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April 21, 2010

Talkin' Baseball with Everett Bridgeford

There are Facebook groups out there for just about anything.

Some make
perfect sense.

don’t make any sense at all.

For Everett Bridgeford of Somers Point, New Jersey, there was only one group that seemed right…“Let's Get Luis Tiant into the Hall of Fame Now!” This is his story.

HOVG: What made you start your grassroots effort to get “El Tiante” enshrined in Cooperstown?

BRIDGEFORD: I was arguing with a friend of mine who is a Yankee fan that knows everything about Tiant’s legacy. He told me I was nuts. I was up late one night and I sent (Angels broadcaster) Victor Rojas a message on Facebook asking him if he thought I was crazy too. He said I was right and if I believed in it then I should pursue it. I then went to (former Red Sox pitcher) Dick Drago, who was also on Facebook, and he quickly said that Luis Tiant is the best person he has ever met and I should definitely try to get him in. So I started a page and began inviting as many people as I could find in Boston.

HOVG: How did your love affair with BeanTown start?

BRIDGEFORD: I have been a Sox fan for as long as I can remember. Being 34, I was too young for the good days and had a long wait for 2004, but I was always a student of those teams in the 70s. I would use my Yaz swing and my Tiant windup in little league and Wiffle Ball and could never understand why none of my other friends in South Jersey didn't love the Sox as much as I did.

HOVG: And this carried over to the Hall of Fame too, right?

BRIDGEFORD: Right. I would wait every year for the Hall of Fame ceremonies, so I could see Ted Williams come up on stage. I successfully begged my parents to drive the eight hours to Cooperstown so I could see Yaz get inducted. And then I waited and waited. Why wasn't Tiant getting in? Why weren't Rice and Evans getting in? It was driving me nuts. I was a kid, these were my idols and I still couldn't understand why no one else got it. I watched the children of .260 hitters from 50 years ago accept awards for their fathers and it caused me to lose faith in the Hall of Fame.

HOVG: Who or what moment specifically caused you to lose faith?

BRIDGEFORD: The last straw was 2009 when Joe Gordon's daughter accepted his induction. Are you kidding me? This is the best they have to offer us? Then I saw the doccumentary “The Lost Son of Havana”. Was Joe Gordon exiled from his home country at 22? Did any of the players in the Hall look into the stands after their first hit or shutout and not see his father giving him a standing ovation? Tiant was a lights out, shut down competitor, who thrived with a team on his shoulders. I have seen many Hall of Famers crumble under that pressure. Nolan Ryan had many, many nights when his was far from super. The great Roger Clemens needed help to be a winner. And if I could pitch to the age of 48, I could get 300 wins like (Phil) Niekro. Luis changed the game and the city of Boston. Think about it, in a city like Boston, in the 70s, he had thousands of people chanting his name. Ted Williams never got that. Luis went through twelve seasons without ever being able to go home like all the rest could and still he is the winningest Cuban pitcher in Major League history! His numbers far surpass those of the “great” Catfish Hunter, Senator Jim Bunning (known for the great failure if '64) the legend Lefty Gomez and many others in the Hall no one has ever heard of. He is still one of the most beloved athletes in Boston history, and a constant reminder of what we want our heroes to be like. He is and always will be a Hall of Famer.

HOVG: What support have you received for the Facebook group?

BRIDGEFORD: I have received support from people all over the world…Canada, the Caribbean, South America, Central America, Europe and, of course, the United States. Richard Johnson, author and curator of the Boston Sports museum and artist Frank Galasso have been the biggest supporters along with Dick Drago and Victor Rojas. This past week, I received a helping hand from (Red Sox broadcaster) Jerry Remy and his team. They are prepared to see this through with me and offered all of their support.

HOVG: In what regard?

BRIDGEFORD: They are offering polls, links and in-game mentions of the site, which have been a huge surprise for me. Billy Conran of 1110 WCCM in Methuen, Massachusetts was the first person to contact me about a radio interview and that will, hopefully, include Luis Tiant himself. I also get great photos and memories from fans all over the country who remember seeing Tiant pitch when they were five and it being the best time they ever had. There’s also people who had a cigar with him at a golf course, or the kids in his neighborhood, that would knock on his door to get his autograph. In the past two weeks, I have added over 1,500 members and all of them know this is going to happen.

HOVG: All in all, what’s your goal?

BRIDGEFORD: My goal is to continue adding mew members through all means possible…the website, Facebook, word of mouth, TV and radio. This is truly grassroots. I have done this so far at no cost and have not earned a single cent from my efforts. I know we can do this based on the huge numbers of people that believe in this man getting in the Hall. The end game will consist of an all out marketing assault on the Hall's Veteran's Committee and getting that 75% from letters, phone calls, interviews and statistics that stand up to anyone.

HOVG: What would it mean to you for “El Tiante” to get the call from the Hall?

BRIDGEFORD: What would it mean for me? Wow, for one, I think it will be the greatest thing ever to see him on stage with a huge smile and cigar with thousands of fans chanting “LOU–EEE LOU-EEE”! I have never had this much passion in my life for anything and I believe it will happen. Ask anyone that knows me…I am not like that. But something is making me do this and it continues to grow. I do know that the coolest thing will be able to sit back and say that I changed things for the better and mean it. I could not believe that no one had tried this before and now it seems like a done deal and we are just waiting for the ceremony. There is a lot of work left and no shortage of people or ideas. I love waking up in the morning knowing that this will happen.

If you’re interested in helping Bridgeford get his message out about getting Luis Tiant in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, check out his Facebook group, join and then…invite your friends.

BallHype: hype it up!

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