July 2010

More Haircuts Of The Now Rich And Famous

If you didn’t see part one please feel free to enjoy Bruce Bochy, Joe Maddon, and Omar Minaya as minor league players, while we move on to a couple of more fun flashbacks.

This would be the 1979 TCMA West Haven Yankees card of one William Nathaniel “Buck” Showalter, who spent his entire seven-year career as a nominal first baseman-outfielder with no power in the Yank system. He batted .292 lifetime during a span in which other Yankee farms produced Don Mattingly and Fred McGriff, and by his second year in the minors, Buck was doing a lot of DH’ing. 
This same West Haven set also includes Dave Righetti, Willie McGee, Joe Lefebvre, Mike Griffin, White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper, and the fabulously-named pitcher Mark Softy, and was a popular set among collectors in the early ’80s, largely because of Righetti’s early dominance as a starter. Even then they were talking about Showalter as a future manager, and you have to acknowledge, he sure has aged well (it has been often suggested that Mr. Showalter does not age, in large part because he is a carrier of aging).

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And now we bring you a couple of pitching coaches. Larry 

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Rick Kranitz never made it to the bigs as a pitcher and Larry Rothschild only had two cups of coffee with the Tigers, but both have had extensive coaching careers – they each worked with the Marlins and Cubs (at separate times; Larry is with the Cubs right now, Kranitz with the Orioles). Both cards are from 1980: Rothschild is from a series of excellent team-produced cards from the Indianapolis Indians from the mid-’70s into the ’80s, and the Kranitz shows him with the Holyoke Millers, the Eastern League farm of the Brewers. Kevin Bass and Steve Lake were among Kranitz’s teammates in the Massachusetts city.
And now we move into the front office, courtesy two of the great Mid West League sets issued by the late Larry Fritsch of Fritsch Cards in the early 1980’s (the cards show Jose Canseco before steroids – no, it’s not just a picture of an empty uniform on the ground, although the only thing about Canseco 1983 was his hair). 

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In any event, if the White Sox and Nationals make an Adam Dunn deal before Saturday’s 

1983Rizzo.jpgthese are the men who did the dealing. You would’ve seen plenty of Kenny Williams in the majors in the ’80s, and just four years after his stint with the ’83 Appleton Foxes, he had an outstanding season in center for the White Sox. Mike Rizzo, GM of the Nationals, drafter of The Strasburg and The Harper, was a far more obscure figure. This was the middle of his three seasons in the California Angels’ farm system, as a utility infielder. The ’83 Peoria Suns were pretty good, all things considered. Wally Joyner would make his pro debut (but isn’t in the set) and join Devon White, Mark McLemore, Bob Kipper, and a couple of others.

But none of them ever grew up to draft The Strasburg.

Cooperstown Path Cleared For Steinbrenner, Miller

George Steinbrenner is now eligible to be elected to the Hall of Fame as early as this December.

Since this is the first time any of my suggestions to modify Cooperstown voting procedures have come to pass, I tend to doubt my campaign to hasten Steinbrenner’s eligibility had anything to do with it. I’m happy enough about the coincidence.
The late Yankee owner is hardly the first man deserving of election to the Hall, but he is among the first 25 or 50, and anything that hastens the chances of any of them is, in short, fine by me. The entire Hall of Fame press release is attached below; translated, it means we’ve gone from votes conducted by job, to votes conducted by era. 
Miraculously, the eras have been divided into “Pre-Integration,” “Golden,” and “Expansion.” Miraculously, the players, umpires, and executives of the “Expansion” era will be voted upon first, this December. Miraculously, the eras have been defined in such a way that the “Expansion” era begins in 1973 (even though the expansions were in 1961, 1962, 1969, 1977, 1993, and 1998).
Guess what else began in 1973?
George Steinbrenner’s ownership of the Yankees.
It is an obvious ploy, but an ingenious one. And it has the added plus of making actual sense in terms of the grim realities of the actuarial table. Marvin Miller did not expect to make it to his next eligibility (2012). He too could be voted in by December, given that most of the changes he brought to baseball were post-1973. 
And it may even do something for Ron Santo, Gil Hodges, Curt Flood, Ken Boyer, Roger Maris, and so many others who have suffered in generalized votes that have forced voters to consider them outside of their own eras. Hodges the home run hitter looks like an after-thought in the whole spectrum of swat, but in his own time, his success (he retired in 1963 with the second most homers by any right handed batter to that point) may finally stand out sufficiently to get him elected.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                    
July 26, 2010 
 

Hall of Fame Board of Directors Restructures 
Procedures for Consideration of

Managers, Umpires, Executives and Long-Retired Players 

 

 

(COOPERSTOWNNY) – The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s Board of Directors has restructured the procedures to consider managers, umpires, executives and long-retired players for election to the Hall of Fame.

 

The changes, effective immediately, maintain the high standards for earning election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. The voting process will now focus on three eras, as opposed to four categories, with three separate electorates to consider a single composite ballot of managers, umpires, executives and long-retired players.  

 

“The procedures to consider the candidacies of managers, umpires, executives and long-retired players have continually evolved since the first Hall of Fame election in 1936,” said Jane Forbes Clark, chairman of the board for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.  “Our continual challenge is to provide a structure to ensure that all candidates who are worthy of consideration have a fair system of evaluation. In identifying candidates by era, as opposed to by category, the Board feels this change will allow for an equal review of all eligible candidates, while maintaining the high standards of earning election.”

 

The Hall of Fame’s Board of Directors includes:

 

Jane Forbes Clark (chairman)

Robert A. DuPuy

Jerry Reinsdorf

Allan H. “Bud” Selig

Joe Morgan (vice chairman)

William L. Gladstone

Brooks C. Robinson

Edward W. Stack

Kevin S. Moore (treasurer)

David D. Glass

Frank Robinson

 

Paul Beeston

Leland S. MacPhail Jr.

Dr. Harvey W. Schiller

 

William O. DeWitt Jr.

Phil Niekro

G. Thomas Seaver

 

 

         Eras: Candidates will be considered in three eras — Pre-Integration (1871-1946), Golden (1947-1972) and Expansion (1973-1989 for players; 1973-present for managers, umpires and executives).

 

         Candidates: One composite ballot of managers, umpires, executives and long-retired players will be considered in each era. The Expansion Era ballot will feature 12 candidates, while the Golden and Pre-Integration era ballots will feature 10 candidates. Candidates will be classified by the eras in which their greatest contributions were recorded.

 

         Electorates A Voting Committee of 16 members for each era will be appointed by the Board of Directors annually. Each committee will be comprised of Hall of Fame members, major league executives, and historians/veteran media members. Any candidate who receives at least 75% of ballots cast will earn election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

 

         Frequency of Elections: An election will be held annually at the Winter Meetings. The Eras will rotate, with the Expansion Era Committee to vote onDecember 5, 2010 at the Winter Meetings in OrlandoFla. The Golden Era committee will meet at the Winter Meetings in 2011 and the Pre-Integration Era Committee will vote on candidates at the 2012 Winter Meetings.

 

         Screening Process: The BBWAA-appointed Historical Overview Committee will devise the ballots for each era. The Historical Overview Committee currently consists of 10 veteran members: Dave Van Dyck(Chicago Tribune)Bob Elliott (Toronto Sun)Rick Hummel (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)Steve Hirdt (Elias Sports Bureau); Bill Madden (New York Daily News)Ken Nigro (formerly Baltimore Sun)Jack O’Connell (BBWAA secretary/treasurer); Nick Peters (formerly Sacramento Bee)Tracy Ringolsby (FSN Rocky Mountain); and Mark Whicker (Orange County Register).

 

         Eligible candidates:

      &n
bsp;  
Players who played in at least 10 major league seasons, who are not on Major League Baseball’s ineligible list, and have been retired for 21 or more seasons;

         Managers and umpires with 10 or more years in baseball and retired for at least five years. Candidates who are 65 years or older are eligible six months following retirement;

         Executives retired for at least five years. Active executives 65 years or older are eligible.

 

 

 

 

Timetable for Upcoming Elections

 

 

DATE

 

ACTIVITY

WHO

October 2010

The Expansion Era (1973-1989) ballot is devised and released.

 

The BBWAA Historical Overview Committee.

 

December 2010

 

Meeting and Vote on Expansion Era (1973-1989) ballot at the Winter Meetings. 

 

 

A Committee of 16 individuals comprised of Hall of Fame members, veteran writers and historians, appointed by the Board of Directors. 

July 24, 2011

Induction of Expansion Era Committee selections, if anyone elected.

 

 

October 2011

The Golden Era (1947-1972) ballot is devised and released.

 

The BBWAA Historical Overview Committee.

 

December 2011

 

Meeting and Vote on Golden Era (1947-1972) ballot at the Winter Meetings. 

 

 

A Committee of 16 individuals comprised of Hall of Fame members, veteran writers and historians, appointed by the Board of Directors. 

July 29, 2012

Induction of Golden Era Committee selections, if anyone elected.

 

 

October 2012

The Pre-Integration Era (1871-1946) ballot is devised and released.

 

The BBWAA Historical Overview Committee.

 

October 2012

 

Meeting and Vote on Pre-Integration Era (1871-1946) ballot at the Winter Meetings. 

 

 

A Committee of 16 individuals comprised of Hall of Fame members, veteran writers and historians, appointed by the Board of Directors. 

July 28, 2013

Induction of Pre-Integration Era Committee selections, if anyone elected.

 

 

 

 

Hall Of Fame…Coaches?

As the Hall of Fame induction looms, something I heard on a Cardinals’ broadcast the other day inspired me to hit the books. The gist of the discussion, which was dead serious and included not even a hint that the view might be a little skewed by some homerism, was that while there weren’t any coaches in Cooperstown, and there was no mechanism for electing any, obviously Dave Duncan would be elected, and just as soon as possible.

This is not to dismiss the idea. Far from it. I’ve always thought coaches were under-appreciated, and the first bit of research (and vanity publishing) I ever did was when I realized there were plenty of records of players and managers and umpires, but as of 1973, there wasn’t even a list of coaches anywhere. I spent a week in the Hall of Fame library that summer jotting down, by hand, all the data I could find.
I’m a “coaches guy.”
I’m just not sure Dave Duncan is the first choice to go to Cooperstown, even among just the pitching coaches, even if a side exhibit were to open honoring just them (and maybe scouts as well – that’s far more overdue). The problem, obviously, is evaluation. What constitutes a great coach? Number of .300 hitters coached? 20-game winners coached? Is it more esoteric? Does Duncan get a plaque because he managed to keep Todd Wellemeyer in the majors, and turned around Dave Stewart and Dennis Eckersley? Should he be elected solely because Kent Bottenfield, winner of 46 career major league games, went 18-7 under Duncan’s tutelage in 1999?
The bigger issue, of course, is how much is the tutelage, and how much is the talent? These aren’t exactly hunks of clay out there, being shaped by a sculptor. If coaches ever do go to the Hall of Fame, certainly SABR-metrics will probably be able to prove a coach’s impact on a staff, or a batting order, but subjectivity will be a huge factor. And what of the proverbial “bold print” data that form the shorthand of research into a player’s success relative to his peers?
This, finally, gets me to my scratch-the-surface research. Which men have coached the most Cy Young Winners? Which have coached the most World Series Champions? There are a few surprises, and though the leaders in the latter category do tend to become weighted in favor of the Yankee dynasties, there is some insight to be had.
First, the Series winners. There are a few caveats. The “coach” is largely unheard of in baseball until the early years of the 20th Century. Managers inevitably ran the team from the third base coach’s box (Gene Mauch did this well into the ’60s in Philadelphia, and Tommy Lasorda tried it as a slump-buster in the ’90s), and a pitcher or non-starting player would coach from first. Gradually the New York teams began to experiment with somebody to help the manager out – 19th Century stars Duke Farrell with the Yankees and Arlie Latham with the Giants in 1909. The Yanks clearly weren’t sold on the idea. Farrell did not coach in 1910, but came back in 1911. They then eliminated the position entirely until 1914.
The “pitching coach” was even later to evolve. Wikipedia erroneously lists Wilbert Robinson as John McGraw’s pitching coach from 1903 through 1913 and credits him with all manner of successes. In point of fact, contemporary records show Robinson managing in the minors in 1903 and 1904, playing in Baltimore as late as 1908, and running the family saloon there. He clearly helped McGraw instruct pitchers in spring training, but did not join the Giants full time as a coach until 1911.
It seems that the first World Series winning team with a coach dedicated to supervising and instructing pitchers was McGraw’s 1921 Giants, with the immortal Christy Mathewson doing the honors. But even then Matty’s health was failing and just how much time he really did the job is speculation at best. Nick Altrock might have been the nominal pitching coach of Washington’s only World Champions in 1924, but he was better known for comic antics in the coach’s box. The first true pitching coach on a World Series winner might in fact be ex-catcher Cy Perkins with the 1932 Yankees. It was still a novelty; the 1933 World Champion Giants had no pitching coach, nor did the 1945 Tigers.
In any event, the leaders by World Series wins are as follows:
7 – John Schulte, Yankees, 1936-1947
7 – Jim Turner, Yankees, 1949-1958
5 – Mel Stottlemyre, Mets, Yankees, 1986-2000
4 – Mike Gonzalez, Cardinals, 1934-1946
3 – Johnny Sain, Yankees, Tigers, 1961-1968
3 – Joe Becker, Dodgers, 1955-1963

The others with as many as two? Duncan (1989 A’s, 2006, Cards), Galen Cisco (1992-93 Jays), Ron Perranoski (1981, 1988 Dodgers), Larry Shepard (1975-76 Reds), Wes Stock (1973-74 A’s), Dick Such (1987, 1991 Twins).

Two notes on the above. You may or may not want to give Stottlemyre the 5th Series. He had to leave the team to undergo intensive treatment for multiple myeloma in September, 2000, and the pitching coach duties were assumed by Billy Connors. And whereas Turner was the embodiment of the modern pitching coach, Schulte, as late as the 1947 World Series program, is described more informally as “the man who readies the pitchers.”
The Cy Young Winning coaches are a little more diverse. The usefulness of the data also suffers from the fact there were no awards before 1956, and only one for both leagues until 1967. Nevertheless they provide some insight:
6 – Leo Mazzone: Glavine ’91 ’98, Maddux ’93 ’94 ’95, Smoltz ’96
4 – George Bamberger: Cuellar ’69, Palmer ’73 ’75 ’76
4 – Dave Duncan: Hoyt ’83, Welch ’90, Eckersley ’92, Carpenter ’05
3 – Joe Becker: Newcombe ’56, Drysdale ’62, Koufax ’63
3 – Bill Fischer: Clemens ’86 ’87 ’91
3 – Ray Miller: Flanagan ’79, Stone ’80, Drabek ’90
3 – Claude Osteen: Carlton ’82, Denny ’83, Bedrosian ’87
3 – Johnny Sain: Ford ’61, McLain ’68 ’69
3 – Rube Walker: Seaver ’69 ’73 ’75
The others with two apiece: Rick Anderson (Santana ’04 ’06), Mark Connor (Johnson ’99 ’00),  Billy Connors (Sutcliffe ’84, Maddux ’92), Roger Craig (Jones ’76, Hernandez ’84), Bobby Cuellar (Johnson ’95, Martinez ’97), Art Fowler (Lyle ’77, Guidry ’78), Marv Grissom (Chance ’64, J. Perry ’70), Cal McLish (Fingers ’81, Vuckovich ’82), Billy Muffett (Gibson ’68 ’70), Lefty Phillips (Koufax ’65 ’66), Mel Queen (Clemens ’97 ’98), Dave Righetti (Lincecum ’08 ’09), Ray Rippelmeyer (Carlton ’72 ’77), Mel Stottlemyre (Gooden ’85, Clemens ’01), Carl Willis (Sabathia ’07 Lee ’08).
There’s one scorer’s judgement required here. In both 1977 and 1978 Art Fowler gets partial credit. The first year saw Sparky Lyle’s Cy Young season, as well as what might have been the first full-time Bullpen Pitching Coach, in the Yanks’ Cloyd Boyer. In ’78 Fowler exited at mid-year along with manager Billy Martin, and Clyde King coached Ron Guidry the rest of the way.
Obviously the two lists barely coincide. Schulte’s career was over before there were Cy’s, and though he coached in the majors all but two years from 1949 through 1973, Jim Turner coached only one winner (Bob Turley in 1958). The men who fared the best on both lists seem to be Joe Becker and Johnny Sain. Consider Becker for a second. How does the team that hires you as pitching coach in 1955, the Dodgers, proceed to win three World’s Championships and three Cy Youngs through 1963 – and then when you come up empty in 1964, they
fire you? Becker went to St. Louis in 1965 and the Cubs in ’67 and did pretty well with Bob Gibson and Fergie Jenkins in those places, but evidently not well enough.
Lastly two intriguing facts which figuratively fell off the book shelf while the research unfolded. Two Cy Young winners have gone on to be pitching coaches for Cy Young winners, and if that’s not a good new trivia question, I don’t know what is. The answers are Warren Spahn (1957 winner; coach for Gaylord Perry in 1972), and Bob Welch (1990 winner, coach for Randy Johnson in 2001).
That fact in turn led to this one, which suggests Hall of Fame berths for pitching coaches may not be that great an idea. Johnson won four of his six Cy Youngs with the same team, yet with three different pitching coaches in three consecutive years: Mark Connor in 2000, Welch in ’01, and Chuck Kniffin in ’02

And Curt Flood, Too

Great column by Bill Rhoden of The New York Times on what could be perceived as the interlocking Hall of Fame candidacies of George Steinbrenner and Curt Flood.

One pioneered Free Agency, the other turned it into the upwards spiral that created the sport we know today. Bill suggests that folks like me should press for Flood’s election, or special election if need be, and he’s perfectly correct. As I noted to him, I’ve been pushing for Curt since about 1990. If I may quote myself from Pocket Books’ The Big Show which I co-authored with Dan Patrick in 1997:
A few months before his thirty-second birthday, with twelve wonderful seasons behind him as the brilliant center fielder of the St. Louis Cardinals, Curt Flood was traded to the doormats of the National League, the Phillies. And he said no. He said you don’t have the right to ship my butt anywhere you please – not after I’ve given you a dozen years of my life. And he stood up against the establishment – and whatever you think the players have done to the game in the last twenty-five years, what the owners had done to the players for the 100 years previous was a million times worse. And Curt Flood refused to go, and he sued, and it cost him his career. This wasn’t some fringe guy; through 1969 he had 1,854 hits — all he needed was seven more average seasons to get to 3,000 — he’d batted .293 (only six guys outdid him and five of them are in the Hall), he’d slugged .390 (that was ninth best in the era), he’d had six .300 seasons, two seasons with 200 or more hits, he’d won seven straight Gold Gloves, and he’d been on three pennant winners and two World Champs. And he gave it all up. The man got exactly thirty-five more at-bats in his life. No million-dollar contract, no free agency, not even a job as a first base coach somewhere. He even lost the lawsuit – but he paved the way for the freedoms and salaries and rewards that those who followed enjoy to this day. He was thirty-two – and he gave it all up for a principle. The least he deserves in a plaque in Cooperstown.

In point of fact, as I once suggested on ESPN while Curt Flood was still alive, every player should have given him 1% of their salary.

Joe Torre Is Not An Un-Person

I unreservedly like Tim McCarver’s work. I have compared his analysis before the last pitch of the 2001 World Series to Mazeroski’s home run to win the 1960 World Series. For all his stylizing and odd constructions, I’ve found his game analysis, especially his “first guessing,” to be almost universally insightful and correct.
But he’s dead wrong about this Joe Torre stuff. And not just for the unfortunate imagery he used during Saturday’s broadcast from Yankee Stadium at the end of the sad week in which both Bob Sheppard and George Steinbrenner died. Tim is wrong on the facts.

“You remember some of those despotic leaders in World War II, primarily in Russia and Germany, where they used to take those pictures that they had taken of former generals who were no longer alive, they had shot ‘em. They would airbrush the pictures, and airbrushed the generals out of the pictures. In a sense, that’s what the Yankees have done with Joe Torre. They have airbrushed his legacy. I mean, there’s no sign of Joe Torre at the Stadium. And that’s ridiculous. I don’t understand it.”

McCarver has apologized for the imagery (you hate the Yankees? Fine. The “rooting for the Yankees was like rooting for U.S. Steel” is stern enough, we don’t have to bring Hitler and Stalin into this). But he sticks to the contention that the Yankees have “airbrushed” Torre from their history and should have retired his number by now.

Let’s address the number first. Torre has been gone for only two-and-a-half seasons. Nobody else has been assigned his old uniform number 6. In examining the retirements, the Yankees have shelved fifteen numbers representing sixteen players (both Yogi Berra and Bill Dickey wore number 8). Mariano Rivera’s 42 will be automatically retired upon his departure from the Bronx, in keeping with the baseball-wide retirement of the number to honor Jackie Robinson in 1997 (and doubtless Rivera will get his own ceremony since he’s clearly earned it).

Fourteen of the sixteen honorees were, at the time of their uniform retirements, either still working for the Yankees, out of baseball, or deceased. When Casey Stengel’s number 37 was put away for good in 1970, it had been a decade since he had last managed the Yankees and half of one since he had last managed the Mets. He still had a largely ceremonial vice presidency with the Mets and still suited up for short stints during spring training. Berra was managing the Mets when the number he and Dickey was retired in 1972. By then Yogi, too, had been away from the Yankees for a long time – eight years.

There is some logic in delaying, especially for individuals still living. I found what is in retrospect a hilarious blog post from September, 2007, declaring that the Yankees would “surely” be one of three teams to retire the number of a veteran player: Roger Clemens. Yeah, and don’t call me Surely.

Thumbnail image for IMG_0183.jpg Clearly the Yankees are honoring Torre by not handing his old number to anybody else. But has he been under-represented in terms of imagery at the new Stadium? McCarver acknowledged he saw some photos of his old friend in the park and did had not meant for the “airbrushed” imagery to be taken literally.

Turns out there are 21 photos of Torre on display at the new Stadium. One of them is just Joe and Steinbrenner, giant-sized, at one of the park’s street entrances. I saw a couple of others of note tonight in the Bronx, in my first visit since McCarver’s remarks. This would be the entrance to Suite Number 6 down the first base line. The motif is pretty straight forward for each suite – a series of photos of the Yankees who wore each number, even a list of them in the alcove just outside the door. And the pride of place in terms of photography goes to the odd image you see at the left. In fact, let’s get a little closer and see just who that particular Number 6 happens to be: IMG_0184.jpg


I’m not sure who that is with him, but that would be Joe Torre on the left. And the idea that he is somehow being dissed by being shown back-to-the-camera denies the purpose of the photograph: each suite emphasizes the Yankees who have worn that number. 

Off point, no, I do not believe there is a Suite 91 featuring nothing but photos of Alfredo Aceves.

Now, the image above is a small, untitled photo, correct? Doesn’t emphasize Torre’s vast contributions to the remarkable streak of four titles in five years? Try this, from the main concourse of the stadium, behind the ground level seats, down the left field line.

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Prime location? Two beer stands and a men’s room?

Each Yankee championship team is remembered with a three-photo display. It starts with 1923 in the farthest corner of Right Field and then moves chronologically back towards the plate and out to Left. And who are the guys in the farthest right panel?

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That’s right: the late George Steinbrenner, Rudolf Giuliani, and dressed for a very cold parade day from 2000, Joe Torre. 

I’ll repeat myself here. I’m a fan and friend of Tim McCarver’s, and Joe Torre is my oldest baseball friend. I’ve even worked with them both. And I know the Yankees could have done better by Joe, and his exit was unceremonious and poorly-handled by the club. I would also argue that the Yankees are the most self-important, overly-serious franchise in overtly pro sports (I can think of about 27 college programs that would at least give them a run for their money).

But Timmy was just wrong, in style and in substance. Neither literally nor figuratively have the Yankees excised, erased, airbrushed nor Memory-Hole’d Joe Torre. Doubtless the day will come soon, perhaps even while he’s still managing elsewhere, that they will formally retire the number and give him the big ceremony he deserves. To see a conspiracy in the fact that the day has yet to come is, at best, to overreact.

A Hairstyle Is Temporary; A Baseball Card Is Forever

What you are going to see here will disturb you. 

In fact, if you feel like your grip on sanity is low (well, lower than usual), you may want to avert your eyes.
Impossible as it seems, all this will be explained.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Bochy1977.jpgThis is not the late Hunter S. Thompson, wearing a giant old Houston Astros’ batting helmet. Nobody took a look at this picture and said “Oh boy, the Gonzo Journalist sure looks vaguely like Giants’ manager Bruce Bochy when Boch was 22 years old.”

This is Bruce Bochy, as depicted on a 1977 TCMA minor league baseball card set devoted to the Cocoa Astros of the Florida State League. Dipping a tentative toe into what is now an all-inclusive ocean, TCMA produced a minor league set of cards for the Rangers’ affiliate in Gastonia in 1974. Later that year there was a set in Cedar Rapids and a kind of a pirated set of stars of the International League (Gary Carter of the Memphis Blues is shown, and I’m very tickled to say I wrote the biographies – at least some of them by hand). 
By 1975, TCMA’s annual production was up to about a 

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dozen sets, and the formula was simple and ingenious. All the team had to do was provide photographs and biographical data, and TCMA would print them 500 or 1,000 sets (I think the number was negotiable, based only on shipping costs!). Suddenly they had a promotional night, or something to sell at the souvenir stand, or something to distribute in conjunction with a local advertiser. And the only thing TCMA got from the deal was the seemingly trivial full consent on the part of the club to let the company print as many sets of cards as they wanted, and disperse them as they please.
Off the top of my head I don’t know how many different sets TCMA produced before other companies first challenged them, and then took over the field. But I do know that by 1977 TCMA, when it produced the cards of Bochy and, at the left, Rick Peterson of the Charleston Patriots (now pitching coach at Milwaukee), its all-teams minor league set, featuring an average of 25 or so cards per team, but sequentially numbered, went well beyond Card Number 1,000. If not a gold mine, it was a money stream. 
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The best of the players have long since begun their march into Cooperstown. Cal Ripken showed up at Rochester, and Rickey Henderson in the uniform of the long-forgotten A’s AAA-team at Ogden, Utah. But now we have something much more fun. I was recently inspired to pull down what remains of my collection of TCMA cards, and found the beauties you see illustrated here. The movers-and-shakers of the game are preserved for all time in the full flower of youth. There are no name-alikes, no coincidences. These are the men who influence the game today, and those were their haircuts. The Jim Leyland over here is the 31-year old manager of the Clinton Pilots of the Midwest League in 1975. Fittingly enough, they were a Tiger farm team.
I have only passed two of these under the eyes of one of those shown. My friend Omar Minaya, General Manager of the Mets (and utility infielder/outfielder of the 1981 Wausau Timbers of the Midwest League) proudly pointed out how many of his teammates made the majors – and not just 

Minaya1981f.jpgHarold Reynolds, whose Thumbnail image for Reynolds1981.jpg

major task that year seems to have been trying to get that mustache to grow in. The correct answer is eight (Reynolds, the late Ivan Calderon, Darnell Coles, John Moses, Donnell Nixon, Edwin Nunez, Jim Presley, and Brian Snyder). There was also Rick Adair, now pitching coach of the Mariners, plus the Timbers’ manager ex-big leaguer Bill Plummer, who would skipper Seattle in 1992, pitcher Jeff Stottlemyre (whose brother and father have both pitched and coached in the majors) and catcher David Blume, now a scout for Toronto. With all that talent, it’s not surprising Wausau won 84 and lost just 48 and won their Division and the Playoffs. The full set of these A-ball players of 29 seasons ago can still be found in the $20-$30 range.

The other guy to whom I was happy to pass along a duplicate set of the comrades of his youth was this light-hitting catcher from the Quad Cities Angels of 1976, now better known as 

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the manager of the Tampa Bay Rays, and one of the game’s great ambassadors. Maddon loves all baseball history, but especially his own, and, quite off the point, sat in the dugout during Old Timers’ Day at Yankee Stadium Saturday and proudly recited the resumes of nearly everybody out there – and nearly all of them under the age of 55 had played, coached, or managed with him or against him in the last 35 years.
The genius behind all this happy nostalgia (and potential blackmail material) is Mike Aronstein, the unsung visionary who essentially invented the baseball memorabilia hobby. Until he rolled out a beautiful set of International League cards in color in 1978, Mike’s efforts were all black and white. I’ll thumb through the later color cards (there is a 1978 Buck Showalter, heav
ens help us) and post an assortment later. As long ago as 1969, he was the first to make and sell new cards of old players. He challenged the Topps major league monopoly with his SSPC sets of 1975-78. He made the first reprints. He was the first collector to turn into a veritable card magnate (TCMA was, nominally, “The Card Memorabilia Associates”; in fact it was the initials of Mike

Riggleman1977.jpgand his original partner, Tom Collier). Sheets in which to display your cards? Mike’s idea. These minor league sets? Mike. Regular “card shows,” a slickly-produced professional looking magazine, a company that did nothing but buy the rights to, and print up, stacks of player photographs for autograph sessions? All Mike.

He was also the first guy to pay me to write anything, and among his other hires were Rick Cerrone (later Vice President of the Pirates and for eleven years, Media Relations Director of the Yankees), and a once-obscure sportswriter from United Press International named Bill Madden, who just happens to be going into the Hall of Fame next weekend.
Thank goodness Mike didn’t make cards of us. This shot of the two of us posing on the occasion of the last weekend of Shea Stadium in 2008 is plenty. 

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A Little More On George

The most surprising part of my interview with Joe Torre tonight was his revelation – which he had first mentioned at his late afternoon news conference at Dodger Stadium – that he spoke to George Steinbrenner on July 4th to wish him a happy birthday. They had, evidently, a fairly long conversation, and that fact underscores a quality about Steinbrenner’s penultimate illness which lent it the makings of something akin to a Greek Tragedy.

Unlike most mental impairment diseases, whatever afflicted Steinbrenner from around the time he fainted at Otto Graham’s 2003 funeral, was utterly intermittent. He could be lucid and fiery at one moment, and almost incapacitated the next, and then back again. In Spring Training of 2009, as an example, I sat with David Cone during a Yankees’ exhibition game at the park in Tampa that had just been renamed in Steinbrenner’s honor. As we left the press box we found our exit path blocked, because Mr. Steinbrenner was leaving, by wheelchair. When Cone spied him, he sighed, and said “I have to try to say hello to him; he hasn’t recognized me the last few times.” 
The next thing I heard was “Of course I recognize you, David. Jesus! Could we have used you pitching out there today! The way they knocked our kids around. You look like you’re still in shape, will you pitch tomorrow? Good to see you!” And then, “Hey, Keith, good to see you too!” A month later I saw them carrying him, prostrate and blank-eyed, in and out of golf carts and elevators, for the opening of the new Yankee Stadium.
Back to Torre. He was fearless about suggesting the sad truth of Steinbrenner’s life: that he was never satisfied, and ultimately may not have been happy. Clearly there were moments of joy, but as Joe observed at his news conference, and as Ken Burns repeated on the show, even the triumphs were followed with the almost obsessive attempt to continue, or repeat, or exceed, usually beginning the moment the champagne stains had dried in the locker room.
Still, of course, the memories come flooding back. I recounted tonight how, during the near-riot in the infamous Phantom Tag Game in the American League Championship Series of 1999, our Fox game producers ordered me as field reporter onto the field and in front of our third base camera, and Fenway Park security just as quickly ordered me off the field and into the box: “You sit in that seat there, or I’ll eject you from the yahd.” I sat down, adrenalin pumping, and heard a voice to my left. “Hi Keith! Some night!” It was Steinbrenner. They had put me in – of all places – his box. He agreed to do an interview with me at game’s end (“if we live”) but warned me he wouldn’t say anything interesting. I asked him only one question and all he said was that Boston manager Jimy Williams had “incited the crowd” and thus made himself the story.
One more favorite encounter, one George never knew about. I was 22 and working as part of my future ESPN co-conspirator Charley Steiner’s three-man sports staff at the RKO Radio Network (Charley was the boss, I was the weekend sportscaster, and John “Chief” Martin – now ESPN’s crack radio honcho for MLB and NBA broadcasts, was the producer). The dreadful, dismal 1981 baseball strike was in its umpteenth day and news was drying up. Suddenly a story broke that a bunch of owners had reached a similar stage of hatred of the impasse and had decided to try to talk Commissioner Bowie Kuhn into a palace coup against the hardline owners who had forced the walkout. Nobody was even sure exactly who the owners were. All we knew was that the insurrectionaries were going to meet with Kuhn.
All Charley knew was that he wanted to be there and scoop everybody in the process. He called John and me in, to work the phones from late morning until we could tell him when and where the meeting was scheduled. Nothing worked. We called everybody we knew, and a lot of people we didn’t, and at one point I actually suggested to John that we might as well just start dialing any ten digit combinations at random and asking whoever answered if they knew anything about the meeting. 
Around 10 PM, I gave up and walked home from Times Square to my tiny apartment at 55th Street and 2nd Avenue. Since I had spent the day making these pointless calls, I hadn’t eaten, and thus my ramble took me just slightly off my normal route. I wound up at a pizza parlor on the Northwest corner of 55th and 3rd, instead of my usual Southeast corner. Thus, pizza box in hand, and my RKO Radio Network and Motorcycle Gang Black Vinyl Jacket on my back, I crossed the intersection onto the Northeast side, right past the venerable New York bar, P.J. Clarke’s.
Suddenly the side door to Clarke’s opened and out bounded who else but George Steinbrenner, headed to a limo parked on 55th. I was too far away and too generic in his estimation to get to him to ask him if he knew anything about the Kuhn meeting, and was silently damning both my luck and anonymity. Suddenly he wheeled around and yelled back to the still-open door. “Hey, Eddie!” A balding figure peeked out from the light of the doorway. It was Edward Bennett Williams, the famed attorney and then-owner of the Baltimore Orioles. “Eddie! When the hell are you and I and Chiles having that meeting with Bowie tomorrow?”
I slammed myself against the wall of Clarke’s so neither of them would see me, nor the big red words “RADIO NETWORK” on the back of my jacket. Williams answered calmly. “Bowie’s apartment, George, 10:30.” He even gave the address. Steinbrenner merrily waved good night and jumped into the limo. I ran to my apartment building, balancing the pizza box as I did, and phoned John at the office.
“The meeting is at Bowie Kuhn’s apartment,” I began, with fake calm. “10:30 tomorrow morning. I know Steinbrenner will be there, and Edward Bennett Williams, and Eddie Chiles from Texas.” John, who to my knowledge has not otherwise been both silent and awake since some time in the late 1950’s, was dumbfounded. Mixed with a series of original and appreciative expletives, he asked me how I could have possibly found out.
“Oh,” I replied with an air of sophistication I’m sure I didn’t come close to carrying off. “I ran into Steinbrenner at Clarke’s.”

Quick Plug

I dont generally do this, but if you want to pop over from the All-Star Game, Ill be joined by Joe Torre and Ken Burns to recall and reflect upon the life and death of George Steinbrenner – the two segments will begin about 40 minutes past the hour on Countdown.

George Steinbrenner, 1930-2010

I mean this with no disrespect and with no touch of humor: Only George Steinbrenner could pass away on the morning of – and thus overshadow – baseball’s All-Star Game.

To my knowledge, and I had known him since I was fourteen, and interviewed him as long ago as 1980, he only did one thing in his entire, extraordinary life that was below the radar. His commitment to charity was personal and private and the likelihood is that even at this hour we only know its barest outline. This was the kind of man who would read of a high school somewhere in this country without enough books and within the week they’d somehow have them, and usually anonymously. 
For all his flaws, I think the basic dichotomy of his life was between the Steinbrenner who screamed at you for not getting the job done even if there were 143 extenuating circumstances, and the Steinbrenner who screamed at you for not getting the job done and then made the realization himself that there were 143 extenuating circumstances and tried to resolve all of them for you.
These elements would clash in his most famous baseball relationships: with Billy Martin, with Reggie Jackson, with the media, with the Yankees as an entity. The endless firings and rehirings of the tragic, self-destructive Martin were ultimately about Steinbrenner’s belief he could somehow redeem the man. Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden were attractive to him as free agents because if they paid off he could thumb his nose at the Mets, but the second and third chances he gave them both were because he came to feel fatherly about them.
I’m skipping much of his influence on the game here. You know it already: when he bought the New York franchise it was so moribund that, as Bill Madden recently revealed in his superb biography of Steinbrenner, part of the purchase deal was that the purchase price be artificially inflated to make it look as if CBS wasn’t selling at a loss. 38 years later the franchise is worth more than a billion dollars. Steinbrenner’s spending on free agents started that ball rolling – in retrospect they were conservative, logical, savvy steps. He changed the sport, and while we can wax nostalgic for what it was in 1971, the fact is that attendance and the interest in the game have grown astronomically for the very reasons he was hated by some: he raised salaries, raised ticket prices, raised television fees – and raised baseball.
Perhaps alone among reporters, I never had cross words with him. I was still startled to find out that after the 1992 baseball expansion draft, he wrote a gushing fan letter to our bosses at ESPN about our coverage of the event. In 2000 the two people who rushed to contact me about my mother after she was hit by a Chuck Knoblauch throw, were Joe Torre and Steinbrenner. In 2003, I was standing in the back of a news conference for Jeff Weaver on the day of his arrival in New York when I felt a tap on my shoulder and a whisper in his ear. “Keith, how’s he doing?” It was Steinbrenner. Incredibly, nobody noticed he was there. My favorite moment with George was also the saddest. By happenstance I was in the press box on the day in 2005 when President Clinton came to the Stadium to accept a check from Steinbrenner for the money the Yankees raised (there’s the charitable instinct again) for tsunami relief. The two of them sent Yankees’ president Randy Levine out to get me, and I was startled to spend two innings with them, saying almost nothing as George rolled out every single encounter we had had over the years (“I’ve known this young man since he was – how old were you? Thirteen? Fourteen? And he did the funniest piece on me firing managers for The Times and he was there when I broke down when we won at Shea five years ago, and this young man’s mother was the one – How is your mother?”).
He knew all of it as if it had been his job to know all of it. But the sadness came in the quick realization that the recollection was punctuated by him addressing me as “this young man” (I was 46), because you could see him reach for my name, and not be able to find it. Whatever deterioration of his faculties had begun a few years earlier was beginning to take its toll in a heartbreaking, inconsistent, up-and-down, struggle to the end. And the end came this morning, with a legacy mixed between the best and worst of man’s instinct, but consistent always in its quality of being larger-than-life.

Like A Good Piece Of Art

This is not intended as an insurance advertisement, just a freeze from ESPN’s coverage of the Home Run Derby that struck me as bordering on art: the shadowed silhouettes of fans in the right field bleachers at Angel Stadium during David Ortiz’s ups.

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2010 HOME RUN DERBY (C) MLB/ESPN

Nice, huh?
MORE ON BOB SHEPPARD AND PUBLIC ADDRESS ANNOUNCERS:
A commenter on the last post quotes a second version of the only major gaffe committed in the 57 seasons the late Mr. Sheppard announced Yankee games at Yankee and Shea Stadiums. In the version I recounted, a faulty microphone caused his editorial comments about starter Shane Rawley (“if you call that a pitcher”) to echo around the ballpark. In the version the commenter cut-and-pasted, Bob recalled it as Rawley entering a 1982 game in relief and his first pitch getting whacked for an extra base hit, leading to a different comment (“some relief pitching”) going out over an open mic. 
In point of fact, I heard both versions, from Bob. Since Rawley, otherwise effective with the Mariners and particularly the 1987 Phillies, spent his entire two-and-a-half years in the Bronx pitching like the Human Torch, either version could be correct (maybe even both). My point in telling the story was that after initially being terribly embarrassed by the gaffe, Bob came to embrace it and enjoy it as much as the rest of us cherish some of our on-air bloopers (my favorite of my own can’t be repeated or reprinted – I’ll spare you).
This reminds me that one of the first clues as to the identity of Bob’s forgotten predecessor was a open-mic blooper so hilarious that it was recorded by all of New York’s many newspapers in the ’40s, and has since passed into baseball lore – but attributed almost exclusively to another PA man. A few fans sitting front-row in fair territory had draped their overcoats over the then low fence in the outfield. The next day, the papers all reported that the Yankee Stadium announcer had inspired a roar of laughter from the crowd by intoning “Would the fans sitting in right field please remove their clothes…” 
Remarkably, not one of the eight or nine beat reporters – who used to fight each other for details in a way we can’t comprehend today – said who the PA announcer was! This was the first hint that his anonymity was being protected for some reason. Later evidence proved the reason was obvious: it was Yankees’ Public Relations man Arthur “Red” Patterson, and the writers certainly weren’t going to tick off their official conduit to the club by publicly humiliating him by name.
A year or two later, Tex Rickards, the Dodger PA announcer whose style would be the exact opposite of Sheppard’s (earthy, gravelly, sitting not in the press box but next to the Dodger dugout, often wearing a team jacket reading “Dodger Announcer”), made the exact same mistake. Rickards’ version of “will the fans sittin’ in the outfield please remove dere clothes” has gone into history. Patterson’s is an almost forgotten footnote – except he did it first.
Incidentally, the doubling of duties was not unique to New York. A remarkable recording of a Yankees-Tigers game in Detroit from 1934 has Tigers’ radio play-by-play man Ty Tyson telling his listeners that Luke Hamlin was coming into pitching, then, with an audible click, he turns on the PA microphone and makes the same announcement to the crowd.

Imagine Vin Scully doubling as the Dodgers’ voice, on air, and in Dodger Stadium!
One last note about Mr. Sheppard. Visiting with my friend Gary Cohen after the Mets’ game yesterday (and congratulations to Gary, Ron Darling, and Keith Hernandez for placing second to Vin in GQ Magazine’s ranking of the best TV booths in the game), he told me that Ralph Kiner had mentioned during the broadcast that when Ralph joined the Mets’ crew in 1962 he sought Sheppard’s advice on enunciation and clarity – which gives you a sense of the esteem with which he was held, relatively early in his remarkable career.


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