Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Message We Should Take From Egypt

I don't usually post about politics, but I am today, and I'll keep it brief.  I hope our government is watching what's happening in Egypt today, and what happened in Tunisia a couple of weeks ago and thinking about its meaning. We love stability in the world so our multi-nationals can count on stable sources of oil or markets for our stuff.  So we support strong men that favor American policies in return for American support that inevitably finds its way into their pockets.

Papa and Baby Doc Duvalier, Ferdinand Marcos, Pervez Musharraf, Shaw Mohammed Reza Pahlevi,  the house of Ibn Saud, these are just a few of the despots we've supported at the loss in economic opportunity and political freedoms of their people.  And when their fellow citizens get around to justly kicking their asses out of power, the United States and its foreign policy is left holding the bag because our fingerprints are all over the tools of oppression.  Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Yemen.  The roulette wheel is spinning and the ball is in play--where will it drop next, and how foolish will we look as a result. 

President Obama, Mubarak must go.  Let him.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Book Review: The Bullpen Gospels

In 2007 Dirk Hayhurst's professional baseball career seemed to be on a fast track to retirement.  Hayhurst's story of that season is the meat of his book The Bullpen Gospels.  It is a different kind of baseball story.  There is the usual locker room vulgarity which Hayhurst does a fabulous job of detailing-from bouts with food poisoning, to being "spider-manned" while exiting the bus' toilet, to the always amusing kangaroo courts. 

More than anything, however, Hayhurst's story is is of a pitcher on the brink of oblivion.  While it is clear as the story unravels that he has talent, he is also overwhelmed with self-doubt that undermines his ability to give the game his all.  We follow his tale as he travels to spring training in Peoria with Padres, receives a disappointing demotion to the Class A Lake Elsinore Storm in the California League, and is promoted to the AA San Antonio Missions in the Texas League. 

 The book wraps up with the story of the Missions capturing the Texas League title, and his subsequent marriage and promotion to the AAA Portland Beavers, and  the majors in 2008.  Bullpen Gospels has been likened to Jim Bouton's Ball Four, and it has that shocking hilarity element to it, but I think it's a lot more.  It's ultimately a feel good story about a guy who was no longer perceived as a prospect by his parent club, but found a way to win the mental game and reach his dreams.  It's not Shakespeare, or even Thomas Boswell, but it's a great story and Hayhurst tells is well.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Curt Flood's Birthday.

I confess to being a baseball romantic.  Yes, I love my Mariners and follow them intently (and intensely) but honestly I have a hard time staying on top of what everybody else is doing.  Maybe enough to stay on top of the standings but that's about it.

But what I really love about baseball are those things that Roger Angell says in the post below.  I love the stories.  Baseball is replete with history, statistics, stories, and a fair amount of drama. Baseball has stories of great player that do awful things, like Ty Cobb and Joe Jackson.  It also has stories of great players whose careers are cut short due to tragedy like Addy Joss, Christy Mathewson, Lou Gehrig or Thurman Munson.

Others, like Curt Flood, were baseball's martyrs.  Let's get this straight from the beginning, Flood was not a perfect man.  Few baseball players are.  A life of travel, exhaustion, injury, and adulation does not make for a lot of well-grounded family men.  Curt Flood was an alcoholic and a poor father.  This isn't about that.

What Curt Flood did do was walk away from a career he loved and that paid him a great deal of money for a greater principle and more.  First, Flood helped desegregate the Cardinals' spring training site in Florida.  He brought the fact that all the Cardinals could not stay together in their hotel to the attention of owner Augie Busch.  Black players were required to stay in another section of town five miles away.  They couldn't eat with everyone else.  Life was much more difficult in 1959.  Busch, blissfully ignorant of the situation,  eventually purchased the hotel, effectively integrating their spring training experience. 

Flood's refusal to report to Philadelphia after his trade in 1969 meant he was walking away from $100,000.  He refused to report because the Phillies were a lousy team, in a crummy ballpark, that played in front of fans widely perceived as racist.  What's more he was coming from one of the best organizations in baseball.  In a day before free agency, with the Reserve Clause in effect, movement of players was possible only at the behest of the owners.  Players were merely pieces.  According to Flood, players were merely "well paid slaves." 

Everybody knows the reserve clause was broken by the Messersmith and McNally cases in 1975.  Though Flood lost Flood vs. Kuhn, it doesn't make his effort any less admirable, his willingness to put his career on the line any less heroic.  Though he died in 1997 of throat cancer, I remember him here today. 

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Review: The King's Speech

Lorri and I went to check out The King's Speech at the Grand Cinema in Tacoma today. We decided at 11:00 to catch the the 1:50 show.  Two reasons--the Seahawks were being buried in Chicago snow and Jay Cutler's passes, and Lorri wants to watch the Golden Globes tonight.  We got there just in time as the small theater at the art house was filling fast. 

We were not disappointed.  The King's Speech is a great story about the Duke of York, Bertie, the man who would become King George VI and how he overcame his severe stammer.  The movie tells the story of how he worked with Lionel Logue, an Australian speech therapist living in London to overcome a deathly fear of public speaking to eventually touch the British people as war broke out in Europe.  Without giving anything away, it's a tremendous story well told.  No explosions, car chases, or 3D effect to embellish the tale, just a tremendous narrative. 

Oh, and it's a movie with tremendous performances.  Colin Firth is convincing as the stammering, reluctant king, no, more than convincing, he was excellent.  Overshadowing him just a little bit, however is Geoffrey Rush's turn as Logue.  The two together have great chemistry as they work together, feud and find sometimes humorous remedies to Bertie's humbling disability.  Helena Bonham Carter is wonderful as The Duchess of York/Queen Elizabeth who continually seeks answers for her husband's humiliating problem.  A great supporting cast including Derek Jacobi, Michael Gambon, Timothy Spall, Jennifer Ehle and Guy Pearce. 

Don't miss this movie.  I can't recommend it highly enough

Today's Music: The Fabulous Wailers at the Castle

I picked up this CD with my Christmas Amazon gift card from my parents.  It combines two of my favorite interests in music.  While I have come to this recently, I'm really interested in Northwest rock and the Spanish Castle, a road house in what is today the Des Moines/Sea Tac area of Highway 99.

 I confess to being kind of novice to the Northwest rock thing.  As a boy growing up in Seattle in the 1960's, the first band I fell in love with was Paul Revere and the Raiders.  They were legit Northwesterners based in Portland, that eventually morphed into California pop stars.  I don't mean to diminish their credentials.  Their early sound is the real deal.  Lead guitarist Drake Levin, just a teenager when Just Like Us was released in 1966 was an very talented original guitar stylist and Mark Lindsay's vocals and sax gave them a distinct sound that is very unique to the Upper Left Corner.

 A few years ago I was captivated by the music in  a Land Rover commercial.  The song was "Have Love Will Travel."  Great song, covered by everyone and their mother in the Northwest.  This version happened to be by The Sonics from Tacoma.  They were amazing, with a muddy garage rock sound.  Very proto-punk stuff.  Just for the record, The Black Keys do an amazing version of Have Love . . .

Which brings me to the Wailers.  Over the years I've listened to a few cuts from this seminal Tacoma band.  Mostly they were instrumental pieces, which is also a characteristic of Northwest music.  I'd been eying the live at the Castle album for some time.  I wasn't disappointed.

There are sixteen great songs on the disc.  All of them feature the R & B influenced Wailers playing the tunes, but a variety of vocalists.  The Wailers' own Kent Morill handles two tracks, local favorite Rockin' Robin Roberts four songs, and two tracks by Gail Harris.  The Wailers were instrumentally solid.  Led by Guitarist Rich Dangel, John "Buck" Ormsby on bass, Kent Morrill on keyboards and a changing lineup of musicians from 1958-1969, they were talented and tight.  Dangel is particularly good and would compare favorably with any of British guitarists in the First Invasion. The vocals by Morrill and Roberts are okay, but Harris really shines. Her version of "I Idolize You" is great.  Her voice is edgy and soulful.

The album was recorded at the Spanish Castle in 1961.  The Castle was a road house that hosted all the great Northwest rock bands-Kingsmen, Paul Revere and the Raiders, Wailers, Sonics, etc.  Jimi Hendrix sat in played with bands as a young guitarist, and of course sang about the theater in "Spanish Castle Magic." 

The album also has a couple of studio cuts, "Louie, Louie," and "Mary Ann."  It's a great collection from a great band in action.  Compare the great Northwest bands of this era to anything else that's happening in American music of the time-the Four Seasons, girl groups, crooner wannabes, even Elvis--this was stuff way ahead of its time.  It's what the Brit bands wanted to be.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Happy Birthday Mr. Mossi!!

Don Mossi was a decent pitcher for 12 seasons in the AL.  Mossi split time between Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago and Kansas City.  He was chiefly a reliever though Detroit started him during his five years in Motown. Made the All-Star game in '57.  Won a career high 17 games with Detroit in 1959

 But wait, as a pitcher, Mossi was decent, serviceable, but not memorable.  In only one area was Mossi world-class.  Look at those ears.  That schnozz.  Let's face it Don Mossi was major league unattractive. I remember having a couple of Don Mossi baseball cards back in the early 60's and thinking whoa, who was this guy's mom? Yes, we chiefly remember Mossi because he was Hall of Fame ugly.  Sorry Don, I'm but sure you already knew. Have a happy birthday.

Mariners sign Adam Kennedy

I 've been thinking about Adam Kennedy the entire off-season.  Knowing he was a free agent, getting a little long in the tooth, and believing he could still be a good infielder and be a useful bat on the bench made me think he was a great fit for the M's as they re-shape their fragile infield. 

Yes, he'll have to compete with Tuisasosopo, Josh Wilson, and any other numbers of lame hitting, mediocre glove-men for a spot during Spring Training.  I watched Kennedy play for the A's a couple of years ago when Marc Ellis was injured and filled in at 3B for the always (sadly) injured Eric Chavez.  He played creditably in the field and hit for an OPS 200 points higher than any of the stiffs currently vying for a back up spot. 

Figgins will move to 3B, which leaves shortstop to Jack Wilson, and 2B to Brendan Ryan.  If Wilson should require his regular trek to the IR, it means Kennedy could fill in at second while Ryan moves over to short.  That's enough depth to give me just a little more confidence. If Dustin Ackley makes his way north to Safeco, of course, all bets are off, and things just get more interesting, but it would take the pressure off to do so sooner than Ackley is ready. 

 Not a game changer, but definitely a great call Jack Z.  Welcome Mr. Kennedy. 

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Happy Birthday Stretch

My first heroes outside my family were baseball players.  I began with Willie Mays, who seemed to be able to do everything.  But I also was great admirer of that other Willie, Willie McCovey.  Tall, handsome, tough, he was a great ballplayer. I had other baseball heroes too.  Who? Why Koufax and Drysdale of course.  In those days Seattle didn't have a major league baseball team, and as a ten year old, I didn't understand why I couldn't love players on the Giants and Dodgers at the same time.

Of course that all changed eventually.  In 1970 I moved to the Bay Area, the year after McCovey won the NL MVP award.  I got to see him play and it was pretty exciting though his skills were deteriorating by the time he was traded to the Padres 1974 he looked decrepit with bad knees.  It's hard to imagine he continued playing until 1980.

Did you know--Willie McCovey has a lifetime OPS+  of 147, the same as Edgar Martinez.  But in 1969, the year he won the MVP, Stretch had an OPS+ of 209!!!  Yikes.

Happy Birthday Ralph Terry

Ralph Terry is 75 years old today.  Who was Ralph Terry?  Yankee fans know.  So do Pirates fans.

 Terry was a decent pitcher for the Yankees from 1959 -1964.  In 1962 he was very good, and was the Yankees best pitcher, won 23 games, tops in the AL, and threw almost 300 innings. 

 But that's not why we remember Ralph Terry, is it?  Terry came on in relief in the 8th inning in the 7th game of the 1960 World Series and gave up the game-winning homer to light hitting Bill Mazeroski.  In Ken Burns' baseball, Billy Crystal, after relating the shock and depression that followed that 1960 disaster, that Terry had a similar chance in the 1962 World Series.  Pitching to Willie McCovey with two men on in the 9th, Stretch smoked a liner that thankfully ended up in Bobby Richardson's glove.  Redemption.  Baseball is a game of redemption.  Usually. 

Terry had twelve decent seasons in the majors, with stops in Kansas City, Cleveland, and even a couple years with the Mets.  Unfortunately his name is often mentioned with Fred Merkle, Fred Snodgrass, Mickey Vernon, and Bill Buckner.  Each was better than their moment of baseball agony. 
Bobby Richardson, Ralph Terry, and David Mantle at a Newark Bears game in 2009

Saturday, January 8, 2011

What You Think Doesn't Matter Today

Tonight my wife received an e-mail from a family member in Virginia congratulating us on the big Seahawks 41-36 win over the Saints in the Wild Card game.  But it was not without a caveat.  He didn't believe 7-9 teams should be in the playoffs.  While we regularly forgive him his allegiance to certain New England professional sports teams, I am sure he shares this view with many other Americans, including some Saints players recovering from wounds suffered in Marshawn Lynch's 67-yard touchdown run that iced the game.  You see, in the playoffs it doesn't matter what other folks believe, it just matters that the underdogs believe. 

Happy Birthday Cammie!!

When Ken Griffey Jr. demanded a trade before the 2000 season, he tied the Mariners hands by giving a list of four teams he would accept.  Eventually that became one team, the Cincinnati Reds.  The Reds had us over a barrel and sent us a package of Mike Cameron, Brett Tomko, Antonio Perez and Jake Meyer.  It didn't seem to be enough, at the time, to replace Junior's bat, his glove in center field or his waning enthusiasm in the clubhouse.

 In the end maybe it wasn't enough, but Mike Cameron emerged as a fan favorite in the 2000 season. Arriving as the replacement for the most popular sports figure in Mariners history if not Seattle's history, Cameron robbed Derek Jeter of a home run at the left center field wall on April 7, 2000, his first M's homestand.  Though we were never quite able to say Ken who, Cameron played a frantic, fabulous center field, covering as much ground as Junior, without all the hoopla, but with a sense of style all his own.  Blessed with power, speed, lots of strikeouts, and an unreasoning hatred for Safeco's batters eye, Cammie could never quite let us forget Junior's bat.  I loved to watch him play and I've never forgotten his play at the wall.  Still playing despite a horrendous injury in a collision with Carlos Beltran with the Mets in 2005, I often think of those golden years when Cammie roamed Safeco's center field from 2000-03.

Hey, can't forget Walker Cooper's birthday too .  A solid catcher for the Cardinals, Giants, Braves and Redsfrom 1940-57.  Cooper was an eight time All-Star and was second in Most Valuable Player voting in 1943.  Noted for his size and strength, Cooper was not to be messed with.  Enos Slaughter recalled:

 He'd be catching and a guy would come up to hit and Cooper would spit tobacco juice across his shoes. The guy would back out of the box and look at him, and Cooper would say, "Well, what are you going to do about it?" Here's this six foot four, 220 pounder, wearing a mask and chest protector.  What were you going to do about it?  Nothing.

New Views of Lewis and Clark. David Nicandri's River of Promise

I was sped into an interest and appreciation for the Lewis and Clark Expedition when I read Stephen Ambrose's Undaunted Courage in 90's when I taught middle schoolers Washington State History and took them camping to the mouth of the Columbia River. Those were the days.  Of course a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing, and I have since assembled a very nice Lewis and Clark library.  Unfortunately I've only read a portion of it including the journals.

In 2006, during a trip to Palm Springs, I read Thomas Slaughter's Exploring Lewis and Clark, a revisionist examination of themes in the travels of the Corps of Discovery. While I am not one of those unwilling to re-examine ideas that mythologize our history, or reinterpret the significance of events and ideas, Slaughter's tone was nasty, angry, disrespectful and so unscholarly. What was the deal?

 It was with a certain amount of trepidation that I begged for and received for Father's Day a copy of David Nicandri's book River of Promise: Lewis and Clark on the Columbia.  Nicandri promised this would not be just a recounting of events that occurred on the Great River of the West, but, like Slaughter a re-examination of accepted axioms about the explorers and their actions.  According to Clay Jenkinson, author of the Foreward, Nicandri's chief source would be fresh scrutiny of the expedition's journals, including a look "between the lines," at what the writers didn't say, as well as what they did say.

 I found Nicandri's points interesting and his tone enlightening and uplifting.  While his goal is clearly to de-mythologize LEWIS AND CLARK LORE, as he likes to call it, he refrains from doing so with a hammer and anvil, unlike Slaughter.  Despite the new scholarship widely publicized during the bi-centennial years, 2003-2006, Nicandri is clearly disappointed that public understanding of the expedition has not progressed much past a celebration of the Captains, and that the belief that Sacagawea was the chief diplomat on the trip.

 Nicandri, a president of the Washington State Historical Society and member of the bicentennial commission, avoids a narrative approach to his topic.  Though his examination of the Corps on the Columbia tends to proceed from place to place, it merely serves as a context for the theme of each chpter.  Thus, one can easily skip around from chapter to chapter without missing anything important.  It's almost a collection of sixteen thematic essays. 

I found several of his ideas extremely important.  Here they are in no particular order.
  1. Lewis and Clark did not proceed into the wilderness unprepared or ignorant of the work of previous explorers.  Lewis knew the work of Alexander MacKenzie, his trips to the Arctic and the Pacific, and carried a copy of his Voyages From Montreal on the expedition.  He was conscious of where MacKenzie had been, also took, a dog on the journal, and occasionally copies his prose style in his journal. 
  2. Though we are often reminded by Ambrose and others that the Lewis and Clark relationship was one of fidelity, comradeship, and loyalty, Nicandri suggests that this is not always so.  He suggests that Lewis sometimes emerges as self-aggrandizing, striking off on his own as he did from Station Camp in November 1805, and at other times on the exhibition, such as finding the Great Falls of the Missouri.  Further, Lewis frequently minimized the achievements of others, particularly Clark in his journal entries, writing in the first person of what new discoveries they  made. 
  3. Clark emerges as Nicandri's clear favorite in the Corps' leadership.  We often remember William Clark as the guy who spelled poorly, wrote relatively dry journal entries and made maps.  Rather, Nicandri suggests, we should remember him for these accomplishments:  outstanding scientific geographer, earnest and committed journalist who told what he saw as he saw it every day, a caring, considerate leader of the expedition, loyal journal editor and friend to Meriwether Lewis. 
  4. The trip over the Bitterroots, while challenging and exhausting was not the near death experience we've often been told about by Ambrose and others.  Nicandri asserts that while the food available wasn't plentiful, and certainly not what the men enjoyed eating, they were not starving.  The real challenge of the Bitterroots was the trail itself.  Rocky, steep, difficult to find in the snowy conditions, the expeditions was often in danger of injury and death, particularly to the pack horses because the terrain was so difficult. 
A great read if you are a Lewis and Clark person, it's scholarly tone is not for everyone.  Not particularly long at 281 pages.  I really enjoyed this book and highly recommend it.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Not to be missed: My Boy Jack

I am, as everyone who knows me realizes, a geek, passionately interested in the things I'm interested in.  One of my passions is history, and World War One.  My grandfather served in the Great War, enlisting in the British professional army as a young Irishman anxious to escape farm life.  He became a boy soldier at age sixteen, and joined in time to take part in the celebration of King George V's coronation in 1910.  He went ashore with the British Expeditionary Force in August 1914, served in the Royal Artillery, fought at Mons and the long retreat from that battle, was gassed at least once, wounded on the Somme, and finally mustered back to England in 1917 in the training cadre.  I loved my grandfather.  He was always a wonderful source of stories and we would go on great expeditions on the bus or streetcar in San Francisco and Seattle.  The older I get, the more I also believe his war experiences profoundly changed him in ways I don't quite understand, and it's too late now to figure it out.

Rudyard Kipling was also profoundly changed by the war.  As the poet laureate of imperialism and booster of those two great pillars of the British Empire, the British army, and the tommies that served in far off wars to preserve that empire, Kipling decried the preparedness of Great Britain to fight against her enemies during that war summer of 1914.  Last week Masterpiece on PBS showed the 2007 BBC teleplay of "My Boy Jack," the story of Kipling's efforts to get his son a posting to the British military in the early days of the war despite his crippling nearsightedness.

The cast is interesting with David Haig as Rudyard Kipling, Kim Cattrall as his wife Carrie, and Daniel Radcliffe as son John Kipling. Made for British audiences, the movie catches Radcliffe smack in the middle of his Harry Potter career at age 18, about the same as young Jack Kipling.

The story begins in England with war about to break out and young Jack desperately seeking an officership in the Royal Navy and the army.  With the services unwilling to take on a young man so visually impaired, Father Kipling seeks the aid of a long-retired friend, Lord Roberts, or "Bobs,"  former commander in India and South Africa.  Convinced that every patriot must serve the nation during the crisis, Father Kipling is willing to overlook his son's disability in order to help him get to France and a commission arrives from the Irish Guards.  Young Kipling's mother and sister Bertie are not quite so sanguine about Jack's posting and are question the poet's wisdom in pushing him into that could lead to his death.  Jack goes off to training and makes himself a fine soldier and officer.  He and his platoon are sent off to France and two weeks later take place in the first British offensive at Loos in September 1915.  Jack is listed as missing.  As the family seeks to learn his fate, it is eventually revealed he died leading his men in an assault on German machine gun positions. The family is heartbroken and Rudyard and Carrie struggle to keep their relationship together.

The performances, particularly by Haig and Cattrall are good.  Haig gives us the feeling that while he is the patriot cheerleader for the British cause. Jack's cause. He is also the father with doubts.  And while he is always searching for that stiff upper lip, we get a glimpse of his shattered state, wondering if he sent his son off to be murdered.  Cattrall's Carrie, an American also searches for that stiff upper lip, but is always more fragile, fearful of the worst.  Radcliffe is not quite there yet, and I found his performance a little wooden, but with promise. 

It is a fine movie about an experience many Britons, Frenchmen, Germans, Russians, Austrians, Turks, and Americans shared with the Kiplings (yes and Italians, Indians, Senegalese, etc.) Worth a look if it pops up again on PBS or Netflix.  If you're a Radcliffe fan, definitely worth a look.
“Have you news of my boy Jack?”
Not this tide.
“When d’you think that he’ll come back?”
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

“Has any one else had word of him?”
Not this tide.
For what is sunk will hardly swim,
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

“Oh, dear, what comfort can I find?”
None this tide,
Nor any tide,
Except he did not shame his kind —
Not even with that wind blowing, and that tide.

Then hold your head up all the more,
This tide,
And every tide;
Because he was the son you bore,
And gave to that wind blowing and that tide!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Hall of Fame Votes: Blyleven and Alomar In

This was to be expected.  Bert Blyleven's long candidacy for the HoF finally won out.  It's encouraging for someone like Edgar Martinez to see that if you hold on long enough, and the right arguments are made on your behalf, you can build support for your candidacy.  There were no such doubts about Alomar who should really have gotten in last year.

I have followed the debate as much as possible this year, particularly the local wrangling over Edgar Martinez as well as the national debate over Bagwell. And I've learned a lot too.  People simply disagree over several important points when it comes to hall voting.
  1.  How big of a Hall?  Lots of folks really are in favor of simply using the counting stats to determine Hall-worthiness?  3000 hits?  500 homers? 300 wins? For people of this persuasion this really matters. That means a small Hall and truly only the best of the best or at least the best of those with long careers get in.
  2. Counting stats vs. rate stats.  Counting stats are those mentioned above.  Sometimes there is adjustment for position, and occasionally the defensive wizards such as Ozzie Smith or Luis Aparicio get in, but not often.  Rate stats are those that show a player's value using more advanced stats such as OPS, OPS+, or WAR.  The debate is often over which stats are more reliable.  I dunno, I like OPS+, but there 's no right answer.
  3. Why? Because ultimately voters will justify their choices through the lens they choose to wear.  After a great deal of contemplation I'm okay with this.  It does little good to berate people for their views if they have a rational explanation other than outright prejudice and bigotry.  I even forgive Geoff Baker for his pronounced bigotry against DH's. 
 Here are a few more useful Hall of Fame links.  Particularly interesting is Jayson Stark's explanation for his expansive vote, and Baker's small Hall ballot.  Stay out of the forums, it will only make you nauseous.
Jayson Stark's ballot explained
ESPN's 18 Hall of Fame votes
John McGrath's ballot of the News Tribune
Geoff Baker's ballot from the Seattle Times

Congratulations to Alomar and Blyleven, and here's hoping that Edgar's stock will rise some more next year.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Hall of Fame Ballots

First a happy birthday to French Bordagaray and Darren Daulton.  Um, Frenchy's dead, so happy birthday to Darren.  Frenchy, born Stanley Bordagaray, was born in 1910 and went to college at Cal State Fresno and broke in with the White Sox in 1934.  He played most of his career with Brooklyn, but had stops with the Cardinals, Reds and Yankees.  He played with the Dodgers during the war years.  Bordagaray was a part time player in the outfield, second base and third.  His name appears in David Frishberg's Van Lingle Mungo between Stan Hack and Phil Cavaretta in order to rhyme with Pinky May.  At least he was in good company--in the song.
Frenchy Bordagaray with the Dodgers, wearing a mustache when few players did.
Darren Daulton was one of those rare commodities of the early 90's, a catcher who could hit.  Daulton played on some very good Phillies teams including the '93 World Series team where he caught Curt Schilling, Terry Mulholland and "Wild Thing" Mitch Williams.  He played for the Phils from 1983-97 before being traded to the Marlins in '97 when he retired after a long fight with bad knees.  Daulton had some very good years, leading the NL in RBI's in '92 and three times an NL All-Star.  Darren Daulton was born in 1962. 
Darren Daulton was a good hitter when few catchers were.
A number of writers have posted their HoF ballots.  I've learned a lot by looking at them.  I confess that I am not a small hall guy. The Hall's rules for admission don't limit the number of players on the ballot, or the number of players voted in for given year, or limit the size of the Hall, it simply sets criteria for those eligible for admission.
  • The player must have competed in ten seasons. A single game counts as a "season" in the eyes of the Hall.
  • The player has been retired for at least five seasons. If a player comes back and plays in the major leagues, the clock restarts. The easiest way to figure out the rule is to add six to the last season the player was active. Therefore, players eligible in 2007 played their last game in 2001.
  • A screening committee must approve the player's worthiness. Most players are given a token appearance on the ballot if they meet the ten year rule and they were a regular player for most of that time.
  • The player may not be on the ineligible list (banned from baseball).
  • If a player dies within the five year span, he is eligible six months after his death provided he meets the above criteria. If an active player dies, he is eligible six months after his death.
  • To remain on the ballot, the player must receive at least five percent of the votes for any given year. If a player fails to receive 5%. He falls off the ballot until 21 years after his retirement (see below).
  • A player is considered elected if he receives at least 75% of all ballots cast in an election. 
You'll notice there is absolutely no performance criteria except those that govern length of service.  No 500 home runs, 3,000 hits, or 1,500 RBI's for batters.  No 300 wins, 2,000 strikeouts, or sub 3.00 ERA. That's why the Hall of Fame is so much fun--maddeningly so.  Lenny Harris is clearly eligible.  Though there are so few guidelines determining who gets in, the discussion resembles nothing so much as a food fight, Godzilla vs. Mothra, a veritable shitstorm as baseball writers, bloggers and other interested parties convince the planet their choices are suitable for the Hall, and commit character assassination to blot the career and character of those they deem unworthy. It's the greatest show on earth.

Here are some links to Hall of Fame ballots and discussion:
 Larry Larue of the News Tribune shares his ballot.
Larry Stone of the Seattle Times offers his choices here
Hall of Fame chatter galore at ESPN/  The writers are sure to share their votes Tuesday or Wednesday
Rob Neyer linked to the writers at the Chicago Tribune and their ballots.  How come they have like eight.  Grumpy bunch of bastards.
Hardball Times has its analysis of Hall of Fame voting and their predictions for Wednesday's result.  Really interesting stuff.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Steroids in Baseball: The Gift that Keeps on Giving

First, a happy birthday to Edgar Martinez.  Edgar may be the greatest Mariner of them all.  He was a wonderful hitter, both in the comfy confines of the Kingdome, but also managed to find considerable success in the open prairie at Safeco Field.  His line drive in 1995 that drove home Ken Griffey, Jr. to win the ALDS arguably saved baseball in Seattle.  Edgar is the player who never left, who played until it was clear he no longer should, and leaves an unblemished baseball legacy to the team and the city.

The debate continues whether a player who was primarily a DH for his career is fit to grace the halls at Cooperstown.  Looking at the "counting numbers," hits and home runs, suggest to many he is not.  While I am sold on the more advanced stats, I am more easily persuaded by what I saw and what the numbers say.  This was Edgar's line  .312/.418/..515.  His career OPS+ was 147.  That's not as good as Albert Pujols or Frank Thomas.  But it is better than David Ortiz or Alex Rodriguez , and the same as Jim Thome.  It is better than Hall of Famers Bill Terry, Duke Snider, and Eddie Matthews, great players all. I'm hoping the HOF voters will continue to look a little deeper than just the counting stats and find Edgar  Hall of Fame worthy as Joe Posnanski did this week.

While the debate goes on about the Hall of Fame, who's in who's out, the steroids issue raises its head again.  I have a pretty simple position on the use of PED's.  If you tested positive, or if there is some other evidence you used, i.e., Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens, you're out, you're done you're history.  Even if you fessed up as Mark McGwire did last year, I'm sorry, I'm glad you came clean but I can't support you. 

There is an effort among some to diminish the impact of steroids on the game. Eric Walker's lengthy article in August about the limited impact, if any, by steroids on baseball simply did not change my mind.  However, as writers try to find a way to bring the "steroids era" into focus with the rest of baseball history, rationalizing the blip in statistics between 1994 and 2004, some writers will concede the era was rife with cheating and just move on.  Maybe I will get there too at some point, but I'm certainly not there yet.  The notion of Rafael Palmeiro waving his finger at Congressmen and claiming he has never taken performance enhancing drugs is just a bit too disgusting for me to overlook, and is emblematic of the era.  "I'm not cheating, and what if I am," is an attitude I just can't condone.  It's the rule follower in me. 

But my view is nothing new.  What disturbs me even more is the flip side of the issue as it is emerging in this Hall of Fame season.  As Jeff Bagwell appeared on the Hall of Fame ballot, alongside McGwire and Palmeiro, writers have implicated him as a steroid user as well.  There is no evidence that Bagwell used PED's.  His name doesn't appear in the Mitchell report.  No teammates have rushed forward to implicate him injecting himself or others with dianabol.  Yet in the eyes of Fan House's Dan Graziano, no evidence is fine. His suspicions are good enough.   For Jeff Pearlman, who does not vote, but is voice in the baseball community, it is enough that Bagwell played during the steroid era to bar his admission to the hall.  To proof, not a shred of evidence is necessary, you are damned by the era you played in and the players you played with. 

 While I am a baseball fan, I am a history person first and foremost.  These views are emblematic of the very worst episodes in American history.  They are reminiscent of the red scares after both world wars.  They remind me of the critics of the right that accused critics of the war in Iraq of treason.  No evidence, simply guilt by implication.   It is cultural witch-hunting and a blot on baseball journalism.  Show us the facts, isn't that what journalism is about?

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy Birthday Hank and LaMarr

Hank Greenberg's statue outside Comerica Park.

Hank Greenberg was simply one of the best right hand hitters to play the game.  His 183 RBI's in 1937 is second all time to Gehrig's 184.  He hit 58 home runs in 1938.  His lifetime average OPS+ was 158.  He twice won the the AL MVP in 1935 and 1940.  Greenberg was another one of those stars who lost years to the war, as well as most of 1936 to serious injury.  He's also interesting because he is one of the first Jewish stars. 
Drafted before Pearl Harbor, Greenberg was the first major leaguer to serve in the armed forces in WWII.  Greenberg went to OCS, served with the USAAF in Asia, and finished the war a captain.

A tall, lanky first baseman, Greenberg was someone who simply wouldn't tolerate anti-semitic remarks, and enjoyed being a role model for what was possible for American Jews.  Greenberg played 12 years with the Tigers before being traded to the Pirates in 1947.  He was elected to the baseball Hall of Fame in 1956 went on to become Tigers general manager.  Hammerin' Hank died in 1986.  There is an excellent documentary called The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg that is available through Netflix.  It can also be streamed.
Greenberg was a great hitter who played on some very good teams-the G-Men World Series teams of 1934-5, and the 1940 and 1945 Tigers that also won the pennant.

Lamarr Hoyt was a nifty right handed pitcher for the White Sox and Padres in the 80's.  He had a couple of really good years, '82 and '83.  He won the Cy Young Award in 83 leading the AL in wins with 24.  Hoyt ended his career with the Padres in 1986 after being twice charged with drug possession. Commissioner Peter Ueberroth banned him from the game.  Pity.  For four years he was a good pitcher on some decent White Sox teams.  Lamarr Hoyt was born January 1, 1955.Wonder what he's doing now?
A good pitcher with the White Sox, despite the awful uniforms, Lamarr Hoyt threw away his promising baseball career.