August 21, 2009
Mahalo, MLBers! Today marks the 50th anniversary of Hawaii's induction into statehood and Ballhype has put together a fantastic list of 50 great athletes who were born there.
Based on that list, I've produced a mini-mural of my favorite Hawaiian kinipopo-playing pros above. For ID references, that's Baltimore's Lenn Sakata, famed knuckleballer Charlie Hough, the great Mets trio of Sid Fernandez, Ron Darling and Benny Agbayani — did Frank Cashen have a timeshare there or something? — and the Flyin' Hawaiian himself, Shane Victorino(notes).
(Here's a more complete list of Hawaiian-born players, including Kurt Suzuki(notes), Scott Feldman(notes), Tyler Yates(notes) and the guy who definitely sounds like he's from Hawaii, Kila Ka'aihue(notes).)
Hawaii actually has a rich baseball history and it started with Alexander "The Father of Modern Baseball" Cartwright, who set up shop on the islands in 1849 after becoming too sick to reach his intended destination of China. He laid out Hawaii's first diamond in Makiki (it's still there) and spent the rest of his life as a Hawaiian until dying in 1893. If you ever find yourself in Oahu Cemetary, you can visit his grave.
• During the World War II years, there was probably more baseball talent stationed in Hawaii than was left in the United States as several stars played for different branches and put on exhibitions as diversions for the soldiers who were actually fighting.
"After an Army survey during the spring of 1944 showed that most professional ballplayers had not served overseas, the Army transferred Joe and some other major leaguers to Hawaii. The Navy followed and did the same. Military commanders began taking these baseball games very seriously and transferred the best talent in the Armed Forces to Hawaii.
"Joe's Army teammates included Red Ruffing, Johnny Beazley, and Joe Gordon. The Navy team had a club with major leaguers Phil Rizzuto, Pee Wee Reese, Johnny Mize, and Dominic DiMaggio on it. The players were split into several teams with DiMaggio joining the Seventh Army Air Force team. His team was the class of the Far East and played almost a full major league schedule."
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• Long before he tossed out an All-Star pitch, President Obama learned the game in Hawaii.
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• For a total of eight seasons between 1993 and 2008, the Hawaii Winter Baseball league provided a way for up-and-comers to hone their skills in Honolulu during the mainland's offseason. Despite folding last year after its contract with MLB was not renewed, it played host to several future stars including Ichiro(notes) (above), Jason Giambi(notes), Aaron Boone(notes), Todd Helton(notes), Derrek Lee(notes), Joba Chamberlain(notes), A.J. Pierzynski(notes) and Matt Wieters(notes).
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