The Florida Sports Hall of Fame (FSHOF) joined hands with the Florida Sports Foundation (FSF) to host the 58th Governor’s Baseball Dinner at Tropicana Field on Thursday, Feb. 15. The event was a rousing success, with more than 360 enthusiastic baseball fans attending the sold-out event which officially marks the start of spring training in the Sunshine State.
“We saw a great opportunity to partner and work with our friends at the Florida Sports Foundation,” FSHOF President Barry Smith said. “Our ongoing relationship with our Hall of Fame members allowed us to present an outstanding night of entertainment while allowing us to raise some funds to continue our mission of promoting children’s causes in the state.”
Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred opened the program by giving a mini “State of the Union” address on the game. Manfred spoke about the 2017 season, which featured one of the most exciting and riveting post-seasons in recent history. He spoke of parity, noting that the last five years had produced five different World Series Champions and that no team has successfully defended their title since the New York Yankees went back-to-back almost 20 years ago.
The highlight of the evening was an on-stage roundtable discussion featuring baseball greats Wade Boggs, Fred McGriff, Davey Johnson and Tino Martinez – all members of the Florida Sports Hall of Fame. Moderated by Tampa Bay Rays broadcaster Dave Wills, the foursome shared stories of past glories, funny recollections and gave their thoughts on the current state of the game. Martinez spoke about seeing his baseball heroes while attending spring training in Tampa and spoke about how it inspired him to “want to become a Major League Baseball Player.”
While telling stories and trading barbs with his fellow panelists, Boggs also shared his beliefs that baseball should not worry about making drastic changes in how it plays the game. “For 150 years we’ve played the game the same way. You take a round bat and a round ball and you try to hit it squarely. Why try to change perfection? If you feel the need to leave the ballpark early, call an Uber and go home. Do you think anyone was worried about how long Game 7 lasted between the Astros and Yankees? Leave the game alone.”
Johnson echoed those statements. “I don’t like how they are trying to change the fundamentals of the game. You can’t break up a double play, you can’t collide with the catcher at home plate anymore. They say they are making these rule changes for safety, but I’m not sure that it makes it any safer.”
Johnson also recalled his days as a player, including his 1973 season when the third baseman hit a career-high 43 home runs with Atlanta. “I was never a power hitter, per se,” Johnson said. “I think my career high for home runs was something like 18. So in 1973, I have a monster year with 43 home runs. It impressed the Braves so much they sold my contract to a team in Japan the next year!”
McGriff, who slugged 493 home runs, also reminisced about growing up in Tampa and watching the Cincinnati Reds in the 70s in spring training. “As a kid, you were in awe of how good they were and you wanted to be them,” McGriff said. He added how special it was to get to the opportunity late in his career to return to Tampa and play for the Rays.
Prior to the roundtable discussion, the Florida Sports Foundation presented special recognition awards to the Minnesota Twins, Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, Washington Nationals and World Champion Houston Astros as Florida-based spring training teams who made it to the 2017 playoffs. In addition, former Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Sam Fuld was recognized for his work with his T-1-D Sports Camp, an annual event in the Tampa area for kids suffering from Type-1 Diabetes.
The Florida Sports Hall of Fame would like to thank title sponsor Fanatics; as well as Visit St. Pete-Clearwater and Farm Bureau Insurance for making the 58th Governor’s Baseball Dinner a reality. For more information on upcoming events, please sign up for our newsletter via our website at flasportshof.org.