I have a few more things gleaned among the cacti to report (besides the fact that Billy Hamilton is the fastest ballplayer I’ve ever seen, and seems to be going faster than freeway traffic).
But first, the photo album from a week in the incredibly convenient Cactus League:
No, this is not the world’s oldest, saddest boy band. Nor, despite the angles, are Manager Terry Francona of the Indians and President Theo Epstein of the Cubs actually resting their heads on my shoulder (they’d join me in saying ‘thank goodness’). I was privy to witness the reunion of the Men Who Made The Red Sox Great at HoHoKam Park, two weeks ago tomorrow. They’re both among my baseball friends and typically we spent almost no time talking baseball. Also got to see Billy Williams, Dale Sveum, and Brad Mills that day, too (“Nice to see you back with a Major League Team,” I said to Millsy. He smiled and was respectful enough to say nothing, but he looked 10 years younger – as did Tito).
This is not Jackson Browne, though I’ve seen them both in the last 18 months and if the gentleman spotted at Peoria during a Brewers-Mariners game dyed his hair, they’d look like brothers.
That’s Ted Simmons, now an advisor in the Seattle front office, and simply put one of the smartest men in the sport. When Pirates fans harken back to the last winning Pittsburgh team they invoke the names of Jim Leyland and Barry Bonds (and occasionally even Stan Belinda), they don’t mention the last winning GM: Ted Simmons. He was just getting into the rebuilding of the post-Bonds Pirates when he suffered a heart attack during the 1993 season and retired. He’s been a coach and executive since – and that was after his 46.5 WAR (greater than Hall of Famers with careers of similar length like Nellie Fox, Kiki Cuyler, Orlando Cepeda, Ernie Lombardi, and the just-elected Deacon White). Narrow that down to catchers (Bill Dickey 52.5, Gabby Hartnett 50.7, Simmons 46.5, White 44, Lombardi 43.6 – and you occasionally hear Jorge Posada’s name mentioned at 39) and it’s obvious that “Simba” is a Hall of Famer. Despite a career line of .285/.348/.437 and seven .300 seasons, his work was overshadowed by being Johnny Bench’s exact contemporary for 15 years, and then spending nearly all of his last five at DH or 1B.
Dale Murphy returned to the game last season in the Braves’ tv booth, and returned to uniform this spring as the first base coach for the USA team in the WBC. One of the older arguments for the Hall was the “wozzy” test – “was he considered for any length of a time one of the top five players in the game?” After two MVPs and a decade as one of the most feared hitters/least feared people in the game, Murph kinda flatlined starting with his 13th season in the majors. But again, WAR puts him in historical context. Lou Brock’s a 42.8, Jim Rice a 44.3, Chuck Klein a 41.5. Murphy: 42.6 – and in this time when one element in the Cooperstown ballot has suddenly taken on added importance (“character”), his was and is impeccable – and generous.
When I tweeted this photo I believe I said that I first interviewed George Brett in 1980. In fact, that was when we were first “introduced.” I actually interviewed him in 1976, 1977, and 1978 during the A.L. Playoffs – the “nice to meet yous” came during the 1980 World Series during a memorable and scatological interview about the hemorrhoids that plagued him during the post-season. This might have been the same day I met a mid-level Royals’ executive named Rush Limbaugh (how would you ever forget a name like that). He and Brett remain best friends, and George and I laughed our way through 15 minutes in the KC dugout, which no matter how you diagram it means baseball trumps politics every time. George remembered that ’80 interview of course, but also (to my surprise) recalled that I got to interview him – for Fox – after his election to Cooperstown in ’99.
This, of course, is Wash.
All the other guys on the photo tour are Hall of Famers, or should be, or might very will be (Terry Francona needs one more measurable success in his managerial career to cinch a spot – and he’s only 54 – while if Theo Epstein also turns the Cubs around, he’s a lock).
The first person to tell you he’s not getting to Cooperstown – surely not as a player – is the ever-affable skipper of the Rangers, Ron (.261/.292/.368, ten years, one as a starting player) Washington. But few figures in the sport are greeted with greater affection, by his players and rivals alike. Just to amp this shot up a little bit, check out the copyright. That’s Jon SooHoo, who I’ve known ever since I was a local sportscaster in LA and who has shot 30 years of incredible images on behalf of the Dodgers.
There were many other men I’m proud to call friends who I didn’t trouble for photos: Vin Scully, Bob Uecker, Bruce Bochy, Bob Melvin – the average was about three a day, and it emphasized that while we get swamped by scandal and controversy and stats and new-age stats and boasting and showboating, the game is about good people whom you get to know and cheer for, for a very long time.
But occasionally, even in middle age, you make new acquaintances. While I summarize my thoughts for a future post, take a look at this, which might be – pound-for-pound – the best baseball stadium built in this country at least since 1962:
Major League Baseball sources with direct knowledge of the meeting confirm that key members of baseball’s hierarchy were to convene this morning in New York to review the circumstances of Umpire Jim Joyce’s erroneous “safe” call at first base in Detroit, which last night denied the Tigers’ Armando Galarraga what would have been the 21st Perfect Game in baseball history and the third in just 25 days.
For more than a decade, one of the pleasures of popping on to a big league ballfield was the frequency with which I would run in to the peripatetic catcher (and, once, winning pitcher) Brent Mayne. When his career ended with the Dodgers in ’04, a little part of my youth went with it.
…there was ONE instance in all my years of catching where I gave away a pitch to a hitter. In other words, I told the hitter what was coming. And that instance was JT Snow’s first big league at-bat. It was my second year in the Bigs and we were playing the Yankees in Kansas City towards the end of the season. Neither team had much to play for and JT was one of the expanded roster call-ups for the Yanks.
…as I past (sic) JT to squat down, I mumbled at him “fastball outside.” He promptly drilled a double to left field and that was that. Like I said, that’s probably not why he got his first hit, he may have been too nervous to even hear me.
Brent gives the background in great detail: he and J.T. Snow had grown up together, from Connie Mack Baseball through the colleges into the minor leagues. The thought of him reaching the majors while Mayne was catching – the fulfillment of it all, was just too much, and like probably dozens of guys before him, Mayne decided to try to give a pal a break.
I was hanging out with George Brett a lot those early years, so my memory is all pops and crackles. It’s tough to remember on two hours of sleep a night…
I know for sure that he was playing for the Yanks. I know for sure it was towards the end of the season. I know for sure it was JT! So I’m thinking one of two things. One, could it have been in New York instead of KC? Or two, I told him the pitch and he lined out instead of doubled. I may have twisted a line out into a double in my memory (it does make it a little better story.)
2nd Inning: Flied to left
3rd Inning: Flied to left
6th Inning: Grounded out, third to first
7th Inning: Lined into a doubleplay, first to third
8th Inning: Struck out
Aha! Now we’re getting somewhere. 7th inning: lined into a doubleplay, first to third. No wonder Brent Mayne’s memory is playing tricks on him. He tipped his buddy J.T. in hopes of getting him his first hit (in his fourth at bat, not his first) and instead he lines into a double play.
YANKEES 7TH: B. Williams doubled to center;
Velarde singled [B.Williams stayed at second];
Mattingly doubled [B. Williams scored,
Tartabull grounded out (first unassisted)
[Mattingly to third];
MAGNANTE REPLACED GORDON (PITCHING);
Hall tripled [Mattingly scored];
R. KELLY RAN FOR HALL;
Snow lined into a double play (first to third)
[R. Kelly out at third];
3 R, 4 H, 0 E, 0 LOB.
Yankees 5, Royals 3
At Bats: 80
The first Snow double didn’t come until July 4th, 2000, by which time Snow was with the Giants and Mayne, the Rockies.