Archive for the ‘ Dailies ’ Category

Ron Santo And Baseball’s Shame

It should go without saying that the true tragedy is the death of Ron Santo at the age of 70 after a brave and inspirational fight against diabetes and the amputations of both legs it necessitated.

But beyond the mourning of this day, is the shame of this day. The Cubs’ great third baseman is not in the Hall of Fame, and symbolizes that all-too-large group of players ranging from 19th Century stars to Gil Hodges to Buck O’Neil to Dale Murphy who are, by any means, considerably better than a huge percentage of those already in Cooperstown, but who are still excluded due to the enduringly searing reality that the Hall has never gone more than two years without one of its groups of electors screwing something up.
In “his” era, from his debut in June of 1960 through his rump year with the White Sox in 1974, Ron Santo led all major leaguers who didn’t play first base or the outfield with 342 Homers and 1331 RBI. The RBI total is by itself fifth among all players in that fifteen-year stretch. Santo also won five Gold Gloves in just thirteen full seasons as a third baseman, and he did so despite facing the formidable opposition of the brilliant Boyer brothers. Ken was at his peak with the Cardinals when Santo broke in with the Cubs, and as he faded, Clete arrived in Atlanta in 1967 to challenge Santo for four more seasons.
Santo isn’t just qualified for the Hall, he’s a shoo-in at one of the most underrepresented positions in Cooperstown. Yet when he was first eligible on the Writers’ ballot in 1980, he was named on less than four percent of ballots cast. Frankly, the 96 percent who did not vote for him should have been barred from voting for life, so obvious was their ignorance of the game. He dropped off the ballot, but was restored in 1985 in one of the constant corrections of the writers’ laziness and incompetence. These writers eventually achieved a kind of dim understanding, and, by 1998, he was up to 43 percent.
This underscores the fatal flaw of the BBWAA participation in the vote, especially in the days before inter-league play. Something approaching 50 percent of those who voted on Santo, and all his peers, would never have seen him play except on television or at All-Star Games. After 1998, Santo was placed in the tender hands of the Veterans’ Committee, which has only had to be reconstituted three times since then, including late last summer in order to give Marvin Miller and the late George Steinbrenner a chance. Things were shuffled so that the “Expansion Era” will be considered this winter, which naturally leaves Santo out.
The BBWAA system doesn’t work, the Special Negro Leagues Committee didn’t work, and any of the Veterans’ Committees hasn’t worked. It’s time for baseball to take back control of the election process and model it on something the NFL has long done: convene a miniature college of experts to advocate and debate the merits of each candidate and then announce its consensus. The current system, in which voters simply send in their opinions without any indication that they’ve done any research, has all the validity of mailing in box tops from cornflakes.
I mean, seriously: The statistic I quoted above – that between 1960 and 1974 Ron Santo led all major leaguers who didn’t play first base or the outfield with 342 Homers and 1331 RBI – how many people who ever voted for or against him, even knew that?

Performance Enhancing Drugs – In 1894?

What’s fun about turning over baseball’s rocks is that it often turns out that beneath them there are…other rocks.

The rediscovery here of photographs of the preparations of the New York Giants before the final game of the 1894 Temple Cup inside the pages of The Illustrated American magazine led the Hall of Fame’s Senior Curator Tom Shieber to an unexpected and startling conclusion: as they swept the Orioles in the closest thing that era had to the World Series, two members of the Giants thought they were using PED’s:

Two of the Giants
made the telling plays in the Temple Cup games, just as they did two weeks ago
in Chicago. …  “You wish to know why these two particular men, and
how they did it? This is the solution.” The speaker held between his
finger and thumb a diminutive three-cornered blue phial. He continued:
“May be, you all do not know that R—- … is a pretty good doctor.
… When we got to Washington he asked W—- and myself to go with him one morning
to call on a doctor who is supposed to be thoroughly up in Isopathy. The visit
was most interesting, and when we left, R—- and W—- had promised to test the
virtue of the elixir contained in these little bottles. The opportunity
occurred in Chicago September 18th. The score was 1 to 1, each team having
tallied in the sixth. R—- was now up, but before taking the bat I saw him pass
something to his mouth and then look up for quite two minutes. His eyes
brightened and the veins across his temples and the arteries down his neck
knotted like cords as he stood at the plate. … R—- met the ball … and he put
his 230 pounds in the lunge he made; … the ball was bound for the outer world,
and would not have stopped if the fence had been twice as high. Three runs were
tallied, and, as it proved, they were just about the number needed…They used
the Washington physician’s elixir in every Temple Cup game, and I tell you that
is the secret of the Giants holding that trophy to-day. R—- and W—- will both
tell you so.”


Shieber goes on to source what the miracle “Isopathy” elixir was supposed to do (provide accelerated heartbeats and thus an instantaneous surge of strength), what it was supposed to be made of (mashed up ox brains), what it actually was (nitroglycerine), and who apparently used it (Amos Rusie and John Montgomery Ward).

A cardiac specialist friend of mine says it must’ve been 100% placebo, or, maybe even pure luck that it didn’t kill either of the 1894 Giants. Patients given nitroglycerine for heart-related chest pain are urged to lie down immediately because blood pressure drops.

Still, psychology tells us that placebos often work – and in the 1880’s and 1890’s when “glandular extracts” from animals were supposedly the cutting age of medicine, this might’ve been more true than at other times. Ironically, while Rusie and Ward were very-forward thinking in terms of supplements, they should’ve looked backwards. In 1889, future Hall of Famer Pud Galvin openly enrolled in “medical experiments” in Pittsburgh testing the efficacy of testosterone drawn from monkeys.

A good moment to pause for illustrations:1895Temple.jpg

That’s the cover of the scorecard from Game Four of the 1895 Series, supposedly the one owned by Orioles’ right fielder Wee Willie Keeler. One thing you’ll notice right away, that helped doom the Series. Baltimore finished first in the regular seasons of 1894 and 1895, but were upended in the Temple Cup by the second-place Giants in ’94 and the second-place Cleveland Spiders in ’95. Yet the Orioles, and their fans, still considered themselves the NL champions – and put it on the front cover of the scorecard for the series that was supposed to determine the champions!
This would be the only game the O’s would win in either the ’94 or the ’95 Series (they would win in ’96 and ’97). Here’s the scorecard itself:1895TempleScorecard.jpg
The hero for Baltimore was their third starter – the equivalent of a fifth starter today – Duke Esper. He threw a no-hitter for four and ended up with a five-hit shutout, winning 5-0 while the faithful Orioles fans pelted the Spiders with projectiles ranging from rocks to eggs. There were no fewer than seven Hall of Famers in this game, including the O’s first four hitters (John McGraw, Keeler, Hughie Jennings, and Joe Kelley, plus catcher Wilbert Robinson, Cleveland left fielder Jesse Burkett, and home plate umpire Tim Keefe). An eighth, Cy Young, had one of his few days off. There were five games in the 1895 Temple Cup, and Young pitched and won three of them!
Much of the program is devoted to very formal, very professional photographs of the Baltimore players. Most pictures of the great McGraw show him as the aged, even pudgy manager of the Giants. He’s only 21 or 22 here…1895TempleMcGraw.jpg

More On Jeter And 1894

It would appear that the Derek Jeter mess is down to one escape route.

Jeter should take the Yankees’ last offer, adding only one demand to a deal that will already overpay him by 50% or more. To save both his tattered reputation and the equally-sullied one of the Yanks, he should agree to the three years at $15,000,000 per and append to it a deal for an undisclosed figure that keeps him in the employ of the team in some non-playing capacity for ten years or twenty or whatever number they choose to pull out of thin air. Presumably a clause giving him an out in 2014 if he still wants to play (Japan?) could be worked in and boasted about by both sides.
Add one hug, ignore the reality that the Yankees should’ve spent the winter seeking not to mollify Jeter but to replace him, and everybody’s happy – until Jeter hits .238 in 2011.
The urgency of settlement has never been more pronounced than tonight. It’s pretty bad when three or four of your four theoretical alternatives to being vastly overpaid in New York disappear on the same day: The Dodgers sign Juan Uribe to play second, the Giants are about to sign Miguel Tejada to play short, the Rays have just put Jason Bartlett on the block to make room for Reid Brignac and Cardinals trade for Ryan Theriot (conceivably leaving the other middle infield spot still open unless the Skip Schumaker fan club prevails) – oh and Troy Tulowitzki just set the real bar for what a superb shortstop is worth (as opposed to what he was worth).
So that leaves Baltimore (Japan?)
Bad day to be Derek Jeter. He and agent Casey Close were said to have met with the Yankees today, were said to have been a little more flexible when they did so, and Jeter supposedly says he and Close will meet again tomorrow. I think, perhaps, they should.
MEANWHILE, BACK ON THE TEMPLE CUP SCOREBOARD:
I am charmingly chastised by Jenny Ambrose of 

TempleTiernan.jpg

the Hall of Fame that the publication from which those first-ever Temple Cup photos were taken and posted here (that’s a detail of Giants’ rightfielder Mike Tiernan, warning up before Game Four at the Polo Grounds in New York, a thousand yards from Yankee Stadium, in October, 1894), “The Illustrated American,” lasted not from 1887 to around 1898, but from exactly February 22, 1890 through February 17, 1899. The magazine met an ignominious end. There may or may not have been a fire at its headquarters, but there was a bankruptcy of some sort. From the “Business Troubles” listing in the April 16, 1898 edition of The New York Times:

Deputy Sheriff Maguire yesterday sold out the office furniture, type, and plant of The Illustrated American at 209 and 213 East Twenty-third Street, for about $1,100.
Never mess with an archivist.
Jenny’s Cooperstown colleague Bill Francis tells us a little something about the events after the decisive game of the 1894 Temple Cup, in which the homestanding Giants swept the Baltimore Orioles 16-3. Again from The Times (October 9, 1894), hours after those photos were snapped:
…the victors and the vanquished saw “Dr. Syntax” at the Broadway Theatre, and afterward recounted some of the pleasant experiences of last season, over foaming bumpers of Nick Engel’s beer. In a few days the players will start for their respective homes, and the baseball cranks’ occupation will be lost until gentle Spring starts again.
You just don’t hear a lot these days about ballplayers reliving the season “over foaming bumpers of beer.”

This Just In…From 1894

You might not like the Wild Card, and you might not like the World Series extending into November, and you might promise you will not like this expanded version of the playoffs Bud Selig is hinting at. But your displeasure will be nothing compared to the most ill-fated of all of baseball’s post-season formats: The Temple Cup.

On the other hand, as of this blog post, you finally have some photographs of action from The Temple Cup.
The Temple Cup was an attempt to make the best of a monopoly. 19th Century Baseball is largely and arrogantly ignored by even the game’s historians, but nearly everything we have today was either established or contemplated then. The two-league system was up on its feet by 1882 and the World Series (literally called “The World’s Championship Series”) was  established by 1886 (and a championship trophy, “The Dauvray Cup,” was established a year later). There was also a powerful players’ union by 1890 which would have overtaken the game’s power structure had it not been betrayed by the businessmen with which it necessarily had to partner to form its own player-run league that season.
The 1890 season destroyed the still solidifying rivalry between the National League and the American Association. Most of the players of the established leagues jumped to the union-backed Players League, and even in a time of franchise fluidity and player relocation, it was too much confusion and too much betrayed loyalty and simply too much baseball for the fans to stand. The NL, AA, and probably the PL lost money, and the balance of power was so deranged that the Brooklyn Bridegrooms, who as American Association Champions had lost the 1889 World Series to the NL Champion New York Giants, themselves jumped to the NL in 1890. They won the league crown, while the AA’s Louisville Cyclones – virtually untouched by the player raids because their players were thought to be so bad - went from worst to first in the Association. 
5,600 Kentucky fans showed up to see Game One of that natural Brooklyn-Louisville rivalry on display in the 1890 World Series. But the crowd for the next game was half that. By the first game in Brooklyn just 1,050 showed up. As the weather and baseball both worsened, Game Six drew just 600, Game Seven only 300. And even though the Series was tied at three games apiece with one draw, the teams called the thing off – it was that bad.
The Players League went out of business that winter, and as its talent returned home the American Association and National League squabbled (that’s why the Pirates are called the Pirates; they grabbed second baseman Lou Bierbauer when the Philadelphia Athletics failed to put in a claim for him). Within a year the weaker AA was dead, and all that was left was the NL, with four of the stronger AA franchises tacked on. The twelve-team, no-division league was so unwieldy that seven of the teams finished at least 32 games out of first.
All of which brings us back to the Temple Cup. The National League monopoly had to come up with something to fill the void of the World Series, which had died with the two-league system when the American Association folded. In 1892 they tried a split season, matching the first-half winners from Boston against the second-half victors from Cleveland. It was just as dull a prospect as it would be when the owners returned to it 99 years later after the Strike of 1981, and it was abandoned. 
There was no post-season play at all in 1893, and that didn’t work either. That’s the exiting owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Chase Temple (in a neat tie-in, one of the owners who signed away Lou Bierbauer from the A’s) offered a 30-inch tall, $800 trophy to the winners of some kind of post-season championship (a team would only get it if it won three seasons in a row). But what kind of post-season championship? Naturally, the first-place finisher versus the runner-up.
Hoo boy.
They actually thought this would work, that the fans of twelve cities, having watched a 154-game season decide who was best, would accept forcing that team to then play a best-of-seven against the club they just beat. No Divisional Play, no splitting up into Six-Team Leagues or Conferences. Winner Versus Runner-Up! That the concept was inherently flawed was underscored by the fact that at its outset, the Temple Cup was designed as a challenge. As Jerry Lansche wrote in The Forgotten Championships:

The team that won the pennant would play the team that finished second in a best-of-seven series. If the first-place team declined to play, the second-place and third-place teams would compete. If the second-place team declined to play, the pennant winner would play the third-place team. If the…well, you get the idea.
I do not think it coincidental that until last week I had never before seen a photograph from any of the only four Temple Cups that were played before the idea was abandoned in the winter of 1897. Only once did the Regular Season Champs seem to take it seriously. None of the Series went longer than five games. Gate receipts for the first Cup, in 1894, were supposed to be split 65/35 but the members of the pennant winning Baltimore Orioles and runner-up New York Giants secretly agreed to go halfies on the money.
How could that possibly go wrong?
And finally we get to the point of this post. I’m not saying these are the first photographs ever discovered of The Temple Cup. I’m just saying these are the first I’ve ever seen, and that there are none in the Noah’s Ark that is the Hall of Fame Photo Archive. 
Behold! The late highlights, just 116 years after the fact!
This is from a weekly magazine called “The Illustrated American” which was published from 1887 or so until, apparently, the day headquarters in Brooklyn burned down in 1898. There is no accompanying article, and as you can see from the scans, the photographic/printing process is understandably crude (it’s 1894!). They called them “halftone photo-mechanicals” and reproducing them usually creates that herringbone effect.
Still, they are extraordinary (and possibly unique) looks into what might have become baseball’s equivalent of the Stanley Cup. Let’s look at the shots one at a time and discover that the publishers fudged, more than once.
TemplePreGame.jpg
Well, they’re a long way away from their positions if they are in fact waiting for umpire Tim Hurst’s call of “Game.” These are the 1894 New York Giants lined up in right field at the Polo Grounds before the decisive game of their sweep of the Orioles. The guy holding the flag in the middle is back-up catcher Parke Wilson, and standing to his left (our right) is the unmistakable mustache of should-be Hall of Famer, centerfielder George Van Haltren. The fellow in the striped jacket could easily be Hall of Fame pitcher Amos Rusie. Certainly the man next to him in the dark sweater
with the big glove is catcher Duke Farrell, and, to his left, in the other sweater, is Game Four starting pitcher Jouett Meekin. At the far right of the picture, seemingly just ambling up to the line, is no less a figure than Hall of Famer John Montgomery Ward. Ward is not only the Giants’ second baseman and manager, but the organizer of that first players’ union that precipitated the end of the game as they knew it and made the Temple Cup necessary.
As Ward begat the Players League and Chase Temple offered up The Temple Cup, Mrs. John Ward had a hand in this, too. As the actress Helen Dauvray, she had been such a fan that the Dauvray Cup for the Winners of the World’s Championship Series from 1887 through 1890 – manufactured by Tiffany’s – had been her idea.
Between Meekin and Ward, if you think you see a horse, I don’t think you’re wrong. Keep reading. And those are three small engines perched outside the stadium. The 8th Avenue Elevated Line not only ran directly from downtown Manhattan to the Polo Grounds on 155th Street, but the precursor to the city’s subway system had a storage yard behind leftfield. The yards would still be there in the 1940’s, and the “El Train” until the Giants moved to San Francisco in 1958.
TempleFarrell.jpg
Yeah, well, maybe.

I’m thinking Duke Farrell is actually acknowledging the photographer shouting at him. And he wasn’t the only one. That’s Van Haltren again at the far left, in his quilted pants (useful both for sliding and for warmth – it is October 8, 1894, after all). A little further back is, I believe, left fielder Eddie Burke. Farrell would later become the first coach for the Yankees (1909). At the far right, still holding his flag, is backup receiver Parke Wilson. And there’s the El Train in the background, along with the confirmation of the horse. This was not necessarily some precursor to the Phillies’ on-field mounted police brigade during the 9th Inning of their World Series win in 1980; for a small fee, season ticket holders could park their Broughams and other horse-drawn affairs in the outfield. 
TempleMeekin.jpg
George Jouett Meekin is not bowing, certainly not to the “rooters.”
But he took quite a few bows that season. After three mediocre years with Louisville and Washington (29-51), Meekin flourished in his first season in New York (33-9, 41 complete games, and this while striking out 137 and walking 176 in his 418 innings of work). Meekin was one of the new generation of fireballers who had been the impetus for the last great change in baseball just a year earlier – when the pitcher was moved back from a “box” fifty feet from the plate, to a mound located sixty feet, six inches away (his teammate Rusie, who won 36 games that year, and a fellow in Cleveland named Denton “Cyrus” or “Cyclone” or just plain “Cy” Young were the others). 
Relying on a side-arm delivery and absolutely no curveball, Jouett would twice again win 20 games, then get flipped to Boston in the middle of the 1899 pennant race in a controversial and some say smelly move by the Giants to try to secure Boston the crown. Though he’d give up two in the first to the Orioles today, he finished up with a five-hit victory, his second of the Series.
TempleTiernan.jpg
Oh come on! 
I have no doubt that this wonder of photo-mechanical reproduction fooled some of the readers of a general interest magazine in 1894, but you and I have seen quite a few more game-action shots and this isn’t one of them. Firstly, Giants’ right fielder Mike Tiernan does not appear to be exerting himself very much. Secondly, it’s doubtful that the shutter speeds of the day would have caught very much of him if he had been, say, running before his “great decisive throw.”
Also the game ended 16-3 New York, and the boxscore tells us none of the Giants’ outfielders got an assist that day. Tiernan also contributed only one hit and one putout to the New York cause (our friends Farrell, Meekin, and Van Haltren had three each). But Tiernan is surely worth being singled out by the photographer. In the days when almost no ballplayer lasted, Tiernan roamed that corner of the Polo Grounds for twelve and a half years until an injury abruptly ended his career in July of 1899. He had 1,838 career hits, batted .311 and slugged .462, stole 449 bases, and in that deadball era, he not only hit 105 homers but five times managed double digits in single seasons. And considering he was one of just 24 players to get 5,000 At Bats in National League play before 1900, I think he should be in the Hall of Fame.
Note, by the way, the ads behind “Silent Mike”: for the newspaper “The New York American,” The Pennsylvania Railroad, and “White’s Yucatan Gum.” In a time-travel short story by the late Jack Finney, the hero arrives in a just-slightly altered New York of 1962 where the top-selling auto brand is the Stutz, there was a President Coopernagel, the Giants never moved to San Francisco, and the most popular gum is…Yucatan.
TempleWilson.jpg
To borrow my friend Gary Cohen’s phrase: “And the ballgame is over!”

Obviously it isn’t. The other Giants are still warming up behind the pennant and the shadows are all the same as in the “pre-game” shots. 18 hits and 16 runs by the Giants and they sweep the Temple Cup and you missed getting a single shot of the entire game? I’m not even convinced that’s Parke Murphy holding the flag. Looks more like the pitcher, Meekin. And there is that same horse, just to the right of the flag.
Why do I keep mentioning the horse? Again, from Lansche’s The Forgotten Championships:
During the seventh inning, two horses escaped from the grasp of their owners behind the ropes in center field, delaying the game several minutes before they were caught.
And today, we get worked up about a loose squirrel on the field.
TempleVictory.jpgOf course, they would have had to have taken their farewell tour before the game.

Okay, I’ll stop being so picky. These are photos of the long-forgotten Temple Cup, and its long-forgotten winners, the ’94 Giants. Some of the player ID’s are clear now: the thin guy just to the left of flag-bearer Parke Wilson appears to be Mike Tiernan. On the other side, with the ‘stache, is George Van Haltren. Not sure who’s next, but the four furthest right are Amos Rusie (I believe), Duke Farrell, Jouett Meekin, and – his stride here confirms it – Johnny Ward. Somewhere in that group is one more Hall of Famer, Giants’ third baseman George Stacey Davis. It’s too bad the Orioles didn’t wander over to the “Illustrated American” photographer. John McGraw was the third baseman on that team, and among his teammates, Dan Brouthers, Hughie Jennings, Wee Willie Keeler, Joe Kelley and Wilbert Robinson all went to Cooperstown (as did non-playing manager Ned Hanlon).
In fact, if you’d attended Game Three the day before, you would have seen exactly 18 Orioles and Giants on the field, and with Rusie pitching for New York, fully half of them were to be Hall of Famers.
Of course, with these photos – you sort of did go to that game, didn’t you?
Ironically the Hall of Fame doesn’t have any Temple Cup photos, but stored in its refrigerated archives, just behind a beer vendor’s case from Arlington Stadium from the 1970’s, is…
IMG_0951.jpg
IMG_0954.jpg
…the Temple Cup. Complete with guy who broke it (not really – it’s supposed to do that).
And if you think anything has really changed from the baseball of 1894 and the Temple Cup, consider a detail from one of the magazine photos, with a detail of a shot I took after Game Six of the 2009 World Series, which took place literally the other side of the Harlem River, no more than a thousand yards from Game Four of the 1894 Temple Cup. Mr. Jouett Meekin on the left; Mr. Joba Chamberlain on the right.
TempleWilsonDetail.jpg

IMG_1402.JPG

What Price Jeter?

Let’s put aside for a second the premise that Derek Jeter believes he should be baseball’s second-highest paid player after a season in which he batted .241 against right handed pitchers. Let’s not address what it must look like in that higher plane of consciousness in which a team should pay a man $25 million a year through his 42nd birthday not because he is performing at that a supreme level of production, but out of loyalty and recognition of past greatness, and because he deserves to make nearly as much as Alex Rodriguez does.

Let’s start with reality. If the Yankees actually have offered him three years at $15 million – is there any team prepared to outbid them? The first part of that question is obviously simpler: for how many teams would Jeter be an upgrade at shortstop – or even second base – and have any marquee value?
It’s best to begin inside the division. The Red Sox are out; it would look pretty funny to see Jeter in a Boston uniform and Theo Epstein would delight in the gigantic nose-thumbing it would constitute. But the Sox believe themselves overstocked up the middle as it is with Dustin Pedroia, Jed Lowrie and Marco Scutaro, and are trying to unload Scutaro as it is (one can almost see them offering Scutaro to the Yankees as a Jeter replacement). Tampa Bay might think Jeter a better second base option than Sean Rodriguez, but they’re seeking to trim payroll, not engorge it. Toronto is set with Escobar and Hill. On the other hand, the Orioles don’t really have a shortstop despite Robert Andino’s flashes of adequacy last September.
Could any of the other big market teams be interested? At first blush you could envision a scenario in which the Mets actually do unload Jose Reyes and grab Jeter (or grab him to play second). But don’t be fooled if the first half of this shuffle takes place. Reyes would be moved to lighten the payroll and there are serious doubts about whether ownership will sign even the most economical of free agents this winter. The only real bidding war the Yankees might face for Jeter would be over before it got back to the dealer. 
In Los Angeles, Erick Aybar and Maicer Izturis had weak seasons in 2010, but the Angels love them both. Owner Arte Moreno may be enough of a Yankee emulator at heart to have named his ballpark “Angel Stadium” (and not “Angels Stadium”) but he’s probably not enough of one to spend the money on Jeter when he could spend it on Adrian Beltre and/or Carl Crawford. Surely Jeter would be an improvement for the Dodgers at second base, but as at CitiField, ownership questions remain the deciding factor in the ever-deepening Chavez Ravine. 
In Chicago, the numbers have yet to explain the Cubs’ interest in Blake DeWitt but jettisoning him to pay Jeter to play second seems unlikely. As we move into the high-end middle markets, the Rockies have just cleared the way for Eric Young, Jr., at second. The Tigers would probably be happy to add Jeter to replace the Will Rhymes/Scott Sizemore uncertainty at second, but not at these prices. The Giants need a shortstop, but the field of free agents includes two incumbents from their own club in Edgar Renteria and Juan Uribe. The Reds are in a similar situation with Orlando Cabrera testing the waters. The Cardinals are inexplicably satisfied with their middle infield mish-mosh of Daniel Descalso, Tyler Greene, Brendan Ryan and Skip Schumaker but Jeter would be an upgrade on any of them.
So now we begin to move down market. The Astros like what Jeff Keppinger did for them last year and have just traded for Clint Barmes. Jeter would clearly be an improvement here. The same for Oakland and shortstop Cliff Pennington and second baseman Mark Ellis. The Padres likewise have unappealing options in Everth Cabrera and David Eckstein. The Indians are not sold on second baseman Jason Donald, but the Pirates probably would not think Jeter enough of an improvement to demote cheap shortstop Ronny Cedeno. And in Seattle, Jack Wilson can’t hit but the Mariners rightly fell in love with his glove. Perhaps these non-spending teams could all get together and offer Jeter one large contract and share him at a rate of 27 games each.
The Jeter market, then, is Baltimore, San Francisco and maybe St. Louis.
That’s the market at $15,000,001 a year. 
The market at $25,000,000 is in Jeter’s imagination. Or in the year 2000.

Jeter And The Yankees: The Back Story

This is the way the story was told to me by one of the people they turned to.

Beginning last March in Tampa, as Derek Jeter struggled through Spring Training by going 12-for-52 with only two extra-base hits and a .561 OPS, the Yankees have been worried – and worried on several different levels. Spring Training stats are usually meaningless (Marcus Thames struck out 21 times in 19 games, made the team, and flourished) and Jeter’s probably were. But his answers to one question were not so easily dismissed.
“No. It’s not that. I just have to get my upper body strength back to where it was.”
The noise quieted down when Jeter roared out of the gate with four homers and a .330 average in April. But by the time the June Swoon hit (.243, a slugging percentage of .379) the question began to be asked again. And the answer came back as before:
“No. It’s not that. I still just have to get my upper body strength back to where it was.”
The answer never actually changed. It was Jeter who finally rendered it moot by asking a question of his own some time in the unbelievable July-August stretch (2 HR, 20 RBI, .242 over a 55-game span):
“OK, what was that you were saying again?”
The question various Yankee non-players had been asking Jeter since the spring, as the ground balls multiplied and the extra-base hits vanished, was a simple one: Do you realize you are about to be 36 years old? Do you understand that what’s happening to you isn’t some failure of strength? Are you getting the hint that you have to change your approach at the plate? It was asked in any of a dozen different forms by possibly as many would-be helpers, and only when the well ran dry as the dog days approached did Jeter finally accept the possibility.
There was some hope in September that the message was getting through when his batting average perked up to .276 and the on-base percentage was the highest it had been all season at .369. But to some degree even this renaissance represented whistling past graveyards. Everybody was getting excited by Derek Jeter’s slash line of .276/.369/.333. 
The season before it had been .334/.406./.465. 
As the fine folks at Baseball Prospectus noted before the 2010 season began, Derek Jeter was in new territory. Even with eleven .300 seasons notched into his bat, there just wasn’t any indication that any shortstops aged 36 or over – unless their names were Honus Wagner – were going to produce anything but a long walk off a short pier. The nearly 400 ground balls Jeter generated in 2010 were not a statistical anomaly. They were the expected outcome of a lifetime of swings and stats and the ravages of time.
That was the point one of the umpteen coaches and advisors who worked with Jeter during the season tried to get through to him. That was the hard undeniable fact that he was so deftly sidestepping with the answers about insufficient upper body strength. Age, not laziness on the weight machine, adds that half-second to your swing. Age, not sloth, turns those little flares over the heads of the second baseman and shortstop into smothered balls skittering into their gloves. Age, Mr. Jeter, comes for us all.
The man who told me all this filled in some of the particulars with a level of hitter’s sophistication that I hope I was just barely following. If you want to adjust to age, he tried to convey to Jeter, you must quiet down at the plate. At 22 or 25 or 30 you can stand there with the bat resting against your knee if you want to as the pitchers wind up and you might still shoot one safely into the outfield. At 36, you can’t. You can’t, you can’t, you can’t.
“No. It’s not that. I just have to get my upper body strength back to where it was.”
The would-be instructor sighed. He said it had happened to him, too, maybe at an even slightly younger age, and he had been just as reluctant to admit it. I smiled and pointed to my gray hair and said remember, when you are telling him he’s not 22 any more, what you are really telling him is that he’s not just going to have to retire some day, but that he’s going to die some day. Who in the hell wants to hear that? And if you’re 36 and you’ve been doing this every day on the biggest platform in baseball without knowing real failure since you were 22, and you’ve outlasted seven double-play partners and one manager and the owner and even The Stadium, why are you actually going to believe it? And the would-be instructor smiled back and said he knew there was a reason he had decided to tell me the story and that maybe he needed to realize that this was what he was really telling Derek Jeter.
There is no suggestion here that Jeter is going to slug .465 ever again. But there is the suggestion that maybe he can do better than 2010’s .370, and that his OPS won’t come in below those of Marco Scutaro and Paul Janish and Travis Ishikawa again. It is a fairly small fix: quiet down at the plate. Lose the rocking back and forth. Lose the iconic hand extended backwards towards the umpire. Truncate the ritualistic tugs and adjustments that are beginning to remind people of Nomar Garciaparra. Think Hideki Matsui. Be still at the plate. Think about maximizing your reaction time by minimizing your movement. 
And think about $45 million over three years, which is the Yankees’ offer my friend Joel Sherman is hinting at in the newspaper, and what the latest set of grisly projections from Baseball Prospectus is suggesting (you’ll only be able to get 301 plate appearances in the third year of that prospective deal), and think of the market out there for 37-year old shortstops and realize that it is not an insult and not lowball and is in fact predicated on mutual loyalty and respect and the nauseating possibility of having to say “Now batting for Pittsburgh, the first baseman, Derek Jeter…”

Abner Doubleday Did Not Invent Baseball

I’ll just repeat that:

Abner Doubleday Did Not Invent Baseball.
If you’ve somehow missed it, Commissioner Bud Selig thinks otherwise. There is a chance that’s not actually a letter from him, since the man with whom he was corresponding was principally interested in the recent faked iconography problem at the Hall of Fame – so, who knows, maybe this is a faked Selig letter.
There is in fact no actual evidence that baseball was “invented” or that if it somehow was, Doubleday had any involvement in it – certainly not in Cooperstown, New York, in 1839, insomuch as Doubleday conclusively wasn’t in Cooperstown, New York, in 1839. The story was latched on to in 1905 when, with anti-British attitudes in this country at a relative height, a Commission was created to disprove the theory that the sport evolved from the British games of cricket and rounders (which, if you have eyes, you already know it obviously does).

The one tangible piece of supposed evidence upon which the “Mills Commission” finding rests is shown below:
IMG_0958.jpg
This is the Abner Graves baseball, submitted to the Mills Commission by an octogenarian of the same name, who claims he and his buddy Abner Doubleday used it in 1839 while Doubleday was inventing the game (fortunate he had this ball ready in advance, huh?). That the baseball seems professionally – possibly even mechanically – stitched, and more reminiscent of the ones used in the 1850’s or 1860’s, didn’t deter the Mills brothers. It was evidence and it wasn’t English.
The Graves ball is of course so central to the history of the game that when I was a kid it used to sit in that little wooden throne near the Hall of Fame entrance. It was so important that the then-curators apparently were overzealous in securing it to the base and there has now been a molecular exchange between the ball and the wood and it’s now a damn freakish Baseball/Wooden Pedestal Hybrid, and they have to keep it in the refrigerated archives, and wish it into the cornfield son, wish it into the cornfield!
Bud Selig, whom I have come to like very much, is not the only person who still believes in this absurd bit of creationism (but nearly). I can name you a dozen things he still believes in about which I’m far more worried, like the idea that making some teams play tough inter-league opponents while others play easy ones, doesn’t completely eat away at the authenticity and legitimacy of the pennant races exactly the way soft schedules eat away at the authenticity and legitimacy of the BCS.
So if Bud believes, great. Maybe he’d like to buy the above depicted Wood-e-Ball. I’m sure the Hall would be happy to off-load the thing.

The Conscience Of Baseball, 1995

There wasn’t a lot of principle flying around in the winter of 1994-95.

The owners had pushed the players into threatening to call a stupid strike. The players misjudged the owners and the public mood and struck anyway. The owners stonewalled, cancelled the rest of the season and the playoffs. All but one of the owners recruited “replacement teams” filled with minor leaguers (some of them virtually blackmailed into it) and long-retired players (some in their late 40s) and trotted them out on the field for Spring Training of 1995.
And Sparky Anderson said no.
The Hall of Fame manager of the Reds and Tigers passed away Thursday, and his successes with both franchises were worthy of all the accolades he’s receiving posthumously. But not prominent in these recollections is what Sparky Anderson did when the proverbial rubber met the road in that dark March of 1995, when the owners were ready to put a guy who was on Anderson’s first Cincinnati team in 1970 on the mound a quarter century later and pretend it was still the Major Leagues.
Sparky Anderson said he didn’t want to pick sides in a labor dispute, that his only interest was the integrity of the game, but he just couldn’t participate in the “replacement” season. So, much to the horror of his management and the game’s, he took an unpaid leave of absence as manager of the Detroit Tigers. When a court ruling forced a settlement on the owners and the “replacements” vanished, Sparky came back for a troubled year in which ownership looked at him suspiciously and even some fans took out on him their frustrations about the strike. It would be his last season managing.
As suggested earlier, in terms of principled action there wasn’t much for Anderson’s gesture to compete with that nuclear winter and spring. The Orioles’ Peter Angelos refused to field a replacement team, but it was suggested that he had multiple motivations in so doing because a season of Baltimore baseball with Cal Ripken on the sidelines on strike would have taken the heart out of (and probably technically ended) Ripken’s pursuit of what was then Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games-played streak.
Thus Sparky Anderson was the conscience of the game in that awful time, and although hardly as destructive to his future associations with the sport, his actions of 1995 were in the same broad category as Curt Flood’s had been in the pursuit of a player’s right to have a say in where he played. Sparky’s decision was completely in character with the rest of his baseball life. It isn’t mentioned on his plaque at the Hall of Fame and probably shouldn’t be, but at this of all times it should be remembered alongside the World Championships and the unforgettable persona.

A Note About Buster Posey

Frankly, on the afternoon of March 21, 2009, I really wasn’t sure who Buster Posey was.

Sure, he had been the Giants’ first-round draft choice the year before and the name had filtered through every fan’s head, but as the line-ups were introduced at Phoenix Municipal Stadium for the exhibition game between the Giants and A’s, I confess to snickering a little. Buster Posey? Did they just say Wayne Housie? Ray Cosey? Post Toasties?
Just to the left of home plate, a group of fans who seemed at distance to be college age or just a little older, did more than laugh at the unfamiliar name. They serenaded him. Cries of “Bus-ter!” alternated with a Yankee Stadium-like chant of “Bus-ter Po-sey!” This was not a bunch of adoring kids performing the incantation of their favorite’s name. They were making fun of him, big-time. And they never stopped. Posey, of course, never even let on that he heard them, which would have required him to have total hearing loss.
But Buster Posey was wearing number 28 in his first major league training camp and was catching a pretty good game. He was athletic and agile and the A’s made a major league mistake trying to double-steal on him in the third inning – he nailed Jason Giambi at third base with a perfect strike that would’ve gotten Giambi from about 150 feet.
But the serenading continued. And then it happened. In the seventh inning, Posey got hold of a pitch from Russ Springer and made it disappear into the Arizona sky, high and far over the 410-foot sign in left-centerfield. And as he trotted in from third base, Buster Posey acknowledged the little group that had been deriding him all afternoon. He stared at them, tipped his helmet, and froze them into silence. It was impressive enough that I wrote it down in my scorebook.
And as the 2010 World Champion San Francisco Giants – who would be sitting at home with the rest of us if not for Buster Posey – continue to celebrate in Arlington, I keep wondering where those guys are now who were taunting him then…and what they’re thinking.

Bill Shannon Has Died

No matter what the game was, how long it dragged on or how quickly it passed, how unpleasant the weather or how perfect the setting, it was always better if I got to say hi to Bill Shannon.

He was already a veteran of the press boxes at Shea Stadium and Yankee Stadium and Madison Square Garden long before I got into this business in 1979. He knew virtually everything that had ever happened in baseball and probably just a little bit more about everything that had happened in New York sports reporting.

The topics occupied him, mystified him, energized him, endlessly. Off-and-on for several years, we individually dabbled in trying to unearth such mysteries as who had preceded the legendary Public Address Announcer Bob Sheppard at Yankee Stadium before Sheppard got the job in 1951. Off the top of his head Bill went through the identities, resumes, and secret lives of Sheppard’s counterparts at Ebbets Field and The Polo Grounds, and details of the days when the Yankees refused to install a PA and stuck to having men walk around the field with megaphones, and then after rolling out all this information he said, with no sense of irony, “but let me look a few places.”

We were still engaged in what had become a near-decade-long search for the etymology of the official scoring system by which the shortstop is numbered “6” and the third baseman “5” (as in “6 to 3 if you’re scoring at home”). I had found an 1890’s Giants program with “how to score” instructions that indicated it had been the other way round. “Ah, yes,” Bill bellowed, in an accent I knew from my childhood to be authentic New York City, “At some point it was. What we need to do is find out when it changed.” He then launched into a story he’d been told by a veteran writer with whom he had worked in the ’60s, that was from itself from a veteran writer from the teens, who had heard it from one of the combatants, of a near fist-fight between the two official scorers at an early World Series, one of whom adhered to the Midwest preference of “5” for the shortstop, while the other one came from the Northeast, where he had always been “6.”

These tales, these miniature trips through time, were at Bill’s fingertips. They were instantaneous and generously offered and if they could help you, they were so much more joyful for him.

Bill could do this about any topic. And any crumb of research that might enlighten him on something he didn’t know – or better yet, something he mistakenly thought he knew everything about – was like a gift of a gold nugget to him. He was publishing a brief (and impeccable) guide to official scoring (and he was the senior in the field at both New York ballparks, and I never heard anyone complain about one of his decisions) and asked me if I could help him with identifying the ones at some of the early World Series. I dug up the information fairly easily. He treated it as if I had written half the book for him.

It is impossible, it is personally physically painful, to write here that Bill Shannon died in a fire at his New Jersey home this morning, a fire from which his mother was rescued. He was 69 years old. He had worked for everybody: UPI, AP, the local papers, his own stringing service, Madison Square Garden, at least two soccer leagues, Who’s Who In Baseball.

Loss is a part of everything and everywhere, and I’m confident I did not see Bill once in 31 years outside of one of the Stadiums. But as I write this I literally cannot imagine walking into either of the New York press boxes next year knowing I will not see this lovely man again.

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