Archive for December, 2013

A Year’s End 9 Inning Celebration

December 31, 2013

So the year is ending, is it? Well, good riddance to bad rubbish. In many ways 2013 was a lousy year. The weather, the politics, the expenses, my wife broke a leg (which is now healed fine). But baseball provided some good moments. Here, in honor of nine innings and in no particular order, are some moments, both good and bad, that I remember.

1. The Dodgers made the playoffs and promptly hashed it. If you’re a Dodgers fan like me, this is a good sign.

2. The Miguel Cabrera/Mike Trout controversy stayed around. Isn’t it great that there are two players this quality in the Major Leagues today so we can debate the meaning of greatness?

3. Biogenesis. Who ever heard of them? I wish the whole PED issue would just go away, but I know it won’t.

4. Mariano Rivera did finally go away. That’s the wrong kind of going away. Never a Yankees fan, but it was a joy to watch Rivera perform. He was good, he had class, he had style. Name five other players you can say all that about.

5. The Red Sox won the World Series. OK, I’m not a BoSox fan either, but they’re a good team, a good organization, and David Ortiz is one heck of a hitter.

6. Clayton Kershaw proved why it’s now alright to mention his name in the same breath as you mention Sandy Koufax’s.

7. Albert Pujols proved mortal again. I hope it’s not the end of the line for the finest first baseman I ever saw.

8. Mike Matheny got his Cardinals to the World Series. Finally he can begin to move out from under Tony LaRussa’s shadow.

9. The Hall of Fame put in Deacon White and Jacob Ruppert, both of which I’d been pushing for, but left out everybody else except an ump and three managers. Are you kidding?

Hopefully, you have your own list of nine. These are mine. May you have a better 2014 than you had a 2013.

Aaron’s Catch

December 29, 2013

One of the more interesting aspects of coaching youth baseball is the variety of players you get. I’ve had kids who went on the college level ball, kids that starred in high school, one kid who made the minor leagues, and of course an entire array of kids who, talentwise, should never have been anywhere near a baseball diamond.

Aaron was not the worst player I ever had, but he was in the top about five. He couldn’t hit the floor if he fell out of bed, couldn’t catch a cold, would have lost a race to a one-legged man, but he liked the game. It was my job to find a place to play him. I always had a  rule that the weakest hitter batted eighth because I wanted a rabbit who could hit just a little in the nine-hole so I could have a man on in  front of the lead off man. Aaron hit eighth. Or more properly, Aaron was in the eight hole, the hitting was more wish than reality. There’s also an unwritten rule that the worst fielder goes to right field. Wanna guess where Aaron played? He couldn’t go back on the ball at all, but he could come in a little if he got lucky. I had my son at second and one of his jobs was to act as cut off man for the right fielder. Another job  was to make sure that Aaron stayed back in right and didn’t keep wandering in so that a hard single would go over his head for a triple. It actually worked pretty well, except that deep or shallow Aaron couldn’t catch the ball.

Two-thirds of the way through the season we were involved in a fairly close game (one we eventually lost) with Aaron in right. In the fifth inning (I still have the score book and checked) we had two outs, two on, and Aaron still in right. The batter hit a soft liner that carried farther than we expected. It was obviously going to right and Aaron was, for once, actually back where he was supposed to be. I could hear my son shouting, “Aaron, Aaron,” as he moved to assume his usual cut off position. Aaron looked up, stared for a second, then began dashing (OK, dashing is too strong a word, but he was moving forward) in for the ball. He stuck up his glove (I think his eyes were closed) and the ball fell magically into his glove for the third out. I knew at that moment there was a God and that He loved baseball. There was no other explanation.

The team went slightly nuts. The parents went slightly nuts. The coaching staff went slightly nuts. His Dad went absolutely crazy. Even the umpires, who were on the diamond enough to get a pretty good idea of how good or awful were the players on each team, were smiling. The chief ump, who we called “Smiley” for the same reason you call a huge man “Tiny”, was manning home plate that night. He really was smiling when he shook my hand as I moved out to the third base coaching box. “Taught him everything he knows,” I told him.

Yeah, we lost. But for a change no one cared. Aaron’s catch was one of the highlights of the year for the team. It’s funny how that works. For a change the players were more concerned with a teammate doing well than with winning or losing. I couldn’t tell you a single stat from the best player on the team that year (except that I remember he came in second in batting average) without looking it up, but I remember the catch.  I never had Aaron in youth baseball again, but I ran into him later after he became an adult, working at a Walmart or some such place. We shook hands and talked a moment. He asked if I remembered the catch. I told him I did (I quoted the name of the other team as proof). He was happy I remembered. I believe I was even more happy that he remembered his shining moment in youth baseball. Ain’t that great?

USPS to Honor Latin Baseball

December 23, 2013

Just saw the latest Linn’s Stamp News. It indicates that the U.S. Postal Service is set to honor Latin Baseball with stamp issued either in mid-2014 or possibly in 2015. No details are available yet, but these stamps generally are a pane of four with pictures of four different Latin ball players (Clemente, DiHigo, etc) in uniform. Sometimes it will be a generic picture of a game (like the Negro League set) honoring a specific group. No idea which, if either, they’ll pick. Will let you know when I find out.

2014 Spink, O’Neil, and Frick Awards

December 11, 2013
Roger Angell

Roger Angell

With all the hoopla present in the Veteran’s Committee and BBWAA votes for the Hall of Fame, we tend to forget that the Hall of Fame is also in charge of three other awards: The J G Taylor Spink Award for writers, the Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasters, and the Buck O’Neil Lifetime Achievement Award for humanitarian contributions to the game. The winners of those three awards have been announced for this year.

The Spink Award was given to Roger Angell. Angell is a writer whose baseball prose is among my favorites. He is the first non-member of the BBWAA to win this award. His most famous work is probably “The Summer Game” written in 1972 (at least it’s my favorite). He was featured on Ken Burns’ “Baseball” series on PBS when it aired.

The Frick Award went to Eric Nadel, broadcaster for the Texas Rangers. Nadel has been Rangers broadcaster for years. Around here you get to listen to him a lot. He’s actually pretty good. Not least among his attributes is his ability to surmount a color guy who is a dope. He’s had some of those (and also some very excellent color guys too).

The O’Neil goes to Joe Garagiola. The O’Neil Award is the newest of the three. It’s given out at three-year intervals to persons who have enhanced “baseball’s positive image on society, who broadens the games appeal, and whose integrity and dignity are comparable to the namesake of the award” (quoted directly from the Wikipedia page about the award). Garagiola is the third to receive the award.

All three awards are officially given to the winner at the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies in Cooperstown and the winner gives a speech. This has led to the winners being referred to as “Hall of Famers.” This is incorrect, as none of the award winners are actually elected to the Hall. The Spink and Frick awards have plaques in the Hall library where the winner’s names are inscribed. Near the entrance to the Hall is a statue of O’Neil, the names of the winners are added to a plaque near the statue.

I like these awards being given out. The writers and broadcasters have added so much to the game that it’s fair they be remembered. As for the humanitarian award, it’s worthwhile to see an award named for Buck O’Neil, one of the grand men of the game. If I get to listen to the ceremony, I always look forward to the award winners speeches. They are generally more polished than the honorees and filled with anecdotes that are poignant and funny.

Quick Garagiola story (that I hope he tells in his speech). He came to the Majors with the Cards and later became a broadcaster. As a broadcaster, he asked to see his scouting report. They showed it to him. Under the heading Speed was the word “deceptive”. Then in parenthesis the phrase “slower than he looks.” See why I look forward to those speeches?

Thoughts on Enshrining 3 Managers

December 10, 2013
Baseball's newest Hall of Famers (from MLB.com)

Baseball’s newest Hall of Famers (from MLB.com)

So the Veteran’s Committee has put Bobby Cox, Tony LaRussa, and Joe Torre into the Hall of Fame. Although I stated earlier I wouldn’t vote for Cox myself, I have no problem with the three making it to Cooperstown (as if the Committee cares what I think). Here’s a few thoughts on the newest election.

Again, Marvin Miller failed to make the Hall of Fame. According to reports the three winners were unanimously elected and no other candidate received more than six votes (out of 18). I’m surprised that Miller got at most six votes. There were six players on the committee, but I have no idea if any or all of them voted for Miller. So Far I’m unable to find out exactly how many votes anyone other than the three managers received.

And it’s not at all strange that a player was not elected. I went back to 2000 (the entire 21st Century, depending on what you do with 2000) and looked at the Veteran’s Committee inductees. It’s an interesting group. First, I need to remind you that the Committee was, for a  while, not a yearly institution, so in some of those 15 years there was no Committee and thus no one had a chance of election. For the purposes of this comment, I’ve excluded the 17 Negro League players and executives elected in 2006 because they were elected by a separate committee set up specifically to enshrine Negro League members. Only four players have been elected. They are Bill Mazeroski, Ron Santo, Bid McPhee, and Deacon White. Two of the players span the 1960s, the other two play in the 1800s. On the other hand, the Committee has elected two Negro Leaguers (Turkey Stearnes and Hilton Smith), seven managers (including the three just chosen), and seven contributors (executives, commissioners, umpires, etc.). So recently, the Veteran’s Committee has been shorting players.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. It may mean that we’ve almost gotten to the end of those players who genuinely deserve Hall of Fame status. It may mean that the selection committee will continue to put up players and the election committee will continue to turn down almost all of them. I want to see what the various ballots look like over the next dozen or so years (remember there are 3 committees, so a dozen years would be four of each). If the same people keep making the list and keep failing election it should indicate that the various Veteran’s Committees have determined that the era for which they vote is devoid of quality candidates for enshrinement. Of course evolving lists and new stat methods can change this very much. The problem is that the pressure to elect someone, anyone, can be great. After all if you go five years without electing someone, then people begin to ask “why do we have a Veteran’s Committee?” This could lead to more marginal players elected or, more likely from what we’ve seen lately, more managers, umpires, owners, and executives making the trek to Cooperstown for enshrinement. Although I admit that the contributors have a major role in baseball and should be commemorated in Cooperstown, let’s not get carried away and start putting in everybody who ever umped a game or owned a team.

I also found out something about the Veteran’s Committee rules. According to MLB.com the members of the committee are restricted to voting for not more than five candidates (like the writers and the 10 candidate rule). As with the writers ballot this tends to depress the election results, which may not be bad, but I really wish they’d let the committee members vote for as many as they want. After all, they can vote for as few as they want, including no one.

So congratulations to Cox, LaRussa, and Torre. Now we wait for the Spink and Frick Awards and the big ballot writer’s selections. Those should be interesting, particularly the latter.

2014 Veteran’s Committee Results Announced

December 9, 2013

The 2014 Veteran’s Committee announced its results this morning. The following were elected to the Hall of Fame for the class of 2014:

Bobby Cox, Tony LaRussa, Joe Torre.

No players or executives were chosen. Commentary on my part to follow.

Star Managers

December 5, 2013

Recently my son reminded me that Eddie Mathews, Mel Ott, Frank Robinson, and Ted Williams all have something in common other than being Hall of Famers with 500 home runs. Each was a manager with an overall losing record. Mathews’ .481 is the highest winning percentage of the four. He wondered if I knew that (I didn’t).

It got me to thinking about how commonplace an idea it is that great players don’t make great managers. The great managers are guys like Earl Weaver who never got to the big leagues,  Tony LaRussa who was a marginal player (he hit a buck-99 in 132 games), or Walter Alston who got all of one at bat in the Major Leagues. And no one is going to question that the three of them were great managers. But let me point out a small handful of exceptional players who made pretty fair managers.

1. John J. McGraw has the second most wins of any manager ever, and the one with the most wins of any manager who didn’t also own the team (Connie Mack). McGraw was a true star in the late 19th Century. He was the heart and soul of the most famous of all 19th Century teams, the 1890s Baltimore Orioles. He hit well, played a fine third base, ran well, and was unmatched at on field shenanigans.

2. Hughie Jennings was a teammate of McGraw’s and led Detroit to three consecutive World series appearances (1907-09). The Tigers lost all of them, but the next time they got the Series was 1934.

3. Yogi Berra led two New York teams to the World Series: the Yankees in 1964 and the Mets in 1973. Both teams lost.

4. Joe Torre, who admittedly wasn’t the player McGraw and Berra were, won four championships as a manager after winning an MVP as a player.

There are also a number of player-managers who were both successful managers and star players. Bucky Harris, Frank Chance, and Joe Cronin are only three examples.

So while it’s true that being a great player doesn’t necessarily translate to a great manager, it also doesn’t mean the guy is a disaster as manager.

2014 Hall of Fame Picks

December 3, 2013
Edgar Martinez

Edgar Martinez

After taking some time to digest the new Hall of Fame ballot for 2014, it’s time to share with my adoring public (that would be you, team) my choices for enshrinement in Cooperstown. Remember, each voter is allowed to pick ten candidates, but may pick less. It’s a dumb rule because sometimes (not very often) there’s more than 10 good candidates, but it’s the rule. Believing that if they’re going to give me 10 votes, I’m going to take them. Here’s my list of 10. the new guys first.

Greg Maddux: If you have to ask why, you haven’t been paying attention.

Tom Glavine: see comment on Maddux above.

Frank Thomas: I’m tempted to make the same comment I just made on the two pitchers, but there’s more to Thomas that should be said. He was a leader in the fight against steroids, even trying to put together a voluntary anti-steroid testing. It failed, but it was a good effort. I think he played enough first base that his subsequent years as a designated hitter won’t be held against him. Besides, in this year of Auburn miracles (Thomas played tight end at Auburn) shouldn’t a former Auburn Tiger get in? 🙂

Jeff Bagwell:  Best 1st baseman in the last 25 years not named Pujols. Apparently worries about steroids have hurt him.

Craig Biggio: Got the 3000 hits that seems to be an automatic entry into Cooperstown. Played three positions (second base, catcher, and center field) and did credibly at all three. There seems to be no steroid questions about him. His team got to a number of playoffs without winning a championship. He did OK in some of the playoff series, not so good in others.

Mike Piazza: Best hitting catcher of the last 25 years, maybe ever (if you’re looking strictly at hitting). It’s his catching that is in question. He was considered sub par, but did lead his league in both putouts and assists a couple of times (and also in errors and passed balls). There are steroid questions about him, but no allegations that have been even vaguely substantiated. That makes him something of a poster boy for the whole steroid question. Did he or didn’t he?  I don’t know, but I’m guessing no. That makes this a vulnerable choice if he gets in and it’s later proved he took them.

Edgar Martinez: The ultimate DH. The knock is always that he didn’t do anything but hit. Well, neither did Ted Williams or any number of other marginal outfielders like Rickey Henderson. Got hung up in the Mariners minor league system (and you wonder why they don’t win) and came up somewhat late. Hit for average and for power. Before his legs gave out, he was getting better in the field, but was never going to be first-rate at third.

Don Mattingly: Over at “The On Deck Circle” website, Bill Miller makes an excellent case for Mattingly. Let me suggest you read it (see the blogroll at the right of this page for a link). I want to add one thing only to it. I’ve been concerned that Alan Trammell’s failure as Detroit manager has inhibited his chances for the Hall of Fame because it’s the last thing most of the writers saw him do. That’s a shame. By the same logic, Mattingly’s recent success with LA should not be used as a reason to add him to Cooperstown.

Jack  Morris: Big time pitcher from the 1980s and 1990s. I’ve  supported him for years and am not about to change my mind when it’s his last hurrah on the ballot.

Larry Walker: Gets knocked for his time in Coors Field , but was a great outfielder with a tremendous arm wherever he played. He hit well in Montreal in the early part of his career. Won an MVP while in Colorado. He hit better in Denver (who doesn’t?) but maintained good average and power numbers in visiting ballparks.

All of this brings me to the part of this year’s voting that I hate. I have to leave off a number of quality players that I might otherwise vote for enshrinement in Cooperstown. I think it’s a shame to leave out Tim Raines, Fred McGriff, Mike Mussina, Curt Schilling, Alan Trammell, and Jeff Kent, but I only get 10 votes (what an absurd rule). Maybe next year, fellas.

Which leads me to the man I don’t know what to do with: Hideo Nomo. I want to make a very fine distinction here. I believe Nomo is a Hall of Famer. I do not believe he is a Hall of Fame quality pitcher. He was a good pitcher, a solid pitcher. He won the Rookie of the Year award. He has a perfect game. He was good, just not great. So I cannot see putting him into Cooperstown as a player. But as a contributor to the game he is extremely important. Without him Ichiro Suzuki does not win an MVP or a Rookie of the Year award. Hedeki Matsui does not become a World Series MVP. Yu Darvish does not become one of the most feared pitchers in the American League. Without Nomo blazing the trail no Japanese player is going to get a chance to shine in the Major Leagues. And I  suppose it’s fair to add players from Korea and Taiwan to that list. Nomo is for East Asian players, in a very real sense, the equivalent of Jackie Robinson for black American players or Roberto Clemente for dark Latin players. He simply wasn’t as good a player as either Robinson or Clemente. It becomes, simply, a question of great player versus important player. I hope that Cooperstown will find some way to create a special ballot so Nomo can be acknowledged as the most important Japanese player in the history of Major League Baseball. But I won’t hold my breath waiting.