PHOENIX — When Braves Minor League manager Luis Salazar was recently struck in the face by a line drive and lost his left eye, it was another strange hit to the 1984 Padres, the first team in club history to win the National League pennant and ascend to the World Series. They lost in five games to the Tigers.
Salazar was a back up infielder, displaced at third base by an aging Craig Nettles, who was obtained in a trade with the Yankees just prior to the start of that regular season. This year, Salazar was standing in the dugout during a Spring Training game in Florida and didn’t know what hit him.
There is a dark cloud hovering over the ’84 Padres team and this was just the latest incident.
Starting pitcher Eric Show and second baseman Alan Wiggins died young, Show, at 37 of a drug overdose, Wiggins at 32, from AIDs linked to the injection of drugs.
Then there is the cancer cluster. Dave Dravecky lost his left (throwing) arm to cancer. Coach Jack Krol died of cancer related to his constant use of chewing tobacco. And Tony Gwynn, the NL batting champion that season and an eight-time winner in his 20-year career, is battling cancer for the same reason.
Phil Collier, the beat writer for the San Diego Union who covered that team, was diagnosed that year with prostate cancer and eventually died from it. Wayne Lockwood and Barry Lorge, both columnists for the Union back then, are also gone. Wayne had Parkinson’s and Barry died of cancer. Bob Chandler, a now retired Padres play-by-play announcer, is a prostate cancer survivor. I was the beat writer for the San Diego Tribune that season and I’ve survived colon cancer — not once, but twice. In another ironic twist, I’ve been blind in my left eye since a childhood accident.
Ray Kroc, the McDonald’s founder and club owner who saved the team for San Diego, had a major stroke and died before the start of that season. The Padres wore an “RAK” patch on their shoulders all that year to honor him. His wife and successor, Joan, died in 2003 because of a brain tumor.
With apologies to the 1998 Padres team that also went to World Series where they were swept by the Yankees, the postseason in ’84 is still the most exciting week of Major League Baseball ever played in San Diego. It was staged at the old ballpark in Mission Valley before it was expanded and enclosed for football in front of raucous crowds of almost 60,000 for every game.
It included the Padres’ come-from-behind victory over the Cubs in what was the final best-of-five NL Championship Series.
Steve Garvey won Game 4 in Mission Valley with a two-run walk off homer in the bottom of the ninth. In Game 5 there was Tim Flannery’s grounder that skidded through the legs of Leon Durham, the first baseman whose glove had been accidentally doused in Gatorade by Ryne Sandberg, the NL’s MVP that season. The Padres even split the first two World Series games, winning Game 2 at home over a Tigers team that won 111 games — including the postseason — and was clearly one for the ages. Unfortunately they lost the next three at old Tiger Stadium.
To those among the survivors — Dick Williams and Jack McKeon, Tim Lollar and Andy Hawkins, Steve Garvey and Puff Nettles, Goose Gossage and Garry Templeton, Kevin McReynolds and Carmelo Martinez, Craig Lefferts and the first Greg Harris, Ballard Smith and Dick Freeman, and of course, Bruce Bochy, Terry Kennedy and Tim Flannery — stay well and healthy.
And to Louie a speedy recovery. May the wind always be at your backs.
It was just a coincidence, Andy Pettitte, said on Friday, that he decided to formally retire shortly after a federal judge ruled that lawyers for Roger Clemens will be able to cross exam the left-handed pitcher this summer when the Rocket soars into court.
Pettitte won’t throw off a Major League mound for the Yankees this season, but he will be front and center as a key witness when Clemens goes to trial, which is slated to begin in Washington on July 6.
During his lengthy retirement media conference at Yankee Stadium, Pettitte said that the pending Clemens trial had “zero” effect on his decision. The question seemed to be the giant elephant in the room.
“I would hope that anyone or any of you guys who have followed me through that whole situation would know that it has not had any effect, zero in my decision,” Pettitte responded when the question was finally asked 20 minutes into the conference. “I would never let that interfere with those life decisions I’m [making] for me and my family. That has literally had no impact on my decision, no impact on my life.”
Clemens, who is charged with lying to Congress about his use of performance-enhancing drugs, was questioned by United States District Judge Reggie Walton on Wednesday about a possible conflict of interest involving one of his attorneys — Rusty Hardin. The bombastic Houston lawyer also advised Pettitte for a short time after the pair of pitchers were named in the Mitchell Report as PED users in December 2007. Clemens waived his rights about the conflict and another attorney will cross examine Pettitte.
Pettitte said he used human growth hormone. In a deposition before the famous Congressional hearing in February 2008, Pettitte admitted that transgression and said he had knowledge that Clemens also used HGH when the two were teammates. Pettitte was excused from the hearing. Clemens was advised not to testify. When he insisted and did so under oath he said that Pettitte “misremembered” the incident. It was one of the numerous times the Justice Dept. has charged that Clemens committed perjury that day.
Pettitte said he was at the end of line in his 16-year career anyway, that he could have physically continued to pitch, but “didn’t have his heart in it.” He missed almost the entire second half of the 2010 season because of a severely pulled groin and his absence alone certainly contributed to the Yankees barely losing the American League East title to the Rays. But it probably wouldn’t have been prudent for him to appear at the Clemens trial during the middle of the 2011 season. At 39, he can take the year off, get through the turmoil and perhaps give it another shot.
“I’ve been thinking about that, too,” Pettitte said. “I believe I’m done. I would not be doing what I’m doing right now if I didn’t think I was done. And I don’t know what I’m going to feel like two months from now, three months from now. I can tell you one thing: I am not going to play again this season. I can tell you that 100 percent. But I guess you can never say never. I don’t think I’d be scared if I went through this whole season and I had a hurt in my stomach saying I wanted to pitch. Maybe I’ll try it again. But I don’t plan on pitching again. I think that me taking the mound every fifth day is over.”
Just when we thought Major League Baseball’s steroid era was behind us, it’s going to rear its ugly head again this year. First Barry Bonds will go to trial in San Francisco on March 21 for perjury in a case that is so old it defies the imagination. Bonds is charged with lying about his PED use in grand jury testimony regarding the BALCO case that was given in late 2003. Clemens will then go to trial in the nightcap a few months later. That’s only the top hitter and arguably the top pitcher of the era. Both will be on the Hall of Fame ballot in 2013.
Pettitte took the honorable path, publicly apologized for his mistake and then went on with his life and career. With a 240-138 regular season record and 19 postseason wins, he has Hall of Fame credentials similar to those of Hall of Famer Whitey Ford, another famous Yankees left-hander who had a 236-106 record and 10 postseason victories, all in the World Series.
That decision is for 2016 when Pettitte’s name will first appear on the ballot. No matter. Though he won’t be on the mound, he’ll certainly be back in the news in a big way again this summer.
I voted for Roberto Alomar, Bert Blyleven, Edgar Martinez, Fred McGriff, Mark McGwire, Jack Morris, Rafael Palmeiro, Tim Raines, Lee Smith and Alan Trammell.
With the steroid era now beginning to fully infect the election process for the National Baseball Hall of Fame, this was one of the toughest ballots I’ve had to deal with since my first vote in 1992.
I’ve often thought that you have to take the players from that era on a case-by-case basis, but I’ve changed my opinion. The Mitchell Report revealed that great pitchers (Roger Clemens and Eric Gagne) were perhaps as guilty of using performance-enhancing drugs as great hitters (McGwire and Barry Bonds). It named utility players, bit players, lower level players and the top players. Thus, the playing field must be considered level. Otherwise, except for rare cases, no one really knows who did what.
Under those circumstances I believe as a voter that everyone should be painted with the same brush. Either you vote all the qualified candidates in or you don’t vote for anyone who is remotely suspected.
As a lifetime member of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America I take this vote very seriously. I have no desire to be judge, juror or soothsayer. So I’ve decided to judge those players within the context of the era during which they played, and if they’re deserving, vote them in.
Thus, my ballot includes a player who failed a drug test (Palmeiro), a player who recently admitted that he used steroids (McGwire), and another who was tainted by the cocaine era of the 1980s (Raines). I believe all of them statistically belong in a Hall of Fame that already includes the likes of Gaylord Perry, who brashly admitted to throwing the spitter when he was active from 1962-83. That pitch was outlawed by Major League Baseball in 1920.
Palmeiro — on the ballot for the first time — may be statistically on the bubble to some, but not to me. His 569 homers and 3, 020 hits places him in rarified company as only the fourth player in Major League history to amass more than 500 homers and 3,000 base hits. The other three? Their names are Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Eddie Murray.
I’ve been among the 25 percent to vote for McGwire every year he’s been on the ballot. His 583 homers — 70 of them in 1998 and 65 in ’99 — are good enough. The home run race between McGwire and Sammy Sosa in ’98 put baseball back on the map after the strike that devastated the sport only a few years earlier. Since the steroid precusor Andro was found in McGwire’s locker — like many — I’ve long suspected him of using PEDs. His public apology doesn’t change anything.
I’ve never voted for Raines, but listening to Andre Dawson talk about him during his induction speech in Cooperstown this year made me take another look at Tim’s record. Certainly, he was the National League’s version of Rickey Henderson before his personal problems affected his career. He played 24 seasons, had 808 stolen bases, 2,605 hits and batted .294. Tony Perez was elected to the Hall with 2,732 hits and a .279 batting average.
Raines was an easy decision. Rafi and Big Mac weren’t. A voter can select as many as 10 players on the ballot. I checked off the first eight and left two spots open.
Alomar and Blyleven were slam dunks. I always vote for Smith and Trammell and won’t give Barry Larkin a nod until the former Detroit shortstop receives his due. Their career stats are too similar. McGriff, like Dawson and Jim Rice before him, deserves a strong look. He should not be held accountable because he finished seven short of 500 homers. Neither Rice nor Dawson even came close to 500. Both are in the Hall. Edgar deserves strong consideration even though he spent most of his career as a designated hitter. And like Rice who had a great decade as a hitter, Morris should be elected because no one touched him for 10 years as a pitcher, either.
After that, I went out and spoke to a number of writers and editors I respect about using the blank spots for McGwire and Palmeiro. With that input in mind, and in the end, I determined that voting for them was the right thing to do.
Note on Jeff Bagwell: His numbers are very similar to Steve Garvey — Bags .297 batting average to
.294 for the Garv, 2,314 hits to 2,599, 449 homers to 272, 1,529 RBIs to 1,308 . But
Garvey had two NL Championship Series MVPs, an NL MVP, an All-Star MVP, the longest
consecutive game playing streak in NL history (1,207), one of the
highest fielding percentages as a first baseman (.996) and an errorless
season (1984). Garvey also played on five NL pennant winners and a World
Series winner in ’81 with the Dodgers. Bagwell did almost none of this with
the Astros. And Garvey didn’t get a sniff from the writers for the HOF.
That’s why I didn’t vote for Bagwell.
Cancer, a horrible disease, took two more sportswriter friends during a horrible week — Phil Jasner and Jim Kelley. Phil died after an extended battle with colon cancer and Jim after a 14-month war against cancer of the pancreas.
These were both giants of the business. Phil covered the NBA out of Philadelphia and Jim the NHL out of Buffalo.
I met Phil when both of us were budding NBA beat writers in the early 1980s. Phil had just been put on the 76ers beat at the Daily News and I the Clippers for the old San Diego Tribune. We had a common thread in Tom Cushman, who had been a columnist at the Daily News and moved on to be Sports Editor of the Tribune. Tom hired me nearly 30 years ago. It was with him over drinks one night after a basketball game that I became friendly with Phil.
The Clippers were short-lived in San Diego and I was short-lived on the basketball beat. Tom put me on the Padres in 1984 and my career veered inexorably into baseball. Phil remained on the Sixers until his death. We covered Philadelphia’s sweep of the Lakers in the 1983 NBA Finals, to this day the 76ers only NBA championship.
I continued to attend the NBA All-Star Game and Phil and I remained friends. He was one of those guys who’d I’d see every once in awhile and pick up right where we left off. There was a bond among people who had been on the NBA beat back then tied together by the coaches we covered. Don Casey was one of them. He coached in Philly’s competitive Big Five and moved on to the Clippers as both an assistant and the head coach. When I heard rumors of Phil’s death on Friday night, it was Casey I immediately called. He still lives in San Diego. We had two conversations that were long and philosophical.
Through Casey I’d heard of Phil’s battle with colon cancer coming at the same time I was going through a similar tussle with the same disease. I’ve been cancer-free for 18 months, having gone through four surgeries. They caught mine early. Twice. I spent a very uneasy night pondering the question of why I’ve been spared (so far) and Phil wasn’t. There’s no answer. It’s the luck of the draw — perhaps it’s no more complicated than that.
I met Jim when I spent four years at Bloomberg News from 1998-2002 as their national hockey writer, among other duties. My relationship with Jim was much more casual than it was with Phil. He was a hockey writer and columnist for the Buffalo News back then and eventually made his way into the Internet. Like Phil, he was a dogged reporter with a myriad of sources, easy going and wonderful to talk to. We were among the group that covered the Sabres loss to Dallas in the 1999 Stanley Cup Finals.
Pancreatic cancer is a death sentence. As one survivor recently told me, 80 percent of those diagnosed with it die within the first year. Like Phil, Jim fought it to the end. By one wonderfully written account, Jim filed his last column early in the morning before he died.
Even in illness, going to the rink, the ballpark, the gym, getting support from the people you know, putting your words in a laptop every day, creates a sort of normalcy to an abnormal situation. It’ll be soon enough before we all go home. That’s what I found. I’m sure Phil and Jim also took solace in doing what they loved best.
They are both gone now and sadly the list of sportswriters dying of cancer continues to know no bounds.
I don’t vote for the 12 people who are on the latest Veterans edition of the National Baseball Hall of Fame ballot. That will have to wait until early next month when the annual list is sent out to eligible members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
But if I was on the 16-member Expansion era committee, which is charged with voting by the Dec. 6 Winters Meetings in Orlando, Fla., the choices would be easy: I’d go with the Garv and the Boss.
Why Steve Garvey never made it during his 15 years on the Writer’s ballot has always been a mystery to me. I voted for him every time, although he always finished somewhere in the middle of the pack. Despite his obvious impact on Major League Baseball, this is George Steinbrenner’s first time on a ballot considered by any configuration of the Vets committee with the express purpose of voting for owners.
The Garv: National League MVP in 1974, All-Star MVP in 1974 when he won his spot as a write in, NL Championship Series MVP twice — once in 1978 for the Dodgers and again in ’84 with the Padres when he had the single best offensive NLCS game I’ve ever seen: 4-for-5, 5 RBIs, and a walk-off, two-run homer to win Game 4 in San Diego against the Cubs. Still an NL record 1,207 consecutive games played. Need I go on?
The Boss: Made free agency what it is today with his signings of Catfish Hunter, Reggie Jackson and Goose Gossage from 1976-78. Under his sometimes chaotic guidance the Yankees won seven World Series and 11 American League pennants after he bought the club in 1973. The rest of what today constitutes the American League East has won the Fall Classic a TOTAL of five times during that same period — Toronto and Boston twice each, Baltimore once. If the Hall is about numbers, those are incredible numbers.
This is not to say there aren’t plenty of other worthy people on the new Vet ballot. Marvin Miller and Pat Gillick should also be elected. I’ve also always thought that Ron Guidry and Ted Simmons have been seriously overlooked.
But if I were among the august Gang of 16 my first choices would be the Garv and the Boss. To garner the necessary 75 percent they each need 12 of the 16 votes. I’ll be waiting.
PHOENIX — The Nationals will be opening the doors to their Montreal
past next Tuesday night when they honor Andre Dawson before the game
against the Marlins in Washington. Dawson, who was inducted into the
National Baseball Hall of Fame on July 25, played his first 11 seasons
for the Expos, the franchise that moved to the nation’s capital after
the 2004 season.
Dawson and fellow Hall of Famer Gary Carter will
be at Nationals Park next week. Tim Raines, who is managing the independent Minor League
Newark Bears, has also been invited.
It would be fitting if the
Nationals recognize their retired numbers. Before the team’s demise
after 36 seasons in Quebec, the Expos retired three numbers representing
four of their key players: Rusty, The Hawk, The Kid and The Rock.
Rusty Staub and Dawson each wore No. 10, Carter wore No. 8 and Raines wore No. 30.
local rap artist named Annakin Slayd, who attended Expos games at Olympic Stadium as a kid
until the time the team left, produced an emotional video about the team’s
history that’s worth watching.
The Hawk, though, hasn’t been told whether his number is being re-retired and the Nationals haven’t been definitive. Like Carter before him, Dawson went into the Hall with the Expos logo engraved on his plaque.
the move, the Nationals have allowed other players to wear those numbers. It would be
like the Los Angeles Dodgers using the numbers of their retired Brooklyn
players or the San Francisco Giants disregarding the memories of their
New York era. That hasn’t happened. Those retired numbers still stand.
It’s time for the Nationals to put their retired Expos numbers in mothballs
with that period of franchise history, honoring Rusty, The Hawk, The Kid
and The Rock.
Alex Rodriguez will certainly reach the 600-homer plateau, whether it’s tonight, tomorrow or next week. The real question is whether A-Rod can ultimately catch and pass Barry Bonds, the all-time home run leader at 762?
The fact that A-Rod has gone 12 games, 46 at bats and 51 plate appearances since he hit 599 doesn’t auger well. It’s by far the longest drought of the six players who went before him. It took Willie Mays 22 at bats at 39 in 1970 to go from 599-600. It took Ken Griffey Jr. 18 at bats at 38 in 2008. Bonds, Hank Aaron (755), Babe Ruth (714) and Sammy Sosa (609) took less.
“The way I’m swinging now, it’s probably going to take a while — everybody get comfortable,” the Yankees third baseman said on Saturday night.
It goes without saying that the longer it takes now, the more grueling it’s going to be later. A-Rod just turned 35 and has seven years to go on his Yankees contract that ends in 2017 at 42. That means he’ll have to average about 23 homers a year between now and then to do it.
Bonds, the Giants slugger, was 43 and playing on surgically repaired knees when he passed Aaron on Aug. 7, 2007, at AT&T Park. It took him three days from the night he tied the record in San Diego to the night he broke it against the Nationals.
Bonds, who has was born on July 24, hit 195 of his homers during the seasons in which he turned 38 to 43. And that doesn’t count the 73 he hit in 2001. His last 40-homer year was 45 at 39 in 2004. He last played in 2007.
Aaron hit 163 homers from the ages of 37-42. His last 40-homer season was at 39 for the Braves in 1973, the year before he broke Ruth’s record. He retired in 1976.
A-Rod may have already peaked. His last 40-homer season was 54 the year he turned 32 in 2007. Since then he’s been on a steady decline: 35 in ’08, 30 in ’09 when he missed the first month because of hip surgery, and currently 16. He’ll need a barrage of homers the last two months of this season to hit 30 again, a mark he’s either reached or surpassed every year since 1998.
The good news for Rodriguez is that he’ll need less homers at an advanced baseball age to break the all-time record than Aaron and Bonds did before him. The bad news is that he has a nagging hip injury that somewhere down the road ultimately may lead to more surgery.
“If he stays healthy enough, if he plays the game the way he always has,
he has a great shot at it,” Bonds said about A-Rod’s chances of passing
him. “He just needs to stay focused. There are a lot of reporters
around all the time. You’ve got to separate yourself from that. You want
to do well for your teammates on top of everything else that’s swirling
around. A home run, base hit, whatever. To win the game for your team
is the most important thing.”
On the field, this is what Bonds had to overcome: He missed the last six weeks of the 1994 season because of the strike, part of the ’99 season with an elbow injury, almost all of the ’05 season because of the knee injuries, and walked a record 2,558 times. Despite all that and a plethora of off-field pressures and problems, he broke the record.
As far as A-Rod is concerned, the health issue is the first caveat. Let’s add this second: He better learn to deal with the media attention and the accruing pressure or he’s certainly not going to make it. If it’s taking him this long to get to 600, when he gets to 762 he doesn’t realize what he’ll be facing.
PHOENIX — Ken Kendrick, the D-backs managing general partner, said this week in the wake of the club’s 10-game losing streak, that major changes are in the offing for the Major League roster.
“When the team is playing as badly as this team is…you really need to look very broadly at everything and try to objectively determine what kind of changes you really want to make,” he said.
The current roster as it stands is quite adequate except in two areas: The D-backs need a quality starting pitcher and reliable closer. That’s it. Both holes are the residue of organizational decisions that shouldn’t be blamed on anybody.
In this space I’ve said before that the decision to trade Jose Valverde after the close of the 2007 season, mostly for financial reasons, started a domino affect on the bullpen that the D-backs are still feeling to this day. The D-backs lost Valverde’s 47 saves in ’07 and have yet to find anyone who can replace them. They saved 39 games in ’08, a falloff of eight from Valverde’s numbers a year
before, and finished two games out. They saved 36 games last year, 10 so far this year — 11 blown.
Brandon Webb hurt his shoulder at the outset of the 2009 season, although there was ample evidence in September of ’08 that the problem was ruminating. He hasn’t pitched since. After shoulder surgery last August, the D-backs made a decision to exercise an $8.5 million option on Webb for this season, hoping he would return to his former Cy Young award-winning form. When he couldn’t even throw, there was no “Plan B.” Webb won 22 games in ’08. With a patchwork quilt of starters trying to fill that slot, the D-backs haven’t even come close in each of the last two seasons.
Certainly there have been other mistakes: The contract to Eric Byrnes, since released and out of baseball, that the D-backs are still paying. The failure to come to terms with second baseman Orlando Hudson, causing another round robin of free-agent signees and utility players at that key position.
The D-backs have a core of good young players that should remain untouched — Dan Haren, Edwin Jackson, Conor Jackson, Justin Upton, Mark Reynolds, Miguel Montero and Ian Kennedy. But they need a top starter and a closer. You can’t win, especially in the NL West, without that.
SAN DIEGO — The resurgence of the Padres shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. Jed Hoyer and company took the best of what Kevin Towers left behind in the switch of general managers and made it better.
Hoyer added Jon Garland, Yorvit Torrealba and Jerry Hairston Jr. as free agents. He sat down with manager Bud Black and instituted a running game. And then he didn’t tamper with what Towers put together. While most “experts” were picking the Padres to go nowhere again, an astute view of their 2010 edition during Spring Training offered a much different perspective.
Here they are in first place in the National League West post Memorial Day, which is beyond anyone’s expectation, although I certainly thought the Padres would be competitive.
With Towers still in the last year of his Padres contract (value, $1.3 million) and working as a scout for the Yankees, there’s still time to congratulate him for a job well done, perhaps the best job he ever did in his 14-years as Pads GM in putting together this year’s team.
Adrian Gonzalez? Adam Eaton trade. David Eckstein? Free-agent signing. Everth Cabrera? Rule V Draft selection. Chase Headley, Kyle Blanks, Will Venable, Mat Latos, Wade LeBlanc? All came up through the Minor League system. Tony Gwynn Jr.? Jody Gerut trade. Kevin Correia? Free-agent signing. Clayton Richard? Jake Peavy trade. Luke Gregerson, Mike Adams, Heath Bell, Edward Mujica? All acquired in trades by Towers.
Well, you get the picture. It’s been a heck of a composite effort.
PHOENIX — It is almost June and the possibility of Brandon Webb
returning to the D-back this season is growing doubtful. The
right-handed pitcher hasn’t thrown off a mound since March 4 and he
hasn’t thrown in a game since Opening Day of the 2009 season.
had surgery last August to clean out his right shoulder and the recovery
progress has been agonizingly slow. When his arm is strong enough it
will be at least a month of progressing from pitching to live batters,
to simulated games, to Minor League rehab starts before he’s ready to
throw again in the Major Leagues, D-backs manager A.J. Hinch said on
Friday. And that’s without any further setbacks.
The D-backs have
long ago ceased to establish anymore timetables, all of them having
gone by the wayside as Spring Training turned into the regular season
and the months have progressed.
Webb’s $8.5 million contract
expires at the end of the season. There are no more options. Thus, while
the chances of him pitching again by the All-Star break are nil, the
chances of him throwing in a D-backs uniform again are exceedingly dim.
looked the happiest he’s been in months on Friday when he came off the
field after a throwing session. For the second day in a row at Chase
Field he threw nice and easy on flat ground from about 90 feet, having
adjusted his arm slot a little lower. Webb was ecstatic, which is good
news. Where it goes from here is anybody’s guess.
As the season
inexorably moves on no one in the D-backs camp is yet willing to count
the former National League Cy Young Award winner out. But the calender
doesn’t lie. Webb has four months.