The best of the best: a look at American Legion Baseball's Hall of Famers

The best of the best: a look at American Legion Baseball's Hall of Famers

Virtually everyone who has ever played baseball dreams of one day being inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Eighty-two of those 327 members played American Legion Baseball.

The first American Legion Baseball alumnus, Bob Feller, was inducted in 1962. And the 82nd is Ted Simmons, whose 2020 induction ceremony was moved to 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

American Legion Baseball began in 1926 and has been played in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Panama and Puerto Rico.

Of those 53 baseball-playing departments, 31 of them have been represented at Cooperstown.

Which state has the most members?

It's California — and it's not close.

Twenty-four former American Legion Baseball players have been inducted into the Hall of Fame, including the only two American Legion World Series champions who eventually were inducted in Cooperstown: George "Sparky" Anderson and Rollie Fingers.

Anderson was an infielder for Los Angeles Post 715, which downed White Plains, N.Y., Post 135 by an 11-7 score in front of 4,135 fans at then-named Briggs Stadium in Detroit.

Ironically, Anderson would later return to the same venue (it was renamed Tiger Stadium in 1961) and guide the Detroit Tigers as manager for 17 seasons. That included a 1984 World Series championship.

Fingers was a pitcher-outfielder for Upland Post 73 and earned MVP honors in the 1964 American Legion World Series in Little Rock, Ark. Fingers beat runner-up Charlotte, N.C., Post 9 twice in the eight-team, double-elimination tournament that season, firing a three-hitter in a 3-1 win in their first meeting, then throwing a two-hitter in a 3-1 victory in the championship game.

In national American Legion Baseball competition that summer, Fingers had a 3-1 pitching record and .450 batting average that also earned him the Louisville Slugger Award.

Ten years later, when Fingers earned one pitching victory and two saves in four relief appearances, he earned MVP honors in the Oakland Athletics' four games to one 1974 World Series victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Fingers is the only player in baseball history to earn MVP honors in the American Legion World Series and Major League Baseball World Series.

In second place behind California in producing Hall of Fame American Legion Baseball talent is Pennsylvania with seven inductees, followed by Florida with five and Illinois with four.

Nine other eventual Hall of Famers helped their American Legion Baseball teams to state championships during their careers.

They are Bobby Doerr of Los Angeles (1932), Hal Newhouser of Detroit (1937 and 1938), Yogi Berra of St. Louis (1939), Earl Weaver of St. Louis (1947 and 1948), Harmon Killebrew of Payette, Idaho (1952), Brooks Robinson of Little Rock, Ark. (1952 and 1953), Dave Winfield (1967 and 1968) and Paul Molitor (1974) for St. Paul, Minn., and Greg Maddux of Las Vegas (1983).

Newhouser was a dominating pitcher who once won 19 straight games, had a streak of 65 scoreless innings that didn't end until his final American Legion Baseball game — the 1938 Western championship — and he struck out 20 or more batters five times in his American Legion Baseball career.

As one might expect, Newhouser was hardly the only American Legion Hall of Famer to dominate during his career.

Feller, who played for Adel, Iowa, in 1931 and 1932 and two different Des Moines, Iowa, teams in 1933 and 1934, struck out 79 batters in 40 innings in his final season of 1934 for Des Moines Valley Junction in leading that team to a district title.

Al Kaline was a unanimous 1951 Baltimore Sun All-Legion team pick after hitting .609 for Baltimore, Md., Westport.

Don Drysdale, who became a record-setting pitcher in the major leagues, hit .394 as a second baseman for Van Nuys, Calif., in 1952.

Johnny Bench, who became a 14-time All-Star catcher in the major leagues, once threw a no-hitter for Anadarko, Okla., in a 1964 game against Norman, Okla.

Tom Seaver, who threw a major league no-hitter in 1978 during a career in which he won three Cy Young Awards, fired a 28-batter, no-hitter for Fresno, Calif., in 1962 against Hanford, Calif.

Winfield, the only athlete to be drafted by three major sports (baseball, basketball and football), was named MVP of the 1968 Minnesota state tournament after hitting .500 with two home runs and eight RBIs and pitching seven scoreless innings for a pitching victory.

Ryne Sandberg of Spokane, Wash., was named his league's MVP in 1977 after hitting .457 for a District IV runner-up team.

Bruce Sutter had a 16-4 pitching record over two seasons for Mount Joy, Pa., in 1969 and 1970.

Jim Thome hit .450 for runner-up Bartonville, Ill., in the 1988 Central Plains Regional. Bartonville had qualified for the regional as the Illinois state runner-up.

Mike Mussina of Montoursville, Pa., had a 7-0 pitching record and .480 batting average in 1986.

Four others had interesting paths during their American Legion Hall of Fame careers.

Bob Gibson helped the pioneering Omaha, Neb., Y Monarchs win the city American Legion Baseball title in 1951, becoming the first African-American team to do so.

After playing basketball and baseball at Omaha's Creighton University, Gibson briefly played with the barnstorming Harlem Globetrotters before signing his professional baseball contract with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Carlton Fisk grew up living near the New Hampshire/Vermont state line and played for two Legion teams — Claremont, N.H., in 1964 and Bellows Falls, Vt., in 1965. He was MVP of the 1965 Vermont state tournament while leading Bellow Falls to a runner-up finish.

Like Gibson, Fisk was a basketball standout who played for the University of New Hampshire before giving up the sport after he was a first-round pick of the Boston Red Sox in 1967.

The Red Sox had to talk Jim Rice of Anderson, S.C., out of a different sport to sign him after he was a 1971 first-round draft pick.

An all-state football kick returner, defensive back and wide receiver at T.L. Hanna High School, Rice was a member of South Carolina's 1970 Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas high school All-Star team that featured future two-time Super Bowl winner Freddie Solomon (Sumter, S.C., San Francisco 49ers). And Rice was considered a talented enough football prospect to receive college scholarship offers from Clemson, Nebraska and North Carolina before he chose baseball.

Rice hit .425 with 11 home runs and 46 RBIs in 1970 as he led Anderson to a state runner-up finish.

Finally, one of North Carolina's three Hall of Famers, Gaylord Perry of Williamston, ended up coaching American Legion Baseball for Shelby Post 82 at the very stadium where the American Legion World Series is currently held. Perry coached Post 82 in 1987 — or shortly after he helped start the baseball program at Limestone College (now University) in nearby Gaffney, S.C.

Perry, who chose a professional baseball career after receiving several offers to play college basketball, coached at Limestone from 1987 to 1991.

American Legion Baseball Hall of Famers

(listed by state, year of induction and American Legion team)

Alabama

1972 — Early Wynn, Hartford

Arizona

1990 — Jim Palmer, Scottsdale

Arkansas

1983 — George Kell, Swifton

1983 — Brooks Robinson, Little Rock

California

1966 — Ted Williams, San Diego

1975 — Ralph Kiner, Alhambra

1976 — Bob Lemon, San Bernadino

1978 — Eddie Mathews, Sacramento

1982 — Frank Robinson, Oakland

1984 — Don Drysdale, Van Nuys

1986 — Bobby Doerr, Los Angeles

1988 — Willie Stargell, Alameda

1990 — Joe Morgan, Oakland

1992 — Rollie Fingers, Upland

1992 — Tom Seaver, Fresno

1999 — George Brett, El Segundo

1999 — Robin Yount, Woodland Hills

2000 — George "Sparky" Anderson, Los Angeles

2003 — Gary Carter, Fullerton

2003 — Eddie Murray, Los Angeles

2007 — Tony Gwynn, Long Beach

2008 — Dick Williams, Pasadena

2010 — Doug Harvey, San Diego

2011 — Bert Blyleven, Garden Grove

2011 — Pat Gillick, Chico

2014 — Bobby Cox, Selma

2018 — Trevor Hoffman, Anaheim

2018 — Alan Trammell, San Diego

Colorado

2019 — Roy Halladay, Arvada

Connecticut

2017 — Jeff Bagwell, Middletown

Florida

1994 — Steve Carlton, Miami

2005 — Wade Boggs, Tampa

2014 — Tony LaRussa, West Tampa

2017 — Tim Raines, Sanford

2018 — Chipper Jones, Deland

Idaho

1984 — Harmon Killebrew, Payette

Illinois

1970 — Lou Boudreau, Harvey

1976 — Robin Roberts, Springfield

2010 — Whitey Herzog, New Athens

2018 — Jim Thome, Bartonville

Iowa

1962 — Bob Feller, Adel and Des Moines

Kentucky

1984 — Pee Wee Reese, Louisville

Louisiana

2019 — Lee Smith, Natchitoches

Maryland

1980 — Al Kaline, Baltimore Westport

2017 — John Schuerholz, Baltimore

2019 — Harold Baines, Talbot

Massachusetts

2014 — Tom Glavine, Billerica

Michigan

1992 — Hal Newhouser, Detroit

2020 — Ted Simmons, Southfield

Minnesota

2001 — Dave Winfield, St. Paul

2004 — Paul Molitor, St. Paul

2018 — Jack Morris, St. Paul

Missouri

1972 — Yogi Berra, St. Louis

1996 — Earl Weaver, St. Louis

Nebraska

1981 — Bob Gibson, Omaha

1995 — Richie Ashburn, Neligh

Nevada

2014 — Greg Maddux, Las Vegas

New Hampshire

2000 — Carlton Fisk, Claremont

New Jersey

1968 — Joe Medwick, Carteret

New York

1973 — Warren Spahn, Buffalo

1989 — Carl Yastrzemski, Bridgehampton

2014 — Joe Torre, Brooklyn

North Carolina

1985 — Hoyt Wilhelm, Mecklenburg County

1987 — Jim "Catfish" Hunter, Ahoskie

1991 — Gaylord Perry, Williamston

Ohio

1996 — Jim Bunning, Cincinnati

1997 — Phil Niekro, Bridgeport

2012 — Barry Larkin, Cincinnati

Oklahoma

1989 — Johnny Bench, Anadarko

Oregon

2009 — Joe Gordon, Portland

Pennsylvania

1969 — Stan Musial, Donora

1969 — Roy Campanella, Philadelphia

1993 — Reggie Jackson, Cheltenham

1997 — Nellie Fox, St. Thomas

2006 — Bruce Sutter, Mount Joy

2016 — Mike Piazza, Phoenixville

2019 — Mike Mussina, Montoursville

Puerto Rico

2011 — Roberto Alomar, Salinas

2017 — Ivan Rodriguez, Vega Baja

South Carolina

2009 — Jim Rice, Anderson

Vermont

2000 — Carlton Fisk, Bellows Falls

Washington

2005 — Ryne Sandberg, Spokane

2012 — Ron Santo, Seattle


American Legion Baseball

American Legion Baseball

American Legion Baseball enjoys a reputation as one of the most successful and tradition-rich amateur athletic leagues. Today, the program registers more than 5,400 teams in all 50 states, including Canada and Puerto Rico.

Learn more