Results tagged ‘ Keith Olbermann ’
This is the first time in my life – and this wish began when I was nine or ten – that I’m glad Santa never answered my request that he bring me a Hall of Fame ballot.
Watching the handwringing by the voters has been entertaining and curiously satisfying (you ignored Dale Murphy for ten years? Great – you deserve Bonds and Clemens). But one part mystifies me: The argument, repeated again and again in various fashions, that one somehow has to vote for Bonds or Clemens or anybody else because these players were never found guilty of steroid use and are legally just the victims of accusation.
Ever heard of Eddie Cicotte and Buck Weaver?
They were the only-slightly-lesser figures behind Shoeless Joe Jackson in the 1919 World Series scandal, numbers two and three in the skills chart among the infamous “Eight Men Out.” And like Jackson, they were convicted of nothing. Not of taking bribes, not of deliberately losing the Series to the Reds – nothing. Acquittals all the way around.
Now they were likely helped in this by the disappearance of tearful confessions to the prosecutors and the Grand Jury (although technically we must call them “reputed confessions” since, conveniently or not, they did vanish before the trial). Nevertheless, all three of them (plus Happy Felsch, Chick Gandil, Swede Risberg, Lefty Williams, and the unfortunate eavesdropping utility man Fred McMullin) were banned from baseball for life without the possibility of appeal by brand-new Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis and his unilateral decision has been the rationale for keeping them out of Cooperstown.
I’ll add some numbers later to flesh this out but I think at least Jackson and Cicotte are Hall-of-Famers and I support forgiving them and electing them (and, yes, Pete Rose for that matter). Had Jackson been hit by a bus and not by a ban in 1920 he would’ve been part of the first Cooperstown class of 1936. Cicotte might have needed a couple more strong seasons to get in, but he had just crossed the 200-win plateau and the parallels to the career of R.A. Dickey are unmistakable (to say nothing of the easy comparison to Hall of Famer Burleigh Grimes – though Cicotte’s “Shine Ball” may have been illusory and he may have been nothing more than a hard-knuckleball pitcher who had finally ‘gotten it’ around 1917).
Weaver’s qualifications appear to have needed the testimony of witnesses to elevate it to Hall of Fame status. He could’ve used another five years which Landis denied him. Most relevantly he alone among the expelled players adamantly maintained his complete innocence.
From a Hall of Fame perspective, of course, it doesn’t matter. They were convicted of nothing and at the very worst it appears Weaver was guilty of not snitching. They’re not in the Hall and they’re never going to be. And for better or worse, that’s the precedent for Bonds, Clemens, Sosa – and Bagwell and Piazza, for that matter. To quote the movie nominally about Shoeless Joe, “There are rules here? There are no rules here!”
Parenthetically I don’t think any of them, Bagwell and Piazza included, get elected. There are a lot of voters and this is way too complicated for many of them to reach the same conclusions about which players get the benefit of the doubt and which don’t. The highest percentage any of these guys get will be around 51 (75 is needed). And somewhere Cicotte and Weaver and Shoeless Joe will shake their ghostly heads and say that letting mortals judge immortality is bad enough without letting them do the judging without any real rules to guide them.
The Baseball Reference version of WAR gives Cicotte a whopping career number of 54.5, and that’s for only thirteen seasons. He is cradled neatly on the all-time list between Hall of Famers Joe McGinnity and Whitey Ford, and ahead of the likes of Three-Finger Brown, Eppa Rixey, the aforementioned Burleigh Grimes, and Mariano Rivera. His last four seasons produced WARs of 11.2, 3.0, 9.2 and 4.7, and it should be pointed out that this is a case where the old and new methodology concur. Cicotte (and if you’re wondering, it was pronounced ‘See-Cot’ with an even emphasis on both syllables) was 28-12, 1.53 in the 11.2 season and 29.7, 1.82 in the 9.2 season.
Weaver fares less well – a WAR of 18.2 (for only nine seasons) but his OPS was only .692 and his OPS+ 92. What is tantalizing is that his last season – ended when the scandal broke and the White Sox suspended them all on September 28, 1920 – was far and away his best. A man who had hit .300 exactly once (and exactly .300 at that) was now hitting .331 and slugging .420 a month after his 30th birthday. He had been getting better each year since 1917 and was wrapping up a break-out season.
Interestingly, Joe Jackson’s WAR was only 59.6 (Home Run Baker territory) but he too had really only played nine full seasons and 1920 might have been his best (12-121-.382 when his past career highs had been 7-96-.408). He hit .356 lifetime and was only 33 and his park/league adjusted OPS, 170, is tied for the seventh best all-time.
Last season, $10,000 would have bought you eight front-row tickets to one regular season game at Yankee Stadium.
In 1966, $10,000 was the average salary of a Major League Baseball Player.
1966 was not one of the years of Abraham Lincoln’s presidency. Inflation since then has not been 7500 percent. Reggie Jackson and Johnny Bench and Nolan Ryan were on the cusp of the majors, the Mets had just gotten the right to sign Tom Seaver, three-year old Jamie Moyer had already thrown a baseball, and Peter Gammons had just begun to write sports for The North Carolina Daily Tar Heel.
1966 is not ancient history. And as Marvin Miller became the head of the nascent Major League Players Association that season, Sandy Koufax was pitching his last campaign for the Dodgers. To get Walter O’Malley Dodgers to pay Koufax just $125,000, Koufax and Don Drysdale had to threaten to sit out the season. Along side them on the Dodgers’ pitching staff, a rookie named Don Sutton was being paid $6,000. Sutton was hoping to soon reach the income of the average major leaguer. Ten Grand didn’t exactly leave you homeless, but if you didn’t also have a regular working stiff’s job in the off-season, it wasn’t enough to raise a family on.
And Marvin Miller changed that.
You can argue that the pendulum Marvin unleashed from its artificial restraint has swung too far to the other side (and you’d be wrong – who is about to sign a six billion dollar contract? The new Dodgers owners, or Evan Longoria?) You can argue that what Marvin wrought has destroyed competitive balance and especially the small markets (and you’d be wrong – in the 18 seasons before his ascent, the Yankees had won 15 pennants and the Dodgers had won nine, and the team then in Kansas City had finished last or in the bottom four 13 times). You can argue that the freedom Marvin enabled has destroyed the continuity of players and made the one-team player nearly extinct (and you’d be wrong – there are 41 Hall of Famers who played for only one team, and a disproportionate number, 11, are from the Free Agent era. The only thing that’s changed is that the players can now initiate their own jarring relocation, not just the owners).
You can also argue that free agency and everything else Marvin Miller accomplished has created that bill for $10,000 for eight tickets at Yankee Stadium, and you’d be wrong yet again. As someone long ago observed, this assumption requires the secondary one that the owners would never have raised prices if there hadn’t been free agency. That assumption ignores the fundaments of business, to say nothing of the reality of baseball pre-Marvin Miller, in which the owners managed to quadruple ticket prices while barely doubling player salaries. As the realities of the new economics of the game unfolded in the ’70s and ’80s it became obvious that for years, for decades, for generations, the owners had been keeping 70, 80, or maybe 90 percent of all revenues, and that even as society grew more affluent and the definitions of disposable income and luxury almost switched places, the owners kept hitting the players over the head with the economic hammer just because they could.
One thing you can not argue is that Marvin Miller hurt the owners. This used to be the first response to the Major League Baseball Players Association that he built: that the man that Braves’ Vice President Paul Richards called a “mustachioed four-flusher” was a communist or a socialist or anarchist who would destroy the game, its owners, and their God-given right to profit. It was an act of faith for owners and Commissioners and even a huge percentage of players (Stockholm Syndrome) that without the Reserve Clause that Miller and Curt Flood and Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally and Peter Seitz brought down, teams would go bankrupt, or at best the small markets would never compete nor last (in the 19 years ending in 1972, 10 franchises moved. In the 40 years since, one moved).
As the first wave of Free Agents mourn him, and all the players since give distant thanks, the owners ought to build statues to Marvin Miller. According to an anecdote told by their then-VPs Buzzy Bavasi and Fresco Thompson, the Dodgers profited six million dollars in 1963 and four million in 1964 (and thus owner Walter O’Malley complained that he’d “lost” two million). That the Dodgers – and everybody else – went from those then-dizzying figures to tens of millions, then hundreds, then to signing multi-billion dollar tv deals – is directly attributable to the new economics that Miller unleashed.
He, personally, put the word “billion” into baseball. Into all sports, for that matter. And via the miracle of imitation, probably into other forms of entertainment.
Marvin once admitted to me that he did not foresee the intangibles that the liberated player would create. Who could have known that player contract negotiations and the covering of them and the kibitzing about them would become an industry that would rival coverage of the game on the field itself? Baseball’s off-seasons used to have occasional trade rumors, an invigorating flurry of deals at the all-too-brief Winter Meetings, and the searing experience of the release of veteran former stars late in Spring Training.
And then suddenly you could spend weeks wondering where Reggie Jackson would go – and the Free Agent Season was born. And suddenly fans, battered by decades of owner disloyalty and now confused by the added mobility of the players, decided they could create their own teams – and Fantasy Baseball was born. And then teams began to offload unsignable players and the drama of the Trade Deadline took on new form and dimensions. And then the idea of trying to scientifically put the proverbial dollar sign on the muscle replaced the “Sign Wayne Garland – he won 20!” methodology, and SABRmetrics began to gain a head of steam that is years away from culmination.
In that he utterly reshaped the way the game was played on the field, Babe Ruth probably reigns supreme on the list of those who changed baseball most. In that they reshaped its color (and our nation’s attitude – and laws), Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson probably share second place. But only they can even be considered above Marvin Miller as men who had greater influence on the history of baseball. As an aside, I do not slight Curt Flood here. I revered him, and was honored to have met him. Conceivably he sacrificed a Hall of Fame career to try to gain for himself and his colleagues the freedom Miller and the arbitrator Seitz and some lunkheaded owners, and Dave McNally and Andy Messersmith finally gave them. But remember that Marvin Miller tried to talk Flood out of suing, and warned him that he was not operating from a position of strength, and that the players did not yet understand why they needed to support him, and that he would probably lose his case. As always, Marvin was – tragically – right. Curt Flood is just behind Miller on this list.
My first personal exposure to Marvin Miller came while covering the second wave of the union’s struggles, in the 1980′s. By 1981 the owners still didn’t see what gifts he had bestowed upon them, and they stubbornly tried to force him to take them back. The players had no choice but to strike, and for 50 days I got to cover Marvin’s profound sighs. I found myself fascinated watching him conduct himself with such an even keel, such aplomb, amid chaos and confusion and anger and fools who would not suffer him, gladly or otherwise. It was an unintentional education, and I later got to tell him so. I’d love to be as good at it some day as he was on his worst day.
Update 4:00 PM EDT: I was just re-watching Hot Stove’s coverage of Marvin’s passing and I thought this was a fitting picture to freeze from the ‘b-roll’:
Marvin Miller, before or during the 1981 baseball strike negotiations. The guy in the mustache and the all-too-thin tie, back left, is a 22-year old radio reporter who would get his first tv shot because CNN’s strike correspondent took two weeks off after the strike was settled.
The original post resumes here:
Even in 1983 the union had its own internecine growing pains. One night I was coming home from CNN and walking up Third Avenue when I saw his unmistakably dapper figure walking down it, towards me. I was going to say hello, but even at a distance I could read that there was something even more focused than usual, even more purposeful, even more burdened, about the look on his face. I thought the least I could do as thanks for all his cooperation with me was to leave him alone.
Later that night I was bowled over to discover that the Union, the direction of which he had turned over to the mediator who had worked the 1981 strike, had rebelled against and unseated his successor. When I passed him on the street Marvin had been on his way to the meeting at which he would help the players rid themselves of the new director, and himself semi-reluctantly came out of semi-retirement to help Don Fehr get on his feet as the new chief.
I mentioned that to him when we spoke two Fridays ago. “I remember,” he said with a laugh. “I thought I was fortunate that that damn fool kid reporter didn’t recognize me!” The conversation did not dwell on the embarrassment that is his absence from the Hall of Fame, nor his complete repainting of the baseball landscape, nor the strikes and other tortures of his 17 years giving birth to his union. It was mostly about his fears for the loss of individual freedom in the American society that would so soon be without him.
Fitting, that, because whatever happened after he achieved it, Marvin Miller’s original goal as the head of the players’ union was freedom - to eliminate the nonsensical conclusion (improbably upheld by the Supreme Court) that because baseball players “played,” their bosses were not truly running interstate commerce. And thus, a 17-year old kid who signed a one-year contract with, say, the Philadelphia Phillies, was actually signing a 25-year contract. Each “one-year” agreement had a proviso allowing the owners to “renew” the contract for another year. And in the renewal year, the proviso re-set, and the contract could be “renewed” again.
It wasn’t actually slavery, but it sure as hell wasn’t freedom.
And that one word was what Marvin Miller was all about.
It was my privilege to be part of this morning’s MLB Network Hot Stove roundtable on the real election of 2012 – Cabrera v. Trout (reairs at 4 PM ET if you’re reading this before then).
If you noticed the index cards in my hand, you’ll know that I offered a lot of data - not about VORP or WARP or BABIP or any of the new analytics – but essential hardcore boxscore stuff that undercuts the second biggest argument for Miguel Cabrera as American League MVP: That preference has to be given to the guy on the winning team, and that Cabrera ‘carried the Tigers on his back into the playoffs.
Firstly, the Tigers finished with only the seventh best record in the American League. That’s seventh out of fourteen. In the pre-division days they used to call that The Second Division - and it was a sign of shame. As it applies to this topic, there is also this embarrassing reality:
Angels (Trout’s team) 89 wins, 73 losses
Tigers (Cabrera’s team) 88 wins, 74 losses
The Angels, playing in a far tougher division, won more games than the Tigers did – yet any MVP doubt is supposed to fall on Cabrera’s side because he was on “the winner?”
It doesn’t make sense – it’s a remnant of the days when only one team per league made the “post-season” – and it wasn’t Cabrera who won the AL Central, it was Cabrera and the rest of the Detroit team -but I’ll just concede it to Cabrera’s supporters.
What I will not concede is this assumption that Cabrera deserves the MVP over Trout because, since the Tigers made the playoffs, he was necessarily more valuable – especially as the Tigers managed to sneak past the collapsing White Sox ‘down the stretch.’ One of the cards I didn’t get to fully reveal on the show suggests Cabrera was hardly repeating the Carl Yastrzemski feat of 1967 over the last two weeks of the season.
After the games of September 18, the Tigers were two games behind Chicago. The remainder of the season gives us a small but insight-filled sample of what Cabrera did – and what he didn’t do – over the last 15 games.
CABRERA, AFTER 9/18/12:
Average: .291 (16/55)
It should be noted that three of Cabrera’s RBI came in one game – on September 29 – and two others came on October 2. So he drove in runs in seven of the Tigers’ 15 stretch games.
And there’s a fascinating statistic from those games. The Tigers only won four of them. In other words, they were 4-and-3 when Cabrera drove in runs in a game…and 6-and-2 when he didn’t.
More confusing to the Cabrera “Pennant-Winner” meme, is Detroit’s record when other Tigers drove in runs in those final fifteen games:
TIGERS RECORD WITH RBI BY…
Prince Fielder 6-1
Alex Avila 4-0
Jhonny Peralta 4-0
Austin Jackson 4-1
Delmon Young 4-1
Andy Dirks 3-1
Miguel Cabrera 4-3
But…those RBI in those four games won those games, right? The MVP surely did something essential in the most essential of simple stats, down the stretch, right?
Not really, no.
This is from a card I was in the middle of reading when Chris Russo cut me off. He had reason to do so.
CABRERA RBI AFTER 9/18/12, DETAILS:
1. 9/19: Tigers leading 4-0 in 7th when Cabrera hits solo HR (6-2 win)
2. 9/22: Tigers leading 7-0 in 4th when Cabrera hits solo HR (8-0 win)
3. 9/23 (1st Game): Scoreless in 4th: Cabrera RBI 2B produces 1-0 lead (10-4 loss)
4. 9/23 (2nd Game): Scoreless in 1st: Cabrera RBI 2B produces 1-0 lead (2-1 loss)
5, 6, 7. 9/29: Tigers leading 2-0 in 7th when Cabrera hits three-run HR (6-4 win)
8. 10/1: Tigers leading 1-0 in 6th when Cabrera hits solo HR (6-3 win)
9, 10. 10/2: Tigers losing 1-0 in 3rd when Cabrera 2-RBI 2B produces 2-1 lead (4-2 loss)
I’d grade the actual game situations in which Cabrera produced as ‘tepid.’ Two of his RBI (and half of his homers) were clearly unnecessary tack-on runs. His three-run blast on September 29th would prove necessary when the Tiger bullpen melted down; the solo job on October 1st might have been necessary – hindsight can’t give us a clear answer. On the other hand, the drove in the first run in both games on September 23rd, and his double wiped out a one-run deficit on October 2nd – and that the Tigers blew all three of those games should not subtract from the clutchness (clutchiness?) of those hits.
My point in here is not to dismiss what Cabrera did for the Tigers as the White Sox plummeted past them. There are countless fielding plays, runner advancements, and just his presence in the lineup to consider as “clutch” contributions. But the RBI-by-RBI examination proves conclusively that Miguel Cabrera did not carry the Tigers on his back down the stretch. He was not the slam-dunk MVP of his own team at the team it mattered the most. Without fine-toothed comb examinations of each game it’s hard to say who was, though the superficial data suggests it was Fielder.
I’ve already gone on at length about why I don’t think the Triple Crown matters in MVP voting (it’s outdated analytics, as dangerously misleading as if we based the voting on the first set of statistics that were so popular pre-1871, which was a ratio of Runs Scored to Outs Made). But I added one bit of research that underscores Rob Neyer’s point that if you have a Triple Crown, it usually means that a lower-than-normal average or homer or RBI total has proved to lead the league in what can only be described as a happy anomaly:
LOWEST AVERAGES TO LEAD AMERICAN LEAGUE SINCE THE INTRODUCTION OF THE DESIGNATED HITTER IN 1973:
.326 Bill Mueller, Boston, 2003
.328 Joe Mauer, Minnesota, 2008
.329 George Brett, Kansas City, 1990
.330 Miguel Cabrera, Detroit, 2012
.331 Michael Young, Texas, 2005
Cabrera won the Triple Crown – in part – because batting average was way lower than usual, and he produced the fourth lowest average among the last 40 A.L. batting champions during a year in which he had terrific homer and RBI numbers.
So you don’t have to go to WARP or VORP or VOR-WARP to deflate the Cabrera MVP qualifications. Good old-fashioned numbers and easy to read details can do it for you.
Oh, by the way, about clutch? During that same post-9/18 time, Trout went 16/52 (.308) with three homers, six RBI, and ten walks. Moreover, after August 19th, as the rest of the Angels made their feeble attempt to stay alive in the West, they were unbeaten…in games in which Mike Trout drove in runs.
So. Time to take Marlins Park and: A) Disassemble it; B) Crate it; C) Sell It; D) Ship it to San Jose (or Oakland, or Portland, or San Bernardino, Austin/San Antonio/Round Rock, or – wherever).
Now that the Miami experiment is over (as forecast here a year ago next week, and reiterated here last June) and Hanley Ramirez, Heath Bell, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, and the merely arbitration-eligible Emilio Bonifacio have either been offloaded in A Going-Out-Of-Business-Sale (or are about to be), the Marlins are officially the Montreal Expos of the 2010′s and baseball is unofficially dead in Florida.
Notice I did not write South Florida. All of it. Rays’ owner Stu Sternberg was already less than sanguine about getting significant scratch from the state and local governments for a new ballpark that is absolutely essential to his survival in Tampa/St. Petersburg. If he had any hopes left after the disastrously low crowds for the free ballpark the good burghers of Florida gave Jeffrey Loria, they have to be gone now and he has to be looking elsewhere.
There are all sorts of other implications if the Reyes/Buehrle/Johnson deal to Toronto is completed as advertised. Obviously, this revivifies a Toronto franchise that was already showing signs of being on the upswing last year and as far back as 2010-11. It sure knocks the price down for whoever is the Jays’ first choice for the manager’s job. It might make John Farrell a little remorseful. And it buries the Yankees in the American League East; there would now be at least three other teams in the division with more talent than New York. The prospects of Alex Rodriguez going to the lame duck Miami franchise (first reported blah blah blah here and blah blah blah ) might actually have increased, on the premise that Loria and MLB have to do something to make it at least look like they’re trying to field a product worthy of 2013 big league ticket prices).
But the biggest long-term implications are fairly simple: the franchise carousel, all but quiet since the upheaval of the 1953-72 era, will begin to spin again.
Miami has a slight chance of survival (that stadium is standing, and a mess of prospects can suddenly win a division – ask the Oakland A’s about that) but Tampa Bay is gone. One would assume that at the latest the season of 2020 opens without a Florida team in the majors.
Where do the Rays (and probably the Marlins) move?
Here are the top U.S. Metropolitan Areas without MLB teams ranked by population, on 2011 estimates drawn from the Official 2010 United States Census:
12. Riverside/San Bernardino/Ontario CA 4,304,997
23. Portland OR/Vancouver WA 2,262,605
24. San Antonio/New Braunfels TX 2,194,927
25. Sacramento/Roseville CA 2,176,235
26. Orlando/Daytona Beach FL 2,171,360
30. Las Vegas 1,969,975
31. San Jose 1,865,450
32. Columbus OH 1,858,464
33. Charlotte/Gastonia NC 1,795,472
34. Austin/Round Rock TX 1,783,519
35. Indianapolis 1,778,568
36. Virginia Beach/Norfolk 1,679,894
37. Nashville 1,617,142
Nashville you say? Virginia Beach? Hahahahahahaha?
Not so fast. Every metropolitan area on this list is larger than Milwaukee and Riverside, Portland, San Antonio and Sacramento are bigger than Cincinnati. There are certain practacalities here. All of Southern California is Dodger/Angel territory and the Magic Johnson group that just spent Eleventy Billion on the Dodgers isn’t going to give up claim on anything. Though Texas is a big place don’t tell that to the Rangers and Astros, who claim both the San Antonio and Austin zones. Columbus is Cleveland’s territory (unless it’s Cincinnati’s), Orlando would have at least some of the same problems as Tampa/St. Pete, and the Giants and Athletics are in their fifth different decade of arguing over San Jose.
So the Rays go to Portland and the Marlins to Sacramento? Not so fast.
You know who’d be 15th on the list – right between Phoenix and Seattle – if we made it of not American metropolitan areas but North American?
15. Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Regional population: 3,824,221.
But wait, didn’t things go very badly in Montreal before? They certainly did, but not because of the city nor its love of baseball. Corrupt government and underfunded ownership and a betrayed fan base – all of them saddled with the greatest white elephant in the history of North American sports construction, Olympic Stadium. In every full season between 1979 and 1983 – even in that XXL Airplane Hangar - Les Expos drew at least 2,102,173 fans a year.
The peak total – 2,320,651 in 1983 – edged out the Cardinals for second place in National League attendance, and was just about a million more than the Mets drew in New York. It was about then that stuff started falling from the roof of the tribute to provincial graft, and star players started falling off the Expos’ roster. But make no mistake about it: Montreal supported baseball. As late as 1997 the Expos still brought in a million-and-a-half fans (more than the Mets or the Giants).
If all that could not be done in the ’90s and ’00s could be put together – a downtown stadium with government support, plus a well-run franchise making a long-term commitment – baseball’s second try in Montreal could be a triumph. And consider if it were the Rays fleeing north. Not only would Montreal get that well-run franchise, but it would suddenly find itself in a division with rivals from hated cities like Boston and New York…
Montreal and Toronto in the same division. Genius, I tells ya. Genius.
It’s a win-win. Unless you’re one of those few Florida baseball fans.
Oh yeah, I left out a fifth thing to do about the Marlins and Marlins Park: E) Ship Giancarlo Stanton separately. And while you’re at it, you might as well start wrapping uber-prospect Christian Yelich too.
Here are the forecaster’s problems.
The Detroit Tigers’ pitching dominance over the New York Yankees – the .144 OBA over four gruesome games – is not the indicator that you might think. The Yankees have been aging rapidly for three seasons, and they had just barely scratched out a victory over a Baltimore team without line-up depth or a dominant starting pitcher. Joe Girardi made a fateful remark in mid-series, about how his hitters had to “adjust” – manager-speak for telling them they had to stop going up there expecting the room service fastballs they would get from 60% of the pitchers they faced during the regular season. Yes, the Tiger pitching was superb. Yes, we all spent too much time talking about the Yanks’ demise. But between the two extremes it is almost impossible to get a good gauge on just how good the survivors are.
The Giants’ comebacks against the Reds and Cardinals were historic and epic. And they are also not the indicators you might think. Both losing teams have a lot of talent but neither was a juggernaut and the fact is that San Francisco’s valiant efforts have deranged their own rotation. It is stand-up-and-cheer heart-warming to see Marco Scutaro and Barry Zito finally make a World Series but it is imperative to remember that they are not going to win the World Series by themselves. 2012 was the second time in his career that the 36-year old Scutaro has batted better than .282 in a major league season and the third time he has hit more than one homer in a major league season.
As to Zito, the Giants could not have done it without him but his 15 wins divided up as follows:
Zito Vs. Playoff Teams (4-2)
Vs. Atlanta Braves 2-0
Vs. Oakland A’s 1-0
Vs. St. Lou. Cards 1-0
Vs. Tex. Rangers 0-1
Vs. Cin. Reds 0-1
Zito Vs. Non-Playoff Teams (11-6)
Vs. Az D-Backs 4-0
Vs. LA Dodgers 3-2
Vs. Col. Rockies 2-0
Vs. Chi. Cubs 1-0
Vs. Pitt. Pirates 1-0
Vs. Mil. Brewers 0-1
Vs. L.A. Angels 0-1
Vs. Hou. Astros 0-1
Vs. N.Y. Mets 0-1
These are the simplest of analytics here but they are offered simply to imply one fact about the World Series: drop the story lines of the first two rounds of the playoffs, and judge the Classic on who has the better, sounder team.
The Tigers have a confused bullpen, which reduces it to the level of the Giants when Santiago Casilla failed – and the Giants fixed that situation within hours with Sergio Romo. The Giants have a confused rotation, and you can’t straighten that out in anything less than a week. The Tigers have the kind of offense that is not seen by National League pitchers and its most potent bats (Cabrera and Fielder) live to butcher off-speed left-hand pitching like Zito.
There is also Justin Verlander in this equation and if the Giants can’t stop him at least once, the Fister/Sanchez/Scherzer trio have only to produce two solid starts.
I’m thinking the Tigers could do this in five. If the Giants stage an upset – especially if they come from behind to do it – they will earn (and I will happily crown them) the single-season comeback kings of the game’s modern history. Unless one of the troubled starters (Lincecum? Bumgarner? turns in an MVP-level performance, I just don’t think they have a path to do it this time.
Ever seen this singular photo before?
It is one of the few remaining documentations of the day a bright idea by the Boston Red Sox that wound up – in all likelihood – costing them the 1946 World Series:
On the left, Red Sox centerfielder Dom DiMaggio. In the center, pitcher Tex Hughson. On the right, in the Sox road gray: Joe DiMaggio – who didn’t have his regular uniform with him for one of the fateful games Boston played 66 years ago.
The Detroit Tigers’ idea to address their five day layoff between finishing sweeping the Yankees and facing the Cards or Giants in the Series by playing a pair of exhibition games is not new. The Red Sox did the same thing in 1946.
And it killed them.
We forget this now, but the Red Sox were prohibitive favorites to win a Series remembered for “Slaughter’s Mad Dash” and the disastrous 5-for-25 performance of Ted Williams. Boston had clinched the American League pennant with a 1-0 win on September 13th (courtesy of a Williams homer, naturally). They won by 12 games over a defending champion Tiger team that nearly played .600 ball, and a tidy 17 over the third place Yankees who imploded and went through three managers. Williams supplied a slash line of 38/123/.342 and had an OPS of 1.164 (and four other guys in the line-up were at .799 or better). The Red Sox were the team to beat.
But the National League race was back-and-forth between the Dodgers and Cardinals and with an N.L. first-place tie – and a Series-delaying three-game playoff looming – Sox Manager Joe Cronin and General Manager Eddie Collins thought they needed something to keep their Heroes alert and awake while the N.L. decided which of its teams was going to be its sacrifice to the mighty Boston maw.
They scheduled three exhibition games for the Red Sox…versus American League All-Stars. It was a helluva plan – in theory. The Red Sox got such luminaries as Hank Greenberg and Luke Appling and Joe DiMaggio (hence that crazy picture) to travel to Fenway and put the Champs through their paces.
They also brought in Mickey Haefner.
Haefner had just completed a 14-and-11, 2.85 season for a Washington Senators squad that only the year before had finished a buck-and-a-half behind the A.L. Champion Tigers, so he belonged among the All-Stars doing their part for the greater glory of the American League. But there was only one problem with letting Haefner throw towards your hitters, even in an exhibition setting.
He was a knuckleballer.
On October 1st – which would’ve been the eve of Game 1 of the World Series, had the N.L. only made up its mind in 154 games – Haefner was pitching for the All-Stars against the Red Sox at Fenway. And one of his knucklers – and he threw it in the Niekro/Dickey range of hardness, not the Wakefield range – hit Ted Williams in the elbow.
Got him exactly right. There is no idea how hard the pitch was thrown but the pain was sufficiently excruciating to send Williams to the hospital for X-Rays. While those few who saw the injury held their breath (and presumably Collins and Cronin tried to figure out how they could each blame the other), the tests came back negative. That’s the way it was in those days: broken or not broken. Nothing about deep bone bruises or inflamed ligaments or anything else. It hurt? It ain’t broken. Put some ice on it and play.
Williams played. 5-for-25, .200. It would be decades before Ted acknowledged that the elbow pain never really subsided through the subsequent Series. The only post-season appearance of his career produced five measly singles. And when reporters concluded Williams had not risen to the occasion, or had been psyched out by what was even then a rare but not unique infield defensive shift, Williams let them blame him. Despite the apparent justification for such a claim, he never blamed his ’46 World Series nightmare on the Haefner Hit-By-Pitch.
That the Sox lost the Series was not the end of the story. The pall of that loss lingered for generations. Boston would slide into the second division, then the basement, and would not emerge until the year after Williams was inducted into the Hall of Fame. That his performance in the 1946 Classic was the low point of Williams’ career goes without saying. He eventually admitted it was the low point of his life.
Talk about the Curse of the Bambino? Bolshoi! The Curse of Mickey Haefner, more like!
If you check history – especially internet history – you might see passing mention that Williams hurt his elbow when hit by a pitch “in an exhibition game just before the World Series.” But what you do not see is the disturbing truth that is of particular relevance tonight: Williams hurt his elbow when hit by a pitch in an exhibition game just before the World Series that had been arranged by his own bosses to try to keep the Red Sox sharp FOR THE WORLD SERIES.
Today, of course, Collins or Cronin would’ve been fired or at minimum vilified by history for their gross stupidity. Didn’t happen that way. Cronin succeeded Collins as General Manager, then became American League President in 1959. Both of them are in the Hall of Fame and Cronin has his retired number 4 right up there with Teddy Ballgame’s.
The Tigers are not asking any of their vanquished foes to help them fill the competition gap by playing these exhibitions (the term they used was “scrimmages”) on Sunday and Monday. They have flown up the minor league kids like pitchers Hudson Randall and Joe Rogers from the Florida Fall Instructional League to fill the role played by the A.L. All-Stars in the last ill-fated attempt to keep the rust from growing while the National League tries to figure out its champion (Cards or somebody else).
Presumably the Tigers will take every precaution against the obvious things: sliding (no!), diving for fly balls (don’t!), line drives back at pitchers (use the Batting Practice screen!). But unless Jim Leyland and Dave Dombrowski are aware of the 1946 Red Sox disaster and the saga of Mickey Haefner, they cannot possibly be prepared for the inadvertent pitch that just…gets away.
What do they do if Miguel Cabrera gets hit in the elbow? Or the knee? Or the head? Or while at third base takes a one-hopper off his bean, as he did in Spring Training?
Hudson Randall and Joe Rogers, you say? Neither of them is a knuckleball pitcher, right?
I broke the news here yesterday that representatives of the Yankees and Marlins – later identified elsewhere as New York team president Randy Levine and Miami owner Jeffrey Loria – had discussed a trade that would send the crumbling Yankee superstar Alex Rodriguez to the Marlins.
As the supplemental reporting of others indicates, this may have begun as a sarcastic response by Levine to a chimerical wish by Loria. But the ownership groups of both clubs know damn well this is no longer a joke, and they can ameliorate if not solve each other’s problem. A lot of the blockbuster transactions in baseball history have begun as jokes or expressions of exasperations (Manager Leo Durocher’s stunning move from the Brooklyn Dodgers to the New York Giants in mid-season 1948 comes to mind).
My sources have little else to add today, except to suggest that the Marlins might be willing to swap more of their overpriced stock for Rodriguez and the net differences in salary than previously indicated (say, Heath Bell and Mark Buehrle for Rodriguez and 60 million or so). That will all depend, I’m told, on just how much Miami season ticket sales drop after the disastrous 2012 season.
As to the key players, only Rodriguez is talking, saying after the Yankees’ ignominious finish in Detroit that he wanted to remain in New York and would not waive his no-trade clause.
After Yankees’ Senior Vice President/General Manager Brian Cashman had dismissed Wednesday’s report as “100% not true,” reporters Andrew Marchand and Wallace Matthews of ESPN New York and Jon Heyman of CBS then revealed the Levine-Loria conversation, and the sad fact that Cashman apparently didn’t know about it, nor the hotline it created.
Today, another embarrassed executive who was clearly out of the loop – Marlins’ president David Samson – insisted there had been no negotiations, while Heyman and others ran with the explanation that the Rodriguez talk was just a joke made last April during the Yankees’ stadium christening exhibitions at Miami and that was that.
My primary source says Marchand and Matthews have it right. It was an offhand remark that has turned into at least an avenue to discuss an anything-but-offhand trade:
What began as a casual, joking conversation between New York Yankees president Randy Levine and Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria about the possibility of Alex Rodriguez playing for the Marlins may develop into serious trade talks this offseason, according to a source with knowledge of the conversation.
Others have dismissed the story because no team is talking trades while it is in the process of being humiliatingly swept out of the playoffs. Of course they don’t. But nor does planning for 2013 freeze just because 2012 games are still being played. Anybody pay attention to the weekend of Yankees’ bench coach Tony Pena? Sunday he had to manage the last three innings after Joe Girardi got ejected. Tuesday he was back in his adjunct role at Girardi’s side. In between, on Monday, he was in…Boston. To interview for the Red Sox manager’s job.
The off-season trades, free agent signings, hirings and firings – and the possible trade of Alex Rodriguez – are all starting now. Right now.
The logic behind moving Rodriguez to Miami is impeccable. Whatever damage A-Rod did not himself do to his reputation, the Yankees have – both on and off the field. They have devalued him as a player (he helped) by the extraordinary step of benching him while the team collapsed. They benched him even against Justin Verlander, against whom he could claim a career 8-for-24 mark with three homers.
They may have even baited him into insubordination. Supposedly by accident, the now imperiled-manager Joe Girardi submitted two different lineups for the rained out Wednesday night ALCS Game 4, one featuring Rodriguez, the other without him. A former major leaguer told me today he wouldn’t be a bit surprised if A-Rod hadn’t seen his name on the initial card and told Girardi where to go – which could easily have been what the Yankees wanted him to do. If you don’t buy that bit of conspiratorial sci-fi, how about weighing whether it’s more likely that for a game that could decide whether or not they kept their jobs Joe Girardi and his coaches ‘accidentally’ wrote out two line-up cards, or the Yankees decided to try to further mess with A-Rod’s head?
It is also speculative, but the Yankees (particularly through the nefarious Howard Rubinstein Public Relations Agency) have long employed the Strategic Leak, with the receiving end usually being The New York Post (for whom Rubinstein also works, in a relationship that mainlines directly to Rupert Murdoch himself). What better and more authoritative source could there be for the Casablanca-like “I’m shocked, shocked, that gambling is going on in here” quality to the Post’s splashy story that Rodriguez was trying to get the phone number of an Australian bikini model during Game 1 of the ALCS, than the Yankees themselves? Who would know she was there? Besides the principals, who would know what the ballboy saw? Who would know all of it? The Yankees. As I alluded to yesterday the autographed-ball-as-groupie-troll bait is probably attempted ten times a day in organized baseball.
But why hurt A-Rod when you’re trying to get rid of him?
Well, that’s easy. You don’t just have to find somebody willing to take him off your hands in a trade that doesn’t humiliate you. You have to convince Rodriguez to drop his no-trade clause. And nothing makes that likelier than being able to say to him ‘did you like the last two weeks? The sports pages? And the gossip pages? Would you like five years of that?’
As many columnists noted today the Yankees have no choice but to put Rodriguez in another uniform ASAP. The reason they gave him a contract through his age 42 season – the pursuit of the career home run record – is now a pointless irrelevancy. The 2009 admission of steroid use has made the ‘clean alternative’ to Barry Bonds into a pathetic joke. And, given his rate of decline and frequency of injury, Rodriguez is a less-than-even-money bet to hit the first home run milestone for which he would get one of those $6,000,000 bonuses. It’s Willie Mays’ total of 660 and Rodriguez ended the 2012 season with 647. A-Rod needs thirteen. He had thirteen as of June 26 this past season. He would hit exactly five more thereafter, in 199 regular season at bats.
You know how many homers a rate like that produces over 500 at bats? Twelve. Thirteen if you round up with a vengeance.
But more relevantly, even if Rodriguez has some sort of Jeterian renaissance ahead of him, the Yankees have spent the last week all but neutering any chance it has of blossoming in New York. They have made him – and many of the other stars – into damaged goods. Ten days ago Girardi was extolling the pricelessness of a consistent line-up. Since that moment he used seven different batting orders in seven games. In the process, he threw virtually everybody in his line-up except Jeter and Russell Martin under the bus.
The Yankees ownership can thus, with fake mournful looks plastered onto their phony faces, not pursue free agent Nick Swisher, and unload Rodriguez at any price, and sign a bunch of cheaper alternatives, because of the crisis they themselves have facilitated. For weeks they’ve been reminding me of the 1983 Philadelphia Phillies.
This is not one of the great teams of history but it was one of the most instructive. The Phils cut through the slightly-favored Dodgers in the NLCS (1-0, 1-4, 7-2, 7-2). Ever seen that Gary Matthews homer slamming off the facade of the second deck at the Vet? That sealed Game 3 and it hit about two feet below my auxiliary press box seat and it sounded like a bomb exploding.
The Phils walked into the Series as nominal favorites over the Orioles. Baltimore seemed to have a slightly better offense but Philadelphia had the pitching. Back of John Denny and Al Holland the Phils took the opener on the road 1-0. But when the Orioles took game two, Manager Paul Owens pulled a stunning move. Even though first baseman Pete Rose had gotten within shouting distance of Ty Cobb’s all time career hits record, and had gone 6-for-16 in the NLCS (5-for-9 in the last two games), Owens benched Rose, citing Rose’s 1-for-8 start in the Series, and swapped in Tony Perez against lefty starter Mike Flanagan. Perez got a weak single and looked like a statue in the field, and Owens undid his move for Game 4, but by then it was too late.
In dropping the last three games, the Phillies scored six runs and they had to blow up the franchise. They released not just Rose but Joe Morgan, too. They sold Perez back to the Reds. They offed veteran reliever Ron Reed. And in the last week of Spring Training they purged Matthews (sending him to Chicago for almost nothing, where he led the Cubs to the 1984 NL West title) and reliever Willie Hernandez (sending him to Detroit for even more almost nothing – and Hernandez won both the Cy Young and the MVP as the Tigers rolled to one of the most dominant seasons of the last 50 years).
The Phils would bubble up to the surface for a fun 1993 NL Championship (the Joe Carter World Series). But excluding that, it would be nine managers and 24 years before they would again finish first.
And the dominos all began to fall when they benched a controversial superstar who was pursuing one of the seminal records of baseball. Now why does that sound so familiar?
Updated 10:45 PM EDT: ESPN New York’s Wallace Matthews has the moving parts of the Jeffrey Loria/Randy Levine conversations that kicked off the trade talk between the Marlins and Yankees about Alex Rodriguez.
According to the source, Loria said in his conversation about A-Rod with Levine, “Alex is Mr. Miami; it would be great if he played here for us.”
To which Levine is said to have replied, “You can have him.”
Included in there is the bombshell detail that explains the unfortunate Brian Cashman’s denial this afternoon. He might be the Senior Vice President/General Manager of the Yankees, but he doesn’t make all the deals and some of them they don’t even give him a much of a heads-up on.
Updated 4:04 PM EDT: Yankees’ Senior Vice President Brian Cashman has denied to MLB.Com’s Yankees’ beat reporter Bryan Hoch that there have been any A-Rod trade talks with the Marlins.
Cash – whom I like – is, say, incorrect.
I’d also like to point out that the last time Brian Cashman denied something involving me, it was to tell me and a crowd of reporters that my tweet showing Rodriguez receiving post-pitch detail signals from the stands on Opening Day in 2011 was not an issue for the ballclub and the team was just fine with me and had no problem and everything was just fine.
Three months later they threw me out as Bob Wolff’s assistant at the P.A. microphone for Old Timers’ Day and leaked it to The New York Post.
UPDATE 4:19 PM EDT: I’d also point out that Cashman may not know about any of this – yet. Not two years ago ownership – by his own admission – essentially signed a free agent without telling him. Cashman said the other 29 GMs would have loved to have “their owner force Rafael Soriano down their throat.”
The New York Yankees have held discussions with the Miami Marlins about a trade involving their third baseman in crisis, Alex Rodriguez.
Sources close to both organizations confirm the Yankees would pay all – or virtually all – of the $114,000,000 Rodriguez is owed in a contract that runs through the rest of this season and the next five. One alternative scenario has also been discussed in which the Yankees would pay less of Rodriguez’s salary, but would obtain the troubled Marlins’ reliever Heath Bell and pay what remains of the three-year, $27,000,000 deal Bell signed last winter.
None of the sources could give an indication as to how serious the discussions have already gotten, but one of them close to the Marlins’ ownership said he believed the trade made sense for both sides, and would eventually be made in some form.
Not only are the Yankees one loss away from elimination in the American League Championship Series (and as of this writing, one loss away from an ignominious sweep), but in the post-season Rodriguez is just 3-for-23 with twelve strikeouts, has been pinch-hit for twice, and was left out of one of the Division Series games against Baltimore entirely. He last homered on September 14, and has only one extra base-hit and six RBI in the 24 games since that date.
Rodriguez has become a Gordian Knot for the Yankees. As the roster grows old and the farm system is in a fallow period for position players, the Steinbrenner family wants to reduce payroll, not increase it. And while the precise salary numbers are not known, Rodriguez is scheduled to earn approximately $28 million next year, $23 million in 2014, $22 million in 2015, $21 million in 2016, and $20 million in 2017 – when he will be 42 years old. His physical fragility and declining power now make him just slightly less valuable than the average American League third baseman (by one calculation, Rodriguez’s WAR number – “wins above replacement player” – was 2.0, seventeenth best among Major League third basemen, just behind obscure rookie Luis Cruz of the Dodgers).
Nevertheless, paying Rodriguez $114 million not to play for them would seem to be against the new – cheaper – thinking at Yankee Stadium.
But to a Marlins’ franchise facing financial calamity after the failure of its combination of splashy free agent signings, a high-profile new manager, and a brand new downtown stadium, a “free” Alex Rodriguez has serious upside. He grew up in the community, owns an incredibly high-priced home there that he has been unable to move, and might be refreshed by both the release from the New York cauldron, and a possible move from third base to first base with his new club. Such a position change would be blocked in New York by the presence of first baseman Mark Teixeira and the club’s self-perceived need to rotate the aging Yankee regulars in the Designated Hitter spot.
The degree to which the cauldron was heating up was underscored by a dubious story in Tuesday’s New York Post, which claimed Rodriguez was trying to get the phone numbers of two women seated behind the Yankee dugout during Saturday’s American League Championship Series opener by utilizing the age-old athlete trick of having autographed baseballs delivered to them.
This followed last week’s episode in which tv game show host Donald Trump – tweeting last Wednesday from a team-provided freebie seat in a Yankee Stadium suite – also heated up the cauldron by resuming his online attacks on Rodriguez. Trump invoked Rodriguez’s admission of steroid use during his time with the Texas Rangers by using the more generic and damning word “drugs,” and admitted he had a personal animus towards Rodriguez dating back to what had also tweeted were “dishonorable dealings with me on an apartment deal.”
But the “drugs” tweet was only the culmination of a day of off-and-on attacks on Rodriguez by Trump.
For more than a year the club has been aggressively retaliatory towards those – like Trump – who have invoked Rodriguez’s admission of steroid use, and others who have been critical of him in any other way. Over the past summer the team suspended team Advisor and Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson for questioning what impact Rodriguez’s confession would have on the legitimacy of his career statistics. Later in the season, a Yankees’ media relations staffer bypassed a new formal appeal procedure and was heard shouting at an official scorer who had given an error to an opposing player rather than a base hit to Rodriguez. Yankees’ media relations director Jason Zillo was described in a 2011 book as being “close” to Rodriguez. In the same book Rodriguez called Zillo a “friend.” In 2011, Zillo and the Yankees had similarly tried to squelch stories about the seeming deterioration of the play of Derek Jeter.
Trump’s call for the Yankees to “terminate” Rodriguez’s contract for “misrepresentation” is not a practical solution in a time with a strong players’ union, and given the fact that in the off-season of 2007-08 the Yankees happily kept Rodriguez from leaving for free agency by giving him a new ten-year contract that ensured that his pursuit of the career home run record would come while wearing their uniform. More over, the confession came in February, 2009, and if any claim to void the contract could ever have been made, it would have been then, and not now.
The Yankees presumably are not happy with Trump’s tweets. But they are less so with Rodriguez’s vanishing adequacy. And if the Marlins provide an escape hatch – even an escape hatch costing them either $96,000,000 (if they were to swap Rodriguez for Bell) or $114,000,000 (if they just give him away, or obtain low-cost players or prospects in return for him) – the Yankees are prepared to ignore the business consequences to offload a formerly great player who with each week seems to turn into simply a more and more painful headache.
I am so old that the previous two Triple Crowns were won in a) the first year I had any awareness of the game, and b) the first year I was a true fan.
I got kinda spoiled.
It was – and is – a singular accomplishment. Miguel Cabrera deserves all the praise. He deserves to be in the company of F. Robby and Yaz and all the rest. He does not deserve the Most Valuable Player Award.
I know, I know, I’m the traditionalist and the one who whined here about Felix Hernandez getting the Cy Young last year. And I’m not going to hang this entirely on the idea that historically there was nothing automatic about a Triple Crown equaling MVP (ask not just Ted Williams, but Lou Gehrig). But I also have an appreciation of (if not a slavish dedication to) all the statistics that have come into the game since Carl Yastrzemski’s matchless September got him his place in history in 1967. And the thing being left out of the arguments about Cabrera versus Mike Trout is that the reason “The Triple Crown” was such a big deal all that time was that it wasn’t just the imaginary title we gave the leader of three Glamor Batting Categories – it was the imaginary title we gave the leader of the only three batting categories we had.
I exaggerate only slightly here. The years that the baseball cards were horizontal and not vertical, we also got Games Played, At Bats, Hits, Doubles and Triples printed on the back. Well, those were just for us kids, right? What about the grown-up stuff?
Who’s Who In Baseball - the softcover handbook, still printed, the last vestige of the fabled baseball publishing industry of the 1930′s – offered exactly what the baseball cards did…plus stolen bases.
Still, that was nowhere near official. What about the bible of the game? The veritable New Phone Book of the season ahead and the season behind? What about The Sporting News Official Baseball Guide? It dated to 1942 and its antecedents stretched back to Beadle’s Dime Base-Ball Player edited by Henry Chadwick in 1860.
Here’s exactly what were considered baseball’s official stats the year Yaz did The Miggy:
This is way more sophisticated, no? Games, At Bats, Runs, Hits, Total Bases (ooooh, Total Bases), Two Base Hits, Three Base Hits, Homers, RBI, Sacrifice Hits, Sacrifice Flies, Stolen Bases, Caught Stealing, and “Percentage” – Batting Average.
By the way, Caught Stealing was a revolutionary statistical addition.
Notice anything missing there? I don’t mean WAR and VORP and OPS and UZR and RISP and Percentage of Pitchers Faced With ERA under 4.00. I mean:
In 1968 baseball’s OFFICIAL STATISTICS DID NOT EVEN INCLUDE ON BASE, OR SLUGGING PERCENTAGE.
The Triple Crown was The Triple Crown because it was the most sophisticated measurement of a batter’s total impact on the game. And in terms of historical placement, it was a gold mine. When Frank Robinson and Carl Yastrzemski won their Crowns we were still a couple of years away from The Baseball Encyclopedia. What those of us who did not have complete runs of The Sporting News Guide, The Reach Guide, The Spalding Guide, The Players’ League Guide, and Beadle’s Dime Base-Ball Player had, was The Official Encyclopedia Of Baseball.
In one fan’s lifetime, in my trip from an eight-year old going to his first Yankee game to the 53-year old sitting in the front row last night going deaf from the excessive PA system, who used to host the telecasts of the World Series before the turn of the century (!), we went from what you see to the left, to WAR and PZR.
That – Full Name, Birth Date, Birth Place, Date of Death (sometimes), Batted/Threw (sometimes), Games Played, Won-Lost Record, and Batting Average – was all that we had for the official baseball historical record the last time somebody won the Triple Crown before Miguel Cabrera did it last night. No homers, no RBI, no Slugging Percentage – no hits, no runs, no errors!
And – you’re right – Ruth’s entry is the most sophisticated one in the book because he was a pitcher and a position player!
So I applaud what Cabrera did, and I want to buy him something to thank him for doing something that merely reminds me of the excitement of a player sweeping the statistical board – as we thought we knew it – when I was a kid.
But I’ve grown up (somewhat) and so have the statistics. And I won’t labor them anew here but Mike Trout had a remarkable season according to the closest thing we have to an all-encompassing number, WAR:
AMERICAN LEAGUE WAR (2012)
1. TROUT, Los Angeles (10.72)
2. CANO, New York (8.23)
3. VERLANDER, Detroit (7.44)
4. CABRERA, Detroit (6.95)
5. BELTRE, Texas (6.66)
6. PRICE, Tampa Bay (6.47)
7. GORDON, Kansas City (6.28)
8. HARRISON, Texas (6.09)
9. SALE, Chicago (5.80)
10. ZOBRIST, Tampa Bay (5.6)
11. HUNTER, Los Angeles (5.5)
12. JACKSON, Detroit (5.30)
In short, Trout was about 30 percent more valuable than the runner-up (and that’s with Robinson Cano’s explosive finish), and he doubled the value of the 12th best player in the league. For contrast, the top five guys in NL War finished in a grouping of 0.5 (Buster Posey 7.2, McCutchen 7.0, Braun 6.8, Molina 6.7, Wright 6.7) allowing room for interpretation and argument. To get down to half the value of the WAR champ, you have to go to Carlos Beltran and David Freese and a tie for 33rd.
That room for argument is non-existant in the American League. Miguel Cabrera won a Triple Crown, and Mike Trout’s season was 54 percent more valuable.
Which is, at minimum, the added value of all the new statistics, since Yaz won, and I was a kid, and there were only 20 teams – and “The Triple Crown” was the best we had.
In 1991, I got a call from my friend Matt Federgreen, the proprietor of the Beverly Hills Baseball Card Shop and my co-host for a little segment I did on each of my half-hour-long Sunday night sportscasts on KCBS-Channel 2 in L.A.
Matt had been approached by Bruce McNall, the owner of the Los Angeles Kings and at that time the rising figure in hockey ownership and L.A. sports moguldom. McNall had made his millions buying and selling (and as the jury later agreed, often selling and re-selling and re-re-selling) antique coins, and he was fascinated by the upcoming auction of the Jim Copeland sports memorabilia. Big-money auctions were nothing new to the baseball card world, but this one was being handled by Sotheby’s, meaning the hobby was being mainstreamed into investment-grade collectibles.
The centerpiece of the Sotheby’s Auction was an unbelievably pristine copy of the 1909 American Tobacco Company card of Honus Wagner, hardly the scarcest, but handily the most famous, card in the landmark series we collectors call by its catalogue number “T-206.” McNall and a then-unidentified partner (who proved to be his star player, Wayne Gretzky) wanted the card and they wanted Federgreen’s expertise. The card looked brand new. It bore no earmarks of being a clever counterfeit. But it also bore no signs of nearly 92 years of aging. Unless somebody was standing at the printing press when the card was finished drying, and stuffed it between the pages of a book, and kept the book in a climate-controlled room from the opening days of the Presidential administration of William Howard Taft, and had only taken it out after the inauguration of George H.W. Bush, something seemed wrong.
Something was very wrong. I couldn’t go with Matt to the inspection of the Wagner that McNall had arranged for him. But Matt took a bunch of pictures, and the next time he came in to the studios he brought them.
Matt has a sly smile that usually gives him away. “Whaddya think?”
I took one look at the photos and said “It’s been trimmed.”
Matt laughed. “That’s what I told Bruce. He said thanks very much, he said he thought so too, he said he’d probably buy it any way, and he walked me to the door, and he paid me a very generous fee, and I left.”
I asked him to show me the photos again. They had rung too loud a bell. “I’ve seen this card before.”
Matt’s eyes lit up. By the following Sunday I had found in my rabbit’s warren of card-related stuff, photos of a Wagner that had been offered for sale in the early ’80s by a fellow who owned a baseball card store on Long Island outside New York City. I had no doubt and neither did Matt. Between his photos and mine we were looking at before-and-after shots of the same card.
Before and after somebody with the guts of a burglar and the skills of a circumcision specialist had trimmed the thing.
In its previous state the Wagner was an anomaly. It had very large white borders, and the card was thus perhaps 10% bigger than the average T-206. It looked like it had been hand-cut from a sheet of cards, and not done by a machine. Some of the corners were stubbed and worn from age. But the “face” of the card, the player’s image, the bright yellow background, the lettering, were shiny and virtually perfect. It had been handled, and handled an appropriate amount, since 1909. But whoever had done the handling had been very, very careful not to touch the face.
And then somebody bought it and actually cut away all the damage on the sides and sold it to Jim Copeland who had turned it over to Sotheby’s which would shortly sell it to Bruce McNall and Wayne Gretzky for $451,000. When McNall was exposed as a crook who would sell the same priceless coin to several different collectors (throwing in secure storage of it for a small additional fee – so that it was always around for him to show it and re-sell it to another collector even though he didn’t own it any more) Gretzky got full possession of the treasure and sold it off to Walmart as a publicity thing, basically at a break-even figure. The price has gone up and up and up, and “the” Wagner was finally sold to Conservative political figure and Arizona Diamondbacks’ owner Ken Kendrick, who five years ago paid $2,800,000 for it.
It’s not a fake. But it’s also not an original.
And for years, collectors and experts have murmured about the process by which a really nice Wagner had been altered, and the alterations hidden from the public (even receiving the stamp of approval by the presumptive “final word” of a card authenticating company which got enormous publicity – and undeserved credibility – for encasing the card in the first of its plastic “slabs”), and the card became the image of the sports memorabilia hobby.
But who was behind this? And, Heavens, who cut the card?
Now we have the answer, courtesy the FBI…
According to the indictment, in advertising portraying Mastro Auctions as the premier seller of valuable items, including the world’s most expensive baseball trading card, a Honus Wagner T-206 card, Mastro allegedly failed to disclose that he had altered the Wagner T-206 card by cutting the sides in a manner that, if disclosed, would have significantly reduced the value of the card.
The “Mastro” in question is Bill Mastro, who I have known since we were both teenagers. At age 19, he had bought a Wagner for $1,500 and thus completed his T-206 set. Those of us whose own massive collections might have been worth a total of $1,500 were aghast. My friend and mentor Mike Aronstein told me that some of Mastro’s relatives had actually gathered together to consider what we would now call an “intervention” or forcing him to seek psychological help. It was believed that no Wagner had previously sold for more than around $250. At the left is how this startling development was contemporaneously covered by a monthly publication I used to write for called The Trader Speaks.
Mastro was already buying and selling cards that were not intended for his own collection. By the ’80s he had gone from card dealer to the founder of one of the first sports memorabilia auction houses, Mastro Auctions, and would regularly work the phones to try to drum up publicity for his auctions.
It eventually became a $50,000,000 business. And now it’s gotten Mastro and some of his colleagues indicted. And not just for the deception regarding the Wagner.
More from the Department of Justice’s press release:
CHICAGO — Online and live auctions of sports memorabilia and other collectibles conducted during the 2000s by the former Mastro Auctions, which was based in suburban Chicago, routinely defrauded customers, according to a federal indictment unsealed today. William Mastro, who owned the former business that once billed itself as the “world’s leading sports and Americana auction house,” together with Doug Allen and Mark Theotikos, both former executives of Mastro Auctions, were indicted on fraud charges for allegedly rigging auctions through a series of deceptive practices, including so-called “shill-bidding,” designed to inflate prices paid by bidders and to protect the interests of consignors and sellers at the expense of unwitting bidders.
In short, if you bought from Mastro, you stood an excellent chance of bidding against people who were there only to drive up the price.
For that part of the story, I refer you to the whole press release at the Sports Collectors Digest website. The New York Daily News has even more detail on the extraordinary tale of “the” Wagner, which after two decades of whispering, we can now shout: has been deceptively altered.
Just for fun, I should note here that the entire story of what originally made the Wagner card scarce in the first place also doesn’t add up. The timeline is so messy that it has the card being withdrawn at Wagner’s behest (supposedly because he didn’t want to be involved in selling cigarettes to kids) after he saw an advertisement for it in a national sports magazine. But the ad didn’t appear until July, 1909 and the card was supposed to have been withdrawn in March, 1909. But I’ll save that tale of what might’ve been the first card made deliberately scarce, for another time.
Also, this isn’t the scarcest card of all time, nor even in this set (there are at least 75 of them; there may not be as many examples of the T-206 card of an A’s pitcher named Eddie Plank, and there are only three or four copies of a rare T-206 variation of a Yankees’ pitcher Joe Doyle, and there are unique examples of eight minor league T-206 ‘proof’ cards featuring players who never got into the issued set, and based on recent developments there may yet be a 525th card to add to the checklist). More on that some other time.
Lastly, if you’re ever actually talking about Honus Wagner – the immortal shortstop or the card or now the FBI Fraud Case – the name doesn’t rhyme with “bonus.” Honus was short for the Germanic version of John, Johannes. So he answered to “Honnis,” not “Ho-nus.”