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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, September 26, 2002

Passing up football was wise decision for Lum

By Stacy Kaneshiro
Advertiser Staff Writer

Learn about Hawai'i sports history and those who figured prominently in it in this feature. We'll ask a question Wednesday and present the answer in an in-depth profile on Thursday

Q: This former Hawai'i high school all-star quarterback was on base when Hank Aaron hit historic homer No. 714 (tying Babe Ruth) and also helped coach Michael Jordan when the NBA star gave baseball a try. Who is he?

A: Mike Lum was a star quarterback for Roosevelt High School in the early 1960s and went to BYU on a football scholarship. But Lum then signed with the Atlanta Braves organization. Next month, Lum will celebrate 40 years in professional baseball.

Roosevelt High grad Mike Lum, 56, has spent nearly 40 years in baseball.

Cory Lum • The Honolulu Advertiser

Had Mike Lum taken the football scholarship to Brigham Young in 1963, baseball might have been history for the Roosevelt High graduate.

Instead, Lum has been part of baseball history. With Barry Bonds' home runs in focus these days, Henry Aaron naturally fits into the conversation. And when it comes to the all-time home run king, Lum is a part of the story.

On April 4, 1974, Lum was the opening day first baseman for the Atlanta Braves, who were visiting the Cincinnati Reds at Riverfront Stadium. Lum, who had half of the Braves' six hits in a 7-6 loss, was on base when Aaron hit his 714th career home run to tie Babe Ruth.

Four days later, Lum watched his teammate become the all-time home run king in the Braves' home opener against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.

"Seven-fifteen was a great time," Lum, 56, recalled. "We were a part of history."

Nearly three decades since that memorable night in Atlanta, Lum is still a part of baseball. But it's more behind the scenes. He has been the minor league hitting coordinator for the Chicago White Sox since 1990.

"We were the first organization to put a hitting program together in the minor leagues," said Lum. "No one else did this, the concept of having a hitting coach at every (minor league) level. There were pitching coaches at every level, but not hitting coaches. We were the first ones to do this. A lot of people followed this, but what we have over them is we're structured a little more."

Give Aaron an assist

It turns out that Aaron not only provided a thrill for Lum. He extended Lum's association with the game. Following 15 big league seasons and one in Japan in 1983, Lum found himself out of the game. But Aaron, now an executive in the Braves organization, called on his former teammate the following spring.

"I went down to spring training and he told me, 'We don't have any positions for you, but we want you to work with the kids on their hitting,' " Lum said. "Then he said, 'We don't have a position for you, but we want you to work the instructional league.' I went there and did that job. At the end of extended spring training, (Aaron) said, 'We don't have a position for you, but can you work at Anderson (S.C.) with our A club?' "

Lum said that while he didn't draw a salary from the Braves, he was reimbursed for expenses. His internship that summer paid off in the winter, when White Sox hitting coach Charley Lau hired Lum to be minor league hitting instructor. When Lau died in the spring of 1984, Lum was promoted to Chicago's hitting coach.

"That's how I got started," Lum said. "Hank Aaron got me started in coaching."

For Lum, coaching was a natural progression. Although part of his signing bonus included money for college, Lum attended only one semester at BYU following his first season of rookie ball. Instructional league the following year and a quick progression through the minor leagues kept him from earning his degree.

"Baseball is all I knew," he said.

Back of the Year in 1962

But in high school, the 1963 Roosevelt graduate thought football would be his future. A college education might have set Lum in a different career path. But scouts noticed him when they were looking at another future big leaguer — Farrington High's John Matias. Matias hit four home runs in one state tournament game at Honolulu Stadium before making it to the big leagues with the White Sox and Kansas City Royals. Local Braves scout Jack Kearn followed Lum's games.

Still, Lum thought football was his future. The lefty-throwing quarterback was voted the Interscholastic League of Honolulu's Back of the Year in 1962. Besides, baseball wasn't that popular then, Lum said, especially to Rough Riders football coach Ticky Vasconcellos, as the scout Kearn would learn.

"Ticky kicked him out of the office," Lum said laughing. "He always thought that baseball was for wusses."

Lum's first assignment the summer out of high school was the Braves rookie club in Waycross, Ga., where he hit a respectable .263.

"Talk about a culture shock," Lum said. "From Honolulu, Hawai'i to Georgia. We're talking the deep South."

The next season, he hit .307 with 18 home runs for Binghamton (N.Y.) of the then New York-Pennsylvania Single-A league. That got him an invitation to the fall instructional league. Because of his quick progression through the Braves system, college faded from his plans.

Lum made his big league debut in 1967 after getting called up from Triple-A Richmond (Va.).

"It was a big thrill going to the big leagues," Lum said. "Walking into the clubhouse, I was nervous with all those big league players around, seeing Hank Aaron sitting there."

He spent 15 seasons in the major leagues, most with the Braves. His best season was 1973, when he hit a career single-season high 16 home runs and 82 RBIs while batting .294. That was the season teammates Aaron, Darrell Evans and Davey Johnson each hit 40 or more home runs.

Teaching Michael Jordan

Lum also played for the 1976 Cincinnati Reds, one of the greatest teams of that decade. The Big Red Machine had future Hall of Famers in Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan and Tony Perez, as well as, Hall hopeful Pete Rose. That team swept the New York Yankees in the World Series.

Even after his playing days, Lum still managed to associate with great athletes. When Michael Jordan wanted to give baseball a try with the White Sox organization, Lum had to teach the basketball superstar how to hit.

Lum said Jordan was receptive to learning the game and worked hard at it. But baseball isn't learned over the summer.

"He started late (in his career)," Lum said. "You have to play this game as a young child, when you learn basic fundamentals. You develop instincts. If you have no instincts, you cannot play baseball. Michael Jordan had basketball instincts, but no baseball instincts. He worked very diligently to learn how to hit. But you have to learn about base running, how to play the outfield, learn situations, know when to run, when not to run. That's instinct."

Lum lives in Atlanta with his wife, Ramona, and 13-year-old daughter, Ginger. He said he returns to Hawai'i at least once a year. And even though he comes home for vacation, he still finds his way to the ball fields. He also conducts hitting clinics for youths during his visits.