One of the best pitchers in Albuquerque Isotopes history and a familiar face in the local sports scene who literally helped write the book on baseball around the Duke City are the 2023 inductees into the Albuquerque Professional Baseball Hall of Fame.
Following a pregame ceremony at Dukes Retro Night on July 15, former Big League pitcher John Ely, along with the Rio Rancho Observer’s Gary Herron, a longtime sportswriter and official scorer of nearly 1,700 Albuquerque Dukes and Isotopes games since 1983, will be officially enshrined in the Hall before that night’s Albuquerque Isotopes game against the Salt Lake Bees.
“This whole deal means so much to me,” said Ely, now a pitching coach in the Chicago White Sox organization who played for both the Isotopes and Los Angeles Dodgers for parts of three seasons.
“It’s hard to explain. When John (Traub, Isotopes General Manager) called me up and told me that they were going to do this … I was choking back tears. This was a really big deal for me. It’s a really big deal for anybody that supported me.”
Herron, the sports editor of the Rio Rancho Observer since 2000 and author of several books, including “Baseball in Albuquerque,” said he was shocked when he got the call from Traub telling him of his induction.
“I was humbled, honored,” he said. “It’s probably the highlight of my entire 40-plus year career in the media in Albuquerque.”
Ely played for the Isotopes for parts of three seasons from 2010-12 and his name remains atop plenty of lists in the record book for what is a notoriously unfriendly venue for pitchers.
Atop the list of accomplishments for Ely during his Isotopes run is winning the Pacific Coast League Triple Crown in 2012, leading the league in wins (14), ERA (3.20) and strikeouts (165). He also was named that season a PCL all-star, PCL Pitcher of the Year and the Los Angeles Dodgers Minor League Pitcher of the Year.
He remains the Isotopes’ career leader in wins (26) and is tied for most innings pitched (381.0), complete games (4) and shutouts (2), while his 320 strikeouts with the club is second all-time.
Now a coach in the White Sox organization, he had a quick answer to the question of what advice he would offer a pitcher now about pitching in the thin-air of Albuquerque. Isotopes Park is not-so-affectionately referred to as “the moon” by some pitchers through the years because the ball never seems to come down.
“I’d tell them I’ve never seen a ground ball leave the ballpark,” Ely said with a chuckle only shared by pitchers no longer having to pitch at Isotopes Park.
“But it is a wildly different animal. Never give in. Understand what the hitter is trying to do to you, so you can use their strength as your advantage. You realize in Albuquerque, everybody there’s — across the PCL in general — guys are there to do damage. One through nine, everybody can hit the ball out of the park there. … You have to realize you can’t ever give in. You have to keep making hitters hit your pitches.”
Herron moved to New Mexico in 1975 and began in sports journalism with the Valencia County News-Bulletin in 1979. He also spent time in the KOB-TV newsroom and has more than a decade of radio experience.
A lifelong lover of baseball, he was occasionally covering Albuquerque Dukes games for the newspaper in 1983 when he stepped in as a pinch-hit official scorekeeper six times that season. It was 20 times in 1984. By the middle of the 1985 season, he took over as the primary scorer for the storied Triple-A franchise before it was shut down in 2000. When the Isotopes started up as a new franchise in 2003, Herron was again scoring games.
By his tally, he scored 1,004 Dukes games from 1983 to 1999 and has added 650-plus games with the Isotopes since 2003.
“I was told one time I was the toughest scorer in the Pacific Coast League, and I interpreted that to be the fairest because I wasn’t giving home calls for the Dukes,” said Herron. “And I just refuse to do that, you know? I want it to be right, because I’m a longtime baseball fan. I’m a baseball hobbyist. I know nothing about politics, geology and stuff like that. Baseball? If somebody’s got a trivia question, I’ll probably have an answer.”
Tickets are still available and fans may visit abqisotopes.com or stop by the Isotopes Park box office from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday or 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. Additionally, a post-game fireworks show is scheduled, weather permitting.