Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Random '70s Flashbacks (Part II)

As promised, here are a few of my favorite '70's anecdotes--the decade I came of age in. To get in the proper nostaligc mode, feel free to put on an album by Zeppelin or Floyd.

Up until the 1970’s, players were discouraged from growing facial hair. Oakland owner Charles Finley opposed this trend by offering members of the Athletics $300 apiece to sport moustaches and beards. “I didn’t have any strong feelings against moustaches,” said Commissioner Bowie Kuhn. “Charlie did some good showmanship stuff. The game needed some showmanship.” Certain owners, such as George Steinbrenner, continued to resist the hair movement, ordering players to trim their locks under threat of suspension or fines. The Yankee proprietor once got into a theological debate with Lou Piniella over the topic. As the story goes, Piniella argued that Jesus Christ Himself would not be allowed to play on the team under current regulations. Steinbrenner supposedly led the outfielder to a pool behind the team’s hotel and countered: “If you can walk across that pool, you don’t have to cut your hair.”

During the mid-‘70’s, it was not unusual to witness periodic stampedes of thirsty patrons at the Astrodome. With gate receipts sagging during the ’74 slate, the Houston brass introduced “Foamer Nights,” which entitled fans at least eighteen years of age to free beer at specific intervals. The games took place on random Friday evenings and the suds ran generously any time an Astros’ player homered during an even minute (7:02, 7:04 and so on). A “designated strikeout” promotion was later added, in which a rival player (chosen before the game) could open the beer taps by whiffing during an even time slot. Dodger third baseman Ron Cey remembered being selected during a 1976 contest. “I was well aware of what they were doing,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like that imposed on a player coming into a city.” With a special light on the scoreboard glowing red and the crowd on its’ feet chanting wildly, Cey failed to quench the masses by blasting a 2-run double. “CEY LEAVES THE ASTROS FOAMING AT THE MOUTH” a newspaper headline read afterward. On another memorable “Foamer Night,” Willie MCovey pacified the crowd with a timely strikeout and was later greeted at his hotel by an intoxicated Astros’ fan who wanted to thank him in person. 

Cementing a long relationship with major league baseball, the Topps Company sponsored a bubble-blowing contest in 1975. With invitations extended to all twenty four teams, the Tigers and Pirates demonstrated their squareness by failing to show. Representatives from other clubs were given five packs of Bazooka gum apiece and afforded fifteen minutes to produce a serviceable gob. Some took it very seriously, especially Angels’ hurler Mickey Scott, who put Vaseline on his face to reduce abrasion, wrapped his neck in a towel and held up a windbreaker to shelter him from the elements. His monstrous 20-inch bubble was not enough to claim the $1,000 prize. Brewers’ infielder Kurt Bevacqua walked away with the cash and bragging rights. His victory was commemorated on a 1976 baseball card.
For the record, I still have the original card I pulled out of a wax pack that summer. There's no way anyone could have won a bubble-blowing contest using the gum inside Topps packs. It was so brittle it crumbled into tiny shards the second you bit down on it. I took special skill to reassemble those pieces into a chewable lump inside your mouth. By the time you did so, the gum had lost its cardboard flavor.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Random '70s Flashbacks

My first exposure to baseball was during the "Swinging Seventies" when I was in elementary school. Though a great deal of my research pertains to the game's golden era, I will always have a soft spot for baseball's grooviest decade. What I rememeber most is the long hair, the wild afros and the tacky uniforms (the Astros and their rainbow colors in particular). This was back when baseball card collecting was still for kids and you could actually trade two Rollie Fingers cards for one Hank Aaron.

Depending on where you lived, game coverage was a crap shoot. You watched the playoffs and World Series in October, but during the regular season, you were at the mercy of whatever matchup appeared on "Monday Night Baseball" or NBC's "Saturday Game of the Week." In Schenectady, New York, we listened to a lot of games on the radio with Phil Rizzutto, Frank Messer and Bill White calling the plays for the Yankees. Rizzutto of course had that famous catchline "Holy Cow,"but he also tended to wander off topic. I guess that's why they hired Messer and White--to reel him in. I can remember one broadcast during which some player had just smashed a dramatic homer while Rizzutto obliviously continued to read off a list of birthday greetings to selected listeners.

The first World Series I was aware of took place in 1973 when the Oakland A's in their blinding yellow uniforms disposed of the Mets in 7 games. The first Fall Classic I followed religiously was the '75 showdown between the Red Sox and Reds. I really liked Johnny Bench and "The Big Red Machine," but I was torn since rookie Fred Lynn's daring outfield escapades had captivated nearly every kid in my neighborhood. Playing Wiffleball in the backyards of Schenectady, we would try to simulate Lynn's circus catches while also producing serviceable impressions of various player batting stances. Joe Morgan's was the most memorable with his quirky flapping arm. I can remember staying up way past my bedtime and watching Game 6 of the '75 World Series on an old black and white tv with rabbit ears. Something was wrong with the internal parts of the television and every so often I had to throw a pair of socks at the screen to get the picture to come back on. I can't remember if I fell asleep by the time Carlton Fisk hit his memorable homer in that game, but I've seen it plenty of times on highlight reels. They must have been rocking in Boston that night!

The next season would forever change my loyalties as my father took me to my first game at Yankee Stadium. When describing their first ballpark experience, most people comment about how green the grass is. That was not my first impression of Yankee Stadium. What struck me most as I entered the park for some unknown reason was the billboards. In particular, there was a hulking Brut aftershave sign in centerfield. I had seen it on television countless times and as I looked up, the thought that entered my head was "Wow, that's the real thing!" The next thing I noticed was the players themselves tossing the ball around. We wandered down toward the field to get a closer look and my heart skipped a beat when I realized I was standing about four rows away from Yankee center fielder Mickey Rivers. He seemed so much bigger in real life. Before I knew what I was doing, the words "Hey Mickey!" tumbled out of my mouth. To my utter amazement, he actually turned and smiled at me. I will never forget it and he remains one of my all-time favorites because of it.

As the years have passed, I have had dozens of other memorable ballpark experiences, but the most vivid in my mind is that initial one back in 1976. As the old saying goes, you never forget your first. To honor my fond memories of the '70's, my next few posts will feature some of my favorite anecdotes from that era.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Field of Gimps

By the time WW II was in full swing, teams found themselves scrambling for replacements as hundreds of players were shipped overseas to serve in the armed forces. Two of the most publicized players to appear in "The Show" during the '45 slate were Pete Gray and Bert Shepard. Gray is perhaps better remembered because he played a full season while Shepard made just one appearance.

 Gray, an outfielder, lost his right arm above the elbow in a grisly childhood mishap. Showing courage and determination, he forged a a brief career as a professional ballplayer, tearing up the Southern Association with the Memphis Chicks in 1944. He batted .333 and stole 68 bases while capturing the circuit's MVP award. The following season, he was signed by the St. Louis Browns. He was more than just a novelty gate attraction, playing in 77 games and compiling a .218 batting average. In the outfield, he made 162 catches and threw out 3 runners using a deft maneuver in which he simultaneously fielded the ball with his gloved hand then flipped it in the air while tossing the mitt aside. Snaring the ball with his bare-hand, he would then relay to the infield. Gray had quite a bit of speed and was accustomed to legging out bunts in the minors. But major league infielders quickly caught on to the fact that Gray's one-handed swing gave him little power. They began playing him shallow to guard against the bunt. Additionally, Gray had trouble adjusting to curveballs and his hitting suffered. He never played in another big league game after 1945. He was active in the minors until 1949.

Bert Shepard was a minor league pitcher before the war. He had served in the Air Force and was shot down over Germany in a fighter plane. The crash destroyed his right leg below the knee. He also sustained a fractured skull after being shot in the face. Captured by Nazis and taken to a prison camp, his leg was amputated by German doctors. A fellow POW made him an artificial leg and he began playing baseball on it, polishing his windup and delivery. He was liberated by allied forces and taken to a medical center in Washington. Senators' owner Clark Griffith had heard Shepard's story and, moved by it, offered him a tryout. Shepard was signed as a player/coach in 1945. After starting an exhibition game against the Dodgers during the spring, he entered a regular season game later in the season. In front of a relatively sparse crowd at Griffith Stadium, he took the mound in relief against the Red Sox, going 5.1 innings and giving up 1 run on 3 hits. Sadly, he would never pitch in another big league contest as multiple operations were required to  fix his leg over the next several seasons.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Baseball's Seedy Underbelly

Baseball--the great American game--has persevered through a fair number of scandals over the years. Beginning in the early days, every generation of ballplayers has produced a subpopulation of rule-breakers and rogues.

In 1877, four players from the Louisville Grays were found to have thrown games in exchange for bribes from gamblers. Jim Devlin, George Hall, Al Nichols and Bill Craver were all suspended for their actions.

In 1908, on the eve of a one-game playoff between the Cubs and Giants for the NL pennant, one of the umpires was offered a bribe to help the Giants win. The offer was refused and the incident reported to the league office. 

The year 1919 brought the infamous White Sox scandal, in which eight players with abilities ranging from Hall of Fame worthy to moderately talented conspired the throw the World Series and were subsequently banned from the sport for life by Commissioner Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis. As the investigation was broadened, at least two other players were punished for throwing games--Heinie Zimmerman and Hal Chase, both of the Giants.

Gambling controversy persisted into the 20th century when Pete Rose--a.k.a. "Charlie Hustle," (the game's active hits leader and one of the greatest players ever to don a uniform in my opinion) received a lifetime ban for betting on games as manager of the Cincinnati Reds. Though Rose has lobbied for reinstatement, his efforts to date have yielded no results.

Gambling has not been baseball's only problem. Substance abuse has been a major issue since the Deadball Era as demonstrated by the following anecdote:

Off to the best start in franchise history during the 1908 campaign, the St. Louis Browns went into a slump, falling several games out of the running. Alarmed by the sudden swoon, Manager Jimmy McAleer called all of his players together and ordered them to get drunk.  “You fellows are worn out, all in and gone stale,” he said. “”If any man on this team comes into the hotel tonight sober, I will fine him fifty dollars.”  According to pitcher Jack Powell, the entire team showed up at the ballpark hung over the next day yet won handily. The party continued on the train to St. Louis and a five game winning streak followed.  “The jag by orders had brought back our spirits and energies,” Powell explained.

Baseball's drinking problem persisted well into the 1950's. Former Dodger great Don Newcombe, who captured Rookie of the Year and Cy Young honors during his career, fell on hard times after leaving baseball behind. A chronic alcoholic in heavy debt due to gambling, he pawned his 1955 World Series ring to avoid losing his Los Angeles apartment. He nearly lost his wife of many years before getting involved with Alcoholics Anonymous and cleaning himself up. In 1986, he spoke to a reporter about the rampant alcohol problems among members of the ‘55 Dodger squad. Citing Jackie Robinson and Gil Hodges as being exempt, he said: “I bet there were at least ten of us who were abusers of alcohol on the championship team...I had two of them who told me one day: ‘Newk, if you’re an alcoholic, what am I?’” In a previous interview, the retired moundsman had indirectly blamed manager Walter Alston. “The fact is, baseball managers encouraged the drinking of beer—and they still do,” he told the Associated Press.

By the 1960's, baseball's abuses morphed into something entirely different. Jim Bouton's epic book Ball Four exposed the rampant use of amphetamines among players. In 1985, several players were summoned before a Pittsburgh grand jury to testify about drug use within the sport. Among those appearing were Dave Parker, Lee Mazzilli, Keith Hernandez and Tim Raines. This led to the exposure of cocaine use among various players--The Pirates and Mets in particular. It was soon revealed that drug dealers roamed the Pittsburgh clubhouse. Even the team mascot was implicated! In February of 1986, Commissioner Peter Ueberoth issued suspensions to a number of players for their transgressions.

Sadly, the story doesn't end there. The '90's gave way to steroid scandals that have to date kept such luminaries as Barry Bonds, Mark McGuire and Roger Clemens out of the Hall of Fame.

In closing, I pose this question: If "America's Favorite Pastime" is a reflection upon our culture in general, what does it say about us? Are the bad apples an exception rather than a rule or are we a country of flagrant excess? You decide.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Gloves of Stone

While researching dubious defensive records, I got to thinking about who had committed the most errors on a single play. This wasn't readily available on the standard leaderboards at Baseball-almanac or Baseball-reference, so I had to do some digging. Eventually, my efforts paid off.

That record belongs to Mike Grady, a catcher and utility infielder who played for the Phillies, Giants and Cardinals between 1894 and 1906. Grady was adept with a bat in his hands--a lieftime .294 hitter who exceeded the .300 mark at the plate in 5 of his 11 big league seasons. His experience as a fielder was an entirely different story. While stationed at the hot corner for the Giants in 1899 following an ejection to the team's regular third baseman, Grady was charged with 4 miscues on one sequence. After botching a grounder (error #1), he threw wildly to first (error #2). As New York's right fielder relayed the ball back to Grady, he dropped it (error #3). At this point, the batter was rounding third. Grady scrambled for the ball and fired wildly over the catcher's head allowing the run to score (error #4).

This may or may not be the most horrific defensive sequence of all-time. Many stories still circulate regarding a hard-hitting outfielder by the name of Smead Jolley who played for the White Sox and Red Sox from 1930 through 1933. Jolley was an excellent run-producer at the plate, reaching the century mark in ribbies twice during his brief career while posting batting averages above .300 in 3 of 4 campaigns. But his fielding misadventures became legendary and he was referred to by one writer as "the greatest stationary outfielder in history." According to numerous (and likely apocryphal) accounts, Jolley once matched Mike Grady's feat of four errors on the same play, though a sympathetic official scorer deliberately failed to credit him with it. As the story goes, a ball rolled through his legs in the outfield (error #1) then bounced off the outfield wall and back through his legs (error #2). Retrieving it, the ham fisted fly-chaser then bobbled the ball (error #3). When he finally gained possession, he fired wildly into the seats, allowing the runner to score (error #4). It's a funny story, but there's no statistical evidence to support it. Various accounts describe different settings for the play (making it a highly debatable occurence). Solid evidence of Jolley's poor fielding exists in his error totals and lifetime fielding percentage, which is more than 20 points below the league average.
(Yet another shameless plug, you can read more about Jolley in my book Cellar Dwellers)

You have to give Jolley credit for trying. According to many sources, the most inept fielder of all-time was first baseman Zeke Bonura, though statistics won't back this up. Why? You can't be charged for an error if you can't get your hands on the ball. The lumbering Bonura was another able-bodied slugger who played 7 seasons for four clubs from 1934 to 1940. In that span, he amassed 351 extra-base hits and hit .307. He also led the league in fielding percentage three times. But according to contemporaries, Bonura made little effort to field anything hit in his direction. Any ball hit outside of his immediate reach was given a disdainful look and a half-hearted wave of the glove, a gesture dubbed by one writer as "The Mussolini Salute." In his own defense, Bonura once told a reporter: "I'm not a lousy fielder. That's one of those stories spread by (manager) Jimmy Dykes and (teammate) Lew Fonseca. They've been labeling me as a poor first baseman for years, by Dykes so I couldn't ask for much money and by Fonseca so he wouldn't lose his job." There may be some truth to that statement, though descriptions of his "laughable" defense are legion.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Dubious Records For Pitchers

As promised, I will conclude my discussion of baseball's most embarrassing accomplishments. Today, my lists will pertain exclusively to pitchers.

The AL record for errors by a pitcher in a career is 55 by Ed Walsh, a Hall of Famer who spent most of his days with the White Sox from 1904 through 1917. His NL counterpart, Hippo Vaughn, had his best seasons with the Cubs between 1913 and 1920. Vaughn retired with 64 career errors.
The record for most errors by a pitcher in a game is 5 by Ed Doheny of the Giants in 1899. The record for errors in an inning belongs to three modern hurlers, all of whom committed 3 muffs in a single frame: Tommy John (1988), Jamie Navarro (1996) and Mike Sirotka (1999).

In regard to balks, Dave Stewart of the Oakland A's set the all-time single season record in 1988 with 16. Bob Shaw holds the record for balks in a game with 5. He turned the trick in 1963 when he was with Milwaukee. Most balks in an inning is 3, shared by 5 players (Shaw is among them).

The record for most walks issued in a 9-inning game is 16 shared by three old-timers. Bruno Haas of Philadelphia, Bill George of New York and George Van Haltren of Chicago. It seems likely that this record will never be broken since today's hurlers would almost certainly get the hook for being so wild. But in the old days, pitchers were expected to finish what they started and it was a matter of pride. There are two modern pitchers who compiled double-digit walk totals in a no-hitter. Jim Maloney of the Reds walked 10 batters in his 1965 "gem." Steve Barber of the Orioles duplicated the feat in 1967.

The "modern" record for losses in a season is 26 by Bob Groom, who was making his big league debut for the dreadful Senators in 1909. (The topic is covered extensively in my book, Cellar Dwellers.) Before Groom, Happy Townsend was strapped with 26 losses for the equally dreadful Senators' squad of 1904 (also discussed in my book.) The all-time mark for losses in a season belongs to an obscure 19th century hurler by the name of John Coleman. Playing for the Philadelphia Quakers, he absorbed 48 of the club's 81 defeats in 1883. The Quakers finished last in the NL with a 17-81 record that year.

The record for consecutive losses by a pitcher belongs to Jack Nabors, who dropped 19 straight decisions for the A's in 1916 (You can read about this in Cellar Dwellers as well). Cliff Curtis lost 18 straight for the Boston Doves (later known as the Braves) in 1910. Roger Craig matched him while playing for the Mets 53 years later.

The topic of hit batsmen always seems to be a lively subject. Everyone wants to know who the most dangerous pitcher of all-time was. Names like Randy Johnson, Bob Gibson and Don Drysdale always seem to get thown into the mix. But none of those guys came close to matching the all time numbers of Gus Wehying, a right-hander who plunked an incredible total of 277 batters between 1887 and 1901. Nicknamed "Cannonball" or "Rubber-Winged Gus," Weyhing compiled impressive strikeout totals for the era, punching out at least 193 batters in five campaigns. But he was completely wild, compiling a lifetime WHIP average of 1.417. Walter Johsnon is behind Weyhing on the all-time hit batsmen list at 205 while the other Johnson--I'm referring to that nasty fellow named Randy--plunked 190.

In regard to wild pitches, the all-time career leader is Jack Morris with 206. (Yet another reason he doesn't belong in the Hall of Fame as mentioned in a previous post.) The modern record for wild pitches in a single season is 26 by Juan Guzman, who was playing for the Blue Jays in 1993 when he set the mark. A.J. Burnett unleashed 25 wild ones in 2011 while playing for the Yankees.

Wrapping up my discussion of dubious pitching feats, the career record for home runs allowed is 511, accomplished by Jamie Moyer in 25 major league seasons spent with 8 different clubs. The record for home runs surrendered in a single season is 50 by Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven in 1986. He still managed to win 17 games for the Twins that year. The record for homers coughed up in a game is 7 by Charlie Sweeney of St. Louis in 1886. At least three pitchers have coughed up 6 long balls in a 9-inning game. Two of the three are still active. R.A. Dickey accomplished the feat with Texas in 2006 and James Shields of the Rays matched him in 2010. Tim Wakefield did it in 2004 while playing for the Red Sox.


Friday, January 11, 2013

Dubious Major League Records

Since everybody loves lists--myself included--I decided to browse through some baseball records to determine which players have performed the most embarrassing feats on the diamond. My research yielded the following results:

Let's start with offensive stats.
The player caught stealing most in a single season was Rickey Henderson of the A's, who was nabbed 42 times in 1982. He had nothing to be ashamed of since he set the single season record for thefts that year with 130. Multiple players have been caught stealing 3 times in a game. Many players have been caught twice in an inning as well with Larry Walker of the Rockies and Derek Bell of Houston being the most recent. Bell turned the trick in 1995 while Walker matched him in 1998.

The individual record for leaving men on base in a game is 12, shared by four players: Glen Beckert of Chicago (1972), Todd Helton of the Rockies (1998), Trot Nixon of the Red Sox (2003) and David Ortiz (2009), also of the BoSox.

The record for grounding into double plays in a career is Cal Ripken, who initiated 350 twin killings during his illustrious big league run. The single-season record is held by Jim Rice of Boston, who grounded into 36 DP's in 1984. Rice would go on to lead the league in that category 4 times--also a record, tied with Ichiro Suzuki.

The career record for strikeouts is 2,597 by Reggie Jackson. (When he missed--He missed BIG!) Sandy Koufax holds the record for most whiffs in consecutive plate appearances. In 1955, the left-hander went down on strikes in 12 straight trips to the dish. In regard to whiffs in a season, that dishonor belongs to infielder Mark Reynolds, who struck out 223 times in 2009. Reynolds is compiling quite an impressive career in this respect. His name appears on the top ten single-season strikeout list four times. Adam Dunn is a close runner up with two appearances in the top ten and 222 K's in 2012.

Moving on to defensive feats:
Most records pertaining to errors were set during the game's early days before players wore proper gloves. Still, some of the totals are jaw-dropping.
The record for errors in a season by a first baseman was set in 1884 by Cap Anson, who muffed 58 plays that year. By no means was that the most horrific performance of all-time. Billy Shindle of the Brooklyn Bridegrooms set the mark for shortstops in a single season with 119 errors in 1890. Bill McClellan came close to matching that figure at second base in 1887, when he botched 105 chances for the Brooklyn Grays (an American Association club). Charlie "Piano Legs" Hickman waited until the turn of the century to commit 91 errors at the hot corner for the Giants in 1900. As far as outfielders are concerned, Ed Beecher set the bar pretty low when he flubbed 55 plays during the 1890 slate, which he spent with the Buffalo Bisons of the Players' League. The modern record for outfield errors belongs to Roy Johnson of the Tigers, who committed 31 E's in 1929.
Active error leaders include: Miguel Tejada (272), Rafael Furcal (250), Adrian Beltre (243) and Derek Jeter (241). It's interesting to note the Jeter and Beltre have 9 Gold Gloves between them.

(Primary Source: Baseball-almanac.com, Baseball-reference.com)

We'll talk about pitchers in my next post.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Hall of Fame 2013: Concluded

In my last post, I went about the task of shortening the Hall of Fame ballot. I'll finish the job today. Jack Morris and Lee Smith were among the top vote-getters last year. Unfortunately, neither belongs in the Hall. Morris racked up 254 wins, but his 3.90 ERA is too high for Cooperstown. I make this statement on the same presumption that 3 earned runs in 6 innings does not constitute a "quality start." Since when do we want our starters giving up 4 or more runs per game?

Smith collected 478 saves (third on the all-time list) while averaging close to a strikeout per frame. But some of his other numbers just don't add up--mainly his 1.256 WHIP average and 3.03 ERA. That's dangerous territory for a closer. By comparison, Mariano Rivera--arguably the greatest closer ever--has so far compiled a 2.21 ERA and a 0.99 WHIP average to go with 608 lifetime saves. Lofty standards perhaps, but Smith is not even in the same class.

So who do I think belongs in the Hall? Call me crazy, but Jeff Bagwell gets my vote. Bagwell's career was shortened by injuries, but in 15 seasons he accomplished a lot: Rookie of the Year in 1991, MVP in 1994, a 4-time All-Star. Additionally, he led the league in runs scored 3 times and landed among an elite group of players with 1,500 runs and 1,500 runs-batted-in. His lifetime on-base percentage of .408 is nothing to sneeze at either. On the other side of the coin, Bagwell carried his weight defensively, leading the league in assists 5 times and winning a Gold Glove. His career total of 1,704 assists is second on the all-time list. Plus, he had that weird crouched batting stance that was so fun to watch.

While I'm at it, I might as well show my support for Bagwell's long-time teammate Craig Biggio,who should be enshrined on the basis of his 3,060 hits and 668 career doubles alone. Never mind the 4 Gold Gloves, 5 Silver Sluggers and 7 All-Star appearances. This guy was a dependable, hard-nosed hustler who grinded it out for the Astors day after day. He stole 414 bases in his career, scored 1,800 runs and ended up in the path of pitched balls 285 times (ouch!)--second all-time to Deadball star Hughie Jennings.

We'll see who gets the nod when the results are announced tomorrow.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Hall of Fame 2013: Who Should Get In

There's been a lot of talk about this year's Hall of Fame ballot being among the toughest ever to choose from. A quick glance at the candidates more or less confirms the fact. Over the past several years, there has been increased emphasis on the use of sabermetrics--wins above replacement, black ink, gray ink, magenta ink and all that nonsense. Though I am a card-carrying member of the SABR myself, I openly admit that I don't put much stock in all those new-fangled statistics. To begin with, these measurements are most frequently endorsed by people who spend a lot more time crunching numbers than actually watching ball games. I have been watching baseball for over 40 years and I know great when I see it. I believe that players from the present should be measured by the same criterion that landed the old-timers in the Hall of Fame. It's only fair. Call me Old School if you will.  
With that having been said, let's take a brief look at this year's candidates. Returning from previous ballots, we have serious contenders in Jack Morris, Jeff Bagwell, Lee Smith, Tim Raines, Alan Trammell, Edgar Martinez, Mark McGuire and Rafael Palmeiro. New to the the list are Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mike Piazza, Craig Biggio and Sammy Sosa among others.

So who belongs in the Hall? I can dramatically shorten the list with a single brush stroke.

First and foremost, I don't believe that flagrant rule-breakers belong in the Hall of Fame. If Pete Rose and Joe Jackson (two of the greatest players ever to pull on uniforms) can't be enshrined at Cooperstown, then neither can Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmeiro or Mark McGuire. All were immensely talented players with worthy statistics, but each of them tarnished the game in some small way. On the same note, we might as well add Roger Clemens to the list of ineligibles. Though he was legally absolved from charges of steroid use, there is compelling evidence to the contrary. Therefore, it matters not that he was among the most dominant pitchers of his generation (or of any generation for that matter). As the old saying goes: When in doubt, throw it out. This places me on the fence in regard to Sammy Sosa (who I think was a fun player and I like a lot) because of the bat-corking fiasco in 2003. Additionally, there are some who believe he used steroids (though no formal charges have been lodged against him).   

 On another controversial note, I don’t believe that designated hitters should be excluded from the Hall of Fame since it’s a specialized role not unlike that of a relief pitcher. If the doors of Cooperstown are open to the likes of Goose Gossage, Rollie Fingers and Bruce Sutter, then the powers that be should consider allowing a DH in at some point. The burning question is WHO?

A convincing case can be made for Edgar Martinez, a two-time batting champ who led the league in on-base percentage three times, doubles twice and RBI's once. He also stacks up nicely against the greatest players at his position. In 1,403 games as a DH, Martinez hit .314 with 619 extra-base hits and 1,003 RBI. These numbers far exceed those of Harold Baines, Chili Davis, Don Baylor and Frank Thomas—all of whom (in the opinion of many) were among the best designated hitters ever. The problem with Martinez is longevity. After claiming his first batting title in ’92, he saw limited action over the next two campaigns. He became a DH almost exclusively in 1995 and enjoyed his most productive stretch from then until 2001, when he completed a run of 7 consecutive seasons above the .300 mark. By 2002, he was 39 years-old and fading. Despite his prolific hitting, he topped the 100 RBI mark just 5 times in 18 seasons and in terms of triple crown-type numbers, he had just one truly remarkable season. That came  in 2000, when  he hit .324 with 37 homers and 145 ribbies. If you’re going to let a DH into the Hall, it’s got to be someone who’s off the charts in the hitting department. I don’t feel that Martinez fits that description. No one does—Not yet anyway.

...More about the 2013 Hall of Fame Ballot in my next post.          

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Garvey

For roughly ten seasons, Steve Garvey was among the best first basemen in the majors. He made ten All-Star appearances, captured four Gold Gloves and was named NL MVP in 1974. All this while helping the Dodgers to four World Series berths.

In 1973, Garvey received a phone call from the distraught parents of a nine-year old cancer patient named Ricky. The child had been given a slim chance of survival and, moved by the story, Garvey agreed to make a personal appearance. When the marquis infielder arrived at Los Angeles Orthopedic Hospital accompanied by his wife, Cyndy, the boy was heavily sedated and not expected to respond. Remarkably, as Garvey held the youngster’s hand and spoke to him softly, Ricky opened his eyes and smiled. Within a year, the boy had recovered sufficiently enough to take the field with Garvey at a Dodger Stadium benefit for sick children. The young cancer victim gave his favorite player a medal embossed with the following inscription: “Thank you for giving me the will to live.”

Comfortable in front of cameras and microphones, Garvey maintained a wholesome public image for several years. With his rakish good looks, he was even considered a viable candidate for public office at one point. But in 1978, the cracks began to show. Garvey had shared an adjoining locker with Hall of Fame pitcher Don Sutton for several seasons. In '78, Sutton decided to tell a reporter from the Washington Post what he really thought of his teammate. "All you hear about on our team is Steve Garvey, the All-American boy," he said. "But Reggie Smith is the real MVP. We all know it...He is not a facade. He does not have the Madison Avenue image."

Irritated by the remarks, Garvey confronted Sutton and asked if the quotes were accurate. Sutton assured him they were. The two squared off, pounding and clawing one another. At some point during the altercation, a teammate yelled: "Stop the Fight! They'll kill each other!" Catcher Joe Ferguson shared the opinion of many when he shouted back: "Good!"

Garvey's nice guy image was irreparably tarnished in 1989, when his estranged wife Cyndy wrote a tell-all book entitled, The Secret Life of Cyndy Garvey. In it, she included details of Garvey's numerous extramarital affairs and painted him as apathetic toward his family. At the time of the book's release, there were two paternity suits filed against the retired first baseman. He admitted to fathering children illegitimately with two different women.

In the wake of the scandal, chronic financial problems set in. Interviewed by the LA Times, Garvey blamed his fiscal woes on a combination of tax liabilities, pending child support and legal battles over his tumultuous personal affairs. According to court records at the time, he owed various lawyers more than $300,000. In regard to recovering those funds from Garvey, one attorney quipped: "Once a Dodger, always a dodger."