Posts Tagged ‘Orel Hershiser’

Thoughts on the 2018 Modern Game Ballot

November 14, 2018

Albert Belle and bat

A couple of days ago I posted the names from the Modern Game Veteran’s Committee ballot. I promised to make some comments later. Knowing how much you were dying to read them, I decided to carry out that promise.

The first two thoughts are both sides of the same issue. It wouldn’t hurt me if any one of the listed players (Harold Baines, Albert Belle, Will Clark, Joe Carter, Orel Hershiser, Lee Smith) made the Hall of Fame. It also wouldn’t make me jump for joy. It’s not a bad list. It also isn’t an inspiring one.

I look at Baines and Carter as solid players, excellent contributors to their teams and to the game, but I can say that about hundreds of players. Belle was a superior power hitter, arguably the most feared slugger in the game. Clark was a good and sometimes great players who helped his team. So did both pitchers. And so did a lot of other players.

For the managers (Davey Johnson, Charlie Manuel, Lou Piniella) my problem lies in the fact that their are other managers equally qualified for the Hall of Fame (Danny Murtaugh and Jim Leyland come to mind). All three have rings and both Johnson and Piniella also have rings as players (two in Piniella’s case). But as I read the rules the committee is allowed to consider only their managerial record.

Which brings me to George Steinbrenner, the only executive on the list. He was probably the most controversial man in baseball for much of his career as owner of the New York Yankees. Some of the controversy was overblown, much justified, much of his own making. He was abrasive, overbearing, and dedicated to winning. Apparently so was Sam Breadon of the Cardinals.

And much of my problem is that when I see this list, I see a hundred other players, fifty other managers, a dozen other executives and ask “why this list?” It seems to me if you have to ask why you probably don’t have a lot of genuine Hall of Famers on the list.

The Hall gives committee members five votes. This time I’ll use only one. I’ll hold my nose and vote for Steinbrenner. I think his contributions to the revival and continued excellence of the Yanks is both notable and worthy.

And as a guess, and it’s strictly a guess, I think the committee adds two new Hall of Famers: Steinbrenner and Smith.

The 2018 Modern Game Ballot is out

November 12, 2018

The latest iteration of the Veteran’s Committee has a ballot out. This time it’s the Modern Game Ballot which is supposed to look at very recent people. I’ll comment later, but here’s a look at the ballot without player/manager/executive commentary:

Players: Harold Baines, Albert Belle, Will Clark, Joe Carter, Orel Hershiser, Lee Smith

Managers: Davey Johnson, Charlie Manuel, Lou Piniella

Executive: George Steinbrenner

As a note, I presume from this that Marvin Miller is eligible for the ballot of the era just before this one. I am also informed (by the place where I found the list) that Johnson and Piniella are to be judged strictly on their managerial record, not their playing record.

Picking the Winners for the Latest Vet’s Committee

October 7, 2016

Well, we have the newest version of the Veteran’s Committee getting ready to make its call for the Hall of Fame (5 November). The ballot is posted below and I always make my choices for enshrinement. This year is no different, but the way I’m going at it is.

Let me start with the players (Baines, Belle, Clark, Hershiser, McGwire). It’s not like there’s a bad player there, but there’s not much to be excited about either. McGwire has the steroid issue, Hershiser is known for one season (and more like two months), Clark was great for a few years and got hurt, Belle was a monster (ask Fernando Vina about it) but also got hurt, and Baines may be the ultimate in compiling numbers over a long, long time. It’s not like any of them is exactly a bad choice, it’s just that none of them are an inspired choice. I wouldn’t be overly upset if any of them got in, and in Albert Belle’s case I’d certainly tell him I’m all for him if he asked (I very much value my continued good health), but then again if none of them got in, I wouldn’t be overly upset either. So I guess all that means I wouldn’t, as a member of the committee, vote for any of them.

The managers are quite a different story. I loved Lou Piniella. He had fire, he had savvy, he could win with weaker teams. Davey Johnson seemed to win when he had good teams and lose with weaker teams. Like Piniella he won it all once (in 1986, before the current committee’s beginning date of 1988) and went to the playoffs a lot. But I’m setting both aside because I think the people who set up the ballot made a huge blunder here. Where the heck is Jim Leyland? Like Piniella and Johnson he made the playoffs a bunch and won it all once (1997). He’s a three time manager of the year winner, as is Piniella (twice for Johnson). Of course I’ll admit his winning percentage is lower than either of the others, but he spent time making the Pirates a winner and had to put up with Loria at Miami and still won a World Series. I’m not about to vote for the other two without being able to at least consider Leyland.

For the executives I know I would vote for John Schuerholz. He built winning teams in both Atlanta and Kansas City. Granted the KC team already had Brett and Willie Wilson and many of the others, but Schuerholz added the players necessary to get to the 1985 championship. The other two, Bud Selig and George Steinbrenner have decent cases (and I expect Selig to make it in November), but I have a personal preference for one executive at a time, so Schuerholz gets my nod.

When I first thought about this list I got a call from my son. We spent time talking about a lot of things, including the Vet’s Committee vote. He had a suggestion, which I pass along to you. Currently there are 4 Veteran’s Committees. He suggested pushing it to five. Now hear me out before you scream too loud, “They already have four and you idiots want to jump to five?” His idea was that the four current committees confine themselves to players and that a new fifth committee meet periodically (the frequency can be determined) to vote strictly on non-players (managers, owners, executives, contributors, Negro Leagues, etc.). This would allow the current committees to concentrate more on players while the new committee did all the others. Frankly, I think it’s a decent idea. They’ll never do it because then the current committees would never elect a player. In all the time they had the three previous committees they elected two total players: Deacon White and Ron Santo. They did elect a handful of non-players and taking those away would require the committees to focus on players. Maybe they wouldn’t elect anyone and maybe they shouldn’t. Anyway I thought it an idea worth passing along.

New Veteran’s Ballot Announced

October 4, 2016

After revamping the Veteran’s Committee (s) for the 1000th time (give or take), the Hall of Fame just announced its newest ballot. This one is for the Vet’s Committee now known as “Today’s Game.” It covers the last handful of years (since 1988) and includes the following names:

Players: Harold Baines, Albert Belle, Will Clark, Orel Hershiser, Mark McGwire;

Managers: Lou Piniella, Davey Johnson (who might also be considered a player);

Executives: John Schuerholz, Bud Selig, George Steinbrenner.

The election will be 5 December 2016 by a 16 member committee. For election an individual must get 75% of the vote (12 voters).

Out of the Blue: A Review

September 29, 2016
Out of the Blue cover

Out of the Blue cover

Back almost 30 years ago, the Dodgers won the World Series, beating Oakland in five games. The most famous play was Kirk Gibson’s home run in game one, but Gibson didn’t win the Series MVP. Orel Hershiser did. It was Hershiser’s year. He set a record with the most scoreless innings pitched in a row, led the Dodgers to the pennant, won the National League playoff MVP, then won the Series MVP, and finished the year off with the NL Cy Young Award. Of course, out of all that came a book: Out of the Blue by Hershiser with Jerry B. Jenkins.

My guess is you’ve read some of this kind of thing. It’s basically a baseball biography of the player, in this case Hershiser, until he gets to the big season and leads his team to victory in the World Series. There are a bunch of these and they’re all pretty much the same. If, by this point, you don’t really care about how the Dodgers won the Series in 1988 or how Hershiser rose from relative obscurity to one of the great one year wonders ever, then you probably think you could care less about this book. You’re wrong.

As I just typed, most of the book is fairly typical of this genre of literature, but there is a single section that makes it different and still interesting for non-1988 freaks. The most interesting part of the book is first 53 pages (specifically section 2 of five), which are a chronicle of how Hershiser prepared to pitch a game. It begins with his getting out of bed, goes through his breakfast routine, his morning, how he got to the park, what he did there to prepare for the game, and ends with him taking the mound. He talks about pitching mechanics, how to prepare for a particular team, his daily regimen, how he deals with his family on game day (and the days he isn’t pitching). It is, all in all, a fascinating look at how a pitcher goes about preparing to do his job. Hershiser reminds us a pitcher doesn’t just show up, grab a ball, warm up, and pitch. If you really think about it, you instinctively know that, but how often do you think about it? Hershiser does a good job letting us in on how it’s done at the big league level.

The book came out in 1989 and is by Wolgemuth & Hyatt Publishers. I got mine as a gift from my wife, so I have no idea what it cost at the time (there’s no price on the jacket). I still read it every so often when I want to remind myself just how much commitment it takes to be a Big League ball player. For that it’s worth the read. For the other stuff, it’s dated and of interest only if the 1988 season is of particular interest to you. You can probably find it used online or at a library.

Lost in the Shuffle

April 10, 2014
Don Drysdale

Don Drysdale

Back when I was in the army I spent a year at a small base in Virginia. I had a roommate who was perfect for me. He was also a diehard Dodgers fan. We were allowed to put up posters on our wall. I didn’t have any but he had three. The one closest to the door extoled the virtues of Marx, Engels, and Lenin. The one closest to the windows had a picture of a First National Bank somewhere with a guy in a robe heading in the front door. The caption read “Jesus Saves.” In the middle was a big poster of Don Drysdale in motion. The picture above is the nearest to it I could find.

Drysdale’s dropped off the face of the earth in the last few years. He made the Hall of Fame, which was controversial, but once you’re in a lot of the commentary (“He should be in” “He shouldn’t be in”) goes away. He showed up again when Orel Hershiser passed him in consecutive scoreless innings pitched. Then there was one last flurry of comment when he died, but that’s about it. It’s kind of a shame.

Drysdale hit well. Most people don’t know that about him. He hit a buck-86, but had 29 home runs (peaking at seven in both ’58 and ’65), 26 doubles (six in ’60), and 113 RBIs (19 in ’65). His OPS is .523 (and Baseball Reference.com has his offensive WAR as 5.9). His seven homers in ’65 was seventh on the team. OK, it isn’t Ty Cobb, but not bad for a man who hit in the nine-hole.

He had a couple of problems when he pitched. He was only the ace of the staff a few years, taking over for Don Newcombe about 1958 or so and surrendering the position to Sandy Koufax by 1963. In between he won a Cy Young Award in 1962 (back when they only gave out one). He only got to 20 wins twice (’62 and ’65), only led the National League in shutouts once and in strikeouts three times. Not bad, right? But his chief problem was that he pitched on the same staff at the same time as Koufax and got pushed to second place quickly. He just wasn’t Koufax, but then few pitchers were. Worse for Drysdale, when you looked away from the Dodgers there were Bob Gibson and Juan Marichal; and in 1966 there was even Gaylord Perry. So it was tough to consider Drysdale second best pitcher in the NL. As a rule, most years after 1962 the best you could do was slot him into the fourth slot in an all-NL rotation. That hurt his memory a lot.

Having said all that, he still managed 209 wins, a 2.95 ERA, an ERA+ of 121, and a1.148 WHIP. Not bad, but not in the same ballpark with Koufax, Gibson, or Marichal.

It’s a shame that he’s been lost in the shuffle. But he does have one advantage over all the rest of them. Back in 1967 I was on my way to Viet Nam and had a chance to overnight in Los Angeles. The Dodgers were in town I got to see the only game I’ve ever seen at Dodger Stadium. Drysdale was on the mound and won the game. I, at least, will always remember him.

 

25 Years On

October 16, 2013
Dodgers first baseman Franklin Stubbs

Dodgers first baseman Franklin Stubbs

Normally I do a post about this time each year dealing with what happened 25 years ago. I’ve held off this year because the post would involve the Dodgers and they happen to be still playing (although for how much longer is a question). But it’s time to remind you what happened a quarter century back.

It was supposed to be a matchup between the “Bash Brothers” of Oakland and the Mets. Everyone agreed that the World Series would be between the two best teams in baseball and those were the Athletics and the Mets. The A’s were dominant in the American League. Led by MVP Jose Conseco who became the first player with both 40 home runs and 40 stolen bases, “Bash Brother” Mark McGwire only one year removed from his Rookie of the Year performance, a fine pitching staff, and Hall of Fame reliever Dennis Eckersley Oakland rolled over Boston to keep up its end of the bargain.

In the National League the Mets, two years removed from their World Series win, rolled to the NL East title and had only to dispatch the Dodgers, a team they held an 11-1 record against, to meet the A’s in what was a hugely anticipated World Series. On the way to that Series showdown, the Dodgers pulled off one of the greatest upsets since David took out Goliath in the first round.

It was a fairly nondescript Dodgers team. Most were players no one had heard of prior to 1988. The infield was, first around to third, Franklin Stubbs, Steve Sax, Alfredo Griffin, and Jeff Hamilton. Sax was a former Rookie of the Year (1982), Griffin was a Toronto cast-off who’d failed to cross the Mendoza line with his bat, and Stubbs and Hamilton were, at least to most fans, unknown. The outfield had Mike Marshall (not to be confused with the 1970s relief man) who had some power, John Shelby (another cast-off, this time from Baltimore), and Kirk Gibson. Gibson was new to the team, a free agent from Detroit. He’d become the heart and soul of the team and was destined to pick up the NL MVP award at the end of the season. Mike Scioscia was the catcher. The staff consisted of Orel Hershiser, having his career year and destined to win the NL Cy Young Award, and a pair of Tims, Leary and Belcher. Fernando Valenzuela was hurt, Don Sutton had just retired. John Tudor was over from St. Louis, but had pitched only nine games for LA> Although Jay Howell had emerged as the primary closer, Alejandro Pena (not yet a closer for the Braves), and Jesse Orosco (a Mets cast-off) had, together, as many saves as Howell. Other than Hershiser, it was a less-than-stellar staff.

But then they beat the Mets. It took seven games, but they did it. Scioscia and Gibson had big hits, Hershiser picked up a win, and of all things, a save (only his second relief appearance of the year) and the Dodgers won the playoff. Along the way, Gibson’s injuries mounted and it was considered unlikely that he’d play in the Series.

Of course you know the result. Conseco smashed a grand slam in game one putting Oakland ahead 4-0 and confirming people’s belief that the Series would be short and one-sided. Then Gibson’s sub, Mickey Hatcher hit the first of his two home runs (he’d had one all season) and the Dodgers clawed back to 4-3 before Gibson pinch hit one of the two most famous home runs in Dodgers history (Bobby Thomson hit the other) and win game one. Hershiser was magic in game two throwing a three-hit shutout . The A;s managed a win in game three on McGwire’s walk off home run.

The key game was game four. Using what Bob Costas described as the weakest lineup in World Series history, the Dodgers pulled off a surprise. With backups Hatcher, Mike Davis, and Rick Dempsey (Scioscia got hurt during the game) playing and Danny Heep as the designated hitter, they beat Cy Young candidate Dave Stewart 4-3. Then Hershiser came back to win game five, the Series, and the Series MVP the next evening.

For the Dodgers it was a great one year run. they dropped to fourth in 1989 and didn’t get back to playoff baseball until 1995. They have not been to the World Series since. Oakland, on the other hand, won two more AL titles, and the 1989 World Series. They won one more division title in 1992, then slid back.

It was a fascinating Series, dominated today by Gibson’s magical home run. But each game was individually interesting with three games being decided by one run. It’s kind of a shame that has become known for one play.

Colby Jack

September 5, 2010

Jack Coombs in 1910

Back in 1988, Orel Hershiser set the record for consecutive scoreless innings pitched. Most people noted that he just surpassed Don Drysdale. A handful of experts pointed out that Drysdale had taken the record away from Walter Johnson. Almost no one knew that Johnson had replaced Jack Coombs as the record holder. One hundred years ago today, Colby Jack Coombs began a run that eventually led to 53 consecutive scoreless innings.

Coombs was born in Iowa and graduated from Colby College in Maine, hence his “Colby Jack” nickname. Connie Mack brought him to the majors immediately after graduation. He went 10-10 in 1906, participating in the longest game played to that point. In 1907 and 1908 he had equally undistinguished records, then went 12-11 in 1909. The breakthrough came in 1910. For the season he went 31-9 with an ERA of 1.30, striking out 224 men. He led the American League in wins, games, and shutouts. His ERA was second in the AL. In the World Series his Philadelphia Athletics defeated the Chicago Cubs four games to one. Coombs was the winning pitcher in three of the games, including the last one.

The 1911 season was almost as spectacular. Coombs was 28-12, but with an ERA of 3.53, He led he league in wins, games, and in hits given up. The A’s went back to the World Series where Coombs won a game and took a no decision. In 1912 he was 21-10.

Tragedy struck in 1913. Coombs caught typhoid, almost died, and saw his baseball career derailed. In 1913 and 1914 combined he pitched a total of 13 innings, absorbing one loss. In 1915, Mack sent him to Brooklyn in the National League. Coombs was 32 and coming off two lost seasons. He bounced back to go 15-10 for the Robins (Dodgers comes later), then went 13-8 for the pennant winning team of 1916. The Robins lost the World Series in five games. Coombs, of course, won the only Brooklyn victory, a 4-3 win over Boston. 

It was essentially the end. He had a losing record in 1917 and 1918, went to the Phillies as manager in 1919. The Phils were awful and Coombs wasn’t much of a manager. So 62 games into the season he was fired. His record was 18-44. He went back to the AL in 1920, getting into two games for the woeful Tigers, then retired.

Coombs overall record was 158-110 with an ERA of 2.78. He had 35 shutouts, walked 841 men, and struck out 1052 in 354 games pitched (268 starts). From 1910 through 1912 he went 80-31, had 15 shutouts, and struck out 529 men, while walking 328. In World Series play (1910, 1911, 1916) he was at his best. He went 5-0 with 34 strikeouts in 53.1 innings, giving up 41 hits.

It took a while, but by 1929 Coombs found another good job in baseball. He took over as head coach at Duke University, where he remained through 1952. Unlike A’s teammate Jack Barry his Duke teams never won a College World Series, but he was successful, particularly in sending players to the majors. In 1945 he wrote a manual “Baseball: Individual Play and Team Strategy”. I’ve read it and it’s pretty good. Combs died in Texas in 1957. The field at Duke is named in his honor.

Jack Coombs had claim to be one of the three or four finest pitchers in all of the Major Leagues for a short period (1910-12), then he got sick. It took two full years to recover and he never made it back to his previous form. He did well for a short while with Brooklyn, but his last several years were mere shadow to his great years. There’ve been a lot of pitchers who have similar patterns of a few good years than something goes drastically wrong. Sometimes its an injury, sometimes arm trouble, sometimes illness, sometimes just a screw loose somewhere in the head. Coombs is, for a short period, a truly great pitcher and a good example of this pattern.

By way of trivia, in the great 1950s western “High Noon” there are four villains. The one played by Lee Van Cleef is named Jack Colby. I wonder if the author of the screenplay was an old A’s fan.