January 2013

These Questions Are Easier Than They Seem

Nothing makes simple questions needlessly complex more quickly than a lot of people needing to fill a lot of time and space. So. Let’s knock these off quickly.

Can The Yankees Void Alex Rodriguez’s Contract?

Highly unlikely. When Rodriguez admitted to past PED use four years ago, the team had a window in which it could’ve claimed he had misled them so seriously that it amounted to fraud or more likely breach of contract. It could’ve cut off his paycheck and invited him – or the Players’ Association – to sue them.

But Rodriguez could’ve just as easily responded by saying ‘thanks.’ He was coming off a 35/103/.302/.392/.573 season, the ever-willingly gullible fan base bought his line about having merely “experimented” and stopped years before, and he would’ve found somebody to pay him – and maybe even pay him more.  The Yankees still had dreams of making additional tens of millions in marketing money as Alex Rodriguez – the clean home run hitter – expunged Barry Bonds from the record book. They didn’t want to fire him.

One of the problems with breach of contract is that if you feel you’re the victim of it, if you don’t respond legally, you are – in a passive-aggressive fashion – forgiving whatever action you think constituted the possible breach. The time frame before your window to try to void a contract expires is not set in stone, but it sure as heck is less than four years.

But Isn’t The New Allegation A Whole Different Breach?

It sure would be – if Rodriguez admitted it. But he’s denying it, outright. Unless there’s another positive test out there, there isn’t a fraud/breach way out of his contract.

By the way, no, I’m not a lawyer. Don’t ask me why I’m so familiar with this topic right now. Trust me, I just am.

So Couldn’t The Yankees Buy Him Out Of His Contract?

There are several variations, but the best estimate is that the Yankees owe Rodriguez another $114,000,000. Exactly what would your motivation be to accept something less?

If he retires, he gets less. If he has to retire because of injury, the Yankees can put in a claim on their insurance on the contract. But if he keeps showing up to work, either willing to play or trying to rehabilitate himself, the club owes him the full amount.

Ask Don Gullett. The Yankees signed him the same winter they signed Reggie Jackson. Everybody knew he had a risky delivery and a cranky arm, but they still gave him a six-year contract. He pitched exactly 30 times for them, the last game coming in July, 1978. He was still showing up at Yankee Stadium and throwing stiffly on the sidelines as late as the summer of 1980. He was a non-roster invitee in 1981. His endless arm miseries produced one of the great jokes in the history of television sportscasting. Deep into one winter, Jerry Girard of WPIX-TV in New York interrupted reading the NBA scoreboard and announced there was breaking news. “This just in,” he said as the director killed the graphics of the scores and put him on camera. “There has been a Don Gullett sighting!”

Why On Earth Did The Diamondbacks Trade Justin Upton?

This is the revised version of the question “Why On Earth Would The Diamondbacks Trade Justin Upton?” The two questions have been asked 47,552 times* this off-season on radio, tv, and the internet.

Answer: In what is now a five-and-a-half season sample size, Justin Upton is a career .250 hitter with a .325 on base percentage and a .406 slug, and an average of 18 homers and 63 RBI. That’s what he’s done lifetime away from Phoenix (the homers and RBI are normalized to a 162-game season). He drove in exactly 20 runs on the road last year.

He is a supremely talented prospect who has thus far shown he doesn’t travel well.

The Braves can take some hope from the fact that sometimes disastrous home-road splits are not entirely-park related but at least somewhat comfort-related. If he’s just as good at home in Atlanta as he was in Arizona, the trade won’t be a disaster (and he still won’t be a superstar). They can still also be optimistic about a smaller sample: 1/8/.293/.388/.483 – in 58 career at bats in Atlanta.

*-I made that number up.

Why Hasn’t Michael Bourn Signed Yet?

He hit .238 after July 1st of last year.

That’s why you trade for Ben Revere instead.

Which Hall Of Famer Is This?

From The Baseball Hall Of Fame Photo Archive

From The Baseball Hall Of Fame Photo Archive

This one is not easier than it seems. HOF President Jeff Idelson tweeted that shot out today, with this enticing hint:

This brilliant lefty’s pickoff move was deemed great by Earl Weaver. He’s in the HOF, but not as a player. Who is he?

An additional hint was later provided – that he was on USC’s national college champs of 1958.

The photo provides an approximate date. That thing at the top left is the famed curved roof of the Orioles’ old spring training home, Miami Stadium, and the bagginess of the uniform suggests 1960 or 1961 at the latest.

Since Jeff has already tweeted the answer, I’m going to give it again, below. It ain’t Steve Dalkowski and it ain’t Frank Bertaina.

 

 

 

This brilliant lefty is Hall of Fame executive Pat Gillick

 

Photo Nerdgasm: UPDATED

I know, I know, Morse trade, WBC, Manti Te’o’s Invisible Girlfriend…I have something important to discuss here: Who are these guys? These are two shots taken at the Yankees’ old spring training facility at Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in the 1978-85 range. The negatives were never printed and never identified by the photographer, and they aren’t obvious to anybody. And I speak as an anybody whose proudest moment was going into the Baseball Hall of Fame’s Photo Archive three years ago and having the privilege to be shown their “unidentified” file – and to reel off seven or eight consecutive IDs in the first photos I saw. I was just beginning to draw a crowd when the muse left me. I think I had one tentative name guess for the remaining hundred in the pile.

Anyway, all we know is that they were Yankees, that we think they were non-roster invitees, and that we have three meh possibilities. Want to play?

Who are these guys?

Who Am I, Number One?

Who Am I, Number One?

Who Am I, Number Two?

Who Am I, Number Two?

As I said, there are a couple of possibilities. Number One looks vaguely – very vaguely – like Keith Smith, who played exactly 20 innings at short for the Yankees in ’84 and ’85. Let’s look at Number One and Smith, side by side…

I AM P. Keith Smith

I AM P. Keith Smith

Am I P. Keith Smith?

Am I P. Keith Smith?

Face shape looks pretty good. The eyebrows are close and any deviation can be attributed to a common eyebrow issue for us Keiths – trimming. The head tilt as part of the attitude toward the camera is one of those subtle things that often tell you more than facial features. But maybe you recognize him and it’s somebody else?

As to the other, I’m not nearly as confident:

I'm Brian Fisher

I’m Brian Fisher

I'm Kelly Scott

I’m Kelly Scott

Kelly Scott? Brian Fisher?

Kelly Scott? Brian Fisher?

I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if our Mysterious Yankee #2 is neither Kelly Scott – a pitcher who was in camp several times in the ’80s – nor Brian Fisher, a very highly rated reliever the Yankees had gotten from Atlanta and later peddled to Pittsburgh. There are a few bad color photos of Scott in which his hair looks very much like our guy. The similarities to Fisher are obvious – the mouth, ear shape, etc. – but doesn’t the unidentified Yankee look significantly older than Fisher? It’s not like these photos could’ve been years apart: Fisher was in the Yank camp just two years, ’85 and ’86.

In any event, if you want to play sleuth, feel free to use the comments. If you have photos or links to support your thoughts, lemme know. Thanks!

MantleDetailUPDATE: One of your kind comments reminds me that we have a few clues besides the faces of the unknown Yanks. Over #2′s right shoulder, for instance, is a very familiar figure.

The Number 7 is on the one and only Mickey Mantle, who served as a Yankee spring training instructor from the year after his retirement until his health failed in the ’90s – with a couple of exceptions. Mantle was barred from baseball in February, 1983, for having gone to work for an Atlantic City casino, and wasn’t reinstated until March, 1985. Therefore you wouldn’t see a Yankee spring training photo from 1983, 1984, or a shot from early spring training 1985 (most of the fringe guys would’ve been long gone before Mantle’s earliest possible return, on March 18th).

This dates the photo to 1982 or earlier, and 1986 or later. The negatives were supposed to have originated from the late ’70s or early ’80s.

Just as importantly, you can plainly see the memorial armband on Mantle’s left sleeve. The Yankees wore those a lot, and would’ve had them during spring training in 1980 (for the late Thurman Munson), in 1981 (for the late Elston Howard), and in 1986 (for the late Roger Maris).

The images were shot on the same day – they’re on the same negative strip. So they are likely dated to 1980-81 (a smaller chance that they date to 1986). Although then, as now, minor leaguers occasionally would be seen in big league camp even if they weren’t on the roster and they weren’t formally ‘non-roster invitees,’ their likelihood of being photographed was very small (they could and were photographed separately, in minor league camp).

Thus the field of who these two men could be really shrinks to all the guys in Spring Training for the Yankees in 1980 and 1981 who I don’t recognize on sight (and in those two seasons I went from Radio Network sportscaster and reporter, and part-time photographer, to CNN sports correspondent). And that field is:

1980:  Pitchers Jim Lewis, Brian Ryder, and Jamie Werly; catchers Scott Benedict, Pat Callahan, and Dan Plante.

1981: Pitchers Curt Kauffman, Lewis, and Ryder; catchers Callahan and Kevin Shannon.

For the record there a couple of other obscure guys in the field that I’ve eliminated because they don’t look like either of these guys: pitchers Paul Boris, Greg Cochran, Tom Filer, Roger Slagle, and Chris Welsh (that’s right: that Chris Welsh, now the Reds’ announcer and then a Yankee lefthand pitching prospect). Speaking of the Reds, neither is either of them another 1981 non-roster invitee named Don Gullett,  who was still – five seasons later – trying to spend one healthy season in a New York uniform after having signed a huge free agent contract in the winter of 1976-77.

But I’m digressing. Let’s put together a rogue’s gallery of the remaining possibilities:

Jim Lewis, 1980

Jim Lewis, 1980

Jamie Werly, 1981

Jamie Werly, 1981

Brian Ryder, 1982

Brian Ryder, 1982

Curt Kaufman, 1982

Curt Kaufman, 1982

Scott Benedict, 1981

Scott Benedict, 1981

Pat Callahan, 1979

Pat Callahan, 1979

As you see, it’s an incomplete gallery. Nothing turned up for two of those catchers – Dan Plante and Kevin Shannon.

I think most of these guys are obviously neither of our unidentified Yankees. One bears a remote resemblance – I’d suggest Scott Benedict, later a renowned high school coach in Florida, might just be Yankee #1, but the chest hair and the chin in the identified shot suggests otherwise. But do you see that shot of Brian Ryder with the then-Reds farm team, the Indianapolis Indians, from 1982. We may have a winner.

Let’s look at a couple more shots of Ryder, and put them alongside our Yankee #2:

Ryder, 1981

Ryder, 1981

Ryder, 1980

Ryder, 1980

Ryder?

Ryder?

I like the 1981 black and white especially – the profile shot – as a match, but it’s pointed out below that the complexion looks more like those two shots of Jamie Werly.

Ryder was the 26th overall pick in the 1978 draft and produced 15-victory seasons in his first two full years in the minors. But after a so-so year at AAA in 1981 the Yankees packaged him and another minor league pitcher named Fredie Toliver to the Reds, for Ken Griffey Sr (it is almost impossible to recall that we used to just call him “Ken Griffey.”) Ryder and Werly never made the majors – but the latter did put together a solid seven years in the

Jamie Werly

Jamie Werly

high minors, including a season as the top pitcher in the Southern League in 1981. In a recent photo he looks a lot like Yankee #1. I think it’s one of them, shown just a few springs ago, with Mickey Mantle over their shoulder…

If anybody has any ideas on the others, feel free to post a Comment – especially if you’ve got a shot of Dan Plante or Kevin Shannon.

UPDATED AGAIN!

Finally it struck me. “Number 1″ here has been annoying me for awhile. Looked familiar, but in a disguised way. Is it possible I’m seeing a guy I knew with long, even bushy hair, and a mustache, without either?

Dennis Werth

Dennis Werth

Could I be...

Could I be…

Dennis Werth? Jayson Werth’s step-Dad?

Nobody Elected to HOF: We Deserve It (Revised)

Well, this is it. Kindly pay your piper. Welcome those chickens coming home to roost. Please enjoy your Hall of Fame Day of Reckoning.

The anecdotal accounts – and an invaluable “exit poll” – foresaw that the Baseball Writers Association of America would elect nobody as part of the class of 2013, and though I grieve for Dale Murphy and Craig Biggio and several others, there is a certain poetic justice to it.

We all knew. The players who used, the players who didn’t, the owners who enabled it, we reporters who covered it, we fans who bought tickets and cheered anyway. Some of us didn’t want to admit we knew until they went after Bonds and Clemens, or until Canseco’s book, or until McGwire’s temporal displacement in front of Congress, or until that container of Andro showed up in his locker in ’98.

But we knew.

We saw utility infielders popping opposite field home runs and part time guys slapping 20 homers and superstars hitting drives that would have set distance records in golf. We saw before and after photos of the Cansecos and the Bondses and we suspended our disbelief.

We all deserve nobody going into the Hall this year save for Hank O’Day and Jake Ruppert and Deacon White. Only O’Day – in his post-pitching career as an umpire – and the bespectacled White were ever accused even of myopia, let alone actual PED-use.

I am not casting stones from inside the glass house. I’m guilty, too. It was the day they gave the 1986 A.L. Rookie of the Year award to Canseco (whose moral standing in this mess has gradually gone from last place to about 4th from the top because he alone was utterly, if mercenarily, honest). One of the runners-up told me off-the-record “you do know that Canseco uses those drugs they give to the East German Women Swimmers, right?”

He didn’t even know they were called steroids.

I did what digging I could, and kept an ear to the ground, but how many sources were enough to tell that story?But in 1988, just after Ben Johnson was thrown out of the Seoul Olympics for a positive steroid test, I got a series of four sources – including some of her opponents – who told me that Florence Griffith-Joyner was just as steeped in scandal as was Johnson. I promptly went out and butchered the story. I was trying to write a revelation that should have sounded like “other Olympic runners say this” and included a recitation of the math that she was now breaking records so profoundly and so quickly that if the pace continued, by the year 2188, a runner would actually finish a race before she started it. Instead, I turned it into something that sounded like “I think she’s on them drug things.” She and her crew threatened suit, I retracted the story, and not long after Thomas Boswell of The Washington Post had the same experience with his “Canseco Cocktail” story. As well-meaning as we each were in trying to expose the putrid mess, we both set back its revelation by some (presumably small) degree. I’m sorry.

About two months after she got back from Seoul, Flo-Jo, who had promised to sue me and CBS and Carl Lewis (who had made the same charge at a speech at the University of Pennsylvania, on videotape, and then claimed it was off the record), and who had promised to keep running until she won Gold in her “home” Olympics in Atlanta in 1996, abruptly retired. We never heard from their lawyers again. She died in 1998, more than a year shy of her 40th birthday. For the record, I think she too either didn’t know – or willingly disbelieved – that there was anything more than perseverance to her unprecedented series of record-breaking performances. I think she suddenly found out, which is where the retirement – and the legal silence – came in. But it’s just a guess.

In any event, the next time I tripped over something substantial, I kept it to myself.  A pro sports team orthopedist remarked on the sudden devastating, nearly career-ending, bizarre injury to a star baseball player. He said that there were only three ways to accomplish what the guy had done to himself: a hereditary circulatory problem or the repeated injection of anabolic steroids into the same place in the body or a horrific car accident (“By that I mean,” he told me, “having a car dropped on top of you from about 25 feet.”) Having burned myself on the Flo-Jo thing I was not prepared to repeat the process. And now I knew that there was one baseball star on steroids and maybe another one had just had his career virtually ended by steroids and there were not enough sources to mine and certainly nobody to pool notes with.

And then the bottle of “andro” showed up in McGwire’s locker. I can remember that week hearing the late baseball writer Leonard Koppett tell me on my show that nobody cared, that it wasn’t cheating, that it was nothing worse than vitamins or maybe, maybe, “greenies.” To his eternal credit, the author and former pitcher Jim Bouton not only disagreed, but got it exactly right. Some day, he says in the interview, baseball will have to reckon with years and years of records that will be artificially inflated, distorted beyond all measure, by the effects of a drug that lets you keep working out when the guys next to you – or before you, chronologically – have to drop the barbell. It was Bouton, after all, who had written in the eternal Ball Four that if a pitcher could take a pill that guaranteed him a) 20 wins and b) that he’d die five years sooner, he would’ve swallowed it before you finished that “b)” part.

So I pushed the Andro story – wrote a piece for Playboy in 1999 in which I picked up both Bouton’s point and the fact that baseball was going to lose the breathless charm of “chasing the home run record.” I pushed that story and every little hint of the truth dropped over the years, by the late Ken Caminiti, by Canseco, by Curt Schilling. But by then, almost nobody cared. I stood atop the right field corner at Fenway at the Home Run Hitting Contest the night before the 1999 All-Star Game at Fenway and ooed and ahhed with the rest of you as McGwire hit 650-foot blasts beyond the wall at the other side of the ballpark. And I knew it was mostly the drugs and while I could still preserve enough of my own disbelief to know it wasn’t real, I could see how the results of the PEDs could be as addictive to the fans and the owners’ bottom lines, as the drugs themselves could be the players.

By 2002 I was carrying a printed list of the players I had been told by various sources were “using.” Printed out and folded up inside my scorebook. I’d show it to colleagues and team executives and even other players and get confirmations or denials or additions. But I never even emailed it to, nor copied it for, anybody. With delicious irony, the legal rules protected the rule-breakers.

My conscience is relatively clean. I’ve been yelling about the Emporers’ Clothes for more than fourteen years. Yet it literally still keeps me up at night. Did so last night before today’s announcement. Biggio will probably get in later, and I think the Veterans’ Committee will soon note that Dale Murphy has the same OPS+ as Jim Rice, and was at worst the second or third best hitter of the era that matched his days as a starting player, and the collateral damage to them and the other deserving clean players will be transient. I do think there’s something delicious about the fact that the Baseball Writers have never even been consistent about what merits election to Cooperstown, and this time they all had to figure it out at the most complex moment in voting history, and that because none of them was likely to reach the same conclusion, for everybody who voted Bagwell but not Bonds, there was somebody who voted Bonds but not Bagwell, and none of them got in.

But they all deserve that kind of self-abnegating communal shame. As do we. They did it. We watched it. Those of us who didn’t care, and those of us who cared but couldn’t reveal or stop it, deserve similar if not identical fates.

The path to Steroid Hell was indeed paved with good intentions. And Jim Bouton’s pills. And the drugs that he didn’t know the name of that the guy told me about 26 years ago that they also gave the East German Women Swimmers. And the stuff we saw with our lying eyes and just pretended wasn’t real.

1983

1983

1988

1988

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