I always loved Mickey Mantle; not so much mantle-cell lymphoma

12 12 2014

As a kid, I wanted Mickey Mantle’s mighty swing. And his blazing speed. And his grace in centerfield.

As an adult, books by and about Mantle line my bookshelves.

So when the doctor said what kind of cancer I have, I did a double take: Did he say mantle-cell lymphoma? Yes, he did.

It really has nothing to do with The Mick. Unlike Lou Gehrig, he has no disease named for him. And, I should note, since Mickey died of liver cancer and blamed his life of hard drinking, mantle-cell is not related to alcohol consumption.

This type of lymphoma gets its name because it originates in the B-lymphocyte cells in the “mantle zone” of the lymph node, according to the Lymphoma Research Foundation.

More on my disease on my Caring Bridge page and at The Buttry Diary. My outlook is good and my oncologist and I are optimistic. But my treatment may distract me from this blog for a while. I suppose I’ll probably blog about the Hall of Fame selections, and I hope to be finished with treatment pretty early in the next baseball season. But if Hated Yankees takes a little hiatus, I blame mantle-cell, not The Mick.

Advertisements




Yankees on the ballot: Who makes the Hall of Fame? Who gets screwed again?

5 12 2014

Ten former Yankees are on two different Hall of Fame ballots for consideration for enshrinement in Cooperstown next summer.

Nine Yankees are among the 34 players on the Baseball Writers Association of America ballot for election by sports writers and one former Yankee is on the Golden Era ballot for election by a special committee considering players whose primary contributions came between 1947 and 1972.

You won’t think of most of these players as primarily Yankees. All but one played most of their careers for other teams. Here are my thoughts on those players and their chances to make the Hall of Fame (this year or ever):

Sure bet

Randy Johnson

Easy, automatic selection. He’d be in as either a 300-game winner or a five-time Cy Young Award winner (four in a row) or as No. 2 all time on the strikeout list with 4,875. As all three, Johnson is a first-ballot slam-dunk. I think Pedro Martinez was a little better pitcher, and he’s probably a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer (a stupid distinction) this year, too. But the voters love longevity and Johnson put up bigger career numbers. He’s the more certain first-ballot guy.

It’s hard to overstate how good Johnson was. He led the league in strikeouts nine times, winning percentage, ERA and complete games four times each and innings pitched, shutouts and hit batters twice (and each of those hit batters felt it).

I’ve noted before that pitchers’ wins are a more useful stat than the hypothetical stat of WAR (wins above replacement). But I acknowledged then that wins are a flawed statistic (every stat is flawed). Johnson certainly illustrates the flaws. He won 20 games only three times and only twice in his Cy Young years. But 18-2, 17-9 and 19-7 are damn good won-loss records and that’s what he had the three years he won the Cy Young without winning 20. He led his league in strikeouts each of those years and in ERA two of those years and shutouts the other year.

Johnson’s two years with the Yankees were unremarkable: 17-8 with a 3.79 ERA and 211 strikeouts and 17-11, 5.00 and 172. The Yankees faced him at his best in the 2001 World Series (three wins, one of them in relief, two runs given up in 17 innings, a shutout and 19 strikeouts). But he was on the decline when the Yankees traded for him four years later. At that point, he was just trying to make it to 300 wins. He did that in 2009 as a Giant.

Tainted by PED scandal

Roger Clemens


When and if the Hall of Fame voters ever decide to elect players tainted by suspicion of using performance-enhancing drugs, Clemens should go in first. He and Barry Bonds are far and away the greatest players being kept out of Cooperstown because of PED suspicions. Clemens also was actually acquitted of perjury (allegedly lying to Congress when he denied using PED’s), so the jury that heard the case against him didn’t find it convincing. But I doubt this is the year he gets in.

And I don’t much care. I might vote for him if I had a vote, because I believe you’re innocent until proven guilty, and he wasn’t. But I don’t think Andy Pettitte misunderstood Clemens. I think he probably juiced and I will save the outrage of this blog for players I think are more deserving.

Gary Sheffield


I think even if his era and he himself had not been tainted by PED scandals, Sheffield might have taken several years to make it to the Hall of Fame. He hit 509 homers and topping 500 used to ensure enshrinement. Beyond the homers, looking at his career statistically by itself, he belongs in Cooperstown:

  • With 1,636 runs, he was 38th all-time, and most of those around him on the leaders list are in Cooperstown or sure to be: He ranks just ahead of Hall of Famers Robin Yount, Eddie Murray, Paul Waner and Al Kaline. He had seven seasons over 100 runs.
  • With 1,676 RBI, he’s in similar company, 26th all-time, just ahead of Hall of Famers Tony Perez and Ernie Banks. He had eight seasons over 100 RBI.
  • With 2,689, he’s not in as elite company, 66th all-time, but still just ahead of Hall of Famers Luis Aparicio, Max Carey and Nellie Fox, none of whom had Sheffield’s power.
  • With 1,475 walks, he’s 21st all-time, just ahead of Willie Mays, Jimmie Foxx and Eddie Mathews. He had four seasons over 100 walks.
  • Sheffield hit .292, well within Hall of Fame range, and led the National League in batting at .300 with the Padres in 1992. He also led the league in on-base percentage and OPS with the Marlins in 1996.
  • He was a nine-time All-Star.

Statistically, you can’t make a case that Sheffield wasn’t a Hall of Famer. But he was a long way from the best power hitter of his time, and I think he’d have waited on the ballot for several years, even if it wasn’t for his implication in the PED scandals. Among his contemporaries, Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr., Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Albert Pujols, Frank Thomas, Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz were more feared sluggers. And he doesn’t particularly stand out from some others: Jim Thome, Rafael Palmeiro, Chipper Jones and Fred McGriff. The guy who was the 10th to 12th-best slugger of his time doesn’t necessarily make the Hall of Fame, and if he does, he waits a while. Sheffield played in a time of great offense, and he might have had to wait a while for Cooperstown even without being tainted by the drug scandals.

He’ll have to wait a while even when/if the Hall starts admitting the juicers. And, if the standard is whether voters think he’d have been a Hall of Famer without cheating, Sheffield might not make it.

Getting screwed (still)

Don Mattingly

Mattingly illustrates better than anyone (with the possible exception of Ron Guidry) the Hall of Fame’s two strongest biases (after the bias against those suspected of using performance-enhancing drugs): against Yankees and in favor of longevity.

I have already made the case for Mattingly twice here: Showing that his career was almost identical to first-ballot Hall-of-Famer Kirby Puckett and that by most measures he outperformed the Hall-of-Famers of his era. He should be in the Hall of Fame already, but this is his only year on the baseball writers’ ballot and he got only 8 percent of the vote last year. He has no chance this year. I think he could be a strong candidate for Expansion Era Committee selection eventually, but perhaps not as long as the baseball writers control the selection of candidates for those committees’ ballots.

Lee Smith

Here are the career achievements of four relief pitchers whose careers overlapped by six years: 1980-85:

Pitcher A: 341 career saves in 17 seasons, three years leading his league in saves, two seasons over 30 saves, 6.9 strikeouts/9 innings, seven All-Star games, 1 Cy Young, 1 MVP.

Pitcher B: 478 career saves in 18 seasons, four seasons leading his league in saves, 11 seasons over 30 saves, 8.7 strikeouts/9 innings, seven All-Star games.

Pitcher C: 310 career saves in 22 seasons, three seasons leading his league in saves, two seasons over 30 saves, 7.5 strikeouts/9 innings, nine All-Star games.

Pitcher D: 300 career saves in 12 seasons, five seasons leading his league in saves, four seasons over 30 saves, 7.9 strikeouts/9 innings, six All-Star games.

Perhaps you can identify the four pitchers. What you cannot do is say why one of them isn’t in the Hall of Fame. You especially can’t say why the one with the most saves, most 30-save seasons and most strikeouts per 9 innings isn’t in the Hall of Fame.

Smith, of course, is Pitcher B, the only one of the four not in the Hall of Fame. A is Rollie Fingers, B is Goose Gossage and C is Bruce Sutter. The only other reliever of their time in the Hall of Fame is Dennis Eckersley, who defies comparison with his career as a starter (with a 20-win season), then a reliever. (If there’s a comparison, it’s John Smoltz, also likely to get in on the first-ballot this year.) For the record, though, Smith bested Eck in career saves, 30-save seasons, strikeouts per nine innings, seasons leading the league in saves and All-Star selections.

You can make a case that Smith was better than any of those pitchers, but you also could make the case that they were better than him. That’s the point: He was their peer in every respect. If they’re in the Hall of Fame, Smith should be.

I probably can’t claim it’s anti-Yankee bias that keeps Smith out of Cooperstown, because few people remember him as a Yankee. With only eight games for New York (in 1993; he saved three games), he probably has the lowest percentage of his career in pinstripes of any great player who played for the Yankees.

Clearly Smith should be in the Hall of Fame. With only 29 percent of the vote last year and only three years left on the writers’ ballot, his best shot will be through the Expansion Era Committee.

Tim Raines

Can you name a comparable player to Raines who’s not in the Hall of Fame? Who else in the top five in any major career statistical is waiting to get into Cooperstown without a gambling ban or suspicion of using performance-enhancing drugs?

Throw in four seasons leading the league in steals, a batting championship and two years leading the league in runs. Raines absolutely should be in the Hall of Fame (and mostly for achievements before reaching the Yankees; he gave them three part-time years but contributed to their 1996 and ’98 championships). In baseball discussions during their primes, he was always paired with Rickey Henderson. How did one of them become a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer and the other one can’t get in?

Raines does have a possible added factor in his consideration: his use of cocaine. He testified during the Pittsburgh drug trials that he used to slide headfirst to avoid breaking the cocaine vials in his back pocket.

But cocaine is not a performance-enhancing drug, and I can’t think of another person blocked from the Hall of Fame because of cocaine use. Lots of players — Vida Blue, Dave Parker, Keith Hernandez, Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry — appeared to be on the path to the Hall of Fame, but derailed their careers with cocaine abuse. None of those players reached a level of career achievement where everyone makes it to the Hall of Fame. And Hall voters have honored multiple players tainted by stories of recreational drug use: Orlando Cepeda, Ferguson Jenkins, Paul Molitor, Willie Stargell.

The only players who have more stolen bases than Raines’ 808 are Henderson, Lou Brock, Billy Hamilton and Ty Cobb, all in the Hall of Fame.

Next on the stolen-base list behind Raines is Vince Coleman at 752. But stealing bases was virtually Coleman’s only skill. He hit .264, was only an All-Star twice and only scored 100 runs twice (and never led his league in runs scored).

Raines is much more like the four players ahead of him than like Coleman. Let’s set aside Hamilton, who played in the 1800’s, when baseball was much different, including counting as a stolen base when you went from first to third on a single. And let’s set aside Cobb, who was one of the greatest hitters of all time and still has the career record for batting average.

Comparing Raines as a hitter to Brock, he had better career averages at batting, on-base percentage (a leadoff hitter’s job) and slugging (and, of course, OPS): .294, .385, .425, .810 for Raines, .293, .343, .410, .753. Brock never led the league in a single batting category. Raines led the league in batting (.334) and on-base percentage (.413) in 1986 and doubles (38) in 1984. Brock was more durable, though, playing full-time long enough to reach 3,000 hits (Raines was a part-time player after 1992 and retired with 2,605 hits).

Runs combine hitting and running, and Brock had a slight advantage there. Each led his league twice. Brock topped 100 runs seven times and Raines had six 100-run seasons. Brock had slightly more career runs (in 100 more career games), 1,610 to 1,571.

Brock stole more bases, 938, and led his league in steals more times, eight, but Brock was largely a volume base-stealer. Raines was really a more successful base stealer, safe on 85 percent of his steals, compared to 75 percent for Brock. Even with all his stolen bases, Raines never led his league in times caught stealing. Brock led his league seven times. Raines’ worst season, he was caught 16 times. Brock topped that 10 times, getting caught 33 times in 1974, when he set the single-season record with 118 steals. In fact, Brock’s lead of Raines by 130 stolen bases is actually smaller than his caught-stealing lead, 307-146.

Defensively Raines was way better: He had a higher fielding percentage, .988 to .957. Brock had slightly more putouts, assists and double plays, but he played almost 400 more outfield games. But Raines committed only 54 errors. Brock made 196.

Raines was the player in baseball history most similar to Brock. And you can argue that he was a better hitter, base stealer and fielder. How is one guy in the Hall of Fame on the first ballot and the other isn’t there yet?

The comparison to Henderson is not as favorable for Raines. Henderson never won a batting or doubles title, but he led his league in hits in 1981 and on-base percentage and slugging percentage in 1990 (his MVP year, an achievement Raines never matched).

For career averages, Raines had the advantage in batting (.294 to .279) and slugging (.425 to .419), but Henderson led in on-base percentage (.401 to .385) and OPS (.820 to .810). Henderson was a better homerun hitter (297 to 170) and drove in more runs (1,115 to 980).

One of a leadoff hitter’s most important jobs is getting on base, and Henderson led his league in walks four times, topped 100 walks seven times and set the record with 2,190 career walks (he’s second now to Barry Bonds). Raines had a respectable 1,330 career walks but never led his league and never topped 100 in a season.

In runs, Henderson blew Raines (and everyone in baseball history) away, setting the career record (still) with 2,295, leading his league five times and topping 100 runs 13 times.

Henderson stole 1,406 career bases, a record that’s safe for at least 15 years. He stole a record (still) 130 in 1982, one of three years that he topped 100, and he led his league in steals 12 times. He was the greatest base-stealer of all time. Raines was a better percentage stealer, 85 to 81.

So Henderson was the greatest leadoff hitter of all-time and significantly better than Raines. But Raines was the most similar player in baseball history to two first-ballot Hall of Famers. He should be in.

Maybe someday

Mike Mussina

USA Today’s Ted Berg predicts Mussina will make the Hall of Fame eventually. He’s been on the ballot two years and got 20 percent of the vote last year.

With 270 wins, he’s in Hall of Fame territory, four wins or fewer ahead of Hall of Famers Jim Palmer, Bob Feller and Eppa Rixey. But Mussina also is one win ahead of Jamie Moyer, who has no shot at Cooperstown. Moose is way better than Moyer and his winning percentage was more than 100 points higher than Rixey’s. But he’s nowhere near Palmer’s or Feller’s league.

Berg says, “Time and context will smile on Mussina’s counting numbers and reward his consistency.” He may be right. I’m skeptical, but I’m horrible at predicting Hall of Fame elections. Just considering Yankee pitchers not in the Hall of Fame, I’d say Tommy John, Ron Guidry and Allie Reynolds all belong there before Mussina. He’s about even with David Cone, Cone having soared to greater heights but Moose being more consistent. The Hall of Fame rewards longevity and consistency, so he could get in.

I don’t think he’ll ever make it to Cooperstown, but he probably could have. For the first 17 years of his career, he was a model of consistency, never winning 20 games in a season but winning 19 twice, 18 three times and 17 twice. He never won fewer than 11 games.

Moose won 20 for the only time in his 18th and final year, 2008, at age 39. It’s hard to believe he didn’t have another 30 wins in him if he’d wanted to pitch another three years (possibly two). If he had made it to 300 wins, he’d be automatic. But you have to admire a guy who goes out on top, and that might help him in Hall of Fame voting.

Two things we don’t know yet about Hall of Fame could affect Moose’s chances of election:

  1. We don’t know how long the baseball writers will keep the PED-era stars out of the Hall of Fame. Will they have to wait a few years to get in, or will the writers just never vote any of them in?
  2. If they don’t vote the drug-tainted players in, will they just vote in fewer players from that era, or will some of the marginal players from that era, who used to wait for veterans committee votes, get voted in by the writers. It’s hard to imagine Moose making the Hall of Fame with all the players tainted by PED’s on the ballot. But if those guys aren’t getting in, Moose could be an attractive candidate in some year when the crop of first-time candidates is a little thin. I suspect he’ll be an Expansion Era Committee selection someday.

Luis Tiant

El Tiante is the only ex-Yankee on the Golden Era ballot (the writers keep Roger Maris out of the Hall of Fame by controlling access to the era ballots). His 229 wins don’t carry him into automatic territory (or the writers would have voted him in), but they certainly are Cooperstown-worthy. He ranks a few wins ahead of Hall of Famers Jim Bunning and Catfish Hunter, but tied with Sad Sam Jones, who never made the Hall of Fame and never topped 1 percent in the writers’ vote. He’s also 10 wins behind David Wells and 11 behind Frank Tanana, neither of whom is likely to get a Cooperstown plaque.

The Tiant case is strong: four 20-win seasons, two ERA championships (under 2.00 both times), led his league in shutouts three times. If post-season performance counted for anything (it doesn’t, or they’d have to let more Yankees in), his 3-0 record in his only post-season, including two complete-game 1975 World Series wins (one of them a shutout) over the Big Red Machine would push him over the top.

His Yankee years were insignificant, a 13-8 showing at age 38 and 8-9 the next year in 1979-80.

Comparing Tiant to Hunter shows why he has fallen short of the Hall of Fame so far. Catfish won his 224 games in 15 years, while Tiant played 19. Catfish won 20 games five years in a row and won a Cy Young Award (Tiant’s highest finish was fourth).

Tiant was more comparable to Bunning, who won 20 games only once (he had four 19-win seasons) and had a career winning percentage 22 points lower than Tiant. Bunning never led his league in ERA, but led twice in shutouts and three times in strikeouts.

All-Star selections aren’t a strong part of Tiant’s case: He was selected three times and Catfish had eight selections and Bunning seven.

Tiant was a fierce competitor who probably was regarded as a Hall of Famer by the batters he faced in a career that stretched from 1964 to 1982. He played in an era of great pitchers: Hunter and Bunning are among 17 pitchers who were Tiant contemporaries who are already in Cooperstown. Guidry’s another who belongs there, ahead of Tiant.

It’s clear that Tiant was more comparable to Hunter and Bunning than to Jones, Wells and Tanana. I think he belongs in the Hall of Fame, but I’m not outraged if he doesn’t make it.

If the Golden Era Committee just picks one or two players, I would expect Tony Oliva and/or Maury Wills to go ahead of Tiant. But maybe, like the Expansion Era Committee went with three managers (Joe Torre, Tony La Russa and Bobby Cox) last year, the Golden Era Committee will choose three Cubans this year: Oliva, Tiant and Minnie Minoso. I tend to think Tiant will continue to wait.

No chance

Aaron Boone

Boone has no shot at the Hall of Fame. This will be his only year on the ballot. He gave Yankee fans a great memory in 2003, but he has no Hall of Fame qualifications: barely 1,000 career hits, never hit .300 or 30 homers or 100 RBI, never won a Gold Glove. He had a respectable 12-year career and made an All-Star team for the Reds in 2003 (before being traded to the Yankees.

Boone was actually only the third-best baseball player in his family. Brother Bret has no Hall of Fame chance either, but he had three 100-RBI seasons for the Mariners. He was third in the MVP race in 2001, hitting .331 with 206 hits, 37 homers and a league-leading 141 RBI. He was a three-time All-Star and four-time Gold Glover. But he also was named as a PED user in Jose Canseco’s book (he denied the allegation). Bret Boone didn’t approach Hall of Fame consideration, but had a better career than Aaron.

Their father, Bob, a four-time All-Star and seven-time Gold Glove catcher who’s third all-time in games caught, might catch the fancy of an era committee someday and make it to the Hall of Fame.

Bob’s father, Ray Boone, was also an All-Star (twice) and led the American League with 116 RBI in 1955. But he also was far short of Hall of Fame levels.

They are one of baseball’s best families ever (does any other family have four All-Stars?). But I doubt they’ll have any Hall of Famers, certainly not Aaron.

Tom Gordon


As I noted last month, Flash was one of the best pitchers ever at relieving and starting. But only Eck and Smoltz of that group will make the Hall of Fame (Allie Reynolds should, but he’s unique because he started and relieved in the same season for a few years, never becoming a full-time reliever). Gordon is back in the pack with Wilbur Wood, Dave Righetti and Derek Lowe, probably a bit behind them.

Gordon has a better case than Aaron Boone, with three All-Star selections and one season leading the American League in saves (1998 with 46). He delivered on a then-record 54 consecutive save opportunities. But neither 138 career wins nor 158 career saves is anywhere near Hall of Fame territory, so he doesn’t get enough benefit from having pitched well in both roles to have a shot at Cooperstown.

Source note: Unless noted otherwise, facts in this post come from Baseball-Reference.com or the Baseball Hall of Fame website.