Results tagged ‘ Major League Baseball. ’

My HOF ballot for 2011 — why I voted them in

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.
 

 
 

My thoughts on passing of Jasner, Kelley

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.

 

Sudden death overtime baseball

I wish I was on Commissioner Bud Selig’s Special Committee that is delving into the nuances of Major League Baseball. Sudden death overtime would be my top suggestion.

It would shorten games and take an instant edge away from the home team, which under the currents rules, has the greater advantage in extra inning games.

Here’s my drift: Once the game goes into the bottom of the ninth inning tied, that’s it, the first run scored wins it. That’s the way it already is for the home team, but wait. If the visitors score in the top of extra innings, the home team gets another shot at it. Not under my new rules. If the visitors homer in the top of the 10th, it’s a walk off, that’s it. That would put added pressure on every pitch. It’s actually a fairer rule than the one in place now.

I love overtime playoff hockey. The first puck in the net wins it. The game keeps going in 20 minute increments until that happens. I’ve covered four Stanley Cup finals that have been won on overtime goals. Nothing more exciting in sports.

Imagine if a World Series game went into extra innings under the sudden death rule. Imagine the pathos while each player comes to bat in extras. One run at any time and it’s over.

I know this severally bucks tradition, but so did the three division format, so did Wild Card playoff berths in both leagues. Seventeen years after their adoption it’s common place. No one questions it. Some people are calling for more Wild Card teams, a play-in round, seven games in each Division Series. All good ideas.

But I like my idea. Sudden death overtime baseball. There would be nothing like it.   

My Hall of Fame ballot for 2010

I first met Roberto Alomar on a visit to the family household in Salinas, Puerto Rico, in 1987. He was 19 years old. He and his older brother Sandy Jr., then 21, were out in the street in front of the house playing with remote control cars. They were still in the Padres’ Minor League system and as big kids had their lives in front of them.

Sandy Jr., was always more verbose than Robbie. He was a take control kind of kid and took my wife and I on a tour of the southern coast of the island not far from Ponce, where Benito Santiago grew up. My wife, Alicia, loves to sip the milk of coconuts and Sandy took us to a road-side hut along the Atlantic Ocean shore where the owner sliced open a coconut with a machete for her. A fine catcher in his own right, he’s always been that type of guy.

Robbie was playing second base that winter for his dad, who managed Santorce in the Puerto Rican Winter League. That’s the first time I ever saw him on the field. Even at that age, playing in a dusty old stadium, it was easy to see that the kid could play. He was more than a prospect. He was the real thing.

It’s now 23 years later and Roberto has had what I call a Hall of Fame career, coming up with the Padres in 1988, winning two World Series with the Blue Jays in 1992-93, batting .300 with 2,724 hits and .984 fielding percentage. I’ve known Roberto and his family for so long that I discount the spitting incident as an aberration in a great career. After all, he spit in the face of an umpire, John Hirschbeck, who Robbie said called him a derogatory name that takes on even more significance in the Latin culture. Hirschbeck, who had lost his son at the time, wasn’t in the greatest state of mind. The two made peace. Let’s move on.

This year I filled out my ballot, using all 10 slots. Of the newcomers I voted for Robbie, Fred McGriff and Edgar Martinez. Of the returnees, I checked off Bert Blyleven, Andre Dawson, Jack Morris, Alan Trammell, Lee Smith and Mark McGwire. I added Robin Ventura to the bunch just because he was a personal favorite. I doubt Ventura will even get the 5 percent requisite vote to carry him over. If he doesn’t at least he knows he got one vote. Mine.

Usually, I vote for three or four guys, but this year I decided to spread it out. I’ve never voted for Blyleven, Morris or Dawson, but under closer scrutiny all deserve a place in Cooperstown. Morris was the best pitcher in the American League for a decade and turned teams into World Champions, winning in Detroit, Minnesota and Toronto. Blyleven is fifth all-time in strikeouts (3,701). Of his 287 wins, 60 were shutouts. Dawson played on bad knees and with sheer guts. His numbers certainly stand up to Jim Rice, who was elected last year.

I’ve voted for McGwire every year he’s been on the ballot and will continue to do so. I’m not sure what to do with players whose careers spanned the steroid era, particularly when the use of those drugs are implied. Next year we’ll have Rafael Palmeiro on the ballot. He’s only one of four players to amass 500 homers and 3,000 hits — Eddie Murray, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron are the others. He also failed a drug test at the end of his career. What will I do about Rafi? It will all go into the mix. I have no hard and fast rules.

I vote for Smith and Trammell every year. It baffles me why Smith (478 saves for third on the all-time list) and the great shortstop Trammell are not in the Hall. I couldn’t vote for Barry Larkin this year because Trammell is not a member. Larkin: a .295 lifetime average, 2,340 hits, 198 homers and 960 RBIs in 2,180 games, all with the Reds. Trammell: .285 with 2,365 hits, 185 homers and 1,003 RBIs in 2,293 games, all with the Tigers. What am I missing here?

McGriff and Martinez are also worthy. Fred was a great guy and a great player who’s career arch ended with him seven short of 500 homers. He was such an impact player everywhere he went, I’m not going to hold that against him. Neither should Edgar’s accomplishments be shrouded by the fact that he was a true designated hitter throughout most of his career. He played in Seattle and the American League utilizes that rule. That’s the way his managers chose to use him. He’s a .312 lifetime hitter with 2,247 hits, 309 homers, 1,261 RBIs, a .418 on-base percentage and a.515 slugging percentage. Let’s look at the numbers, not his position. That’s what I went by.

So that’s the way I did it this year, the 17th time I’ve voted for the Hall of Fame dating back to 1993. I’ll be looking forward to the announcement on Wednesday to see how my writing colleagues judged it as well.

These Yankees could join elite teams in franchise history

I grew up in the north Bronx only about a 10-minute car ride from Yankee Stadium. My parents — Gloria and Len — still live in the same apartment on 235th St. and Riverdale Ave. They’ve been there since 1957. My mother has become a die-hard Yankees fan, even though she never gave a care about it when my brother and I were kids. My father, who took me to my first game ever at the original stadium in 1960, has watched the team since Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio played together there in the late ’30s. My parents are both 82.

Recently, my father said that this year’s Yankees team might be the best he’s ever seen. I told him to hold his Iron Horses. In my lifetime there have been three Yankees teams that are among the best in baseball history: 1961, 1978 and 1998.

The ’61 team had Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle combine to hit 115 homers. Those Yanks dominated the American League and wiped out the Reds easily in a five-game World Series. In addition, that title was part of a wave that saw the Yanks win 10 World Series and 15 pennants from 1947-64, a period unmatched in Major League history.

The ’78 team with Reggie Jackson, Thurman Munson, Catfish Hunter and Ron Guidry, may be the guttiest. The Yanks had won the pennant in ’76 and the World Series in ’77. On July 19, 1978, the Yanks trailed the Red Sox by 14 games in the AL East. They staged the historic comeback, beating the Sox at Fenway in the Bucky Dent one-game playoff for the division title and went on to defeat the Dodgers in the World Series for the second consecutive fall in six games.

The ’98 team won an unparalleled 125-games — 114 during the regular season and another 11 in the postseason, including a sweep of the Padres in the World Series. With a core of Andy Pettitte, Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada, the title was among four from 1996-2000, including three in a row.

So dad, the current Yankees have a chance to be great, but they still have a long way to go. They have been on fire since the All-Star break, and who could have predicted that the core would still be contributing at this late date? After all, Jeter came off a down ’08 season and some people were beginning to wonder if the wear and tear of all those regular season and postseason games had taken their toll. Rivera and Posada were returning from right shoulder surgery, and Pettitte always has to contend with a balky left elbow.

Yet, all four have been dominant again. Add great years from their free agent pickups — CC Sabathia ($160 million) and Mark Teixeira ($180 million) and the Yanks have been flying in their first year at the new Yankee Stadium.

All they have to do is win the team’s 27th World Series and they will be recognized among the best in franchise history. No small feat, considering the standards set by Yankees teams that came before them.

Carpenter feel good story of season

The recovery of Cardinals right-hander Chris Carpenter from two seasons worth of arm injuries for me is the feel good story of a season, during which I’ve also dealt with a myriad of heath issues and tried to remain working.

At this writing, he’s 16-4 with a 2.45 ERA, having spent a stint on the DL, dealing with an oblique injury. He looks as good as he did back in his 2005 National League Cy Young Award season and 2006 when he helped pitch the Cardinals to the World Series title.

“With everything I’ve been through in my career I love going out there,” Carpenter said when I talked to him last month after another brilliant start in San Diego. “I don’t take anything for granted. I treat every start like it’s the last time I’m ever going to pitch.”

That is rare, as Mike Hampton would agree. Hampton had surgery again this week on his left shoulder, which revealed a completely torn rotator cuff. He wants to pitch again, but he’s out for 2010 and still has surgeries on both knees to come. That will make it nine surgeries for Hampton since he signed a mega contract with the Rockies in 2001.

I applaud Hampton for keeping up the good fight. What Carpenter is doing is a real inspiration to me because I know how much work it took to make it back. I’ve had to make it back from four surgeries since Feb. 4, 2008, and I’m just a writer. I don’t have to whip my body into the condition to compete at baseball’s highest level. I just need to stay in some sort of modicum of shape. Carpenter has not only done that, but he’s returned to elite status. When he’s on, he has a drop-dead curveball, the best I’ve seen since Sandy Koufax used to drop them over the plate when I saw him pitch as a kid.

With apologies to his teammate Adam Wainwright (18-7) and Giants right-hander Tim Lincecum (14-5), Carpenter is my Cy Young Award winner this season. Also add Comeback Player of the Year honors in the Senior Circuit.

Keep it up, Chris, and here’s hoping you can ward off any more injuries. It’s great to see a good guy overcome and continue to excel.

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