"It gets late early around here." - Yogi Berra
June 30, 2000
BASEBALL: 2000 AL All-Star Ballot
Originally posted on the Boston Sports Guy website.
To figure out who belongs on the All-Star team, you first have to decide what kind of players you want to pick. In theory, I prefer to see the All-Star Team populated by the best players in the game, regardless of whether they happen to be having the best year. After all, nobody looks back and says, "gee, Willie Mays shouldn't have been on the All-Star Team in such-and-such year because Jim Hickman had a great month of May." The opposite method leaves you with Jack Armstrong starting the All-Star Game. In practice, though, I look at this year's stats as much as anyone.
I guess we have to accept that the real question is this: Who would we pick if the All-Star Game were voted on in September? It seems wrong that guys like Albert Belle and Ken Caminiti (who wasn?t on the team in 1996 when he was NL MVP) get punished for saving their best work for the stretch drive.
If Nomar is hitting .280 at the break and Mike Bordick is hitting .390, it's a safe bet that Bordick will wind up pretty close to Nomar at the end of the year, so we can fairly honor Bordick for being a better player in 2000. If Bordick is hitting .330 and Nomar is hitting .310, though, I'd rather have Nomar; let's be serious about which one of them will hit below .260 after the break and which will hit around .330 (we will get to the real numbers on the shortstops below).
You know the rules: 30 roster spots (too many, really, but necessary because we have to take team representatives) and one player from each team. I will pick my own starting squad since the balloting's still open. I will also leave players off the roster if they are on the DL. A note on stats: I usually write my column over a few days, so the stats here may not all be updated through today. But I don't compare players based on different days' stats.
Before I fill in the lineups, let's start by making room on the roster for the guys the All-Star Game exists for: great players in their prime, having seasons that adequately reflect their greatness. The game would be a farce without the following guys: Pedro, Nomar, Jeter, Alex and Ivan Rodriguez, Frank Thomas, Roberto Alomar, Mike Mussina, and (although I don't see them as Hall of Famers) Mariano Rivera and Bernie Williams. Manny Ramirez would fit this bill if he was healthy, but he's not.
Then there are good players having monster years: Carlos Delgado, Jason Giambi, Edgar Martinez, Troy Glaus, Derek Lowe, Darrin Erstad.
That leaves us with 14 more roster spots to fill, and four teams to account for: Kansas City, Minnestota, Tampa Bay and Detroit.
Now for the lineups:
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C: Ivan Rodriguez
Jason Varitek and Charles Johnson are fine players, but the number two catcher this season is definitely Jorge Posada -- he surpasses Varitek in almost every major offensive category despite playing in a much less hitter-friendly park. Johnson may be the best of the three defensively, but his history suggests that he is over his head offensively so far this year. Personally, I'm not certain I would rather have Posada over Varitek, given his notorious inconsistency, but over the last few years Posada has been the better hitter overall, and the defensive differences are not great.
1B: Carlos Delgado
I've already made room on the team for Frank Thomas and Edgar Martinez, so adding them to Giambi and Delgado we have 4 first base/DH types. That leaves Mike Sweeney out in the cold. Sweeney's numbers are real good, but here's the comparison:
Thomas is short in RBI; Sweeney is short with runs scored. Sweeney trails the other two in both SLG and OBP, and besides, I give the benefit of the doubt to long-established stars like Thomas who are headed to Cooperstown. Maybe next year, Mike.
Before we leave the first basemen, by the way, he may not be an All-Star candidate in this crowded field, but don?t look now: Jim Thome is back.
2B: Robbie Alomar
SS: Alex Rodriguez
Look at the hitting stats; we will throw in established non-All-Star Mike Bordick, who some ill-informed columnists have touted for the All-Star team, for comparison:
Then there's defense. The popular image is that Nomar is an outstanding defensive shortstop, Jeter a good one and Rodriguez a third baseman playing out of position. The numbers tell a different story. For most fielders, the two best indicators of defensive performance are Range Factor and Fielding Percentage. Fielding Percentage is familiar enough, and simply tells us how well the player handles the balls he gets to; Range Factor, which is also a very simple stat -- for shortstops, (putouts + assists)/inning -- measures how many plays a guy makes. While there are a few illusions factored into any stat, Range Factor tells you the same sort of stuff that batting average does - not how well a guy does something or how good he looks doing it, but how OFTEN.
Here are the numbers for the four candidates:
Jeter, as he usually does, runs dead last in the league in Range Factor. He may be graceful in the field and fast on the bases, but that just means he has talent. Brian Rose has talent, too. Jeter's not making the plays. A-Rod, by contrast, is doing just fine, not far behind Nomar in range and ahead in fielding percentage.
If you are wondering, the AL leader at the moment (other than Felix Martinez, who hasn?t been starting that long) is Royce Clayton at 5.19; only he and Jose Valentin are over 5.0. The 20th century record was 6.62 by Hall of Famer Dave Bancroft in 1918. As for fielding percentage, at this writing Omar Vizquel had not made an error yet.
So I'm taking the Big Three for the team: Rodriguez, then Nomar Garciaparra, then Derek Jeter. Jeter's flaws don't take away from the fact that he's still one of the game's brightest stars and likely to be way up there offensively by the end of the year. Nobody else is in their league.
3B: Troy Glaus
As for Cal Ripken, his injury this week was a fortunate break; I'm okay with erring on the side of putting Hall of Famers on the team when they are past their prime, but Ripken is way past that, and he is not and never has been a Hall of Fame THIRD BASEMAN. Ripken's on-base percentage is .295, almost 40 points below Mike Hampton's. Glaus' is .429. Thanks for the memories, Cal, but if Stan Musial and Warren Spahn aren't playing, neither are you.
The others: well, there are a few guys (Travis Fryman, Tony Batista) worthy of consideration, but we need a Tiger, and Dean Palmer is having his usual productive year. He stands up better to the other third basemen than Higginson against the outfielders or Todd Jones against the elite closers. Palmer ought to be traded, of course; a veteran RBI man is useless to a team with no baserunners that's miles from contention. But I'm assuming he will still be a Tiger when they fill the rosters. Nine slots to go.
Hmmmm. Lawton isn't better than any of the other guys, but he has been for the first three months of this season. Belle and Everett seem to have problems scoring runs, due mostly to the people "hitting" behind them.
Bernie and Belle are close enough to the pace that I would put them in the starting outfield; they just have better track records than the others. Given that he's warming up to another monster second half, I'd rather have Belle the rest of this season than any of the others; wouldn't you?
The third slot is tough; Everett is something like an established star now, and he and the erratic Erstad are the top two bats. But Dye is also having a huge year, and is probably the best defensive outfielder in the AL. When I cast my first online ballot, I voted for Dye, but this is a close call, and since Everett plays a tougher defensive position and has a big edge in slugging and RBI I?ll give him the nod, with Dye and Erstad as backups. I would also take Ordonez over Justice as a backup, since Ordonez is coming off a better year and he's a better defensive player.
What about Lawton? He?s not a bad representative, but really, Ordonez is a better player than him, too, and I see Brad Radke as yet again one of the better pitchers in the league, so we'll cut Lawton for the same reason we leave Erstad out of the starting lineup: last season he stank, and the previous year he tailed off after a hot start.
That makes 6 outfielders, and 7 slots to fill the pitching staff out to 11. I would take Greg Vaughn here (instead of Ordonez) to represent the Rays, but with him hurt I just can?t bring myself to put Gerald Williams or the remnants of Fred McGriff on the All-Star Team, so we will have to take a (gag) Tampa Bay pitcher.
The other six? Well, as far as honors go, I'd prefer starters. Most of the big closers aren?t having dominant years anyway, and I blanch at honoring people who throw 70 innings a year. On the other hand, closers are available to pitch, so you want a few to be sure you win the game. So we will add Keith Foulke, whether he?s the closer at the moment or not; he was unbelievable all last season and the first nine weeks or so of this one before a recent slump.
Then four starters: James Baldwin, who's having a beast of a year and has won 18 of his last 20 decisions; Brad Radke (yes! Two Twins!), who's been a productive workhorse; Chuck Finley, another durable standby; and Tim Hudson, who endured three April beatings by Boston and Cleveland but is 9-0 with a 3.19 ERA (61 hits in 87.1 innings) in his other starts ... he's now 20-4 in 37 career starts. (Those three whuppings hurt my rotisserie team much more than they hurt the A's; a similar logic might support El Duque if he was healthy.) Pardon me if I don?t quite believe in Cal Eldred yet, and Kevin Appier has been hit harder than his ERA suggests.
Now we have 29. My last pick: Steve Trachsel. Trachsel is something of a bogus All-Star, but he's 19th in the league in ERA -- ahead of all the Yankees' starters -- and he suffered from awful run support all season. At one point last month he had yet to win a game where he allowed even a single run. He's 6-7 for Tampa Bay; when you look at the Tampa Bay lineup and bullpen, that's impressive. We need a Devil Ray, so he's it.
You will notice a bias here: Mussina, Radke, Trachsel and Finley are a combined 22-28, while I leave off guys who are 9-2 or 8-3 or 7-1. Won-loss records are subject to a lot of luck, so they can easily be misleading over just half a season. They matter, because they are still the ultimate bottom line, but we don't need to be told that 12-2 Wells or 7-1 Ricky Bottalico are not better than 9-3 San Pedro de Fenway. Same with the others; their ERAs and other stats just don?t suggest that they are the best pitchers.
Of course, that's just my opinion... I could be wrong...
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June 23, 2000
BASEBALL: Sammy Sosa For Trot Nixon?
Originally posted on the Boston Sports Guy website.
This column is a companion piece to Sports Guy's feature on in-season trades from last Friday. My own take on such trades is that you usually make the Mike Boddicker and Doyle Alexander trades to push for a division title -- even though they both sounded pretty dumb around 1996, when John Smoltz was the Cy Young, Brady Anderson hit 50 homers, and Curt Schilling was emerging as a dominant power pitcher.
As a Mets fan in the 1980s, I used to be more down on dealing prospects because prospects are a cheap, renewable resource; use them as the Indians and Braves did in the mid-90s (Chipper, Thome, Manny, Javy, Millwood, Colon) and you can basically replace an aging contender with a younger one without missing a beat. The alternative, I thought at the time, was the 80s Yankees: forever bringing in Winfields and Griffeys and Hendersons and Don Baylors and Jack Clarks, shipping out young pitchers like Doug Drabek, Bob Tewksbury and Jose Rijo and forever mired in second place until they gradually sunk back into the cellar.
Experience has changed that view. First of all, I watched almost every Mets prospect of the past 6 years (other than Alfonzo) be destroyed by injury, often at the AA or AAA level. (Cue up the theme music, to the tune of the Go-Gos “Vacation”: “Jay Payton on the disabled list! Jay Payton needs to have surgery!”) I was less upset when the Mets made the Hampton trade (giving up two potential stars for a free agent pitcher and an outfielder who might or might not have one last good year left), because who knows whether Octavio Dotel can stay healthy?
Today’s high-offense environment -- in which pitchers throw more pitches per inning to increasingly-selective, ibcreasingly-powerful hitters -- has made it more difficult to break in talented young pitchers without injury or horrific ineffectiveness (Jeff Suppan anyone?). And the increase in homers has extended the productive phase of power hitters’ careers into their thirties. As a result, trading young arms and injury-prone outfield prospects for established stars is a more sensible gamble than it was ten years ago. If I was the Yankees, I’d even have to consider dealing Nick Johnson, who looks for all the world like a young Jeff Bagwell and has even drawn comparisons to Lou Gehrig, because Johnson has never been healthy for a full season and may never be (ditto the Mets and Alex Escobar).
As Mets fans learned after 1990 and Mariners fans may see after 2000, even teams with a core of young talent can see their window of opportunity close in a hurry for many reasons. True fans would rather live with the championship and the consequences than spend years afterwards wondering “what if we’d added one more bat...”
There are still three exceptions:
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--1. As the Cubs have learned in the ugly aftermath of 1998, it's not worth it to load up on expensive and rapidly declining veterans just to win a wild card race when you have no chance of advancing in the playoffs. You sell the future for the star pitcher who can help you win it all; you do not sell the future for Larry Andersen when you expect to get clobbered by the Bash Brothers in the ALCS.
--2. You don’t make these deals if you can’t afford to pay the guys you trade for. The Expos couldn’t re-sign Mark Langston in 1989, so they looked like idiots for giving up on Randy Johnson in the years before he was arbitration-eligible. Ditto the Astros for acquiring Johnson. Re-sign him, and the Astros would have had a second shot at the brass ring.
--3. If your core talent is all young and improving and you think you can pay them to stay put, I would still prefer to plan long-range (the current A’s come to mind here, though less of the production on that team comes from the youngsters than you think). Smoltz-for-Alexander made sense for an aging Tiger team in its next-to-last year as a contender in 1987; it would not have been a good deal had the Tigers been going for it in 1980, with Whitaker/Trammell/Gibson/Morris/Parrish all young and improving. At that point you focus on building a superior team because it increases your odds at winning it all at least once. That's the primary goal.
But such teams are rare. The current Red Sox are almost entirely built on key contributors 30 and under, but the team is still critically dependent on Pedro, Nomar and Carl Everett... and Pedro and Everett are unlikely to stay where they are for too many more years.
Now, I’ve underestimated Pedro’s durability and capacity for improvement before. When the Sox traded for him, I expected him to be a Saberhagen/Guidry type, a guy who goes 22-6, 2.20 ERA one year and 7-9, 4.10 and two months on the DL the next. Even so, there are limits to how long anyone can stay this dominant -- if he keeps up his current pace and Randy Johnson doesn’t, he will eclispse Walter Johnson’s 1913 as the most dominant pitching season ever, which already puts him in a class of one -- and limits how many years a relatively undersized power pitcher can go deep into games and deep into the playoffs without any visible wear and tear.
(Tuesday Pedro threw 117 pitches while nursing an injury, and we remember the risks he ran in contorting himself to pitch in pain in Game 5 against the Indians. You can only do that so many times before it catches up to you, as it did with Dizzy Dean. As for Everett, his offense this season is way ahead of even the last two, and do not forget that he is 29 years old and has never topped 470 at bats in a season due to injuries.)
Bottom line: the Sox have horses now that they may not have in two years. It’s worth rolling the dice a bit to bring in some help. Also, maybe things have changed since I left Boston four years ago, but it wasn’t so long ago that most Red Sox fans would have given their right arm for a guy who could bring a World Championship to Fenway – but not Trot Nixon?
So, the Sox should make a blockbuster deal, if the right one is available. So should the Mets, who are built around thirtysomething veterans, including a catcher with a high odometer and a free agent No. 1 starter. And so should the Yankees, who are long in the tooth but always a threat to hoist another of their $#!#$@!% pennants. As for the Braves and Indians, they have different needs and are both battling age in key areas; the Indians increasingly look like their window may already have closed.
But is the right deal trading for Sammy Sosa?
Clearly, Sosa would help each of the New York teams in 2000 and 2001; he's far better than anyone in the Mets’ outfield, and easily better than the Yankee OF/DHs except for Bernie. Both teams could pay him and both teams have enough prospects to make it happen.
As for the Red Sox, Sosa is also a better player than Trot Nixon -- even with Nixon’s improvement this year, Sosa has 20 homers and 64 RBI this season, while Nixon has 22 and 90 in his career. Sosa’s slugging percentage is 100 points higher, his on base percentage 25 points higher (if you are wondering, both players are bucking their career trends by hitting much better on the road than at home this season). Nixon looks better in the field, and the numbers back that up: he has no errors this year to Sammy’s 5, and his range factor (the number of plays he makes per 9 innings in the field, the best measure of defensive effectiveness) is 2.25 to Sammy’s 2.02. But that’s not a big enough difference to offset Sosa’s advantage with the bat. And the fact that Nixon will probably be better two years from now is irrelevant to this season’s hunt; remember, if the White Sox had won the World Series with George Bell, they wouldn’t be embarrassed now about trading Sosa for him.
The key things you need to remember about trades: What are the available alternatives, what other holes do you need to fill with your available trade bait, and who else is on the market? Obviously there are other players on the block and everyone is keeping one eye on the free agent crop due up in the fall; it wouldn't make sense to raoe your farm system for Gonzalez when you could just sign him after the season.
The wild card in all this is Baltimore. Have you ever been in a rotisserie baseball league with a guy who can really improve his team by trading, and he is sitting on a whole bunch of the most marketable players in the league, the guys everyone wants... and he still won’t make a deal? The Orioles are that guy. They won’t win anything this year and they keep getting worse. Their roster is a Who's Who of veterans who would help any contender in a pennant race: Mussina, Belle, Erickson, DeShields, Brady, Surhoff, Clark, Bordick, Timlin, maybe Baines. Wouldn’t the Yankees kill for Delino DeShields right now? And who couldn't use Erickson? According to Peter Gammons, Erickson probably needs to be dealt in the next 2 weeks, before he becomes a 10-and-5 man July 5. But there they sit, and nobody knows if they are even answering the phone.
If we assume that the O’s would be in the market, of course, Mussina and Belle would have to be part of the equation. Mussina and Brad Radke are the top starters available, although the Cubs and Phillies have some people who might be helpful. As for Belle, he and Juan Gonzalez are both better hitters than Sosa, and amazingly -- (given that Sammy was a good centerfielder not so many years ago -- they're more reliable now in the field. Belle appears to be warming up to one of his famous rest-of-the-year hot streaks. He and Sosa have an advantage in being virtually indestructable, while Gonzalez gets hurt a lot. Belle and Gonzalez may also be less of a distraction, in their own way; they are harder guys to get along with than the gregarious Sosa, but they are also both happy to be left alone to just play the game.
More to the point, Gonzalez is clearly on the market, probably coming cheaper than Sosa (since the Tigers are facing getting nothing for him, plus they are run by an imbecile who can be persuaded to deal for guys who just sort of look like good players) and there’s no need to pay him to stick around next year (we will forget for the moment how he hits against the Yankees in October).
The long-range hazard with Sammy is this: you tie up a bunch of money in him and in three years, he's Jose Canseco and has 4 years at $17 million per to go. If you're the Yanks, that adds to the hassle of paying Jeter (who sure deserves more $$ than the Slammer), and if you're the Mets, you are saving every penny to make sure that you can either sign A-Rod or force the Braves to spend so much to sign him that they have to convert CNN to pay per view and charge rates for AOL that would make Exxon blush.
The real reason the Sox should blanch at giving up Trot Nixon is that they still have bigger problems: a cavity in left field and a shortage of dependable starting pitchers. Upgrading from Darren Lewis to a reputable left fielder (unless Troy O’Leary can stage a second-half revival) is far more important than replacing a productive Nixon with a major star. Beyond San Pedro de Fenway, the rest of the Sox starting rotation is guys who might need to be replaced by the end of this season, let alone next.
If I'm Dan Duquette, I would make the Sosa deal if you could do it for prospects, even if it meant coughing up an awful lot of them, but losing Nixon would wipe out a lot of the short-term value. That’s why Gonzalez is the guy the Sox should go after: the Tigers may be more willing than the Cubs to accept a package of over-hyped Asian pitching prospects and Dernell Stenson. Unfortunately, Steve Lomasney or Hatteberg won’t entice the Tigers, since they already are overloaded with catching prospects.
The Mets and Yanks could also use some pitching help, which may deter them from . The Mets will only need their 4 good starters in the playoffs, but in a tough wild card hunt they have to stop experimenting with disastrous visits to Bobby Jones University every five days. The Yankees are discovering what made “thirtysomething” so depressing after a couple of years.
So, everyone could use Sammy – but suddenly he looks a lot like a guy who’s staying put. My predictions...
* The O’s will stand pat, maybe trading only Surhoff to Boston and Erickson to the Mets or to one of the NL West contenders.
* The Yankees will get Juan Gonzalez, and give up on Sosa. The Indians will get Curt Schilling. Gonzalez will be a success and Schilling a failure.
* If Brad Radke gets traded he will go to Oakland.
* Atlanta will add a pitcher, maybe Andy Ashby, and will end up exiling John Rocker.
* And that would leave Sosa going to the Mets, the Diamondbacks – or staying home.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
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June 16, 2000
BASEBALL: Shoeless Joe and Charlie Hustle
This is a slightly edited version of a column on Shoeless Joe Jackson and Pete Rose that first ran on the BSG site in June 2000.
You might remember that a number of prominent members of Congress shepherded through “commemorative” legislation in the fall of 1999 urging Major League Baseball to honor Shoeless Joe Jackson with induction into the Hall of Fame. (Warning: the link is to a PDF file. There was also a companion bill that passed the South Carolina Legislature in 1998, but I've mislaid the link since this article first ran.) It seems like a big contrast to the events of the last few years, as baseball continues to refuse Pete Rose permission to be honored for his accomplishments -- they barred him from the 25th anniversary festivities of the '75 Big Red Machine and continue to insist on keeping him out of Cooperstown.
Putting Shoeless Joe in the Hall of Fame would be outrageous; the people involved with this legislation should be ashamed of themselves. While Rose is also deserving of sanction, his case is a much different story; I will explain below why he should be allowed into Cooperstown.
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The argument in favor of Shoeless Joe, as set forth by our Congress (feel the tax dollars at work!) in bills passing both houses with unanimous consent, runs like this:
--1. Shoeless Joe was acquitted in a court of law of fixing the 1919 World Series.
--2. Baseball never gave Jackson a hearing.
--3. Jackson’s outstanding play in the series, hitting .375 with the series’ only homer and no errors in the field, suggests that he was giving his all.
--4. Shoeless Joe got cold feet after taking $5,000 to participate in the fix; he considered sitting out the series, tried to give the money back, and tried to tell owner Charlie Comiskey about the fix.
--5. 80 years is too long to hold a grudge.
Let's pollute this little back-scratching exercise with a few facts, shall we?
--1. The acquittal of Jackson and his cronies in a Chicago court was a bigger fix than the 1960 Presidential election; the signed confessions of several of the players were not admitted into evidence because they had "mysteriously" disappeared from the DA’s office. That’s obstruction of justice in a big way; even if it was never pinned on anyone, it’s nothing Congress should point to with pride.
--2. There was no need for a hearing. Given the confessions and the evidence that actually was presented and contested in court, there could really be no question that the series was fixed, that the “8 men out” had known it was fixed, that several had received money from the gamblers and that at least five of the players had been active participants in throwing games. As a legal matter, Judge Landis (the commissioner and a former federal judge himself) could draw his own conclusions from this evidence; he wasn’t bound to reach the same conclusion as the jury, particularly since a ban from baseball does not require proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
--3. Jackson played well in the Series, but when you examine the stats closely, he didn’t play SO well that you could rule out participation in the fix on that ground alone. The Black Sox weren’t trying to get swept, after all, just lose the series; Jackson batted .545 in their three victories but .286 in the five losses, .267 in the first four defeats. The decisive Game 8, in which Jackson did most of his damage (a solo homer and a 2-RBI double) was a blowout, courtesy of Lefty Williams; Jackson fouled out with 2 on in the first inning, so the White Sox were still down 5-0 when Jackson homered, and 10-1 when he doubled. He still made the last out of the game, though.
(If you want the actual play-by-play, courtesy of a pro-Joe website, click here.)
--4. Jackson said that he went to Comiskey, which proves only that they should tear down Comiskey’s plaque in Cooperstown. But he didn’t go to the police. He didn’t go to the press, not even when Christy Mathewson and writer Ring Lardner were questioning the White Sox’ effort. He didn’t tell his other teammates, or the manager. He kept his mouth shut for a year afterwards. And he spent the $5,000 he got for participating in the fix. Once you get involved in a conspiracy, it takes more than that to back out.
-5. Eighty years is a long time, but hey, the guy’s been dead for 49 years. Why the rush to honor him? If punishing Jackson doesn’t matter anymore, why does honoring him? Heck, Hitler’s been dead 55 years now; let’s let bygones be bygones and put up a statue to him! (Note that I'm not comparing Joe Jackson to Hitler; the point here is just that right is right and wrong is wrong, and the passage of time changes neither).
Shoeless Joe knew that his teammates were throwing the World Series, actively corrupting the game. He took money ($5,000 was nothing to sneeze at in 1919) to participate. He did nothing to stop the fix, and nothing to expose it. Thirty years later, he was still denying that it had ever happened.
Jackson’s story is somewhat sad because so much talent was wasted, but should we forgive him just because he could hit? Where’s the movement to clear Fred McMullen and Happy Felsch? Yeah, he was illiterate, but he wasn’t an imbecile; he became a successful businessman after the ban.
The Shoeless Joe bill was sponsored in the Senate by Strom Thurmond, Fritz Hollings, Tom Harkin, and John McCain, and in the House by the South Carolina delegation and Steve Largent. The movement has been spearheaded by Ted Williams (who took the cause to his grave), Bob Feller and Tommy Lasorda. And all these people should know better.
I suppose I can understand Thurmond, since Jackson was once a constituent (he was running a liquor store in South Carolina when Thurmond ran against Harry Truman for President) and Thurmond is old enough to remember Jackson’s playing days, having been 48 years old when Shoeless Joe hit .408 as a rookie in 1911 (that's a joke -- he really WAS eight, though). The other South Carolina folks seem wrapped up in the whole native-son bit. Still, Harkin (whose only connection is that “Field of Dreams” was shot in Iowa) and McCain (who signed on before the South Carolina primary) seem like unlikely crusaders for corruption. And Largent, Feller, Lasorda, Teddy Ballgame; those guys wouldn’t have tolerated this on their own teams.
I have a lot of respect for a number of those people, but on this one, shame on all of them. Maybe they should research the facts before they blindly support someone who sold out America's pastime.
Turning to Rose . . .
You probably know that Jackson sits on baseball’s "permanently ineligible" list, as does current all-time hits leader Pete Rose. Under baseball rules, individuals on the ineligible list may not participate in the game in any capacity – player, manager, coach. They also may not appear at any baseball event. In response to the Rose ban, baseball also passed a rule barring the Hall of Fame from honoring anyone on the ineligible list. Rose was granted a waiver to appear in the All-Century Team festivities, but he's otherwise been banned from any other baseball event.
In my opinion, unlike Jackson, Rose should be allowed to participate in this sort of thing and he should be inducted into the Hall of Fame. He should not, however, ever be allowed to manage or coach again.
To recap, Rose was basically accused of three things:
--1. Gambling heavily on sports, including baseball games in which he wasn’t involved. This meant that Rose associated with, and accumulated gambling debts to, shady characters who bet on baseball and had ties to organized crime.
--2. Refusing to admit he has a gambling problem.
--3. Betting on the Reds, in some, but not all, the games he was managing.
The evidence on the first two points is fairly ironclad, and Rose has never offered anything to seriously dispute them. These two facts, alone, justify baseball’s continuing ban on Rose’s involvement in the game as a manager or in any other capacity. This isn’t Michael Jordan betting with his golf buddies, Charles Barkley hanging out in a casino, or even Rogers Hornsby or John McGraw betting on horse races (which is closer but still different); this is gambling on the outcome of the very kind of thing Rose did for a living. Professional sports have enough perverse institutional incentives as is; they can’t afford to employ people who are in debt to people who have a powerful incentive to fix games. So, Rose is a threat to the FUTURE integrity of the game. And, he’s a liar who can’t be trusted. For its own protection, the game should keep Pete Rose on the ineligible list.
But there's one catch here: Neither of these facts suggest that Rose has actually done anything to impair the integrity of a major league baseball game. It's not remotely in the same league as throwing a baseball game or taking bribes to throw a game or even remaining silent with the knowledge that your teammates are throwing a game.
Even the rules of the game specify only a one-year suspension for betting on a baseball game that you are not involved in. There are those, Jim Gray apparently included, who seem to think that the issue is when Rose will apologize and own up to his failings. It’s the modern way, you know; say you're sorry and all is forgiven.
We have seen this same scenario in the Latrell Sprewell and John Rocker cases. Spree refused to take his punishment like a man and even sued his agent for letting him get punished; that’s what really got people mad. Rocker’s failure to learn anything from his troubles jeopardized his entire career over words alone – very bad words, but nothing nearly as bad as, say, wife-beating. Yes, contrition is a hugely important part of our criminal justice system as well as our religious traditions, but it’s important to keep perspective, too. What Rose did was inexcusable and indefensible, just like what Sprewell did and what Rocker said. But the punishment should still fit the crime; a single bad act can be indefensible without being a capital offense.
Badgering the man to apologize also misses the point; the continuing ban on managing isn’t so much a punishment as a preventative measure, like impeaching a public official or disbarring a crooked lawyer (to give two obvious parallels). Nor would I accept his apology. Rose’s decade-long denial of his problems, as well as his numerous false denials at the time, even under oath, of various easily provable facts suggests that he is not to be trusted even when and if he ever makes a public display of contrition. A man like Rose cannot be trusted to enter a professional clubhouse, for the good of the game.
Of course, that leaves us with the other charge: betting on the Reds. The rules of the game clearly specify a permanent ban on anyone betting on a game they are involved in. Nobody ever claimed that Rose bet AGAINST his own team, but even betting on his own team is not as harmless as it sounds, which is why the rules make no such distinction. A manager who bets on his own team, for example, is apt to exacerbate the harmful tendency managers already have to sacrifice the long-term good of the team to win particular games.
To be specific, a manager with money on particular games is likely to burn out his bullpen, even in games that are not really that close, because he needs to win today more than tomorrow. And look at the record: in 1987, for example, Rose’s top three relievers were John Franco, Rob Murphy and Frank Williams. Murphy and Williams both cleared 85 appearances and 100 innings; the notoriously glass-armed Franco appeared in 68 games throwing 82 innings, and had thrown 74 games and 101 innings the previous year. As a result, Franco was ineffective in September both seasons (to be fair, he always is) and Murphy and Williams were never the same again. A manager who doesn’t bet on every game may hurt his team in other ways, subtly favoring one game in the way he uses his players.
It is worth remembering, though, that there are at least questions about the case against Rose on this point. Now, I’ve read the Dowd Report but I haven’t had time myself to plow through the entire thing in the kind of detail needed to evaluate the full strength of the case against Rose. But there are legitimate concerns as to the character of the witnesses against Rose on this point and the quality of the physical evidence, questions that might have been probed if there had been a hearing at the time.
I know I tend to quote Bill James too much, but he did an excellent (if much-critized) appraisal of the Dowd Report in The Baseball Book 1990, focusing on a few key points:
* Dowd’s obvious loss of perspective (baseball has tried to get the bar to order him not to continue talking about his representation of baseball in this case without the game's permission, which is not really the most professional conduct by an attorney);
* The fact that much of the case against Rose rested on the testimony of Paul Janzen, who claimed that bets he (not Rose) placed on baseball games were for Rose, and not his own, when he would have obvious incentives to say so; and
* Reasons (relating to Rose’s pending criminal case and to the types of people he was involved with) why Rose wasn’t really free, at least at the time, to give a truthful account of his side of the story.
James also questioned the authenticity of the handwritten betting records, although on some of his critiques of the evidence, James got the facts wrong. The betting records do appear to be strong evidence, and in Rose’s handwriting, although it's still not entirely clear what they demonstrate.
And yes, Rose agreed to his ban from the game. But baseball cut a deal with Rose: his suspension was expressly conditioned on there not being a finding that he had bet on baseball. Rose accepted that deal in large part for two reasons: (1) he thought the commissioner meant it when he said there would be no such finding and (2) he had to settle with baseball because he had more serious legal troubles, specifically a prosecution for tax evasion for which he ultimately served time. Any lawyer worth his salt would have told him to take that deal to focus on the criminal case.
I’m not so much concerned here with whether the charges are true. I suspect that they probably are. I’m not even sure if Bill James holds to the same view now; he’s had harsher words for Rose since then. Even if they are true, however, baseball’s ban on allowing Rose to participate even in commemorations and the ban on honoring him in the Hall of Fame is unreasonable and goes further than needed to send a message about his conduct. The rule was made for Rose; it can and should be changed to allow fans and writers to honor him.
There are two other CRUCIAL facts that no sane baseball fan could ever dispute:
Fact #1. Pete Rose played in more major league baseball games than anyone else, ever.
Fact #2. No one who watched even one of those games doubts that Rose did everything within his power, and sometimes things beyond what we would think of as his physical limitations, to win every single one of those games.
Added together, they have to count for something. Rose was once a certifiable icon, someone who symbolized complete devotion to winning baseball games -- the antithesis of the disengaged loafers who were too common then just as they are now. This is a man who got married in the morning and played that same afternoon. He was Cal Ripken Jr. when Ripken was still wearing diapers. Did that change? Granted, the Cobb chase meant that he played in a lot of games where he wasn’t actually helping the team, but so did Ripken; was the rest of baseball innocent of indulging them in that conceit? Rose never stopped hustling, never sat out games until he was past 40 and desperately needed the rest.
There’s a difference between being a hero and being a role model. A role model is someone you would want to imitate, even when you know everything he or she has done and said and stood for; it’s a high standard, and I can count my personal role models on one hand, if that. Nobody argues today that Pete Rose is a role model. But a hero is someone who does something heroic; if you risk your life to save someone else, you are a hero no matter what else you’ve done before or since.
The Hall of Fame is for baseball’s heroes, not its role models. There are people who are probably legitimate role models there – Wagner, Musial, Mathewson, Gehrig, Jackie Robinson, Clemente, just to name a few. But there are plenty of others who were honored, deservingly, for their accomplishments even though they embarrassed or dishonored the game in other ways. Ruth hung his manager out the window of a moving train by his neck. Hornsby was constantly in hot water for his gambling. Cepeda and Jenkins were busted for drugs. Anson did huge damage to the game on the field as the ringleader of those who instituted the color line.
There are other guys in there who didn’t always hustle, maybe didn’t get as much from their talent as they could have. There are even guys like Steve Carlton who stuck around a few years as awful players just to get a paycheck, hurting their teams. They’re not all role models, and I wouldn’t put some of them in a position of trust. But they are baseball heroes, guys who helped win a lot of baseball games, and Cooperstown is right to include them.
Shoeless Joe Jackson participated in the greatest affront to the game, ever, on the field of play. He was, at minimum, in league with people who deliberately threw the World Series. No amount of heroism can overcome that because it goes to the heart of what makes Jackson a hero: his ability to help his team win ballgames. He willfully threw away the ultimate goal that Chicago baseball fans have never tasted in the 81 years since: a World Championship. He participated in a conspiracy that TRIED TO LOSE some of the most important games he ever played.
Rose is different. What Pete Rose is accused of doing was giving in to behavior that can subtly, corrosively corrupt the game. It can lead to bad things. It can sap the will to win. For that, for the good of the game, he belongs on the outside looking in. So the bad things stay outside. So everyone in the game knows that this conduct merits a permanent ban. Do it, you’re gone, you’re never coming back.
But he was still trying to win. There’s never been anything to dispute that. Maybe it clouded his judgment and screwed with his incentives, but there are a lot of managers with cloudy judgment and screwy incentives out there. In the end, maybe it’s more a difference of degree than a difference in kind between Rose and Joe Jackson, but then it’s a difference of degree between Pedro Martinez and Todd Van Poppel, too. It’s still a big degree. Rose tried to win and took part in an awful lot of wins.
For that reason, much as we may deny Rose the ability to win future glories, we should not deny him his past ones. He helped his teams win well over a thousand baseball games, seven division titles, five pennants, three championships. He was a great player for five or six years, and a very good one for many, many years. The Hall of Fame is poorer without the hit king.
Leo Durocher always said, if nothing else, don't put me in the Hall of Fame after I die -- do it while I'm here to enjoy it or not at all. Leo was elected the year after his death. You know and I know that Pete Rose will be too, once there's no hope of dragging an apology or a confession out of him. That's a cheap shot, and if baseball takes its honors seriously it will find room to honor Rose for what he did, on the field and in the dugout, to win all those baseball games.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK:
- Peter Gammons, circa 1991.
(Well, it wasn’t that accurate, but it was still a great line.)
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June 9, 2000
BASEBALL: Semi-Random Notes
Originally posted on the Boston Sports Guy website.
A few semi-random notes:
* Continuing last week's theme about the toll of Pudge Rodriguez's heavy catching workload, we need to incorporate that dreaded phrase, "At this pace ... " Paces are pretty meaningless -- particularly in April -- except maybe to demonstrate precisely how far (or not far) out of whack a player is with his past performance. Once you move into June, however, paces will at least provide an early heads-up that certain records might be challenged this year.
For instance, through Tuesday, Pudge was on pace to ground into 42 double plays, easily breaking Jim Rice's single season record of 36. Detroit's Deivi Cruz (who bats at the bottom of baseball’s worst lineup) is also ahead of Rice’s pace (38), and two others are on a pace to tie the record: Ben Grieve and Garret Anderson. Rodriguez grounded into a major-league leading 32 DPs last year and was caught stealing 12 times, thus giving back about as many outs on the basepaths as he created with his throwing arm ( he’s been caught 3 times in 4 tries this year). Somebody should keep track of the record for "Most outs given back."
* Years from now, if you ask me when I knew the home run explosion of the late 1990s had finally gone too far, I will probably point to the moment in last Sunday's Mets-Devil Rays game when the Rays got back-to-back homers from Felix Martinez and Esteban Yan. Yan's homer came on the first pitch thrown to him as a professional baseball player. He hadn’t swung a bat in a game of any kind in ten years.
* A CBS Sportsline column claimed that some people say that Antonio Alfonseca has “an unfair advantage” in having six fingers to grip the ball. Who are these people? Randy Johnson has an advantage in being 6’10” and throwing 98 miles an hour. Ted Williams had an advantage in having insanely good eyesight. Hall of Famer Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown had an advantage because a greusome childhood accident left him with a mangled right hand, which he used to put movement on his pitches that no one without his “handicap” could duplicate. Is that unfair? Get over it.
* Where are they now? In case you missed it, ESPN.com reported in a May 19, story about Terry Steinbach that Dana Kiecker is still pitching, throwing amateur "town ball" in his native Minnesota. There... now you can sleep at night.
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QUOTE OF THE WEEK
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June 2, 2000
BASEBALL: Catchers and Graveyards
Originally posted on the Boston Sports Guy website
Here in NY, where the Baseball Crank resides, the question comes up often: should Mike Piazza be moved from behind the plate? The issue is front and center again after Piazza suffered his third concussion in three years Wednesday night, in a bloody mess. All three were as a result of being hit in the head with a bat.
Piazza's a defensive liability, the argument goes, the team will never go far if he wears down in October every year and he'll last longer at the bat. In the AL, the issue is the same, albeit for different reasons: should Ivan Rodriguez move, and if so when? Piazza says he wants to stay a catcher as long as he can. Rodriguez, who doesn't get asked the question as often, says in a few years he'd like to move to 2B to prolong his career.
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Bill James, the king of all baseball analysts, has often argued that nearly all catchers burn out, offensively as well as defensively, after about 1200-1300 games behind the mask. You can only do so many deep knee bends, after all. The toll is particularly heavy on guys who put in 130+ games a year through their twenties and early thirties, year in and year out without a break.
It's no accident that the two guys who defied this general rule, Carlton Fisk and Bob Boone, both missed a lot of time in their twenties. Remember, Fisk and Johnny Bench were born in the same month - but Bench is now a distant memory, 17 years retired, while Fisk was only a year short of playing against Alex Rodriguez (who was three months old when Fisk hit his most famous home run).
The Baseball Prospectus website ran a study recently to determine if catchers also peak later, because the workload stunts their growth as hitters. The study was somewhat inconclusive, but consistent with the idea that many catching careers start to go down the tubes around age 31 and most catchers drive off the bridge around age 34.
Among the many bizarre items of information you can find on the Web: the Baseball Hall of Fame's website has a page listing where every dead Hall of Famer is buried.
For the record, 15 of baseball's immortals are buried in Massachusetts, including two in Boston proper (Hugh Duffy, holder of the single-season batting average record at .438 or .440, depending who you believe, and Mike "King" Kelly, for whom Chicago fans coined the chant, "Slide, Kelly, Slide!"). 300-game winners Tim Keefe and John Clarkson are apparently buried in the same cemetery in Cambridge. Clarkson, by the way, turned in the most impressive workhorse season of any pitcher ever in 1889 when he started 72 games and threw 620 innings for Boston. Neither is a record, but the records were set several years earlier under different conditions; nobody else was doing this by 1889, and Clarkson led his league by a margin of about 200 innings and threw almost 30% more innings than any other major leage pitcher that season.
Most of the rest of the list is also made up of 19th century players, befitting the norteastern, Irish background of so many players in the 1890s (back when sportswriters used to debate whether the Irish were genetically superior athletes). The rest: Eddie Collins, Joe Cronin, glove wizard Rabbit Maranville, two-time .400-hitter Jesse Burkett, Candy Cummings (who supposedly invented the curveball), Jack Chesbro (whose 41 wins in 1904 are the "modern" single season win record, counting since they moved the mound back to 60 feet 6 inches from 50 feet), National Association star and NL pioneer George Wright, umpire Tom Connolly, and three other members of Duffy's late-1890s Boston Braves (then known as the Beaneaters) - manager Frank Selee, "Sliding Billy" Hamilton (a Worcester native and the greatest leadoff hitter before Rickey Henderson), and Tommy McCarthy (who wasn't really a Hall of Fame player but is enshrined for the many innovations he and Selee introduced or perfected in areas like relaying signs and moving baserunners).
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