Mead: I didn't expect to lead Hall of Fame

New Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum President Tim Mead shows off his bat collection in his office, Monday, July 29. Mead, who worked for the Los Angeles Angels for 40 years before taking the HOF job in June, was given the bats by Shohei Otani, Albert Pujols and Mike Trout.Greg Klein | The Daily Star

COOPERSTOWN — When Tim Mead went to spring training in Arizona in February for the Los Angeles Angels, he said, he hoped the season would end in the playoffs, but had no idea he would detour mid-season to Cooperstown. 

Mead was the team’s vice president of communications and had been the public relations face of the club for most of his 40 years with the Angels. He said he thought he was just celebrating the start of another season when he sat down with Jeff Idelson, his friend for three decades. Idelson, a fellow baseball media relations person, worked for Boston and the New York Yankees before joining the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum 25 years ago and becoming the Hall’s president 11 years ago. 

Idelson had other ideas. He was ready to retire from the Hall and he wanted Mead to replace him. 

“I told him, ‘I just can’t do it,’” Mead said Monday, July 29, in an interview with The Daily Star held in the office that Idelson once used and is now Mead’s. “I said, ‘I have an 8-month-old grandson. My family is in California.’”

A few days later, Mead said he got a text from Hall of Fame Chair Jane Forbes Clark. She wanted to see if Mead would talk to her and think about the position some more. They agreed to a meeting in Denver, and when it ended, Clark offered Mead the job in Cooperstown, he said.

“I felt the energy go out in my knees when she said that,” he said. 

The personal recruitment worked, and Mead took the job, “with the blessing of my family” and “an understanding from Jane about how important my family is to me.” Mead said he and his wife, Carole, will keep their house of 31 years in Diamond Bar, California — “just a 13-mile ride to the ballpark,” he said. Carole Mead is newly retired from her job as an elementary school teacher. 

Mead is renting a house from the Clark Foundation, on the edge of the village, he said.

Mead said it was hard for him to leave the Angels. Working for the club was the only job he had ever had, and he was a fan before he was their employee, he said. 

“We moved (from Virginia to California) in 1969, and the second night we were there, I turned on the radio and it was Dick Enberg and the Angels,” he said. “It was the Angels for me from that night forward. 

“Eleven years after that, I joined the organization,” he said. 

Mead said the Angels passed on him twice before he became an intern in their media relations department in 1980. “If I hadn’t written that third letter, I wouldn’t be sitting here today,” he said.

During his time with the Angels, they have had multiple names — California, Anaheim and Los Angeles — and three famous owners, Gene Autry, the Walt Disney Corp., and, for the past 16 years, outdoor advertising magnate Arte Moreno. When Mead started with the team, the stars were Rod Carew and Reggie Jackson. “Rod Carew helped break me in,” he said. In his new office, Mead displays autographed bats from the team’s latest stars, Shohei Otani, Albert Pujols and Mike Trout. Last year, when Vladimir Guerrero became the first player inducted into the Hall with an Angels logo on his plaque, was special to Mead, who still refers to the team as “we.” 

Mead said Clark reminds him of his first boss with the Angels. Autry, known as “the singing cowboy,” parlayed his fame as a singer and actor into ownership of the Angels. He founded the team in 1961 and owned it for more than two decades. 

“I think she is Autry-esque,” he said. “To me, the philanthropy aspect is what drives her, and her family for a long time before her. It reminds me a lot of Gene Autry.” 

Mead started working at the Hall on June 14, and Idelson officially left 10 days later, although he helped with Induction Weekend in July. The transition became more difficult a week after Mead took over as president, when the Angels suffered a tragedy. Tyler Skaggs, a 27-year-old pitcher who grew up in Los Angeles, was found dead in a Texas hotel room Monday, July 1. Mead had been on a trip to London, England, to watch the MLB London Series between Boston and New York, and retrieve artifacts from the games.

Mead said he learned about Skaggs’ death when he got off the plane from London. Jetlagged, heartbroken and technically no longer an Angels employee, he unofficially took up his old post, making dozens of calls to Angels employees, players and coaches, as well as Skaggs’ widow, Carli.

“Then when I got back to the house, I cried,” he said.  

A few days later, Mead was speaking at the funeral. A card from the memorial is on a window sill near Mead’s new desk.

Newspapers noted Mead had been the Angels spokesperson through decades of tragedy, including Carew’s daughter dying of cancer in 1996 and car crashes that took the lives of players and former players, including Nick Adenhart in 2009 and Jose Castillo in 2018. 

“(Media relations) put you in a situation where you have to deal with things,” he said. “At that point, you are not a ball club. You are not a corporation. You are people. You have to deal with it as people.” 

On the other end of the emotional spectrum, Mead said he also came close to tears in 2002, when the Angels beat San Francisco in the World Series. It is the team’s only world championship, and Mead said he wore his World Series ring for nearly a year before putting it away. 

“Peter Gammons said, ‘there’s nothing greater than winning when the winning is unexpected,’ and that was really our team,” he said. “We had no Hall of Fame-level players. We had no MVPs. We started the season 6-14. People were calling for (manager) Mike Scioscia and (general manager) Bill Stoneman to be fired. We were the wild card. We lost the first game of each round, but we won all three series on our own field.  

“When you see almost 45,000 people celebrating ... they’re not caring about health care or their finances or whatever. They are celebrating a moment of success, collectively. It is an amazing feeling,” he said. “If you are lucky, you get to have that once in your life.” 

Even in celebration, Mead said he knew he had a job to do. 

“My first thought, honestly, was I needed to get the ‘I’m going to Disney World,’ commercial set up, because remember who owned us at the time,” he said. “As it turned out, the camera wasn’t there in time, and the crew didn’t get through the people and get in place until 60 or 90 seconds later. By then we had let the players go off to celebrate. We had to set up the shot again. After that, I was able to hug my wife and hug my son and hug everybody, and celebrate.”

Mead’s new job will be less hands on and less involved with the media day to day, but he will be one of the top ambassadors of the game and its history. He said his first goal is to listen and learn, about the museum business, about Cooperstown and about the Hall and its employees. His first Induction Weekend was “humbling.” His red-eye cross-country flights will be frequent. But instead of a golden celebration with the Angels after his 50th year with the club, Mead, 61, said he hopes and expects to spend a decade overseeing baseball’s history.

“I love baseball. I just absolutely love it,” he said. “At the end of the day, this job is a privilege.” 

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