Veteran’s Committee Picks Two

December 5, 2016

The current iteration of the Veteran’s Committee just completed its vote for the Baseball Hall of Fame. Of 10 people on the ballot, two were elected. Neither of them was a player.

Chosen for the Hall were former Commissioner Bud Selig and General Manager John Schuerholz were elected. Selig garnered 16 of 16 votes while Schuerholz received 15 of 16 votes. Selig was appointed temporary Commissioner after Fay Vincent was ousted and later became permanent Commissioner. He served longer than anyone other than Judge Landis and was responsible for expansion, inter-league play, putting a lot of money in the coffers, making the All Star game matter for World Series purposes, helping to bring labor peace after the disastrous 1994 strike (which he helped bring on). Some of those are good, some bad, and I didn’t mention them all.

Schuerholz became the first GM to win the World Series in both leagues, leading Kansas City and Atlanta to victories ten years apart in the 1980s and 1990s. He is President of the Braves and has had a number of assistants move to GM duties with other teams.

Of the other people on the ballot, Lou Piniella received seven votes (12 needed for election) while no one else received more than five. So congratulations to Selig and Schuerholz on joining the Hall of Fame. Next up is the BBWAA vote in January.

Narrowing my Options

December 1, 2016

As I’ve mentioned before I used to be one up on the Hall of Fame. For years I spouted on and on that the best 19th Century player not in the Hall of Fame was Deacon White. I was right. I was sure I was right. And I was sure the Hall of Fame committees were a bunch of idiots (maybe I’m still right about that one). Then the damned Hall elected the Deacon and there I was without a best player of the 19th Century not in the Hall of Fame.

So I’ve been on a multi-year quest to find the current best 19th Century player not enshrined in Cooperstown. I’ve periodically kept you up on this trip through that far gone time. And now it’s time to do so again. I’ve gotten it down to two players. But first, I want to discuss a possible third candidate for the job.

Bud Fowler

Bud Fowler

Bud Fowler is easily, at least in my opinion, the best Negro League player of the 19th Century not in Cooperstown. I use the words “Negro League” but I am referring to the segregated teams and leagues that flourished (or didn’t) in the 19th Century, not the more familiar “Negro Leagues” of the 20th. There are other contenders like George Stovey, Fleet Walker, and others (Frank Grant is the only 19th Century black player currently in the Hall of Fame), but Fowler seems to be the best. As with all black ball players of the era there is almost no information of a statistical nature available to compare him to his contemporaries, either white or black. So his record is unknown, and probably unknowable. Is he the best 19th Century player not in the Hall of Fame? The answer is “possibly.” But I can’t prove it. It requires an amount of intuition I’m not willing to use to state “yes,” so he remains the great unknown for me in dealing with this project.

Now, the final two contenders, in alphabetical order:

Ross Barnes

Ross Barnes

Ross Barnes was one of the finest players in the era of the National Association (1871-75) and for a couple of years in the National League. It’s easy to argue that Albert Spaulding was the finest of all NA players, but Barnes was only a small notch below him. Along with guys like Andy Leonard and Cal McVey, Barnes ranked as the best hitter in the NA. His career prior to 1871 is a bit foggy, but it is evident that he was a good player and his NA stats are excellent. He flames out after a couple of NL years (the reason is somewhat murky and is ascribed to a couple different causes), but what stats we have show he was not done when the NA collapsed. Because almost all his great seasons are with the NA and the powers-that-be in baseball don’t want to recognize the Association as a big league, he’s gotten scant support for the Hall. Hopefully the new Vets Committee that now begins in 1871 will change that at least a little.

Joe Start

Joe Start

Joe Start both predates Barnes and plays long after Barnes is gone. If Barnes’ stats are foggy, Start’s are absolutely pitch black. He begins his career in the 1860s with the Atlantic of Brooklyn, helps lead them to championships in the era of the American Civil War, then joins the National Association with the Mutuals, and finishes with the Providence Grays in 1886 at age 43. He stays in baseball at the highest level from prior to the Civil War through the first of the 19th Century’s playoff series’ in 1884. His NA stats are good, his NL stats even better. What’s missing are his pre-1871 stats. There is general agreement that he was one the best players the Atlantics had in the 1860s, but there’s no information to indicate just how good he was in the period. The team won a lot, but Start wasn’t their only good player and exactly how much influence he had on the team’s ability to win is debatable. Of course we also have to deal with the problem that the Atlantic played fewer than 50 games a season.

So that’s where I am now. Hopefully, I can make a final call at some point, but I wanted to keep you advised on an issue I’m certain you were just dying to know how it was going. I’ll get back to you when/if I know more. You may feel free to disagree (and be wrong).

 

 

Prospect?

November 29, 2016
Quad Cities Park

Quad Cities Park

I’ll admit to having a fault (“Just the one?” you ask). I’m something of a political junkie. I watch the various news programs more than is probably good for me. I tend to wander from one to the other gathering differing views. I head from lefty MSNBC to right-wing Fox and everything between. I then try to synthesize those views to determine what is real and what isn’t. I think it makes me a better judge of the political environment.

“OK, Genius, that’s great and everything; but what the heck has it to do with baseball?” you ask. Actually, quite a lot. Besides the obvious ability to look at differing stats and making differing determinations, it occasionally becomes directly important. In my wandering through the political overload that is Cable TV and I ran across a commentator who mentioned he was once a baseball prospect, but hurt his arm, changed fields, and is currently on TV. Well, I knew nothing about him so I looked him up both on things like Wikipedia and, more important for our purposes, on BaseballReference.com. Well, he did get into a dozen or so games in the very low minors and was gone after that. I’ll take his word for what happened to him (rotator cuff).

But the entire thing brought up to me the entire question of exactly what makes someone a baseball “prospect.” This guy never got beyond the lowest minors but considers himself a “prospect.” So I asked myself, “Self, was he?”

My final answer was “yes.” Simply put, if a person was drafted in the first round he’s a prospect. If he was drafted in the 10th round, he’s a prospect. If he’s drafted as low as Mike Piazza was, he’s a prospect. If he’s signed as a free agent, he’s a prospect. The fact the guy never panned out doesn’t detract from the idea he was a prospect. I base this theory on the simple reasoning that if someone somewhere on some Major League staff thought the guy was good enough to make the roster he must be a prospect. Why draft or sign him if he’s not? What a waste of time, ink, and money if you’re drafting or signing a non-prospect.

So you may disagree and tell me that Ken Griffey, Jr. was a prospect and someone drafted lower isn’t really. Sure he may make it, but the chances aren’t good and so he isn’t really a prospect. My answer is that if you’re willing to give him a chance, he’s a prospect.

Fell free to disagree. And this is as close to political commentary as I am likely to get.

 

10 For the 2017 Hall of Fame

November 23, 2016
A Roy Campanella statue at the Hall of Fame

A Roy Campanella statue at the Hall of Fame

With the new Hall of Fame ballot out, it’s time to announce to a breathless, adoring audience my 10 picks for the Hall. I always vote for 10 no matter the list (well, I can make exceptions, but not many) because it gives me a chance to acknowledge a personal favorite who I know doesn’t seriously belong in Cooperstown (unless he pays for a ticket) but who deserves at least a mention as a stalwart. So now for the breathless and adoring crew (and the rest of you too) is the 2017 list:

1 Jeff Bagwell–after Albert Pujols the best first baseman in the last 30 years. One MVP award, a World Series appearance at the end of his career. There is some question about steroids, but not enough to worry me.

2. Trevor Hoffman–arguably the finest reliever in the National League. He’s second in saves, but has the same problem as any other reliever; too few innings pitched. I’d still take him as the best in NL history.

3. Jeff Kent–overlooked at second base. He’s something of a borderline case for me, but ultimately I think I’d take him. Has an MVP and lots of good numbers.

4. Edgar Martinez–came up late because the idiots at Seattle were idiots. Probably the best Designated Hitter ever. They named the DH Award for him (but then there’s an award for everything and you have to name them for somebody). I don’t hold being a DH against a player. It’s been a position for 40 years and isn’t going away so we’re going to have to deal with it.

5. Mike Mussina–has the problem of never winning a Series, or of having a lot of 20 win seasons. Still one of the better pitchers of the era although he gets lost behind Maddux, Smoltz, Glavine, Randy Johnson, etc.

6. Tim Raines–Please, Lord, it’s almost the end for his time on the ballot. Let the BBWAA finally figure out he was really, really, really good.

7. Curt Schilling–bloody sock or not, he was a terrific postseason pitcher, a premier pitcher on multiple pennant winning teams (don’t forget the Phils) and a consistent thrower. Unfortunately, his political views may create a problem for him, but remember he’s being elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame not to the State House.

8. Larry Walker–I don’t want to hear about Coors Field. He was terrific in Montreal, great in Colorado, damned good on the road with the Rockies, and still pretty fair while with the Cardinals late in his career.

9. Vlad Guerrero–the Will Rogers of the late 20th Century. He never met a pitch he didn’t like. Not much of a fielder, but the man could hit a white ball in a snowstorm. I can’t imagine he gets in on the first try, but I’d take him.

10. Jorge Posada–catchers have lower numbers to begin with, but Posada was a mainstay on a ton of Yankees teams that won a lot of games. He fit the 1990s Yanks mold of being very good at a lot of things. Again, I don’t think he’ll make it (after all he’s not Yogi Berra or Bill Dickey) but Jeter wasn’t the only player on that team worthy of consideration.

All of which brings me to the question of who I left off. The obvious new name is Ivan Rodriguez. He’s one of the handful of players you can legitimately call the greatest catcher ever (although I wouldn’t), but there is the stench of steroids hanging over him. Until that is resolved he joins Bonds, Clemens, and Sosa as guys you couldn’t pay me to vote for (well, maybe for enough money). I’m sorry to have left off Fred McGriff who I think suffers from ending just short of 500 home runs and looking like a piker after the steroids era. I’d like to have thrown a vote toward Tim Wakefield. And frankly, I’d like to give J.D. Drew a shout out. He deserves remembering, but he’s not really a Hall of Famer.

That’s my list and I’m sticking to it.

2017 Hall of Fame Ballot Announced

November 21, 2016

The Hall of Fame released the 2017 Ballot today. Here’s the list of holdovers in alphabetical order:
Jeff Bagwell, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Trevor Hoffman, Jeff Kent, Edgar Martinez, Fred McGriff, Mike Mussina, Tim Raines, Curt Schilling, Gary Sheffield, Lee Smith, Sammy Sosa, Billy Wagner, Larry Walker.

Here are the new guys on the list, again alphabetically:

Casey Blake, Pat Burrell, Orlando Cabrera, Mike Cameron, J.D. Drew, Carlos Guillen, Vlad Guerrero, Derek Lee, Melvin Mora, Magglio Ordonez, Jorge Posada, Manny Ramirez, Edgar Renteria, Arthur Rhodes, Ivan Rodriguez, Freddy Sanchez, Matt Stairs, Jason Varitek, Tim Wakefield.

My thoughts on the list later.

Random Thoughts on the 2016 Season Ending Awards

November 18, 2016

The postseason baseball awards are finished, or at least most of them are. There seems to be a ton of new stuff now. It’s almost as if the “participation trophy” syndrome has made it to MLB. But the ones I care most about are now revealed and here’s some thoughts on them.

First, here’s the list of winners in case you missed it (National League listed first):

Rookie of the Year: Corey Seager (Dodgers), Michael Fulmer (Tigers)

Manager of the Year: Dave Roberts (Dodgers), Terry Francona (Indians)

Cy Young Award: Max Scherzer (Nationals), Rick Porcello (Red Sox)

MVP: Kris Bryant (Cubs), Mike Trout (Angels)

All in all it’s not a bad list. I might have done it differently, but the BBWAA did a good job for a change. I’ve been critical of the writers on more than one occasion, but this year their list looks very much like mine (as if they care what mine looks like). In the NL Seager was an obvious choice, as was Bryant. Scherzer was not at all a bad choice either. I was a little surprised that Roberts beat out Joe Maddon for Manager of the Year. I thought the Cubs success would put him over the top for the second year in a row. What Roberts did with a team that looked like a surgery ward in a hospital made him my choice and its nice when the writers agree. To be blunt about it, your team loses the best pitcher in baseball (Clayton Kershaw) and they get better? The manager must be doing something right.

The American League was a little more interesting. Francona was, to me, an obvious choice. As with Roberts, he did wonderfully with a team of walking wounded. Hopefully, his strategy of using his best relievers when the game is in crisis rather than in the ninth inning will catch on. It was done in the 1950s and 1960s and there’s no reason not to return to that model. Frankly I thought Gary Sanchez of New York would win, but I’m gratified Fulmer took the award. Neither would have been a bad choice.

I presume that Trout and Porcello will be, as time goes along, the most controversial choices. Trout’s team didn’t win and Porcello didn’t get the most first place votes. It’s not like either is a bad choice and I got one right (Porcello) and one wrong (Trout) in my own betting on who would win. I expected Mookie Betts to win but I personally would have chosen Trout, who I feel had a better year. I would have chosen Justin Verlander over Porcello, but I thought he’d lose. What I didn’t expect he’d be left off two ballots (And did you see Kate Upton, his fiancée’s twitter post?). It’s one they’ll talk about for a while (actually I mean both the vote and Upton’s reply).

So congratulations to all the winners. It was a heck of a season and each of them made it a better year. Now on to the Hall of Fame votes.

 

Lip Pike Medal

November 15, 2016

The American Israel Numismatic Association has just introduced a medal (part of a yearly series) commemoration Lipman “Lip” Pike, an early Jewish ballplayer who made his name in the 1860s and 1870s. Here’s a picture of what it looks like:

Pike Medal

Pike Medal

You can write the AINA at P.O. Box 20255 in Fountain Hills, AZ 85269 for one. It costs $5.00 for one or is free if you join the AINA (which costs $25.00 annually). Passed along here for your information.

2016 Awards Nominees Announced

November 10, 2016

It is now time for MLB to complete the 2016 season by naming the winners of its yearly awards. The new policy of announcing finalists (actually the 3 guys with the most votes) is still in effect. Apparently it’s the new normal.

OK, I guess, but I liked the old system better. I got to anticipate the winner in a different way than now. I got to wonder “who’s going to win?” and “who’s gonna finish fifth but shoulda won?” You don’t get to do that anymore and that’s kind of a shame. Now I know who’s been shafted before I even know who won.

Well, anyway, in case you haven’t seen the lists, here they are for your information and commentary if you want:

NL MVP: Kris Bryant, Daniel Murphy, Corey Seager (winner announced 17 November)

AL MVP: Jose Altuve, Mookie Betts, Mike Trout (also announced 17 November)

NL Cy Young: Kyle Hendricks, Jon Lester, Max Scherzer (announced 16 November)

AL Cy Young: Corey Kluber, Rick Porcello, Justin Verlander (also 16 November)

NL Rookie: Kenta Maeda, Corey Seager, Trea Turner (announced 14 November)

AL Rookie: Michael Fulmer, Gary Sanchez, Tyler Naquin (also 14 November)

NL Manager: Joe Maddon, Dusty Baker, Dave Roberts (announced 15 November)

AL Manager: Jeff Bannister, Terry Francona, Buck Showalter (also 15 November

That’s the list. One thing I noted is how good the Tigers starting staff was just a few years ago: Verlander, Porcello, Scherzer. All three are nominees this season.

Good luck to all.

A Baker’s Dozen Things You Should Know About the World of 1908

November 7, 2016

So the Cubs finally win one after 108 years of failure. Normally I use my “A Dozen Things You Should Know About…” format to feature a particular individual. This time I want to use the same format to give you a dozen things about the world of 1908 that may surprise you (or maybe not, depending on you).

1. Theodore Roosevelt was the incumbent 26th President of the US. Number 27, William Howard Taft, would be elected in November but not take office until 1909. The next President will be number 45.

The Duke

The Duke

2. In Hollywood D.W. Griffith would direct his first movie “The Adventures of Dollie.” He would later (1915) make “The Birth of a Nation” which is generally considered the first “blockbuster.” In Winterset, Iowa John Wayne had his first birthday, while James Stewart was born in Pennsylvania, and Humphrey Bogart turned nine on Christmas day.

3. Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, Quanah Parker, Geronimo, Annie Oakley, Buffalo Bill Cody, and Cole Younger were all still alive. Pat Garrett, the man who shot Billy the Kid, died in February.

Nellie Tayloe Ross

Nellie Tayloe Ross

4. Women were still a decade away from receiving the right to vote in federal elections although a handful of states did allow some female voting in state and local elections. In 1887 Susanna Salter was elected mayor of Argonia, Kansas and the town of Syracuse, Kansas chose an all female city council. But women were 17 years from Nellie Tayloe Ross becoming the first female governor of an American State (Wyoming).

Franz Ferdinand

Franz Ferdinand

5. Russia still had a Czar, Germany a Kaiser, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire still existed. Poland didn’t. Edward VII, Queen Victoria’s son, was still on the throne in Great Britain, and Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the throne of Austria, still had six years to live. His assassination in 1914 would set in motion the events leading to World War I.

6. Adolf Hitler was still an unknown postcard painter and paper hanger in Vienna. Erich Maria Remarque (author of All Quiet on the Western Front) was 10. George Patton was a junior at West Point. Dwight Eisenhower was a junior at Abilene High School.

7. Jim Crow was the law of the land in most places, including many outside the American South. The NAACP (the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) was founded the next year.

8. The Model T from Ford Motor Company came out in October 1908. You had your choice of colors–black or black. Most people took black.

Nora Bayes

Nora Bayes

9. “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” was published and first sung on a vaudeville stage by Nora Bayes. The words were written by her then husband (second of five) Jack Norwood.

10. Old Tom Morris, one of the first winners of the British Open golf tournament died, as did former US President Grover Cleveland and Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Karsakov.

11. Abe Attell, later infamous in the Black Sox scandal, was Featherweight Boxing Champion, Fred McLeod of Scotland won the US Open Golf tournament for the first and only time, James Braid won his fourth (of five) British Open golf tournament (the PGA doesn’t show up until 1916 and the Masters comes in the 1930s), Jim Thorpe who later became first President of the NFL was in his second year at Carlisle, and a horse named Stone Street won his only major race, the Kentucky Derby, in the slowest Derby time recorded.

12. US coins in circulation included the Indian head cent (the Lincoln penny would come in 1909), the Liberty head nickel (the Buffalo nickel started in 1913), the Barber dime (the Mercury dime began in 1916), and the Barber quarter (the Washington quarter began in 1932). A first class stamp was two cents.

13. And in baseball, Fred Merkle failed to touch second.

Fred Merkle (all pix for this post taken from Wikipedia's page on the individual)

Fred Merkle
(all pix for this post taken from Wikipedia’s page on the individual)

Now you should all go to YouTube and find a recording of the old British ditty “The World Turned Upside Down” to celebrate the Cubs victory.

A Series of Firsts

November 3, 2016
Cubs win

Cubs win

Let me start by congratulating the Cubs on finally winning a World Series in my lifetime (can’t say the same for the Indians). So now they are officially 1-108. Also congrats to Ben Zobrist, one of my favorites, on winning the Series MVP Award. Like most World Series’ there were a number of firsts in this one. In honor of a nine inning game, here’s nine for the Cubs:

1. One of the most important firsts involves Dexter Fowler. The last time the Cubs participated in a World Series was 1945. Jackie Robinson didn’t arrive in Brooklyn until 1947, so Fowler becomes the first black man to play in a World Series for the Cubs. It also means that now every franchise that has been to a World Series, (all but the Nationals and Seattle) has carried a black player on its roster during the World Series. It may be the most important first. And sticking with Fowler we get two more firsts. He is the first Cub to strike out in a World Series since 1945 and he is the first Cubs player to hit a home run since Phil Cavarretta did it in game one of 1945.

2. Jake Arrieta became the first Chicago Cubs pitcher to win a World Series game since integration when he won game two. The last Cubs pitcher to win a Series game? Hank Borowy won game 6 of 1945 (3 October 1945).

3. Ben Zobrist has a number of firsts. He became the first Cub to get a hit since 1945 and the first to get an extra base hit (a double) since 1945. As the MVP he becomes the first Cub to win the World Series MVP award (there was no Series award in 1945–it began in 1955).

4. Kyle Schwarber became the first player ever to get his first hit of the season in the World Series. Never been done before. He also got the first Cubs walk since 1945.

5. Kris Bryant scored the first Cubs run since game 7 of 1945.

6. Jon Lester became the first Cubs pitcher to lose a game (game 1) since Hank Borowy lost game seven in 1945. Yes, Borowy both won game six and lost game seven in 1945. He relieved in six and started seven.

7. Addison Russell hit the first grand slam in Chicago Cubs World Series history.

8. In 1945 the Cubs won game six at home. Their game five win in 2016 is their first home victory since. And it continues a Cubs tradition. Chicago played its first World Series game in Wrigley Field in 1929 (the 1906-08 and 1910 World Series were played in a different park and the 1918 Series was in Comiskey Park). Between 1929 and 2016 the Cubs are, in World Series play, 7-9 (.438 winning percentage) on the road. They are 3-14 (.176 winning percentage) in Wrigley (wins coming in 1935, 1945, and 2016).

9. In 1935 Frank Demaree hit two home runs against Detroit. In 2016 he was joined by both Bryant and Fowler, making them the first Cubs to hit two home runs in a Series since 1935 and the first time two Cubs did it in the same Series..

10. And in honor of the game going 10 innings last evening, here’s one for the Indians. In 1920 Stan Coveleski started three games on the mound for Cleveland. Corey Kluber is the first Indians pitcher to start three games in the Series since Coveleski. Kluber went 2-0, Coveleski 3-0.