The Women Behind 500 Print E-mail
Written by Jim Rednour   
Friday, 29 April 2011

The old saying “Behind Every Great Man Stands A Great Women” has certainly proven true over the years as 500 Home Run Club® members’ spouses supported their men – before and after they became stars – through the good and lean years, and helped them to cope with the pressures and responsibilities that came with being amongst the greatest sluggers in MLB history.

 

Ernie and Liz Banks are one of MLB’s most widely recognized and successful husband and wife teams, parlaying a love of the game and dynamic people skills into a wide variety of business and philanthropic ventures.  In addition to being president of the 500 Home Run Club®, Liz also manages Ernie’s globe-trotting schedule of appearances and endorsements as he continues his post-baseball role as “Mr. Cub” and worldwide ambassador for baseball. The duo also established the Ernie Banks Live Above & Beyond Foundation to promote social welfare by supporting programs that enhance underprivileged neighborhoods, eliminate prejudice and relieve discrimination. Their foundation works with many organizations including First Lady Michelle Obama's LET’S MOVE! campaign the first nationwide public-health effort aimed at tackling childhood obesity.

 

The first person Jim Thome looked for after circling the bases following his 500th Home Run (on Jim Thome Bobblehead Day at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago, November 16, 2007) was his wife Andrea. The man known as “The Thomenator” demonstrated he’s really a softy at heart, especially when he it comes to his better half. “I knew she was the one instantly. I'm very blessed. She's awesome.”  Off the field, “Big Jim” makes his wife proud by actively supporting numerous charitable causes and was chosen as The Sporting News “No. 1 MLB Good Guy” in 2005 for his fundraising efforts in his native Peoria, IL.

 

It’s only fitting that Hank Aaron’s wife Billye is as strong and successful as her Hall-of-Fame husband. Amongst her considerable career achievements is serving as a TV show host in Atlanta and Milwaukee, as well as teaching at the high school and college level for over a decade. She went on to become one of the premiere fundraisers for the United Negro College Fund and eventually retired in 1994 as Vice President of the Southern Region.  She and Hank also founded the “Hank Aaron Chasing the Dream Foundation,” a philanthropic trust that makes grants to pre-teen children to assist them in developing their special talents and chasing their dreams.

 

Of course, the first and arguably most famous 500HRC member was George Herman “Babe” Ruth.  After his first wife Helen died in 1929, Babe married the woman who would remain with him for the rest of his life Claire Hodgson.  An intelligent, energetic, confident and very self-assured woman, Claire married Babe a day before Opening Day at Yankee Stadium.  After their marriage, she quickly introduced much-needed discipline into Babe's life. She became Ruth’s personal manager, monitoring everything from his outrageous spending sprees to his exercise and eating habits.  Babe also acquired an instant family, which included Babe's adopted daughter Dorothy from his marriage with Helen, his newly-adopted daughter Julia from his marriage to Claire and Claire's mother and two brothers from Athens, Georgia. Babe finally had the big family he had always wanted.

 

And you’ve gotta love a woman who goes to bat for her man in the press, which is precisely what Megan Thomas did when she said her hubby “Big Frank” Thomas is "first-ballot, in my eyes," and not only as a future Hall of Fame ballplayer.“ "I have never had Frank around this much. I am pleasantly surprised and he has been an remarkable dad, very involved."  she said. "He's calm. He's different and he grew up, honestly. It's unbelievable. When I had the baby (Frank Edward Thomas III), I didn't know what to expect. I mean, he had been gone (playing baseball) for so many years, so I didn't know. He has more than surpassed my expectations as a dad, so it is awesome."

 

Another woman who married a pinstripe icon was Merlyn Mantle. In 1996, she co-authored a memoir, "A Hero All His Life," in which she recalled meeting the Yankee star while he was still attending Commerce High School in Oklahoma, and she was a cheerleader at the arch-rival Picher H.S. They had their first date in 1949, at the historic Coleman Movie Theatre on Route 66 in Miami, OK.  "I developed an instant crush on Mickey Mantle, and by our second or third date, I was in love with him and always would be," she wrote.





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