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Ranking the Greatest Baseball Player Tributes of All Time

Doug MeadCorrespondent IJanuary 28, 2013

Ranking the Greatest Baseball Player Tributes of All Time

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    Baseball is a sport that honors its history and tradition. Through touching tributes, yearly celebrations and other noted events, baseball honors its own heroes in unique ways.

    On Jan. 19, legendary slugger Stan Musial passed away. Musial was highly regarded as one of the greatest players the game has ever known. Musial spent his entire 22-year with the St. Louis Cardinals, winning three MVP Awards and seven batting titles along the way.

    On Sunday night, the St. Louis Blues of the NHL honored Musial in their own special way. Every single player donned jerseys with Musial's name and No. 6 for the pregame warm-ups prior to their contest with the Minnesota Wild.

    Ironically, the first goal of the game was scored by Blues defenseman Wade Redden, who happens to wear No. 6.

    In addition, the pregame jerseys worn by the players were autographed by the players themselves and auctioned off during the game. Proceeds collected went directly to Cardinals Care, the official charity organization of the Cardinals.

    Many other stirring tributes have occurred in baseball throughout history, honoring the game's greatest players and fallen heroes.

    Here are nine such tributes.

9. Adoring Fans Serenade Stan Musial

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    Not only was Stan Musial a great ballplayer, he could play a pretty mean harmonica as well. On several occasions, he serenaded fans at Busch Stadium with his rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game."

    On Saturday afternoon, hundreds of adoring fans returned the favor.

    Following Musial's funeral service, the hearse carrying Musial's body was driven to Busch Stadium, where family members placed a memorial wreath at the foot of Musial's life-size statue in front of the stadium.

    The throng of fans who were there to pay tribute to Musial then launched into their own rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game," in a stirring tribute to the man they simply called The Man.

8. Harmon Killebrew Photo Buried Under Home Plate at Target Field

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    Throughout a stellar career that culminated with his Hall of Fame induction in 1984, Minnesota Twins slugger Harmon Killebrew terrorized opposing pitchers with his raw power.

    In fact, Killebrew was given the name "Killer" because of his ability to punish a baseball. But the nickname completely belied his personality and the way he treated others.

    When Killebrew passed away in May 2011, the Twins honored him by placing a black-and-white photo of him underneath home plate at Target Field. The photo would remain there throughout the season.

7. Jackie Robinson Day

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    On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier that had been in place for decades in Major League Baseball.

    That special day is now honored each and every year.

    On April 15 each year, Jackie Robinson Day honors the legendary star with every player and every coach from each MLB team wearing jersey No. 42 in honor of Robinson.

    MLB permanently retired Robinson's number in 1997.

6. Ted Williams Tribute at 1999 All-Star Game

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    In 1999, baseball's greatest gathered for a special event—the naming of the All-Century Team.

    Held at Fenway Park during the final All-Star Game of the 20th century, baseball's living legends were introduced to raucous cheers by an adoring crowd.

    However, the loudest cheers came for Boston's own: Ted Williams.

    As the PA announcer announced Williams' name, he emerged from the center-field wall in a golf cart. Frail and 80 years of age at the time, Williams was greeted with adulation and respect, and not just from the fans.

    Almost every single All-Star player converged on Williams just for the chance to be around sheer greatness.

    It took nearly a half-hour for the special moment to finally end, a stirring tribute to one of the greatest hitters who ever lived.

5. Stan Musial: Not Just One but Two Statues

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    Whenever anyone is honored with a statue, it obviously signifies the importance of that particular person.

    Not very many have the distinction of having two statues, however.

    When St. Louis Cardinals slugger Stan Musial retired in 1963, the Cardinals wasted little time in planning a way to honor their revered star. Five years after his retirement, Musial was honored with a statue at Busch Memorial Stadium.

    When Busch Stadium replaced the old park in 2006, Musial's statue was moved to the front of the park, and it serves as a regular meeting place for Cardinals fans.

    One statue, however, simply wasn't enough to honor the greatest player in franchise history. There are two statues of Musial outside Busch Stadium, showing the Cardinals' sheer reverence of a man they considered the best.

4. Nick Adenhart Memorial by Los Angeles Angels

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    On April 8, 2009, 22-year-old starting pitcher Nick Adenhart made just the fourth start of his career, and it was promising indeed.

    Adenhart shut out the Oakland A's through six innings, allowing just seven hits with five strikeouts. While the Angels were unable to win the game, it was nonetheless a promising beginning.

    That beginning would tragically come to an end just hours later.

    Adenhart and two of his friends were killed in a car accident in which they were hit by a drunk driver. Adenhart's life was literally over before it even began.

    In a stirring tribute just three days later, the Angels honored Adenahart before their game. Adenhart's picture was placed on the outfield wall for the rest of the 2009 season.

    When the Angels secured a playoff berth later that year, they honored their fallen teammate by taking photos next to his picture on the outside wall, signifying that Adenhart was indeed still a part of that team.

    To this day, Angels' ace Jered Weaver scribbles Adenhart's initials in the ground behind the pitcher's mound before the first pitch of every start.

3. Thurman Munson

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    In early August 1979, Thurman Munson was firmly entrenched as the captain of the New York Yankees and widely regarded as one of the best catchers in the game.

    When Munson was killed in a plane crash on Aug. 2, the Yankees did something unprecedented.

    Immediately following his death, owner George Steinbrenner retired Munson's No. 15 jersey. Just a month later, a plaque dedicated to Munson's memory was placed in Monument Park. Only Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio and manager Miller Huggins had been so honored.

    In addition, Munson's locker in the clubhouse was never again used, with his original locker being donated to the Baseball Hall of Fame. When the new Yankee Stadium opened in 2009, Munson's entire original locker was moved to the new New York Yankees Museum located inside the stadium.

2. Roberto Clemente Award

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    On Sept. 30, 1972, Pittsburgh Pirates right fielder Roberto Clemente collected the 3,000th hit of his storied career.

    Three months later, he was dead.

    Clemente died in a plane crash off the coast of Puerto Rico while attempting to deliver supplies to victims of a devastating earthquake in Nicaragua.

    In an unprecedented move, the baseball Hall of Fame voted to waive their normal five-year waiting period and elected Clemente on March 20, 1973.

    That same year, baseball changed the name of the Commissioner's Award to the Roberto Clemente Award. The award honors one player each year who "best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual's contribution to his team."

    No one in baseball exemplified that message better than Clemente.

1. MLB Retires the Number of Jackie Robinson

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    Every MLB team has retired the numbers of players who excelled for their teams. However, in 1997, Major League Baseball permanently retired one number for all.

    On April 15, 1997, during a special ceremony at Shea Stadium, baseball gathered to honor an incredible event. Fifty years earlier, Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball that had long been in place, finally opening doors for African American players who had been denied the opportunity to play on the sport's grandest stage.

    On that day, MLB commissioner Bud Selig declared that "No. 42, from this day forward will never again be issued by a major league club."

    President Bill Clinton was also on hand to honor Robinson's special achievement.

    "Today," Clinton said, "every American should give special thanks to Jackie Robinson, to Branch Rickey and to all of Jackie's teammates with the Dodgers for what they did. This is a better, stronger and richer country when we all work together and give everybody a chance."

    That chance afforded to Robinson is still honored each and every year.

     

    Doug Mead is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle.

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