Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Mike Mussina, Mike Piazza, Curt Schilling and John Smoltz.
This was the most difficult ballot I’ve ever filed and I’ve been voting since 1992. I deemed 17 players Hall of Fame worthy for 10 spots. Some years I might have been hard pressed to even find six. The logjam was caused by a great generation of pitchers on the ballot for the first time, joining those players who have been blocked for various reasons the last two years by my BBWAA colleagues. Add another with 3,060 hits, who missed by two votes and should have been elected earlier this year.
Before I get into it, here are the seven players, to my chagrin, who didn’t make the cut: Jeff Kent, who hit the most homers ever as a second baseman (351 of 377); Mark McGwire, the first player to hit 70 homers; Tim Raines, the National League’s equvilant to Rickey Henderson; newcomer Gary Sheffield and his 509 home runs; Lee Smith with 478 saves; Sammy Sosa, with 609 homers, and Alan Trammell, certainly a better offensive player than Ozzie Smith if not as fancy defensively. I gave all of them very serious consideration.
I’m not a big proponent of extending the size of the ballot, although I did vote at the most recent BBWAA meeting to increase the slots from 10 to 12, a recommendation to the Hall’s Board of Directors that I doubt will be accepted. Twelve slots would have made little difference to me this year, although I probably would have added Smith and Trammell. Both were grandfathered in when the Hall diminished the eligibility requirement for players on the BBWAA ballot from 15 years to 10 years. Smith has two more years of eligibility after this one and Trammell one. That’s why I would’ve voted for them had the extra spots been available. A player still needs five percent of the vote to remain on the ballot the next time around. Maybe next year, we’ll see.
Hall officials stated last summer that the new eligibility period makes the ballot more manageable. Actually, it moves players through the ballot process much faster. In defending the move, the Hall noted that shortening the eligibility period actually effects a very low percentage of candidates. Here are the actual numbers: since the BBWAA began voting for the inaugural Class of 1936, 115 players have been elected, 13 in their last five years under the historic rules of eligibility, 11.3 percent. That is hardly negligible. Most recently, Burt Blyleven was elected in his 14th year and Jim Rice in his 15th.
So let’s get back to my actual ballot, which is chocked with six pitchers, three of them –- Johnson, Martinez and Smoltz — on the ballot for the first time. Johnson is a slam dunk with 309 wins, a .646 winning percentage, and is second only to Nolan Ryan with 4,875 strikeouts. He won five Cy Young Awards, was an All-Star 10 times, split the 2001 World Series MVP with Schilling, pitched a perfect game, and his ninth highest lifetime WAR among pitchers of 104.3 is the tops of any pitcher not already in the Hall besides Clemens, who, like Bonds, is plagued by mitigating circumstances. Johnson, it can be argued, is the most dominant left-handed pitcher in baseball history.
Next up is Martinez, whose .687 winning percentage (219-100) over 18 seasons is the sixth highest in history and by far the best of his era. He’s next up in pitcher’s WAR at 17th (86.0) and 15 of those hurlers above him (sans Clemens and Johnson) are in the Hall. To me, though Pedro’s overall numbers are not outstanding, anyone who saw him pitch in his prime knows he was one of the most electric pitchers of his era.
But voting for Pedro created a quandary and made me take a second look at Schilling, who’s in his third year on the ballot and one guy I hadn’t voted for before. Schilling was 216-146, but in many ways he was just as dominant as Martinez. Schilling, of the bloody sock, was an 11-2 pitcher in the postseason and 4-1 in winning the World Series three times, once in Arizona and twice in Boston. In contrast, Pedro was 2-4 in the postseason and 1-2 in the World Series. Schilling’s WAR of 80.7 is 26th on the all-time list.
In my mind, if I voted for Pedro, I had to vote for Schilling. That made me take another look at Mussina, who had 270 wins and a .638 winning percentage in 18 years with the Orioles and Yankees. Mussina’s WAR of 82.7 is 24th on the all-time pitcher’s list, two spots above Schilling. Thus, if I voted for Pedro and Schilling, I also had to vote for Mussina, which I did, also for the first time.
That left Smoltz among the top first-ballot pitching candidates, completing the trifecta of Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, who all played for 10 years together on some great Braves teams. Maddux, with 355 wins and Glavine, with 305, both were inducted earlier this year. Smoltz doesn’t have those gaudy numbers. He split his career as a starter and closer, heading to the bullpen after Tommy John surgery knocked him out for the entire 2000 season. He had 213 wins and 154 saves. The obvious comparable is Dennis Eckersley, who was elected to the Hall with 197 wins and had 390 saves after Tony La Russa turned him from a starter to a lights out closer with the A’s in 1987. What put me over the edge on Smoltz was that he was part of Braves teams that won 14 consecutive division titles, five National League pennants and the 1995 World Series. He was 15-4 with a 2.67 ERA and 1.14 WHIP in the postseason, the 15 wins second only to Andy Pettitte’s record 19.
The rest of my ballot was easy. Biggio is the only player with 3,000 or more hits not in the Hall except Pete Rose — suspended since 1989 for gambling — and Palmeiro, who failed a Major League Baseball-administered drug test. Bonds, Clemens, Piazza and Bagwell all deserve to be in. They are tainted by the PED era and the perception they took drugs, although there’s no quantitative proof of that. Bonds is the all-time leader with 762 homers, Clemens had 354 wins, Bagwell’s 79.6 WAR is 37th on the all-time list of position players and tops among retired first basemen not yet elected to the Hall, and Pizza hit 396 of his 427 homers while playing behind the plate, the most ever among catchers.
Let the exchange of opinions begin.
NEW YORK — Through a couple of old classmates at De Witt Clinton High School, who tracked me down via social media, I was able to find my first journalism teacher, Ada Chirles.
I've told many people she had the greatest impact of any of my teachers, setting me on a 45-year career path that continues at MLB.com. I never had the opportunity to tell her. Until today.
Imagine how pleased I was to discover she's alive and well, and at 91, living about 10 minutes from my mother and brother in an apartment in Riverdale, N.Y., still a beautiful neighborhood in the north Bronx that abuts the Hudson River. From her apartment she has a beautiful view.
I'm in New York between Hall of Fame inductions last weekend and my daughter's wedding up in the Catskills on Aug. 9. I'm visiting family in the Bronx only six months after my father's death. My mother's 87th birthday is tomorrow. We're celebrating that with my brother and kids downtown tonight.
Old friend Steve Winters gave me Ada's number last night. Figuring there's no time like the present I rang her up this morning and went right over for a visit. She is spry and personable and very bright. She remembered me like it was yesterday even though I haven't seen her in at least 40 years.
She was the faculty advisor of the Clinton News and the journalism teacher. I'm fond of saying when I realized I wasn't going to replace Mickey Mantle in center field for the Yankees I had to find another path to spend a career in sports. Even then I could write and I joined the sports section of the paper in 1966. My first assignment was to cover a fencing match.
By my senior year of 1968-69 I was named Sports Editor and started writing my first columns. My brother, Steve, followed in the same position two years later. Miss Chirles, as she was called, was a tough taskmaster. She'd sit you down at her roll top desk and tear your copy apart. The newspaper was a Columbia School of Journalism award winner every year and for good reason. She ran the New York Daily News information bureau for 25 years, earning her undergraduate and Master’s degrees at Hunter College in downtown New York, during her off hours. Needless to say, she ran a very tight shop.
I reminded her about the time she assigned me a story to be entered in a citywide competition. I was uninspired and did a subpar job. She sat me down at that desk for the next hour and went to work on the story. With numerous corrections on paper she told me to rewrite it. All I did was follow her directions. We won the award: Best Sports Story in the Bronx for 1968. The trophy is still sitting on the shelf of my mother's apartment.
She didn't recall the details so many years later, but she was thrilled to hear of it.
One of my first columns came in the wake of the killings in 1968 of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy. As a teenager I stood on line for hours outside. St. Patrick's Cathedral to pay homage at RFK's casket. At the end of that year, the Public School Athletic League banned the rifle team from school competition, stating "a gun is not a toy" in rendering that decision, a statement that still resonates today. I wrote a column, supporting the PSAL decision.
The paper came out and the next day I went to gym class, which was about 500 strong and all guys since Clinton was an all-boys school back then. Instead of encountering basketball pick up games and the like as usual I found the entire class seated on the floor while the gym teachers railed about my column. I knew I had picked the right profession.
Subsequently a letter of dissent was mailed to our newspaper office, from a gun club, of course. Ada advised me to print that as my next column. I didn't want to do it. She said, "You're doing it!" We did it.
Ada broke out a bound volume of glossy newspapers from that era. To my surprise, there were the columns.
I found out today a few things I didn't know about her. She's of Italian descent and her real name is Ciarleglio. The name was changed to Chirles when her father immigrated through Ellis Island.
"When he started to pronounce it, they stopped him and said, 'It's Chirles. You're an American now. That's your new name,'" she said.
She was the last of seven children. All are dead now save for a 98-year-old brother, living in a nursing home in Sonoma County, Calif. She wasn't married in my high school days and never has been.
"It wasn't for me," she said. "I had my family, all you kids, all boys."
She traveled the world and her apartment is filled with artifacts from those excursions she took alone to places like Italy, Ireland and Peru. She's a woman well ahead of her time. Fearless, a woman after my own heart. I love strong women.
"I guess I was," she said sheepishly.
Recently, a new colleague at BAM asked me If I had earned my undergraduate degree in journalism. I didn't. It was in English Lit. I learned everything I needed to know about journalism from my teacher in high school, I told her.
I had many good teachers through my years in high school, college and graduate school, but nobody, but nobody in my life had the impact of Ada Chirles. I'm just glad we both lived long enough for me to tell her that.
SAN DIEGO — Some may disagree, but in my humble opinion Steve Garvey’s walk-off homer — before anyone even called it a walk-off homer — to win Game 4 of the 1984 National League Championship Series for the Padres over the Cubs is the top sports moment in San Diego history.
It put the then 15-year-old Padres on the map and did the same for a city that still hasn’t produced a Major League sports champion.
“It was my greatest game and a great game all the way around,” Garvey said on Friday night as the Padres celebrated the 30th anniversary of that NL championship at Petco Park, only miles from where it actually happened at what is now called Qualcomm Stadium in Mission Valley.
The greatest game of his career, really?
“Probably, because it affected people the most,” said Garvey, who because of that night alone had his No. 6 rightfully retired by the club.
No doubt. With apologies to those who also remember the 1998 playoffs and World Series here, that week of baseball in 1984 beginning with the final three games against the Cubs in the NLCS and culminating with the first two games against the Tigers in the World Series brought San Diego to a level of euphoria never experienced again.
Nothing is like the first time and it was the maiden voyage into such unknown territory for San Diego fans. What made it special was how unexpectedly it happened. The Padres were spanked at Wrigley Field by the combined score of 17-2 in the first two games of the last of the best-of-five League Championship Series.
They flew home dejected and downtrodden, landing at the airport without much of a peep. In those days the players parked their cars at the stadium and when they approached the old ballpark by bus the players realized that thousands of fans had gathered there to herald their very much unheralded return. It turned into a huge pep rally with various players grabbing a bull horn to tell the crowd that it wasn’t over until they said it was over.
In the year when the first Ghost Busters film had invaded the lexicon, this cry came forward: “Who you going to call? Cub Busters.” Overnight, ingenious fans printed up buttons, posters and bumper stickers that flooded the market place saying just that.
For some reason, the crowd noise in Mission Valley surprised the Cubs, who were set back on their heels and didn’t bother to show up for Game 3, losing 7-1.
Garvey then crawled out of a sick bed to explode in Game 4, a rare postseason Saturday night game in that era.
“The night before I came down with a stomach virus and nobody knew,” Garvey recalled. “I was up all night. I was weak. I tried to hit and take infield before the game and couldn’t do it. I laid down on the training table. Dick Dent, our trainer came in and said, ‘Why don’t you sit out? You could use the day.’ I said, “Are you kidding me? I played in 1,207 straight games. I’m going to play tonight.’”
And that’s how a game for the ages was fashioned. Garvey came off that table to go 4-for-5 with five RBIs, converting every big at bat of the night. In the ninth, with hard-throwing Cubs reliever Lee Smith on the mound, Alan Wiggins opened the inning by striking out swinging. Tony Gwynn followed with a base hit, setting the stage for the Garv.
“It seemed like every time I faced Smith it was in the shadows of Wrigley,” Garvey said, referring to the now 100-year-old ballpark that at that time still had no lights. “I didn’t have a hit off him, but I knew he wasn’t going to fool around in that situation. He wasn’t going to try to get me out on a breaking ball. He threw a 95-mph fastball up and then he checked Tony. So I figured, here it comes again.
“This one was a little bit down and I got a good piece of it. Most of my big hits were right of center. I hit it high and it started to take off. I thought I hit it well enough. It’s almost like everything came to a stop. It was like The Natural when the ball was going up. I get to first base and I look up and I see [center fielder] Henry Cotto leap and I thought, ‘My god, this is going to be the greatest catch in postseason history.’”
Cotto didn’t catch it, of course. The ball kept rising and banged the wall behind the cyclone fence. As Garvey rounded the bases he pumped his right fist repeatedly in the air and the crowd went bonkers. It was his ninth and final home run of the season. In 1983, his NL record 1,207 consecutive-game playing streak came to an end when he dislocated his right thumb sliding into home plate. He never did have power again in that hand.
The next day, the Padres won their first pennant when pinch-hitter Tim Flannery’s grounder shot through the legs of first baseman Leon Durham for an error that still stains Cubs lore. There was a story behind that one, too. Second baseman Ryne Sandberg had inadvertently dumped Gatorade on Durham’s glove. Durham had to take the wet and stiff glove out in the
field with him and missed the ball. Gwynn then smacked a shot that took a wicked hop over Sandberg’s shoulder.
The Padres were on their way. The fact that they lost to the Tigers in the World Series was an afterthought. The Cubs missed a shot to go to the World Series for the first time since 1945. They’re still waiting.
But it all was set up by Garvey, the shot heard ‘round San Diego, the greatest moment in this town’s sports history.
“It’s like Kirk Gibson’s homer in 1988. Everybody remembers it as having won the World Series,” said Garvey, who was there on Friday night with shortstop Gary Templeton, utility man Kurt Bevacqua, catchers Terry Kennedy and Doug Gwosdz and pitching coach Norm Sherry. “But it didn’t. That was Game 1. And this was Game 4, but it got us to Game 5. And then the momentum changed dramatically.”
Addendum: This piece honors the memory of all those from that epic 1984 Padres season who are no longer with us: Owner Joan Kroc. Among the players, Wiggins, pitcher Eric Show, shortstop Mario Ramirez and outfielder Champ Summers. On the staff, manager Dick Williams and coach Jack Krol. Journalists Barry Lorge, Bob Wright and Wayne Lockwood of the San Diego Union. Announcer Jerry Coleman. And all the best to Gwynn, who is stricken with cancer and was unable to attend the ceremony. Our thoughts and prayers are all with you, Tony.
Len Bloom 1927-2014
NEW YORK — For whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee. And on Tuesday, during a snowy day in his beloved New York City, it tolled for my dad. He was 86.
For those among you who know us well, it would figure he did not go softly in that good night. He struggled to the last breath. I know. I was there to the bitter end along with my brother and daughter. Like his mother, brother and father before him he went out when his heart gave out. His body was used up. He got everything he had out of it.
The gonzo writer Hunter S. Thompson once said that, “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”
That’s the way it was for Lenny and his immediate family. It was quite a ride. And we’re all here today for the sole reason of celebrating all that.
With his passing it is certainly the end of an era. Sarah, Saul, Murray and Lenny. Luncala as he was affectionately called by his parents. We used to laugh about that when we were kids.
All gone to eternity and memory now. Always affectionately and lovingly. Sarah was the first to go, in 1966, almost 48 years ago. Murray in 1978 and Saul in 1990. Lenny was the last somehow making it to 2014 despite beginning his long broadside slide many years ago.
He left behind a motley crew of sons, grandchildren, nieces, nephews and his wife, Gloria, who is also 86 and holding her own.
With all of them gone we are the standard bearers now of the Bloom tradition. The family softball games of spring and summer and the Rosh Hasshana football games of the fall. The Blooms, Kaplans, Chenfelds, Selingers, Walchers, O’Briens, Wilbats and on and on. The Kaplans still haven’t beaten the Blooms, but I digress.
For there was nothing my father loved more than his family, his own and the entire extended group many of us who were at his bedside in an incredible outpouring of love and affection in the days before his death. A musician and writer, he never wrote that hit song or score to a Broadway play. Who can forget the great rock ditty, Yo-Di-Yo? In the ICU this past Sunday we sang it to him: “Love me quick, love me slow make my heart go Yo-Di-Yo. Tell me baby that you love me so. Yes, he wrote that. I kid you not. It was the flip side to a 45-rpm record on the Colpex label. He wrote the musical lyrics to a play called “A Joyful Noise.” It closed in two weeks. We used to call it the Bloom touch. Midas in reverse.
He had so many jobs some one once gathered all the business cards and created a collage. My brother has the actual cards in what we’re calling the Lenny Bloom archives. In those archives are some of his clips, thoughts and sheet music. He was proud of all those jobs. For a long time that collage hung on the wall of the apartment in Riverdale where he lived for 55 years. My mother and brother are still there.
Len Bloom could have a lovable — and not so lovable — pomposity to him, but he never took himself or his foibles too seriously. His sense of humor was legendary. How can any of us forget him taking over the mike at some wedding or barmitzvah? When he got the crowd going with his Sinatra-like singing and Uncle Miltie-like one-liners, he’d often tell everyone “we’re really davaning now.”
But his greatest legacy, and a doff of the yamuka to Gloria as well, are the sons he raised. Steve, what can you say about him? He dedicated the last two years as full time caregiver to both of them after Len had to move into the Hebrew Home, the same Hebrew Home where Saul spent the last years of his life. Steve nurtured him, shaved him, kibbutzed and engaged with him, even at times wiping his toushe. He said he did it for the most basic of reasons. “He was a good father to me and it was my time to give back.” Thank you for all your love and care Uncle Steven. We certainly couldn’t have weathered the last few years without you coming up so big.
And so it is so. I took the best from my mother and father in raising our two children, Raphi and Joanna. Alicia’s two children. She is a super wife and mom and like Steve and I, our kids are the obvious product of a lot of love and care.
My father taught me that you can always talk things out even if that talk sometimes followed a lot of yelling and screaming. A lot of yelling and screaming. Those talks went on well into our adult years. He was a sounding board and always had an opinion. A big help even a few years ago when I fortunately overcame two bouts of colon cancer as he began a serious decline.
When we were kids he was one of the guys, corralling us and assorted friends on weekends to play ball. He always told the story, and recalled it recently, about the time when we were already in college that he asked on some long ago Saturday if we wanted to go out and play ball. Sorry dad, have things to do. Cat’s in the Cradle. He knew life had inevitably shifted. That is the way life is. Sometimes sad and cruel. Just like this.
From Joe and Iris to Sarah and Saul to Murray and Arlene to Gloria and Leonard to Alicia and Barry to Joanna and Mark to Raphael and Ashley and on and on forever. The circle of life.
But I have no complaints. I was as close to my father as any son could be. Nothing in the end was left unsaid. I told him all of this in one form or in another as the days inevitably slipped to a simple few. The talks, the jokes. He was old school before there was old school. He couldn’t even program the clock on a VCR. He never wore a digital watch. He never went beyond cassette tapes and left an incredible self-assembled library to prove it. His last job was at a place that fixed typewriters. That was around 2000. He would have hated that I read this off my iPad just as he complained about me incessantly using my iPhone, which unwittingly sapped my attention. But we always spoke the same language, telling each other we loved each other. There’s no more you can ask than that.
In his last days he still wasn’t ready to let go. He wanted to play. One last ballgame. One last meal. “Where are we going to eat?” he asked. “Wanna go home.” And the last words I heard him say on that snowy Tuesday, “Please, take me out in the snow.” My only regret is that I couldn’t honor those simple last requests. I felt helpless. He was done. That long broadside slide into that cloud of smoke was about to end. It was a hell of a ride.
Good luck and all my love dad wherever you are. For whom the bell tolls? It tolls for all of us.
My eulogy delivered at his funeral, Jan. 26, 2014.
PostScript: As we buried him at Beth David Cemetery it started to snow. So he got his last wish. We took him out in the snow.
Barry Bonds, Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Roger Clemens, Tom Glavine, Jeff Kent, Greg Maddux, Jack Morris, Mike Piazza, Frank Thomas
I’ve always voted for the best players from their particular era and this year for me was no different. Using all 10 slots for the second time in a row, I voted for the all-time home run leader, a trio of pitchers who totaled 1,014 wins, the multi-faceted member of the Astros with 3,060 hits, the catcher and second baseman with the most homers ever at their positions, the pitcher with the most wins in the American League during the 1980s, and two first basemen whose OPS is among the best of anyone to ever play that position.
To do so, I had to revamp my ballot after last year’s astounding “no vote” from my colleagues in the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. Gone from last year are Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Lee Smith and Alan Trammell. Guys I used to vote for like Tim Raines, Fred McGriff and Edgar Martinez may not be coming back on my ballot anytime soon, either. I had to also ignore quality pitchers like Curt Schilling and Mike Mussina, who had major impacts on the game.
Many good players, I fear, will now be neglected as more and more greats of the just past era will have exhausted their 5-year waiting period to join the holdovers on the ballot. John Smoltz, Randy Johnson, Trevor Hoffman, Ken Griffey Jr., and Mariano Rivera are among others who by 2018 will eventually join the group. They all should be elected on the first ballot.
I had always voted for McGwire and Palmeiro, adding Sosa last year despite the shadow of PEDs hanging over their careers. But I decided this year there was no room on the ballot to waste my vote. All three came in at well under 20 percent last year and ultimately are in danger of falling off the ballot for not maintaining the requisite 5 percent to remain on it for a maximum of 15 years. Palmeiro at 8.8 percent is right there. The BBWAA is never voting any of them into the Hall, so why keep pushing against the wind?
Meanwhile, Biggio (68.2 percent), Morris (67.7) and Bagwell (59.6) obviously needed some help. They are all Hall worthy. Morris, sadly, may not be able to make up the 42 votes necessary in this, his 15th and final year, on the BBWAA ballot. Biggio and Bagwell, teammates in Houston, still have plenty time.
A player only has to garner at least 5 percent of the vote each year to remain on the ballot for a maximum of 15 years. This is going to create a logjam in the coming years as each voting member of the BBWAA individually determines who meets the Hall of Fame criteria.
But this year, Maddux, Glavine and Morris should all get in. Though wins are currently the bane of many analysts, you can’t discount the 355 Maddux totaled in his career. To me, he’s the only sure thing on this ballot. Glavine had 305, 244 of them for the Braves, who won 13 consecutive division titles with him anchoring the starting rotation. If that’s not the definition of Hall of Famer I don’t know what is, although some are arguing against his inclusion. Morris won 254 games and started for three World Series-winning teams: the Tigers, Twins and Blue Jays.
Paraphrasing Braves manager Bobby Cox, who is going in to the Hall via a Post-Expansion Committee vote along with Joe Torre and Tony La Russa next July 27 in Cooperstown, N.Y., any time any of those three took the mound their teams had a chance to win.
I know the entire definition of Hall of Fame starter is going to have to change. Because no one will accumulate close to 250 wins in this day and age, we’ll have to use other metrics. That must be determined in the future, but the current crop should be cast in the era they played the game when pitch counts were less material, starters worked deeper into games, and the staff leader pitched Games 1, 4 and 7 of the World Series like Morris did in 1991. That series ended when Morris outdueled Smoltz and pitched a 10-inning, 1-0 complete-game victory to give Minnesota the title over the Braves.
Morris is certain that will never happen again. I agree.
When voting for the Hall of Fame, I always ask myself if that player was a standout on the field during the years I saw him play. I then look at statistical comparisons to other Hall of Famers, who played the same position. Kent, for example, was a better offensive second baseman in almost every category than Ryne Sandberg, one of the players recently elected at that position, in 2005. Kent is way ahead in homers and RBIs and owns a slight edge in lifetime batting average. Lou Gehrig far and away owns the best OPS of any first baseman in history. He’s third overall, while Thomas and Bagwell finished 14th and 21st respectively. McGwire was 10th. Too bad he shoulders so much baggage. Bonds is fourth, behind Gehrig, Ted Williams and Babe Ruth.
I know my decisions and rational are going to spark some conjecture among readers. They always do. For that’s the nature of the Hall of Fame voting every year. So let’s have at it my friends. I welcome the discourse and intelligent discussion.
NEW YORK — The main thing I have to say about Michael Weiner is that he has a lot of guts. He is nearing the end stage of brain cancer and still is fighting the good flight.
Now wheelchair bound, the executive director of the Major League Baseball Player Association was on the field on Monday evening at Citi Field surrounded by those who love him — his wife and support staff from the union.
A number of members of our baseball writing establishment who have developed wonderful relationships with him over the course of the years surrounded his chair and leaned over to hear him speak in a now hushed tone. I did everything I could not to openly weep in front of him. It’s been less than a year since he was diagnosed with the non-operable tumor. We have all watched him deteriorate in front of our eyes.
“Look, you’re never prepared to deal with this kind of change in life,” he told me during an interview near the end of Sprint Training conducted in the dugout at Phoenix Municipal Stadium. “My attitude is that I’m going to enjoy every day that I can. I’m incredibly fortunate to have the family I have. I’m incredibly fortunate to have the job that I have. I’m incredibly lucky to have the friends and the colleagues and the professional acquaintances I have. And I’m just going to enjoy them as much as I can for every day. Hopefully it’s going to be a lot of days.”
A year ago in Kansas City at the All-Star Game he was his usual vital self. I sat with him in the airport the day after the game trying to jump on an earlier flight to New York to see my father, who had just had foot surgery. We talked about our families. I didn’t get on the flight.
The next time I saw him later that summer was in the visitor’s clubhouse at Yankee Stadium before a Red Sox-Yankees game. He looked up and the first words out of his mouth were, “How’s your dad?” That’s the kind of person he is. A mensch.
The cancer diagnosis came out of left field, so to speak. He was feeling numbness in his hand and went to the doctor. An MRI revealed the tumor. It’s called a gliobastoma. It’s in an area of his brain that can’t be reached by surgical means and is 99 percent fatal. Somehow I hoped and prayed that through chemo and radiation they would at least keep it at bay. So did everyone else.
But he told me on Monday that last month the symptoms took a turn for the worse and suddenly sped up dramatically. He’s lost function on the right side of his body and is taking an experimental series of drugs as a last resort.
Still, he wanted to be here for this All-Star weekend because as an attorney and head of the union, he absolutely adores the game, which excites us in times of strength and gives us solace when we are weak.
I know, When I was battling colon cancer four years ago, I covered the 2009 World Series in between chemo treatments. I wasn’t going to allow a little thing like cancer to keep me from a Fall Classic between the Phillies and my beloved Yankees.
“Even just sitting here in the dugout and talking with you and looking out over this beautiful ball field is a great thing,” he told me a mere 3 1/2 months ago.
I imagine he felt even more so on Monday night.
“You’ve given it a great fight,” I told him.
“That’s the only way I know to go about it,” he responded in a whisper.
“Nothing else seems to matter right now except what’s happening to you,” I said.
“Thank you. I appreciate that,” he said.
No, thank you. Thank you for your courage and your friendship and God bless you for all eternity.
NEW YORK — It’s not very often when you get to meet a person that contributed to one of the worst moments of your life as a sports fan.
But that happened to me at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night. The silver-haired gentleman sitting in the press box was Johnny Bucyk, the former Boston Bruins center, who has been with that organization in one capacity or another for 56 years.
It had been 41 years and 12 days since May 11, 1972, the night the Bruins defeated the New York Rangers, 3-0, to win that year’s Stanley Cup in six games.
Bucyk, as the captain, was the guy who accepted the Cup and began skating around the Garden ice with it, leading the band of marauders who had just defeated the Rangers. It was that same Garden ice on which the Rangers won 4-3 in overtime on Thursday night, staving off elimination to the Bruins in another playoff round.
In 1972, I was sitting up in the rafters in section 442 with my brother and some friends who regularly came to the games in those days. I was 21, a college kid and devote Rangers fan. I still am. I couldn’t watch Bucyk skate around the ice with the Cup, and so I fled down the stairwell into the lobby.
Bucyk, Boston’s all-time leading scorer with 545 goals, could only smile as I told him that story.
“We had a lot of power on that team in the 1970s,” Bucyk said. “I was just thrilled to be skating around the ice holding that Cup. It was a big thrill. That’s the last time that happened. The captain didn’t skate around the ice with the Cup alone anymore after that. He passed it on to the whole team. It was a great thrill that I got the honor to do that.”
They were the big bad Bruins. Bobby Orr, the best player I’ve ever seen. Phil Esposito, a player I came to admire after he was traded to the Rangers and I covered him as a professional sportswriter. Gerry Cheevers, the great goalie. The Bruins were terrors and Derek Sanderson was one of the game’s early goons who could actually play.
Bucyk said that Sanderson was one of their real characters and that reminded me of Game 3 of the quarterfinals in 1970 between these same two teams here at MSG. The Rangers had been bullied, bloodied and dominated in the first two games of the series in old Boston Garden.
As Game 3 began, one the first faceoffs came just to the left of the Rangers goal. Eddie Giacomin, the terrific Rangers goalie, skated over to Sanderson in the circle and pointed the glove hand in his face. The puck dropped and two Rangers took Sanderson into the boards, inciting a melee that led to some 200 penalty minutes.
The ice looked like the last scene of the movie “Slap Shot” with opposition players paired off and fighting all over the ice. The only thing missing was Oggie Oglethorpe.
As he turned it tuned out, Giacomin said this to Sanderson when he skated out of his goal to confront him: “The only reason we’re here tonight is to get you.” The Rangers got him and won the game.
“But it didn’t help,” Bucyk said. “We still ended up winning the series.”
A few weeks later, the Bruins one that 1970 Cup against the St. Louis Blues on the goal scored by a flying Orr, who is immortalized and frozen in time perpendicular to the ice in a statue just outside Boston’s TD Garden.
Great memories. For Bucyk.
“The one in 1972 is one of those things you remember,” he said. “But 1970 was a better one. We won the Cup right in Boston and I was able to skate around the Garden with it. That was probably one of the highlights of my career.”
For me, one of the highlights was covering the 1994 Stanley Cup finals for Sport Magazine and being in this Garden the night the Rangers won Game 7, 3-2, over Vancouver. It was their first Cup victory in 54 years. Captain Mark Messier carried the Rangers that year and talked about slaying that dragon of a drought.
The last line of my story read like this: “If the Rangers don’t win again for another 54 years, well, that will be somebody else’s dragon to slay.”
Now it has been another 20 years since then and I find that it’s become my problem all over again. After all, add a 1979 loss in five games to the Canadiens and the Rangers have only been to the finals three times in my 61 years. But at least the Rangers lived to die another day against the big bad Bruins on Thursday night and I had the privilege of meeting John Bucyk.
That’s one less dragon I have left to slay.
HOUSTON — If there was any question whether the transition from young to old in the NBA and the Lakers to the Clippers in Los Angeles was all but complete, the West defeated in the East, 143-138, Sunday night at the Toyota Center in the annual All-Star Game and Clippers guard Chris Paul was named Most Valuable Player.
Paul could have been a Laker prior to the 2012-13 season had outgoing NBA Commissioner David Stern allowed his trade from the Hornets. Instead, the deal was negated and Paul was swapped to the Clippers, who for the first time in their checkered history not only own L.A., but are among the league’s elite teams.
Paul had 20 points, 15 assists and four steals on Saturday night, grabbing MVP honors away from Kevin Durant of the Thunder, who paced all scorers with 30 points. Many of them came on thunderous dunks that had the sellout crowd of 16,101 on its collective feet. Durant is the first player in All-Star Game history to have at least 30 points in three successive games — all won by the West. He was the MVP of last year’s game in Orlando, which the West won by three.
“This is pretty special, pretty special,” Paul said. “It’s something I’ve never done and it’s something coming into this game I never thought I’d achieve. I told [Durant] early in the first quarter, ‘If they score anything, you run. I’ll get you the ball. You score. I want to be the one to give it to you.'”
That he did. The 15 assists for Paul reminded long time observers of Magic Johnson and John Stockton and he was the first player to have as many as 15 assists in an All-Star Game since Gary Payton in 1995.
“He deserved it,” Durant said about Paul winning the MVP hardware. “He had great passes, made big steals and made big buckets. He played a hell of a game and congratulations to him. It was a pleasure playing with him.”
Lakers stellar guard Kobe Bryant was the MVP two years ago in the Staple Center, the building in downtown L.A. shared by the Lakers and Clippers, who have not won an NBA championship. The Clippers, in fact, haven’t even won a playoff series since moving from Buffalo to San Diego in 1978. They shifted to L.A. after the1983-84 season. The Lakers, of course, have won 11 titles since the team moved west from Minneapolis.
Bryant, a four-time All-Star Game MVP, had nine points and eight assists as Durant and Paul controlled the pace of the game. During last year’s feverish finish Miami’s Dwayne Wade smacked Bryant in the face, breaking his nose and giving him a concussion.
For the East on Sunday night, Carmelo Anthony of the Knicks paced that squad with 26 points. Wade added 21 and had seven assists. His Heat teammate LeBron James added 19 points.
The East made it close until Bryant resoundingly blocked a James shot, sending Durant streaking down the court to hit a breakaway jam that gave the West a 10-point lead with 2:31 left to play.
“I’m shooting a lot of shots, 24 shots in 31 minutes,” said Durant, whose young Oklahoma City team lost to the Heat last year in the NBA Finals. “I’m just out there having fun. I played a lot of street basketball. I played a lot of celebrity games. This is my type of ballgame up and down. The point guards made it easy for me. It was fun.”
And with that the transition from young to old in the NBA seemed just about complete.
PHOENIX — I ran the D-backs first annual cancer 5K through the streets of downtown Phoenix on Saturday morning in a surprising 49 minutes, 48 seconds.
Considering that I usually average 18-minute miles, that’s pretty good for me.
I then took part in the weenie 1K family fun walk with my friend, Joey Reaves, and his wife, Lynne, who helped coordinate the event with the D-backs for St. Joseph’s Hospital. Joey, a prostate cancer survivor, is a former foreign correspondent and sportswriter par excellence, who now works for the Dodgers. Proof positive that cancer knows no affiliations nor boundaries.
As a two-time colon cancer survivor, I ran on Saturday for myself and some of my friends who are currently battling different forms of cancer. Michael Weiner and Juan Rodriguez are struggling with very virulent forms of brain cancer. Jim Gintonio has lung cancer.
Derrick Hall and Ken Kendrick in the D- backs hierarchy are also prostrate cancer survivors.
Pray for them. Think good thoughts for them. Good health and god bless them all along with the multitudes suffering from this disease. I honored their names by scribbling them around the placard boasting my race No. 38.
More than 3 1/2 years ago, I had a second bout with colon cancer when it jumped into my lung. I had surgery to bisect the upper lobe of my left lung to remove a tumor about the size of my finger tip. Two days after the surgery doctors had me on a tread mill. They wanted me to start by walking eight minutes twice a day with a goal of steadily rebuilding breathing capacity. Two weeks later I surpassed 30 minutes twice a day.
It’s an old cliche, but a truism: When there’s a will, there’s a way.
I’ve always been over weight, but I’ve always worked out. I never smoked. Now I no longer drink alcohol. In the last year I lost 60 pounds and I’ve kept almost all of that off.
The net result: In the last week I’ve had three light jogs of three miles or more. All that with a bisected lung. I’m in better shape now than before I had cancer. I’m lucky. I’m fortunate. But it’s been a lot of hard work. As the old joke goes, I bought the lottery ticket. No one could do that for me.
Out on the streets this morning I was passed by most of the younger and faster runners who left me in the dust right away. Guys wheeling baby carriages with one hand were rolling right by me. Women running backwards. Children walking. About a mile or so in I hit a comfortable pace. I started passing the people out for a stroll who were even slower than me.
The day started unusually gray and cold for the desert. Suddenly, the sky broke and the sun came out, bringing warmth along with it. I sprinted to the finish line and ran into D-backs great Luis Gonzalez. He had finished just in front me. Hundreds of people finished behind me.
If we can do it, you can. Early detection. Positive state of mind. Put in the work. There’s your own No. 38 and a medal for finishing at the end of the rainbow.
Kudos to U-T San Diego on Sunday for the enterprise story that encompassed the entire front page of Sports, “Two Tales of One City.”
It told the story of New Orleans post Katrina with the Super Bowl playing out there next Sunday for the first time since the storm ravaged that community in 2005. That story is one of a city that has rebounded well in some areas, but is still suffering in many others.
The piece, though, left out several key sports elements. Aside from the Super Bowl, hundreds of millions have been spent on renovating the Super Dome and saving the NFL Saints and NBA Hornets (soon to be Pelicans) for New Orleans. This rather than rebuild infrastructure that affects a much wider swath of people in The Crescent City. The NBA also has already staged an All-Star Game (2008) and is scheduled to go there again.
This in a community where the local paper that did such a boffo job covering Katrina has since laid off most of its staff and is printing only three days a week with a daily online presence.
Just like San Diego’s baseball and continuing football stadium situation, there’s an argument about what kind of damage the loss of a professional sports team does to the collective psyche of a community and to business in that community as a whole. The public money spent on sports never seems to to be apportioned to police, fire, schools or social services instead. These are the decisions every community has to make. It is going on in Sacramento right now with the NBA Kings sold and about to move to Seattle. How much responsibility do the tax payers have to join with private business if fans want to keep their sports teams? This is what they’re trying to figure out in a last ditch effort to save the Kings right now.
The U-T story written and reported by Michael Gehlken was incomplete. But I give him and the paper an A for effort for at least trying.