A wonderful gift from the widow of Roger Maris

27 10 2016
The blanket Patricia Maris gave me this week.

The blanket Patricia Maris gave me this week.

Patricia Maris, the widow of Roger Maris, sent me a blanket as a gift this week. I am overwhelmed.

I’ll explain, but it will take a while: This story starts more than 55 years ago.

I don’t remember being at all aware of baseball from 1957 to 1960, when my father was stationed in England in the U.S. Air Force. My strongest childhood memories of England are of Mrs. Shaw, the retired school teacher next door who tutored me and taught me to read, using Janet and John books.

We moved to Utah when I was 5, and I was reading at the fourth-grade level, already launched on a lifetime as a nerd who loved to read and pursued passions single-mindedly. One of my first such passions was geography. My parents bought me some flash cards of the states to amuse me on that long drive west from New Jersey, where we landed in the United States, to our new home in Utah. I memorized the shapes and capitals of the states. I asked Mom or Dad which state I was born in. Dad was stationed then at Sampson Air Force Base in the Finger Lakes region of New York. So that became my favorite card and my favorite state.

Soon baseball became another passion for this intent, focused nerd. We didn’t have a television yet (my parents didn’t cave in on that indulgence until after the JFK assassination in 1963). But Mom listened to the 1960 World Series on the radio. A lifelong Cubs fan (yeah, more on that later), Mom rooted for the National League team, the Pittsburgh Pirates. But New York was my state and New York became my team.

So my early baseball heroes were Mickey Mantle, Bobby Richardson and Whitey Ford, who had historically great performances in that World Series. And the season’s Most Valuable Player, Roger Maris, played pretty well, too, and I started liking him as well. But Bill Mazeroski broke my young heart. Read the rest of this entry »





Alex Rodriguez: The most disappointing great Yankee ever

12 08 2016

Alex Rodriguez plays his last game as a Yankee today.

I can think of few Yankees who have played so long so well that I cared so little about. Yes, he was a great player for the Yankees, but he was a colossal post-season disappointment (despite finally contributing to a championship in 2009). I wasn’t pleased when they acquired him. I wasn’t very often pleased with his play, and I don’t care that his run is finished. It’s probably appropriate that he didn’t walk away after last year’s pretty good season, but stuck around to disappoint once again this year.

Yes, he was a cheat, but baseball has had so many cheats that I don’t have great outrage over them. I don’t respect them, and I think they deserve whatever scorn is heaped upon them. I just don’t care enough any more to join often in the heaping.

I suspect at some point he and other cheats with worthy accomplishments will be admitted to the Baseball Hall of Fame. But I don’t care much about that. Don’t care much if they keep the cheats out and don’t care much if they let them in. From my standpoint, the shame of the cheaters is that they diminished how much we cared about baseball records and baseball greatness.

If I cared more about A-Rod’s two MVP’s as a Yankee or the times he led the league in homers, RBI, slugging and OPS, I’d have to care more about how much he cheated.

Beyond his cheating, his post-season chokes and all those stats he compiled, A-Rod is probably best remembered as a Yankee for two moments against the Red Sox: when Jason Varitek attacked him and when he slapped the ball away from Bronson Arroyo.

The Varitek incident illustrated both the media’s (and baseball’s) hatred of Rodriguez, even before we knew he cheated. Watch the video above. A-Rod was hit, clearly deliberately, by Arroyo, and wasn’t charging the mound. Some glaring and shouting there is a pretty mild response. And Varitek, without even taking off his mask, started the fight. That might be the single most cowardly act in the history of baseball fighting, for a catcher to start a fight with a batter who’s not charging the mound, without first tossing his mask aside (catchers know how to take off the mask quickly, you might have noticed). Yet because it was the Red Sox vs. the Yankees and because A-Rod was the guy Varitek punched, it was depicted as some sort of gritty act of leadership by Varitek.

The Arroyo incident was a silly illustration of baseball rules and culture. In more than a half-century of watching baseball on TV, that’s the only time I’ve seen that call. Kick a ball out of a fielder’s glove and you’re safe. Plow into the fielder and knock the ball loose and you’re safe. (That’s what A-Rod should have done.) But slap the ball out of the glove and you get called out. It made no sense, but it was A-Rod and I guess the rules say that you can’t do that.

Of course, if A-Rod had driven home a run or two in the last half of the 2004 American League Championship Series, no one remembers any of that. So I don’t care that people remember A-Rod for either of those plays.

I don’t have anything further to say about the end of his career (if this really is the end; I won’t be surprised if he resurfaces somewhere, trying to reach 700 homers). I’ll end by reviewing what I’ve said along the way:

Alex Rodriguez’s disappointing decade as a Yankee

Ibañez hitting for A-Rod: Strategy you never see in the National League

Pete Rose and A-Rod check in to the Fox Sports Image Rehab Clinic

Scoundrels Committee: A way to recognize shamed players in the Baseball Hall of Fame

Do we have a Yankees team with no future Hall of Famers?

Alex Rodriguez closing in on Gehrig’s grand-slam record

Because I didn’t take performance-enhancing drugs into account in ranking the best Yankees at various positions, I reluctantly ranked A-Rod above Graig Nettles as the best Yankee at third base. I also ranked him fourth at designated hitter.





Baseball Hall of Fame changes its absurd (and racist) ‘Era Committees’

25 07 2016

The Baseball Hall of Fame has improved the ridiculous structure of its Veterans Committees and corrected the egregious racism that was part of the old structure.

The three rotating committees used the last several years will now become four committees, with more frequent consideration by the committees that review more recent players. In a significant development, the revised process will allow consideration again for Negro League players and contributors.

The three Eras Committees the Hall of Fame has been using could hardly be more absurd. Each had its own nonsensical aspects:

  • The Pre-Integration Era Committee, as I noted last year, perpetuated segregation in baseball by having one committee that could consider only white players. Consideration of Negro League players of the Hall of Fame ended in 2006, and the rules for the Pre-Integration Era Committee said that it could consider only “major league” players (and coaches, umpire and executives) whose primary contributions came prior to 1947, and that meant whites only.
  • The Golden Era Committee considered players (and others) whose primary contributions fell from 1947 to 1972. Who the hell proclaimed this the “Golden Era” of baseball? Not Cincinnati Reds fans, whose team’s golden era was just getting started in 1972. Not fans of the Seattle Mariners, Toronto Blue Jays, Arizona Diamondbacks or other teams that didn’t even exist in 1972. Not fans of the Philadelphia Phillies, who won their only championships after the supposed Golden Era. Hey, my childhood fell during this supposed Golden Era. In other circumstances, I might argue that this was the golden era (the Yankees won 10 World Series in the era). Isn’t whenever you grew up the “golden era” of anything? But in designating eras for Hall of Fame consideration, it’s laughable, as though players elected from this era are automatically greater, more golden, than the others. And, you know what ended the Golden Era? Let’s see, what changed about baseball in 1973? That’s when they adopted the designated hitter rule, which self-anointed purists think ruined baseball. Because it’s so much fun to watch pitchers hit.
  • The Expansion Era Committee considered players and contributors whose greatest contributions came since 1973. But what the hell did 1973 have to do with expansion? It’s the Designated Hitter Era (even though the committee hasn’t admitted anyone who was primarily a DH; the only DH in the Hall, Frank Thomas, was elected by the Baseball Writers Association of America, and the Hall calls him a first baseman, even though he played more games at DH). Baseball expanded in 1961 and 1962, adding two teams each year, then in 1969, adding four. So a majority of the expansion teams, eight of 14, were added before the so-called “Expansion Era” of the Hall of Fame’s absurd Era Committees.

The committees rotated, each considering players every three years. Last year the Pre-Integration Era Committee didn’t elect anyone for induction this year.

Now we’ll have four committees: Read the rest of this entry »





Do we have a Yankees team with no future Hall of Famers?

19 07 2016

I wonder whether the current edition of the Yankees might not have a single player who will make the Hall of Fame.

Let’s start with speculation on the players with the best shots at Cooperstown:

Alex Rodriguez


Of course, A-Rod would be automatic by any statistical measure used historically to measure Hall of Fame qualifications. He ranks third in career RBI, fourth in homers, eighth in runs and 20th in hits. Throw in three MVP awards, the major league record for grand slam homers, five home run titles, two RBI titles, a batting championship, 329 stolen bases, a 40-40 season. Even with his disappointing post-season record (but he finally won a championship ring in 2009), that’s an automatic Hall of Famer, easily one of the best 10 to 20 players in baseball history. Except …

Rodriguez is essentially in the same situation as Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds, though they are already on the Hall of Fame writers ballot and he’s still playing. Despite historically great careers on a par with (or even better than) Rodriguez’s, neither of them has reached 50 percent of the writers’ vote, and they need 75 percent to achieve election. What we don’t know is whether they (and presumably A-Rod, too) will be denied Hall of Fame admission forever, or have to wait some yet-unknown period in baseball purgatory.

I wouldn’t be surprised if they all get in someday through a Veterans Committee, rather than the writers’ vote. I doubt if the Hall of Fame will adopt my suggestion for a Scoundrels Committee to consider drug cheats and gamblers, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a committee decide some day that they’ve been punished long enough.

I feel confident, though, that A-Rod will wait longer than Bonds and Clemens, beyond the fact that he will be retiring about a decade after they did. Their offenses came before baseball had rules and testing, and each eventually was cleared in court (even if the baseball world remains doubtful). A-Rod, by cheating after his first admission of drug use, is a more certain drug offender and a more egregious one.

I’d guess that A-Rod makes the Hall of Fame someday, along with Bonds, Clemens and perhaps a few more drug cheats (David Ortiz might be the fourth most-likely, though his popularity could push him ahead of Bonds, Clemens and Rodriguez, all more accomplished but widely disliked). But I’d guess there’s a 25 percent chance, if not higher, that the players facing the strongest suspicion of using performance-enhancing drugs never make it to Cooperstown. And A-Rod certainly is in that group.

Still, A-Rod probably has the best shot at the Hall of Fame of anyone on the current Yankees.

Carlos Beltrán


Beltrán has perhaps the second-best shot at Cooperstown among current Royals. At 39, he doesn’t have many years left, but he made the All-Star team this season and could pad his career totals a bit more and push himself from long shot to probable.

He’s a nine-time All-Star, which sounds like it makes him a likely Hall of Famer. But Elston Howard, Fred Lynn and Dave Concepcion also have nine All-Star selections, and they’re not in the Hall of Fame. Steve Garvey and Bill Freehan each have 10 All-Star selections but not yet a call from Cooperstown.

Beltrán’s career totals (411 hits, 1,501 RBI, 2,549 hits, 1,494 runs, 311 stolen bases) are certainly in the range where he should receive Hall of Fame consideration. And he’s a three-time Gold Glove winner. But at this point, he looks likely to fall short of Cooperstown, at least on the writers’ ballot and maybe forever.

He’s one of only eight members of the 300-300 club with that many career homers and steals. But that’s a meaningless achievement for Hall of Fame purposes. Willie Mays and Andre Dawson are the only club members with Cooperstown plaques. A-Rod is still playing and Bonds is being kept out of the Hall because of drug suspicion. But three other 300-300 members — Bonds’ father, Bobby, Steve Finley and Reggie Sanders — never even reached 11 percent of the writers’ Hall of Fame vote.

During the All-Star Game, I heard Joe Buck (or someone) reel off a list of a half-dozen or so stats (probably the ones above, maybe one or two more, perhaps his 1,000-plus walks and/or 500-plus doubles) and noted that only a handful of players, mostly Hall of Famers, had reached them all. But I think Beltrán probably comes up short. He never led his league in any important statistic.

Look at his neighbors on the career-leader lists and you see a few Hall of Famers, but also quite a few that didn’t make it to Cooperstown. He hasn’t caught Kenny Lofton yet in career runs, Steve Garvey in hits or Carlos Delgado in RBI or homers. He isn’t top-50 in any of those categories (though he’s approaching it). On the homer list, he trails a bunch of sluggers with little or no shot at Cooperstown: Jason Giambi, Dave Kingman, Jose Canseco, Juan Gonzalez or Andruw Jones.

Beltrán’s career averages — .281, .354, .492, .846 — are solid enough they don’t hurt his case, but they don’t help it either. He’s not top-100 in any of those categories.

If post-season performance counted for a whit in Hall of Fame voting (as it does in all other sports), Beltrán’s 16 post-season homers and his record-setting 2004 post-season might push him into the Hall of Fame, but as I’ve noted time and again here, post-season performance and championships simply don’t matter when choosing members of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

If Beltrán has another strong year or two, his Hall of Fame chances grow considerably, but I’d guess he’s a little less than a 50 percent shot right now.

Mark Teixeira


Teixeira‘s case for the Hall of Fame is similar to Beltrán’s: Each has over 400 homers, each has eight 100-RBI seasons, each has a 40-homer season (Tex has more 30-homer seasons). Each has won multiple Gold Gloves. Beltrán has more speed and a higher batting average, but Tex’s other career averages are higher (but, again, not so high as to ensure a spot in Cooperstown). Unlike Beltrán, he has led his league (once each in homers, runs and RBI, twice in total bases).

Teixeira is younger, 36, and he was an All-Star last year. But that was his only All-Star appearance in his 30s, and he hasn’t played 125 games in a season since 2011. He appears to be in a significant career decline, and he’s not likely to match Beltrán’s career totals in anything but walks.

CC Sabathia


When Sabathia won his 200th game during the 2013 season, I considered writing a post about his chances of winning 300 games. I’m glad I didn’t. At that point, he was about 33, and would have been able to reach 300 by around age 40 at about 14 or 15 wins a year (down from his pace of the previous seven years). Of course, Sabathia has slowed down way below that pace, winning just a total of 13 games since the start of 2014. With 219 wins at age 36, he has almost no chance of reaching 300 wins.

You can hardly argue that Sabathia is in the top 10 starting pitchers among his contemporaries. His early career overlapped with Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz, all substantially better, as well as Curt Schilling and Roy Halladay, both of whom were also better but more comparable. Johan Santana was better, but not as durable, and Hall of Fame voters love longevity. More recently, Clayton Kershaw is absolutely better. And I’d expect that by the time Sabathia would be facing Hall of Fame consideration, some younger pitchers such as Max Scherzer, Felix Hernandez and Zack Greinke will have eclipsed Sabathia as well. Some eras have sent more than 10 starting pitchers to the Hall of Fame, but I’m certainly not going to predict enshrinement for a guy who wasn’t in the top 10, or maybe even the best dozen, of his day.

Without a sustained return to his performance level of 2008-2012, Sabathia isn’t going to make the Hall of Fame. It’s hard to imagine any of the other Yankee starting pitchers getting as close to Cooperstown consideration as Sabathia, though.

Other players


Starlin Castro is a long way from Hall of Fame territory, but he might have a better chance than any Yankee but A-Rod. With three All-Star appearances and 1,000-plus hits at age 26, he has a solid start and a shot at Cooperstown if he can maintain this pace for another decade-plus.

Aroldis Chapman and Dellin Betances, both 28, are pitching dominantly, each with multiple All-Star selections. Both are a long way from Hall consideration, but off to starts that could take either one there. Andrew Miller saved 36 games last year and made his first All-Star team this season. At age 31, he’s a long way from Hall of Fame consideration. He waited too long to blossom, unless he spends the next decade as a dominant reliever.

Brian McCann is a seven-time All-Star at age 32, with nine seasons of 20 or more homers. His numbers don’t put him out of reach of the Hall of Fame for a catcher. But among his contemporaries behind the plate, at least Buster Posey, Joe Mauer and Salvador Pérez appear more likely Hall of Famers. And Yadier Molina has a comparable career to McCann at this point. It’s hard to imagine four of this era’s catchers making it to Cooperstown, and McCann might not even be fourth-best.

Jacoby EllsburyBrett Gardner and Chase Headley, all 32, have two All-Star appearances combined, and none has any shot at the Hall of Fame. Didi Gregorius is just 26 but not on the Cooperstown path.

I’d guess there’s a Hall of Famer somewhere on this team, but it’s far from certain, and I wouldn’t be surprised in the 2016 (and 2015) Yankees get shut out of Cooperstown.

Yankee teams without Hall of Famers

My Mantle autograph

My Mantle autograph

From the time Frank “Home Run” Baker joined the Yankees in 1916 through 1968, Mickey Mantle‘s final year, the Yankees always had at least one Hall of Famer, a string that included Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford and more players bound for Cooperstown. Frankly, the string should have continued in 1969, Thurman Munson‘s rookie year, but Hall of Fame voters have denied Munson his due. Graig Nettles, who also belongs in the Hall of Fame, joined the Yankees in 1973, but the Yankees went until 1975, when Catfish Hunter joined the team, without any future Hall of Famers.

That launched another string of 16 seasons with always at least one Hall of Famer, including Reggie Jackson, Goose Gossage, Dave Winfield and Rickey Henderson. The 1991-92 Yankees had two players who belong in the Hall of Fame, Don Mattingly and Bernie Williams, but no one who’s made it yet. Wade Boggs joined the Yankees in 1993, and certain Hall of Famers Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter joined in 1995.

But since Rivera and Jeter retired, the Yankees returned in 2015 to that rare spot in team history of perhaps not having a future Hall of Famer on the roster.

Source note: Unless noted otherwise, statistics and other facts cited here come from Baseball-Reference.com.





Cancer 3.0

11 07 2016

Not a baseball post, but an update on my health: I have pancreatic cancer. Details at The Buttry Diary.

Don’t know whether this will mean more posts here (sleepless nights last year resulted in a bunch of baseball writing) or less (well, you know). I’ll post major developments on CaringBridge.





The Negro Leagues Museum: Class in the face of bigotry

7 07 2016
Buck O'Neill is an outrageous omission from the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. But he gets proper respect at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.

Buck O’Neill is an outrageous omission from the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. But he gets proper respect at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.

At the entrance to the museum, Kansas City baseball icon Buck O'Neil watches over a field of statues of the Negro Leagues' greatest.

At the entrance to the museum, Kansas City baseball icon Buck O’Neil watches over a field of statues of the Negro Leagues’ greatest.

The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is more than a tribute to ballplayers who were cheated of the full glory they deserved. It’s also a reminder of how ugly this nation can be.

I probably waited too long to visit the museum. My mother lives in the Kansas City area, and most of my trips there have flown past swiftly with visits to Mom, present-day baseball games and barbecue dinners. I’d always leave with regrets and good intentions to visit the museum next time I was in KC. But I think I visited at exactly the right time: a time when too many people in this country are again openly practicing and embracing bigotry.

This is going to be a post about the museum and not about politics. But if you think America needs to be made “great again,” and you’re thinking it was great any time before 1947, you need to visit this museum soon.

If you can visit this museum without being outraged at the cruelty and bigotry of racial segregation, and ashamed that our country tolerated it so long, you simply don’t have a conscience. But the museum is still an uplifting experience. It’s the story of people who loved playing ball and relished life, even in the face of such bigotry. It’s astounding that people who actively practiced the bigotry or passively tolerated it were so profoundly mistaken about who was inferior.

This news story about a baseball game between a Negro League team and a Ku Klux Klan team is just sickening. Please read the story.

This news story about a baseball game between a Negro League team and a Ku Klux Klan team is just sickening. Please read the story.

Northerners who regard bigotry as a Southern practice need to visit the museum. Major league ball wasn't even played in the deep South when it was segregated.

Northerners who regard bigotry as a Southern practice need to visit the museum. Major league ball wasn’t even played in the deep South when it was segregated. Even in Northern towns with no whiff of major-league ball, bigotry thrived.

Negro League players who didn't even enjoy freedom in their home country fought in World War II.

Negro League players who didn’t even enjoy freedom in their home country fought in World War II.

Black players in Latin American leagues enjoyed freedoms denied to them at home.

Black players in Latin American leagues enjoyed freedoms denied to them at home.

Read these quotes, then consider that the award for sports writers in the Baseball Hall of Fame is named for Spink.

Read these quotes, then consider that the award for sports writers in the Baseball Hall of Fame is named for Spink.

As a journalist, I found the display on black sports writers interesting (and a valuable reminder of journalism's own shameful history of bigotry).

As a journalist, I found the display on black sports writers interesting (and a valuable reminder of journalism’s own shameful history of bigotry).

Earlier posts on segregation and racism in baseball

Hall of Fame’s ‘Pre-Integration Era’ Committee perpetuates segregation

Black and Latino players in the Baseball Hall of Fame were nearly all automatic selections

Changing standards for the Baseball Hall of Fame always favor white players

Comparing borderline white Hall of Famers with black and Latino contenders

Few teams integrated as slowly or reluctantly as the Yankees

 





A baseball trip filled with family, friends, food and fun

30 06 2016
From left: Mike, me, Joe and Tom beyond the left-field fountains before Sunday's game.

From left: Mike, me, Joe and Tom beyond the left-field fountains before Sunday’s game.

I’ve had my share of bad timing, but sometimes the timing works perfectly on a trip.

My visit to Kansas City this past weekend was ideal in nearly every respect – except that I didn’t bring my usual traveling companion along. When we planned this trip, she decided to go visit our granddaughters in Minnesota the following weekend, so Mimi passed on the KC trip. But we didn’t book her trip right away, then some pending medical tests for me ended up canceling her plans altogether. But we’d already bought baseball tickets just for our sons and me, and wouldn’t be able to add a ticket that would allow her to sit together. So she stayed home and wrote while I headed off for a weekend of baseball and barbecue with the boys.

The baseball and barbecue were great, but we piled lots more family and friends into this trip, some by planning and some by luck. And more great food in addition to the barbecue and more fun than just the baseball.

Here’s how the trip took shape and just continued to grow: Read the rest of this entry »