Posts Tagged ‘Roberto Alomar’

The Character Clause

February 7, 2013
Alex Pompez

Alex Pompez. Love the tie

As most of you know, baseball’s Hall of Fame has a character clause. Basically it says the voters have to take into account the man’s (and except for Effa Manley it’s always been a man) character when electing him to Cooperstown. There’s been a varied history of enforcing this clause. Some notable rogues have gotten in despite the clause. As my son pointed out when we talked about this post, most of them have taken at least a couple of elections before being enshrined among the baseball immortals.  But it seems to be more baseball foibles, rather than actual “character” issues that have kept players from the Hall. Whitey Ford and Gaylord Perry, both noted for doctoring a ball or two, took a while to get in. Roberto Alomar was surely hurt by the spitting incident. And of course the steroids controversy which currently dogs the Hall should be noted. But if your problem is away from the diamond, like, say a Ty Cobb, well, you have less problem. Case in point, Alex Pompez.

Alejandro Pompez was born in South Florida in 1890 to Cuban parents. His dad was a member of the Florida State Assembly and ran a cigar factory. When the father died in 1896 he left his estate to the Cuban independence movement, leaving the family penniless. By 1902, the family was back in a now independent Cuba. Pompez returned to the US, played a little ball, the moved on to New York to work as a cigar roller. He did well, finally opening a cigar store in Harlem.

It’s here that the character clause kicks in. The cigar store made money, but not a lot. Pompez began running numbers, eventually rising to control much of the numbers racket in Harlem. A friend of Nat Strong (who is worth a post by himself), he became instrumental in helping funnel Latin players to the Negro Leagues. By 1916, with help from Strong and his numbers racket, Pompez formed the Havana Cuban Stars baseball team, stocking it with Latin American players.

In 1923, The Cubans, now known as the New York Cuban Stars, joined the Eastern Colored League. Although the team never won a ECL pennant, Pompez became a major player in both the league management and in Negro League baseball in general. In 1924 he led ECL negotiations for setting up the first Negro World Series against Rube Forster’s Negro National League. Until the ECL collapsed in 1928, Pompez was one of its most influential members (although never league President).

He kept his team afloat during the early 1930s by barnstorming. In 1935 he joined the newly reformed Negro National League, renaming the team the New York Cubans. For the first time, he added local Black American talent to his Latin players.

But Pompez was having legal troubles. In the late 1920s the mobster Dutch Schultz was moving into the numbers racket. In 1932 he and Pompez met and the Pompez network was absorbed (probably at gunpoint) into the Schultz mob. It cut into Pompez’s money and at the same time drew attention to him from federal prosecutors who wanted Schultz. In 1935 Schultz was killed and Pompez regained control of his numbers route. But by now he was a federal target. Pompez fled to Europe, returned, was indicted on racketeering charges, fled to Mexico. Eventually he was picked up by Mexican authorities and returned to New York. He made an agreement with the prosecution team (led by future New York governor and Presidential candidate Thomas Dewey) and turned states evidence against the rackets. For his trouble, he received probation only and promised to stay clear of the number route in Harlem.

Now free to run the team again, Pompez led the Cubans to their sole pennant in 1947 and saw his team win the Negro World Series that year. But the club, and all of black baseball, was in trouble. Integration was killing the fan base and taking the best players into white leagues. The Cubans hung on through 1950 before folding. But Pompez was not through with baseball. He’d made an earlier arrangement with the New York Giants that gave his team use of the Polo Grounds and the Giants first call on his players. With the team gone, the Giants hired Pompez as both a scout and as a mentor for their black and Latin players. As the team’s Director of International Scouting, he was instrumental in finding Latin talent, especially in the Dominican Republic, for the Giants.

In 1971 he retired from the Giants. He still wasn’t through with baseball. The Hall of Fame chose him to serve on the special committee designed to choose Negro League players for the Hall. He remained in the position until his death in 1974. In 2006, he was chosen for the Hall of Fame as a Negro League executive.

Without trying to condone Pompez’s foray into the world of racketeering and the mob, I would remind you that options for black entrepreneurs was limited in the first half of the 20th Century. Many of them turned to what “the better element” in American society labeled ‘shady’ or worse. Black baseball was no exception to that. Pompez is not the only owner who made his money in ways that might offend some of that “better element.” Of course that can be true of people in a lot of professions.

The Iron Man

January 26, 2011

Joe McGinnity

Baseball has, over the years, produced some strange stats. Few are more strange than those of Joe McGinnity. He plays exactly ten years, averages 25 wins a season as a pitcher, then disappears from Major League rosters forever. I decided to find out what happened.

Joseph McGinty (the name change occurred after he reached adulthood) was born in 1871 in Rock Island, Illinois (home of the rail line made famous by the “Leadbelly” song). He tried minor league ball with little success, but did find a wife. His offseason job in 1893 and 1894 was in the Union Iron Foundry in McAlester, Oklahoma Territory (now state). He hit it off with the owners daughter and they married in 1893 (Is that a fringe benefit?). The work in the foundry earned him his nickname “Iron Man” McGinnity.

His baseball career floundering, he ran a saloon (also serving as the bouncer) and continued to pitch in semi-pro ball. During the sojourn in the semi-pros he discovered a new pitch. The pitch was a curve delivered with a submarine motion. It was difficult to hit and relatively easy on the arm. In 1898 he was back in professional ball, doing well enough to make the National League with the Baltimore Orioles (not the current team). He was an instant hit leading the league in wins and coming in second in ERA. He was also 29.

The owner of the Orioles also owned the Brooklyn team. Syndicate baseball was common in the era and the owner moved McGinnity to the stronger team, the Superbas (they didn’t become the Dodgers until much later). McGinnity again led the National League in wins and this time added innings pitched to his black ink stats. The Superbas won the pennant, but were challenged by second place Pittsburgh to a post season set of games called the “Chronicle-Telegraph Games” (named for a Pittsburgh newspaper which put up a fancy cup). Brooklyn won three games to one with McGinnity pitching two complete games and giving up no earned runs.

In 1901, the American League arrived. McGinnity joined the new AL team in Baltimore, also called the Orioles, but, again, not the same team as exists today. He won 26 games for the fledgling team, despite a 12 day suspension for spitting on an umpire (Joe McGinnity, meet Roberto Alomar). In 1902 he began the year with Baltimore but joined the exodus of players to New York and the NL, when his manager, John McGraw, jumped to the Giants as a result on a dispute with AL president Ban Johnson.

He spent the remaining years of his Major League career with the Giants, picking up 31 wins and pitching 434 innings in ’03. The latter is the NL record for the 20th Century. In August of 1903 he became famous for pitching both ends of a double-header three different times. He won all six games. He was already known as “Iron Man”, but now the nickname became synonymous with the double-header feat. In 1904 he was 35-8, winning 14 consecutive games, leading the league in wins, innings, shutouts, ERA, and saves. In 1905, he was down to 21 wins, but the Giants won the World Series. He took a loss in game two and won game four (of five) giving up no earned runs in either game (the loss came on errors). In 1906 he won 27 games, but was suspended for ten days, this time for fighting on the diamond.

By 1907, he was on the downslide. He pitched much less than before and began spending a lot of time in the coach’s box. By 1908 he was through, although he was famously involved in the “Merkle Game” (He’s supposed to have thrown the ball into the stands to keep the Cubs from making Fred Merkle out at second.). The Giants released him in February 1909. He was 39. He may have been through at the Major League level, but he wasn’t through with baseball. He went back to the minors, which were in his day not tied to the big league clubs in a farm system. He pitched until 1925 racking up 400 more wins, including a 30 win season, five 20 win seasons, and twice more winning both ends of a double-header. In the modern world of farm teams whose only job is to get minor leaguers to the big leagues, McGinnity’s post-1908 minor league career is unthinkable.

After retiring he coached a little with the Brooklyn team and assisted Williams College with its baseball program. He died in 1929 and was buried in McAlester, Oklahoma. He made the Hall of Fame in 1946.

For his Major League career McGinnity went 246-142 (or 25-14 per year) for his ten year career with an ERA of 2.66. In five of the ten years he led the NL in wins. He also led the league in ERA, shutouts, and winning percentage once each and led in innings pitched four times. His ERA+ is 1.21 and his WHIP is 1.188. What you get with McGinnity is an innings eater with a lot of wins. It’s fashionable to downplay “wins” as a major pitching statistic today, and that’s certainly fair in the modern era. After all, a starter goes six innings, turns the game over to any number of seventh inning stoppers, who turn it over to the set up man in the eighth, who finally gives the ball to the closer in the ninth. It’s hard to really consider the six inning starter much of a winning pitcher. Additionally, fielders have massive gloves and the field is manicured. That’s very different from McGinnity’s day. He started 381 games and finished 314 (82%) and had fielders with little gloves and terrible playing surfaces behind him. To me a win in 1905 is pretty meaningful, particularly versus the modern version. So, I’m more impressed with the 25 wins a year than I would be if McGinnity put them up today.

I began my search for McGinnity by wondering why he had such a short career. I think there are two reasons. First, he was 29 when he got to the Majors and 39 was usually the end of the baseball line in the first decade of the 20th Century. Second, with all those innings, I imagine that even a submarine delivery had to put a lot of strain on that arm of his. Although his subsequent minor league stats might belie that assertion.

While researching this post I ran across information that McGinnity’s home in McAlester, Oklahoma is still standing. Here’s a picture of it:

McGinnity home, McAlister, OK

 It’s in poor repair, but the article indicates that they are trying to restore it (as evidenced by the equipment to the left in the picture) to its original splendor. There’s some question as to whether McGinnity bought it or if it belonged to his wife’s family and she inherited it on the death of her parents. Considering the size and evident expense of the home and considering baseball salaries in 1905, I lean toward the latter theory. Either way, McGinnity actually lived in it. There is no information I could find about what memorabilia, if any, they have.

Random Comments on the Latest Hall of Fame Voting

January 6, 2011

So it’s over and the most important vote of the year is done (Who cares about those idiot votes in DC?). Congratulations to Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven. Here’s some thoughts on the election:

1. On a personal level I did pretty well. Several posts back I weighed in on the 10 people I’d vote for. Nine of them made the top ten. I missed Lee Smith and added Don Mattingly. I was sorry to leave off Smith, but I’m not backing down on Mattingly as someone whose career is short, but powerful and, thus, deserves to be in Cooperstown. I also think that Trevor Hoffman’s 600 saves and Mariano Rivera’s pending move into the same sphere are going to hurt Smith’s chances. I am most surprised (and gratified) by the amount of support Larry Walker received. It wasn’t all that great, but honestly I didn’t expect it to be that good.

2. I think the election of Blyleven is more important than the election of Alomar. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t say that Alomar didn’t belong. What I mean is that it has been forever since the writers elected a starting pitcher with less than 300 wins (Fergie Jenkins). If you’re not going to let in a guy with 280 plus wins, how are you going to justify letting in someone with only 220 or so wins? That means it would be difficult to let in Curt Schilling, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, David Wells, Mike Mussina, Jaime Moyer, and Kenny Rogers when the time comes. I’m not saying they all (or any) should be enshrined, but that the failure to elect someone with 280 wins and 3700 strikeouts can doom any of them. With Blyleven now in, the “Well, Blyleven isn’t in, why should Martinez be in?” argument goes out the door. And the “You can’t vote for anyone without 300 wins,” theory is also gone. I think it will now be easier for some of the people listed above to make it through the front door without a ticket. And yes I know Jim Kaat and Tommy John both have Blyleven-like win totals, but both have already dropped off the ballot.

3. Apparently the spitting incident really hurt Alomar. I can think of no other reason for him going from just over 70% all the way to 90% in one shot.

4. The steroid guys got clobbered. Mark McGwire, Juan Gonzalez, Raffy Palmeiro did terribly. I think that bodes poorly for Bonds, Sosa, Clemens and company. I also think it hurt Bagwell and that’s a shame.

5. Two of my favorites, Tino Martinez and John Olerud fell of the list entirely, as did Harold Baines. Too bad. I think both Martinez and Olerud should have stayed around for a least another couple of chances. I never expected either to make the Hall.  As for Baines, I’m a little surprised it took this long for him to fall off.

6. ESPN published a list of the guys eligible for the first time in 2012, 2013, and 2014. It’s an interesting list. The 2012 group isn’t particularly strong with guys like Brian Jordan, Bernie Williams, Brad Radke, and Ruben Sierra being among the highlights. That bodes well for holdovers like Larkin, Bagwell, and company to get a good shot in 2012. Of the new group in 2012, I’ll be most interested to see how Bernie Williams does. He has four rings, won a batting title, played a good center field, and hit clean up for the Yankees. Having said that, I never saw him as an elite player, so it will be very interesting to see how he does.

7. The 2013 group includes Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Curt Schilling, Mike Piazza, Craig Biggio, David Wells, Kenny Lofton, Julio Franco, Jeff Conine, and Mike Stanton. Interesting here will be to see how Bonds, Clemens, and Sosa do, particularly in light of how Palmeiro, McGwire, and Gonzalez have done. I’ll find it almost funny if Craig Biggio gets in before Barry Bonds. And I wonder if Bagwell will be held so that he and Biggio can go in together.  Then there’s Julio Franco. I will be very interested to see how he does. Remember he went to Japan for a few years, then returned and played until he was 108. The failure to get 3000 hits can be attributed to the interlude in Japan. I wonder what the writers will do with that. My guess is he doesn’t do all that well. The guy I most want to see how he does is Mike Stanton. He may be the finest set-up man ever. I want to see how much respect a set-up man will command from the voters. My guess is that he won’t get much support, but I’ll still be interested to see how it goes.

8. Finally, the 2014 group has Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas, Jim Edmonds, Mark Grudzielanek, Jeff Kent, Luis Gonzalez, Mike Mussina, Kenny Rogers, and Hideo Nomo among others. Although I presume Maddux, Glavine, and Thomas are in, I’m going to be interested in how Edmonds, Gonzalez, Kent, and Mussina do. But I’m going to be most interested in Nomo. I don’t think his numbers are Hall quality, but his significance to the game is absolutely critical in getting Japanese, Korean, and Taiwanese players involved at the Major League level. In that way he compares with players like Jackie Robinson and Roberto Clemente as pioneers and I want to see how that translates. Additionally, we may get to see and hear a debate about how much a  Japanese League career will add to or detract from players who enter the Major Leagues after years in a significant foreign league.

So there ya go. Again, congratulations to Alomar and Blyleven. I hope they give great speeches at Cooperstown. Your own thoughts on the matter?

The January 2011 Hall Vote

December 6, 2010

I promised before I left that I’d comment on the writer’s vote for the Hall of Fame. That’s the vote that will be announced in January (not the one that’s coming this week). I commented that because they let you vote for ten, I’d vote for ten. Here they are in alphabetical order, holdovers first:

Roberto Alomar: Probably the finest second baseman of his era. Missed out by a handful of votes last time.

Bert Blyleven: I think this is the most important person who can be voted in. The writer’s haven’t elected a starting pitcher with less than 300 wins since Fergie Jenkins (the Vets Committee put in Jim Bunning). With all the excellent pitchers coming available with less than 300 wins (Pedro Martinez, Mike Mussina, Curt Schilling, etc) someone has to break through or we’re going to see a lot of worthy candidates dismissed. Hopefully Blyleven will be the player that opens the door.

Barry Larkin: If Alomar is the finest second baseman of his era, Larkin is the finest shortstop. He has an MVP and a World Series ring. Both should eventually help his cause. I’m not sure either should.

Edgar Martinez: One of the best hitters I ever saw. I don’t want to hear “Well, he was mainly a DH and not much of a fielder.” Putting Paul Molitor into the Hall of Fame should end the DH issue and besides there are a lot of Hall members who were lousy fielders.

Don Mattingly: The argument against him is that his career is short. So was Ralph Kiner’s (and Dizzy Dean’s and Sandy Koufax’s). For a handful of years he was one of the best players in the game and possibly the best. He was a good enough first baseman and a wonderful hitter.

Jack Morris: He was the winningest pitcher of the 1980s (which alone isn’t enough to get him into the Hall). His ERA is big for a Hall of Famer, but the latest statistics show us how much ERA can be overrated. He has multiple rings and his game 7 of the 1991 World Series was masterful. A dominant pitcher who may be helped by the explosion of new stats.

Tim Raines: One of the great base stealers ever. He has a batting title to go with all those stolen bases. I think his nomad phase toward the end of his career hurts him a lot.

Alan Trammell: Great, great shortstop. If Ozzie Smith was the premier shortstop of  his era in the NL, Trammell was, with the possible exception of Cal Ripken, the premier shortstop of the AL. Trammell hit better  than Smith and was a heck of a shortstop (if not quite so acrobatic as Smith). I think Trammell gets hurt because of the comparison to Ripken, rather than to Smith. He also has a ring. I’d be interested to know how much his disastrous stint as Tigers manager hurts his chances.

Jeff Bagwell: An MVP, a heck of a hitter, a team leader. He got hurt and missed out on 500 home runs but is still a Hall of Famer. To me, the only sure-fire Hall of Famer on the new list.

Larry Walker: I could say a lot about him, but I’ll simply suggest you go to Bill Miller’s site at The On Deck Circle (link to the right) for a fine overview of Walker’s career and qualifications. Sorry, Bill, but you didn’t convince me to vote for him. I’d already decided that.

So there’s my ten. Feel free to disagree.

There’s one player on the list I’m sorry to leave off, Tino Martinez. I think he may be shorted on the ballot, but hope he stays on so he gets more chances. I’m not sure he really belongs in the Hall, but I’d like to see him get a chance. I think a closer look at his stats is in order (and I want to do a later post on him and this so-called “Core Four” nonsense).

Throw the Bums Out

January 6, 2010

So Andre Dawson is now a Hall of Famer. Good. I wonder what took so long. My guess is that his numbers suddenly look better with the steroid era numbers being tainted. I see that Bert Blyleven missed by five votes, Roberto Alomar by a handful more, and that Barry Larkin barely managed 50%. Well, there’s no accounting for taste.

What’s really awful is that 5 blank ballots were sent in this time. Five blank ballots. Forget whether the 5 would have voted for Belyleven and put him in. Concentrate on “blank ballot”. That means 5 supposedly intelligent, knowing writers didn’t think anyone on this years list was worthy of Hall of Fame induction. Amazing. Stupid, but amazing. Somebody ought to revoke their voting privileges. Yuck!!!!!!!!!

Actually a fairly good idea would be to simply throw out any blank ballots and reduce the number necessary to achieve 75% by that total. So if there were 1000 votes and 5 blank ballots, then the number necessary to elect is 75% of 995. In this case an inductee would need 746 votes, not 750.  Whether it would have put Blyleven in or not I don’t know and don’t care. What I want is to stop this blank ballot nonsense.

The January Vote

November 30, 2009

In January the Hall of Fame will announce it’s newest members as voted on by the baseball writers. There are 26 names on the ballot. Writers are allowed to vote for up to 10, but may leave the ballot blank.

This is one of the more interesting ballots in a long while. There is no clear-cut sure-fire gotta-go-in player on the ballot, but there are a lot of really nice players that show up on this one. On the theory that I would get 10 votes if I was a baseball writer, here’s the 10 men I’d support, in alphabetical order:

Roberto Alomar-arguably the finest 2nd baseman of his era.

Bert Blyleven-why the heck hasn’t he gotten in already?

Andre Dawson-the revelations of the steroid era make his numbers look even better than they did when he retired.

Barry Larkin-heck of a shortstop, good hitter, pretty fair team leader, and an MVP.

Edgar Martinez-the epitome of a DH. They even named the award after him. Great, great hitter.

Don Mattingly-the personification of grit and determination on the ballfield. Short career, but great numbers in the career.

Fred McGriff-OK, he didn’t make it to 500 homers, but there’s no taint of steroids on him. Led league in home runs twice, key component on the Braves winning teams of the 1990s. He gets dispensation from those horrid baseball drills commercials he made. As a spokesman, Fred made a great 1st baseman.

Dale Murphy-2 time MVP, great hitter, good center fielder, just short of 400 home runs.

Tim Raines-has a batting title and was a great baserunner. His nomad phase will probably hurt his chances.

Alan Trammell-OK, ignore the managing and look at the player. He was  great shortstop and a fine hitter, losing the MVP vote to George Bell once.

There are a couple of others I’d like to see there (Morris, Ventura, Lee Smith), but I only get 10 votes.