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Hometown Heroes in the Hall

Joe Mauer plays defense for the Minnesota Twins.

Joe Mauer is far from the first hometown hero to be enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Famer. Here are some other fans turned fan favorites.

Joe Mauer rightfully earned a place in the National Baseball Hall of Fame last week. As a kid, he grew up in Saint Paul, Minnesota, and went on to spend his entire career with the Minnesota Twins. Mauer’s career has already been thoroughly covered, so the focus will be on other players that got live out their childhood dreams. All of these players played for their hometown team. All of them are in the Baseball Hall of Fame. OF Pete Rose could be listed here for growing up in Cincinnati, Ohio and then playing for the Cincinnati Reds. However, Charlie Hustle is not in the Hall for reasons unrelated to his play. Rose’s Hall of Fame eligibility is a debate for another day. Also, this will not be a complete list. I simply selected some of the more prominent Hall of Famers.

One Team from Birth to Retirement

Playing for one team for the length of a Hall of Fame career is rare enough. Only playing for the team that you grew up knowing is even more rare. Mauer falls into this category. 1B Lou Gehrig and SS Cal Ripken Jr. are two others who did it. Coincidentally, neither one knew what an off day was either. Gehrig–rightfully called the Iron Horse–played in 2,130 straight games for the New York Yankees. Ripken played 2,632 straight games for the Baltimore Orioles. Perhaps the hometown love helped power the two longest playing streaks in baseball history.

Gehrig was born in New York City (Manhattan to be more specific) and you can visit a marker of his birth site. His 22 career grand slams rank second in MLB history, or first if you don’t think Alex Rodriguez deserves credit for the record. His “luckiest man on the face of the Earth” speech is also one of the finest ever uttered by an athlete. Ripken, meanwhile was raised in Aberdeen, Maryland, with a father who worked in the Orioles organization. Ripken truly was an Oriole from the start and never missed an opportunity to represent them on the field. He is now also a minority owner of the franchise. Nobody thought Gehrig’s record would be broken, but Ripken did it anyways. Would it be foolish to say no one will break his record? I don’t think so.

Lived the Dream for a Time

CP Dennis Eckersley, 1B Fred McGriff, and SP Nolan Ryan all got to shine for various lengths of time with the teams near their childhood homes. In Eck’s case, he was from Fremont, California, so his nine years with the Oakland A’s were certainly special and a factor in being the cap on his Hall of Fame plaque. Along with being the man to coin the term “walk off”, Eck played with the Cleveland Indians (now the Guardians), the Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, and Saint Louis Cardinals.  As a watcher of NESN Red Sox games, it is hard to tell if Eck the pitcher or Eck the analyst was more entertaining. Getting to be at Fenway for his last game in the NESN booth in 2022 and seeing a tribute video for him is a memory I will always cherish.

McGriff is from Tampa, Florida, and when he entered in the league in 1986, there was no team in Tampa. Once the Tampa Bay Devil Rays became a team in 1998, McGriff joined them. Technically, they were not his childhood team, but the fact that he played for them in the first three seasons of their existence must count for something. McGriff played for six teams in his career, so he chose to don an unmarked hat in the Hall. Classy move.

Ryan was raised in Alvin, Texas, only 30 miles from Houston. Just to cover his bases, he played for the Houston Astros and the Texas Rangers. In a 27-year career, there certainly is time to play for everyone, right? Side note: there must be something in that Alvin water because SP Nathan Eovaldi is from there too. Anyways, Ryan spent a combined 14 years pitching for Texas-based teams. He rocks a Texas Rangers hat in the Hall.

The Dodger Dilemma

These next two players present an interesting case. Because the Dodgers were initially the Brooklyn Dodgers, SP Sandy Koufax is considered a home towner. His disappointment when they left for Los Angeles was joy for teammate OF Duke Snider. Snider was from LA, so the move made him a hometown hero.  Koufax also only played for the Dodgers, so he could have been in the top section. He’s down here instead because this story is too interesting to separate. Three seasons in Brooklyn and nine in Los Angeles isn’t bad for the Brooklyn-born boy. Too bad the Beastie Boys and their “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” wasn’t around in Koufax’s playing days. It would have been a great walk out song.

Snider got to spend five seasons in his hometown of LA. His best years were in Brooklyn, but home field advantage took on a new meaning for him in Southern California. In homage to his years in Brooklyn, Snider’s Hall cap has the Brooklyn “B” on it. Snider was with the Dodgers from 1947-1962. He finished his career spending one year apiece with the New York Mets and then the San Francisco Giants.

Who Could Be Next?

With easier travel and videos providing teams access to players everywhere, local teams are no better equipped to scout a local player than anyone else. I am sure someone will follow Mauer into the Hall as a homer. But who will be next is anyone’s guess. Players move around and even teams do from time to time creating opportunities like McGriff had.

Some of my guesses include SP Clayton Kershaw, who is from Dallas. After the Dodgers signed SP James Paxton, will he take a hometown discount for the Rangers? 1B Freddie Freeman grew up 30 miles from Los Angeles and is currently on the Dodgers. Manny Machado could make a case if he ends up with the Miami Marlins and bounces back to form late in his career.

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