Results tagged ‘ Tim McCarver ’

Name Dropping Herman Long

Had the pleasure of joining Brian Kenny on MLB Network’s Clubhouse Confidential yesterday (more on that below) and as we batted back and forth the necessity of electing Gil Hodges to the Hall of Fame, Brian mentioned that if he gave me a chance I could drop a lot of 19th Century Cooperstown-worthy players. I had time to say only “look up Herman Long.”

I’ll detail his Hall credentials in a moment. But first: for all of the weird HOF elections of the first 75 years, he is in the middle of the weirdest. Take a look at the results from the first-ever Veterans’ Committee vote, conducted in 1936:

  1. Buck Ewing                 39.5 Votes, Elected 1939
  2. Cap Anson                   39.5 Votes, Elected 1939
  3. Wee Willie Keeler          33 Votes, Elected 1939
  4. Cy Young                     32.5 Votes, Elected 1937
  5. Ed Delahanty              21.5 Votes, Elected 1945
  6. John McGraw             17 Votes, Elected 1937
  7. Old Hoss Radbourn      16 Votes, Elected 1939
  8. Herman Long            15.5 Votes
  9. King Kelly                    15 Votes, Elected 1945
  10. Amos Rusie                 11.5 Votes, Elected 1977
  11. Hughie Jennings            11 Votes, Elected 1945
  12. Fred Clarke                   9 Votes, Elected 1945
  13. Jimmy Collins              8 Votes, Elected 1945
  14. Charles Comiskey        6 Votes, Elected 1939
  15. George Wright              6 Votes, Elected 1937

Herman Long in an 1888 Old Judge card, while with the minor league Chicago Maroons

So there were 78 ballots, 60 different players got votes, half of them eventually wound up in the Hall, but the guy who got the eighth most, who finished ahead of 23 future Hall of Famers, not only never made it but never again got significant support? I mean, in the 1937 Veterans’ Committee ballot, Long got one vote.

Something is very, very strange here. I mean, while we think of the stars of the 19th Century and the early 20th as having played in some kind of baseball version of the Pleistocene era, consider who the 1936 voters were. If this were January, 1936, Bob Costas would’ve made his NBC baseball debut in 1907, I would’ve covered my first World Series in 1900, Peter Gammons would’ve broken in with The Boston Globe in 1893, and Tim McCarver would’ve started with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1883.

In short, the 78 members of the Veterans Committee of 1936 saw most of the antediluvian names on that ballot play either professionally or as kids (let’s just play with that again: if this were 1936 I’d have seen my first MLB game in 1891 and I believe Peter’s first would’ve been in 1882). These guys thought of Herman Long in the same breath with the most famous player of the 19th Century (King Kelly), the man who won 59 games in one season (Hoss Radbourn), and the man who played or managed 14 pennant winners (John McGraw). For further context, there were six players to whom the first Veterans voters gave exactly one vote each, who wound up in Cooperstown and to some degree in the baseball public’s awareness, like 342-game winner Tim Keefe and the inventor of the curveball Candy Cummings. And Herman Long got 15 times as many votes.

So who was this guy?

Derek Jeter is the Yankee shortstop now, but Long was the first. His 1903 Breisch-Williams baseball card; the photo shows him from Boston circa 1899

Herman Long was the great shortstop of the Boston Beaneaters’ dynasty of the 1890′s. He produced four consecutive years of an OPS of .800 or higher, had two 100-RBI seasons, six 100-Run seasons, and in a time without home runs, he hit 91 of them over 13 seasons including a dozen in each of two years. He stole 537 bases (that’s still 30th all-time) and scored 1,456 runs (77th all-time). In that measure of what an individual player’s offense and defense was “worth” to his team, “WAR,” Long finished with 44.6 (his Hall of Fame teammate, third baseman Jimmy Collins, finished at 53, and his Hall of Fame teammate, centerfielder Tommy McCarthy, finished at just 19). And despite having made more errors than anybody else in history, he has the 122nd best Defensive WAR+ among all position players ever. Boston’s two spurts – at the beginning and end of the 1890′s – produced five pennants and Long was the shortstop on all of the teams.

His nickname was “The Flying Dutchman.” When they began to use it late in the 1890′s for a kid named Honus Wagner, it was a tribute to Herman Long. More trivially, he would later play only 22 games there, but he was the first shortstop of the New York Yankees (then the Highlanders).

Is Long a Hall of Famer? I’m not sure. But he was considered the 8th best player among the “Old Timers” in 1936, and then fell into a black hole. It wasn’t even a matter of public scandal or diminished rotation – Long had been dead since 1909. He certainly merits consideration.

Remind me to tell you later about Bobby Mathews.

SPEAKING OF OLD TIMERS

Returning to the topic of my visit to MLB Network, if you didn’t know, that’s where my erstwhile employers MSNBC were headquartered from 1996 until October, 2007. I worked in this very building from September of ’97 through December of ’98, and then again from February of ’03 until we moved out. Yesterday was my first day back and it was mind-blowing. Baseball invested a reported $54,000,000 to upgrade the facility with rebuilt studios and state-of-the-art technology.

But they changed almost nothing else.

Look! They took down the MSNBC logo!

Not the carpets. Not the desks. Not the chairs. Not the make-up rooms. Not the cubicles. Not where the large clusters of desks are. Not the cafeteria. Not the offices. Not the office door plates. Not the “Employees Must Wash Hands” signs in the bathrooms.

The MSNBC great rotating "anchor desk" was somewhere around Second Base

Going into it was like one of those dreams you’ve probably had where you walk into some place totally familiar to you – your childhood home, or where you live now, or go to work, or school – and in the middle of it your unconscious has placed a nuclear reactor or a jungle or something else utterly incongruous, without changing even one other thing.

You think I’m kidding? My old offices, the one from 2003 and the one from 1997, are still offices, with the same doors, windows, nameplates, and televisions. The newer of them is occupied by an old colleague of mine from Fox Sports named Mike Konner, and to my amazement I found that on what is now his wall was a poster from MSNBC’s 2004 Campaign Coverage. I remembered this one distinctly, because there was controversy over some of the people shown in the back row (somebody wasn’t under contract, or somebody was left out, or something), and the thing was immediately replaced by a revised version with somebody else’s body swapped in. As I saw it hanging on Mike’s wall I remembered I had left the rare “uncorrected” version in a pile of junk when I left.

So why was it on Konner’s wall? I asked Mike where he found it. “It was here when we moved in. In a pile of junk.”

Every time I think of him saying that, I laugh. The poster has been in that tiny office since 2004.

Good Luck Retirements?

So now that Gil Meche has quit, does that mean the Kansas City Royals are going to win the World Series this year?

Too laughable for words? How about Milwaukee, because Trevor Hoffman has hung ‘em up while still theoretically still with the Brewers?
If you haven’t clicked away by now, don’t think for a moment that I’m suggesting there’s a predictable correlation between any of these things, but there is a not insubstantial list of occasions in history in which a prominent player – or even star – has retired only to see his last team go on to win the World Series the following fall.
Three of the game’s All-Time greats managed this impossible and dubious trick. Stan Musial was a World Champ in three of his first four seasons in the majors (’42, ’44, ’46 – he spent 1945 in the service) and then slogged it out with some pretty bad Cardinals teams for the next 17 years before retiring after the ’63 campaign. He then watched from the distant front office as the Birds won it all in ’64.
The other two immortals managed to miss out together. Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker had been forced out of their player-manager jobs in Detroit and Cleveland respectively after a gambling scandal hit the American League in the late ’20s, and concluded their careers as teammates with the 1928 Philadelphia A’s. They left (Cobb to true retirement, and Speaker to a pinch hitting/managing gig with Newark of the International League), and the Athletics won the 1929 Series. Speaker had won crowns in Boston and Cleveland, but though he was in the Series in his second, third, and fourth full seasons in the majors in Detroit, the Tigers lost all three of those Classics and for everything else he did, Cobb could never claim he won a Series.
The most touching example of this impeccably bad timing would obviously be Don Mattingly, who arrived just after the Yankees lost the 1981 World Series. Mattingly suffered through the worst of the Steinbrenner years at Yankee Stadium from 1982 to 1993 without once seeing the post-season. Mattingly’s ’94 Yanks, a pretty good team, were snuffed out by the strike, and in ’95, when he finally reached the playoffs after having announced his retirement, they blew a chance at what would’ve been his only Series appearance by coughing up the 2-0 lead to the Mariners. The Yankees, with Tino Martinez in Donnie Baseball’s stead at first base, went on to win the Series in 1996.
Amazingly there are at least two other Yankee first basemen who did the same thing, although neither had as much to complain about as did Mattingly. George McQuinn retired after the 1948 season, just before the Yanks went on their run of five straight Championships. But McQuinn had already gotten his ring with the ’47 Yankees.
McQuinn’s retirement opened up a path for Joe Collins to take over much of the work at first base in the Bronx. Collins was hardly cheated: he only played eight full seasons but was on six World’s Champs. When the Yanks decided to trade him to Philadelphia after they lost the 1957 Classic, Collins retired – and New York rebounded to win the 1958 crown.
Mathematically, with all those titles, it’s not surprising that there are at least four other Yankees on this strange list. They began asking “where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?” in the winter of 1951 when he retired. With nine rings in just thirteen years on the field, the Yankee Clipper did not get shortchanged. Nevertheless, New York won two more in his first two years away from the game. The talented Jerry Coleman, still going strong in the Padres’ booth just 53 years later, quit the Yanks after the ’57 loss to Milwaukee and, like Collins, missed the ’58 crown. His fellow Yankee infield stalwart Gil McDougald retired after the ’60 loss to Pittsburgh and thus missed the ’61 win over Cincinnati and the ’62 victory over San Francisco. And of the most recent vintage, Mike Mussina’s triumphant climax to his great career, his first 20-win season in his swan song of 2008, also meant he missed out on what would’ve been his only ring in 2009.
This list is probably incomplete; I confess to having done it off the top of my head. But Pee Wee Reese is on it, retiring from the 1958 Dodgers and so on their ’59 Series winners only as a coach. If you want a manager, take Earl Weaver. He retired from the Orioles after 1982. They won it under Joe Altobelli in 1983. Making things worse, the Birds soured on Altobelli in ’85 and Weaver un-retired for two unhappy seasons. 
There are a couple of judgement calls, too. Tim McCarver called it quits from the Phillies at the end of 1979 and went into the broadcasting booth, only to be activated in September, 1980 when rosters expanded. But he was back in civvies for the World Series triumph, which would’ve been his first since St. Louis in 1964. There is also the iffy case of Harvey Haddix. The Baltimore Orioles traded the veteran pitcher to Milwaukee in August of 1965, but Haddix told the Braves he was intending to retire in a month and they shouldn’t waste money or players on obtaining him. In fact, his last major league game was on August 28, 1965, so I’ll leave it to you as to whether or not he qualifies on the bad timing roster considering the ’66 edition of the Orioles won the Series.
Lastly, the most frustrating case I can recall would have to be that of Mel Harder, the Cleveland Indians pitcher for whose Hall of Fame candidacy Ted Williams never stopped lobbying. Harder joined the Tribe in 1928, eight years after they’d taken the Series under player-manager Speaker. He won a tidy 223 games before finally giving up after his 20th season in Cleveland, in 1947. The Indians promptly won the 1948 World Series, in no small measure because of their rookie pitching coach – Harder himself. He stayed in that job through 1963 (and obviously the Indians never won the Series after his first year). To expand our terms a little bit, when the Indians let him go, Harder quickly hooked on as pitching coach of the Mets (five years before their Championship). He would move on to the Reds in ’66 and stay through 1968, exiting just before The Big Red Machine rose to prominence.
So if the Royals or Brewers surprise everybody this year, maybe you know why.

Joe Torre Is Not An Un-Person

I unreservedly like Tim McCarver’s work. I have compared his analysis before the last pitch of the 2001 World Series to Mazeroski’s home run to win the 1960 World Series. For all his stylizing and odd constructions, I’ve found his game analysis, especially his “first guessing,” to be almost universally insightful and correct.
But he’s dead wrong about this Joe Torre stuff. And not just for the unfortunate imagery he used during Saturday’s broadcast from Yankee Stadium at the end of the sad week in which both Bob Sheppard and George Steinbrenner died. Tim is wrong on the facts.

“You remember some of those despotic leaders in World War II, primarily in Russia and Germany, where they used to take those pictures that they had taken of former generals who were no longer alive, they had shot ‘em. They would airbrush the pictures, and airbrushed the generals out of the pictures. In a sense, that’s what the Yankees have done with Joe Torre. They have airbrushed his legacy. I mean, there’s no sign of Joe Torre at the Stadium. And that’s ridiculous. I don’t understand it.”

McCarver has apologized for the imagery (you hate the Yankees? Fine. The “rooting for the Yankees was like rooting for U.S. Steel” is stern enough, we don’t have to bring Hitler and Stalin into this). But he sticks to the contention that the Yankees have “airbrushed” Torre from their history and should have retired his number by now.

Let’s address the number first. Torre has been gone for only two-and-a-half seasons. Nobody else has been assigned his old uniform number 6. In examining the retirements, the Yankees have shelved fifteen numbers representing sixteen players (both Yogi Berra and Bill Dickey wore number 8). Mariano Rivera’s 42 will be automatically retired upon his departure from the Bronx, in keeping with the baseball-wide retirement of the number to honor Jackie Robinson in 1997 (and doubtless Rivera will get his own ceremony since he’s clearly earned it).

Fourteen of the sixteen honorees were, at the time of their uniform retirements, either still working for the Yankees, out of baseball, or deceased. When Casey Stengel’s number 37 was put away for good in 1970, it had been a decade since he had last managed the Yankees and half of one since he had last managed the Mets. He still had a largely ceremonial vice presidency with the Mets and still suited up for short stints during spring training. Berra was managing the Mets when the number he and Dickey was retired in 1972. By then Yogi, too, had been away from the Yankees for a long time – eight years.

There is some logic in delaying, especially for individuals still living. I found what is in retrospect a hilarious blog post from September, 2007, declaring that the Yankees would “surely” be one of three teams to retire the number of a veteran player: Roger Clemens. Yeah, and don’t call me Surely.

Thumbnail image for IMG_0183.jpg Clearly the Yankees are honoring Torre by not handing his old number to anybody else. But has he been under-represented in terms of imagery at the new Stadium? McCarver acknowledged he saw some photos of his old friend in the park and did had not meant for the “airbrushed” imagery to be taken literally.

Turns out there are 21 photos of Torre on display at the new Stadium. One of them is just Joe and Steinbrenner, giant-sized, at one of the park’s street entrances. I saw a couple of others of note tonight in the Bronx, in my first visit since McCarver’s remarks. This would be the entrance to Suite Number 6 down the first base line. The motif is pretty straight forward for each suite – a series of photos of the Yankees who wore each number, even a list of them in the alcove just outside the door. And the pride of place in terms of photography goes to the odd image you see at the left. In fact, let’s get a little closer and see just who that particular Number 6 happens to be: IMG_0184.jpg


I’m not sure who that is with him, but that would be Joe Torre on the left. And the idea that he is somehow being dissed by being shown back-to-the-camera denies the purpose of the photograph: each suite emphasizes the Yankees who have worn that number. 

Off point, no, I do not believe there is a Suite 91 featuring nothing but photos of Alfredo Aceves.

Now, the image above is a small, untitled photo, correct? Doesn’t emphasize Torre’s vast contributions to the remarkable streak of four titles in five years? Try this, from the main concourse of the stadium, behind the ground level seats, down the left field line.

IMG_0189.JPG

Prime location? Two beer stands and a men’s room?

Each Yankee championship team is remembered with a three-photo display. It starts with 1923 in the farthest corner of Right Field and then moves chronologically back towards the plate and out to Left. And who are the guys in the farthest right panel?

IMG_0188.jpg

That’s right: the late George Steinbrenner, Rudolf Giuliani, and dressed for a very cold parade day from 2000, Joe Torre. 

I’ll repeat myself here. I’m a fan and friend of Tim McCarver’s, and Joe Torre is my oldest baseball friend. I’ve even worked with them both. And I know the Yankees could have done better by Joe, and his exit was unceremonious and poorly-handled by the club. I would also argue that the Yankees are the most self-important, overly-serious franchise in overtly pro sports (I can think of about 27 college programs that would at least give them a run for their money).

But Timmy was just wrong, in style and in substance. Neither literally nor figuratively have the Yankees excised, erased, airbrushed nor Memory-Hole’d Joe Torre. Doubtless the day will come soon, perhaps even while he’s still managing elsewhere, that they will formally retire the number and give him the big ceremony he deserves. To see a conspiracy in the fact that the day has yet to come is, at best, to overreact.

No Hits, No Jinx, No Humor, No Bobby

How many teams can see their ace carry a no-hitter into the 8th and still create a handful of controversies out of it?

Firstly, the question about pulling CC Sabathia out of the game at the end of the inning whether he had the no-hitter going or not, was academic. It assumes that with his rising pitch count, Sabathia was going to throw 10 to 25 more pitches without losing enough on them to give up a hit (which obviously he did anyway). Secondly, why on earth did Joe Girardi say anything about it – it had already happened and all he could possibly do was deflate Sabathia after a thrilling day and great game. Thirdly, no, Joe Buck and Tim McCarver did not cause Sabathia to lose the no-hitter by saying the word “no-hitter” 224 times. I have a tape of the famous 1969 Tom Seaver game where he lost a perfect game in the ninth courtesy an obscure Cubs’ utilityman named Jimmy Qualls. The Mets’ radio announcers meticulously avoided ever saying “no-hitter” – and he still lost it.
MOCK COURT:
Remember my speculation last week that there was something wrong with the baseballs? The covers were too slick, or the stitches too high, or something that was causing pitchers and fielders to have trouble with gripping it, and led to them sailing it, sometimes as hilariously as Carlos Zambrano? Garrett Mock of the Nationals complained about it Friday night, and Mets’ scout Bob Melvin mentioned to me yesterday that he’d seen and heard about it too.
HAYHURST PANNED:
“In spite of the cover blurbs from well-known baseball personalities trumpeting how howlingly funny the book (The Bullpen Gospels) is,” writes Chaz Scoggins of the paper in Lowell, Mass., “I found it tolerably droll. ‘Ball Four,’ now that was hilarious.”
This must be taken in context. Years ago, Mr. Scoggins thought it would be really hilarious to invite me to host the annual Boston baseball writers’ dinner – without telling me that I was going to have to personally present an award to another baseball figure with whom I was having a very public feud (who, me?). This was a variation of the original plan in which I was to merely introduce whoever was to present the award. I found out as we all walked out to the dais. “Surprise!,” Scoggins said to me (conveniently the other figure skipped, possibly because he’d found out I was presenting). So, in short, Mr. Scoggins does not have an adult sense of humor.
GRATUITOUS BOBBY COX TRIBUTE:

Cox1969.jpg

Thought this might be a treat. Three seldom-seen items from the collection, pertaining to the soon-to-retire skipper of the Braves, dating from the opposite end of his career. In fact, they all are from a time before I knew Bob. We met in Spring Training of 1978 – if you can believe that – when I was the most fledgling reporter imaginable, and he gave me a very cordial and respectful interview even though I was, in short, a moron. This first image is from his two-year career in the Yankee infield, as the starting third baseman for much of 1968, and then as a utility guy in 1969. It’s an unused photo from the files of the Topps Company and is theirs, please, with copyright and everything. He’s younger, but you can see he already looks like the manager he was to become.
Below is a card from a beautiful set from Venezuela and the once dominant winter league there, in 1967-68. Kind of formal with the third baseman’s first name.
Cox1967.jpg
Cox1967back.jpg
Coxy’s ascent to management was far more rapid in Venezuela than the U.S. By the winter of 1974-75, the card of Mr. Cox of the Lara Cardenales showed him as the manager. Maybe more importantly, it showed him as…Roberto?
Cox1974.jpg

Beerless Forecasts

Ankee Dium?

IMG_2068.jpg

Taken from The Major Deegan Expressway (New York Thruway) this afternoon – the third base side of the upper deck is long gone and about the rest of it, the first impression is apparently universal: it looks like they’ve stolen part of the old Yankee Stadium. The big blue letters are long gone, and the shadows left spell out “A N K E E      D I U M.” 
I don’t know if, even with the misspelling, that translates to anything in Latin, but here’s a second view – where the highway sign, in the right of the first picture, is out of view, and we’re obscured only by a light pole:
IMG_2069.jpg
This second shot gives you a clearer view of that missing chunk behind home plate. It’s inevitable, and it’s stark, and it’s progress (I continue to like the new place better) – but it’s still shocking. And where did all the stuff go? A partial answer below.
The slightly blurry pictures were snapped in route to my father’s memorial service, and this gives me an opportunity to thank you for the overwhelming support that poured from the comments after Saturday’s post about his passing. They were of incredible importance to me, and the members of my family, and to my father’s friends, who read them. I wish that I could somehow do them justice, but words, as they did this afternoon, fail me.
FROM A RESEARCHER’S NOTEBOOK:
Not much real sweaty research here (on my part anyway), but courtesy BaseballReference.Com we get to celebrate those three men who are just seventeen days or so away from hitting the old “I played in four decades” milestone: Ken Griffey, Jamie Moyer, and Omar Vizquel. They would swell the ranks of four-decaders (or in the cases of Minnie Minoso and Nick Altrock, five) to a total of 29. There are as noted several others, like Gary Sheffield, without clubs but with possibilities.
It is fascinating that there hasn’t been an “artificial” addition to this list since 1990, given that ten of the first seventeen players to achieve the distinction only did so by coming out of retirement, or at least inactivity. Jack O’Connor was a manager when he did it, Dan Brouthers a scout, Jim O’Rourke a minor league executive, Eddie Collins a never-used player-coach, Tim McCarver a broadcaster, and Altrock, Kid Gleason, Jimmy McGuire, Minoso, and Jack Ryan, all full-time coaches.
Lastly, as promised – where’d all that original Yankee Stadium stuff go?
Well, you have to admit, it gives a home a different feel.
IMG_2022.jpg
This was Damaso Marte’s locker in 2008, and Mariano Rivera’s earlier.

Notes From A Sickbed

OK, not that sick. Just enough.

As you watch the rest of the Yankees’ post-season, especially these first two games against the Angels, consider this: What do these guys have in common? Wilson Betemit, Johnny Damon, Shelley Duncan, Morgan Ensberg, Juan Miranda, Chad Moeller, Jose Molina, Xavier Nady, Jorge Posada, Cody Ransom, Richie Sexson, and Jason Giambi?
They played first base for the Yankees last season. Where would the Yankees be right now – just from a defensive point of view – if any of them were still playing first base for them, and were reaching for the high-degree-of-difficulty throws of CC Sabathia, Molina, Robinson Cano, et al, instead of Mark Teixeira? Apart from the likelihood the Angels might be leading this game and might’ve won last night’s, I wonder if the Yankees would even still be playing.
Two other notes. Interesting that given my speculation last night that Erick Aybar might have had an auditory awareness problem because he had been dressed “like a teletubby” – as Joe Buck put it – that Aybar went with just an ordinary cap tonight. 
Also, credit to Fox for an intriguing innovation following a Tim McCarver query – a measurement of the speed of pitches as they leave the pitcher’s hand, and, separately, as they arrive at the plate. For A.J. Burnett’s supposed 93 MPH fastball, it was 93 at his hand, and “only” 86 at the plate. It’s pure guesswork, but the differential might explain the concept of the “heavy” pitch catchers and hitters talk about, as one that somehow partially overcomes the aerodynamic drag that affects any object in flight. If another pitcher’s 93 MPH fastball actually hits the glove at 87 or 88, it might  explain the otherwise anecdotal concept of a “heavy ball.”

Dumb Stuff And Dumber Stuff

One of the silliest things I’ve ever read about televised baseball has been authored by a guy whose readers have had to develop a virtual immunity to silliness and missing details over the years. Bob Raissman writes in The New York Daily News about the misdirected charges of prejudice against this team or that, especially in the post-season. It’s a mostly insightful piece about Ron Darling – one of the best analysts in the business – until he veers off into a theoretical that seems to leave out a vital historical reality:

Can you imagine if the Yankees and Cardinals meet in the World Series on Fox? First, stink bombs – and charges of bias – will be flying in the direction of Tim McCarver, the former Cardinals player, andJoe Buck, the former Cardinals broadcaster.

To paraphrase Timmy, well that’s a fine piece of amnesia. The supposedly anti-Yankees McCarver broadcast Yankees’ games for the local Fox station from 1999 through 2001.
MUCH DUMBER STUFF
First time I’ve included a non-baseball story in here, I think. You saw the David Letterman extortion/blackmail attempt? Without defending Letterman’s forced-to-confess-transgressions, I went slack-jawed went suspect Robert J. Halderman was arrested. He has been a Producer for CBS News 48 Hours, but what you haven’t read is that when I made my television debut as the New York correspondent for CNN Sports in 1981, Robert J. “Joe” Halderman was the chief assignment editor in the CNN New York bureau. You know when somebody gets arrested for some horrific or moronic crime (like taking a personal check for two million dollars as a blackmail payment), you hear somebody say “that’s not the guy I knew”? Not this time. This is exactly the guy we knew at CNN in 1981.

It Disgusts Me

When I think of Lou Gehrig, I see him in a hotel room somewhere in the summer of 1938. It is the middle of the night, nearly silent, sweltering in Cleveland or St. Louis or Washington. If there is any air conditioning it is feeble and no match for humidity sitting like a giant sweater on the city.

The pain has been growing, almost imperceptibly, for months, maybe years. Worse still his inability to make his body do what he wants it to do has deteriorated. The discomfort may have awakened him, but it’s something else that has caused him to reach for the alarm clock, and instead knock it to the floor with a sour ring. This may have been begun years earlier – his eventual successor Babe Dahlgren told me he was playing first for the Red Sox in 1935 when Gehrig rounded the bag, slipped, and just could not steady himself to stand up.
He has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and it will be months more of pain, and confusion, and fear, and denial, and dread, before he has even heard the phrase. And then the world will close in on him: in March, 1939, he will stagger through spring training. In May he will take himself out of the lineup. Weeks later he will be at the Mayo Clinic. In July he will be honored at Yankee Stadium and initially be asked not to speak to the heartbroken crowd, for fear that just the sound of his words, his acknowledgment of what is so terribly wrong, will reduce 60,000 people to tears. By the following spring, working for the underprivileged and troubled youth of New York City, he will pose, smiling, at an office desk. Only later will it be revealed that the pencil he holds had to be placed there, and his fist closed around it, by somebody else’s hand. Barely two years after the diagnosis, exactly 16 years after his legendary streak began, it will all end.
And yet in the Bronx 70 years ago today, Lou Gehrig composed himself in such a manner, with a strength that eclipsed even what he showed on the ballfields of the ’20s and ’30s, that he could give one final measure of himself with such honesty, with such courage, with such a simple and direct connection to the human condition, that it is quoted, somewhere, every day.
And when those who have followed him in the game he loves, honor him, and this country, and themselves, by having those words read in every ballpark in the major leagues on this 4th of July, they emphasize all that is good and brave, despite the unbeatable odds and ultimate “bad break” we all face eventually, about the game, about the nation, about life itself.
But first, let’s take you out to San Diego where Manny Ramirez is just back from a 50-game suspension. For cheating. For cutting corners. For breaking rules. For lying. For deception. For letting down his teammates. For contributing to suspicions against every honest player. For raising a giant middle finger to sportsmanship. For abusing the fans. For risking that for which Lou Gehrig would’ve given anything – his own health.
Ramirez, of course, homered today in his first at bat. And some people cheered. As if he were just back from an injury, or a death in the family. As if he were a hero. As if he were an honest man. As if he were somehow worthy of sharing the meaningfulness of this day with Lou Gehrig.
Credit to Fox’s Tim McCarver – who has never gotten enough of it for this one quality he has shown, often at such great risk to his own security and even employment – for his honesty in pointing out the inappropriateness of the reaction to Ramirez’s return. He is not making a comeback. He is out on parole and it will be years – if ever – before many of us will believe he did not do something illegal, improper, or immoral, this morning.

And shame on the broadcasters who decided to treat Ramirez’s return as if it were something to be trumpeted, rather than what it is – something to be ashamed of. This trumpeting is barely about Manny Ramirez – this applies to McGwire and Bonds and Palmeiro and Rodriguez and all the rest, caught or admitted.
This is Lou Gehrig’s day. The rest of the juicers may come back and play tomorrow and there will not be boycotts. The Dodgers will probably go to the World Series, carried in part by a great flaming fraud like Ramirez. And judging by the brainless response of fans who would cheer anybody if they hit the ball 425 feet for their team, and boo anybody if they hit the ball 425 feet for their opponents, there will not even be significant repercussions. 
But today, there should have been. Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez and the others of the PED era did not belong in baseball today, and that they did not show the requisite awareness of their own shame, only makes it worse. Lord, send us a ‘roider who has the presence of mind to say: “On this day I do my penance; I don’t yet belong on the field even with just the memory of this man, I hope you’ll forgive me and I can again earn your trust.”
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