A former Herts Falcons star, who helped the team to its first ever National Baseball League pennant, has been given a deserved place in the British Baseball Hall of Fame.
Ryan Bird was a force both as a pitcher and a slugger in his years with Herts. He is one of four players, coaches and officials from across the game who have been inducted in the Class of 2019.
He is the first Herts figure to be given a place in the Hall, which is another milestone for a club which is now one of the strongest pillars of British baseball.
The South African native received immediate recognition in his first year in the British leagues, in 2008. He was voted the Most Valuable Player (MVP) of the NBL for his performances with the Richmond Flames. The achievement was all the more remarkable given that this was a time of total domination by the London Mets.
In the following year, Bird was once again voted league MVP, making him the first player to receive two such awards since the London Warriors were the big force in the game. He hit five home runs for Richmond, leading the NBL in that category.
In 2012, Ryan Bird made the high profile move to the Herts Falcons and had an immediate impact. He won a Defensive Award, as the best First Baseman of the Year, and helped Herts to the NBL final series against the Nationals, which they lost in six games.
He would win NBL MVP for a third time in 2013, but that bald fact — impressive as it is — didn’t really do justice to his performance. For one thing, he helped take the Falcons to a 24-4 record and their first ever pennant in the National Baseball League.
Bird drove in a career best 31 runs. And in August he chalked up the extraordinary feat of pitching two back-to-back no-hitters. His first victims were the South London Pirates. He struck out 15 batters and walked only 2 in that victory.
As the Herts report put it at the time: “Maybe it was the very unusual all-lefty battery (Ryan pitching and Cris Hiche catching), or the Bingo Bango written in a player’s forearm, that confused and maybe intimidated the Pirates’ lineup. But I think most likely it was the great command of Ryan’s fastball and his ability to constantly and accurately hit the corners of the plate.”
A week later, Bird did it again. This time the Essex Redbacks were on the wrong end of the no-hitter, with 9 strikeouts recorded. As far as we could tell, the feat was unprecedented in the elite level of British baseball.
The opening game of the 2014 season against the London Mets was Ryan Bird’s last for the Falcons before his move to the USA. He said goodbye to the Herts fans with another outstanding performance going 4-4 with a home run which, according to the game report, “probably is still hovering somewhere over St Albans”.
At the time of his retirement, Bird had the highest career batting average (.508), on base percentage (.578) and slugging percentage (.822) in modern British baseball history. All told, he tallied 15 HRs and 119 RBI over the course of 385 plate appearances for the Richmond Flames and Herts Falcons (stats from Project Cobb).
Ryan Bird was elected alongside Jason Holowaty and Darrin Muller from the modern ballot, with Alan Asquith being elected by the historical vetting panel that was introduced in 2016.
At the London Series games in 2019 between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees, an event honoured the previous round of inductees. The hope is that something similar can be done in June 2020 for this year’s class.
The guardian of the Hall, Matt Smith, said: “I’m delighted to see four such worthy candidates joining our Hall of Fame, all with different stories to tell but sharing a true commitment to the game in Britain and excelling at what they did.”