The three of them are in their 80s - two well into their 80s - but you couldn't really tell by their firm grip and how vibrant they seemed to be. Pitching legends and Hall of Famers Bob Feller and Robin Roberts, joined by hitting great Mickey Vernon, graced the Drexelbrook Grand Ballroom last night for the 100th anniversary celebration of the Delco League.
But it really wasn't a celebration of the Delco League as much as it was a celebration of baseball in Delaware County - and at the pinnacle is Vernon, who posted Hall of Fame numbers during a 20-year major league career yet is not in Cooperstown.
The star power had heads spinning. Bob Dieter, a Delaware County-based CPA, made sure he was able to get to the Drexelbrook.
"I just spoke to my dad this morning and he thinks Feller had to be the first pitcher to throw 100 [mph]; just think about that," Dieter said. "Many of these guys did it working two jobs, without the conditioning programs players have today, and they became legends. It was great to see living legends like Feller and Mickey Vernon, it really honors the rich tradition of baseball in this area."
The lure was Vernon, a first baseman who played most of his career, from 1939 to '60, with the Washington Senators. He had a .286 lifetime average and 2,495 hits.
"Mickey is the reason why I'm here," said Feller, still feisty at 88 years old. "Mickey should be in the Hall of Fame. He certainly has my vote. Mickey is a great guy, he was great in the clubhouse, he was a great teammate when we were together in 1949 in Cleveland, and he always showed up to work. I'd like to see him get in. There are some in the Hall of Fame right now that don't deserve to be in there, but I won't mention names. I will say that Mickey deserves it."
Feller, who arrived from Gates Mills, Ohio, 20 miles east of Cleveland, was leaving this morning for Toronto for a card show and to be on hand tomorrow to kick off a college league. He'll turn 89 on Nov. 3, and says he'd rather crisscross the country than walk around playing golf in Florida, waiting for the blue-plate special to be served and basically "waiting to die."
"You have something to do each morning that keeps you going," Feller said. He compiled a record of 266-162 in 18 seasons. "My goal is to keep moving."
Vernon's goals are simple: Enjoy the twilight of his years. He says he doesn't think much about the Hall of Fame until election time comes and his name is broached. But last night was special, because it was nice to see his friends, Feller and Roberts. He just turned 89 on April 22, the elder statesman of the three. He lives in a retirement community in Delaware County and fills his days watching TV, playing shuff
leboard and pingpong. He lost his wife, Lib, in 2004.
But to see more than 500 people show up last night to celebrate the Delco League, a league he never played in, was kind of special to Vernon. He was raised in Marcus Hook, where there is a bronze statue of Vernon in front of Mickey Vernon Park.
"I see more Delco League games now than when I was younger," Vernon said. "I know the league is still a great place to play for college kids, and still nice for old pros to play and stay active. But I think what made the Delco League so special were the rivalries. You had one neighborhood team going against the other. They slid into each other in those days."
Roberts, 80, was the baby of the bunch. Like Feller and Vernon, he never played in the league. The 1976 Hall of Fame inductee and former Phillies great made the trip from Temple Terrace, Fla., to be with Vernon and to spend some time with his son, Robby, who lives in Blue Bell.
"Mickey is the reason why I'm here," said Roberts, who was 286-245 in his 19-year career. "I actually remember one time I faced Mickey when he was with the Milwaukee Braves, in 1959. I pitched against him in the ninth inning and he got a hit off me that won the game for them.
"I know there's a lot of politics in the Hall of Fame voting, and I don't like to speculate. But personally, Mickey could have his own hall of fame." *