Posts Tagged ‘Gary Carter’

Thoughts on the Class of 2015

January 7, 2015

Yesterday the Hall of Fame chose Craig Biggio, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, and John Smoltz for enshrinement. It’s being touted as the largest class chosen by the writers since 1955 and one of the largest ever. Here are some thoughts on the election.

1. Nothing in the world wrong with the four candidates elected. All have solid cases for enshrinement and I’m glad to see each get in.

2. Mike Piazza was the candidate who came closest to election without getting a plaque. I’m not quite sure what to do with Piazza. I personally think he’s Hall worthy, but I understand that many of the writers are worried about PED issues. Apparently less are worried each year and less are worried than are worried about either Clemens or Bonds. Writers seem not to know what to do about catchers. Of all catchers currently in the Hall only Johnny Bench is a first vote member. That means that Yogi Berra, Yogi Berra for God’s sake, isn’t a first ballot Hall of Famer. Neither is Roy Campanella, nor is Carlton Fisk, nor Gary Carter. And I suppose I can probably push that out all the way to Joe Mauer (who I think will make it). I’m not certain why this is true. My guess is that catchers put up smaller numbers than players at other positions and no one’s quite sure how you quantify catching stats, so there’s a certain reluctance to add them to the Hall of Fame. That’s also a guess on my part.

3. Staying with Piazza a moment, it looks like he will become the test case for PEDs. If he gets in, and so far his trajectory is toward election, then we’re going to have to face the issue head on. Because if he says, after he’s in (not after he’s elected, but after the ceremony makes it official) that “Yeah, I used the stuff,” then they can’t throw him out and they can’t say “No PED users in the Hall” because they’ve already got one. That will force the door open for the others. In all that I don’t mean to imply that I know or believe that Piazza was a PED user, merely that there is doubt in some minds.

4. I don’t understand the Bonds/Clemens votes. If you think PED use is not a disqualifier for the Hall of Fame, surely you believe they have the numbers for election. If you think PED use is a  disqualifier surely you don’t vote for either. I’m not quite sure why they ended up with different vote totals (206 for Clemens and 202 for Bonds). Did four voters actually think Clemens should get in and Bonds not? I guess so. And I further guess that the BBWAA is very unpredictable. BTW, I note that my “strategic voting” idea from last year (“How the heck did someone not vote for Maddux?”) is now being gloried in by some of the voters. I take full credit. 🙂

5. On a personal level in my post on my ballot I voted for 10. Seven of them ended up being the top seven vote getters. The other three all received enough votes to remain on the ballot.

6. That’s not quite true. It was the 15th and last chance for Don Mattingly. He didn’t get in and now must wait for the Vet’s Committee. Alan Trammell (who I chose) faces the same situation next year with Lee Smith and Mark McGwire (who I didn’t select) one year later. Smith has benefit of the 15 year rule, while McGwire does not.

7. Of the first timers on the ballot, Gary Sheffield and Nomar Garciaparra were the only one’s who got enough votes to stay alive for next year (and Garciaparra did it by only 0.5% of the vote). It doesn’t bode well for either in subsequent years, but I’m glad each stayed alive so we can take another year to review their cases for election. Right now I’m inclined to pass on Sheffield and I frankly don’t know what to do with Garciaparra.

8. Now on to 2016 and the arrival of Ken Griffey on the ballot. Also available next year will be Trevor Hoffman, Jim Edmonds, Mike Lowell, and David Eckstein. I don’t expect much support for either Lowell or Eckstein, but will be most interested to see how Edmonds does.

9. Finally, again congratulations to this year’s new Hall of Famers. Enjoy the moment, guys.

The 49 Greatest Mets

January 29, 2014

ESPN has come up with another “greatest” list. This time it’s the Mets and it only goes 49 deep (not the usual 50). I suppose that’s because the Mets are only just over 50 years old. But when you consider the bottom of the list, you’d think they could put on someone like Ron Swoboda just to get it to 50.  You can find the list by going to ESPN and finding their New York page. Here’s some quick thoughts on it:

1. The top 10 are (in order) Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry, Mike Piazza, David Wright, Jerry Koosman, Keith Hernandez, Jose Reyes, Cary Carter, and Carlos Beltran.

2. To make a team (four pitchers, one of which is left-handed) you get: Hernandez at 1st, Edgardo Alfonso at 2nd (he’s 11th on the list and the first player to spend significant time at second base–although he played at third as well), Reyes at short, and Wright at third. The outfield is Strawberry, Beltran, and Mookie Wilson (who is 15th on the list). Your starters are Seaver, Gooden, Koosman, and Al Leiter (who is 12th on the list). John Franco is the reliever (coming in at 14th), and the highest listed hitter whose position is already filled is Gary Carter, which makes him your DH.

3. I saw no major players left off, but I was surprised that Ron Darling (17 was higher than David Cone (18), but maybe that works for Cone’s Mets career.

4. Tug McGraw (19) finished higher than either Jesse Orosco (22) or Roger McDowell (41), which I liked.

5. I thought Tommy Agee was low at 25 and Ed Kranepool high at 26, although Kranepool had a lot of Mets records for a while. All were longevity numbers.

6. Jerry Grote, John Stearns, and Todd Hundley all made the list. I’d forgotten that Mets catching was reasonably deep.

7. And everybody’s favorite 1962 Mets player, Marv Throneberry was 49th. Ain’t that Amazin”?

Go take a look for yourself. If you disagree, take it up with ESPN.

A Great Age for Hitting Catchers

July 3, 2013
Joe Mauer's Wikipedia picture

Joe Mauer’s Wikipedia picture

Ever look over a list of  Hall of Famers? One of the things a lot of people mention after doing so is “Geez, there’s not a lot of third basemen in the Hall.” That’s true. But it’s also true of catchers. Excluding 19th Century players, there are a dozen each third basemen and catchers in the Hall. It’s a hard position, catcher, to play.

But we are living in a great age for catchers that can hit. There have been a few of those, but not many. In the 1930s you found Mickey Cochrane, Bill Dickey, and Gabby Hartnett playing at the same time. In the 1950s there was Yogi Berra and there was Roy Campanella. Gary Carter and Carlton Fisk overlap in the 1980s. And in the last 15 or so years, we’ve had the pleasure of seeing a new group of them that may (or may not) be as good, but are certainly a deeper pool of fine hitting catchers. Going back to the turn of the century, Mike Piazza and Ivan Rodriguez were still productive players. In the 21st Century we’ve added three more.

Did you know that prior to 2006 catchers won only three batting titles: Ernie Lombardi twice and Bubbles Hargrave? Since 2006 catchers have won four. Joe Mauer has three and Buster Posey one. And this year Yadier Molina (who has in the last few seasons resolved any doubt as to which Molina brother was the best) is leading the National League. He probably won’t stay there, but to have a catcher leading the NL on 1 July is amazing.

So let’s all set back on our Fourth of July break and enjoy a ballgame. And while we’re at it, take a second to revel in the quality of good hitting catchers that are available to us. It’s very rare.

Blue Monday

October 10, 2012

The “Blue Monday” Home Run

Back when my son was still pre-kindergarten we began a tradition. We had these magnets for all the teams in MLB and when the postseason started, we’d place the magnets for all the teams in the playoffs on the fridge then move the winner one spot over to show who was leading. When a team won its series we’d remove the loser and replace the winner at the edge of the fridge. We’d keep doing this until there were 2 teams left, then we’d do the same thing until a World Series winner was crowned. Then we’d retire the magnets until next season. My son is long gone from home now, but in his honor I still keep up the tradition. I haven’t updated the magnets, so when Washington won its division I was at a loss for a  magnet. So I used the Expos magnet to represent Washington (after all they had once been in Montreal). It marks the first time I’ve used the Expos magnet, because the only time Montreal made the playoffs was before my son was born and before this tradition began.

The 1981 season is probably mostly remembered for the strike that wiped out a good deal of the middle of the season. But it’s also the only time Montreal played postseason games. When the strike ended, MLB leadership decided to play a “split season”. The idea was that the teams that were in first when the strike occurred (the Phillies and Dodgers in the National League) would be declared first half winners and the teams that did best after the strike would be declared second half winners. The Astros and Expos won the second  half in the NL (while St. Louis had the best overall record in the NL East and Cincinnati the best record in the NL West, both missed the playoffs). Then the two division winners would face each other with the two champions fighting it out for the pennant.

It was the only Expos team to win a division title. Here’s a quick look at the starters. Warren Cromartie, Rodney Scott, Chris Speier, and Larry Parrish held down the infield first around to third. The outfield had Tim Raines, Hall of Famer Andre Dawson (before he got lost in the Wrigley Field ivy), and Tim Wallach from left to right. Hall of Fame catcher Gary Carter backstopped, and Steve Rogers, Bill Gullickson, Scott Sanderson, and Ray Burris all started 20 or more games. The closer was Jeff Reardon (although Woddy Fryman had more saves). Terry Francona (yes, that Terry Francona) was a rookie and the fourth outfielder. Dawson finished second in home runs (and led the league in being hit by a pitch with 7) and Raines won the stolen base crown.

They took on Philadelphia in a best of five first round. After winning two in Montreal, they dropped the next two in Philly. In game five (also in Philly), Rogers outdueled Steve Carlton and Montreal won its first ever playoff series. Gary Carter was the hitting star with two home runs and a .431 average. On the other side of the bracket, Los Angeles beat Houston and the NLCS (a best of five that year) was set.

The first two games were at Dodger Stadium. LA won game one, but Montreal came back to earn a split. With the final three games in Montreal, the series became a best of three. Montreal won game three and LA took game four, making it one game for the pennant. It turned out to be a classic.

The Dodgers sent young phenom Fernando Valenzuela (remember him?) to the mound against Ray Burris. The Expos picked up a run in the first on a Raines double, a Scott sacrifie bunt, then a Dawson ground out plated Raines. The score held until the top of the fifth when Rick Monday led off with a single, went to third on another single, and, like Raines, came home on a ground out. That tied the game and ended the scoring through eight innings. Valenzuela was terrific. He gave up three hits, one walk, one earned run, and had six strikeouts through eight. Burris was equally good, giving up five hits, one walk, one earned run, and striking out one through eight. But in the bottom of the eighth, the Expos pinch hit for Burris. That brought ace Rogers in to pitch the ninth. He got the first two men out, which brought up Monday, the man who’d scored the only Dodgers run. On a 3-1 count, Monday launched a home run into the right field stands, putting LA ahead with three outs to go (It’s still known as the “Blue Monday” homer in Montreal.). Valenzuela got two of them, then walked consecutive batters. In came Bob Welch. He induced a second to first ground out to end the game, send the Dodgers to the World Series (which they won), and ending Montreal’s run.

They never got back to the playoffs. In 1994 they were in first place when the strike wiped out the rest of the season, including the World Series. So they finished first that year, but there was no postseason. In 2005, they moved to Washington and made the playoffs this season for the second time in franchise history. So whatever happens over the next three games, the Expos franchise has finally won for a second time.

Rating Catchers

February 21, 2012

The "Tools of Ignorance"

With the sad and untimely death of Gary Carter, there’s been a lot of chatter about his place in the pantheon of Major League catchers, so i’m taking a short semi-break (you’ll see why “semi” in a few paragraphs) from my look at black baseball to make a few comments. I’m certainly not going to argue with those that place Carter in the top ten of catchers, because I agree with them. But I noticed a problem (actually problems) developing when I started to put together my own list of the ten greatest catchers.

The first problem of course is fairly self-evident. It’s the question of equipment. Take a look at the rudimentary equipment worn by guys like Buck Ewing way back. Basically, it’s an oversized work glove with some extra padding and a lot of prayer. Take a look at the equipment today. Which would you rather have if you were going to try to catch a Roy Halliday fastball? And that makes a world of difference in evaluating catchers. John Sayles when he did the movie “Eight Men Out” took great pains to be authentic. Take a look at the equipment Ray Schalk wears. Now Schalk was considered a tremendous catcher (without reference to his hitting) in the era. So was Johnny Kling a dozen years earlier. Give them a chance to use modern equipment and they might name their first-born after you. Give someone like Gary Carter a chance to use the old equipment and my guess is that after calling you things you didn’t know you could be called, he’d figure out how to make the best use of what he has available and still be a good catcher.

I remember listening to an interview with Roy Campanella way back in the 1950s. He didn’t particularly like the big “pillow” mitt in use then. He complained that it kept his right hand in constant danger of injury (and it was ultimately a hand injury that curtailed his stats in the year or so before his accident). I’m not sure Johnny Bench was really the greatest fielding catcher ever, but the innovation of the hinged mitt to replace the “pillow” certainly gave him advantages that other catchers had never had before. Now the right hand could be tucked behind the body when the bases were empty (and I’m astounded at the number of catchers who still don’t do that). Now it was possible to squeeze a pop foul rather than two-hand it. It helped Bench, along with his natural ability, to revolutionize the game.

And, of course, none of this has anything to do with hitting a baseball. Guys who are good catchers and hit well tend to go to the Hall of Fame. I might argue that the two best catchers I ever saw were Jim Sundberg and Bob Boone. Neither hit much, but were tremendous catchers. I don’t know many people who think either should be considered in the top 10 of a catching list. So we come again to a problem we see a lot. I mentioned it in a much earlier post on shortstops. It’s the question of how much reliance is to be put on fielding in establishing a player’s greatness. If the guy plays left field (Hello, Ted Williams and Manny Ramirez) no one cares if he’s a good, or even overly acceptable, fielder, when establishing his credentials for greatness. With catcher you can’t do that. It puts a burden on catchers (and shortstops also) that a lot of outfielders don’t have to carry. It’s not exactly fair, but it’s the nature of how the game is played. If I could hit, you could get away with me in left field. If I could hit, you could never use me behind the plate.

Finally, there’s the obvious question of segregation (see what I mean about “semi”?). Most lists of Negro League catchers put Josh Gibson, Louis Santop, Biz Mackey, and Campanella at the top of the charts at the position. We have some idea of the quality of Campanella (although he spent a lot of time in the Negro Leagues). The others never got to play in the white Major Leagues (Santop was dead by 1947). As usual for Negro League players, you’re stuck with anecdotes, not full statistical evidence, in trying to determine the quality of a player. So we make judgement calls (“Do I see a ’10’ from the Bulgarian judge?”) and hope we get it right. Considering that I’m certain that Campanella is a top 10 all-time catcher, I am confident in adding Gibson to a list of the best catcher, but I have no idea how you rate either Santop or Mackey. Maybe they’re in, maybe they’re out.

So having  just put all those caveats out there for you to read, here’s my list of the 10 best catchers ever in alphabetical order: Johnny Bench, Yogi Berra, Roy Campanella, Gary Carter, Mickey Cochrane, Bill Dickey, Carlton Fisk, Josh Gibson, Mike Piazza, Ivan Rodriguez. With suitable apologies to Gabby Hartnett and to Joe Mauer, both of which might slip into the list. I think it’s the best list I can put together at this time. Notice that it’s full of modern guys (seven are post 1945). I think that the equipment has a lot to do with that.

A Look Back Twenty-Five Years

September 1, 2011

First Baseman Keith Hernandez

Last year I did a post about this time of the season commemorating the 1985 Kansas City Royals. It was the 25th anniversary of their single World’s Championship. Seems like a good idea to do again, so this time let’s look at the 1986 Mets, who won their second (and so far final ) World Series 25 years ago.

The ’86 Mets were a heck of a team They were built to win not just a championship, but multiple championships. They hit well, the ran well, the pitched well, they even fielded pretty well. What’s not to like? Gary Carter was an All-Star catcher and future Hall of Famer. The infield consisted of Keith Hernandez, generally considered the finest fielding first baseman of the era, a pretty fair hitter (with or without Clyde Frazier and hair tinting), the league leader in walks (the only category a Mets hitter led the NL in), and a former MVP (1979). At second New York had Wally Backman. He hit .300 for the season, had no power, stole a handful of bases, and was something of a sparkplug. Rafael Santana played short, had a good glove, and batted low in the order for a reason. Ray Knight, only a couple of years removed from Houston was the third baseman. At the time he was best known as a good fielding third baseman and the husband of golfer Nancy Lopez. The outfield had 24 year-old Darryl Strawberry  in right field. He led the team in home runs and was second in RBIs (to Carter). Len Dykstra in center was even younger at 23. If there was a man considered the spark, it was  Dykstra. He played center well, led the team in stolen bases (and tobacco spitting), and had more walks than strikeouts. Veteran Mookie Wilson was in left. He’d been there a while, had decent speed, and tended to pull the ball to right field a lot, as Bill Buckner was about to find out.

The pitching was good and was pretty typical for the era in that there were a lot of good pitchers and no real standout “ace.”  Lefty Bob Ojeda led in wins (18), former Cy Young winner Dwight Gooden was only 21 and tied with flame-thrower Sid Fernandez for the team lead in strikeouts (200). A number of  people thought Ron Darling had the best stuff and Rick Aguilera, not yet the Minnesota Twins great reliever was the fifth starter. Jesse Orosco had 21 saves from the left side and Roger McDowell had 22 from the right. It was one of the last teams to use both a right and left-handed reliever tandem. The manager was Davey Johnson, the old Orioles and Braves second baseman and the bench featured Kevin Mitchell and Howard Johnson (who didn’t run a  hotel).

The team won their division by 21.5 games over Philadelphia then played a great LCS against Houston, climaxing with the game six I detailed in the last post. In the World Series they took on Boston and won in seven games. After dropping the first two games, they won four of the next five, including the extra innings game six that featured Wilson’s roller through Buckner’s legs.

It was a team built for a long haul. They were expected to win multiple championships and dominate the NL for five or six years. They didn’t. They managed one more division title (in 1988) and that was all. No one seems to have told the St. Louis Cardinals (in 1985 and 1987) or the Los Angeles Dodgers (in 1988) that the Mets were invincible. Part of the problem was the team itself.  Carter got old, so did Hernandez and Wilson. Ojeda had a few good years but was never an ace and Backman was no Joe Morgan. Darling never panned out. Both Gooden and Strawberry ended up with drug problems and never became the transcendent players some thought they would become. Then there were the trades. Aguilera became a star reliever, but for Minnesota. Bench player Mitchell won an MVP but did it at San Francisco.  And Orosco did win another championship, he just did it two years later with the Dodgers when they beat his former Mets teammates.

This was a team that reminds me a lot of the 1984 Detroit team. Good hitting, good pitching, a powerful bullpen, and one championship. I always thought they’d do better, but was wrong. Still, it’s nice to celebrate them for their one magnificent run.

Game Six: Wickets

August 8, 2011

One interesting thing about baseball is that you can track stats over time. For instance, you can make a list of the men who held the single season home run title from 1876 all the way through 2010. Another stat that’s easy to follow is errors. If you track them, you’ll notice that, as a rule, there has been a distinct improvement in fielding through the years. That doesn’t mean there aren’t still errors. Some are infamous. Fred Snodgrass in 1912 made an error that modern baseball fans know about. In 1941 Mickey Owen let a ball get passed him to open up a Yankees rally that won a World Series game. But if I  had to pick one error to put at the top of the infamy list, it occurred in 1986.

1986

Ray Knight scores, game six, 1986

The Red Sox and Mets squared off in game six of the 1986 World Series at Shea Stadium on 25 October. The Red Sox needed one win to grab their first championship since 1918. For the Mets, they needed two wins to secure their second championship ever. Both teams sent aces to the mound: Roger Clemens for Boston and Bob Ojeda for New York. Clemens started off well, Ojeda was shaky, giving up single runs in both the first and second innings. After that he settled down and pitched shutout ball through the sixth inning. Clemens did fine through four, then gave up the tying runs in the fifth on a walk, a single, an error (making one of the runs unearned), and a double play. Boston retook the lead on an unearned run in the seventh, but New York tied it back up on a Gary Carter sacrifice fly in the eighth inning. No one scored in the ninth, so the game went to extra innings.

Boston seemingly won the Series in the top of the tenth with a home run, a double, and  a single to give them a 5-3 lead. But of course the home team gets one last at bat, so down two runs, the Mets came to the plate in the bottom of the tenth. Pitcher Calvin Schraldi (an ex-Mets player) got two quick outs, then gave up three consecutive singles, giving the Mets one run back. Out went Schraldi, in came Bob Stanley, who promptly threw a wild pitch tying the game and sending the potential winning run to second. That brought up left fielder Mookie Wilson, who hit a slow roller to first baseman, and one-time batting champ, Bill Buckner, who let it go between the wickets for an error. Ray Knight, the runner on second (and husband to golfer Nancy Lopez), scored the winning run, which set up a game seven. The Mets won it 8-5 to secure the World Series championship.

Fans called Buckner all sorts of things. That went on for years, and I still know people who blame him for the loss. I never did. First, it was game six. So what if Boston loses it? Go out and win game seven. They actually led in game seven 3-0 going into the bottom of the sixth, when Bruce Hurst and the bullpen blew it again. BTW, Buckner went 2 for 4 in game seven, scoring one run in the eighth inning. You want to blame somebody? I got a lot of suggestions. First, blame the Mets. They played good ball, got timely hitting, and took advantage of the opportunities offered. Second, blame the Boston pitching. Bruce Hurst won 2 games and Clemens pitched well despite getting no decisions. The rest of the staff was weak (and I’m being kind to some of them). Oil Can Boyd and Al Nipper had 7.00 ERA’s.  Bob Stanley threw a critical wild pitch and closer Schraldi was 0-2 (one save) with a 13.00 ERA. Also blame the manager, John McNamara. All season he had replaced the largely immobile Buckner with Dave Stapleton late in games with Boston leading. He had done so in all three of the Red Sox wins prior to game six. For some reason (and I’ve never heard a definitive answer from McNamara) he left Buckner in the game on the 25th. Some people say he wanted to give Buckner the thrill of being on the field when the Sox won the Series, but I’ve never heard McNamara actually say that.

For the Red Sox it took until 2004 to win a World Series. The Mets have never won another. They had a couple of chances but came up short against the Cardinals in the regular season, the Dodgers in the playoffs, and against the Yankees in the one World Series they managed to get back into. Ya know, maybe there’s a curse of Bill Buckner.