The lifeless winter meetings came to an end, the Veterans Committee weighed in, and the city of Cincinnati lost an icon. Here’s a view on those three topics from cold and snowy Cooperstown.
Now that the pursuits of Johan Santana and Dan Haren seem to have concluded, it’s time for the Yankees to concentrate their efforts on other postseason goals. (By the way, the winter meetings have become such a dud that baseball needs to bring back a trading deadline for the final day of the meetings; that way, someone will feel compelled to make a deal.) Principally, the Yankees need to fortify their bullpen, bolster their right-handed hitting, and possibly consider acquiring an innings-eating veteran for the back of the rotation.
Toward that first goal, I love the Yankees’ acquisition of Jonathan "Don’t Call Me Jessica" Albaladejo from the Nationals. In picking up Albaladejo for Tyler Clippard, who needs another pitch to succeed at the major league level, Brian Cashman pulled off a veritable steal. Albaladejo pitched lights out for the Nats during the final month of the season, overpowering hitters with a mid-90s fastball and surprisingly good control. There’s only one question about Albaladejo—his weight. Listed at 250 pounds (and he might weigh closer to 260), he needs to keep himself from enrolling in the Wilbur Wood Reform School for Eating. In the short term, Albaladejo could become the new Charlie Kerfeld. Let’s just hope he can avoid the boxes of Jell-0 and the arm problems that short-circuited Kerfeld’s career.
While they have a full cache of eligible right-handed relievers, the Yankees are badly lacking in bullpen southpaws. Ron Villone won’t be re-signed, Sean Henn is not the answer, and Kei Igawa looks like a long man at best. The Yankees have approached the Pirates about Damaso Marte (their first choice) or John Grabow (the backup plan). I could see the Yankees giving up a B-level prospect for the soon-to-be-33-year-old Marte, who struck out 51 batters in 45 innings last season. Last season, there was talk of the Yankees sending Kevin Thompson to the Pirates for Marte, but Thompson is now on the Pirates’ roster as a backup outfielder. So how about Chase Wright or Jeff Marquez for the veteran lefty?
In terms of right-handed hitting, I’ve heard very little talk about the Yankees pursuing another veteran bat. That would be a mistake, given how feeble the Yankees looked against quality left-handers last year. Even with Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada back in the fold, the Yankees could use a strong right-handed platoon player. Shelley Duncan might be the answer, but he struggled toward the tail end of 2007. Then there’s Mark Loretta, but he’s only valuable in terms of on-base percentage, with no power whatsoever. How about Kevin Millar, who hit 17 home runs and drew 76 walks? If he’s willing to accept a role as a platoon first baseman-DH and emergency outfielder, he might be a suitable alternative.
Finally, there’s the issue of starting pitching. With Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, and Ian Kennedy in the projected rotation, the Yankees can’t expect any of the young right-handers to log 200 innings. If you subtract one of the "Big Three" and replace him with Mike Mussina, you’re basically dealing with a six-inning pitcher. Here’s where a durable veteran could come in handy. On the free agent front, there’s Jon "Big Daddy" Lieber, who happens to be a close friend of Joe Girardi. And on the trade block, there’s talk of the Giants’ Noah Lowry (along with Jonathan Sanchez) coming over as part of a deal for Hideki Matsui. Though not a workhorse, Lowry has averaged 173 innings over the last three seasons. He’s also a left-hander, always a nice commodity at Yankee Stadium…
The Hall of Fame is taking a major public relations hit in the aftermath of Monday’s news that the Veterans Committee had elected Bowie Kuhn but somehow had bypassed Marvin Miller yet again. Like him or not (and I haven’t always cared for Miller’s arrogant personality), Miller registered a huge impact on baseball’s financial landscape throughout the 1970s and early eighties. Without Miller, arbitration and free agency would not have come into play as quickly as they did, and perhaps not at all. Today’s game is financially healthy, probably better than ever—and Miller deserves some indirect credit for that, too. Hall of Famer? How can you have a Hall of Fame without a pioneer of Miller’s stature? There’s no question that Miller should be chosen. But with only two former players on the committee (Monte Irvin and Harmon Killebrew), Miller’s fate was sealed before a formal vote even took place.
As for Kuhn, I have to confess that I liked him on a personal level. Having talked to him informally on several occasions and having interviewed him as part of a live program at the Hall of Fame, Kuhn struck me as personable, thoughtful, and well intended. It’s also an exaggeration to call him the worst Hall of Fame selection of all-time, not when you have players like Rick Ferrell and Ray Schalk and executives like Morgan Bulkeley and Tom Yawkey occupying places in Cooperstown. (Perhaps the election of Kuhn at the same time that Miller was rejected serves to underscore the situation, making the anti-Kuhn lobby that much more incensed.) Still, Kuhn suffered too many losses at the hands of Miller and mishandled too many other situations, such as his effort to censor Jim Bouton’s Ball Four and his failure to attend Hank Aaron’s record-breaking home run. In light of those shortcomings, I would not have voted for Kuhn.
In contrast, the other four selections by the two separate Veterans Committees were on the money. Barney Dreyfuss oversaw a number of successful Pirates teams in the early 1900s while also playing a large role in implementing the first World Series. Walter O’Malley, though still reviled in the borough of Brooklyn, was arguably the game’s most influential owner from the late 1950s through the late 1970s. Managers Billy Southworth and Dick Williams were both criminally underrated, Williams because of his prickly personality and Southworth because most of his success came during the World War II era. Each man won four pennants and two World Championships; given their overall winning percentages, those are Hall of Fame markers.
So with four out of five correct, along with two bad omissions in Miller and Doug Harvey, the Veterans Committee did some passable work, certainly an improvement over the blank ballots of recent years. The Hall of Fame now needs to balance the composition of the Veterans Committee, which is too heavily slanted toward management and against the union. Ultimately, the committee charged with the directive of electing executives should feature a balance between retired players, former or current executives, and members of the media. Four apiece from each category would be ideal. That way, Miller would have a fighting chance…
I met Joe Nuxhall, who died last month at the age of 79, just one time. It happened several years ago in spring training, which I used to attend as part of my duties at the Hall of Fame. On a sunny March morning, I sat down to interview Nuxhall and Marty Brennaman at the Reds’ spring site in Sarasota. Both men could not have been nicer, absolute gentlemen, both on and off camera. I talked with Brennaman about his love of the defunct ABA (American Basketball Association) and with Nuxhall about baseball in general. Based on our short conversation, I learned at least a little bit why Nuxhall was so beloved in Cincinnati.
Nationally, Nuxhall was best known for being the youngest major leaguer of the 20th century, pitching in a game in 1944 at the age of 15. Yet, there was much more to his story. We tend to forget that after Nuxhall struggled so badly in his wartime debut, he returned to high school and then continued a long baseball apprenticeship in the minor leagues before making it back to the Reds, seven years after his debut, in 1951. Nuxhall would last 16 seasons in the major leagues, establishing himself as a very good left-handed pitcher in the mid-1950s. A two-time All-Star, Nuxhall led the National League in shutouts in 1955. Except for brief stints with the Kansas City A’s and Los Angeles Angels, Nuxhall remained with Cincinnati through the 1966 season, when he retired with 135 wins and over 1,300 strikeouts. The following spring, he returned to the Reds as a broadcaster, continuing what would become a 63-year association with the franchise.
Given such longevity, along with his easy-going personality and generous nature, it’s not hard to see why Nuxhall became one of the city’s most cherished icons.
Bruce Markusen writes "Cooperstown Confidential" for MLB.com. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.