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:
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:
- Buck Ewing 39.5 Votes, Elected 1939
- Cap Anson 39.5 Votes, Elected 1939
- Wee Willie Keeler 33 Votes, Elected 1939
- Cy Young 32.5 Votes, Elected 1937
- Ed Delahanty 21.5 Votes, Elected 1945
- John McGraw 17 Votes, Elected 1937
- Old Hoss Radbourn 16 Votes, Elected 1939
- Herman Long 15.5 Votes
- King Kelly 15 Votes, Elected 1945
- Amos Rusie 11.5 Votes, Elected 1977
- Hughie Jennings 11 Votes, Elected 1945
- Fred Clarke 9 Votes, Elected 1945
- Jimmy Collins 8 Votes, Elected 1945
- Charles Comiskey 6 Votes, Elected 1939
- George Wright 6 Votes, Elected 1937
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?
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.
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.
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.”
It is, as ever, summed up perfectly by Vin Scully:
“Although it’s ironic to say it, we have lost a giant.”
Beyond the sadness of the passing of The Duke of Flatbush, Edwin Donald Snider, is the reminder that his career was filled with irony. As the top Dodger prospect of the late ’40s he was considered a temperamental bust. By the time of his passing today he was considered one of the game’s most personally revered gentlemen, and long before, by the time the Dodgers left Brooklyn, he was considered one of the elder statesmen of the sport, his prematurely-silver hair and hint of sadness in the eyes seemingly reflecting the tragedy that was the move of the franchise.
Therein too lay an irony. Duke Snider was a Southern Californian through and through. Alone among the key Brooklyn Dodgers, he was going home to Los Angeles. And yet he expressed only sadness and regret about that, and during his brief coda season with the Mets in 1963, was welcomed home to New York more loudly than any other of the “exes” – Casey Stengel included.
There is also something tremendously ironic about the iconic status included in Terry Cashman’s “Talkin’ Baseball” song. Despite the premise of “Willie, Mickey, and The Duke,” the Baseball Writers needed eleven tries to get his election to the Hall of Fame right. In his first year of eligibility, Snider got just 51 votes – a stunning 17 percent. As late as 1975 he was under 40%.
The writers dismissed Snider, as they did nearly all the Dodger offensive stars, because they felt Ebbets Field provided some kind of extraordinary advantage and because the Dodgers lost so many ultimate games. Gil Hodges is still – criminally – not in Cooperstown in part because of this prejudice. In point of fact, Snider hit just 37 more homers in Brooklyn than on the road in his Ebbets Field years (discounting partial seasons, that’s an average of four or at most five more a year – a meaningless statistical variable).
Hodges has still not gotten his due; Snider and Pee Wee Reese struggled for it; Carl Furillo has never been taken seriously. It is amazing to contemplate that Snider’s Dodgers were somehow penalized because between 1946 and 1956 they won only the one World Series, while losing five of them, and losing two special NL playoffs, and losing yet another year (1950) on the last day of the season. That was painful stuff to be sure, but what it meant was, that for every year for a decade (excepting 1948) the Dodgers gave their fans, at worst, a team that made it to “the final four” – and with key parts of the Brooklyn franchise still at work in Los Angeles, added World Championships in 1959, 1963, and 1965.
This is a time for condolence and mourning and I don’t mean to at all take away from that. It’s just that the passing of a great and good baseball man like Duke Snider reminds me that the injustice of the undeserved undermining of the reputation of a player, or a team, should also not be forgotten.
It should go without saying that the true tragedy is the death of Ron Santo at the age of 70 after a brave and inspirational fight against diabetes and the amputations of both legs it necessitated.
You might not like the Wild Card, and you might not like the World Series extending into November, and you might promise you will not like this expanded version of the playoffs Bud Selig is hinting at. But your displeasure will be nothing compared to the most ill-fated of all of baseball’s post-season formats: The Temple Cup.
The team that won the pennant would play the team that finished second in a best-of-seven series. If the first-place team declined to play, the second-place and third-place teams would compete. If the second-place team declined to play, the pennant winner would play the third-place team. If the…well, you get the idea.
with the big glove is catcher Duke Farrell, and, to his left, in the other sweater, is Game Four starting pitcher Jouett Meekin. At the far right of the picture, seemingly just ambling up to the line, is no less a figure than Hall of Famer John Montgomery Ward. Ward is not only the Giants’ second baseman and manager, but the organizer of that first players’ union that precipitated the end of the game as they knew it and made the Temple Cup necessary.
During the seventh inning, two horses escaped from the grasp of their owners behind the ropes in center field, delaying the game several minutes before they were caught.
There wasn’t a lot of principle flying around in the winter of 1994-95.
As the Hall of Fame induction looms, something I heard on a Cardinals’ broadcast the other day inspired me to hit the books. The gist of the discussion, which was dead serious and included not even a hint that the view might be a little skewed by some homerism, was that while there weren’t any coaches in Cooperstown, and there was no mechanism for electing any, obviously Dave Duncan would be elected, and just as soon as possible.
7 – John Schulte, Yankees, 1936-19477 – Jim Turner, Yankees, 1949-19585 – Mel Stottlemyre, Mets, Yankees, 1986-20004 – Mike Gonzalez, Cardinals, 1934-19463 – Johnny Sain, Yankees, Tigers, 1961-19683 – Joe Becker, Dodgers, 1955-1963
The others with as many as two? Duncan (1989 A’s, 2006, Cards), Galen Cisco (1992-93 Jays), Ron Perranoski (1981, 1988 Dodgers), Larry Shepard (1975-76 Reds), Wes Stock (1973-74 A’s), Dick Such (1987, 1991 Twins).
6 – Leo Mazzone: Glavine ’91 ’98, Maddux ’93 ’94 ’95, Smoltz ’964 – George Bamberger: Cuellar ’69, Palmer ’73 ’75 ’764 – Dave Duncan: Hoyt ’83, Welch ’90, Eckersley ’92, Carpenter ’053 – Joe Becker: Newcombe ’56, Drysdale ’62, Koufax ’633 – Bill Fischer: Clemens ’86 ’87 ’913 – Ray Miller: Flanagan ’79, Stone ’80, Drabek ’903 – Claude Osteen: Carlton ’82, Denny ’83, Bedrosian ’873 – Johnny Sain: Ford ’61, McLain ’68 ’693 – Rube Walker: Seaver ’69 ’73 ’75
fire you? Becker went to St. Louis in 1965 and the Cubs in ’67 and did pretty well with Bob Gibson and Fergie Jenkins in those places, but evidently not well enough.
Bulletin news from the esteemed author and DL’d pitcher of the Toronto Blue Jays, Dirk Hayhurst. The Bullpen Gospels is no longer a cult classic. It is not only going to stay on the best-sellers’ list of The New York Times, it is going to move up on it. It is now considered the 15th best selling non-fiction paperback in the country.
MARVIN MILLER AND THE HALL OF FAME
The venerable organizer of the first successful players’ association in sports turned 93 today and if there was justice, he would be starting to prepare his speech for the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies over the summer.
As Joe Morgan so aptly noted on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball, it is not just the players who should thank Miller for increasing rookie salaries from $8,000 to $400,000, and the top end of the equation from $100,000 to Eleventy Billion. The owners, despite doing everything possible to stop Miller before he started, then stop him while he was dismantling their plantations, then roll back his accomplishments, saw similar income explosions, and the growth of franchise values from a high then of around $12 million, to the fact that a couple of clubs are now worth a $1.6 billion.
That’s what the owners were fighting.
It is literally true that when Miller came to the MLBPA in 1966, the most expensive seat in any big league stadium was $3.50 or $4. The seat that now goes for a couple of grand in a luxury box, or for $1250 in the front row in the Bronx, was $4 – or less – before Marvin Miller almost single-handedly changed the nature of the business of the equation, and thus of the sport.
It can be rightly argued that fans don’t get to see players playing as long for one team as they used to (although I suspect a thorough study would indicate the change is a lot less than people think). They also don’t see many players spend their careers on the outside looking in, enslaved to one club literally forever, and never even getting to the post-season (Ernie Banks). The free agency that Miller rightfully won has not contributed to the small market/big market dilemma, it has only redefined it, and more importantly it has provided for the first time in the history of the game, the opportunity for less robust clubs to climb out of their holes through shrewd spending of the dollar (Cleveland in the ’90s, Tampa Bay today).
I don’t know what parallel there is to Marvin Miller among the players. I guess you’d have to start with Babe Ruth and double his longevity. Miller’s influence has been that strong. Was it painless? No. Was Ruth’s? The new game he created turned bunting, running, sacrificing, and hitting-and-running – and the men who excelled in them – into afterthoughts. It killed off John McGraw and “Inside Baseball” and for all we know led to the New York Giants moving out and the Dodgers going to LA, too.
But ask the players of today, and the fans of today, and the owners of today, if they’d really like to go back to, say, the ’60s, before free agency. It cost less to get in. And each team and each player lived on the margins of financial collapse. Is it just a coincidence that the geographical chaos of the time ended four years before free agency began? Between 1953 and 1972, Boston became Milwaukee, St. Louis became Baltimore, Philadelphia became Kansas City, Brooklyn became Los Angeles, New York became San Francisco, Washington became Minnesota, Milwaukee became Atlanta, Kansas City became Oakland, Seattle became Milwaukee, and Washington became Texas. Cleveland nearly moved. Oakland. San Francisco. Cincinnati. The Cardinals were going to Dallas.
In the 38 years since, for all the other turmoil, one franchise has moved.
Marvin Miller is a Hall of Famer, and with the special elections afforded Lou Gehrig and Roberto Clemente as precedent, he should be sent to Cooperstown now, not later – now while he can still enjoy it, and now while we can still honor him.
Ford Pettitte Pennock
Seasons 16* 15 20*
Wins 236 229 241
Losses 106 135 162
Percentage .690 .629 .598
ERA 2.75 3.91 3.60
K 1956 2150 1227
W 1086 921 916
20 Win Yrs 2 2 2
World Series 10-8 5-4 5-0
I’m fascinated by the World Series marks. Pennock made his bones in the post-season, and Ford, from his rookie year of 1950 onwards, became legendary in them. And here’s Pettitte with as many World Series wins as Pennock, and the same post-season percentage as Ford.
This monstrosity at the left is included because my friends Charley and Rick were victims of one of the standard media nightmares of the spring. In the bottom of the sixth, the White Sox sent number 83 out to play shortstop. And, of course, as can be the case from the first game of the exhibition season through the last, t
here was no number 83 on the White Sox roster. Managers, especially in split-squad situations and/or road trips, supplement even the usual mass of 40-man roster guys and non-roster invitees with as many as dozen extra minor leaguers on a one-game basis, whose identities are usually written down on the shirt cuff of the visiting Media Relations guy. Anyone in the press box is thus left as helpless as in high school, when whoever kept your scorecard had to exchange rosters with whoever kept theirs (I once had a hockey game in which the rival team wore several years’ worth of uniforms and thus had multiple players wearing the same numbers – they had at least three guys wearing number “5” and tried to fix this by stitching in a little “A” or “B” atop the number).
Don’t look it up. Try (at least first) to figure it out. I’ll answer it at the end of this first part of the post – and I’m doing it this way to underscore why a malleable attitude towards statistics and Cooperstown is mandatory.
Pitcher Wins Per Season
Bob Gibson 14.76
Gaylord Perry 14.27
Allie Reynolds* 14.00
Tom Glavine* 13.86
Sandy Koufax 13.75
Steve Carlton 13.70
Chief Bender 13.25
Early Wynn 13.04
Bert Blyleven* 13.00
Dizzy Dean 12.50
Dazzy Vance 12.30
NOLAN RYAN 12.00
* not in Hall of Fame
Pitcher Adjusted Wins Per Season “Rump” Seasons
Dizzy Dean 16.50 Three
Sandy Koufax 15.9 Two
Steve Carlton 15.52 Three
Bob Gibson 15.50 One
Allie Reynolds* 15.17 One
Tom Glavine* 15.05 Two
Dazzy Vance 14.92 Three
Gaylord Perry 14.27 One
Early Wynn 14.19 Two
Chief Bender 14.13 One
Bert Blyleven* 13.00 None
NOLAN RYAN 12.76 Two
Hall of Fame
As usual when you research something – however trivial it might be – unsought data turns up. In this case it would include the suggestion that the voters need to reexamine the candidacy of Allie Reynolds. Somebody else interesting turns up in that “adjusted” category – Ron Guidry, at 15.27.