congressional races. Those stories and more, Friday on "The Journalists' Round Table."

>>> That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening. Captioning Performed By LNS Captioning

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Society for American Baseball Research

  |   Video
  • The Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) moved its headquarters from Cleveland to Phoenix in 2011. SABR Executive Director Marc Appleman explains why SABR is a good fit in Arizona.
  • Marc Appleman - SABR Executive Director
Category: Sports   |   Keywords: sports, baseball, fall, league,

View Transcript

Ted Simons: Spring training baseball is back and once again the valley is the envy of the baseball nation as major league players try to shake off the rust under sunny Arizona skies. Climate is one of the many reasons the valley has grown into a year-round hub for baseball operations. And that's why just last year, SABR, the Society for American Baseball Research, moved its headquarters to Phoenix from Cleveland. Here to talk about the move and the organization is Marc Appleman, Executive Director of the Society for American Baseball Research. That's a lot of acronyms, a lot of things going on, and a lot of numbers, which we'll get to. But give us more of an idea of SABR. Nonprofit?

Marc Appleman: Yes. SABR is a nonprofit organization, we've got about 6,000 members across the country. We have 60 chapters all over the place, we have 26 committees so people who are interested in studying everything from history, to statistics, to movies and baseball, to the negro leagues, to women in baseball, it's basically sort of goes into three groups. We've definitely got the statistics, the people very much into the analytics, the statistics, then the research and the history, and then just the passionate baseball fan. We have a lot of fans who just love the game, want to be part of it, want the camaraderie of being part of a group like SABR.

Ted Simons: So SABR, if you join SABR, you can be into history, into numbers, you can just be into baseball.

Marc Appleman: Exactly.

Ted Simons: OK. Why did you move to Phoenix?

Marc Appleman: It's been a great move. The main reasons were because Phoenix is really becoming like a baseball capital. You've got 15 of the teams now train in Phoenix. In the Phoenix area, at least. You have the Arizona fall league, of course you've got the Diamondbacks, major league baseball even moved their western operations here. They're off Camelback, you've got a strong college baseball program, there are about 400 former major league ball players who have retired and live in the greater Phoenix area. So for so many reasons, we just felt like being baseball, and that's who we are, this was really the place to be.

Ted Simons: As far as baseball being what you are, and who you are, I know one of the lines I've read is that to search for objective knowledge about baseball. How important is that? There's so much nostalgia, so much memory that may not be quite accurate. You're looking for objective knowledge? Is that -- talk to us about that.

Marc Appleman: A lot of our members are very much into -- they really want to know either the historical, exactly how many hits, so it's not like he had about 4,000 hits. It's he had 4,212 hits. And sometimes it's taken to the extreme in terms of how many hits did he have at night, during the day, on a Thursday, on artificial fields, it really does go to an extreme like that. But then we do have baseball fans who just want to really enjoy the game and, you know, come out to Cactus League games or just sort of talk baseball like you were talking at a bar when you're just watching a game.

Ted Simons: For those into the analytics, have you a conference coming up?

Marc Appleman: Yeah we have a conference, it's our first one in Phoenix, and this is one of the reasons why we also moved out here. March 15th-17th, and it will be held at the Hilton Phoenix in Mesa. And this is really a little different than the annual convention that we hold each summer, which is held in a different part of the country. This summer that will be held in Minneapolis at the end of June. But this is more an industry wide conference, where it's both fans and a lot of people from the industry. So, for instance, we have general managers panel, where we're going to have Chris Antonetti from the Indians, Doug Melvin, Jerry Dipoto, they're going to be on a panel, Derrick Hall, Diamondbacks is going to give the welcoming address. Tom Ricketts, the Chairman of the Cubs, is going to be speaking, Mark Shapiro of the Indians will be speaking, and then we have a lot of player ops people. One of the things now that's really changed over the years is that every team now has employed people who really look at these analytics and statistics.

Ted Simons: I want to talk more about the SABR metrics if you will.

Marc Appleman: Sure.

Ted Simons: There's so many questions regarding this. And how did it get started? Was Bill James like one of the gurus of this back in the '70s, getting this thing started?

Marc Appleman: Bill James was definitely instrumental in that in terms of really sort of saying that you could analyze things in baseball through statistics. And really sort of breaking them down. We all sort of grew up, and I know I learned math basically through batting averages and ERA, I'll admit that. And then he just really took it to extremes. Saying that, you know, there's a lot more than that, it's like how important it is for somebody to get on base. And is it enough just to be a good hitter, or if you walk a lot and you actually result in a lot more runs for your team, that that's going to be a lot more advantageous than maybe if you just hit a certain number of home runs.

Ted Simons: With "Moneyball" both the book and the movie being very popular, we kind of saw that in action with the Oakland A’s and with Billy Bean being the manager there. Is there a thought that maybe the intangibles can be lost when you're looking at too many numbers? Is there a thought there may be too much looking at numbers and not enough what's happening on the field?

Marc Appleman: Absolutely. What you've just described is a little bit of the old school versus the new school. And actually one of the panels that we're going to have at our analytics conference is a scouting analytics panel. One of the things that will be discussed that will become an interesting sort of discussion is the sense of a lot of the old scouts and many of whom unfortunately lost their jobs around the time when the whole money ball was coming about, they claim that it's much more of a gut feeling. So you go out to a high school field or a college field, you watch a guy and after a couple of days you get the feeling that under pressure, or if this guy has to perform in certain ways, that he's really going to come through and despite the fact that the numbers may say one thing, they get that gut feeling. The younger more analytics-based guys are there saying, look, he's going to reach base this many times, it's going to result in this many runs, which is then going to result in this many more wins. Now there's a statistic which basically is how many more wins you would get with one player over another. So, for instance, if Albert Pujols was on your team, how many more wins just having him at first base, versus if you had, say, an average first baseman? And that's taking it to a very different level than we used to have.

Ted Simons: No kidding. But how has the steroid area, how has that variable messed with the numbers? Not only current numbers when you go back, historic numbers, and trying to get them to mesh?

Marc Appleman: That's a real difficult thing that is something that obviously the Hall of Fame is dealing with a lot. The baseball writers are dealing with a lot, because it's really hard to sort of say, OK, they did this in this era, and now how do they compare to guys who didn't have the enhancements that everything like that. And that is -- that's something that's a debate, people are debating it all the time. In terms of the Hall of Fame, at least for a while, it's definitely going to keep a lot of the top players I think out of the Hall of Fame.

Ted Simons: But it also I would think would mess around with the metrics. Mess around with the graphs. You got certain things happening that aren't natural and you can't really base what's going on now with what went on then.

Marc Appleman: Right. Exactly. It's true. We've had that to a certain extent in other-- there have been a number of SABR members who have broken things down, how can you compare statistics before there was night baseball, or before, say, baseball became integrated. Or before the relief pitcher and the closer became a really instrumental part of the game. So there are always ways in which they say we can't really compare this with that, but you're exactly right, the steroids era is a real situation.

Ted Simons: It's good having you guys in town. It really is a baseball mecca, and it's the best time of year right now for a lot of folks. Good to see you.

Marc Appleman: I appreciate it. Thanks.