Archive for November, 2014

My Picks for the 2015 Hall of Fame Vote

November 28, 2014

Every year I post, once the Hall of Fame ballot comes out, my choices for the Hall of Fame. As the Hall gives each voter 10 votes, I, in the grand tradition of Southern Politics, take every vote I can get. So I always vote for 10, knowing many fewer will make it. But I look at it this way, it’s a chance to produce my “Jim DeShaies Vote”. For those of you who don’t remember, DeShaies was a Houston pitcher who played long enough to get on the Hall of Fame ballot. He worked in broadcasting and in 2001 started a campaign to get a vote for the Hall. He got exactly one.

Knowing that half of you are having major heart palpitations and breathing problems waiting breathlessly (see what I mean about breathing problems?) for my announcement, here we go, in alphabetic order new guys first and holdovers later.

1. Randy Johnson–if you don’t know why, you haven’t been paying attention.

2. Pedro Martinez–see Johnson above.

3. John Smoltz–Smoltz was the third of the great Atlanta triumvirate (Maddux and Glavine being the others) of the 1990s. Unlike the other two he didn’t win 300 games. He did, however, produce 154 saves. With Atlanta usually having bullpen problems, Smoltz gave up his starter role and spent a bit more than three seasons working as the closer (primarily 2002-2004 and much of 2001 in the same role) . He led the NL in saves one of those years (2002). Later he went back to starting and led the NL in wins. He has a Cy Young Award. A couple of injuries and the three + years in the bullpen cost him a shot at 300 wins. I’d vote for him anyway.

Now the holdovers:

4. Jeff Bagwell–premier first baseman in the 1990s and into the first decade of the 21st Century. Won an MVP in strike shortened 1994. Hit 449 home runs with 1529 RBIs in a 15 year career. Had nine seasons of 5+ WAR (Baseball Reference.com version) and two others just under five. His OPS+ is 149. He suffers from the taint of being a good power hitter in the steroid era.

5. Craig Biggio–teammate of Bagwell at Houston. Has 3000 hits, is fifth in career doubles (behind Speaker, Rose, Musial, and Cobb). Early in his career he was thrown out stealing a lot, but got much better as his career progressed. Led the NL in steals in 1994. He began as a catcher, moved to the outfield, and to second base. Many times a player is moved to hide his glove; in Biggio’s case he moved to fill a hole. He led the NL in both putouts and assists several times. His OPS+ is 112 and his WAR 65.1.

6. Edgar Martinez–Martinez is arguably the best DH ever. Baseball gives out an annual award for the best DH. In 2004, the award was named for Martinez. He won the award five times (David Ortiz has won it seven times). He won two batting titles, along with two doubles and one RBI title. His OPS+ is 147 and his WAR is 68.3 (despite spending almost no time in the field). Unlike a lot of people, I don’t degrade a player because he is a DH. If you think about it, most players are truly one-dimensional (pitchers generally don’t hit well, many hitters are terrible fielders) and by this time, the DH is so firmly established in the American League that I can’t imagine it being deleted any time soon. That being the case, I think we have to acknowledge the contribution of the DH.

7. Don Mattingly–It’s Mattingly’s last year on the ballot and I’ve voted for him every year so I’m not about to stop now. I know the career is short, but it is centered around a very high peak. His OPS+ is 127 and his WAR 42.2. He has a batting title, two hits titles, an RBI title, three doubles titles, and an MVP. He also hit .417 with a home run and six RBIs in his only postseason experience. And before anyone asks, I was supporting him long before he began managing the Dodgers.

8. Mike Piazza–Speaking of the Dodgers, I never thought I’d be able to say that it’s possible the greatest Dodgers catcher wasn’t Roy Campanella. But Piazza makes that a true possibility. One of the best hitting catchers, he was chided for not being a particularly good throwing catcher. That’s a particular problem when Campanella is the all time leader in caught stealing percentage (Piazza’s 23% isn’t in the top 400). But Piazza was Rookie of the Year, led the NL in OPS+ twice, hit 427 home runs, has an OPS+ of 143 and a 59.4 WAR (BTW his defensive WAR isn’t all that good, but it’s seldom a negative). He’s never going to get into the Hall on his fielding (few do) but he may be the best hitting catcher ever. As with Bagwell, the steroid era problems create difficulties in electing him.

9. Tim Raines–Raines is arguably the finest leadoff hitter in NL history. He won a batting title, led the league in runs four times, in doubles once, and picked up four stolen base titles. He had the misfortune of playing at the same time as Rickey Henderson and that’s always hurt his chances to be seen independently. There’s also a nomad phase to the end of his career that is fairly lengthy and pulls down a lot of his numbers. And then, of course, there’s the lupus issue that cost him a year and the drug problem that has hampered his case. He finished with a 123 OPS+ and 69.1 WAR.

10. Alan Trammel–You can easily argue that Trammell is the best shortstop in Detroit history. He helped the 1984 team to a World Series, then won the Series MVP. He finished second in the 1987 MVP race and garnered 12 first place votes in the process. As a shortstop he almost never led the AL in any major fielding stat, but was generally well into the upper half of the league in fielding. His OPS is 110 and his WAR is 70.4 (22.0 defensive WAR).

Who am I leaving out? Actually a lot of guys. Without picking any of the steroid boys, there’s still a lot of interesting names on this ballot. At various times I’ve touted the case for Mike Mussina, Fred McGriff, Larry Walker, and Jeff Kent. Now I can add in Nomar Garciaparra as someone I’d like to take a longer look at for addition to the Hall.

There you go, team. Now you pick ’em.

 

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2015 Hall of Fame Ballot is Out

November 25, 2014

The BBWA Hall of Fame ballot was just released. There are 17 guys remaining from the old ballot. Here’s that list:

Biggio, Piazza, Bagwell, Raines, Clemens, Bonds, Lee Smith, Schilling, Edgar Martinez, Trammell, Mussina, Kent, McGriff, McGwire, Walker, Mattingly, Sosa.

And here’s the list of the 17 new guys appearing for the first time:

Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Smoltz, Delgado, Sheffield, Garciaparra, Percival, Aurilia, Aaron Boone, Tony Clark, Dye, Erstad, Floyd, Giles, Tom Gordon, Guardado, Jason Schmidt.

The holdover list is in order of votes in the 2014 balloting. The new list is in the order I found it on NBC News website. My take later.

Happy Birthday, Joltin’ Joe

November 25, 2014
the birthday boy

the birthday boy

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Joe DiMaggio. That seems like as good a reason as any to celebrate baseball.

Happy Birthday, Joe.

“The Biggest Upset Since Harry Truman”

November 24, 2014
Dusty Rhodes

Dusty Rhodes

The death of Alvin Dark got me looking at the 1950s Giants. So I was reading an article on Willie Mays the other day. That article got me thinking about the 1954 World Series, so I started doing some research on it. In doing so, I ran across another article that made the claim that makes the title of this article (see how A leads to B leads to C, etc.). In 1948 Truman was supposed to lose to Thomas Dewey and didn’t. In 1954 the New York Giants were supposed to lose to the American League record-breaking Cleveland Indians.

The Indians won 111 games in 1954, a record since surpassed. They did it primarily by beating up on the AL also-rans, but it was still a formidable team. Hall of Fame pitchers Bob Lemon and Early Wynn were the mainstays of the mound. Fellow Hall of Famer Bob Feller was in the twilight of his career, but still put up 13 wins, while Mike Garcia had 19. In the bullpen Don Mossi, Ray Narleski, and Hall of Fame pitcher Hal Newhouser provided relief work. Second baseman Bobby Avila won a batting title, Larry Doby led the AL in home runs and RBIs, and Al Rosen was fourth in the league in slugging and OPS, fifth in OBP and home runs. For manager Al Lopez it was a formidable team.

Their opponent was the New York Giants, led my Leo Durocher. Although not as seeming invincible as the Indians, the Giants were also good. They won 97 games with Johnny Antonelli, Ruben Gomez, and Sal Maglie on the mound. Hall of Fame reliever Hoyt Wilhelm provided much of the relief work as the premier right hander out of the bullpen. Marv Grissom complimented him from the left side. Outfielder and Hall of Famer Willie Mays led the National League in batting, slugging, triples, OPS, and OPS+ (just your typical Mays year). Don Mueller hit over .300, while Monte Irvin coming off a down year completed the outfield. Hank Thompson and Al Dark both had 20 home runs, and pinch hitter Dusty Rhodes had 15.

Game one is primarily famous for Willie Mays making the great catch in center field to keep the game tied. Rhodes later won it with a home run in the tenth inning. Game two was also close with the Giants winning 3-1 and Rhodes again contributing a home run. Moving to Cleveland for game three, the Giants took control and won game three 6-2. They were already ahead by six runs when Cleveland finally scored their first run. Game four was something of a foregone conclusion. The Giants put up seven runs before Cleveland scored and coasted to a 7-4 victory to close out the Series.

This brings up two obvious questions: “What went wrong for the Indians?” and “What did the Giants do right?” They are, of course, two parts of a single question, “what the heck happened to cause the Indians to lose and the Giants to win?”

The Cleveland pitching staff had a terrible World Series. They had a 4.84 ERA, gave up 33 hits and 21 runs (19 earned) in 35.1 innings. Garcia started one game and ended up with an ERA of 5.40. He gave up three earned runs and four walks in five innings (he did manage to strike out four). Lemon was worse. In two games he gave up 16 hits, 10 earned runs, and eight walks in 13.1 innings (with 11 strikeouts). The bullpen (and Early Wynn) did much better, although Newhouser gave up a run, a hit, and a walk without getting anybody out.

The hitting wasn’t much better. Of the starters, only Vic Wertz (who hit the famous ball that Mays caught) hit above .250 (Rosen hit right on .250). He and Hank Majeski tied for the team lead with three RBIs, while Wertz and Al Smith were the only players with more than one run scored (each had two). Larry Doby struck out four times

The Giants pitching did better. It’s ERA was 1.46, giving up six total earned runs (and three unearned–the Giants had seven errors) and 26 hits in 37 innings. Maglie’s 2.57 ERA was the team high. Neither Grissom nor Wilhelm gave up a run out of the bullpen.

New York hitting beat Cleveland to death. Dark, Mueller, Rhodes, and Thompson all hit over .350 while both Mays and catcher Wes Westrum both topped .250. Rhodes had seven RBIs, Thompson scored six runs, and both Mays and Mueller scored four runs. Irvin (who had a bad Series) and Westrum led the team with three strikeouts, while Mays walked four times. Rhodes OPS was 2.381 (Wertz at 1.493 topped the Indians starters).

There was no Series MVP in 1954 (it began the next year), but most people presume Rhodes would have won it. Maybe, but the entire Giants team did well (except Irvin and Whitey Lockman).

It was, besides being a huge upset, a fluke World Series. Cleveland had not finished first since 1948 and wouldn’t do so again until 1995. For the Giants, it was their first since 1950 and they wouldn’t be back until 1962 when they were no longer the New York Giants, but had become the San Francisco Giants. The next year it would be back to the normal Yankees-Dodgers World Series.

A Baker’s Dozen Things You Should Know About Connie Mack

November 20, 2014
Connie Mack as a player

Connie Mack as a player

1. He was born Cornelius Alexander McGillicuddy in Massachusetts in 1862. His more well know name is a shortening of both his first and last names.

2. He was a Major League catcher between 1886 and 1896, playing he entire career in the National League, except for a stint in the 1890 Player’s League. He hit all of .245 with five home runs.

3. He was player manager at Pittsburgh between 1894 and 1896 inclusive. After retiring he managed Milwaukee in the Western League between 1897 and 1899 inclusive.

4. In 1901 he was made manager of the Philadelphia team (called the Athletics after a previous team) in the newly formed American League. Almost immediately he moved to gain at least partial ownership of the team. He took 25% ownership in 1901 with sporting goods mogul Ben Shibe taking 50% and a pair of local sports writers owning the other 25%. In 1913 he bought out the two writers and became co-owner with Shibe. He handled baseball operations and Shibe the business side of the team. In 1937 he became majority owner of the A’s.

5. He was known as an excellent judge of talent and for judicious use of his catchers despite a limited roster.

6. His Athletics won the second American League pennant in 1902, then participated in the second World Series in 1905 (there was no Series in 1902). They lost in five games to the New York Giants.

7. During the years 1910 through 1914 the A’s won pennants in 1910, 1911, 1913, and 1914. They won the World Series in the first three of those seasons.

8. Due to financial considerations Mack lost most of his quality players in 1915, had a disastrous 1916 (36-117 record), then began rebuilding.

9. Between 1929 and 1931 the A’s won three more pennants and the World Series in both 1929 and 1930. That made Mack the only manager to win back-to-back World Series’ twice. Both Casey Stengel (5 in a row) and Joe McCarthy (4 in a row) won at least three in a row later.

10. Again in financial trouble, he sold off his best players and never recovered. After 1933 his team never finished in the first division again. The team also suffered because Mack failed to create a “farm” system until late and did a poor job in signing quality Negro League players once the Major Leagues integrated beginning in 1947.

11. By 1950 he was in failing health and although still manager, was having his coaches make most of the on field decisions.

12. He retired after the 1950 season with 3731 wins, 3948 losses (both records), nine pennants, and five World Championships (not counting his 1902 championship–a year without a  World Series). He died in 1956.

13. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1937.

Mack's grave

Mack’s grave

 

RIP Alvin Dark

November 18, 2014
Al Dark

Al Dark

Saw that Alvin Dark died last week. He was 92 and largely forgotten. But he was a significant player and a big league manager of note.

Dark came out of Oklahoma and attended what is now Louisiana-Lafayette excelling in both baseball and football. He was drafted in 1945 by the Philadelphia Eagles football team, but chose to play baseball. He made it to the Boston Braves for a 1946 cup of coffee. While there, he  hit .231 and was sent back to the Minors (Milwaukee). In 1948 he was up for good playing shortstop well enough to earn the second ever Rookie of the Year Award (there was only one award in 1948, not one in each league). Boston got to the World Series, lost in six games to Cleveland, and Dark managed to come in third in the MVP voting.

He remained in Boston in 1949, then was sent to New York where he anchored a Giants infield that included Eddie Stanky and Hank Thompson. They finished third. The next year the Giants tied the Dodgers for first place in the National League and Dark participated in the most famous of all playoff series. Whitey Lockman had joined the team at first and an outfield of Monte Irvin, Don Mueller, and rookie Willie Mays helped the team go 50-12 at the end of the season. Dark managed to lead the National League in doubles that season (the only time he led the league in any significant hitting stat). In the famous ninth inning of the third game, Dark led off with a single, went to second on another and came home with the first run of the inning. Later Bobby Thomson hit his “Giants win the pennant” homer and everybody forgot Dark began the rally.

He hit .417 in the World Series with a home run, but the Giants lost. Dark remained with the Giants through 1955, helping them to a World Series sweep in 1954. He hit .412 and scored a couple of runs in the Series. He played part of 1956 in New York, but ended up in St. Louis. He remained with the Cardinals into 1958, then was sent to Chicago. We was with the Cubs two years, then spent the 1960 season, his last between the Phillies and the Braves.

A trade sent him back to the Giants. He retired to take over as the Giants manager in 1961. They finished third. The next year he took them to their first World Series since the 1954 sweep and their first since moving to San Francisco. They took the Yankees to seven games before losing 2-1 in the last game.

He stayed in San Francisco through 1964 when he was fired (during the sixth inning of the final game). He worked with Kansas City (the A’s, not the Royals) becoming manager in 1966 and part of 1967, when he fell victim to one of Charlie Finley’s tantrums. That sent him to Cleveland until 1971 where he managed and for a while doubled as general manager. In 1974 he was back with the A’s (now in Oakland) and led the team to the final of three consecutive World Series triumphs (Dick Williams managed the other two wins). The A’s got to the playoffs in 1975, lost, and Dark was fired. He managed one year in San Diego (1977) then retired.

For his career he hit .289, had an OBP of .333, slugged .411, and ended up with an OPS of .744 (OPS+ of 98). He led the NL in doubles the one time and had 2089 hits, 358 total doubles, 72 triples, 126 home runs, and 757 RBIs to go with 1064 runs scored. His Baseball Reference.com version of WAR is 43.1. As a fielder he was considered more than capable. He led the league in putouts, assists, double plays, and errors at various times in his career. Over his career, he made three All Star teams. His Hall of Fame voting percentage peaked at 18.5% in 1979.

During his managerial career there was some question about his view of black players. In 1964, he made a questionable comment about their baseball smarts which some considered racist. But both Willie Mays and Jackie Robinson came to his defense.

As mentioned in the first paragraph, Dark’s been largely forgotten. But he was a key player on three pennant winners, one World Series winner, and managed in two World Series contests, winning one. RIP, Alvin.

A Few Random Thoughts on the 2014 Postseason Awards

November 13, 2014
Sandy Koufax's 1965 Cy Young Award

Sandy Koufax’s 1965 Cy Young Award; note the trophy is right handed

 

Now that the postseason awards are over, here’s a few comments on them:

1. For American League Rookie of the Year, did anybody not have Jose Abreu? He had this thing locked up well before the season ended. As for Jacob DeGrom, my reaction is “why not?” MLB is full of Rookies of the Year who have the one great opening season (sometimes really just a handful of opening months) then flame out (Joe Charboneau, anyone?). I have no idea what will happen with these two, but I wish them luck and hope they have long and productive careers.

2. The Manager of the Year Award generally comes down to one of two types: the guy takes a team that’s done nothing and makes it a winner or the guy takes a team that is full of adversity and makes a winner out of it. This year adversity takes the prize. With multiple players injured both Matt Williams and Buck Showalter took teams to the playoffs. I think Showalter is one of the better managers in baseball and I’m glad to see him win. Williams? As with DeGrom, “sure, why not?” BTW in case you haven’t noticed, Showalter was Manager of the Year in 1994, 2004, and 2014. You might want to get a bet down on 2024.

3. Again, did anybody not have Clayton Kershaw for the National League Cy Young Award? If so, I have this great bridge in Brooklyn you might be interested in. I’ll sell it cheap. I’m one of those who thought Corey Kluber should have won the AL Cy Young, so I’m happy there, but would have been neither upset nor surprised had Felix Hernandez gotten the award.

4. Over at ESPN there’s a story on Kershaw winning the award. It’s a nice little story and included with it is a factoid box that works as a great example of what’s wrong with cherry picking stats and facts. It states that Kershaw is one of six pitchers to win the Cy Young Award in three out of four years. Here’s the list: Sandy Koufax, Jim Palmer, Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, Kershaw. That’s nice, isn’t it? Well, it’s not really as great as it sounds. They fail to mention that both Maddux and Johnson won not three out of four Cy Young Awards, but actually won four out of four Cy Young Awards. They also don’t tell you that Koufax won his when there was only one Cy Young Award given, not one in each league (and he’s still the only pitcher to win three by unanimous vote). Kershaw is good enough without having to cherry pick stats. Writers (including me, unfortunately) tend to look for ways to make someone sound good and forget that you can use stats to prove about anything. I remember when George Brett was about to retire someone found out that he and Willie Mays were the only guys with a specific number of home runs and stolen bases who also hit .300 (I forget the numbers involved). Of course if you move one of the home run or stolen base numbers around (not to mention change .300) you can get Mays alone or no one at all or twenty different guys. I try not to do that (at least not too often) but we’re all prone to it.

5. So the third time really was the charm for Mike Trout. I always find it interesting when someone wins a big award for a year that isn’t his best when he’s previously failed to win for a better year. Happens all the time. Now it becomes interesting to see what happens. Frequently a player keeps getting touted for an award, finally wins one, then sort of gets forgotten by voters. Wonder if that will happen to Trout?

6. And the ugly “can a pitcher win an MVP award?” question is upon us again. I always figure that it’s for the “most valuable player” not the “most valuable hitter” or “most valuable fielder” or “most valuable pitcher.” And the idea that between 1968 and 2014 no National League pitcher was more valuable than all the league’s hitters each and every year is simply silly. Of course the key word is “valuable.” I’ll be the first to admit that I define “valuable” differently than others (and if you’re honest, so do you). That’s actually one of the great things about “valuable”, it’s not self-defining. That makes it just nebulous enough to make it worthwhile to debate.

 

The Babe of the Delta

November 11, 2014
Mekong Delta

Mekong Delta

Back in the 1960s I got one those all expense paid trips to sunny Southeast Asia courtesy of the U.S. Army. For reasons known only to Uncle Sugar (Uncle Sam) they decided I would do wonders for the war effort in the Mekong Delta (or could cause less confusion; I’m not sure which). So there I went down to the Delta where, like everyone else I tried to figure out what the heck was going on.

One of the things that was going on was baseball. I’ve mentioned in a couple of other posts the baseball diamond we had. It wasn’t much, just a bunch of tubes of aluminum and iron welded together to form a backstop and some chicken wire to cover the backstop. The field was all dirt and when a chopper came over, which was frequent (we were in the normal glide path for the hospital), the dirt became dust and the game had to stop. If there were lots of choppers, we knew it was bad and the game stopped so we could help unload wounded. We had a shed painted Army olive drab that I’ve talked about before. It contained three bases, an umpire’s chest protector, a couple of bags of chalk, an olive drab grass spreader, and the pin up I mentioned in an earlier post. We never asked where any of this came from because we were all afraid of the answer. It wasn’t much, but you could play ball on it.

I tried to get into a game a couple of times a week, my job permitting. We’d get a bunch of guys together, head over to the diamond, then play “work up” until enough guys showed up to make something like a real game (occasionally we had enough people to have umpires). As almost everyone wanted to play, we didn’t have much of an audience.

Every unit on the post (except for a couple of super secret units) had “house boys” or “house girls”. These were locals who lived in the surrounding villages and towns who were paid to work for us. They did standard “gofer” jobs like shine shoes, sweep floors, do laundry, work in the mess halls, fill sandbags. Everyone in the unit chipped in a few bucks and I understood from talking to the house boys that the pay was better than they could get on the local economy. They’d show up early in the morning, do their work, then head home in the evening. A big deuce and a half (that’s a two and a half ton truck for all you civilians) would head out in the morning, pick them up at various places and bring them home (I never did it so I’m not sure of the exact way it worked). Sometimes they would be done a while before the truck came to take them home and a few of them would wander over to see the crazy Americans playing this silly game.

His name was Pham and he worked for one of the other units. He was thin, about my age, and had gotten past the pigeon GI English of a lot of the workers. “Hey, GI, you want to screw my Mom, she’s a virgin”–Honest to God I heard this a time or two from kids who knew GI English but had no idea what it meant (And btw “screw” wasn’t the word used there, but this is a family site.). We could communicate in a broken English and his English was a lot better than my Vietnamese. We noticed him one day standing behind the backstop trying to figure out how to grip a ball. So one of the guys decided that if he was interested, we’d show him how the game worked. So we showed him how to hold the ball, how to throw with your right arm while your left foot came forward (he was right-handed). He knew so little that it was like trying to teach the game to a four year old. There were some old gloves around and we gave him one then showed him how to close the mitt when the ball got into the pocket. It took a while but he got reasonably good at catching and could throw a little. He understood that to run the bases you went to the first big white sack and began making lefts until you got back where you started. He wasn’t quite sure why this was so great (after all, you hadn’t actually gone anywhere), but we assured him that he’d scored something mystical called “a run” and that was good.

He couldn’t hit a lick. He tried, God, how he tried, but he couldn’t hit a 30 mile an hour toss let alone a 60 mile an hour pitch (which was about as fast as any of us could control a fastball). But he worked at it and finally in April he got lucky.

I was at first when Pham came up. The pitcher lobbed one in and he swung. Magically, almost miraculously, the bat found the ball. It not only found it, it found the absolute center of the “sweet spot.” The ball arched up, went way over the head of the outfielders, and kept going. There were no fences so it rolled forever. By the time the nearest fielder got to it, Pham was around third and came home standing up. Everyone, even we guys on the other team, were cheering for him. A couple of guys picked him up, carried him around the bases on their shoulders, and everybody shook his hand. Bats were at a premium, so we couldn’t give him the bat, but we did have extra baseballs so we gave him his home run ball to take with him. We immediately nicknamed him “the Babe” and had to take a long time to explain to him who Babe Ruth was and why he mattered. Pham got several more hits, but it was his only homer.

In May, the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong launched the May Offensive (it was 3 months after Tet). I was one of the people sent to hold Cholon (a northern suburb of Saigon). We did our job and got back to the Delta a couple of weeks later. I was in no mood for baseball for a while, so it was probably late June before I got back to the diamond (it was also the wet season and games were more infrequent). It was another week or so before I noticed Pham wasn’t around.

“Hey, where’s the Babe?”

They looked at me and shrugged. “Don’t know. He hasn’t been back since the Offensive.”

Pham was gone. We never knew what happened to him. It was possible he was a VC spy, but we decided that wasn’t very likely. Maybe the VC found his ball glove or the home run ball and got rid of him as a collaborator. We hoped that wasn’t true. I think we’d have almost preferred he be a spy than be killed because we gave him a ball and a glove. A lot of the villages around were devastated by the battles and our best guess was that he’d ended up displaced (a lot of the house boys disappeared after May) and was now somewhere far away in another part of the Delta.

I never knew what happened to him. I’d like to think his son or grandson still has the glove, but I wouldn’t bet on it what with “re-education” and everything. Maybe they missed it and it’s still safe. Maybe he made it to the States in the 1970s boatlift. If he did, I hope he still enjoys the game.

2015 Veteran’s Ballot: the Pitchers

November 10, 2014

And now the final installment of my take on the 2015 Veteran’s Ballot. Today I look at the pitchers. As with the other two posts, the disclaimer about me seeing all of them play is still in effect.

Jim Kaat

Jim Kaat

Jim Kaat arrived in the Major Leagues in 1959 as a left-handed pitcher with the Washington Senators. He moved with them to Minnesota and became their lefty ace. He made the All Star team twice, won 20 games once with the Twins (a league leading 25 in 1964) and was a member of the 1965 pennant winning team. He went to Chicago (the White Sox) in mid-1973, stayed through 1975 (and made the All Star team that season), then went to Philadelphia where he helped the Phillies to a couple of division titles. In 1979 he moved to the bullpen becoming a relief specialist. He won a World Series with the Cardinals in 1982 becoming in the process the oldest pitcher to appear in a World Series game (I’m not sure if that’s still true). He retired in 1983 at age 44 and as the last active Washington Senators player. He went into broadcasting and has done both the World Series and the College World Series. For his career he was 283-237 (.544%) with 2461 strikeouts (1.259 WHIP) and an ERA of 3.45 (ERA+ of 108). His Baseball Reference.com WAR is 45.3 with a peak of 7.8 in 1975. Part of his problem with receiving Hall of Fame consideration is that his most famous game is the seventh game of the 1965 World Series. He lost it 2-0 to Sandy Koufax. It’s tough to be considered great when your most famous game is one you lost.

Billy Pierce

Billy Pierce

Billy Pierce was an 18-year-old phenom when he arrived in Detroit in 1945. He got into five games, then went back to the minors for 1946 and 1947. He was back in Detroit for 1948 and remained in the big leagues through 1964. He stayed with Detroit through ’48, then was sent to Chicago (the White Sox not the Cubs) in 1949. There he became a seven time All Star, winning 20 games twice. He led the AL in wins, strikeouts, ERA, and losses once each. In 1959 the ChiSox made the World Series for the first time since 1919. He pitched in three games, all in relief, without giving up a run (Detroit had also made the Series in 1945, but Pierce did not pitch). The Sox lost in six games. In 1962 he was traded to the Giants where he promptly won 16 games and helped lead the team to its first ever West Coast World Series (and the team’s first since 1954). He lost one game (3) and then won game six against Whitey Ford to set up the final game, which San Francisco lost. He pitched two more years then retired. For his career he was 211-169 (.555%) with 1999 strikeouts (couldn’t you gotten just one more, Billy?), and an ERA of 3.27 (ERA+ of 119). His WAR is 53.1 with a peak of 7.1 in 1952 (a year he did not make the All Star team). He was considered an innings eater (averaging 225 with Chicago) who could occasionally come out of the bullpen (he has 32 saves, 12 in years where he did his major work out of the bullpen).

Luis Tiant

Luis Tiant

Luis Tiant is the son of a major Cuban pitcher of the 1940s. Tiant, Sr. joined Minnie Minoso as one of the stars of the 1947 New York Cubans Negro World Series champions. So the son was destined to be a pitcher. He hit Cleveland in 1964 and had his breakout year in 1968 when he led the American League in ERA. Then his career tanked for three years. He led the AL in losses and in walks with 129 (the only time he had more than 82 walks). He wandered through Minnesota to Boston, where things turned around in 1972 when he picked up his second ERA title. He won 20 games three times in Boston (once in Cleveland), made the All Star team in 1974 and 1976 (and in 1968), led Boston to its first AL pennant since 1967, and picked up two wins in the 1975 World Series.  He started to slide in 1978 and was finished in 1982 at age 41. For his career he was 229-172 (571%) with 2416 strikeouts, an ERA of 3.30, and an ERA+ of 114. His WAR is 66.1 with a peak of 8.4 in 1968. Today he is probably most famous for his unorthodox delivery which saw him turn his back to home plate as he wound up and for the 1975 performance. Unfortunately, he’s also got that three year gap that is difficult to explain. He apparently got hurt, but taking three years to recover certainly harms his Hall chances. Although this should not effect his Hall chances one way or the other, during the off season Tiant played in the Venezuelan League throwing a no hitter and pitching well enough to make the Venezuelan Baseball Hall of Fame in 2009.

So, my take. By this point I’ve got one vote left (remember the Vet’s Committee people get 5 votes each). Frankly, I’m not certain any of these deserve Hall of Fame induction. If someone put a gun to my head and told me I had to vote for one, I guess I’d take whichever one the guy with the gun insisted upon, but wouldn’t be overly happy about it.

2015 Veteran’s Ballot: the Outfield and the Executive

November 7, 2014

Part two of my comments on the impending Veteran’s Committee vote. This time the Outfield. As there are less outfielders than either infielders or pitchers, I decided to add the lone executive to this post (I can feel the tingle of excitement from each of you). The same caveat as last time applies here.

Bob Howsam

Bob Howsam

Howsam was a general manager and executive for lots of years. He’s most famous for putting together the Cincinnati “Big Red Machine” of the 1970s. Using homegrown talent like Johnny Bench and Pete Rose and melding them with trades for players like Joe Morgan and George Foster he created a baseball Goliath that won National League pennants in 1970 and 1972 and won the World Series in 1975 and 1976. He also worked with Branch Rickey to form the Continental League, which led ultimately to the first Major League expansion since 1914 (Federal League) and was general manager for the 1964 Cardinals World Series champions. He retired in 1977 and died in 2008.

Minnie Minoso

Minnie Minoso

Minnie Minoso played first in the Negro Leagues winning a Negro World Series with the New York Cubans in 1947. As such he’s one of a handful of Hall of Famers (or in his case hopefuls) who won a Negro World Series and played in the MLB World Series (Larry Doby, Monte Irvin, and Satchel Paige all won both and Willie Mays played in both). He made the transition to the Major Leagues (Cleveland) in 1949, then settled in with the White Sox in 1951. He stayed through 1957, making five All Star games three stolen base, three triples, and a doubles title. He also led the American League in total bases in 1954 and in hit by pitch a gazillion times. In 1958 he went back to Cleveland, made two more All Star teams, then was traded back to Chicago where he led the AL in hits in 1960. His last good year was 1961, when he was 35. He hung on through 1964. He played and managed several seasons in the Mexican League, got back to Chicago in 1976 as a coach. As a gimmick he got into three games in 1976 (age 50) and two in 1980 (age 54). He managed one hit, a single. His career totals include a .298 average, an OPS of .848, and an OPS+ of 130. He stole 205 bases (and was caught 130) and ended up with 192 hit by pitch. In 1957 he won a Gold Glove in the first year of its awarding. His career WAR (Baseball Reference.com version) is 50.1, peaking at 8.2 in 1954. He was considered a good teammate, a great fielding outfielder noted for his speed. He first plays more than 10 games in the Majors in 1951, when he was 25. The color barrier cost him some years of MLB playing time and also some commentators think that the gimmick games at 50 and 54 gave him a reputation as more clown than serious ballplayer (I’m not one of those).

Tony Oliva

Tony Oliva

Tony Oliva was, like Minoso, from Cuba. He also got to the big leagues a little late, this time because of politics not the color barrier. He escaped Cuba using his brother’s passport and signed with the Minnesota Twins. At 25 he was Rookie of the Year in the American League (1964) and won a batting title. He won another the next year, helping Minnesota to its first World Series (they lost). He remained an All Star calibre player through 1971, winning a third batting title that season (and the AL slugging title). He developed bad knees and struggled through the rest of his career, which ended in 1976 at age 37. Besides the three batting titles and the slugging title, he led the AL in doubles four times, in hits five, and in total bases once. His career average is .304 with an .830 OPS and an OPS+ of 131. His career WAR is 43, peaking at 7.0 in 1970. He was an excellent right fielder leading the league in putouts and assists several times. His career is short, but impressive prior to the knee injuries.

So where do I stand. I’d vote for both Minoso and Oliva easily. Howsam is another story. Frankly, I don’t find much to dislike about him (except that several sources say he wasn’t a particularly loveable human being), but right now the so-called “Golden Era” of 1947-72 has another major contributor who isn’t in the Hall of Fame, Danny Murtaugh. As long as Murtaugh is excluded from Cooperstown, I can’t bring myself to elect another non-player from his era.

As an aside, notice that fully one-third of the players on this ballot (Minoso, Oliva, and Tiant) have Cuban backgrounds. It’s a tribute to the level of talent and competition in Cuba.