Hagler’s line of ‘My heart had baseball seams on it’ still resonates

Bryon Hagler, who won 575 games as coach of Licking and Hillcrest high schools, receives an induction plaque from Missouri Sports Hall of Fame President and Executive Director Jerald Andrews on Wednesday, May 27.

Bryon Hagler, who won 575 games as coach of Licking and Hillcrest high schools, receives an induction plaque from Missouri Sports Hall of Fame President and Executive Director Jerald Andrews on Wednesday, May 27.

Like any of our events, one story alone cannot capture all of the great quotes and notes, and here are a few from our recent Baseball Sports Enthusiasts Luncheon presented by Dr Pepper.

Of all the lines during Wednesday’s ceremony, one still resonates. It came from inductee Byron Hagler, the former Licking and Hillcrest high school baseball coach who amassed 575 wins — the second-most in Missouri high school history. Said Hagler, “Baseball has always been my passionI found out at an early age that my heart had baseball seams on it.”

Little did anyone know that, in the darkened room of the University Plaza Convention Center,  former St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa was scribbling notes on a small piece of paper as he sat on the front row. La Russa was about to be named a Missouri Sports Legend but, just attentive as he was in his 33 years in big-league dugouts, he came prepared.

In fact, lo and behold, La Russa concluded his own speech by telling the audience that he was going to borrow that line from Hagler. “I wrote this one down because Bryon said it. I’ve never heard it before and I’m going to start using it. Pretty soon, you’ll start thinking I said it:

“When you’re in baseball your whole life like I have, you’ve never worked a day. Because now I realize my heart has seams. Thank you, Bryon. That is a great comment. I really appreciate it.”

The line was all Hagler. He spent the prior two weeks working on his induction speech. A series of emails between him and a staffer at the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame narrowed down what he really wanted to say, all within three minutes. For a man who has spent his whole life around baseball, it was difficult to leave some parts of his journey on the bench.

And yet Hagler’s line about “baseball seams” survived each of his cuts — and ultimately was quoted by the third-winningest manager in baseball history.

Other La Russa notes

— There were a lot of good stories told, especially by La Russa. Springfield’s Bill Virdon, the 1955 NL Rookie of the Year with the Cardinals before going on to a stellar career with the Pirates before managing, sat on the front row. La Russa said he once bumped in to him. Deadpanned La Russa, “Bill said, ‘I’ve watched you play and you should think about coaching as soon as possible.'”

— La Russa actually was a farmhand in the Cardinals system late in his playing career and met the legendary George Kissell, who spent most of his adult life in the Cardinals organization and was known for fundamentals. “Kissell saw me and he said, ‘I always thought you had a chance to be a coach, but since you played so long, you didn’t realize how bad you were. You may not be smart enough to coach.”

— He referenced a line by the Voice of the Cardinals, Mike Shannon: “My favorite Cardinals values-execution story that Mike was explaining on the air one day, Mike said, ‘Life is about execution. The only guys that don’t agree with  that are the guys on death row.”

— La Russa made it a point to sign autographs for 30 minutes after the ceremony. It was a long day for the current baseball operations chief of the Arizona Diamondbacks. He attended a morning dedication of a youth league field in Cahokia, Ill., across the Mississippi River from St. Louis and flew in to Springfield to attend the luncheon.

Also in the house:

A recent inductee as part of the Enshrinement Class of 2015 in January who attended Tuesday was Keith Guttin, whose Missouri State baseball team is hosting an NCAA Tournament regional this weekend in Springfield. Guttin’s club won the Missouri Valley Conference regular season and tournament championships, reaching as high as No. 8 in Baseball America’s Top 25 rankings.

Singled out during La Russa’s speech was Josh Kinney, a key reliever on the Cardinals 2006 World Series championship club who attended the ceremony. Kinney was part of the first Springfield Cardinals team in 2005, when he was the closer, earned a promotion to Triple-A Memphis, was demoted in late July and yet still made the big leagues, earning a World Series ring. Kinney has pitched in the White Sox, Mariners and Pirates farm systems since and is looking to get into coaching and is open to a return to pro ball.

— Talk about a great turnout. Of the 850 in the crowd, among them was none other than singer Tony Orlando and members of the Ozark Mountain Daredevils. He not only sang “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” with the Daredevils on stage but also took photos — and sang — with ladies who remembered some of his greatest hits.

The Hall of Fame truly appreciates all the support that we received from this event. Our next event is the Summer Prep Party & Auction presented by Med-Pay Inc. on Sunday, June 7 at the Ramada Oasis Convention Center, followed by the Springfield Celebrity Golf Classic presented by Great Southern Bank on July 8 at Highland Springs Country club. The golf tournament has a 6 a.m. and noon registrations with 7:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. tee times. Breakfast and lunch will be served along, and golfers receive a lot of other goodies such as shirts, free cart rentals and beverages on the course.