Jerry Coleman and Juanita Crabb are the 2017 Inductees into the Binghamton Baseball Shrine

By Jim Maggiore

Jerry Coleman, longtime baseball broadcaster and former infielder for the Binghamton Triplets and New York Yankees, and Juanita Crabb, the Binghamton mayor who led the movement to bring baseball back to Binghamton in 1992, will become the newest members of the Binghamton Baseball Shrine on Friday, September 1st. Coleman will be posthumously inducted while Crabb will return to town from her current home in Washington, D.C.

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Jerry Coleman signs autographs for some young fans in Binghamton (circa 1965) during a return visit for a “hot stove” dinner. Elston Howard, left,  looks on.

The Shrine Committee

This season marks the 25th year for the Binghamton Baseball Shrine committee, which was formed in 1993 to recognize the rich baseball legacy of the Greater Binghamton Area.  The committee was established by then Binghamton general manager, R.C. Reuteman, who was posthumously inducted into the shrine in 2016. This year’s class will be the 23rd induction class, as the Binghamton front office has held a shrine induction every year except for 1992 (Shrine formed AFTER the 1992 season), 1994 (AA All-Star Game preparation precluded shrine activities), and 2010 (front office transition activities precluded shrine induction activities).

The criteria the committee uses to elect members to the Shrine are fairly straightforward.  In order to be elected to the Binghamton Baseball Shrine, the inductee must no longer be an active player and have accomplished at least one of the following:

  • Played for a Binghamton professional baseball team and performed in outstanding fashion or went on to achieve success in major league baseball after playing in the Binghamton area. If, while playing in Binghamton, a player has led the league in batting average, home runs, or runs batted in, the player becomes a strong candidate.
  • Been born and/or raised in the Greater Binghamton Area and went on to achieve success in major league baseball OR a Binghamton Professional Team (i.e., Bingos, Crickets, Triplets, Mets, etc.)

Note: The same general rules apply for non-playing members of the Shrine (e.g., George F. Johnson, John H. Johnson, John Fox, and Jerry Toman). On rare occasions the committee has the right to go outside the criteria to recognize a significant event in the Greater Binghamton Area. 

The Shrine committee generally meets three times during the offseason to conduct its business, with numerous e-mails exchanged between the meetings. The first meeting generally is a broad discussion of potential inductees, with committee members providing supporting details for the respective candidates. During this first meeting, a lot of stories are told, as the members reminisce about baseball in Binghamton. After the first meeting concludes, the committee chairperson then gathers statistics for those whose accomplishments were discussed during the meeting. At the second meeting the committee gets down to choosing an official nominating ballot.

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Shrine Committee discusses the candidates in January 2017; clockwise, from lower right: Lou Howell, Tony Quagliata, John Fox, Eddie Saunders, Joe McCann, Michael McCann.

The committee hears oral arguments on the merits of election for each potential nominee, coming up with between 15-20 names to consider for induction for that year. Between the second and third meeting, committee members rank all the candidates, with “1” being the highest rating, “2” the second-best candidate, and so on down the list. After all the ballots are turned in, the committee chairman tabulates the ballots and sends out the results to the committee members. The committee then meets one final time to go over the leaders on the ballot and discuss any anomalies, etc. The committee then makes its recommendations to the Binghamton front office, as the task of contacting the inductees and arranging for transportation falls to the front office of the Rumble Ponies.

Present-day committee members include a cross-section of local fans, baseball historians, and a representative from the front office of the Binghamton Rumble Ponies:

  1. John Fox: retired, long-time sports reporter and editor
  2. Lou Howell: former Binghamton Triplet; local long-time educator and coach
  3. Jim Maggiore: sport enthusiast
  4. Joe McCann: local baseball historian
  5. Mike McCann: local author
  6. Tony Quagliata: former sports administrator, founder of the Greater Binghamton Sports Hall of Fame
  7. Eddie Saunders: front office representative from the Binghamton Rumble Ponies.

John Fox and Lou Howell have been serving on the committee since its inaugural season. Howell’s presence on the committee has been especially entertaining and informative. As the committee discusses past athletes, Howell’s insights on some of his former teammates are particularly helpful and often humorous. During a meeting of the committee in February, Lou shared one of his favorite stories on Thurman Munson.

“I roomed with Munson during spring training in the late ‘60s. The Yankees liked to have catchers room together, to share pitch calling strategies, etc. I got to know Thurman pretty well, having also been a teammate of his at Syracuse and here. He loved to play his cards with the gang. Well, one night I’m fast asleep in the room and Munson comes in in the wee hours of the morning, yelling ‘Hey roomie, wake up! Wake up!’ I rolled over, opened my eyes and there he is standing at the end of my bed. Then he throws up a fistful of money and watches it float down to the floor. ‘Look, it’s raining money!’ he yelled. He had won a lot of money playing poker that night and he wanted to make sure I remembered it! Well, it’s close to fifty years later and I still remember that day as if it were yesterday…”

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Lou Howell poses for a picture in 1967.

This year marked the first season that Tony Quagliata served on the committee. He found it to be a rewarding experience. “It was an honor to be asked to serve on the Baseball Shrine Committee.  I’m appreciative that I can play a role in helping to select, remember, and honor people that have made significant contributions and achievements in baseball.  It parallels our formation of the Greater Binghamton Sports Hall of Fame.  I also enjoyed the vast baseball knowledge displayed by the Committee Members.”

Mike McCann has been serving on the committee for over ten years and has frequently played host to the inductees, even driving a few of them to the National Baseball Hall of Fame as part of their induction weekend. He is happy to promote Binghamton’s baseball legacy. In a recent exchange of emails, McCann stated “It’s important to remember the history of professional baseball in Binghamton. If you care about the past, you’ll take an interest in the future.”

The 2017 Nominating Ballot

Coleman and Crabb were selected from the nominating ballot that included the following 20 athletes/front office personnel (listed in alphabetical order):

  1. Jason Bay
  2. Zeke Bella
  3. Juanita Crabb
  4. Jerry Coleman
  5. Octavio Dotel
  6. Jason Isringhausen
  7. Mike Jacobs
  8. Mike Kinkade
  9. Don Lock
  10. Mike Lum
  11. Maine-Endwell Little League
  12. Tom Morgan
  13. Jay Payton
  14. John Pawloski
  15. George Selkirk
  16. Mickey Scott
  17. Bill Terlecky
  18. Michael Urda
  19. Tom Wegmann
  20. Preston Wilson

Note that the Maine-Endwell Little League team made the official nominating ballot for 2017. Though the players are too young to have ever played professional baseball, their astounding accomplishment in 2016 merited the team being placed on the ballot.

One of the old timers on the ballot was George “Twinkletoes” (denoting his unique running style) Selkirk, who managed the Triplets in 1949 and 1950. Selkirk managed the Triplets after he won five world championships with the Yankees. Selkirk was also selected to two American League All-Star teams and also holds the distinction of succeeding Babe Ruth as the right fielder for the Yankees (in 1935). Ironically, Selkirk wore the iconic #3 for the Yankees, as the Yankees did not retire Ruth’s number until 1948.

Mike Jacobs had the distinction of being the most recent active performer on the ballot. Jacobs retired from active play this year at the age of 36. He is currently the manager of the Batavia Muckdogs, in the NYPENN League. In 2005 Jacobs won the MVP award for Binghamton, as he hit .321 with 25 HRs and 93 RBIs. During his major league career, Jacobs hit exactly 100 home runs. Jacobs was selected as the first baseman for the Binghamton Mets’ All Quarter Century team last September.

Arguably the nominee from the Binghamton Mets’ era who went on to have the most distinguished career in the majors is Jason Isringhausen, who played in the majors for 16 seasons and notched 300 career saves. Isringhausen was also a member of the 1994 Eastern League Championship Binghamton Mets’ team, teaming with Bill Pulsipher to form a formidable one-two pitching punch during the stretch run of the season.

Getting Back to the 2017 Inductees…

The ballot represented a wide range of choices, reaching as far back as 1946, when infielder Jerry Coleman played for the Binghamton Triplets, hitting .275 in 487 at-bats. As fine a year as Coleman had with the Triplets in ‘46, his Binghamton accomplishments paled when compared with his nine-year career with the Yankees, where he helped the Bronx Bombers win four world championships. After his retirement as a player, Coleman went on to an outstanding career as a long time baseball broadcaster. In 2005 he received the Ford C. Frick Award from the Baseball Hall of Fame for his lifetime broadcasting contributions.

Upon realizing that Coleman had gained election into Binghamton’s Shrine this year, longtime Shrine Committee member Joe McCann exhorted, “It’s about time!” Coleman batted .275 for the Yankees in his rookie campaign of 1949 and led all second baseman in fielding percentage, while finishing first in the balloting for Rookie of the Year that was conducted by the Associated Press. Roy Sievers, a slugging outfielder for the Cleveland Indians, beat out Coleman in the rookie balloting done by the Baseball Writers Association of America.

A few years after his retirement from playing the game, Coleman became a baseball broadcaster, starting with the CBS network and then moving on to call Yankee games. In 1970 he returned to his native California to broadcast games for the California Angels. In 1972 Coleman became the broadcaster for the San Diego Padres, where he became known for his signature call of an outstanding play in the field: “You can hang a star on that one, baby!”

Except for a stint managing the Padres in 1980, Coleman remained a broadcaster with the Padres until his death in January 2014.

Many of today’s Binghamton baseball fans would say that the “It’s about time” comment that McCann bellowed on Coleman’s behalf can also be applied to the election of Juanita Crabb. Crabb was elected mayor of Binghamton in 1981 and from the first day she took office she made bringing baseball back to Binghamton a priority of her administration. During the ground-breaking ceremony for what was then called Binghamton Municipal Stadium in the summer of 1991, Gerry Hunsicker, then the Minor League Director for the New York Mets, dramatically stated, “Without Juanita Crabb, this deal simply would not have been done.”

Throughout Crabb’s decade-long push to return baseball to Binghamton, she was omnipresent, a bold beacon for stadium supporters and a voice of unrestrained enthusiasm for the cultural, economic, and social benefits the game would have on the city and its surrounding area.

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Crabb waves to the crowd during the opening day ceremonies in 1992.

Besides being Binghamton’s “First Lady of Baseball,” Crabb also holds the distinction of being the only woman to ever be mayor of Binghamton. After her stint as mayor, Crabb made an unsuccessful bid for Congress before leaving the area to work in Washington, D.C. She is looking forward to returning to town for the induction ceremonies.

The plaques for all members of the Shrine can be seen in the concourse area behind the home plate of NYSEG Stadium. The induction ceremony for 2017 will take place approximately a half-hour before the Rumble Ponies take on the Hartford Yard Goats in a 7:05 start on Friday, September 1st. Be sure to check the web site of the Rumble Ponies for information on the Binghamton Shrine induction as the date draws nearer.

Note: Maggiore’s most recent book, “Images of Modern America: Around Binghamton,” published by Arcadia, uses the Binghamton Baseball Shrine as one of the many elements that contribute to  Binghamton being a minor league Sports Mecca.

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