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Observations From Cooperstown–Ankiel, The Veterans Committee, and Robert Prosky

Posted By Bruce Markusen On December 19, 2008 @ 2:43 pm In Actors,Bronx Banter,Bruce Markusen,Hall of Fame,Trade Rumors | Comments Disabled

Following baseball for nearly 40 years has taught me at least one principle: no deal is ever done until both sides have announced it. The failed Mike Cameron trade reinforces that notion. Just a week ago, some media sources were proclaiming it a done deal. A week later, it has been declared dead, apparently over the Yankees’ unwillingness to pick up all of Kei Igawa’s exorbitant salary. So for now, Igawa and Melky Cabrera remain Yankee property—for good, bad, or indifferent.

I have to admit I was lukewarm on the rumored acquisition of Cameron. Yes, he would have been an immediate upgrade over Cabrera and company, and would have come with the bonus of allowing the Yankees to be rid of Igawa, who seems to have no clue about pitching in the major leagues. Yet, the 36-year-old Cameron would have represented only a short-term solution, probably two years at the maximum. He also would have affected the offense’s continuity, with his rather alarming windmill propensity at the plate. Cameron piles up strikeouts the way that Bobby Bonds once did, but without the levels of power and patience that Bonds once displayed during an all-star career.

With Cameron apparently off the board, I’d like to see Brian Cashman resurrect talks for one of three younger center fielders available in trades: the Dodgers’ Matt Kemp, the Cardinals’ Rick Ankiel, and Kansas City’s David DeJesus. Of the three, Ankiel might be the most realistic. He’s available, mostly because he’s a Scott Boras client who is one year removed from free agency. The Cardinals don’t think they can sign him by next fall, at which time Boras will likely send Ankiel spiraling full throttle into free agency.

Cashman talked to the Cardinals about the 29-year-old Ankiel during the recent winter meetings (which once again proved to be a disappointing flop and an unmitigated bore, but that’s another story). The Cards expressed interest in Ian Kennedy, whom they really like as a rotation option for 2009. If the Yankees could package Kennedy with Cabrera and perhaps a fringe minor league prospect (someone like Chase Wright or Steven Jackson), maybe a deal could get done.

If the Yankees could sign Ankiel past 2009, he would provide several long-term benefits. He has real power (he hit 25 home runs in 2008, a remarkable achievement considering that he has been an everyday player for only four seasons). He also has a Clementian throwing arm that could play well in either center field or right. The Yankees could use Ankiel in center while Austin Jackson develops at Triple-A and then shift him over to right once “Ajax” is ready for prime time delivery.

Because of his late start as an outfielder, Ankiel might not hit his prime until he’s in his early thirties. By then, he may have improved his patience at the plate and his fundamentals in the outfield. Even if he doesn’t, he looks a lot better than what the Yankees currently have in center field…

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In the aftermath of the recent Veterans Committee voting, some Hall of Fame officials are privately embarrassed by the Hall of Famers’ fourth consecutive “shutout” in the balloting process dating back to the 2003 election. The Hall of Fame thought it had fixed the process by narrowing the number of names on the final ballot to ten, but officials didn’t anticipate that some Hall of Famers would become so stingy with their votes, some to the point of submitting blank ballots. Former Yankee Reggie Jackson has become the leading practitioner of this, going so far as to write “ZERO” on his ballot. Others have been deceptive in who they’re voting for, claiming that they’ll vote for candidate X, but then failing to check his name on their official ballot.

Now the Hall of Fame is left in a quandary: how to change the process again without resorting to the public embarrassment of actually taking the vote away from the Hall of Famers. The Hall doesn’t want to be seen as punishing the living Hall of Famers, a group of men that it tries to protect with the delicacy of English royalty.

One way or another, something will have to change, because continued shutouts by the Hall of Famers are making a mockery of the Veterans Committee’s original intent and purpose. Continued no-votes will draw yawns from the media, which tend to overlook “blank” elections, while the actual candidates for the Hall (like Ron Santo, Dick Allen, and Tony Oliva) will become angry over repeated rejections. Santo, for one, has already reached that stage. Simply put, it’s a bad situation that needs to be rectified…

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Finally, veteran character actor Robert Prosky, who died last week at the age of 71, had several noteworthy connections to baseball. Though best remembered for portraying Sgt. Jablonski on the wonderful Hill Street Blues, Prosky forged his most memorable film role in the baseball classic, The Natural. Portraying a character known simply as “The Judge,” Prosky lent elements of darkness and evil to the man who owned Roy Hobbs’ mythical baseball team. Who can forget The Judge’s love of the dark, exemplified in his memorable line, “Turn off that infernal light!”

Just as significantly, Prosky was a huge baseball fan who so loved the game and its history that he used to visit the Hall of Fame here in Cooperstown. Like so many attached to the art of film-making, Prosky had a special affinity for baseball that transcended the vast differences between the cultures of Hollywood and Cooperstown.

And like so many underrated character actors, he will be missed.

Bruce Markusen writes “Cooperstown Confidential” for MLB.com and can be reached at bmarkusen@stny.rr.com.


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