Results tagged ‘ Cooperstown ’

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

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:
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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 Rocket Gets To Cooperstown

This town isn’t often surprised by celebrities. It has, after all, hosted every Hall of Famer not posthumously elected, and until a few years ago it used to be visited by two major league teams a year in an annual exhibition game.

That was until Roger Clemens showed up in front of the CVS.
Just as the post-induction crowds were thinning out, Clemens suddenly showed up here, walking down Main Street unescorted at dusk, signing autographs for most of a clot of 100 or so people that came out of the shops and restaurants as the buzz spread that it really was him. He didn’t stop to chat, and he wasn’t sightseeing. The explanation was simple, and provided by other Dads in from out of town, with their twelve-year olds in tow. Clemens was merely escorting, and watching as, his youngest son Kody competed in a Cooperstown Dreams game – the little league-ish competition that has re-loaded the kid supply around here.
So, if like me, you thought you’d never see Clemens in Cooperstown, you’d be wrong – I just saw him. Thus, after three days of Pete Rose and now The Jettisoned Rocket: Cooperstown, Village of The Damned?
MARK BUEHRLE IN COOPERSTOWN?

The caretakers of history here were already promised Dewayne Wise’s glove and several other artifacts from Mark Buehrle’s perfect game. Lord knows what they’ll want now that Buehrle has taken a prospective second consecutive perfecto longer than anybody else, and retired a record 45 in a row. Did he wear anything in both games with which he could part? Would you give up your glove, your cap, your spikes?
I watched Yu Darvish’s spikes from The World Baseball Classic get unpacked in the processing room here today, and got to play in the secret vaults some more between another day of research.
You ever heard of The Temple Cup?
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OK, here is the real star of the show, a little more clearly:
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If the teams had taken it more seriously, today, this surprisingly light trophy might be “Baseball’s Holy Grail.” It was competed for by the teams finishing first and second in the National League after the 1894, 1895, 1896, and 1897 seasons, in a bid to re-create some of the post-season excitement created by the early World Series before the wars of 1890 and 1891 and the subsequent absorption of the American Association by the N.L. In three of the four years, the runners-up won, but the regular season champs claimed the title anyway. There were two sweeps of the best-of-sevens, and the other two ended 4-to-1, and after the ’97 Temple Cup, they called Pirates’ owner William Temple and gave him his Cup back.
For now it rests in cold storage at the Hall, though will soon be back on display in the 19th Century section. I’m sorry it didn’t get taken seriously; it is a cross between the Stanley Cup and the fictional cup presented to Charles Foster Kane by his newspaper staff in “Citizen Kane,” later found after Kane’s death in an endless storage area. “Welcome home Mr. Kane, From 467 Employees of the New York Inquirer.”
ROSE POST-SCRIPT:

Bud Selig has now made his point clear: he’s not budging on Pete Rose.
That wasn’t the point of my reporting on it, nor Bill Madden’s, nor anybody else’s.
The point is, there is now pressure, from at least three key Hall of Famers whom Selig respects, on Bud to reverse course. Repeating from last night: Joe Morgan, Hank Aaron, and Frank Robinson could be the only three Hall of Famers who would actual vote to admit Rose. The issue is whether or not Rose is made eligible for election by the Veterans’ Committee. And the reporting of this new pressure is not advocacy, it is informational.
And it’s true.

 

Cooperstown: Sunday – And More On Rose

The Hall of Fame induction speeches are always heartfelt and always noteworthy, but rarely do they have such emotional impact as this year’s.

Frankly, Rickey Henderson gave as good a speech as anybody could’ve imagined. It was respectful, it was self-deprecating, it was eloquent, it was moving. The only self-references were to say “I thank” – and he seemingly thanked everybody. And between his childhood memories of being bribed to play the game with donuts and quarters, to adolescent stories of asking Reggie Jackson for an autograph but getting only a pen, Henderson’s good-heartedness and generosity did more to enhance his reputation than anything else he could have done in fifteen minutes. I also think that Rickey finally admitted he had retired – the first-ever combination HOF acceptance/retirement speech.
Jim Rice was equally genuine and sincere, and instead of making even the slightest reference to the indefensible delay in his election, he poured oil on the troubled waters by saying it made no difference to him. My friend Tony Kubek did what he had always done so well: give us insights about others in the game. He began with a reference to his first Yankee roommate, and the man seated beside me, that roommate, Moose Skowron, tried to hide. Tony later inspired the longest sustained applause of the afternoon by thanking Henry Aaron for being such a hero and role model, inside and outside the game.
But the day was headlined by the daughter of the great Yankee and Indian second baseman Joe Gordon. Noting that her father, who had died in 1978, had ordered that there be no funeral nor ceremony, Judy Gordon said that her family would now consider Cooperstown his final resting place. If there was a fan who did not tear up, or feel a lump in the throat, he or she was not evident from where I was sitting.
Coming up tomorrow, a little more on the Pete Rose/Sparky Anderson ice-breaking I reported here Saturday night – the story is not only correct, but it’s only the beginning of what Rose considered a very rewarding weekend. First, some ground-level photos from Cooperstown 2009.
The mass of humanity assembles. It’s still more than an hour until the ceremony and thousands are already present:
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A little Yankee-Red Sox interplay. Brian Cashman at the left; Sox co-owner John Henry in the nifty hat, on the right:
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A colleague of mine – part of the contingent sharing the big day of his old partner Tony Kubek – interviewed, beforehand. Afterwards Bob and more than a dozen NBC Sports production figures of the ’70s and ’80s gathered for a lengthy reception in Tony’s honor:
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Mr. Kubek himself – getting a brief pre-ceremony pep talk from son Jim:
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And one more – that rare, almost transcendent appearance of Sandy Koufax, in the moments after the speeches ended. He is talking to Dave Stewart, once an Albuquerque Duke while Koufax was the team’s pitching coach. Eddie Murray at the right:
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Cooperstown: Sparky Anderson And Pete Rose Speak

In what both men indicated was their first conversation in roughly two decades, Sparky Anderson, manager of the Cincinnati “Big Red Machine” of the 1970′s, and Pete Rose, his most public and most star-crossed player, visited together briefly in Cooperstown on the eve of baseball’s Annual Hall of Fame Inductions.

Surprised customers lining up for another Rose autographing session in one of the village’s many memorabilia shops saw Anderson, his slow purposeful gait forever familiar to veteran fans, amble into the store to re-build something of the bridge Anderson felt Rose had burned during the events that led to his banishment for gambling by the late Commissioner Bart Giamatti in August, 1989.
“You made some mistakes 20 years ago, Pete,” on-lookers heard Anderson say. “But that shouldn’t detract from your contributions to the game.” As shopowners tried to hurriedly shoo the customers out, Anderson was seen to tear up as he explained his wife had been urging him to “go talk to Pete” and he finally felt this was the time. Rose also seemed moist-eyed as he quietly thanked his former manager.
Although time has blunted its impact, Anderson took one of the most principled stances in baseball’s long history when, after the 1994 strike, he said he would not manage a 1995 Detroit Tigers team made up of replacement players. He was initially granted a leave of absence, then returned after the owners lost their court bid to impose new work rules on the players and dismissed the replacements. But after the ’95 season, Anderson resigned, never to again manage in the big leagues. There seems little to indicate Anderson was forgiving Rose his transgressions against the game, but those who saw it said it was no challenge to discern that the moment of contact was deeply moving to both men.
The events unfolded even as baseball celebrated the official Hall of Fame dinner honoring Sunday’s inductees, and the subsequent “dessert reception” inside the Hall itself, complete with red-carpet introductions and a public address system straight out of a Hollywood premiere from the 1930′s.
One image from the off-the-record proceedings merits inclusion, and stays within the rules (it was fully covered by the Hall’s official on-the-record photographer): That is indeed Rickey Henderson posing not by his plaque, but by where, within hours, his plaque will be, next to Jim Rice and Joe Gordon, in the class of 2009:
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Cooperstown: Saturday Evening

Had the great pleasure of joining the family of 2009 Frick Award Winner Tony Kubek on its private tour of the Hall (and lunch) and while private means private, I can share some of the artifacts and one very nice family image.

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How many Tony Kubeks are in this photo?
That is the great Yankee shortstop Tony Kubek, Jr, on the left, of course, and his son, Tony Kubek III on the right, and in between them, Tony Kubek IV. The photo they have picked up is of the first Tony Kubek, congratulating his son the Yankee during his World Series triumphs in their native Wisconsin in 1957. The Hall prides itself on a file on literally each of the 17,000 or so players who’ve performed in the majors since 1871 (to say nothing of a few thousand more on executives, broadcasters, and even famous fans), and it gave the Kubeks a chance to look at Tony’s. The inductee himself stood by with a kind of patient stoicism, while insisting we should be looking at all the other neat stuff. 
Such as this Shroud of Turin-like object, the importance of which Hall curators didn’t even fully comprehend until last year.
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That, they thought, was some vintage sandlotters’ uniform, circa 1900. It had been labeled such for all the time it had sat inside the Cooperstown collection. Then the light hit it just right, and what seemed to be a murky discoloration on the right breast, just below where the sleeve is folded, revealed itself as the outline of a “Y.” 
A similar “N” was found on the left, and certain other characteristics (like the buttons for converting the sleeves from short to long) became evident. That was a 1905 New York Giants’ uniform – the letters had simply come off, or been taken off, in the interim. In fact further investigation proved it was Christy Mathewson’s 1905 uniform. Not the one he wore during his three World Series shutouts that fall, but his regular season model.
Here’s another relic, a little blurry, and not for the faint-of-heart Red Sox fan:
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Yep, promissory note, from Yankees’ owner Jacob Ruppert to Red Sox owner Harry Frazee, for part of the sale price of… Babe Ruth. The front signatures are Ruppert (r) and Tillinghast L’Hommedieu Huston (Ruppert’s less vocal partner – even though his middle name translated as ‘The Man God’). On the back is Frazee’s endorsement, plus five cents in official document tax stamps, used to retire the debt from World War One.
Thus you are looking at what you get when you sell your soul.
The Mathewson shirt (there was also a 1930-era Babe Ruth brought out for our gasping pleasure) is part of a vast collection, kept in archival quality boxes stacked atop each other. They were not just major leaguers’ – there were half a dozen at least from the All-America Girls’ Baseball League of the ’40s and ’50s – and they were certainly not all Hall of Famers’, which brings us to this anomaly of an image.
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So Pete Rose is in the Hall of Fame – boxed between Jackie Robinson and Al Rosen.
Which causes my mind to wander off the point, and the famous Rose joke from the early ’80s that enabled card collectors and memorabilia dealers to be the first to sense something was very wrong with Pete’s finances. Collector goes up to a uniform dealer and asks for a game-worn Rose jersey.
Buyer:  He wore all these in games?
Dealer: Yep.
Buyer:  There are a lot of them. I can’t decide
Dealer: Well. Cincinnati, Montreal, or Philadelphia?
Buyer:  Uh, Cincinnati
Dealer: Home or Away?
Buyer:  Um, home?
Dealer: ’60s vest style or ’70s-era doubleknit?
Buyer:  Doubleknit
Dealer: What size would you like?
This last item is not from the priceless archives, nor the temperature-controlled storage vaults beneath the public displays, nor was it gingerly handed to us by Exhibitions and Collections Director Erik Strohl, but it was as wonderful a find as I could’ve had. Two 1988 Topps cards, tacked up to a cork board in the librarians’ main area, reflecting at once the difficulties of baseball research and record-keeping, and its sheer silliness:
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Yep. Andy Allanson, and Allan Anderson. A beautiful kind of symmetry.
And this brings me to the last and saddest of the imagery. It is not in the Hall, but rather, in a CVS Drug Store nearly directly across the street from the Hall. It is not in front of the CVS, where Bob Feller was signing autographs when I last walked by, ninety minutes or so ago. It is not even in the front of the CVS. It is in the back, near the tissues.
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There. Third shelf from the bottom, below last year’s baseball cards, and the boxes of Red Sox brand tissues. To the left.
Take a closer look.
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Oh Holy Toledo Mudhens – it’s a pile of autographed 8 x 10′s of ex-Giant and Yankee John “The Count” Montefusco. Your cost? $4.95 each. The prints themselves probably cost 50 cents apiece, and rigid photo-holders that size are worth just about that. Meaning “The Count’s” Amount is down to about four bucks at the CVS in Cooperstown. And they were not flying off store shelves.
Fame is fleeting.
And with that, this is your faithful correspondent signing off from blog central, on the front porch,
on one of the prettiest streets of the Democracy, until an update after tonight’s big soiree or tomorrow morning’s pre-induction mayhem.
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The Cooperstown Flood

Greetings from Cooperstown, New York, where baseball did not begin, but where it could conceivably end Sunday at what could easily wind up being the first-ever underwater Hall of Fame Induction Ceremonies.

At least seven separate cloudbursts drenched this quaint village and the surrounding “Leatherstocking” district of the James Fenimore Cooper works, and the only hope is that the forecast for Sunday (rain, possibly thunderstorms) will be as inaccurate as today’s was.
Here is Main Street, Cooperstown, at about 6:00 PM, during what all official and unofficial weather outlets insisted was “72 and Mostly Sunny”:
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This was at about the point where this, the sixth rain, started to hit hard enough to blow the dirt out of the planters next to the shops.
Thus were the hottest commodities in this stretch of American commercialism that rivals any four blocks in the nation, not Jim Rice jerseys nor Rickey Henderson t-shirts nor even Pete Rose autographs (he’s here again), but, simply, umbrellas. One woman was overheard delighting in the red bumbershoot, matching her favorite team’s colors. “Now all I have to do is draw an ‘F’ on it for ‘Phillies.’” She paused. “No, a ‘P.’”
Here is the Hall of Fame itself, the last time I got close enough to confirm it was still there.
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And overheard moments later, from one of the people in the foreground, the early frontrunner for quote of the weekend: “Where’s the Chinese food again?”
That, of course, is until Sunday’s speeches, whether they are conducted outdoors, indoors, or on an evacuation raft. Rickey Henderson will necessarily be fabulous; the long-suffering Jim Rice has been underrated both for his speaking and the depth of his thought; and, it will be fascinating to hear Joe Gordon’s daughter – who claims her father never spoke of the game at home – accept on behalf of a second baseman whose career parallels that of Ryne Sandberg (except for Gordon’s five World Series rings). But the sleeper bet for best speech is from Tony Kubek, the Ford C. Frick Broadcasting winner, whose prowess as a Yankees shortstop (they did not truly replace him until the ascent of Jeter) and fearlessness and insight as an NBC, Toronto Blue Jays, and Yankees announcer, were never fully appreciated until he suddenly left the game in protest of the materialism that seemed to have reached a tragic peak around the time of the 1994 strike, and the owners’ cancellation of The World Series.
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