Archive for January, 2019

Nine Thoughts on the Class of 2019

January 23, 2019

Roy Halladay

The voters have spoken in both the Veteran’s Committee (whatever they call it today) and among the writers. There are six new member of the Hall of Fame. In keeping with my traditional use of nine, here’s a few thoughts on the class of 2019.

1. Congratulations to Harold Baines, Edgar Martinez, Roy Halladay, Mike Mussina, Mariano Rivera, and Lee Smith on their election to Cooperstown.

2. I’m gratified to see someone finally get all the votes in the BBWAA election. I’m certain Mariano Rivera shouldn’t have been the first (see, Ruth, Babe; Aaron, Henry), but I’m happy someone finally made it.

3. Mike Mussina came as close as you can to failing enshrinement. That’s a shame, he was a terrific pitcher who, like Sandy Koufax, quit when he seemed to still have plenty in the tank. I’d have liked to see more of him, but he made the decision he felt best for himself. So far, he doesn’t have the same glow as Koufax (as a pitcher who went out on top).

4. Harold Baines still is an awful choice, but I hope he, his family, and his fans enjoy the induction ceremony.

5. Both Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds failed inclusion again. They each got around 60% of the vote (actually 59.5 and 59.1). Clemens turned out to receive two more votes than Bonds. I’m not sure how you justify voting for one and not the other and I do not expect the 2 guys who did to explain it.

6. Which leads to the question, are they ever getting in? There are too many variables for me to make a valid prediction, but my guess (and that’s all it is) is that both will either make it in their 10th and final try so that the writers can say they punished them as long as the could, or that the writers will kick the can down the road and let the Veteran’s Committee make the call. That call will, of course, depend on who the preliminary committee puts on the ballot. That action should tell us what the keepers of the keys to the cathedral think of Clemens and Bonds.

7. Curt Shilling came closest to getting in of all the people not chosen. He’s moving steadily up and has three years remaining on the ballot. I think that bodes well for his election. Listen, I don’t think much of his politics, and I’d hate for him to espouse them at a Cooperstown ceremony, but enshrinement should be based on his career, not his politics.

8. Larry Walker has one year left on the ballot and made a major jump this time. Maybe he makes it in 2020.

9. Fred McGriff missed out for the 10th and final time. Look for him to appear on the next ballot for which he is eligible. With the support he got this time, there’s a good chance he gets in (see Smith, Lee).

 

The Chicago Cubs, Story of a Curse: A Review

January 21, 2019

It’s been a while since I did a book review, so it’s time to change that. This time I want to look at a new work by Rich Cohen titled The Chicago Cubs, Story of a Curse. The title pretty much tells you the plot. Cohen is a writer, but not specifically a sports writer, so his book gives a different look at the Cubs. It’s much more a memoir than a history.

After a reasonably long and decent look at the 1906-1910 Cubs, the last team to win a World Series prior to 2016, Cohen skips, after brief stops to look at Hack Wilson and to mention the 1945 Cubs (the “Billy Goat Curse” is supposed to begin here), to the Ernie Banks Cubs. Most of the book details the “curse” that mandated the 1969 Cubs, the 1984 team, and the Sammy Sosa clubs would lose. Cohen puts a lot of the blame on ownership, the park itself (Wrigley makes it difficult to create a park friendly team that dominates at home) and the idea that “loveable losers” is a terrible way to spark a team to victory.

Then he moves to the creation of the 2016 team and goes through the World Series in reasonable detail. The book is worth the read if you’re a Cubs fan or if you’re interested in the 2016 season. I found it at Barnes and Noble for $18.00.

The Big Bankroll

January 10, 2019

Arnold Rothstein in 1927

Continuing with something of a look at the 1919 World Series and its aftermath, it dawned on me that I’d done something on two of the more famous gamblers to come out of the scandal: Sport Sullivan and Abe Atell. But I’d never done anything on the man who did much of the financing for the incident, Arnold Rothstein.

Rothstein was born in Manhattan in 1882 and had very little success in school. His Wikipedia page indicates he was good at math, but uninterested in the other subjects. He was good at gambling and as early as his school days was involved in dice games, seemingly winning more times than he lost.

By 1910 he’d opened a gambling casino in New York, ran a race track in Maryland, and was becoming wealthy. He began collecting “associates” with ties to various sports (Abe Atell, whose expertise was in boxing, is the most well-known today) that gave him “inside dope” on those sporting events that drew heavy betting. With inside information he became even more wealthy and by the mid-19 teens was considered the most powerful gambler in New York, the betting capital of the US (Las Vegas became a city only in 1905).

Hollywood’s version of Rothstein (Michael Lerner-right) with Michael Mantell (left) as Abe Atell. From a movie trading card

The sources disagree and there’s a certain amount of murkiness surrounding Rothstein’s involvement in financing fixing the 1919 World Series. There seems to be general agreement that Joseph “Sport” Sullivan proposed the idea of fixing the Series to Rothstein. However, he became involved, Rothstein sent Abe Atell and his enforcer “Monk” Eastman to contact the players and gave out a certain amount of cash (the exact amount is in dispute) to fix the Series. One different theory comes from Rothstein biographer David Petrusza who indicates that Atell set up the fix without telling Rothstein; but when Rothstein found out he profited from the inside information.

Rothstein escaped prison in the resulting trial and his gambling continued. By 1928 he was involved with the most successful “mobs” in New York. Their more notable members included such later household names as “Lucky” Luciano, “Dutch” Schultz, and “Legs” Diamond.  To them Rothstein was “The Big Bankroll.” His job was in financing the gangs, rather than participating in their activities, at least mostly.

But time ran out for Rothstein in 1928. Involved in a poker game that he claimed was fixed (the irony is wonderful), Rothstein refused to pay his losses and was shot on 4 November. He died on the sixth. With him died many of the secrets surrounding the origins of both the bribe money and the idea of throwing the 1919 World Series. He is buried in Queens.

Rothstein’s grave (from Find a Grave)

Greasy

January 8, 2019

“Greasy” Neale with the Reds

Very few players actually earn a World Series ring. Very few people earn a National Football League championship, coach a Rose Bowl team, gain a place in the College Football Hall of Fame and earn a spot in the Professional Football Hall of Fame. In keeping with the 100th Anniversary of the 1919 Black Sox Scandal, it’s time you met, as far as I can tell, the only person who did all that, Greasy Neale. And before anybody says something, Jim Thorpe did play in the World Series in 1917, but his team lost (and he never made the Rose Bowl).

Albert Neale was born in November 1891 in Parkersburg, West Virginia. As a kid, he worked as a “grease boy” in a rolling mill (he had to grease the machinery) and the nickname “Greasy” was a natural. The local high school had a football team. What it didn’t have, was a coach. Neale, the oldest player on the team, was named coach. He picked up a scholarship in football to West Virginia Wesleyan College in 1912. He played football, baseball, and basketball.

While still in college, he was signed by the Canadian League team in London, Ontario (Class C at the time), By 1915 he was at Wheeling in Class B ball and was noticed by the Cincinnati Reds. In 1916 he went to the Major Leagues.

But he retained his love of football and spent the 1915 baseball off-season coaching the Muskingum College team. For the remainder of his baseball career, he would continue to waffle between the two sports.

He became the Reds regular left fielder in 1916, remaining there through 1918. In 1919 he moved to right field and participated in the 1919 World Series against the Chicago White Sox (the “Black Sox of scandal infamy). He hit .357 with 10 hits, a double, one triple, four RBIs, and a stolen base.

After the 1920 season he was traded to Philadelphia (the Phillies, not the Athletics), spent 22 games there, and went back to Cincinnati where he stayed through 1922. After spending 1923 out of baseball, he returned to the Reds for three games in 1924, then retired from the sport. For his career his triple slash line reads .259/.319/.332/.651 with 688 hits, 319 runs, 57 doubles, eight home runs, 200 RBIs, 883 total bases, 5.9 WAR, and a World Series ring.

But he wasn’t through with sports. He spent his offseason coaching football at Marietta College, Washington and Jefferson College, and the University of Virginia (where he also coached the baseball team). His Washington and Jefferson team played California in the 1922 Rose Bowl, which ended in a scoreless tie.

Neale went back to the big leagues as a coach for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1929, and left before the season ended. He moved back to football and coached both West Virginia and Yale in the 1930s. In 1941 the NFL came calling. He took over the Philadelphia Eagles in 1941 and for the next ten seasons, the Eagles were one of the top NFL teams. They won the NFL Eastern Conference title in 1947 but lost the championship game to the Chicago (now Arizona) Cardinals (the Cards only NFL championship), but won consecutive titles in 1948 and 1949. In 1950 the team slumped and Neale was fired.

In 1967 Greasy Neale was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame and in 1969 the Professional Football Hall of Fame followed suit. He died in 1973 with quite a unique resume.

“Greasy” Neale as Eagles coach

1919: 100 Years On

January 4, 2019

Judge Landis’ plaque at Cooperstown

It’s now 2019. That makes it 100 years from the nadir of Major League Baseball. It’s not something to celebrate, but it is something to note.

In 1919, the Black Sox Scandal occurred. A number of gamblers bribed members of the American League champion Chicago White Sox to throw the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds. The players were promised $10,000 each and most of them never got that much, but they did manage to lose the Series. In 1920 it came out into public view and the sport was rocked to its core.

As far as I know, MLB isn’t going to even acknowledge the event, let alone commemorate it. That’s a shame. They say we learn from our mistakes, and some of us do, at least occasionally. This is a time to look back at the event and let MLB talk about what it learned from the Black Sox.

It learned quite a lot, actually. It learned that there needed to be someone in charge who could make decisions without the consent of the owners (or the players either). That got MLB the Commissioner system and Kenesaw Mountain Landis. It’s difficult to like Landis, but he did move immediately to clean up the gambling aspects of the sport. Those measures still hold today, as Pete Rose finally discovered. Baseball learned that innovation wasn’t necessarily bad and allowed the explosion of home runs as epitomized by Babe Ruth to continue, changing the nature of how the game was played. Those are both valuable lessons.

But MLB didn’t learn to deal with one of the more significant issues that led to the Scandal, the pay of players. It would take into the 1970s, a union, and an arbitrator to begin addressing the problem. If you can double your salary by losing five games (the 1919 World Series was a best of nine), why wouldn’t you at least consider it? With million dollar salaries today, that’s virtually impossible.

In all this I make no comment on the guilt or innocence of any particular player. That’s not my point. I don’t want to see baseball take an inordinate amount of time detailing the guilt or innocence of Joe Jackson. Rather, I want it to look at the Scandal in an open manner and address it as an historical event that changed the game.

And by the way, I’m not holding my breath waiting for anything to happen. I’ve also commented on this recently, but I wanted to insure that it remained fresh in the new year.