“I’m So Lonesome…”

March 26, 2020

Hank Williams (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

I Could Cry.”–Hank Williams

I miss the opening of the baseball season. I really do. I love Opening Day and all the pomp and ceremony that goes with it. I miss the anticipation, the sounds that make it special. I miss it “as heaven would miss the stars above.” (Bob Wills–“Faded Love”)

Usually when baseball stops, or, as in the 1970s, doesn’t start, it’s the fault of the game itself. Labor troubles are a scourge of baseball and they aren’t new (see Players League, 1890). But this isn’t the fault of either the players or the owners. It will pass, as did the other stoppages, and we’ll get back to the game. But until that happens, it’s back to Hank Williams. I feel like a dose of “Cold, Cold Heart.” 

An Anniversary and a Plea

February 13, 2020

Dick Lundy (photo from Baseball Reference.Com)

Today marks the 100th Anniversary of the founding of the first Negro National League. In 1920, Rube Foster led a group of owners in trying to create order out of the chaos that was black baseball prior to 1920. With the help of others like J. L. Wilkinson, owner of the Kansas City Monarchs (originally the All Nations) he formed a viable league that would outlast Foster himself (he died in 1928) and fail only with the depths of the Great Depression in 1931. It is a moment we should all salute, particularly in Black History Month.

But I want to point out one more thing. This year will mark the initial vote of the pre-integration veterans committee (what I call the “Geezer Committee”) of the Hall of Fame. They meet once in 10 years and 2020 is that year. There will be a predetermined ballot handed to 16 voters who will then choose people worthy of enshrinement in Cooperstown. And that ballot (probably of 10 names) should include Negro League players.

In 2006, the Hall of Fame made a major effort to add former Negro Leaguers to the Hall of Fame, and by and large did a good job. But when they were done they closed the door of the Hall to other Negro League players. They never said that, they would probably deny it if asked, but they managed to do it anyway. Ask yourself how many Negro League stars appeared on ballots that covered the period prior to 1947 since 2006. I won’t give it away, but I’ll give you a hint: it’s a number less than one. Effectively, the Hall has said that they are through adding Negro League stars to Cooperstown.

Think about that for a minute. There is no room in the Hall of Fame for “Cannonball” Dick Redding or Dick Lundy or Dick Whitworth (just to stick with the name “Dick”). Maybe you won’t put all of them in (I’d probably leave out Whitworth), but to not consider them at all is just plain silly. And there are others (“Candy” Jim Taylor, Spottswood Poles, Gus Greenlee, Bud Fowler come to mind immediately) who need to be considered; at least considered.

So this is a plea for the Hall of Fame to insure that at least one Negro League stalwart gets on the ballot for the next Hall of Fame election. At least look at them, people.

Sunset

December 31, 2019

If you’ve been with me for a while, you’ve noticed a great hiatus in my musings. I’ve been at this for 10 years (last November) and have reached something approximating burnout (a word I learned years ago in the Army). So I will be taking a massive break for a long while. That doesn’t mean I’m shutting this down; merely that I won’t be doing much for a long time. I may comment on a Hall of Fame election, or a particular something I find interesting, but it won’t be even vaguely regular.
I’ve enjoyed all this. I trust you have also. For those of you with your own stories to tell and your own blogs to write, I give you another phrase I learned in the Army: Carry On.

A 2020 Ballot

November 26, 2019

Scott Rolen

Well, I looked over the players on the 2020 Hall of Fame ballot. There are some very good choices listed. There are some people wasting their time on the ballot. Knowing you can’t wait to find out just which I would vote for if I were a BBWAA member with a ballot, I decided it was time to let you in on my fictional ballot, listed here in no particular order.

Derek Jeter–Is there any question he’s getting in? He is one of the more famous players of the last 20 years. He has an aura about him that lifts him above the quality of his play and makes him seem better than he truly was when he was on the field. There are a handful of those with Joe DiMaggio coming instantly to mind. It’s not a bad thing, but I think it detracts from a true view of the player. Jeter is one of them. Having said that, I’d vote for him.

Larry Walker–It’s his 10th, and final year on the ballot. I’ve supported him before and will continue. I think he has too many votes to make up, but maybe he’ll get lucky. I expect he’ll have to wait for the appropriate Veteran’s Committee to get in. And Coors Field certainly is going to be held against him.

Todd Helton–And continuing with “The Curse of Coors Field,” we have Helton. Excellent first baseman, good hitter, but not a typical first baseman. He never hit for great power. Add that to Coors Field and he will continue to languish, I believe. But I still think he ought to be in.

Scott Rolen–I don’t suppose when he was playing that I thought of Rolen as a Hall of Famer. He was merely one of a number of guys who tried to replace Mike Schmidt. None of them were Schmidt and all of them suffered from the comparison. Rolen is one of those guys who have been elevated by the new SABR stats (while others have been hurt by same). I’m happy to admit I was wrong about Rolen as a Hall of Famer.

Curt Schilling–Has a loud mouth. It’s hurt him before, it will probably hurt him again. That’s kind of a shame.

Jeff Kent–Sits right on the border of Hall of Fame territory for me. He was good, particularly as a hitter, winning an MVP Award (that was as much a slight to Barry Bonds as it was a resounding testament to Kent’s playing ability). I hold out very little hope for his enshrinement this year, but he has some time left.

That ends my ballot, but a couple of words about a few more players:

Bobby Abreu–Did you think of Abreu as a Hall of Famer when he was playing? Maybe a little, but not consistently, right? Me too.  I’d like to see him remain on the list so the writers can study his case more.

Cliff Lee–I did think Lee was a Hall of Famer for a while, then his career slid off the rails. As with Abreu, I’d like more time to study his case. So I would add both he and Abreu to a ballot just to help insure they remain on the ballot.

There’s the ballot. Feel free to disagree (and be wrong).

 

 

2020 Hall of Fame Ballot Announced

November 18, 2019

Larry Walker

The Hall of Fame in Cooperstown announced the ballot for induction to the Hall for January 2020. There are 32 names on the ballot. Here are the Holdovers:

Billy Wagner, Omar Vizquel, Gary Sheffield, Sammy Sosa, Manny Ramirez, Scott Rolen, Jeff Kent, Andy Pettitte, Todd Helton, Andruw Jones, Curt Shilling, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Larry Walker (who is in his final year on the ballot).

The new guys are:

Brian Roberts, Brad Penny, Raul Ibanez, Chone Figgins, Eric Chavez, Alfonso Soriano, Rafael Furcal, Jason Giambi, Derek Jeter, Cliff Lee, Paul Konerko, Bobby Abreu, Heath Bell, Adam Dunn, Carlos Pena, Jose Valverde, and J.J. Putz.

Writers get p to 10 picks. The vote will be announced in January 2020.

The 2019 Veteran’s Committee Vote

November 13, 2019

Marvin Miller on the phone

The other day I listed the 2019 Veteran’s Committee ballot without commentary. Well, you knew that wouldn’t last, didn’t you? The committee members get up to 5 votes each. I’ll detail my vote (of which the committee should take great heed) later, but I want to first make a few overall comments about the ballot.

After what happened last year (and, yes, I know it’s a different committee) I’m not about to try and predict what will happen this year, other than to say that I doubt more than two will be elected to the Hall of Fame. If you look at each player (ignoring the contributor), they are all much alike. They have good numbers and are reasonably well known. But each has some sort of flaw that has kept them out of Cooperstown for a long time. For some it’s short, but intense careers that don’t have overwhelming numbers. For some it’s ending just short of magical numbers (400 home runs, 300 pitching wins, etc.). For others, it’s lack of a defining postseason or an off field issue.

1. Marvin Miller is the most obvious choice for enshrinement. He is easily the most important non-player of the last 50 years, and for my money one of the four most important non-players in baseball history (William Hulbert, Ban Johnson, and Kennesaw Mountain Landis are the others in order of appearance on baseball’s stage.). Apparently, he wasn’t a particularly likeable man and even a number of players, who benefited most from his work, didn’t really like him. Additionally, he alienated a lot of owners, executives, and newsmen (all of which can be on the committee) during his lifetime and that’s not a recipe for election to Cooperstown.

2. Lou Whitaker’s appearance on the ballot is, to me, an enigma. I can’t understand why he’s not already in the Hall of Fame. An excellent second baseman, a many time all-star, a member of one of the more famous middle infield’s in baseball history, Whitaker also has excellent statistics. They are comparable to his double play mate Alan Trammell, already a member of the Hall. But then, he, unlike Trammell, was never a World Series MVP nor ever came in second in the American League MVP vote (and of course Whitaker forgot his uniform at an all-star game). Perhaps its that pair of shortcomings that makes Trammell appear to be a much superior player. The guys over at the Hall of Miller and Eric (which you should read, people) are afraid Whitaker will get in because the committee wants to complete the 1984 Detroit Tigers championship team’s major Hall of Fame contenders by adding Whitaker to a list of Tigers stalwarts (Trammell, Jack Morris, Sparky Anderson) already in Cooperstown. Frankly, I wouldn’t mind if they did. I don’t much care why the committee supports Whitaker so long as they do.

If my prediction that only two people from the ballot get elected, I think it should be the two above. But, if they get to three, I’d like to see…

3. Ted Simmons as the third choice. He missed election by one vote last time and it will be interesting to see if he picks it up this time. His numbers are fine, especially for someone who spent most of his time as a catcher. But his end of career time as a journeyman who played a lot of first base and designated hitter, may pull him down a bit because his numbers aren’t particularly great at either position. Additionally, he was seen more as a hitter than as a catcher and that could hold him back. He was never considered a great catcher, but like Mike Piazza, wasn’t nearly as bad a catcher as some people liked to say.

As a committee member, I would get five votes. Here would be my next two (in alphabetical order): Don Mattingly, Dale Murphy. They were both players with fine, but short, peaks. Sometimes that can get you in, sometimes it can’t. Murphy has the additional problem of ending up just under 400 home runs without being the player Al Kaline (who also ended up just under 400 homers) was over a longer period of time. For Mattingly, some of his problem lies in being a New York Yankees player who never got his team to a World Series (one playoff appearance, a loss, in Mattingly’s final season). As often as New York made it to the Series, that’s a problem for one of their better players, a problem that is difficult to overcome; especially on a ballot with Thurman Munson, a Yankees player who did see World Series action.

As for the other five; next time, folks (maybe).

Modern Era Ballot Announced

November 6, 2019

Lou Whitaker

The Hall of Fame has announced the nominees for the 2019 Modern Era Veteran’s Committee. The vote will be 8 December. Here’s the list:

Dwight Evans

Steve Garvey

Tommy John

Don Mattingly

Thuman Munson

Dale Murphy

Dave Parker

Ted Simmons

Lou Whitaker

and executive Marvin Miller

More later.

Nine Random Thoughts on the 2019 Season

October 31, 2019

Goose Goslin (the Nats can’t win in DC without him)

In honor of the nine innings in a game, here are nine thoughts about the 2019 season in no particular order:

1. Congratulations to the Washington Nationals on winning the World Series. It’s a first for them and the first victory for Washington since 1924. Walter Johnson got the win in game seven in 1924.

2. Although DC has now won a World Series since 1924, no Washington team has ever won a home game in the Series without Goose Goslin in the lineup. He died in 1971.

3. Further congratulations to the Houston Astros for a great World Series. I’d picked them in April and got within three innings of being right (which is pretty good for me).

4. There were a ton of home runs and strikeouts this season. I’d like to see considerably less of both in 2020.

5. I worry about Christian Yelich. There have been a number of really good ballplayers who’ve gotten hurt and became shadows of their former selves, never returning to the top rungs of the game. I hope he isn’t one of them.

6. Mike Trout proved he’s still the best player in the game. But he’s beginning to get hurt a lot. As with Yelich, I hope it doesn’t diminish his abilities. In Trout’s case, he needs to appear in one game next year to log 10 years and punch his ticket to the Hall of Fame. By contrast, Yelich has only seven seasons in the big leagues.

7. Trout’s teammate Albert Pujols continues to move up on the all-time charts. He’s currently 17th in runs (one behind Frank Robinson), 15th in hits, fifth in total bases, seventh in doubles (four behind George Brett), sixth in home runs (four from Willie Mays), and tied with Cap Anson for fourth in RBIs. All stats from Baseball Reference.

8. In an era consumed by offensive stats, did you notice that the Giants had a team fielding percentage of .989? I know fielding percent isn’t the be all, end all of fielding stats, but Seattle’s .978 was the lowest in the majors. Fielding has really improved over the more than half century I’ve been watching (and listening to) the game. I consider that a good thing.

9. We have now had consecutive Hispanic background managers (Alex Cora and Dave Martinez) who’ve won the World Series. It’s partial proof of how much Hispanics mean to the game. As far as I know, Yuli Gurriel and Yordan Alvarez are the first two Cubans to bat back-to-back in a lineup.

Now on to 2020.

Eddie and the Pitcher

October 24, 2019

“The Left Arm of God”

“Hey, Jewboy, what’s wrong with your guy?” Back in the mid-1960s you could hear lines like that in a Texas Panhandle high school. Frankly, maybe you still can. This time it was aimed at my buddy Eddie.

From everything I’ve read and seen, my high school was fairly typical. There were just under a thousand kids in three grades (9th grade was at the Junior High) and they acted pretty much like most high schoolers act. The rich kids had their own clique and the rest of us had our groups It seems that “clique” was reserved for the “in-crowd,” so the rest of us were assigned to the nebulous title “group. No body had “posse” or “crew” in their groupthink vocabulary yet. My group was pretty eclectic, particularly religiously. There were two Dave’s, one Baptist, the other Pentecostal. Jim was Baptist; Mike a Catholic; Kretz was Lutheran; Wilbur was a Nazarene; Jon was Episcopalian; Bill was trying to be an atheist (I lost touch with him and never did find out if he made it or not) and Eddie was Jewish. That last caused a bit of a stir because there was some obvious and some latent Anti-Semitism in the school (there were all of two Jewish kids in the entire school, both male) and it did create a certain amount of animosity toward our group.

In 1965 most of the kids in the school who paid attention to baseball (which was most of the boys and a significant number of the girls) were Cardinals fans. Most of the rest were Yankees fans, not so much because of any pull toward New York but because the Yanks were winners (I was guilty of that in football because I was, and still am, a Packers fan–and have still never been to Wisconsin). But when the 1965 World Series began no one much knew there was a team in Minnesota named the Twins so they became, by default, Dodgers fans. Which brings me to Eddie’s problem.

Sandy Koufax was the Dodgers best player, he was Jewish (I didn’t know that and I’m not sure if Eddie did), the first day of the World Series was the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur, and Koufax refused to pitch on the holy day. To a number of people around the school his stand was close to openly throwing the Series and somehow Eddie was at fault.

“How dare this guy put his faith ahead of his sport.”  “What kind of heathen is he?” I actually heard cracks like that. All of those type comments from people who were utterly horrified that you could no longer pray in school or at the football game (Our team was lousy, so I’m reasonably sure a lot of unanswered prayers were uttered during the course of the game). No one seemed to catch the irony of that.

All that hurt Eddie a lot. He was aware of being what most of the school saw when they saw someone Jewish. He was, for all intents and purposes, the view much of the school had of Jewish people. It was a tough burden to bear.

And then the Dodgers lost game one (the game Koufax would not pitch), then game two (a game he did pitch). Then over the weekend the Dodgers won games three and four to even the Series. Game five was Monday and much of the school hung on the transistor radios kids (and teachers) brought to school. Koufax pitched a four hit shutout to put the Dodgers ahead three games to two. They lost game six and Koufax pitched game seven on two days rest. Another shutout, this time giving up only three hits, gave the Dodgers the championship and Koufax the Series MVP.

The next day was a Friday and everyone was talking about the Series and Koufax’s pitching performance. While we were wandering down the hall, one of the biggest loudmouths in school wandered over to us and slapped Eddie on the back.

“Hey, Jewboy, your guy did alright yesterday.” And he was off.

Eddie told us he thought it was a step in the right direction. A small step, but a step.

 

Something New Under the Sun

October 17, 2019

Goose Goslin (the Nats will have to win without him)

When the 2019 season started there were two teams who’d never punched a ticket to the World Series. That’s about to change with the Washington Nationals winning the National League pennant (the other team plays in Seattle). Whether in Montreal or Washington, the franchise always came up short.

The history of baseball in the nation’s capital is less than spectacular. In fact, it’s pretty awful. There were a handful of teams in the NL in the 1800s. None of them did much. With the arrival of the American League, a new team, the Senators, didn’t do any better. The last (and only) time the Washington team won a World Series was in 1924. Walter Johnson was on the mound when they won game seven. They lost in 1925 and again in 1933. The last time there was a World Series game in Washington, Mel Ott hit a 10th inning home run to win both game five and the Series for the New York Giants (who are now in San Francisco). The Senators were in so few World Series games that Hall of Famer Goose Goslin played in every World Series game in Washington history. Fellow Hall of Famer Sam Rice appeared in all three Series’ but only in one game in 1933.

In the late 1960s MLB got the bright idea of putting a team in Canada. For reasons unknown to me they picked Montreal over Toronto. The big Montreal Exposition had been scheduled (Expositions and World’s Fairs were a big deal back then) so they called them the Expos. They managed to get to the playoffs in the strike shortened split season of 1981, getting passed the Phillies. Then they ran into the Dodgers and lost the pennant to a Rick Monday home run (shades of Mel Ott). They managed to get back to first place in 1994, then the strike hit and there were no playoffs. I don’t know if they hoisted a banner saying they were NL East champs or not. The Expos went into a downward spiral and ended up moving to DC, where they’ve made the playoffs sporadically, never winning a pennant. All in all, not a terrifically successful franchise.

So now we’ll see how a Washington team does without Goose Goslin in their lineup. Good luck to them.