07/30/2008 1:15 PM ET
An Angel in the Country Hall of Fame
No. 26 Autry remembered for baseball, music
By Doug Miller / MLB.com
In 1939, the National Baseball Hall of Fame opened in Cooperstown, N.Y., and in 1967, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, inspired by the baseball version, opened in Nashville. In other words, the Grand Old Game and the Grand Ole Opry have gone hand in hand for a long time. In honor of the recent Hall of Fame celebration in Cooperstown, MLB.com/Entertainment went to the Country Hall recently and dug up some interesting connections between country music Hall of Fame members and baseball. Today: Gene Autry.
NASHVILLE -- When the Angels won the World Series in their home park in Anaheim in 2002, something was missing, but veteran outfielder Tim Salmon didn't hesitate to fix the situation.
While his teammates and the team's organizational brass partied on a makeshift stage in center field, Salmon ran into the clubhouse, unearthed an artifact of the team's past, and brought it out onto the field for the packed stands to see.
It was not only a cowboy hat, but the hat of "The Cowboy," original team owner Gene Autry, who passed away in 1998, four years before the team he adored finally broke through a seemingly cursed October history to win it all.
Salmon paraded it around for everyone to see as Autry's honorary No. 26 uniform could be seen in the background, hanging next to the club's other retired numbers. In other words, in the moment of victorious celebration the Angels had never before experienced, the original Angel oversaw everything.
It was only fitting for the man who became famous as a singer, actor and iconic TV star after breaking into the recording business in the late 1920s and always had baseball on his mind.
Autry was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1969, almost a decade after he had achieved a lifelong dream by becoming owner of the newly formed Angels in December 1960, where he remained for 35 years.
"He was always into baseball," says Country Hall director of media relations Tina Wright. "He always scheduled tours to be in New York for the World Series, because the Yankees or Dodgers or Giants -- but mostly the Yankees -- seemed to always be in the World Series back then."
Autry's baseball ownership career began when he purchased a minority share of the Minor League team called the Hollywood Stars in the 1950s, and Autry got his franchise not long after.
A revered owner, Autry earned his "uniform" number of 26 because he would often spend time in the clubhouse with the players, making him the so-called 26th man on the roster.
Autry also served as vice president of the American League for 15 years. His widow, Jackie, is the current honorary AL president.
That's why when the Angels finally won it all over the San Francisco Giants six years ago, one of the more popular themes for the team was to "Win one for the Cowboy," a great entertainer and great baseball fan whose legacy remains in Anaheim and Nashville.
Find out more about Gene Autry by visiting the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville.
Doug Miller is a Senior Writer for MLB.com/Entertainment. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.