January 2010

Wrong

A fascinating, well-researched, reasonably-argued article at a top video games site argues that it is time for the Major League Players’ Association to forget if not forgive the last “replacement players” from the 1994-95 forced strike, and grant them participation in the union’s merchandising plan, and allow them, finally, to be simulated in the top baseball video games.

I’m not a gamer, so I can’t speak to how disturbing it has been to have tried to maintain the simulation experience without Brendan Donnelly, Matt Herges, Ron Mahay, Kevin Millar, and Jamie Walker. But having covered the nuclear labor winter of fifteen years ago, I can’t agree with absolving the real-life guys of the responsibility they have for the choices they made in the spring of 1995.

The kotaku.com writer calmly explains what happened to the last five active (of 38 in total) strike-breakers, who eventually reached the majors:

Although replacement players receive pension benefits, are subject to the same rules of free agency and are given representation during salary arbitration, disciplinary hearings or other matters, they are barred from joining the union, cannot vote on its matters and, of course, can’t collect any licensing money.


In other words, despite taking the most serious action a potential member could take against his striking/frozen would-be teammates, the players who went to the awful “Replacement Spring” of 1995 get the full benefits of the union they were willing to undermine. They just don’t get some of the ancillary perks, like the simulated doppelgangers and the real money they create (one will note there is no shortage of baseball cards of replacement guys – and not just the Millars, but also the Donnellys and Herges… Hergeses… Hergeseses… guys named Herges).

No matter what you think of unions, and particularly of the irresponsibility of this union in the steroid era (to say nothing of its short-sightedness in that mid-free agent era in which a little fiscal responsibility might have led to more teams with more jobs for more union members), the punishment seems limited and symbolic enough. It is hard now to remember what February and March of 1995 looked like. In short, the owners were one good court ruling away from getting the right to impose whatever rules they wanted despite their own shared culpability in the end of the ’94 season. They could have broken the union and buried any players who didn’t cooperate. They didn’t get the court ruling, and had to settle with the players and to instantly sweep away the post-apocalyptic scene that was unfolding in Florida and Arizona.

A few highlights: the Baltimore Orioles had simply suspended operations (Peter Angelos was having nothing to do with replacements). There was some question as to whether or not Cal Ripken’s streak would end if a team called the Baltimore Orioles actually played a game without him because he was on strike. The two-time still-defending World Champion Toronto Blue Jays could not have legally played a game in Canada and were thus to shift to their spring training home in Dunedin, Florida (capacity 5,509). Per the lone surviving, harrowing source document of the time, Stats’ Inc’s Replacement Player Handbook 1995, the Jays’ starting line-up was likely to be:



C: Brad Gay (Class A ball, 1994)

1B: Wes Clements (out of baseball since 1987)
2B: Emmett Robinson (out of baseball since 1986)

SS: Robert Montalvo (utilityman in AAA in 1994)

3B: Warren Sawkiw (in an independent league, 1994)

LF: Trevor Penn (out of baseball since 1990)

CF: Darryl Brinkley (independent leagues, 1994)

RF: Rick Hirtensteiner (AA, 1994)

DH: Brian Brooks (out of baseball since 1990)

SP: Pat Tilman, Brian Ahern, Mike Arner, Pat Blohm

Closer: Steve Sharts (out of baseball since 1990)

SecretMessage1.jpg

The Replacement Jays were particularly pathetic. Other clubs might have been looked a little more professional, but that was sad in its own way. Pedro Borbon, Sr., was pitching for the Reds – at the age of 48. Oil Can Boyd, just 35, was thought to be the ace of the White Sox staff. Rick Reed, later to succeed for the Twins and Mets, was considered the likeliest Cy Young candidate. There were the human interest stories: the Yankees had at least one guy in camp who was, literally, a UPS driver. 
And these were just the guys we knew of: washed up ex-big leaguers looking for one last taste of glory, career minor leaguers seeing this as the big break they’d been denied, and the kids like Millar, 23 years old and having shown very little promise in A-ball the year before, who were probably just too scared to say “no” when somebody in management said that his decision would be remembered even when all of this replacement stuff had been forgotten.
The problem is, hundreds of Millars still said “no.” They may indeed have been punished later for refusing to fill out a uniform during those dark weeks of Replacement Ball. There is nobody to argue for some recognition for their less obvious sacrifices. Millar, Donnelly, and the rest, were – for whatever reason – willing to accept this nightmarish farce, to provide backbone in that parallel universe where 1995 saw the World Champion Dunedin Jays, and NL MVP Jeff Stone of the Phillies, and fireman of the year, 40-year old, five years removed from his last big league pitch, Willie Hernandez of the Yankees.
They made a choice. The punishment was more symbolic than vengeful. Besides, if you feel your video game is incomplete without Brendan Donnelly, you may be a little too into video games.
FROM A RESEARCHER’S NOTEBOOK: On Opening Day of the 1967 season, there were 17 pitchers named “Jim” on major league rosters. Six of them: Jim Grant, Jim Kaat, Jim Merritt, Jim Ollom, Jim Perry, and Jim Roland, were with the Minnesota Twins. Remarkably, the Twins had six pitchers named Jim, and only five pitchers not named Jim.

Photo Quiz

Something to do as we contemplate the irony of Aroldis Chapman escaping from Cuba to sign with a team that in the 1950′s had to change its name to the “Cincinnati Redlegs” to avoid somebody mistaking them for communist sympathizers. 

Some of you will get this instantly. Others will say, “can’t be!” The rest, should just get a kick out of it… 
Who is this, captured in the endless sweep of photographing anybody in a big league uniform by Topps Chewing Gum in the 1956-1996 era?
kelly1969.jpg
Your hints:
1) I’ve been looking for this one for a long time. Never did locate it within the since-dismantled archives at Topps here in New York.
2) Yes, he’s in the uniform of the one-season franchise, the 1969 Seattle Pilots (although there are 1970 Pilots photos too – the franchise moved to Milwaukee just before opening day, as part of a bankruptcy collapse).
3) No, he never played for the Pilots, but yes, he did play in the majors briefly, but even most of his many admirers probably don’t know that.
4) Lefthanded hitting outfielder-first baseman who quickly gave it up after his brief big league stint six years later, and then moved into coaching and managing.
5) Got a big league managing job, in fact, when the man his team had hired in full anticipation that he would make the leap from wonderful pitching coach to wonderful manager, turned out to be not quite that much of a skipper.
6) Managed in two World Series but never won a single World Series game on the road.
7) Yet won both Series… okay, you’ve got it now.
Fresh from a .317 season in the New York/Penn League in 1968, he was actually in the Pilots’ first big league camp as a non-roster invitee – and was just 18 years old when that photo was taken in Arizona in March, 1969. Yes… it’s legendary Twins’ manager Tom Kelly.

The Hall, And The Meaning Of Stats

Don’t look it up. Try (at least first) to figure it out. I’ll answer it at the end of this first part of the post – and I’m doing it this way to underscore why a malleable attitude towards statistics and Cooperstown is mandatory.

Here goes: Who led the American League in home runs in the 1980′s?
Somewhere else on the web, somebody dismissed my support (and that of the 400 BBWAA electors who voted for him) of Bert Blyleven by claiming you can’t put a pitcher in the Hall of Fame who averaged only 13 wins a season.
A-hem…

Pitcher                                             Wins Per Season

Bob Gibson                                             14.76

Gaylord Perry                                          14.27

Allie Reynolds*                                        14.00

Tom Glavine*                                           13.86

Sandy Koufax                                          13.75

Steve Carlton                                           13.70

Chief Bender                                            13.25

Early Wynn                                              13.04

Bert Blyleven*                                          13.00

Dizzy Dean                                               12.50

Dazzy Vance                                            12.30

NOLAN RYAN                                           12.00

         * not in Hall of Fame


You can make a million different arguments about what this statistic means – and then move on to whether or not it really means anything in terms of the Hall. But the Blyleven (exactly 13 wins a year) versus Ryan (exactly 12 wins a year) comparison certainly is startling.
A much fairer, and slightly more subjective, view of the issue is provided by what we might call “Adjusted Wins Per Season.” It’s not a complicated formula. You just assess a pitcher’s “incomplete seasons” – only half a year in the majors, or less, or the last year when they were released on May 15th, or, particular to Koufax, the first two seasons of his career in which he was forced to stay on the major league roster (but was seldom used) because of a then-extant rule requiring such treatment for any free agent signed to a ******** bonus. You then throw out these “rump years” (and any scattered wins gathered in them) and re-divide.
Let’s do this for the same mix of a dozen pitchers, HOF and NON-HOF, as above:

Pitcher                     Adjusted Wins Per Season        “Rump” Seasons

Dizzy Dean                               16.50                                 Three

Sandy Koufax                           15.9                                   Two

Steve Carlton                            15.52                                 Three

Bob Gibson                              15.50                                 One

Allie Reynolds*                         15.17                                 One

Tom Glavine*                            15.05                                 Two

Dazzy Vance                             14.92                                 Three

Gaylord Perry                            14.27                                 One

Early Wynn                               14.19                                  Two

Chief Bender                             14.13                                 One

Bert Blyleven*                           13.00                                 None

NOLAN RYAN                            12.76                                  Two

         *not in
Hall of Fame

As usual when you research something – however trivial it might be – unsought data turns up. In this case it would include the suggestion that the voters need to reexamine the candidacy of Allie Reynolds. Somebody else interesting turns up in that “adjusted” category – Ron Guidry, at 15.27.

But the most fascinating is the comparison it provides for Blyleven and Ryan. Their ERA’s are similar, their 20-win seasons are similar (and unimpressive: Ryan, 2; Blyleven, 1), their average seasonal win totals are similar (adjusted or not). The differences are the no-hitters and strikeouts, and while I would agree they are enough to have made Ryan the first-ballot Hall of Famer he was, I don’t see how their absence has left Blyleven to decades of also-ran status.
By the way, the answer to the trivia question at the top: Mike Schmidt led baseball (and obviously, the National League) in homers in the ’80s with 313. Dale Murphy was second with 308. Eddie Murray was third overall with 274 and thus led those who played in each league during that decade. But your American League top homer man of the ’80s, and fourth overall in the game, was Dwight Evans with 256. I happen to think Evans deserves serious consideration for Cooperstown – but surely not for that stat.
CAVEAT EMPTOR

Fell victim to myself – and was contacted by a bunch of other suckers – to an eBay scam that, while clearly focused to rip off specialists in a very small branch of baseball memorabilia collecting – serves as a reminder to think carefully about the ingenuity people can muster while pursuing the proverbial ill-gotten gains.
To eBay’s credit, in my case at least, it and PayPal refunded my money, even as the seller claimed he was the victim, and smeared, and all the like. The ID was “tarheels17032″ and the man, a Randy Howard operating out of a post office box in suburban Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, put up for bid a “box” of vintage 1971 O-Pee-Chee baseball cards (the Canadian version of Topps). The illustration showed the retail box, and in it, 36 seemingly unopened packs in good shape. Upon arrival, I couldn’t resist opening a pack.
I was surprised, initially, as to how easy that was. The packages were barely sealed. As a kid, I actually opened packages of these cards when they originally came out, and they were stuck together for the long haul. But the biggest surprise awaited inside. The cards had clearly not spent the last 39 years in those packages. Some had creases and seriously stubbed corners, others didn’t. At least two cards that were not directly facing the gum in the packs, nevertheless had damage from having had gum stuck to them. The packages were in better condition than the cards – a physical impossibility if the packs had been unopened.
Unless we were dealing with cards granted the ability of locomotion, which had escaped their packs and managed to somehow injure themselves, then return home like salmon swimming back to spawn, there was something seriously amiss here.
Mr. Howard at first agreed to “take a look” at the cards if I wanted to return them to him. He then refused delivery at the post office in Dauphin, Pa. When I filed a complaint with eBay, he wrote: “First of all, please re-read my description. No where do I EVER describe in any of my auctions that something is ‘unopened.’ I’m not the original owner nor do I profess to be. I specifically state in my auctions to ask any questions prior to end of auction. I also state that all items are sold as is…”
As the complaint moved through eBay, he later posted that I had tampered with the packages. Needless to say, the eBay folks did not exactly buy that (since I had a registered mail receipt marked “refused” – he could not have seen the packages). Nor did they buy the ‘I never explicitly said these were unopened packs’ defense.
My travails with memorabilia sellers are not your concern. But when several other collectors advised me that there were several instances of this exact kind of rip-off involving supposedly unopened packs, I thought it merited mention here. The story as I understand it is that either two people working in cahoots, or one using two different eBay ID’s, buy up old empty card boxes, and empty wrappers that match the boxes. Lord knows where they get the gum, but they fill the “packs” with off-condition common cards, seal them just closed enough, then stick them in the empty box, and make big money selling not vintage unopened packs or boxes, but garbage.
Once eBay returned my money I thought it would be fascinating to open up Mr. Howard’s packs to see what was inside. Not one of the packs didn’t include something impossible. Several packs included not 1971 O-Pee-Chee cards (yellow backs), but ordinary 1971 Topps (green backs). The O-Pee-Chee cards were issued in series that year, so all the cards in each pack should have been restricted to Series One, Series Two, or Series Three, etc. But many were intermixed between the series. Topps and O-Pee-Chee made their money on making sure kids had to keep buying to get a full set, so they had state-of-the-art “randomizing” processes to be certain there were lots of doubles in a box and never anything like a run of cards in numerical sequence in a given pack. Nevertheless, nearly all the packs came out that way (one produced numbers 234, 235, 238, 240, 241, 242, 243, 244). And virtually every card in the box was a “common” – no stars, no rare cards.
But the piece de resistance was the fact that the battered cards in that first tentatively-opened pack proved to be just the start, in terms of damage and bad condition. You do not have to be a collector nor a detective to doubt that this card had always be in that pack:
fakeopc.jpg
Seriously?

                                              

McGwire 4: The Koufax Confusion

Mark McGwire’s excuse has indeed resonated in some quarters, and I’ve already seen some claims that “Sandy Koufax took steroids – and for the same reason – for his health!”

Different stuff, known now by a different term, and administered under a doctor’s prescription and supervision. Stuff you yourself may have been given.
The origin points are a) an interview Koufax gave upon his retirement in which he references being “high” during games from all the drugs, and b) a passing reference inside Jane Leavy’s fabulous book Koufax: A Lefty’s Legacy.

Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus explained it more than two years ago in a post (subscription required):

I was able to get in touch with Jane Leavy to clarify. I asked Ms. Leavy if she meant corticosteroids or if Koufax, a player of the same era that we know steroids and HGH made some small inroads into the game, now had to be lumped in with the “juicers.” Leavy states she meant corticosteroids, the same type of “cortisone injection” that we see performed so often in baseball to this day.


So, no, Sandy Koufax did not take the “steroids” Mark McGwire took, for the same reason McGwire claims he took them. He took cortisone injections (cortico-steroids; they used the back half of the word as shorthand in the ’60s; we now use its front half) for the same reason probably a quarter of major league pitchers have taken them, the same reason I took one in each of the last two years – a specialist physician determined it was safe, it would alleviate pain, and do less damage than surgery. And it broke no rule nor law.
Parenthetically, I received steroid drops for my eyes the other day. I had no idea they existed. This also provided the only laugh of the entire McGwire MLB Net interview – when he talked about how no steroid could immediately effect one’s hand-to-eye coordination. He’s literally correct (though all honing of physical strength can lead to improved coordination, too), but if he’d only known about “Eyeball Steroids” he might have dropped the subject just to avoid the confusion.

McGwire 3: The Advisor

In The New York Times, my friend Rich Sandomir has an extraordinary piece on the arranging of the Costas/McGwire interview, and the rest of yesterday’s ‘limited hang-out,’ as a component of the Mark McGwire Contrition Tour.

Sandomir doesn’t address if this was McGwire’s batcrap crazy idea, or it was designed by somebody else: that everybody will believe he took steroids, often by injection (“I preferred the orals”), solely for the purpose of healing his tortured body, just so he wouldn’t waste the gift “from the man upstairs” and to avoid the shame of hearing “teammates walking by saying, ‘he’s injured again.”
But he does reveal that there was somebody involved in this strange dance, conveniently transcripted here. McGwire has a damage control advisor, and he’s Ari Fleischer, the former Press Secretary to President Bush. I vowed long ago not to mix baseball and politics here, and I’m confident that I’d be saying the same thing if this were Robert Gibbs from the current White House: if this was Fleischer’s plan, he owes McGwire a refund. If it wasn’t, he needs to tell Mac never to suggest it again.
It will to some degree fly with a small percentage of the public, and l point to the irony of a comment yesterday by somebody posting under the name “Mantlewasarockstar.” Let’s accept McGwire’s premise – even though this took place long after the heartbreaking death of Lyle Alzado, and the sudden retirement of Florence Griffith-Joyner, and the other horror health stories of steroids abused. Last night he told Costas he had started his heaviest use of steroids in the winrer of 1993-94, to try to regain his health.
But by McGwire’s admission, he “broke down in ’94. Missed three quarters of the year. I go into ’95 and I broke down again. I could have been – but for some reason I kept doing it.”
He did it to get healthy, got less healthy, but kept doing it? From 1993 through at least 1998? This has now sunk to the level of the Rafael Palmeiro, Alex Rodriguez and Barry Bonds denials: ‘I, as a top athlete dependent on my body for my multi-million-dollar income, had no idea what I was putting in my body. Coulda been dangerous pharmaceuticals. Or flaxseed oil. Or something Miguel Tejada got at a sample sale at a Dominican drug store.’
More over, if you’re buying this, Mr/Ms Mantlewasarockstar, and it really still was some kind of firm conviction this was about body repair and not artificially-increased home run power – body repair is by itself artificially-increased home run power! Consider the name under which you comment: Mickey Mantle. 
What would Mantle have been like with a miracle elixir that let him come back from injuries? What would Maris have been like (it wasn’t just the bad taste of public reaction that led him to retire seven years later – he only played two full seasons after he broke Ruth’s record)? Or Albert Belle? Or every sore-armed pitcher whom McGwire faced, or faced at less than full strength, or would never face at all?
If something improper, immoral, illegal, or unethical was used by Mark McGwire to get himself back on the field, and if it really did nothing whatsoever to add enough power to get transform just thirty of what had been his fly ball outs, into the stands each year – it, by itself, was a performance-enhancing drug. In some ways it becomes even more of a performance-enhancing drug: it didn’t just improve what he did from, say, 40 to 70.
It increased it from 0 to 70.
Plug: we’ll deconstruct parts of the MLB Network interview with McGwire, tonight on Countdown.
UPDATE: You’ll notice a comment comparing the euphoria effects of amphetamines to the hypothetical effects of steroids as McGwire misunderstands them. Clearly I wasn’t explicit enough, so consider that the sentence I wrote above, “What would Mantle have been like with a miracle elixir that let him come back from injuries?” as actually reading, “What would Mantle have been like with a miracle elixir that let him come back healthy from injuries, as opposed to a drug that temporarily left him too stoned and/or strung out to care.”
Also, “FAIL”? When did the condescending use of this word as an argument-ender jump the shark, 2006 or 2005?

McGwire 2: Apology As Rationalization

The question from Bob Costas, paraphrased: Could you have had those homer-to-at bats ratios, and could you have hit 70 homers in 1998, without steroids:

“I truly believe so. I was given this gift by the man upstairs.”
Which gift was this, Mark? The gift of steroids?
Mark McGwire, who in his statement this afternoon seemed to understand something at least of the damage he had done to the game, has undone this tonight in the Costas interview on MLB Network. 
He insisted he used steroids only to restore his health after his physical trials of the early ’90s: “My track record as far as hitting home runs, the first at bat I had in Little League was a home run. They still talk about the home runs I hit in high school, they still talk about the home runs I hit in Legion – I led the nation in home runs – they still talk about the home runs I hit in the minors. I was given the gift to hit home runs.”
Seriously?
“All I’ve wanted to do was come clean. I’ve been wanting to come clean since 2005.”
Then do so. Saying you used steroids, but denying the steroids had anything to do with your ability to hit more and longer homers – and to not even connect the idea that even if it was merely for purposes of restoring physical health, that still means the steroids contributed to your ability to hit these homers – does not constitute an apology, an acknowledgment, or the truth.

THREE UPDATES (8:15 EST): Why did McGwire repeatedly insist he’d been looking for the opportunity to come clean since 2005? Why not earlier? 
Secondly, is the connection not clear in McGwire’s mind? That steroids permit the user to work out more frequently, to rebound more quickly from the wear and tear of exercise and weight-lifting? That as dedicated to the hard work in the weight room as one might be, it is the steroids that physically enable the user to increase the frequency of that hard work?
Thirdly, props to the MLB Network group: Matt Vasgersian, Tom Verducci, Ken Rosenthal, and my friends Joe Magrane, Harold Reynolds, and of course Bob Costas, for not simply rubber-stamping McGwire’s ridiculous disconnect between the steroids and the productivity.
This apology is about one percent more substantial than Jason Giambi’s. And it came five years later.

Is This Any Way To Run A Hall Of Fame?

Bill Skowron is a delightful and generous man, and Gil McDougald was a versatile player and is an inspiring person, and Hank Bauer was an underrated star and a gifted manager. And they’re also on one of baseball’s seemingly most glamorous Top 10 stat lists, while really serving only to prove how misleading stat lists can be.

Skowron, McDougald, and Bauer are among baseball’s all-time Top 10 World Series Home Run Hitters.
I am the first guy to say a reliance on numbers, especially in the Hall of Fame voting, is erroneous and even contemptible. Nevertheless, several statistical comparisons are so overwhelming as to be jaw-dropping, and reinforce the notion that all those who have yet tried their hands at selecting the immortals – Baseball Writers, Special Committees, Veterans’ Committees, Veterans/Members Committees, Negro League Research Committees – have all botched the job.
Ignoring the rest of the 2009/2010 ballot results (ok, not totally ignoring them: I told you Roberto Alomar’s last three seasons would cost him election), I remain absolutely fascinated by where Bert Blyleven fits into the history of the game and the minds of the electors.
Look at this. Which one of these is the only Hall of Famer in the group?

Category              Blyleven      John        Kaat        Roberts

WINS                      287           288         283           286

LOSSES                 250           231         237           245

ERA                       3.31          3.34        3.45          3.41

K                           3701          2245       2461         2357

WALKS                  1322         1259        1083          902

20 WINS                    1              3             3              6

LCS                         3-0           4-1          0-1            N/A

WORLD SERIES      2-1           2-1          1-2            0-1

FULL YEARS            22            23           24            19

Do you see any rhyme or reason to this? In Wins, Losses, and ERA, Blyleven and Robin Roberts are virtual matches. Roberts has 420 fewer walks, but Blyleven has 1344 more strikeouts. At the peripherals, Blyleven acquitted himself well on the post-season stages, but Roberts reeled off six 20-win seasons (and consecutively, no less) to the Dutchman’s one.

And save for those 20-win seasons and the issue of longevity, John and Kaat are near statistical matches to Roberts.
Roberts is in the Hall. The others are not.
Below is another amazing comparison. We’ll keep the players names out of it (except to note that they debuted in consecutive seasons; this is not some 19th Century guy versus Bob Gibson) until after you compare their numbers. One pitcher is in; the other has never garnered significant support:

Category                HOF Pitcher              Forgotten Pitcher

WINS                          224                            229

LOSSES                     166                            172

ERA                           3.26                           3.30

K                               2012                          2416

WALKS                       954                           1104

20 WINS                       5                                4

LCS                            4-3                             1-0

WORLD SERIES         5-3           &nb
sp;                 2-0

FULL SEASONS          15                              17

Well this is crazier than Bert Blyleven/Tommy John/Jim Kaat/Robin Roberts. These men are identical. One of them was about 20% more a strikeout/walks guy. The other was on far more  playoff and World Series teams (and yet, significantly, only won 9 of 15 decisions).
The Hall of Famer is Catfish Hunter, and the “other guy” is Luis Tiant.
One more, which has some remarkable comps in the Won/Lost numbers and then fades off as the other statistics roll out. But it again illustrates how the theoretical gulfs between Hall of Famers and obscure, never-supported candidates, can be (and again, these men broke in within a little under two years of each other):

Category                HOF Pitcher              Forgotten Pitcher

WINS                         209                            209

LOSSES                    166                            164

ERA                          2.95                           3.40

K                              2486                          1728

WALKS                      855                            858

20 WINS                      2                                0

LCS                           N/A                            0-0

WORLD SERIES         3-3                            N/A

FULL SEASONS         14                              16

If I didn’t tell you this (or you didn’t read it where I did, in The Bill James Historical Abstract, you’d have no way of guessing. 
The Hall of Famer, remarkably, is Don Drysdale. The other is Milt Pappas, who, if remembered at all, is remembered for being traded for Frank Robinson.
I think this inundation of stats suggests a couple of things. Foremost, it says that Bert Blyleven isn’t just a Hall of Famer – he’s an obvious one, and that Tommy John and Jim Kaat are, too – and Tiant almost certainly is (I’m not sure about Milt Pappas, but it sure is impressive that he duplicated Don Drysdale’s won-lost record with less of a fastball and on inferior teams). You can say the paucity of post-season work for Luis Tiant compared to Catfish Hunter is to some degree Tiant’s fault – but the same measure is not applied to Robin Roberts. You can point out that Drysdale is doubtless given some credit for the sudden, dramatic end to his career due to injury at the age of 33 – and yet it seems as if John and Tiant are not being credited with similar injuries (Tiant was 17-30 and traded or released three times between ’69 and ’71; John didn’t pitch once between July 17, 1974, and Opening Day, 1976). More over, John and Tiant came back from their injuries and certainly aren’t getting credit for that.
Ultimately for all the voters’ talk about longevity and consistency, the Hall of Fame is about building a reputation and doing it quickly. Robin Roberts is in the Hall of Fame because by the time of his 29th birthday he had produced six straight 20-win seasons (never mind that he would pitch eleven more seasons without another one). Catfish Hunter pitched in six of the seven World Series between 1972 and 1978. And Blyleven and John and Kaat all face the same bizarre slur that dogged Don Sutton for years – they just “hung around.” Isn’t “hung around” a less pleasant way of describing longevity and consistency?
It is a shame that we don’t have something akin to the system in Japan. They have a two-tiered Hall. One is based on simple statistical thresholds. The other is more subjective. Theirs is an odd two-headed beast, but it underscores the fact that as important and as far outside the bounds of mortality Cooperstown is – these endlessly bizarre vote outcomes prove that all we have is the subjective.

Rory Markas, 1955-2010

I met Rory Markas at KNX Radio in Los Angeles in 1989 and by the next year was fortunate enough to have him working for me as my weekend sports anchor and reporter at KCBS-TV downstairs in the same building.

Today, as an old colleague of mine from that time and I wept to each other over the phone about a man we knew well and long but not truly intimately, we tried to figure out exactly why his passing struck us so deeply. It was not just his youth, not just his having finally achieved after years of struggle his dream job.
There was something more. Separately, sports, and broadcasting, are industries full of prima donnas and the thin-skinned and I’ll confess to having been each, often at the same time, often for months on end. And Rory was never thus. Whether he was being sent out by one of us on some dippy sports feature in LA twenty years ago, or he was doing play-by-play in some less-than-heavenly minor league town, Rory just never was that way. His loudest complaint was a knowing smile and an accepting shake of the head.
People like him have not only a great gift, but are themselves a gift to the rest of us.
Rory had been the Angels’ play-by-play man since 2002, and it was always an honor to sit in with him for an inning whenever the team was here in New York or I was in Anaheim. Those who knew his work need not be told about its quality. Those who were not privileged enough to know him personally need to be told about his quality.
 
One quick update: I am remiss in not emphasizing Rory’s remarkable quick wit. I would often sit with him and Terry Smith for long stretches of games, and usually he’d put me on for a half inning or so, even letting me dabble in play-by-play. I just recounted for a friend something from 2006 or 2007, on the occasion of my first trip to the Angels Stadium booth:
 
Me: Ball two to Damon, low, outside.
RM: And Molina’s going to the mound.
Me: I notice, my friend, that your booth here is the size of a small Olympic village.
RM: Roomy, yes.
Me: Looks like the Yale Bowl, with microphones.
RM: We call it home.
Me: In fact, this second deck of the press box, this radio-tv gallery of yours – it’s bigger than the entire press box at Yankee Stadium.
RM: The umpires are going out to break up the conference.
Me: You know you could easily convert half this area to private seating and you’d never miss an inch of it.
RM: Thank you, Keith Olbermann, always a pleasure and thank you for never, ever, making any reference to such a thing ever again. Lackey’s ready, Molina crouches and we’re ready for action…
 
Below is the Angels’ press release:

BROADCASTER RORY MARKAS PASSES AWAY


ANAHEIM, CA:   Angels Baseball Tuesday announced that veteran broadcaster Rory Markas passed away yesterday at his home in Palmdale, CA.  No other details are available, and funeral service information is pending. 


Markas, 54, spent eight seasons calling play-by-play with the Angels, both on television and radio.  In addition to his responsibilities with the Angels, Markas also served as the play-by-play voice for the University of Southern California men’s basketball team, and as a reporter for FOX 11 KTTV in Los Angeles.


Prior to joining the Angels, Markas handled the play-by-play duties for the USC baseball team on the Trojan Radio Network, as well as pre-game reporting for Trojan football.  During that time, he also served as a sports reporter on KNX Newsradio 1070 in Los Angeles, and a sports anchor on FOX 11.  From 1994-97, he was the lead announcer for the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers on the Clippers radio network.


Markas had extensive baseball broadcasting experience prior to joining the Angels, as he worked as a play-by-play announcer for the Milwaukee Brewers television network (1992-94) and as a substitute radio play-by-play announcer with the Brewers radio network from 1984-1994.  He spent six seasons calling Pacific Coast League baseball, including three years with the Salt Lake City Gulls and three years with the Vancouver Canadians.


Markas’ career included stints as an on-air sports talent for KCBS 2 (1990-97) and Prime Ticket (1987-90).  He was honored with several broadcasting awards, including four Golden Mike Awards for radio reporting, and two Associated Press Sportscasting Awards.  He also received the 2008 Radio Play-by-Play Award from the Southern California Sports Broadcasters Association.


A native of San Fernando Valley, CA, Markas attended Chatsworth High School.  He later attended Los Angeles Valley College and Cal State Northridge.  He is survived by his mother, Billie and brothers, Gary and Troy.

 –ANGELS–

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