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Observations From Cooperstown: The Vets' Committee, Park, and Loes

Posted By Bruce Markusen On August 6, 2010 @ 11:00 am In Bronx Banter,Bruce Markusen,Observations From Cooperstown | Comments Disabled

For all of the Yankees’ success since purchasing George Herman Ruth in 1920, the franchise has yet to place one of its owners in the Hall of Fame. Now I suppose you could bring up the case of Larry MacPhail, but he was a part owner for only three seasons and his Yankee ownership has little to do with his Hall of Fame membership. So let’s count him out of this equation. Jacob Ruppert, despite an impressive run of success that lasted nearly two decades and totaled ten world championships, is not a member of the Hall of Fame. Dan Topping and Del Webb aren’t enshrined in the Cooperstown fraternity, either. Nor are the infamous Bill Devery and Frank Farrell. CBS certainly doesn’t have a place in the Hall, not after its reign of mediocrity from 1964 to 1973.

The absence of Yankee ownership in Cooperstown could end later this year. Although the news fell well under the radar, the Hall of Fame recently announced radical changes to its Veterans’ Committee procedures. Gone is the old system in which executives and managers were considered in odd-numbered years (2011, 2013, 2015), while old-time players were voted upon in even-numbered years (2010, 2012, 2014). Under the new system, the Vets’ Committee will consider ballots based on eras: Pre-Integration (1871 to 1946), the Golden Era (1947 to 1972), and the Expansion Era (1973 on). Golden Era candidates will be considered next year (2011) and Pre-Expansion candidates will be looked at the following year (2012).

That leaves Expansion Era candidates for this winter. So who exactly will qualify under the category of the Expansion Era? According to the Hall of Fame, Expansion Era candidates will be classified as players or executives who put forth the “greatest contributions” of their careers from 1973 on. Obviously, the late George Steinbrenner, who purchased the Yankees in 1973, would fall under the umbrella of the Expansion Era. That means that Steinbrenner would not have to wait until next winter, but could be elected to the Hall of Fame this December, with his posthumous induction potentially taking place in July of 2011. That could make for an interesting scene next summer in Cooperstown, which is a relatively short four-hour car ride from the Bronx.

Several ex-Yankee players will also be eligible for election in December. The list includes three particularly strong candidates in Graig Nettles, Tommy John, and Luis Tiant, along with an enormous longshot in Bobby Bonds. Under the new rules, the living Hall of Famers, who have been notoriously stingy in their balloting (to the point of putting in exactly ZERO players over the past decade), will no longer vote on retired players. The vote has instead been given to a 16-member committee that will be divided between writers, historians, executives, and a select few Hall of Famers. Given the new composition of the Veterans’ Committee, we can expect it to become much easier for some of the retired players to achieve the 75 per cent of the vote needed for election. Who knows, perhaps The Boss will be joined by John and Tiant in next summer’s induction class. And if the committee puts in one of my old favorites like Nettles, I might just have to buy a round at Cooley’s on Pioneer Street…

***

In addition to my obvious Yankee fandom, I’ve long been a friend and follower of the Pittsburgh Pirates. So let’s raise a glass to the Pirates, who did the Yankees a huge favor this week by claiming Chan Ho Park on waivers. Not only does the Pirates’ generosity mean that the Yankees are not liable to pay the balance of Park’s $1.5 million salary, but their waiver claim guarantees that Park will not be taking up any space on the roster at Scranton/Wilkes Barre, where he might have taken the place of a far more deserving young pitcher.

As to why the Pirates did the Yankees such a good deed, I have no idea. Park is clearly done. At the age of 37, he’s lost three to four miles off the fastball he showed in Philadelphia last year. He also has a bad habit of hanging his breaking pitches, which has made him susceptible to tape-measure home runs that would have left the original Yankee Stadium. So what exactly do the Pirates, who are in the midst of another disastrous season in which they’ve lost nearly twice as many games as they’ve won, see in an over-the-hill Park? Clearly, the Pirates are not in a pennant race; they’re also not likely to re-sign Park, who can be a free agent at season’s end. Like much of the what the Pirates do, the acquisition of Park makes about as much sense as trying to coax Jeff King or Kevin Young out of retirement. But the Yankees send their thanks nonetheless.

***

Lost amidst the recent spate of Yankee-related deaths was the passing of former Brooklyn Dodgers right-hander Billy Loes, who died on July 15 at the age of 80. Loes’ death was not actually reported until two weeks later, largely because of his choice to live as a recluse. A man who liked his privacy, Loes would have it no other way.

Though I never saw him pitch, Loes was worth remembering; fans from the 1950s can certainly recall this most unusual “Boy of Summer.” Loes combined an offbeat sense of humor with bizarre reasoning and a strange sense of judgment, the latter two qualities often irritating his managers. Prior to the 1952 World Series, Loes upset Leo “The Lip” Durocher when he predicted that the Dodgers would lose to the Yankees in six games. When Durocher confronted Loes about his public quotes and his seeming defeatist attitude, Loes claimed he had been victimized by the media. “I was misquoted,” Loes told Durocher. “I picked [the Yankees] in seven games.” As it turned out, Loes was right. The Yankees did win the ‘52 Series in seven.

In another instance, Loes gave the media another dose of his amusing perspective. Pitching in Game Six of the 1952 World Series, Loes failed to field a come backer hit by opposing pitcher Vic Raschi. After the game, Loes calmly explained to reporters that he had lost the ball in the sun.

Loes became particularly well known for telling writers that he did not ever want to win 20 games in a season. If he did, he would be expected to do it again and again. And Loes didn’t want that.


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