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Monthly Archives: January 2003

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BASEBALL HASN’T BEEN BERY,

BASEBALL HASN’T BEEN BERY, BERY GOOD TO MINNIE


“What more could I ask of life? I came from nowhere. I worked in the sugar fields as a boy. It was a tough life. I had one pair of shoes and one pair of pants. But I always had a smile on my face. My mother and father…taught me to be a good citizen, a good human being, and to love life.” Minnie Minoso (from “Diamond Greats”, by Rich Wescott—appropriated from the New Historical Abstract

I didn’t know much about Minnie Minoso, so I dipped into my ‘lil baseball library to see what I could find. I also ran Minoso through Google.com and discovered not only are there books on Minoso’s career, but two that are written by Minoso himself (with some help of course): “Extra Innings: My Life in Baseball,” and “Just Call me Minnie: My Six Decades in Baseball.” That’s good news. I have some book hunting to do, which gives me at least one more thing to look forward to this coming baseball summer.

Here is what I dug up from my selection of books:


Sooner or later, whenever we talk about hitting, someone will ask me if there will be another .400 hitter in the major leagues. Of all the so-called “sluggers” in the big time today, the only one I can think of who really qualifies in all respects is Minnie Minoso.

Ted Williams, as told to Paul Gardner, Baseball Stars of 1955 (also appropriated from The New Historical Abstract by Bill James).

Bill James makes an argument for Minoso as a Hall of Famer in his book, “What Ever Happened to the Hall of Fame”:


My off-the-wall Hall of Fame favorite, if I have one, is Minnie Minoso. Minnie doesn’t seem to draw much support, but I’m not sure why. He’s a .300 hitter, give or take a couple of points, plus he had speed (led the league in stolen bases three times, triples three times), and some power (drove in a hundred runs four times; was one of oldest men to ever drive in a hundred runs). He was a good defensive player who played with tremendous enthusiasm, and was very popular while active.

What many people don’t recognize about Minoso is that although he has substantial Hall of Fame credentials as is, he is missing probably his best years due to his race. Minnie came along while the color line was still crumbling. His career inside organized ball started in the 1948 season; he was already 25. He hit .525 in eleven games at Dayton, which earned him a major league look at the start of the ’49 season, but when he went 3-for-16 they had no real track record by which to evaluate him, and sent him out. He had to go beat up the Pacific Coast League for two years to get back to the majors, by which time he was 28.

Most players’ best years are behind them by the age of 28. If you compare Minoso’s record from age 28 on to the records of the Hall of Fame left fielders from age 28 on, you realize how good Minnie was…

James then shows a chart ranking the 16 Hall of Fame left fielders in both Hits and RBI from the age 28 on. Only Musial, Yaz, Lou Brock and “Orator” Jim O’Rourke had more hits than Minoso, who is ahead of Ted Williams and Billy Williams and Pops Stargell and Goose Goslin. And only Musial, Yaz, Pops, and Teddy fuggin Ballgame had more RBI.

James continues:


Very few of the Hall of Fame left fielders can match what Minoso did in the same time frame…If Minoso had been white, he might well have gotten started early enough to get 3,000 hits. He needed 1,040 hits by age 27–fewer than Goslin or Manush or Medwick had collected.

James made some of the same points in the second edition of the Historical Abstract. Excuse the repetition:


Much of the argument that has been applied to Enos Slaughter, and with merit, could also be applied to Minnie Minoso. But for a very brief trail, he didn’t play in the major leagues until the age of twenty-eight, in large part because of his color—yet, since he played in the major leagues so long, few people think about the fact that his best years may have been behind him before he ever got a chance, and that his entire career was spent in what is ordinarily a player’s decline phase. His highest batting average, .326, was in his rookie year in 1951.

As a player, he was tightly similar to Slaughter, a fast, hustling, line-drive hitter with medium-range power. They were about the same size, both very popular players. Their batting and slugging averages are virtually identical (batting averages are .300 and .298, edge to Slaughter; slugging averages are .459 and .453 edge to Minoso. Carl Furillo is in the same group, at .299 and .458). Like Slaughter, Minoso played until he was well past forty, as a hustling, aggressive player of this quality often will. Then he went and played in the Mexican League for another ten years.

I ran an experiment with Minoso, reversing the Brock2 system to try to project what his career stats might have been had he been called up earlier. The Brock2 system is a complex method that attempts to project a player’s final career career statistics, given his performance up to a certain point in time. What I did in the case of Minoso was to try to plug into the formula a combination of accomplishments at an earlier age which would create the projection that the player would later do exactly what Minoso later did…The method estimates that, if he had come up at the age of twenty-two, Minnie Minoso’s career statistics would be those shown below:

Games R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB AVG.

2863 1970 3079 534 168 318 1429 1272 .309

If James made a case for Minoso as a Hall of Famer, Allen Barra asked, then why is he so ignored?

From his insightful but all too brief article, “Minnie Minoso: The New Latin Dynasty”:


The first dark-skinned Latin player, I was told by the hall of Fame, was Cuban-born Saturnino Orestes Arrieta Minoso, “The Cuban Comet,” better known to fans as Minnie. Minnie Minoso made his debut in 1949, two years after Jackie Robinson, playing for Bill Veeck’s Cleveland Indians. Larry Doby, who also made his debut in 1947, shortly after Jackie, is recognized as the AL’s first black players, but what about Minoso? What must it have been like for him, to be both black and Hispanic? There have been shelves full of material on Jackie Robinson, and in recent years baseball historians have started to catch up to Larry Doby, but who knows about Minnie Minoso? We rightfully mourn Jackie Robinson’s lost years, but Minnie Minoso was a year older than Jackie Robinson [Barra contends Minoso was 29, contrary to what James asserted].

How tough was it for Minoso? According to Jules Tygiel, in “Baseball’s Great Experiment”:


In 1950, Luke Easter’s first full season in the majors, pitchers hit him ten times, tying him for the league lead with Al Rosen, one of the few Jewish players in the majors. The following year rookie Minnie Minoso surpassed both Easter and Rosen. With less than a third of the season gone, Minoso had been struck ten times, and many were “deliberate beanballs.” At the season’s end he totaled sixteen, one less than the rookie record. At one point Minoso suggested that he could end the barrage with “a bucket of white paint.” Later in the season he complained, as depicted in a dialect by a Sporting News writer [before political correctness was a gleam in your mutha's eye], “You get it so bad, I theenk I wear a headguard even in bed. Maybe somebody throw at me when I sleep too. I don’t know whatta kind of baseball this is. Yes, you try to get the man out. You brush back. But you not try to keel him.” During his first four seasons, pitchers hit Minoso 65 times, 8 in the head.

Here is Minnie Minoso himself from Danny Peary’s, “We Played the Game”:


In those first few years in the majors, some teams would call me names. Jimmy Dykes, the manager of Philadelphia, used to call me every name in the book—”you black nigger so-and-so.” One or two of his players would go along with him. After the game he’d come up to the hotel and say, “Hell, Mr. Minoso.” I was wondering how he could now be so polite…. No one on the New York Yankees ever called me a name, so I admired and respected everyone. Even Casey Stengel, who was a comedian, was a great sportsman. I was prepared for the racial insults from opposing players and fans in towns we visited. They went through one ear and out the other. Learned from my parents. The only way I’d answer is with a smile. They’d say “You black…” and I’d flash an insincere grin. Sometimes I’d insult them back in Spanish, warning them, “I can tell you worse things than you said to me, and I can tell you without you knowing what I said.”

“Minnie Minoso was one the funniest guys I was ever around,” Les Moss told Danny Peary, “When he thought an umpire made a bad call, he’d argue in half English and half Spanish and you wouldn’t know what the heck he was saying.”

In this regard, maybe Minoso had an emotional outlet that the American-born black players didn’t.
Allen Barra continues:


And what of that Rookie of the Year Award? Gil McDougald was a fine player, but in 1951 he hit .263 with 14 home runs and 63 RBI and 72 runs in 131 games; Minoso hit .326 with 10 home runs, 76 RBI, and 112 runs. He led the league in stolen bases with 31 (McDougald had 14) and triples with 14 (Gil had 4). His on-base [percentage] was .422 and his slugging average, .500; McDougald was, respectively, .396 and .488. Gil McDougald was a fine rookie; Minnie Minoso was an outstanding one. His 1951 season taught a lesson to Latin players for the next forty-odd years: you will have to do better than the non-Latin player just to be noticed, and far better to win an award.

James compares Minoso favorably against Enos Slaughter—apparently the ideal partner, and Larry Doby.


…Minnie Minoso never had a prime. At the same age when Minoso got a chance to play full time, twenty-nine, Larry Doby had only seven seasons left to play and would lead the league in just two important batting categories, home runs and RBI, both in 1954. At age twenty-nine, Enos Slaughter still had fourteen years of big league ball left but would never lead the league in an category but triples (1949). From age twenty-nine on, Minnie Minoso led the league in hits once, triples three times, total bases once, and stolen bases three times. From age twenty-nine on, Larry Doby never hit .300; from age twenty-nine on, Enos Slaughter hit .300 six times; and from age twenty-nine on, Minnie Minoso hit over .300 eight times.

If Larry Doby and Enos Slaughter deserve to be in Cooperstown, doesn’t Minne Minoso also deserve to be? And if Enos Slaughter was cut a little slack for his military service, and Larry Doby for the immense burden of being the league’s first black player, who about cutting Minnie Minoso a little for beginning his career at a point when most players are at the halfway mark?

[Minoso] remains the Invisible Hall of Famer, and in this respect his career set a pattern for Latin stars that have followed. Latin ballplayers, white, black, or of mixed parentage, are still baseball’s invisible men. Of the twenty players chosen to start the 2001 All Star game, eight were Latinos. If Pedro Martinez wasn’t injured, that would have been nine of twenty…If pressed to pick the single biggest difference between the game before 1950 and the game as it is played now, I’d have to cite the dominance of Latin players.

“Minnie is to Latin players what Jackie Robinson is to black players. He was the first Latin player to become what in today’s language is a ‘superstar,’” said Orlando Cepeda.

Now that the former players have something to say about the vote, you would hope that Cepeda, and Ted Williams were not alone in their acknowledgement of Minoso’s significance.

Personally, I can’t wait to read more about him. I’ll keep you posted when I do.

MEANWHILE, AT THE HALL

MEANWHILE, AT THE HALL OF JUSTICE

Part One

There are several good articles on the Veterans Committee which have been published recently that are worth investigating.

The first, “A Brief History of the Veterans Committee,” written by Neal Traven for Baseball Prospectus, is a concise overview, and a great place to start, especially for those who aren’t one hundred percent sure what the Veterans Committee is all about.

Tom Verducci from SI, also wrote an insightful piece, delineating the newly revamped Veterans Committee’s selection process:


Give the Hall of Fame credit. Its purpose for re-engineering the Veterans Committee was noble. It wanted to end the back-room cronyism and bring more voices into play. Now 84 members will vote: 58 Hall of Famers, 13 Frick Award winners (those in the broadcasters’ wing of the Hall), 11 Spink Award winners (from the writers’ wing) and two members of the old committee whose terms have not yet expired. A player must be named on at least 75 percent of the ballots to gain enshrinement. Great. But creating the ballot for the new committee proved troublesome.

First, the Hall, with help from Elias Sports Bureau, identified the more than 1,400 players who played at least 10 years in the big leagues, up to and including the 1981 season. A 10-person committee of writers and historians whittled that list to 200.

Next, a screening committee of 60 writers (two from each major league city with one team and four from those with two) was individually charged with voting for 25 players from that list of 200. I served on that committee, and it was the most difficult assignment I had all year…

Remember that cheesy promotion last season when fans were asked to vote for the 10 greatest moments in baseball history? The voting populace, many of whom used the Internet to cast their ballot, had no sense of history. Basically, if they didn’t see it on SportsCenter, people didn’t vote for it. That’s why Kirk Gibson’s home run made the top 10 and Bobby Thomson’s didn’t, among other short-sighted mistakes.

That same lack of perspective — or worse, was it laziness? — poisoned the screening committee results. Hey, with 200 names, the 25-slice pie could have been cut many ways. There is no “right” outcome. But we do know more historical balance was needed. To virtually disregard the first three-quarters of a century of baseball is wrong, if not shameful.

Moreover, the Hall of Fame asked six of its former players to serve as another sort of screening committee. They were charged with picking five players from the list of 200. Four of the five players they selected were on the writers’ ballot. Their fifth choice, while not identified, was added to the other 25, putting the ballot at 26.
And that’s how just about everybody who retired before 1950 got hosed. Of the 26 who made the final cut:

none retired prior to 1929.

only four played their entire careers before World War II.

19 played in the 1960s.

Now, falling through another crack, are those old-timers who don’t show up on the radar of the screening committee. And after this well-intentioned process, the fear is that they are gone for good.

Sadly, there aren’t many true veterans on either ballot for the Veterans Committee to consider. The Veterans Committee has been revamped all right. They ought to call it the Baby Boomer Committee now.

Marc Hugunin applied Bill James’ Kelter List to the group of twenty-six players up for consideration by the Veterans Committee over at Baseball Primer. For general reference, those questions are as follows:

1. Was he ever regarded as the best player in baseball? Did anybody, while he was active, ever suggest that he was the best player in baseball?

2. Was he the best player on his team?

3. Was he the best player in baseball at his position? Was he the best player in the league at his position?

4. Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races?

5. Was he good enough that he could play regularly after passing his prime?

6. Is he the very best baseball player in history who is not in the Hall of Fame?

7. Are most players who have comparable statistics in the Hall of Fame?

8. Do the player’s numbers meet Hall of Fame standards?

9. Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?

10. Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame?

11. How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close?

12. How many All-Star-type seasons did he have? How many All-Star games did he play in? Did most of the players who played in this many All-Star games go into the Hall of Fame?

13. If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win the pennant?

14. What impact did the player have on baseball history? Was he responsible for any rule changes? Did he introduce any new equipment? Did he change the game in any way?

15. Did the player uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?

OK, those are the questions, here is Hugunin’s conclusion:


It has been suggested that questions #1 and 6 are the only ones that really matter in HoF voting. In the case of the veteran’s ballot, a clear “yes” cannot be said of any player in answer to these questions. So the hair-splitting of the rest of the Keltner List becomes more helpful here than with the BBWAA ballot.

So, taking all of the questions and answers into account, it seems clear that Santo, Allen, Minoso, Gordon, Boyer, Oliva, Pinson, Flood and Bonds are the best candidates on the veteran’s ballot. Each of these players can appeal to eight or more of the above to make their case, with Santo able to appeal to the most areas of analysis-ten.
On WS, Santo was arguably the best player in MLB in ’66 and ’67, at which time he was also the best player on his team and at his position. He played more than 2000 games and may be the best eligible player not in the HoF, overall and at his position. He had several MVP-type and many All-Star caliber seasons. If he was the best player on his team, it could at least contend for a pennant.

No other player on the veteran’s ballot can put quite so many items on the plus side of his case, though if you set aside Allen’s demerits on the so-called character issue he might even rank ahead of Santo. I don’t wish to debate the merits of the demerits, only to point out that they have surely hurt Allen’s historical ranking and may hurt him on this ballot. But if you set that aside, he is probably the top-rated player on the ballot on questions #2, 6 and 10.

Minoso probably benefits even more than Allen from this analysis, in the sense that everybody knows about Allen’s positives and negatives and has made up his mind. Minoso’s accomplishments have, in contrast, been somewhat forgotten. His late start diminishes his career numbers and the shadow of Ted Williams diminishes his peak. But he benefits the most from consideration of question #9, and scores highly on his MVP-type and All-Star type seasons and comps.

Gordon, having retired 50 years ago, also benefits from the close scrutiny of the Keltner List. He scores highly among second basemen, for his pennant race and post-season performances, and for his MVP season. Boyer scores well for his longtime leadership of the Cardinals team, including a team that won a World Championship. Oliva has the best comps and a good record in MVP voting.

Pinson’s comps are better than most, Flood stands out on defense and for his stand against the reserve clause, and Bonds at his position and for his then unusual power/speed combo.

Torre, Wills, Colavito, Lolich and Reynolds can make claims against several of the categories but lack a real high point to hang their hat on. Hodges ranks highly on certain elements but perhaps not enough of them.

On the other side of the coin, one could argue that the BBWAA has done its job correctly in determining that none of these 26 players is a HoFer. It is shocking how few of them were ever even the best player on his own team, and how few of them led his team to a pennant. Few of them could play beyond his prime, and their comps, as a whole, stink.

But I would hope that some combination of Santo, Allen, Minoso and Gordon is selected.

Part Two

I have no problem with Santo or Dick Allen going in, and I love Joe Gordon, so I’ve got no beef there either. I expect Marvin Miller, who is on the composite ballot, to be respected properly while he’s still around to experience it. The man seems bitter enough; let him enjoy his just due. No matter how much I’m fascinated by Curt Flood, I don’t know that I’d put him. Believe me if they ever did, I’d never be happier with a selection that I may have reservations about; even though he’s dead, Flood deserves all the public tribute and recognition that he can get.

But the more I’ve thought about it over the past couple of weeks, the more convinced I am that Minnie Minoso is a Hall of Famer. I had read Allen Barra’s profile on Minoso last summer in his collection, “Clearing the Bases,” and was duly impressed, both with Minoso’s talents as a player, and his importance as the first dark-skinned Latino to play in the major leagues. Barra asked a pertinent question: why is Minoso, the Jackie Robinson of Latin ballplayers not in the Hall of Fame? Especially when his numbers are comparable to say, Larry Doby.

My father has wondered out loud for years why Larry Doby has been so overlooked in comparison with Robinson? This is coming from a man who modestly asserts that he’s “second-to-none as a Jackie fan.” The point is not to take anything away from Robinson, but to note just how neglected Doby is in comparison. Being the first black player in the American League has to amount to something, no? But if Doby has been shortchanged in some way by coming in second to Robinson, then Minoso doesn’t place at all.

It just seems odd. Especially considering the socially-sensitive culture we live in. Where are the Latin protest groups? How come no one is fighting the good fight for Minnie Minoso? This seems particularly alarming when you consider how popular he was during his heyday in the 1950′s in Chicago with the Go-Go White Sox.

“There is a reason they call it the second city,” opined my old man.

Casting all aspersions aside, it’s a pretty big deal when the first black player in Chicago, an effusive, and personable star, has a remarkable career in many ways, only to be summarily dissed by the baseball establishment. I can’t figure why the media hasn’t picked up on it. The only thing I can guess is that perhaps Minoso is seen in retrospect as something of a clown. The old dude who kept coming back for a couple of at bats. Or maybe he’s not keen right now because he isn’t hard enough. There is no edge. And if no one is going to come out and straight up say Minoso was an Uncle Tom, maybe that’s what they are thinking. How cool is that? How tough is that. It’s a similar brand of scorn and neglect that greeted in some quarters as Louis Armstrong throughout his old age. I may be completely off, but I’m at a loss as to why there isn’t more support in the media and amongst baseball fans for Minoso.

GRAND OPENING The Yankees

GRAND OPENING

The Yankees held what is being called the biggest press conference in team history yesterday, to introduce their new left-fielder, who coincidentally is the most popular player in Japan, Hideki Matsui. John Harper writes today in the Daily News that the “press conference was…big…flowery,” and “reeking of self-congratulation.” Nothing suprising there.

Bob Raissman adds another piece in the News about the effects the Japanese media will have on the Yankees this season. He quotes Lou Pinella, who has had plenty of experience managing a Japanese phenom: “Let me put it this way, Joe’s going to earn his money this year,” Piniella said. “He’s going to have to spend more time dealing with the media.”

Joe Torre interrupted his vacation in Hawaii to attend the affair, and bristled at the recent criticisms Boss George laid on him, and his staff (Harper is one of the first local columnists to predict that Bronx Zoo-like craziness could be in store for Torre and his team this year; Jack Curry hinted as much in the Times yeserday too):


“My coaches work hard,” Torre snapped. “We’re all disappointed; I was disappointed. I was worried about Anaheim. We all knew they were good, that they could cause you problems because they don’t strike out.

“Even though when you’re wearing this uniform, you understand you’re expected to get to the World Series. But we won 103 games. If we were going to slack off, we’d have done it when we clinched the division. We just got beat.

“We didn’t stop working. Sure, I’m disappointed, but I don’t look back and say I’d have done something different.”

“My job is to put things together best I can,” Torresaid. “The eight starters – sure it’s nice to say use five of them and put three in the bullpen – but you’re not dealing with playing cards in the basement. You’re dealing with people.”

“I told (Weaver) last year when I put him in the bullpen that he was one of the future guys on this ballclub and that he’s going to be a starter,” Torre said. “But again, everybody can’t start.”

Hey Joe, never let em see ya sweat, babe.

COLON BLOCK PARTY

The Yankees may still have something to say about Montreal starter, Bartolo Colon after all. Here is an excerpt from the backpage cover story in today’s Daily News:


Sources told The Daily News yesterday that general manager Brian Cashman spent much of the day trying to negotiate a three-way deal with the Expos and either the Marlins or White Sox that would involve 20-game winner Bartolo Colon.

The primary motivation for the Yankees to make a deal is to keep Colon away from the Red Sox, who have been trying to make a deal for the Expos righthander.

In the deals under consideration, Colon would not end up in pinstripes but with the third team, Florida or Chicago, which would send the Yankees a top prospect. The Expos would get the Yanks’ Orlando Hernandez, but would have to pay only a portion of the $4 million-$5 million salary he is expected to be awarded in arbitration.

The Boston Globe confirmed the story, adding:


Meanwhile, the Sox’ hopes of landing a starting pitcher from Montreal – they were working on a multiteam deal that would have landed them Javier Vazquez – were dashed as Montreal was on the verge of sending ace Bartolo Colon to the White Sox in a three-team deal involving the Yankees. The Expos would also receive first baseman Jeff Liefer from the White Sox. Expos GM Omar Minaya did not return a phone call late last night seeking confirmation.

The Yankees planned to send righthander Orlando Hernandez to the Expos – and pay most, if not all, of his salary (he made $3.2 million last season and is arbitration eligible) – while receiving righthanded reliever Antonio Osuna from the White Sox, for whom he was 8-2 with a 3.86 ERA in 59 games. The White Sox apparently needed to move Osuna’s $2.4 million salary in order to clear enough payroll space to take on Colon’s $8.25 million salary. Ostensibly, Osuna would replace Ramiro Mendoza, who signed with the Sox as a free agent.

CLOSE BUT NO MILLAR? WHAT GIVES?

There are conflicting reports this morning regarding the Red Sox possible aquisition of former Florida Marlins first baseman, Kevin Millar.

According to the AP:


Former Marlins outfielder Kevin Millar intends to reject a waiver claim Tuesday by the Boston Red Sox, saying he will go through with plans to play in Japan this year.

Millar agreed last week to a $6.2 million, two-year contract with Chunichi of the Central League, a deal with a player option for 2005 that could make the agreement worth more than $10 million.

Florida put Millar on waivers to get him off the Marlins’ 40-man roster. Boston claimed him, but as a veteran player Millar had the right to reject the claim.

The Marlins issued a statement saying Millar’s agent, Sam Levinson, had informed them he was rejecting the claim and his client would play in Japan.

Levinson, reached late Tuesday night, confirmed Millar has an agreement with the Dragons and said he expects Boston’s claim to be rejected by the end of Wednesday

But in today’s Boston Globe, Bob Hohler and Gordon Edes are praising rookie GM Theo Epstein for pulling off “one of the shrewdest acquisitions in recent Red Sox lore”:


Theo Epstein yesterday defied tradition by claiming Kevin Millar off waivers from the Florida Marlins as a prelude to extricating him from his contract with Japan’s Chunichi Dragons and signing him to play first base at Fenway Park.

Millar, a career .296 hitter whom the Sox have long coveted, planned to reject the waiver claim, according to a source close to him. By doing that, Millar would become a free agent, severing his ties to the Marlins and leaving him encumbered only by the two-year, $6.2 million deal he signed last week with the Dragons after the Japanese team paid the Marlins $1.2 million for the right to negotiate with him.

The Sox would then compensate the Dragons to release Millar, according to a source familiar with how the scenario is expected to unfold. That would free Millar to sign with the Sox, which both sides expect to occur.

”We’re confident we can reach a resolution of this matter that will make all sides happy and leave everybody whole,” said Epstein, who declined to discuss details of the multilayered endeavor.

By claiming Millar off waivers after the Marlins sought his unconditional release, the Sox broke an informal code by which one team generally does not interfere with another club’s transaction with an overseas organization such as the Dragons. The Marlins were formerly owned by Sox principal owner John W. Henry.

”They broke a gentleman’s agreement,” a Marlins source said. ”This is [b.s]. Yeah, we’re [peeved].”

Epstein expressed a smidgeon of contrition.

”It was not our intention to violate any unwritten rule,” he said. ”We were simply putting our best foot forward.”

Officially, the Marlins released a statement that said they had conferred with Millar’s agent, Sam Levinson.

”Levinson has told the Marlins that Kevin Millar will reject the Red Sox claim and play for the Chunichi Dragons in 2003,” the Marlins said.

The statement was half-right, anyway, since Millar would reject the claim. But he made clear after he signed with the Dragons that he would have stayed in the major leagues for less money if he were given the opportunity. He lost that chance when the Marlins effectively sold him to Chunichi, of the Japanese Central League, clearing the way for the Dragons to sign him to the richest contract in the team’s history.

Millar, 31, earned $1.05 million from Florida last season, when he hit .306 with 16 homers and 57 RBIs. He was eligible for arbitration, in which he could have doubled his salary. But the Marlins, who used Millar mostly in the outfield, opted to acquire Todd Hollandsworth and Gerald Williams, making Millar expendable.

”If some major league team had offered me $1.5 million and told me I could play every day, I probably would have taken it,” he was quoted as saying after he signed with Chunichi in a deal that also included a $3 million option for a third season. ”But to walk away from that much money on the table in Japan, I don’t think it would have been responsible for my family.”

Enter the Sox, who tried in vain several times over the last year to obtain Millar in a trade. While the Sox seemed to have little hope in recent days of overcoming the thicket of major league rules and international legal entanglements to land the righthanded hitter, they quietly laid the groundwork for the surprise move by exploring the possibilities and apparently satisfying themselves that the Dragons and Millar would be open to their initiative.

”It’s something we haven’t done lightly,” Epstein said. ”We researched it so we could proceed without infringing on the rights of the Marlins, the Chunichi Dragons, or Kevin Millar. We were comfortable making the claim when we were confident there were several possible resolutions of this move and all of them would involve the teams being made whole and not ending up with less than what they started with.”

The Marlins, despite their anger over Epstein’s methods, ultimately should have no complaint over the financial fallout because they would not forfeit their payment from the Dragons. And the Sox could compensate the Dragons by giving them outfielder/first baseman Benny Agbayani, whose production is similar to Millar’s and who is popular in Japan both because of his Hawaiian roots and his appearance with the Mets in the 2000 World Series. The Dragons also would receive cash from the Sox, presumably at least the amount Chunichi paid the Marlins.

The Globe usually gets things right, so I assume Millar is in fact going to Beantown. I’ll update the story as it unfolds…

ROBBIE REDUX Bob Klapisch

ROBBIE REDUX

Bob Klapisch updated the piece he wrote on Robbie Alomar for the Bergan Record last week for espn today. It is essentially the same article, but worth looking at if you missed it the first time round. Alomar predicts, “I’m going to have a great year,” and I tend to agree with him.


“I’ve done a lot of thinking, and I know I’m ready for New York now,” Alomar said the other day. “I know what to expect now with the fans, the media, just New York in general. I’m not just going to have a good year, I’m ready to have a great year.”

For this to happen, Alomar makes only one on-field request of new manager Art Howe. He wants to bat in the same spot in the batting order every day — a complete break with former manager Bobby Valentine’s philosophy that a fluid lineup produces better offensive results.

Alomar wouldn’t mind batting second ahead of, say, Cliff Floyd, but it remains to be seen who GM Steve Phillips will find to play third base. Alomar was mildly critical of the Mets’ decision to let Edgardo Alfonzo leave as a free agent, and says, “whoever we get to play third has to be able to hit in the middle of the lineup. We need another right-handed bat.”

Alomar is the first to admit he was practically invisible as a right-handed hitter last summer, batting just .204 with only nine extra-base hits in 162 at-bats. Much of the problem, he admits, was self-induced, or as he put it, “putting too much pressure on myself.

“I know what I’m capable of and I tried to do more than that,” he said. “I was never able to totally relax.”

His anxiety contributed to an overall sense of unease in the Met clubhouse, one the club is finally addressing. Not only did the Mets sign stand-up professionals like Tom Glavine and Mike Stanton this winter, but they traded Rey Ordonez to the Devil Rays — his fate sealed when the shortstop called Mets fans “stupid” at the end of the 2002 season.

Silly me. I thought the root of Alomar’s problems was the fact he, not Mike Piazza, was the gay Met. Just a horseshit hunch, but if the shoe fits…

MY FAVORITE THINGS OF 2002

MY FAVORITE THINGS OF 2002

II. The Best Game I Sorta Seen

I was as happy as any Yankee fan could be when Boss George brought Jason Giambi to the Yankees after the 2001 campaign. Although I understood the sentimental attachment fans had for Tino Martinez, I felt Tino’s career as a Yankee was a perfect bridge between superstars Mattingly and Giambi, and therefore didn’t feel overly emotional about his leaving.

I attended the first home series of the 2002 season at the Stadium and strained to hold my tongue in the face of the boo’s that cascaded down on the Yankees’ new slugger. Let them have their say, I reasoned with myself, while I was secretly stewing. They miss Tino, and are entitled to have their say. Whatever. I really wanted to lash out and call the boo birds a bunch of ignorant slobs, but why fight nature’s cycle? It was only a matter of time before they would be showering Giambo with cheers.

Later in the spring, I developed a case of dizziness as a result of a stomach virus. It was a minor version of what native New Yorker, Jamal Mashburn, power-forward for the erstwhile Charlotte Hornets, contracted during the playoffs. New York is a tough town for dizziness. Everything is in motion. Needless to say, the subways and crowds of pedestrians became a temporary challenge.

This was the condition I found myself in when I went to see the latest “Star Wars” installment during it’s opening week in late May. I had plans with some of my closest friends to catch an afternoon showing at the Zeigfield and then catch the Yankee-Minnesota game later that night (my girl caught up with us for the second leg of the tour at the Stadium). Well, standing on line for the movie on 5th avenue was unsettling in and of itself, but when the movie started, I knew I was in for a long day. The entire first reel of the movie was not meant for those with vertigo, however mild my case may have been. I closed my eyes a lot, and breathed deeply. The deep breathing proved problematic, as there was a toddler next to me with enough flatulence to knock a buzzard of a shit wagon.

When we made it to the Bronx, it was already raining lightly. Our seats were in the upper tier section out in left field, which didn’t help my stomach settle down any. Or the dizziness. But as uncomfortable as I was, part of me was fascinated by the strange sensation of being so unnerved by the open space, and sitting so high up. I’d catch the flight of a bird sail past, and feel like I was going to fall over. I’m not one to leave a game until the final out is recorded, but I resigned myself to leave when I couldn’t take it any longer.

The Yanks fell behind early, but came storming back, handing Mike Mussina a cushy 8-3 lead, which he promptly pissed away. After six full, I had had enough (of the vertigo, not the Yanks), so Em and I left our gang, and headed home with the Yanks now trailing, 9-8.

The score remained the same when we got back to my place. Emily and I were embroiled in some deep emotional strudel at that time, so I blew off the end of the game in favor of hashing things out with her. Just as we were falling asleep the phone rang. My friend Liz, who was still at the Stadium, reported that Bernie had just hit a solo shot to tie the game at 9 in the bottom of the ninth. It wasn’t the time to get overly excited, so I gave her specific instructions not to call again unless she had good news to report.

She didn’t call back.

I checked my answering machine in the morning. Nothing. That was that, I thought.

Emily and I picked up where we had left off the night before in the Land of Total Heaviosity, talking for hours, exhausting us silly. Eventually I stepped out to get the papers, get the papers. It was still raining.

As fate would have it, when I turned the tabloids over to check the back pages, I discovered that Jason Giambi had hit a grand slam in the bottom of the 14th to win the damn thing for the Yanks. Holy fuggin sheet. I was way too excited for Giambi to feel badly for having missed it myself. Later, when I saw the replays I imagined Joe Torre greeting Giambi like Paul Sorvino welcoming the young Henry Hill outside the courthouse after his first bust in “Good Fellas”: “Hey, you broke your cherry!”

Cue: “Rags to Riches.”

I was only sorry that I wasn’t there to give the big fella his props in person. But then, he didn’t have to deal with too many boo bird after that night, did he?

ON AND ON

Travis Mutchell, who covers the Yankees with a sharp eye, and an even sharper wit, has reached the 5,000-hit milestone at his site, Boy of Summer. I want to take the time to not only give him a shout of hearty congradulations, but to recommend his page to anyone with even a remote interest in the Bronx Bombers. Even if you hate the Yanks, check it out. It’s good and good for you.

DAMNED YANKEE Newsday reported

DAMNED YANKEE

Newsday reported last week that despite the persistent rumors, super-prospect Drew Henson has no intentions of leaving baseball for a career in football. That’s too bad because right now Henson doesn’t look like much more than one of George’s boffo busts.

In his latest chat rap, espn minor-league analyst John Sickels commented, “I have several questions here about Henson. I’m very concerned about him…he’s shown no growth as a prospect at all, and in some ways has gone backward. If he doesn’t turn it around this year, I don’t think he will.”

THAT’S A WRAP

According to the AP, “The Venezuelan Winter League canceled the rest of its season Monday because it can’t guarantee security, supplies and media coverage during an anti-government strike.”

David Pinto has a great link to instapundit, for anyone who is interested in reading more about the tumult in Venezuela.

Pinto also tracked down a lengthy article on baseball in Latin America from the Star-Tribune yesterday that is well worth checking out.

TELL ME SOMETHING I DON’T KNOW

There is a piece in today’s Boston Globe suggesting that the Red Sox have more interest in Javier Vazquez than in Bartolo Colon. Duh. The Boston Herald chims in too.

LOOKING AHEAD Here are

LOOKING AHEAD

Here are two articles that look forward to the 2003 season: one by Peter Gammons of espn, the other by Tom Singer of mlb.com. We’ll check back in October to see what to make of it all.

VETERAN UMP PASSES AWAY

VETERAN UMP PASSES AWAY

Durwood Merrill, an American League umpire for 23 years, died Saturday at the age of 64. Jerome Holtzman contributes an obituary for mlb.com.

This story is a keeper, if you haven’t heard it already:


A 6-foot, 200-pounder, Merrill had a thick neck and a barrel chest and seemed intimidating behind the plate. But he always had a good sense of humor. Once at Fenway Park, a little old lady leaned over the rail and yelled, “If you were my husband, I’d feed you poison.”

Merrill shouted back, “Lady, if I were married to you, I’d eat it.”

JOSE, CAN YOU READ?

JOSE, CAN YOU READ?

Alan Schwarz has a nice appreciation of Jim Brosnan’s seminal book “The Long Season” (1960) in light of Jose Canseco’s pending tell-all biography. Schwarz notes that Bronsan’s book opened the door that Jim Bouton’s “Ball Four” would kick down nearly a decade later:


When “The Long Season” came out in 1960, a young pitcher named Jim Bouton was pitching for the Yankees’ Carolina League team in Greensboro, N.C. He bought it, read it, and decided to carry some of Brosnan’s sensibilities to the big leagues.

“I really enjoyed it tremendously,” Bouton told me of “The Long Season” several years ago. “I remember when I was reading the book, the parts that excited me the most were whenever he would quote any of the players or coaches … It was fascinating to me what the ballplayers actually said to each other during games, in the bullpens, or after games. It really revealed them as personalities. What were these guys like? How did they think? What do they talk about? What’s going on in their heads, you know?”

BILL JAMES, YANKS IN FULL EFFECT

Bill James’ fingerprints are all over the Red Sox bullpen reconfiguration this winter. Theo Epstein didn’t need to be convinced by the sabertmetrics guru either, reports Gordon Edes in his Sunday column in the Globe.

In a seperate item, Edes offers a look at the Yankees financial muscle. “Baseball historian Glenn Stout, who collaborated with Richard A. Johnson, curator of the Sports Museum of New England, on the definitive history of the Red Sox, “Red Sox Century,” last year did the same for “Yankees Century,” another seminal work. Stout addressed the subject of the Yankees’ purported financial advantage over their rivals in an essay titled ‘YANKEE$’ Here’s an excerpt:


”Of course it’s the money. But it’s not only the money. And that distinction makes all the difference.

”Since 1903 the New York Yankees have been among the wealthiest teams in baseball, but it is incorrect to attribute all of their success to the size of their bank account. In fact, for most of their tenure atop the baseball world one or more other teams have had just as much if not more money than the Yankees. But no other team has spent it as wisely and as well.

”Under Jacob Ruppert, the Yankees were probably the wealthiest team in baseball. But the personal resources of Tom Yawkey, who purchased the Red Sox in 1933, far outstripped those of the Yankees. For much of the next 45 years, Boston’s payroll was larger than that of the Yankees. The Milwaukee Braves of the 1950s, Walter O’Malley’s Dodgers in the 1960s, and the Cardinals of August Busch were all similarly capable of outspending the Yankees.

”In recent years, under George Steinbrenner, the Yankees’ financial advantage – much of it due to a series of lucrative television contracts – has in general been more pronounced. At any given time during Steinbrenner’s reign, however, there have been as many as a half-dozen other teams with similar resources – Ewing Kaufman’s Kansas City Royals, Gene Autry’s California Angels, and Ted Turner’s Atlanta Braves, for example. It is interesting to note that from 1982 to 1993, despite the abundance of their resources, the Yankees won nothing.

”In 2001 the Dodgers and the Red Sox both had payrolls virtually identical to New York’s. The difference in wins and losses, however, was dramatic. The truth is that the Yankees have done more with their money than other clubs. Consider this: Since 1923 the Yankees have spent close to a billion dollars on salaries, making the average cost of each of their 26 world championships around $40 million. Their cost per world championship has been less than any other team in baseball.”

SHINJO’S BACK: GODZILLA’S IN TOWN

While Yankee fans eagerly await the unvieling of Hideki Matsui at the Stadium tomorrow, the Mets signed outfielder Tsuyoshi Shinjo to a one-year deal worth $600,000 over the weekend (he can earn another $400,000 in performance bonuses based on plate appearances). My cousin Gabe and I are both very pleased to see the androgynous (re: girl) Shinjo back with the Mets.

Here is a take on the deal from a Phillies fan’s perspective, courtesy of Mike’s Baseball Rants:


The AP says that [Shinjo] was signed as insurance in case the projected regular center fielder, Roger Cedeno fails. This is a tremendous vote of confidence for Cedeno and also a poor plan. Should Cedeno fail, are the Mets prepared to eat the remaining three years and $14.5 M on his contract? They have been rumored to be shopping him around, but it is extremely doubtful that anyone would be willing to take on his salary.

I’m confused. Wasn’t Timo Perez basically the Mets starting center fielder last year after they traded Jay Payton to the Rockies while Cedeno only played leftfield last year? Wasn’t Perez also the best outfielder on the Mets’ roster last year? And isn’t Perez 27 and still improving while Shinjo is 30 and declining. (Cedeno is 27 as well but has been through 5 organizations and has seen his OPS drop each of the last four years). If all this is true, why are they considering anyone other than Perez for centerfield? Two words-Steve Phillips.

By the way, adding Shinjo in no way clears the way for a Burntiz and/or Cedeno trade. The Mets have been shopping the two disappointing players-and their salaries-without much luck this entire offseason. If I were Phillips, I would stick Perez in the center field slot next to Cliff Floyd in left. After that, it seems the best option is the apparently untradeable Jeromy Burnitz in right. Burnitz is a decent bet to turn things around in 2003. He had 6 straight seasons prior to last year with an OPS at least 7% better than average. He will be 34 next season, however, and it’s possible that he is no longer capable of being a productive player. He had been declining slightly in the last two years before signing with the Mets. Of course, the foolishness in signing these players to such lucrative contract to begin with is what no has them in this mess (especially Cedeno, who was supposed to be their leadoff hitter last year but had just come off a year with a .337 on-base percentage).

Ostensibly, Perez is now the fifth outfielder behind the three designated starters (Cedeno, Cliff Floyd, and Jeromy Burnitz) and Shinjo. Shinjo can play all three outfield positions well and was brought in potentially to replace Cedeno, so I assume he becomes the #4 outfielder. So where does that leave Perez? Apparently, he will be fighting Brady Clark and Joe McEwing for the last one or two spots available in the outfield.

That would be great, just great. Perhaps McEwing will be retained because of his versatility and Clark for flashes of talent after being acquired form the Reds last year (including a 3-for-3 game). It would make sense because two starters (Burnitz and Floyd) bat left-handed and the third is a switch-hitter. The Mets would probably prefer to retain the two right-handed bats over Perez’ lefty one. That would mean the Perez would be traded, demoted, or released. Perhaps the Phillies can pick him up. He would be a superior to Ricky Ledee as a sub for Marlon Byrd. Whatever happens, it is highly probable that Perez will no longer be an integral part of the team in 2003 and he is probably the least deserving of such an honor of all the Mets’ disappointing outfielders.

One last item related to Perez, he made $205K last year as a third-year veteran. That’s only $5K over the major-league minimum. Perez would also be the cheapest of all of the players concerned (except perhaps for Clark). So the apparent rejection of him makes little sense based on performance or on salary. That’s a twin killing for GM extraordinaire Steve Phillips. How does he do it?

The [Saturday] Times also reports that the search for a Mets third baseman continues. However, they have ruled out a trade for KC’s Joe Randa. They are at an impasse with free agent Jose Hernandez (who’s mostly a shortstop any way). And they got shot down by Houston in trying to acquire Geoff Blum. It looks like the only viable candidate is free agent Tyler Houston, who the Mets had been talking to prior to the failed attempt to acquire Boston’s Shea Hillenbrand in a three-way trade.

This is a team that is supposed to compete in the NL East next year? They did improve their staff by picking up Tom Glavine and the offense by picking up Cliff Floyd (oh, and the avuncular John Franco may return), but with huge holes in right and third and now a self-made one in center, they could have a repeat of 2002. I think what this aging team needs is a babysitter to make sure that they don’t get into trouble. Heck who needs a third baseman anyway? They’re just overrated. I hope Philips has set up a seach agent on Hot Jobs.

THE CHICAGO WAY A

THE CHICAGO WAY

A Movie Review

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the movie musical, like slapstick comedy, is a virtually lost art form. “Chicago”, the filmed adaptation of Bob Fosse’s revue, has opened to rave reviews from the critics, suggesting their still may be life in the musical idiom after all. (That Sean Penn’s pratfall in “I am Sam” stands as the best pratfall in recent memory doesn’t bode well for the return of slapstick anytime soon.)

I saw “Chicago” this past weekend in Greenwich, CT, which is a story in itself. My girl and I took in a late afternoon show with the local geriatrics, and we had the grave misfortune to be seated behind Quasimoto in a cardigan with a swollen prostate, an itchy scalp, and a twitchy neck to boot. I’ve never seen a respectable member of an upstanding community fidget so damn much during a movie. Emily and I took turns sitting behind the knuckle-dragger so he wouldn’t ruin the entire movie for either one of us.

“Chicago” is an evocative and well-crafted musical, which feels like a movie, not simply an adaptation of a stage play. It is nowhere near as frenetic as “Moulin Rouge”, for which I was thankful. The director Rob Marshall offers some stunning visuals, but the editing is still too rapid, too cutty for my liking. It’s as if either the director, a) doesn’t trust the images—or the audience’s attention span—enough to linger on a single shot for too long, or b) the hyper-activity of the editing is intended to make up for the short-comings of the actors. Perhaps, the brisk cutting was a conscious choice of style and pacing, but it distracted me from the performances.

“Chicago” moves at a brisk, lively pace. Renee Zellweger, an actress I don’t have much affection for, is more than game, and she delivers a winning performance, overcoming her limitations as a musical/theater actress by the sheer force of her willingness to enjoy herself and please the audience. Catherine Zeta-Jones, on the other hand, is so intent on blowing everyone away, that she comes across as wooden, mechanical. It’s not that she isn’t trying. If anything, she’s trying too hard. She can sing, and dance, but it feels like work; Cyd Charisse, she’s not. Even her dramatic scenes feel hollow (something she does have in common with Charisse). She’s a bitch, without the bite.

Richard Gere has developed into a polished actor; the gray suits him. (I think his role, as the corrupt cop in “Internal Affairs” was a turning point.) Gere’s first number is a bit shaky—I half-covered my eyes for fear of being embarrassed on his behalf, but he recovers nicely and handles the role with aplomb, and humor. It was nice to see Queen Latifah in the supporting role as Mama Morton, though she isn’t really a singer or an actress, and John C. Riley, expertly cast, is once again, on the mark with a sympathetic, and earnest performance as the nice guy who finishes last.

Musicals never really die off completely. They keep coming back because even if they aren’t well made, there is an audience for them. They are a truly great American invention after all. “Chicago” is likely to satiate old-time musical lovers and attract younger audiences as well.

DOBY AND THE TITTY

DOBY AND THE TITTY PITCH

I was perusing Danny Peary’s oversized, oral history, “We Played the Game: 65 Players Remember Baseball’s Greatest Era–1947-1964″ (1994} this weekend, looking for the lowdown on Minnie Minoso. I happened to run across an entry from Mudcat Grant, a player I recently encountered in Terry Pluto’s “The Curse of Rocky Colavito”, and I wanted to share this entry because it sheds some light on Larry Doby, president of the Nice-Guys-Finish-Second Club, and offers a good Satcial Paige anecdote. (Aren’t they all good?)

Next to Grant’s entry, is a photo of a young Mudcat in 1958. Resting his hand against his cheek, Grant’s wide face is open and curious. There is a restraint there, but it barely conceals a sense of pride, and accomplishment.

The caption reads: A personalbe, outspoken right-hander from Lacoochee, Florida, Jim “Mudcat” Grant reached the Cleveland Indians in 1958 and would become the American League’s first black starting pitcher.


In my rookie season, I was inserted into a good rotation with Cal McLish, Gary Bell, and Ray Narleski. I pitched over 200 innnings, won 10 games and never returned to the minores. I preferred beginning my major league career with Cleveland rather than the Yankees or the Red Sox because the Indians and Dodgers had been the ringleaders in signing black players. As a young boy, Jackie Robinson had been my main hero until the Indians signed Larry Doby. I liked that name! [which proves that it takes one to know one] Thos guys inspired me to want to be a major league ballplayer. Now the Indians made me the only black starting pitcher in the American League. The only other black starters were Don Newcombe and Brooks Lawrence of the Reds and one of my heroes, the Cardinals’ Sad Sam Jones. On the Cubs, Sam became the first black to pitche a no-hitter after staying out all night.

I got to play with my greatest hero, Larry Doby. The most I ever learned about the game was from him. He taught me everything I know from how to dress and mix colors to how to become part of the community. Larry made sure he went out into his community and spoke to people. He knew people by name from everyhwere from Kansas City to Washington D.C. Larry would say we’re going to some barbershop in Cleveland or restaurant in Chicago or some friend’s apartment in Detriot. When I first went to Washington D.C., he introudced me to Adam Clyton Powell. He introudced me to Sarah Vaughn, Miles Davis, Count Basie, and Billie Holiday. I had listened to their music on 78s and here was Larry casually introducing me to them. We’d sit down and talk about everything under the sun—all day long. Larry was quiet to people who didn’t know him and never said too much or ventured an opinion. But he’d open up to those he knew well. I knew of his disappointments because I’d ask him…
Of course, Larry couldn’t really teach me much about pitching. But I already knew something about that. You know who gave me the best advice? Satcial Paige. I met him in about 1955, when we both were in the minors, and had some great conversations with him. I asked him what he thought was the most important thing about being a pitcher. He told me, “Young man, you gotta have a titty pitch. If you don’t have a titty pitch, you can’t win.” I asked, “What is a titty pitch?” I thought he was putting me on, getting ready to say something about sex. He ran his hand across his chest and said, “A titty pitch is right here.” Of course, he was right about the need to pitch inside to win the big leagues. He just had a different way of putting it.

TOO HOT TO TROT

The political unrest is Venezuela may impact it’s native players from returning to the States for the upcoming season. After Houston outfielder Richard Hidalgo was attacked earlier this winter, slick-fielding short stop legend, Chico Carrasquel was car jacked last week and roughed up some too.


“I didn’t resist. The car really wasn’t important to me. My biggest worry was that they threatened to kill one of my sisters, a cousin who is pregnant and my 3-year-old granddaughter,” Carrasquel said.

“Thank God they didn’t do any permanent injury. But unfortunately what happened to me happens every day here. We Venezuelans live in a state of permanent anxiety.”

[Carrasquel] said Thursday he’s decided to travel to a home he owns in the United States.

“I’ll return to Chicago after my birthday (Jan. 23). But I’m leaving sad and scared,” he said

Here is an excerpt from a column in Saturday’s New York Times delineating the turmoil in Venezuela:

Venezuela has for decades been one of the most dependable sources of petroleum for the United States, where industry analysts say the strike has already hurt some refineries and driven up the retail price of gasoline by at least a dime a gallon.

Those shortages will only worsen, and prices continue to rise, if the United States attacks Iraq, they prediceted. That means that war in the Persian Gulf could prove more costly to the American economy than had been projected if the Venezuelan standoff is not ended soon…

“This is an incredibly important moment in Venezuelan history,” a senior State Department offical said. “Things are happening now that are going to affact Venezuela for decades: its energy relationship with the United States, the structure of PDVSA, the integrity and credibility of its democratic instituions—all of these things are at stake.”

But many Latin American experts say the administration’s efforts have been too little, too late. They contend that the Bush Administration, distracted by Iraq, allowed Venezuela’s problems to fester.

…The State Department’s Latin America desk has been leaderless through much of the strike. The last assistant secretary of state for Western Hemispher affairs, Ott J. Reich, was reassinged in November after his temporary appointment expired…

“There is no one at the wheel here, “asserted Moises Naim, the Venezuelan who is the editor of Forgein Policy magazine.”

The impact of the Venezuelan crisss has been widely underestimated by officials and consumers, oild experts said. Venezuela once exported 2.7 million barrels a day, 1.5 million barrels of that going to United States, or about 14 percent of America’s curde oil imports.

Now, Venezuela says it is producing about 600,000 barrels a day, though outside experts estimate the volume at less than 400,000 barrels.

That means that more than two million barrels a day of Venezuelan brude have been removed from the gobal market, making this the worst disruption in supply since the Persian Gulf war of 1991, experts said.

LUCKIEST MAN ON THE FACE OF THE EARTH

Lou Gehrig ain’t got nuthin on me. I received the following e-mail from my girlfriend, Emily, in response to a brief article I posted last week, in which I basically gushed about our baseball-friendly relationship:


Yes you are right, I am excited for the season to begin – an opportunity for me to learn more about the game, as well as another 6 months to watch you perform your rendition of a Mexican jumping bean And hey, how ’bout eating ice cream and having sex all afternoon, WHILE watching baseball? Your mind and body are likely to explode with all that stimulation. Well, at least your body. Mmmmmm.

And you can’t beat that with a baseball bat.

ROBBIE’S RETURN As dispiriting

ROBBIE’S RETURN

As dispiriting as Robbie Alomar’s 2002 season was for the Mets, it wasn’t a complete suprise, considering Alomar is considered an overly-sensitive player, and he played on a rutterless team. However, it is just as likely that Alomar will return to form this season, in spite of playing at Shea Stadium. Alomar has traditionally bounced back from his off-years. On top of that, he will be playing for a contract this season. How much more motivation could a Met fan ask for?

Alomar was one of my favorite Yankee-antagonists during the 90′s, and I sure hope to watch him regain his Hall of Fame form this coming season.

Bob Klapisch profiled Alomar in his column yesterday for the Bergan Record:


“I’ve done a lot of thinking, and I know I’m ready for New York now. I know what to expect now with the fans, the media, just New York in general.”
He pauses just long enough for emphasis, then says, “I’m not just going to have a good year. I’m going to have a great year.”

…Alomar will now be paired with Jose Reyes, the 19-year-old prospect who, despite never having played higher than Class AA, will be given the chance to win the shortstop job in spring training. It will be Alomar’s responsibility to mentor the rookie, a task he welcomes. But he says the Mets have to help Reyes assimilate as well.
It’s still a shock to Alomar that the Mets don’t employ a Spanish-speaking coach or have any Spanish-speaking executives. The gap between the club and its Latin players is so wide, Alomar says, “There are players on this team, like Timo [Perez] and [Armando] Benitez, that no one knows about. Those guys are afraid to speak because of the language problems, and that’s not right.”

Alomar is pushing heavily for the Mets to hire his friend, Ray Negron, as the club’s liaison to its Latin players. The Puerto Rican-born Negron once worked for the Yankees, helping Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry battle their drug addictions, and after working with the Indians, where he became friends with Alomar, is now employed by the Rangers.

The Mets are interviewing Negron on Jan. 15, according to Alomar, who says, “This is a guy who can help our clubhouse.”
“We don’t have a bad clubhouse, because we have great guys. But there were some little problems that we had,” Alomar said. “We need to come together, be closer. Ray can help the Spanish guys, because they have no one to speak for them.”

Alomar won’t lie about his self-interest in this matter: Negron was at his side in Cleveland during his best year, 1999, when Alomar batted .323 with 24 home runs and 120 RBI.

Think the Mets aren’t craving such production from Alomar in 2003? If all it takes is hiring a spiritual guru … well, put it this way: when Jason Giambi insisted the Yankees hire his personal trainer, Bob Alejo, last year, the club made him a “batting practice pitcher” in a matter of days.

Of course, Alomar alone can’t rescue the Mets. He hints the club made a mistake allowing Edgardo Alfonzo to leave, and, despite the impressive additions of Glavine and Floyd, says, “We still need another right-handed hitter. Whoever we get at third base has to be able to hit in the middle of our lineup.”

Still, Alomar has every reason to look forward to 2003. As he put it, “All the little things that went wrong, I think that’s in the past now. We’re going to be a good team.”
He says. He hopes. And just for emphasis, he crosses his fingers ever so tightly.

CHOCK FULL OF SPIKE

Here is an item that appeared in the current L.A. Weekly:


Legends: Spike Lee’s Jackie Robinson Moment

It was still a clear and sparkling Sunday at Dodger Stadium, the grass more emerald and the sky more sapphire in the aftermath of a fierce, early winter rain than it could ever hope to be in July. I emerged from the dugout – the dugout! – into all this splendor and breathed deep. I barely took three steps before I heard it.
“Cut!”

I froze. The exasperated yell, brief but unmistakably Brooklyn, echoed off the tens of thousands of empty seats. Spike Lee was filming a commercial, and I had stepped into a live frame.

I was here to observe, but thanks to the oversight of a chatty production assistant and my own distracted reminiscing – I’ve been a blue-bleeding Dodger fan since the late ’70s – I had become inconveniently conspicuous. “This is gonna cost me 10 bucks,” the assistant muttered somewhat cryptically. I was mortified.

But soon I was immersed in watching Lee interview Ralph Branca, one of the very few Brooklyn Dodgers still around who played in 1947, the year Jackie Robinson integrated big-league baseball. That was a famously tough season for Robinson, a season that hit a nadir during a late-summer game in Cincinnati in which the fans, who might have been geographically Midwestern but acted culturally Southern, hurled every epithet imaginable at the second baseman – before the game started. During the pre-game practice Dodger captain Pee Wee Reese, born and raised in Kentucky just across the Ohio River, stopped the proceedings and walked across the field to where Robinson was warming up. Without saying a word, Reese put his arm around Robinson in full view of the hostile crowd. The stadium went silent. It was a hush heard round the world.
This was the moment that Lee was re-creating for his commercial, one in a series of eight for ESPN called “Without Sports. . .” All the spots have played the issue for laughs, with contemporary fans in mind, except this one. “This was a real watershed moment in history,” said the network’s marketing director, Spence Kramer. “It was deeply poignant and affecting. It wasn’t funny at all.”

Lee, a prodigious sports fan with a particular interest in Jackie Robinson, proved a relentless interviewer of Branca, who remains as affable as Lee is intense, though both are direct and economical with words. How did Branca feel about Reese’s gesture that day in Cincinnati? “I thought it was a courageous act,” Branca said. “Pee Wee did it out of friendship and respect. It said ‘Dodgers’ on his uniform. That’s his teammate. That was Pee Wee saying ‘screw you’ to everybody.”

Down on the field I met Lou Johnson, who played for the Dodgers in the ’60s with Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, and now works in the front office. Johnson is graying but lean and fit, dapper in a black wool baseball jacket and knife-creased slacks. He played a season with the Negro League Kansas City Monarchs in 1955 before the integration led by Robinson killed those leagues off for good.

“I didn’t play with Jackie, but I certainly profited from his act,” said Johnson. “By the ’60s the atmosphere in baseball hadn’t changed that much.” He deplores the decline of baseball as a sport of choice among black youth today; he’s part of an organization called RBI – Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities – that was instrumental in helping to get a South-Central Little League off the ground some years back. “Kids need to know what we had to endure to get to the top,” said Johnson. “Jackie integrated not only baseball, but other sports as well.”

Lee, relaxing ever so slightly on a lunch break, concurred. He was wearing a knit cap, a bleary look and light beard stubble. “His contribution is much bigger than baseball,” he said in his trademark Brooklynese, talking about Robinson. “He changed the American landscape. You can never underestimate the pressure he was under, of having the weight of the race on you.” He paused to think. “The only comparable thing would be Joe Louis versus Max Schmeling, democracy versus the Nazis. Baseball in particular was so American, which is why Negroes weren’t allowed to play for so long. That’s why the moment in this commercial is so pivotal.”

Dodger Stadium in December may sound about as forsaken a place as this city can imagine, but it lives in my affections as a dazzling proxy for a thoroughly inhospitable place where sports history was made. It is odd but logical, just as the Dodgers’ move from east to west turned out to be. As Johnson drove me off the field in a groundskeeper’s cart beneath the bright sun, I silently thanked Robinson for being in some way responsible for this private, pivotal, baseball moment of my own.
-Erin Aubry Kaplan

BETTER PLAY LIKE MICHAEL JACKSON CAUSE THAT SHIT IS OFF THE WALL

Bob Ryan, offers a characteristically spirited take on the proposed addition of seating on top of the Green Monster. Here are some excerpts from his article in today’s Globe:


Larry Lucchino swears the Red Sox have nothing but good intentions. (History majors: Insert the ”Road to Hell” reference you know so well.)
”Our little joke over here is that when the subject is the ballpark, you have to take a sort of Hippocratic oath,” explains the Sox CEO. ”And that oath is `Do no harm.’ Anything we do to Fenway will not tamper with its magic and charm.”

We shall see. All I know is that when someone hits a baseball over The Wall this year there is a good chance a paying customer will catch it. Am I the only one not happy about that?

”I can understand your skepticism,” Lucchino says. ”But I would argue that what we are planning will not change the look and feel of Fenway.”

Damn right, I’m skeptical. The Boston Red Sox really are putting seats atop the left-field wall!

They’re trying to paint it as an appropriate response to some perceived fan demand, but it’s all about M-O-N-E-Y and their desperate attempt to squeeze every available dollar out of their lyric little bandbox of a ballpark, which will celebrate its 91st birthday April 20. Are the Red Sox that desperate for money? Isn’t this John W. Henry guy supposed to be a billionaire, with a ”B”?

The truth is the brass really doesn’t want to talk about The Wall. They’d much rather talk about what’s happening at the other end of the field, and as much as they deserve censure for messing around with the most famous landmark in baseball, that’s how much credit they deserve for their other major offseason building project.

What they’re doing is in keeping with the John W. Henry campaign promise to explore a complete renovation of Fenway Park. ”If this works,” Lucchino says, ”it would tell us that further renovation can work. But we are thinking about both the short term and the long term. Right now our goal is to open up space and give us some walking and breathing room.”

The best thing about this project is that it affects the average fan. This isn’t another high-roller deal like the 600 (excuse me, .406) Club, where all the rich people stand at the bar and clank their jewelry as a ballgame unfolds below. This is for the once-a-year guy and his family, and when’s the last time anyone thought about him?

It takes truly creative thinking to maximize the potential of Fenway Park, which has an architectural ”footprint” of about 750,000 square feet. All new parks have far more space to work with, and that includes San Francisco’s Pac Bell Park, which doesn’t look as big as most of the others, but which checks in at more than a million square feet. That’s where it helps to have someone such as Janet Marie Smith on hand. Her official title is the Red Sox vice president of planning and development, but she is otherwise known as the First Lady of Ballpark Construction and/or Renovation. She was the guiding genius behind the building of Camden Yards, the model for all baseball parks built in the past dozen years.

She is a preservationist at heart, never having seen an exposed brick wall she didn’t love. So she has certainly come to the right place.

Larry Cancro thinks we can trust her, and the Red Sox vice president of sales and marketing considers himself a hard marker. He has been with the team for 18 years, and probably knows the ballpark as well as anyone. He believes the new regime is very respectful of Fenway. ”I think we can make it much more livable and less confining,” he maintains. ”But it won’t be like Yankee Stadium, which was not the same park at all after it was renovated. What we most want is for people to walk in here and feel it’s still Fenway Park.”

That brings us back to those foolish ”Green Monster Seats” they’ll be installing on top of The Wall. Lucchino insists that extensive fan surveys show there is a tremendous demand for them, that people would just kill to be able to say they watched a game from the top of The Wall. Shows you what I know. I would have assumed the Fenway diehards would not want to mess with the look of The Wall, period.

”It won’t be a dramatic change,” insists Lucchino. The plan is for three rows of seats, plus standing room, stretching from the left-field foul pole to the center-field bleachers.
”It won’t be intrusive,” Smith says. ”It’s not a huge section of seats. You’ll just see a few little bobbing heads out there.”

They will be group seats, by the way, and God knows what they’ll charge. I’m sure it will add up to a nice hunk of change, but please don’t tell me it won’t de-Fenway the place to some degree.

The good news is that Lucchino says it is not yet a drop-dead, completely done deal, that all the I’s haven’t been dotted and T’s crossed. He says there is a meeting scheduled for Tuesday with a fan group to get their input.

Maybe he needs to hear from people who like The Wall just the way it is. Where are all those weepy Fenway Forever types when we need them?

COMINGS AND GOINGS I

COMINGS AND GOINGS

I may not have Shane Spencer to kick around anymore, but if everything falls into place, my girl may just be able to have her favorite girl back in a Mets uniform by opening day.

ESPN has an article on another utility player of note in the New York area, none other than Randy Velarde. I’ve always had a soft spot for Velarde, who came up through the Yankee organization, only to be moved just as they began their championship run. If the Mets sign him to play third, next to my man Rey Sanchez, I just may have to become an official Met fan.


[Velarde] played for the Yankees the first nine years of his career, from 1987 to 1995, and the year after he left them, the Yankees went on a string in which they won four of the next five series.

The string stopped when Velarde rejoined the Yankees midway through the 2001 season.

“I said all along that if we won that year, I would have retired,” he said. “Sometimes it seems like I’m chasing a rainbow that doesn’t have a pot of gold at the end of it.”

“I’ll keep the door open and see if the perfect situation comes up,” he said. “If not, I had a great enough career to hang my hat on, and I’ll know that a world championship just wasn’t in the cards. And I’ll know that I’ve put out every ounce of ability this body could put out.”

For those of you who like to read the obits, Baseball Primer pays tribute to all of the baseball people who passed away in 2002. There were some big names on that list of course, like Ted Williams, Enos Slaughter, Hoyt Wilhelm, Dave McNally, Dick O’Connell, and Jack Buck. But there were some lesser players of note too, including Darryl Kile, Joe Black, Darrell Porter, Johnny Roseboro, Dick “Dr. Strangeglove” Stuart, and Jim Spencer.

On another somber note, Boston Globe columnist, and Boston-native, Wil McDonough passed away last night at the age of 67.

FIRST A FORFEIT, NOW

FIRST A FORFEIT, NOW THIS

ESPN reports today that “Commissioner Bud Selig will probably brief owners next week on his plan to have the league that wins the All-Star game gain home-field advantage in the World Series.”

David Pinto offers an excellent critique of yet another dud from Bud:


I don’t buy it. I don’t know that there is any great league pride in the World Series. I bet most Red Sox fans root against the Yankees when the Yankees are in the fall classic. Can you imagine Red Sox fans saying, “Go out and play your butt off Nomar so the Yankees can have home field in October!” Plus, what does the All-Star Game have to do with anything? It’s a bit of fun in the middle of summer. You will have injustices like a team winning 103 games having to play on the road to a Wild Card team that won 85 games. If you think home field is important to the series, then make home field based on season record. If you want to invigorate the All-Star Game, pay a huge bonus to the players on the team that wins. (Winner gets $200,000 for each player, loser gets nothing.) Then you’ll see some competition, and you won’t see many all-stars opting out.

A FEW OF MY

A FEW OF MY FAVORITE THINGS…

Part I.

At the end of every year, journalists often put together various “Best-of” lists for the year. Instead of compiling a top 10 for the year 2002, I thought I’d write about my 5 favorite moments. But then I recalled how thoroughly MLB dicked up their greatest moments last season, and noticed that my favorite moments weren’t necessarily moments at all. They are more like stories.

Regardless, over the next week or so, I will post my top-five favorite baseball stories of 2002.

My Lil’ Friend

The best thing that happened to me last year was the relationship I developed with my girlfriend, Emily. We started going out last January, and are roughly the same age (I’m 31, she just turned 30). By the time baseball season crept around, Emily was well aware of my interest in the game (it’s hard not to notice; subtle, I ain’t). Quite Frankly, she thought I was touched-in-the-head, crazy. Especially when I was kept up by a Yankee loss for the first time.

She thought I was putting her on. I wasn’t. She wasn’t pissed, as much as she was perplexed.

Then the most pleasant surprise occurred. Not only did Em tolerate my obsession with baseball, but she also showed a genuine curiosity in learning more about the game. This was totally unexpected. I have learned to regard sports and relationships much like the division of church and state. I don’t anticipate the woman I’m involved with to give two shits about sports—in this case, baseball, and I don’t try to inflict it on them, or attempt to convert them either. The same way I wouldn’t expect them to teach me how to knit and watch the Lifetime network on a Sunday afternoon.

So long as I’m able to carve some space for myself, I’m happy to keep my games to myself. Or have them as part of my Guy time (though I do have plenty of female baseball buddies too). Fortunately, the baseball season is long enough to create few scheduling conflicts. Let’s face it, if I blow off my girl in the middle of June to watch the Yankees play the Royals on a Friday night, the relationship is what Woody Allen once declared, “a dead shark”.

Initially, Emily was more amused watching me watch the game, than the game itself. I am not a passive fan. I pace around the apartment, usually with a stickball bat, or a mitt, or a ball in my hands, talking shit to the players, bellyaching about the announcers, cheering the home team, and goading the opposition. What she responded to was my enthusiasm. I suppose it didn’t matter what the source of it was—Em was attracted to the fact that I had something to be so passionate about.

But after a while, she began to ask questions, and became more interested in the complexities of the sport itself. I couldn’t believe my luck. There were afternoons last year when Emily turned to me and said, “Can we watch the game?” I don’t know, can we eat ice cream and have sex all afternoon? Good Lord, Woman, Hell yes we can watch the game.

We attended several games during the season (including the famous Giambi extra-inning grand slam affair against the Twinkies…more on that later). Emily’s presence softened the blows of not being able to get the YES network on cablevision for an entire year, and the Yankees first round playoff loss. She now has her favorites—Giambo and Bernie, and even has the chutzpah to chide other guys too: “Shinji,” she proclaimed one day, mispronouncing Tsuyoshi Shinjio’s name: “He’s a girl.”

When the Yanks landed Godzilla, her response was, “Is he a friggin girl too?”

We are currently enjoying our first Hot Stove League, and having a nice winter. Emily continues to put up with me. I think she’s looking forward to going to the Stadium again too.

Not for nothing, but I have been known to spend portions of my weekend laying around on the couch catching up with the latest horrors the Lifetime Network has to offer. But I haven’t learn to knit yet.

GIVE THE KID HIS DUE

There weren’t many players that made my skin crawl more than Gary Carter did when I was growing up, as a Yankee fan in the ’80s. I still think Carter is an ingratiating putz, but I have no problem with him being a Hall of Famer. I flipped through some of the old Bill James Abstracts last night and found some interesting comments on Carter in his prime years:

1984 Abstract:


Has been the # 1 catcher since I started the player ratings and comments section five years ago. And to my mind, it’s still an easy choice. Pena is terrific, but he’s never had a year when he drove in as many runs as Carter or scored as many runs as Carter, and the Pirates don’t cut off the running game quite as well as the Expos do (there were 115 stolen bases in 203 attempts against the Expos last year, 124 in 201 against the Pirates)…[Lance] Parrish is close offensively and close defensively, but not quite there either way…

Before the free-agent era, I don’t think there is any way that a player as valuable as Carter would have been worked as hard as he was word from 1977 to 1982. The Expos a) are paying Gary Carter a great amount of money, and b) do not own his future. In those circumstances, they are inclined to take more chances with Carter’s future than they otherwise might. They are risking a future that doesn’t belong to them anyway to get their $2 million a year’s worth. For this reason and for others, the long-term career implications of baseball’s economic restructuring are very, very different than the short-term implications, which are all that we have seen yet.

1985 Abstract:


Every year I completely change the rating system, and every year Carter comes out number one. He probably had his best season in ’84, hitting a career-high .294 and driving in a career-high and league-leading 106 runs. His estimated winning percentage, .831, was not only the highest at the position but the highest in the league at any position…I think it is accurate to say that Carter is only the second great catcher in baseball history who has been consistent at this level from year to year. The other was Berra. Most outstanding catchers like Bench, Campanella and Carlton Fisk, have mixed together some good years with some years where they chipped a thumb or ruptured the fourth metatarsal coagulating muscle in the heeby-jeebys, and hit .230; Carter and Berra are the only ones who have ever been able to go out and give the team 145 or more productive games a year.

1987 Abstract:


Did you ever notice how much Carter’s batting style is like Don Baylor’s? The whole thing—stance, swing, follow-though, and results. Baylor’s stance is a little more closed and of course he crowds the plate more, but they’re real similar. Carter also is hit by pitches quite a bit, six times every year.

Carter’s teams have had better ERAs when Carter was catching than when he wasn’t every year since I started figuring that in 1982. I started rating players in 1980. Johnny Bench was the No. 1 catcher, with Carter second. From 1981 through 1987 he was rated first every year.

Historical Abstract (2001 edition):


Essentially interchangeable with Fisk, Bench, Hartnett, or Campanella–a right-handed power hitter and a Gold Glove catcher, ran OK, threw great, and knew what he was doing behind the mask. He won three Gold Gloves, and in all honesty should have won more than that. Eric Gregg, longtime National League umpire, chose an All-Star team of the best players he had ever worked with in his 1990 book “Working the Plate” (William Morrow). “My catcher,” he said, “is not Johnny Bench, but Gary Carter. He’s the best I’ve ever seen, and believe me, we get to work very close to all the catchers.”

PLOP, PLOP, FIZZ, FIZZ:

PLOP, PLOP, FIZZ, FIZZ: OH, WHAT A RELIEVER AIN’T

Goose (Gossage) and Bruce (Sutter) came up short once again in their bid for the Hall of Fame, but the case for the closers should heat up next year when Dennis Eckersley becomes eligible for consideration. Here is Tom Verducci’s take, in the latest issue of Sports Illustrated:


In traditionally closing the door to the relievers who specialize in closing the door, the Baseball Hall of Fame is no different from the Football Hall of Fame or the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Most specialists get in only with a ticket…

Two relief pitchers [have] already made it into the Hall: Hoyt Wilhelm, an all-purpose reliever who might pitch for one inning or six, and Rollie Fingers, the fireman-type, who pitched in times of trouble. But no closer—that is, one who only pitches late and with a lead—[has] ever been enshrined in Cooperstown.

The closer evolved in 1979 with Sutter, and since then he, Goose Gossage, Jeff Reardon, Tom Henke and the rest of the genus have recieved tepid Hall support. Considering the heavier lifting done by starting pitchers and position players, that’s only right. [Lee] Smith, for instance, typically napped for the first half of games and in 1994 had 33 saves in less than 39 innings of labor. (Kickers are the closers of football, enjoying stretches of tedium and disuse interrupted by the occasional emergency. No suprise, then, that no pure punter and only one pure placekicker, Jan Stenerud, can be found in Canton.)

Specialists should be held to a much higher standard than other players when it comes to Hall membership, but some have met that standard and deserve enshrinement. In that category is Dennis Eckersley, who’ll be on next year’s ballot. In 1988 Eckersley further refined the Sutter role, typically entering at the start of the ninth with a slim lead. Over the next decade Eckersley’s ratio of innings-to-saves was 1.71, about half that of Sutter’s 3.5 and not close to Fingers’s 5.0. Yet no closer has ever been so dominant. In 1990 Eckersley actually had more saves (48) than base runners allowed (45). Eckersley was also effective over the long haul—from ’88 to ’97 he averaged 37 saves per year. It’s true that with 149 career wins as a starter, he may bear more resemblance to quarterback-kicker Hall of Famer George Blanda than to Stenerud, but it’s Eckersley’s work as a specialist that makes him, well, special enough for the Hall.

For those who are interested, there is a wonderfully thorough series of articles on the history of relief pitching over at Mike’s Baseball Rants, which are written with skill and care. Well worth purusing.

My cousin Gabe gave his take on this subject in a letter I printed earlier in the week.

I’M SO GLAD WE’VE HAD THIS TIME TOGETHER…

Here are Rob Neyer’s pick of the top 10 players not in the Hall of Fame:

1. Ryne Sandberg
2. Ron Santo
3. Bert Blyleven
4. Goose Gossage
5. Minnie Minoso
6. Ted Simmons
7. Alan Trammell
8. Dale Murphy
9. Darrell Evans
10. Bobby Grich

Minnie Minoso is a player who isn’t talked about much, which is a disappointment considering his achievements, and the fact that he was the first black Latino to play in the Majors. Allen Barra wrote an appreciation of Minoso in his book “Clearing the Bases”. I’ve loaned my copy out, but when I get it back, I will post excerpts of the article.
There are a few more Hall of Fame-related articles of interest: Jim Caple writes a sympathy card for Ryne Sandburg; Jason Stark throws in his two-cents, and mlb.com reports that it’s only going to get tougher to get into the Hall for the Dave Parker’s of the world.

ROCKET FUEL

Here is a belated, breakdown of Roger Clemens’ new contract with the Yankees. Rob Neyer addressed Rocket’s staus with the Yankees in his latest column:


There’s no doubt that Clemens can still get people out. Last year, during a season in which he turned 40, Clemens went 13-6 and struck out 192 hitters in 180 innings. Last season, Pedro Martinez (10.8) led the American League in strikeouts per nine innings, he was followed by Clemens (9.6) … and then way behind Clemens were a bunch of other guys.

As you probably know, strikeout rate is a good indicator of both current and future success, so there’s good reason to think that Clemens still has plenty left.

When he can actually pitch, that is. And considering how many niggling injuries Clemens discovered in 2002, doesn’t it seem likely that in 2003 he’ll be in and out of the rotation? Everyone seems to be wondering why the Yankees would want eight starters, but isn’t the answer fairly obvious?

One of those eight starters is Sterling Hitchcock, who pitched poorly in 39 innings last season. Another is Orlando Hernandez, who’s God-knows-how-old and has started only 38 games over the last two seasons. And two others are 40-year-old Clemens and 39-year-old David Wells.

Yes, having eight starters is a luxury. It’s also a luxury the Yankees can afford — they can afford anything — and while they might not need eight starting pitchers, I’ll bet they wind up using nearly all of them.

BLUFFIN FOR BARTOLO? Theo

BLUFFIN FOR BARTOLO?

Theo Epstein’s Great Arm Chase has apparently hit a snag, according to an article in today’s Boston Globe. But I won’t be convinced Boston is out of the running for Colon, or Javier Vazquez until they are traded to team not called the Red Sox.


”There’s been no progress with Montreal and I don’t expect there to be,” Epstein said. ”I don’t see light at the end of the tunnel. This is as pessimistic as I’ve been in a long time.”

Though he vowed not to abandon the talks, Epstein indicated the Expos have steadfastly insisted on acquiring two Sox regulars – commonly known to be third baseman Shea Hillenbrand and lefthander Casey Fossum – in exchange for Colon. And unless Montreal modifies its proposal, Epstein suggested, there was little left to discuss since the Sox will not part with the two players and none of the third-party proposals have proven satisfactory.

The Sox GM acknowledged the stalemate after speaking twice yesterday to his Expos counterpart, Omar Minaya, in the latest of several dozen calls between them since their negotiations began last month at the winter meetings in Nashville.

”The proposal from Montreal really hasn’t changed much in the sense that what we have to give up is not only two big pieces of our major league club for this year but two big pieces of our future,” Epstein said. ”We just can’t do a deal that’s shortsighted. We can’t do a deal that sells out the future of this club.”

”It’s discouraging in the sense that I’d like an opportunity to improve this club every day, but that’s not happening right now,” Epstein said. ”It may happen with this particular club, but it’s not there yet.”

Minaya indicated he was not surprised by Epstein’s comments, given ”the good days and bad days” that occur in lengthy negotiations. But he appeared uncertain about how the talks would be affected by Epstein’s pessimism.

”After Theo said those things, I guess there’s less of a chance [of completing a deal], but we’re not giving up on it,” Minaya said on WEEI. ”I hope we continue to make progress, but if it’s not with the Boston Red Sox, there are some other teams I’m speaking to.”

Epstein could be posturing, trying to ratchet up the pressure on Minaya, who is under an edict from Major League Baseball, which owns the Expos, to cut his payroll to $40 million by Opening Day. Epstein emphasized, for instance, that he would be more than comfortable opening the season with his current rotation of Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe, Tim Wakefield, John Burkett, and Fossum.

”I think we have one of the top five rotations in baseball as it is,” Epstein said.

The Yankees have not ruled out taking a run at Colon. The Mariners and several other teams may also take advantage of the stalemate between the Sox and Expos to make a bid for the Montreal ace, who is scheduled to earn $8.25 million next season.

RED ASS REDUX

Orlando Hernandez is not the only member of his extended family with a volatile temper. According to a report from espn:


Giants pitcher Livan Hernandez was arrested Wednesday for allegedly trying to hit an elderly man with a couple of golf clubs during a street fight, police said.

Hernandez, 27, was charged with felony aggravated assault after he got into a “violent” scuffle Wednesday with a man, who recieved a minor cut on the back of his head, according to a witness account cited in a police statement.

The pitcher, who won the 1997 World Series MVP with the Marlins, then went into his car’s trunk and pulled out a golf club…

Maybe the old man was a Pro-Castro Cubano. Either way, some things are funny enough without needing to comment on them too tough. I thought watching Livan leg out a triple late last summer against the Braves—complete with a crash-landing, half-slide, was as good as it got.

I stand corrected.

STEADY EDDIE: COOL, CALM

STEADY EDDIE: COOL, CALM AND COLLECTED

Eddie Murray was not available to address the media yesterday when he was elected to the Hall of Fame. He was attending the funeral of his sister Tanja, 38, who died last Thursday after a long battle with kidney disease. He did released a statement that read in part, “The elation I feel by being recognized for my achievements on the field is overshadowed by the anguish of losing someone so dear to me.”

There is little doubt that Murray is a deserving Hall of Famer, regardless of his cold relationship with the press throughout the years. That much was proven yesterday. But it is ironic that Murray was unable to bask in the glow of his own success, because of the emotional welfare of his family. Murray always put family and team first, and himself a distant second.

Tom Boswell contributed a column on Murray today in The Washington Post, aptly titled, “A Silence that Speaks Volumes.” Here is what Boswell wrote about Murray in an 1983 article on the Orioles Championship season, “Bred to a Harder Thing Than Triumph” (from the collection, “Why Time Begins On Opening Day”,1984):


Murray regards notoriety as poison and ducks the limelight as religiously as Reggie Jackson courts it. Murray firmly believes what old Lee May told him as a rookie: if you have talent, fame can’t help you, but it’s an even bet to ruin you. To hawk his personality like some public commodity is, he suspects, a perfect way to be robbed of his sense of self. Murray’s weakness is that, like Hank Aaron, he’s a leader only by example; little fire, only efficiency. He lacks the charisma of the last Oriole leader, Frank Robinson. The Birds accept Murray for what he is. Just your run-of-the-mill future Hall of Famer.

David Falkner caught up with Murray in spring training of 1985, and wrote an revealing profile on the slugger in his book, “The Short Season.” (1986):


What is harder to figure out than Murray’s statistical steadiness is why the powerful and almost mystical hold he has on his teammates has not carried over to the general public—and the media Over the years, Murray has shied away from the press, to the point where he may have seen him as intimidating, uncooperative, and downright hostile. He was, in reality, done little to change anyone’s opinion.

Murray does look angry—and intimidating. He is a large, barrel-chested man whose modified Afro, mutton-chop whiskers, and glowering looks lend to the coal blackness of his face an appearance of such menace that it comes as a shock to hear a voice escape from his body that is benignly soft and evenly modulated. This too is misleading. Murray’s outward manner masks a personality that is original, commanding, and complex. In the end, he is exactly what you see on the field. His game happens to be who he is. The surprise is that the public facade he maintains is generated neither by meanness nor deviousness. It is a covering for a largeness of spirit…

Murray had the “team” concept instilled in him from an early age. He was one of 12 brothers and sisters.


“I wouldn’t have traded it for the world,” said Murray. “It was great. Maybe that’s where a lot of the ‘us’ comes into it. You sit there and it was never ‘me’ or ‘I’…I tell you this, it got to the point where you really didn’t need any other friends–oh, I had ‘em all right—but it was just all of us together could take care of our own needs. Even baseball. The girls played baseball too, and believe me, we had a few of them who were good.

“None of us ever had to worry about school,” Murray said. “We all did our work and there was no such thing as bring home Cs. When we came home, we had to clean the yard, empty the trash, do the dishes–and then do the homework. All of it. And it had to be done right. If you rushed through it just to get it to school in time to get your grades back, you’d be in double trouble. So it got to be a thing to do it right before we were allowed to go out and play. And that was everything. Because we loved to go out and play with each other.”

Murray also gives large credit to his mother for his distinctive playing style, a style marked by this dual quality of full intensity coupled with thoughtful restraint, which he calls “low-keying.” Even when he was a rookie, taking the field before a full crowd at Memorial Stadium on his very first day, this ability to “low-key” gave him an advantage far beyond his years.

“I just wasn’t that excited,” Murray said recalling the day. “I think it took so long for my mother to train me that way it had become second nature of something. It’s definitely been to my advantage that she finally succeeded, because the payoff has been there in so many ways, like that first day. I went out there and I looked around and I looked up…and there was Memorial Stadium, packed. Sure it was special, but it was like it wasn’t.”

Murray’s older brother Charles signed with the Astros organization, and after his rookie year formed a pickup team of professionals during the off-season—including Dock Ellis, Bobby Tolan and Bob Watson. Murray was the batboy.


“So many of these guys were in the major leagues, and I was rubbing shoulders with them every day,” Murray said, “I just didn’t pay attention to that part of it. It seemed natural. I learned from watching them. All of them seemed to be very cool about playing the game of baseball—and it was like I just patterned myself after them. I figured that there had to be something to it. All of these guys were good, and none of them overreacted to anything out there on the field. I was an eight-, nine-year-old kid, and I had a font-row view of just watching those guys play, and so I grew up wanting to play that way myself.”

[Murray] had a sense of himself as a 9-year-old that many professional players never have. With all his dreams of one day playing in the major leagues, he never saw himself apart from his team. “At the time,” he said, “I didn’t think I was all that great because I figured our whole team was that good. And playing with my younger and older brothers growing up, I just never considered myself that much better than anybody. It was just that that was something I loved and happened to pick out in life that I wanted to do…Of course, I had pride in what I did even when I was eight. I’ve always had it. We lost ballgames, and I knew how to lose—I mean, I knew the world wasn’t going to end. It was tough as kids because as kids we didn’t know very much. But it was a winning something…out there. Sometimes it might have come from breaking up a double play, sometimes it took getting hit by a pitch or pitching that last inning when your arm was hurting. It was something like…you just didn’t want to put things on anyone else’s shoulders.”

“We all loved the Dodgers as kids,” Murray remembered, “even though we couldn’t go to see them much. We really didn’t want to, because we were out there playing…and you know there were days when my parents…just took care of everywhere we wanted to go…I mean they just took care of us. They saw this was something we were interested in, so they really took part in it. We could see that in them. It was never having to take the boys to play, it was always their going to watch a good ballgame…We used to draw a lot of people to see us, to see the three boys—they never knew our names—but they found out we were brothers and they came out to see us. And one of us would wing up pitching while the other one was catching…it was something.”

For the longest time, Murray has been sobered by the thought that he, not any of his brothers, became an established major-league ballplayers. This was, Murray remains convinced, not a question of talent so much as opportunity. He was in the right place at the right time, but his brothers were not. His brother Rich…had, at one time, been touted as Willie McCovey’s successor. But a serious injury aborted his major-league career before it ever really began. And Charles, Eddie said, was probably better than any of them. “There are people today, especially who grew up around the L.A. area, who knew all five of us, who still tell me that Charles definitely was the best. They’ll say, ‘Listen, you know you weren’t the best.’ And I’ll say I know that. The way I look at it, I really got a break.”

Murray’s childhood experiences brought a strong sense of humility to his talent. Tom Boswell continued:


Murray finds it natural to live by the motto on his necklace: “Just Regular.” Three of his older brothers played pro ball; none made the majors. Murray grew up hearing hard-boiled stories about the realities of big-time sport.

“We had a lot of downfalls,” says Eddie’s brother Leon. “Eddie avoided them.”

“Some people just got to get hurt. You can see it. They either run into walls on the field, or they run into ‘em off it,” says Murray as his brother listens. “The easy way is the only way. Avoid problems. I might be the weakest of the five brothers, but I didn’t run into the problems they did. You gotta push things away in the game that bother you and upset you and keep you from your goal. It almost happened to me, I think. I got mad the year I wasn’t sent up to triple A when I thought I should. It was hard to swallow, ’cause it’s your pride. But sometimes you got to swallow. Otherwise you’ll get on the club’s bad foot. And that’s the beginning of the end.”

In Kevin Kerrane’s book on scouting, “Dollar Sign on the Muscle”, an Oriole official explained how the team landed Eddie Murray:


“All the scouting reports I’d seen on Murray stereotyped him as a big, lazy power hitter. I think most scouts, when they judge makeup, tend to value kids who remind them of themselves when they were players—and that’s why you run into problems when white scouts look at black prospects. Here was Eddie Murray, younger than most of his classmates, and extremely composed, cool—to the point where scouts called him ‘lackadaisical.’ But when I read his motivational profile, which said his drive was well above professional average and his emotional control was off the charts. And it hit me that the emotional control was masking the drive.”

Murray played for Cal Ripken Sr. in the Orioles minor league system, was mentored by Lee May when he reached the big club, taught himself to become a switch-hitter, and later became a role model for the younger players like Cal Ripken Jr. He told David Falkner:


“What I try to tell the younger players,” Murray said, “is that I’m jumping on you because I’m trying to make you better and by making you better I’m making us better. That’s just the way it is. I know definitely I can’t win a pennant by myself…

“Baseball is something where you can’t go out with a half-step. When you’re out there, you’ve got to have everything together, I think. If you go out there and you’re lackadaisical, there’s a good chance you’ll wind up injuring yourself—and I do try to avoid that…[somewhere Tom Boswell is chuckling] I talk to myself. You have to talk to yourself about knowing what you want to do out there.”

Cal Ripken, Jr. said, “Eddie is what I suppose you’d call a team player. Except that that is a clichZ. Everyone is a team player, or says he is. But then there are players, very few of them, that other players try to emulate. For me, that player has always been Eddie Murray.”

Murray’s single-season numbers are not as spectacular as several players who aren’t in the Hall of Fame, notably Jim Rice, Dale Murphy and Don Mattingly. But he plugged away, steadily, surely, and ended up with the magic milestones of 3,000 hits and 500 homers. The popular perception of Murray is that of an aloof, surly superstar. But on second look, he was one of the more valuable clubhouse superstars of his era. Just don’t expect him to waste too much time boasting about it. Unlike Gary Carter, a media darling of sorts, Murray was content let his actions do all the talking, regardless of what was written about him. That alone makes him exceptional, even in the rarified air of Cooperstown.

“ALL THEY DO IS

“ALL THEY DO IS GIVE OUT AWARDS…”

Boss George was in town yesterday accepting an award from The Sporting News as “The Most Powerful Man in Sports.”

“It may seem like I’m Simon Legree,” Steinbrenner said referring to the fictional slave driver in “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, “but I’m not.”


You’ve got to be not afraid to win. There are too many owners in sports today who are businessmen that don’t drive to win. This money is what my fans pay to see their team. You reward your fans. You don’t take it and put it your pocket like 90% of the rest of the owners do.

I feel we’re very heavily loaded with revenue sharing, but I’m not going to argue against it…. We’re going to live by it, but we’re also going to keep putting money back in the team to do the important things for our fans. We’ll find ways.

Of course, George couldn’t resist taking another shot at Larry Lucchino’s “evil empire” quip.


It was a poor comment, just a very poor comment,” Steinbrenner said. “I like Boston. I love Boston . . . Great fans, great people. You have to remember that Lucchino just came there, so I’ll be patient. I’ll give him time. I just got a little upset when they called New York an evil empire. Would you like it? It was just a bad choice of words on his part.” Then Steinbrenner, twisting the knife, added, “I know he was after that pitcher (Jose Contreras),” Steinbrenner said. “I’ll just attribute it to a bad choice of words. They’ve been using those words ever since Babe Ruth.

Steinbrenner also intimated that future Hall of Famer, Rocket Clemens was being wooed by the Sox, but “Roger wanted to stay with the Yankees,” Steinbrenner said. “Here’s a guy that sacrificed an awful lot of money and a lot of things he could have had somewhere else like north of here – he didn’t like the snow – but he’s coming back.”

KID CARTER PUMPED

Gary Carter doesn’t have to whine any longer. Like Sally Field he can finally say, “You like me, you really like me!” According to the Daily News:


[Carter] played golf in Florida yesterday to try and kep his mind off the wait, and considered his birdie on the 8th hole an omen–since he wore No. 8 during his career.

Finally, when he got word via a phone call as he was coming off the 18th green, Carter celebrated in the exuberant manner Mets’ fans came to love.

“I got overly excited,” he said. “I pumped my fist in the air, I screamed. There were no parties planned this year, but now we can do a little celebrating tonight as a family.”

Carter also told Bill Madden:


“Even though it was six years in waiting, it seemed they really shortened it with the phone call today,” Carter said. “All those other years have now kind of blended together into one. I was never impatient, but I will say last year (when he missed election by 11 votes), I was disappointed because my wife Sandy had arranged for a big party. And I guess my second year, when there were all those big names on the ballot for the first time, George Brett, Nolan Ryan, Robin Yount and Carlton Fisk, and I lost votes, that was when I was most discouraged.”

Carter couldn’t resist bitching just a little. It has always been part of his game, so why change now?

Bob Klapisch has a good column today regarding his Hall of Fame ballot, “Impossible to figure who’s in, who’s out.”

Klap makes a case for the Goose, as does Kevin Kernan in the Post.

The Envelope Please There

The Envelope Please

There will be cocktails at the Carter residence after all. As expected, Kid Carter and Eddie Murray were elected to the Hall of Fame this afternoon: Carter was on 78% of the ballots, Murray topped that with 85.3%.

This is how the best of the rest faired:

Bruce Sutter 53.6%
Jim Rice 52.2%
Andre Dawson 50.0%
Ryne Sandburg 49.2%
Lee Smith 42.3%
Rich Gossage 42.1%
Bert Blyleven 29.2%

I was a little bit suprised at Ryno’s poor showing. So was Rob Neyer in his on-line chat today:

“I figured [Sanburg] he might get in, but if he didn’t he’d certainly come close.

But he didn’t come close at all. Which is something of a shock if you were a fan in the 1980s, because then everybody thought Sandberg was a lock. I think that Sandberg, like Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell suffers from comparison to the bloated hitting stats of the last decade…

I’ve been doing this long enough that the actual arguments for the players don’t interest me as much as the bizarre arguments. Today alone, I’ve now had somebody tell me that Sandberg is the greatest second baseman ever, and somebody else tell me that if Sandberg had played for the Mariners, he’d already be completely forgotten.

The truth is somewhere between, of course. He is one of the ten or twelve greatest second basemen ever, and so I guess now he joins Ron Santo as a Cubs infielder who the BBWAA screwed.”

Neyer also commented on the voters’ ambiguity towards relief pitchers, Sutter, Goose, and Lee Smith:

“It’s funny, the “closer” has been around for approximately 25 years now, and yet we’re still trying to figure out if they’re really worth anything. Everybody says they’re hugely important, but the Hall of Fame voters apparently haven’t yet been convinced. To answer your question, though … I don’t believe Sutter was great for long enough, and I don’t believe Smith was great enough at all. I can understand the arguments for both of them, but to me Gossage is more deserving.”

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver