Tagged: Hall of Fame

No Replay, No Problem – And The Vet Vote

Two things to consider about the General Managers’ decision not to make a decision on expanding videotape replay: A) whatever it is, baseball has almost always done it, and B) once it’s been done, baseball has almost always done more of it, later.

This is just a brief list of the things the game’s protectors and magnates have guaranteed would never, ever, happen to the great traditions and sanctity of our private world:
1. Overhand pitching
2. Integration
3. Videotape replay
4. Night games
5. Batting helmets
6. A players’ union
7. The American League
8. The banning of the spitball
9. Farming out players to the minors
10. Universal radio broadcasts. Well, okay, radio, but no television. All right, television, but never cable.

Video replay did not celebrate its first anniversary late this season; it celebrated its tenth. In October 13, 1998, third base ump John Shulock threatened to eject me and my six-inch NBC monitor from the reporter’s well next to the visitors’ dugout at Yankee Stadium for Game Six of the ALCS, because he thought some of the Indians players might have been able to see a replay of a call Ted Hendry didn’t do a very good job on at second. Seven months later, on May 31, 1999, the venerable ump Frank Pulli decided he couldn’t decide whether Cliff Floyd’s blast in Florida was a home run or not. So he went over to a tv cameraman and asked if they’d show him some replays. Pulli decided that per the grounds rules, Floyd’s blast had been incorrectly called a homer and was in fact a double, and he so ruled. The National League got mad at him. 
Replay was fully and suddenly introduced in 2008 – by this year it played a vital role in the regular season and the World Series. Now the GM’s have demurred. Within eighteen months there will be a video replay rulebook issued to every ump and manager and included in every media guide. You watch.

Everybody except me seems to have a vote in one of the 87 committees that may elect some managers, umpires, and executives, to Cooperstown next month. I’m in favor of putting in all deserving candidates and I really don’t care if we put it to voice vote at Dodger Stadium one night, just so long as we honor the deserving.
So here is a yes/no on each of the candidates, without getting into the woods of who’s doing the voting or how:
Manager – Charlie Grimm: No. Longevity, not results.
Manager – Whitey Herzog: Yes. 
Manager – Davey Johnson: No, but close.
Manager – Tom Kelly: Yes. Rebuilt that franchise.
Manager – Billy Martin: a controversial Yes. There’s an amazing stat on him: he only had nine full seasons of managing. Eight of those nine teams finished first or second. 
Manager – Gene Mauch: I’m sorry, no. Presided over two of the worst collapses in history.
Manager – Danny Murtaugh: You know what? Yes. Two World’s Championships, and in his last stint (1970-75) he won the second of them, and a division in four of the other five years.
Manager – Steve O’Neill: No. See Grimm.
Umpire – Doug Harvey: Yes. 
Umpire – Hank O’Day: No. There are about a dozen deserving umps. Not him. Whoever you think was right in the Merkle game, his ruling was wrong. It was either a New York win or a forfeit, not a tie.
Executive – Gene Autry: No. Bringing the A.L. to Southern California would’ve been done 20 years before he did it, had it not been for Pearl Harbor.
Executive – Sam Breadon: Yes. Saved the Cardinals from bankruptcy or moving in the ’20s, built a dynasty with Branch Rickey.
Executive – John Fetzer: No.
Executive – Bob Howsam: No. The Frank Robinson trade gets you into Cooperstown?
Executive – Ewing Kauffman: No. An elegant, dedicated man.
Executive – John McHale: No.
Executive – Marvin Miller: Yes. For good or for ill, his impact for changing the game was comparable to Babe Ruth.
Executive – Jacob Ruppert: Yes. The Yankees were a joke before him.
Executive – Bill White: Yes. Could qualify in this role, or as a player, or as an announcer. Get him in there!

The Greatest Cooperstown Find (Updated)

For more than 25 years, Dan Patrick and I have had the same debate.

We’ll be talking about the game’s All-Time Greats, and I’ll throw out the names of Honus Wagner or Buck Ewing or Christy Mathewson, or how we need to give Bobby Mathews credit for having won 300 games at a time when most pitchers didn’t last five seasons, and he’ll always say the same thing: “How do you know they were any good? We have no film of them. We don’t know what they did or how they did it.”
I’d point out that you could say the same thing about the Negro Leaguers, or largely about Ty Cobb, and he’d say these were exceptions, and secretly I’d realize at what a towering disadvantage the pre-1920 stars are, and I’d grieve that a man like Mathewson – clearly baseball’s first idol and considered by the old, old timers as being perhaps its first modern pitcher – might eventually be totally ignored.
It saddened me especially about Mathewson, to whom the kids of 1967 was a tangible memory easily obtained from their grandfathers. One of my earliest baseball-related daydreams was of going back in time to see him pitch, possibly alongside my mother’s Dad, the great Giant fan, who never had enough money to go once to the Polo Grounds while Mathewson still weaved his magic there – or even to go before Mathewson died in 1925, after six years of agony from tuberculosis and lungs scalded in a poison gas training exercise in France just weeks before World War I ended.
And then I was shown something, in the photo library of the Hall, last week. And I gasped.
There is some film of Mathewson – he’s shown warming up on the sidelines, evidently on Opening Day of 1905, arrogant John McGraw’s decision to put “World Champions” on the uniforms (another nose thumb at the American League), the most evident image. But he’s only tossing the ball and if that’s the way he’s pitched, Dan’s right – he won his 373 games because he managed to last for parts of seventeen seasons and both the pitching and the hitting of the time were unscientific messes. At one point a dog runs around on the field, and at another, Mathewson drops the return throw. If he’s cracking 70 on these “pitches” I’d be mighty surprised.
In fact, bluntly, the second or third best “film” of Mathewson in action is from a “flip book” (A Winthrop Moving Picture Post Card, to be precise) – a delightful hand-held series of still pictures from 1907 which when skimmed through with the thumb, create an animated representation of Mathewson’s legendary form. If you grew up on the legend of the hero who died so young and so loved, it can make you tear up. I got one last year – here’s the cover:
It’s wonderful, but even here, he’s just, well, throwing. He’s a professional, to be sure, and his mechanics would make any pitcher jealous, but, again, where’s the beef? 

Mathewson was famed for one piece of advice to young pitchers, which would cause him to be banned from the field today, as pitching coaches clapped their hands over the ears of their young charges: Don’t put everything you have on every pitch. Save something for the 9th Inning (that might explain his 435 Complete Games). Still, this is ridiculous. He had to have had something more in the way of exertion or form – in an era of contact hitting when a batter striking out 100 times in a season was likely to find himself in Decatur, Illinois the next year, he led the National League in strikeouts five years out of six and ended with more than 2500. But where was the visual, visceral, proof?
In the basement of the Hall of Fame, that’s where.
I was handed a series of glass images, each about four inches by five, that were nothing less than the “magic lantern slides” that used to be projected in movie houses, in the pre-newsreel days. You just couldn’t set up film cameras in 1911 and hope to get anything meaningful in the way of action or highlights. But the box camera did the trick.
And there it all was: the key plays of the 1911 World Series, right down to the consecutive home runs in Games Two and Three that earned A’s third baseman Frank Baker the nickname “Home Run,” and first lit the fire in the public’s imagination about the longball. It can be argued that those two dingers – one which tied up the game in the 9th, the other which won one – set the stage for the next century of Home Run Mania, and the constant alteration of equipment, ball, stadium dimensions, and pitching rules that has ushered in era after era of “The Home Run Era” virtually without interruption.
And there was one other image in there that took my breath away. I originally posted a blurry snapshot taken with an iPhone, but the warm and friendly curators took pity on me and sent… this:
Mathewson Christy 348-65d_Act_PD.jpg
Credit: National Baseball Hall of Fame Library, Cooperstown, N.Y.

The figure in the middle of the diamond is Christy Mathewson, and what he is doing couldn’t have surprised me more than if the slide showed that he had his 2009 Lamborghini parked behind home plate.
He is clearly delivering at one of those moments when he would have advised the kids to throw as hard as they could. He is firing. And his delivery is precisely that of the modern power pitcher. His frame, 6′ 1-1/2″, is so low to the ground that the back knee is nearly touching it. He is in classic fireballer position, as aware of the physics of pitching as anybody who has followed him. 
In fact, the first thing I thought when I saw that slide was: ‘What’s this picture of him doing mixed in here?’:
Christy Mathewson had Tom Seaver’s delivery. That’s it. That’s who I thought I was seeing in that slide from 1911. Old Dirty Knees Seaver.
Or, if that’s not enough of a reference, let’s say he had a righthanded version of this guy:
A detail suggests a weird twist to the forearm, which (historians think) was how Mathewson threw his famous “Fadeaway” pitch, believed to have necessitated the same painful twisting of the arm as Carl Hubbell’s screwball (it’s probable Matty’s pitch was a screwball). If this is what it took, it is stunning that he lasted seven seasons, let alone seventeen. The similarities here also gives an almost eerie sense of looking back through time, and being there, just for an instant, as Matty explains to all who would follow him, and all who would wonder about him, just who he was, and why he still counts. 
Nice to meet you, Mr. Mathewson.
Credit: National Baseball Hall of Fame Library, Cooperstown, N.Y.

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:
A little Yankee-Red Sox interplay. Brian Cashman at the left; Sox co-owner John Henry in the nifty hat, on the right:
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:
Mr. Kubek himself – getting a brief pre-ceremony pep talk from son Jim:
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:

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:

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.

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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.

Cooperstown: Saturday

Well, if this is what grew during yesterday’s serial monsooning, it was worth it. 

A spotless day greets the gathered and there is nostalgia at every corner. Since the facility is now 70 years old, for many of us here there is a huge connection not just to baseball’s collective past, and our own histories at games or in front of televisions, but directly to our own childhoods. Countless among those to who I’ve spoken are those who say they first came here as kids. Thus are the memories and emotions not just about Babe Ruth and Jim Rice, or Satchel Paige and Rickey Henderson, but about Mom and Dad, too.
Though I was here three times before I turned fifteen years old, I haven’t been back since 1973. Our first trip was so long ago – 1966 – that I was too young to have interest in the game, let alone the place. All Cooperstown meant for me was getting to see the Cardiff Giant, the great Barnum Hoax of the 19th Century (a long wooden object, not very convincingly painted to look like a mummified human, that they fell for in droves in the 19th Century but literally could not fool a seven-year old 70 years later). By the time we came back in 1968 I was the fully-grown nerd you see today. I remember coming close to hyperventilation upon my arrival, and of my plan to recreate the Hall in my basement by utilizing the postcards they sold depicting every plaque.
The 1973 visit was most memorable because my family basically enjoyed upstate New York while leaving me to walk from our hotel to the Hall each morning after breakfast and go and ensconce myself in the Library. I had been annoyed that there was no catalogue of coaches – everybody else including the umpires had an all-time list – so I decided to make one. The librarians took me seriously, and demanded as payment a copy of my final results. A friend published it in “book” form (I always use the quotations; it might have sold 50 copies) and I believe there’s still a copy in the Library here. The simple joy of research in an endlessly fascinating field, surrounded by like-minded and patient adults, cannot be overstated.
And each day I got to walk to and from that place via these almost rural streets. It seemed to me then a fitting adult life and, as I file this – I’m about to take that walk again.