Posts Tagged ‘Vida Blue’

2011 AL MVP

October 5, 2011

If you haven’t already done so, take a second and head over to the On Deck Circle blog (listed at right). Bill Miller has a fine, well reasoned article looking at the 2011 candidates for the MVP in the American League. He concludes it should be Miguel Cabrera.

Now here’s the thing. I agree with him on who should win. But I have this feeling that Cabrera won’t win. I look for him to come in third or lower. I think, in this post-steroids (I hope) era, Cabrera’s off field problems will weigh against him.  I also don’t think the writers will simply overlook Curtis Granderson of the Yankees. He plays for the most famous and important team in the AL and this season he was their best player. I think that will get him votes and I look for him to come in second. But I believe the winner will be Justin Verlander of Detroit. The last time a pitcher won the AL MVP was Dennis Eckersley in 1992. The last starter to win it was way back in 1986 when Roger Clemens won, and before that go back to 1971 when Vida Blue won. And the National League is even worse with Bob Gibson being the last winner in 1968. There have been worthy candidates in other years (Steve Carlton in 1972 comes to mind–he finished fifth), but the general comment has been “but they’ve got a Cy Young Award for pitchers”, as if a pitcher cannot be “most valuable” to his team. I think this year Verlander’s season has been so outstanding the writers will take the opportunity to rectify this.

With any kind of luck I’ll be wrong, but I won’t hold my breath.

The Best Team Nobody Knows

July 8, 2011

Charlie O. The mascot-not the owner

Saw that Dick Williams just died. He first came to my attention as a backup for the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1950s. Frankly, I didn’t pay much attention to him. By 1967 he was managing the Boston Red Sox to the “Impossible Dream” pennant and a date with Bob Gibson in the World Series. He also managed Oakland in the 1970s and took San Diego to the World Series in 1984. It was a unique Series in that no manager had ever won a World Series in both leagues. Both Williams and Tigers’ manager Sparky Anderson had won two Series’ in the opposite league, so whichever team won, the manager would be the first to win in both leagues. Anderson got the honor (only Tony LaRussa has done it since). In Williams’ honor, I want to dwell on the Oakland teams he managed in the 1970s. They are, for my money, the best team that nobody knows.

Between 1971 and 1975, the Oakland  Athletics won the American League West Division every year. For the middle three years they ended up with the pennant and a trip to the World Series. In 1972, ’73, and ’74 they were world champions. Do you realize how unusual that is? John McGraw’s Giants never did that (they got two in a row), Connie Mack’s Athletics never did that (they got three of four), Miller Huggins’ Murderer’s Row Yankees didn’t (they got two),  the Cardinals never did it (they won three of five in the 1940s). Neither did “The Big Red Machine.” Can you name all the teams that did? They are Joe McCarthy’s 1936-39 Yankees, Casey Stengel’s 1949-53 Yankees, Joe Torre’s 1998-2000 Yankees, and this Oakland team.  And I’ll bet if you weren’t reading this you might have stumbled over the A’s, because over the years they have gotten lost in the shuffle.

So who were they? Glad you asked. The owner was Charlie  O. Finley. When he owned the A’s, I was fairly sure Finley was half crazy. He did unusual things like try colored baseballs (that didn’t work) and came up with gold and green uniforms (which did work, except that it spawned some really ugly stuff down the road). He had a mule as a mascot (and the Phillie Phanatic it wasn’t). He invented a designated runner (which sorta worked). He was loud, he was a publicity hound, and he knew how to put together a team that won. Why he’s not in the Hall of Fame with his spiritual mentor Bill Veeck, I don’t know.

Williams managed the team through 1973, then left in a dispute with Finley. He was replaced by Alvin Dark who won the final of the three Series championships and one more division title. They were very different. Williams was loud (no wonder he didn’t get along with Finley), Dark more laid back. Williams fought his players, Dark didn’t. Both knew how to get the best out of what they had. They had a knack of using an over-the-hill player to get one more decent season out of him (see Billy Williams, Deron Johnson, and Jesus Alou after the advent of the designated hitter) and get good play out of career minor leaguers like Gonzalo Marquez.

The catcher changed over the years. Dave Duncan was there in 1971. In 1972 Gene Tenace took over and became the World Series MVP.  In 1973 and 1974 Ray Fosse (he of Pete Rose All-Star fame) was the catcher. He was still there in 1975, but Tenace was back to do the primary catching that season. Duncan was a good catcher who handled pitchers well. It got him a pitching coach job with LaRussa and he’s gone on to glory. Fosse was also a good catcher, but the encounter with Rose cost him a lot of his hitting prowess (I’ve never been quite sure why that’s true). More on Tenace in the next paragraph. All in all it was a decent, if unspectacular, catching staff.

The infield was amazingly consistent for the entire period. Mike Epstein started off at first, lasting through 1972. He hit a lot of home runs, had a lousy average, and was only a so-so first baseman. Tenace replaced him in 1974. He was sort of Epstein redux. He hit for a lot of power, not much of an average, and wasn’t going to make anyone forget he was an ex-catcher. He was, however, more of a team leader. Dick Green was the regular second baseman and he was great. Green was one of the premier second basemen of the era, and quite frankly one of the better second basemen ever. That has nothing to do with how well he hit, because he didn’t . He hit eighth for a reason. For a while Williams experimented with starting Green, then pinch-hitting for him when he came to bat, inserting Ted Kubiak at second, then pinch-hitting for him when his turn came to bat. Didn’t last long. It took up a lot of bench players and Green’s glove was sorely missed late in the game. Bert Campaneris played short and led off a lot. He was an OK shortstop, but his specialty was his bat. He hit around .300 a lot of the time, had no power, but had great speed. He was a fine table-setter for the power lower in the lineup.  He led the AL in stolen bases several times, but during the pennant run only led in 1972 (with 52). Sal Bando played third, was a team captain, and one of the most overlooked third basemen ever. He was an unquestioned team leader, played third well, and might have become the face of the team if not for the fellow in right field.

First and foremost, this was Reggie Jackson’s team. He played right field, hit the ball a mile, was outrageous (and could back it up), had his own candy bar, and led the team in power and quotes. Between 1972 and 1982 the American League team won the World Series five times. Jackson was on every team. He went to the playoffs every year except 1976 and 1979. I don’t know that he’s the best player of the 1970s (there’s always Mike Schmidt and George Brett to consider) but he was the most successful. Joe Rudi played opposite him in left. Rudi was everything Jackson wasn’t. He was quiet, never “hot dogged”. He was almost as good a player, however. He was excellent in the field, hit well, had good, but not great, power, and never stood out like “Mr October.” Center Field had Billy North out there in both 1973 and 1974. He was fast, could catch well enough, and made a good two hitter. He led off  some and ended up winning a stolen base title in 1974 (and later in 1976). Angel Mangual was the regular center fielder in 1972. By ’73 he was backing up North.

The staff consisted of Hall of Famer Jim Hunter, rookie sensation Vida Blue, lefty Ken Holtzman, and “Blue Moon” Odom. In many ways this was the strength of the team. All were good pitchers (Odom was far and away the weakest of the lot) whose records reflected their abilities and weren’t just reflections of the team hitters. Hunter led the AL in wins once (74), in winning percentage twice, and ERA once. Blue led in both ERA and shutouts once. With Nolan Ryan in the league, none of them ever led the league in strikeouts.

Then there was Rollie Fingers. He’s probably as famous today for his moustache as for his pitching. He was the bullpen man (they didn’t call them “closers” yet). He never led the AL in  saves in the era, but was instrumental in Oakland’s victories. He was an old-fashioned reliever, meaning he entered the game in whatever late inning was critical and shut the door, then finished up the game. In the World Series winning years he pitched in 65, 62, and 76 games logging 111, 127, and 119 innings (or about 2 innings per appearance). They don’t do it that way any more.

There they are, three-time World Series winners. Most of them are long gone into obscurity. They never had the panache of the Yankees and playing in the West coast time zone certainly didn’t help, but they were a great team that deserves to be remembered. Take the occasion of the death of their first manager to do just that, OK?

The Next Hall of Fame Vote

November 15, 2010

The Hall of Fame

Well, the new Hall of fame ballot for the Veteran’s committee is out. Here’s the list: Vida Blue, Dave Concepcion, Steve Garvey, Ron Guidry, Tommy John, Al Oliver, Ted Simmons, and Rusty Staub as players. Billy Martin is the only manager listed. Pat Gillick, Marvin Miller, and George Steinbrenner are the executives on the ballot.

This is the “Expansion Era” list. It includes players from 1973 through 1989 and owners, managers, execs, etc from 1972 through the present. There are some other qualifications that make guys like Joe Torre ineligible for now, but those are the key dates for people being considered this time. They’ve created three Veteran’s Committees now: this one and two others. The others are the “Segregation Era” which runs from 1871 through 1946 and the “Golden Era” which is 1946 through 1972. Remember you heard that here first. And it’s interesting that the National Association isn’t a major league, but by making the first period begin in 1871, it seems the players in the Association can be considered. I find that a bit of a strange coupling. 

Apparently the three committees meet in rotation one a year. So any one on this current list will be available for consideration again in 2013. The committee consists of eight current Hall of Famers, four executives, and four writers. Unlike the writer’s ballot, which restricts a member from voting for more than 10 players, the committee can vote for any number of people they deem worthy of the Hall.

It’s an interesting list this time, with no player that is a certainty. I will point out that Johnny Bench, Bill Giles, Tony Perez, and Frank Robinson are all on the committee. This makes four members with close Cincinnati ties, which could be good for Concepcion. I don’t have any idea who they’ll pick.

But of course I can’t leave it at that. What fun would that be? I’ve got to tell you who I would vote for if I were a member of the committee. 

I’d vote for George Steinbrenner. I never liked his act, but his importance to the game is significant enough that I think he deserves a nod. I do wish that Colonel Ruppert would get a try, but that is apparently the job of the “Segregation Era” committee. You gotta admit that Steinbrenner, love him or hate him, put his stamp on the game.

The second person I’d vote for is Marvin Miller. Again I guy I don’t particularly like but whose influence on the game is great. Maybe the Player’s Union makes a strike more likely. Maybe free agency makes the movement of players more likely so that you never get a chance to fall in love with a favorite player on your team (but then a lot of really good players have been traded). Maybe it led to “rent a player”, but it led also to player emancipation and salaries that made the Black Sox scandal almost impossible. For all those good and bad things, we owe Marvin Miller. Few non-players ever had a greater effect on the game.

The only player I’m sure I’d vote for is Ted Simmons. I think he is terribly underrated. He wasn’t Johnny Bench behind the plate, and being a contemporary of Bench certainly hurt him, but he was a heck of a hitter and wasn’t a bad catcher. His SABR numbers are a lot better than his traditional numbers, which may hurt him with the committee, but he’d get my vote. There are others like Concepcion, Garvey, Blue, and John that I could be talked into if someone had a persuading argument, but can’t see voting for them just on my own reading of the information. I suppose, in fact, that I might be talked into voting for most of the list, that’s how close together they are.

There’s one other name I’d like to see  considered for the list, Dr. Frank Jobe. He invented “Tommy John surgery.” Considering how many players careers he has changed an argument could be made for giving him a slot in Cooperstown. Consider that, to use simply one 2010 example, Liriano led the Twins to a division title this season. Without Jobe’s pioneering work, Liriano doesn’t pitch and the Twins probably don’t win. There’s a lot of players like that, including Tommy John, of course. I don’t know that Jobe should be in Cooperstown, but I’d like to see his merits debated by both the committee and the public in general.

And finally, when the “Segregation Era” and the “Golden Era” vote comes up in the next two years, I’d like to see a couple of ladies from the 1940s girls league given consideration. I know there’s an exhibit on them, but it isn’t the same thing as being elected. There are a handful of them still with us and if they’re going to be enshrined, it needs to be quickly. Again, I’m not certain any of them should be elected, but I’d like to see the issue debated by fans and the Veteran’s Committee. It could be interesting.