Monthly Archives: April 2011

Double the fun: Bye-Bye, Bobo

Editor’s note: Last year, Joe Guzzardi wrote a Saturday column on noteworthy doubleheaders throughout baseball history. With a new season underway, this column makes its return.

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Alva Lee “Bobo” Holloman’s St. Louis Browns’ career lasted only three months. On May 6, 1953, pitching in his first start, Holloman tossed a no-hitter against the Philadelphia Athletics. Holloman, 27, struck out three, walked five, and batted in three of the Browns’ runs with a pair of singles in the 6-0 victory.

Browns’ fans hoped that Holloman would go on to notch other great achievements. But Holloman was out of the majors by July 19th of the same year, only three months after his no hitter. Holloman’s career record: 3-7; 5.23 ERA.

When Holloman joined the Browns from the Syracuse Chiefs, manager Marty Marion tagged him as a relief pitcher. But Holloman insisted that starting was his true talent. Tired of hearing him gripe and noting that in his four relief appearances, Holloman was 0-1 with a 9.00 ERA Marion, with owner Bill Veeck’s blessing, gave him the nod on that rainy May evening. Although he struggled throughout, when Holloman retired the last batter, Eddie Robinson, he registered not only his no hitter but also his first win and only complete game.

No hitters are often referred to as “masterpieces”. But that was hardly Holloman’s case. The A’s half of the ninth reflected what a dicey game Holloman pitched. Elmer Valo and Eddie Joost led off with back to back walks. Then, Dave Philley hit into a double play. Holloman promptly issued another free pass to Loren Babe that brought up the dangerous Robinson. But Holloman secured his no-hitter when Robinson hit a fly ball to right fielder Vic Wertz.

Veeck, realizing how lucky Holloman had been in his no hit effort, wanted to send him back to Syracuse for further seasoning. But fearing that demoting his new star would be a public relations error, Veeck ordered Holloman, against his wishes, back to the bull pen. Why public relations were a consideration at that stage of the Browns’ history is not clear. Only 2, 413 saw Holloman pitch his no hitter. Worse, by 1954, the 54-100 Browns moved to Baltimore to become the Orioles.

Holloman eventually notched two more wins, both in relief, against the Cleveland Indians and the Boston Red Sox. But when Holloman pitched mop up in the second game of a July 19 double header against the Washington Senators and gave up six earned runs in 1.2 innings during a 13-4 loss, he was gone for good. Veeck sold “Bobo” to the International League’s Toronto Blue Jays.

“Bobo” was soon forgotten. Holloman’s legacy: he’s the only pitcher to toss a no hitter on his first start.

Any player/Any era: Charles Victory Faust

What he did: Okay, this one’s unconventional. Faust qualifies as a baseball player only in the barest sense of the word, as limited a participant as Eddie Gaedel, a midget who made one plate appearance in 1951 or Aloysius Travers, a seminary student who served as a replacement pitcher during a one-game strike in 1912 and gave up a record 24 runs. This year marks the 100th anniversary of Faust arriving at a New York Giants road game and announcing he would pitch the team to the pennant. As the story goes, a fortune teller had predicted his fate. In a century since, there’s never been anyone like Charles Victory Faust in Major League Baseball.

The 30-year-old Faust had no baseball skills to speak of, though manager John McGraw found that when he was with the Giants, his team won. Being superstitious as baseball people were and still are, McGraw kept Faust on as a mascot of sorts, paying him out of pocket and letting him appear in two games at the end of the season. With Faust around, the Giants won the National League pennant in 1911 and again in 1912. Faust was let go after the Giants began to lose and later institutionalized for dementia, dying of tuberculosis in 1915.

Era he might have thrived in: The purpose of this column isn’t to suggest any baseball generation before or since would allow Faust a chance to play professional ball. Even his odds of making the majors as a mascot today might be slim, as ballpark entertainment is more professional and slickly produced, clown princes like Nick Altrock and Al Schacht relics of a bygone era. There’s a reason guys like Faust don’t sit in dugouts today. But that’s not to say Faust couldn’t have a role somewhere in baseball today and a longer, happier life.

Why: In many ways, Faust was a victim of his times, when tuberculosis still raged in the western world, treatment for mental illness was woefully inadequate and draconian, and those afflicted were sometimes eccentrics, historical footnotes with otherwise troubled lives. Faust’s neurosis may have bought him a couple years in baseball and recognition from more fans 50 years later when the Giants’ center fielder in those days, Fred Snodgrass recounted the tale in The Glory of Their Times, but that can’t compensate for the sad end to Faust’s life. The story is admittedly amusing, or I wouldn’t be relating it here, but it’s also tragic.

It’s not to say Faust would easily tackle his issues today, but he’d at least have more options. And if he did make his way into baseball, I’d like to think better media and mental health advocacy would help protect him from being exploited. He might be a hit in the minor leagues, welcomed by a lower budget team (like maybe the one that allowed Borat to sing the Kazakhstan national anthem some years ago.) Or perhaps Faust would just be a dedicated fan. I briefly worked on the sports desk of the Sacramento Bee my first year out of college, and I remember the quirky if well-meaning men who regularly called. They made my job more interesting.

I don’t know if Faust would be any less deluded today and certain he’d pitch in the majors, as seemingly nothing could assuage him from this belief as he descended into madness. But maybe this belief wouldn’t spell his doom today.

Any player/Any era is a Thursday feature here that looks at how a player might have done in an era besides his own.

Others in this series: Albert Pujols, Babe Ruth, Bad News Rockies, Barry Bonds, Bob Caruthers, Bob Feller, Bob Watson, Denny McLain, Dom DiMaggio, Eddie Lopat, Frank Howard, Fritz MaiselGeorge CaseHarmon Killebrew, Harry Walker, Home Run Baker, Honus Wagner, Ichiro Suzuki, Jack Clark, Jackie Robinson, Jimmy Wynn, Joe DiMaggio, Johnny FrederickJosh HamiltonKen Griffey Jr., Lefty O’Doul, Matty Alou, Michael Jordan, Monte Irvin, Nate Colbert, Paul Derringer, Pete Rose, Prince Fielder, Ralph Kiner, Rickey Henderson, Roberto Clemente, Rogers Hornsby, Sam Thompson, Sandy KoufaxShoeless Joe Jackson, Stan Musial, Ted Williams, The Meusel BrothersTy Cobb, Wally Bunker, Willie Mays

Believe It or Not: Norm Cash Plays an Entire Game at First without Recording a Put Out

Of all the statistical oddities in baseball, the rarest occurs when a first baseman plays an entire game without recording a put out.

Detroit Tigers’ Norm Cash did exactly that on June 27, 1963. That Thursday afternoon, the Tigers’ 27 outs in the team’s 10-6 loss to the Minnesota Twins, were recorded as follows: six strike outs, 11 fly balls and 10 line drives.

By comparison, the twenty perfect games pitched in Major League history are common place.

“Stormin’ Norman,” as he was fondly called by Tigers’ fans had other notable achievements in his productive career. In 1960, Cash never hit into a double play. For a slow-footed big man, that’s quite a feat.

The following year, Cash both leagues with his .361 batting average. Critics note that 1961 was the first expansion year and suggest that the diluted pitching may have attributed to Cash’s lofty average. Cash attributes his batting prowess, at least in part, to his corked bat.

After his career ended, Cash admitted to using an illegal corked bat during the 1961 season and demonstrated to Sports Illustrated how he drilled a hole in his bats and filled them with a mixture of sawdust, cork and glue. Cash’s 1961 statistics turned out to be career highs which he rarely approached again. In the following years, Cash never reached 100 runs or 100 RBI and never batted above .283. His 118-point drop to a .243 average in 1962 was the largest ever by a batting champion.

Despite his early summer game against the Twins Cash, considered an outstanding fielder, led the league the league that year in putouts for a first baseman.

Although he played in the shadow of his more famous Hall of Fame teammate Al Kaline, Cash was enormously popular with fans and the media.

In 1986 Cash, age 51, drowned in a boating accident in Northern Lake Michigan when he fell and hit his head.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Dale Murphy

Claim to fame: Murphy was a stalwart outfielder, fan favorite, and back-to-back National League Most Valuable Player during the 1980s for the Atlanta Braves. He declined badly near the end of the decade and was an afterthought for the expansion Colorado Rockies by the end of his career in 1993, though Murphy still finished with 398 home runs and a reputation as one of the best defensive center fielders of his generation. But that might not be the biggest driving factor for getting him into Cooperstown.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Having made 13 appearances on the Baseball Writers Association of America ballot for Cooperstown, Murphy has consistently received roughly 10 percent of the vote in recent years. With two more years of eligibility remaining with the writers and slim odds of skyrocketing to the necessary 75 percent of the vote, Murphy looks like a Veterans Committee candidate.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Murphy came up Saturday in conversation with my family. We were talking about these epic Wiffle ball games my dad and I used to have in the front driveway of our house in Sacramento, and we got to remembering some of the players we created. I’m lucky enough to have a dad who loved playing sports with my friends and I growing up, and in every sport, he gave his all. I never beat him once in tennis, I avoided inside shots in basketball because he blocked them, and I became a good deep receiver in street football and learned to catch inside passes with my hands because if they hit my forearms, they stung. But my favorite memories might revolve around the Wiffle ball games.

Often, it was just my dad and I playing games that lasted until dusk, but we each had a full cast of characters. My dad alternated between two pitchers, the menacing Nelson, who my dad explained was always in and out of jail and the soft-tossing McGregor who was brought on in relief when Nelson had me close to tears. There was my dad’s spray hitter Tito Fuentes and, my favorite, his power hitters Mickey Mammoth and Mail Murphy. I wasn’t as creative. I had Silly Mays and possibly Silly McCovey, as well.

On the strength of statistics, Dale Murphy might have a distant case for the Hall of Fame. Things like his .265 batting average, relatively pedestrian lifetime WAR of 44.2, and dramatic decline could render him a borderline candidate at best, though I’m sure he’ll have supporters arguing he was every bit as talented in his prime as some of the other outfielders of his generation already in Cooperstown, men like Jim Rice, Dave Winfield, and Andre Dawson. But when it comes down to it, I think of Mail Murphy. I think of a clean-cut player who had a column in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for years answering children’s questions. I think of Atlanta native Jeff Foxworthy noting in his memoir that when he learned of Murphy’s trade to the Philadelphia Phillies in 1990, he stood in the middle of an airport crying.

Over the next 10 or 20 years, the Hall of Fame will face a public relations crisis as more and more statistically worthy players from the Steroid Era become eligible with the writers. At some point, the writers will be damned if they enshrine one of these players and damned if they don’t. For Cooperstown’s historically less-objective voting branch, the Veterans Committee, feel-good stars like Murphy might be a welcome distraction.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? is a Tuesday feature here.

Others in this series: Adrian Beltre, Al Oliver, Alan Trammell, Albert Belle, Allie Reynolds, Barry Bonds, Barry Larkin, Bert Blyleven, Billy Martin, Cecil Travis, Chipper Jones, Closers, Dan Quisenberry, Darrell Evans, Dave Parker, Dick Allen, Don Mattingly, Don Newcombe, George Steinbrenner, George Van Haltren, Harold Baines, Jack Morris, Jim Edmonds, Joe Carter, Joe Posnanski, John Smoltz, Juan Gonzalez, Keith Hernandez, Ken Caminiti, Larry Walker, Manny Ramirez, Maury Wills, Mel Harder, Moises Alou, Pete Browning, Phil Cavarretta, Rafael Palmeiro, Roberto Alomar, Rocky Colavito, Ron Guidry, Ron Santo, Smoky Joe Wood, Steve Garvey, Ted Simmons, Thurman Munson, Tim Raines, Will Clark

We’re turning two

Just a quick note to record a cool fact: As of next Sunday, May 1, this Web site will be two years old. No, the title doesn’t refer to a double play.

I’m amazed the difference even a year can make. A year ago, this was simply my personal blog that I contributed maybe a post or two a week to. I don’t know if I wrote too much that’s worth referencing a year later. In a good month, I got 1,000 unique visitors give or take. A few things happened around this time last year that changed things for the better around here.

First off, I wrote some guest posts for a few other baseball blogs last spring, and after one of them, a reader offered to do a guest post here. Several other people have followed the lead of that reader, the affable Joe Guzzardi, and today, I’m proud to have a site that a number of talented writers contribute to (and I welcome anyone who’s interested to speak up– I generally say yes.)

Around the same time Joe stepped up, I had someone I know at the San Francisco Chronicle give some feedback. Among his tips were to consistently offer new content Monday through Friday. I’ve stuck to this pretty rigidly, with a few breaks, and it’s made a difference. While the overall traffic here fluctuates depending on if major Web sites link up (and links have been a little slow the past couple months), we’ve seen fairly steady increases in the amount of regular readers and visitors from search engines.

The rest of this past year has been a blur of words, seemingly never ending, as I’ve striven to keep up with my commitments here. I admit it’s a challenge at times, but there’s been a great reward. Through this site, I’ve had an excuse to interview some baseball writers I look up to, run a project on the 50 best players not in the Hall of Fame, and do many other cool things. More than that, I’ve gotten to write for a growing audience and work on improving my craft. I couldn’t have asked for a better last year.

What does the next year hold? I don’t know, though I’m excited to see where things go from here. I welcome any feedback and thank everyone who makes this site a part of their regular reading.

Scouts Don’t Always Get it Right

Scouts are the backbone of any successful franchise and without these eyes, major league teams would be unable to build their all important farm systems and find the next major league star. That’s of course stating the obvious. But how does one judge a player possibly still in his late teens and project his ability several years down the road?

The recent release of “can’t miss” prospect Brandon Wood by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim serves to illustrate precisely how difficult the task of player evaluation can be. Wood was released this week, and while interest seems high from several teams, notably Pittsburgh who are desperately seeking an upgrade at the shortstop position, his career has not exactly been noteworthy to this point.

What, if anything, went wrong for Wood and why has his career up to this point been major league mediocre at best?

There are many factors which go into the evaluation of any player, many of which deal with intangibles. Physical tools, at the least the obvious ones of size, speed and coordination would seem to be relatively easy for a seasoned scout to evaluate. Yet, the vast majority of high draft picks never even make it to the major leagues, let alone become stars. Many past and present stars were very low draft picks, seemingly missed by many scouts. The life of a scout is a difficult one with low pay and long hours. Much of his time is spent driving from small town to small town hoping to get a glimpse of a player who has come to his attention either by word of mouth or a star high school or college player who has garnered national publicity. Scouts also use the scouting bureau, a data bank of prospects with reports from many organizations. Some scouts are used as cross checkers, using this data and if they are lucky and have the time, viewing a player in person. They come armed with radar guns and extensive notes.

Many prefer the information that their eyes and experience tell them and Moneyball been damned. They rely on their experience and in many cases I expect, what their gut tells them. All of this leads us to the intangibles which are difficult if not impossible to evaluate no matter the expertise and experience of any scout. Baseball players like it or not, are human and subject to the same frailties, fears and self doubt which all of us feel. Scouts must determine which athletically gifted will succumb to these human emotions, and which will not. Not an envious task and with the money at stake being in the millions, a thankless task if and evaluation turns out to be incorrect.

For teams with high first round draft picks, the success or failure of their pick can have devastating and long term effects on the future of the major league team and the tendencies of sought after free agents to sign with the club. The long term failure of teams such as the Pittsburgh Pirates is a glaring example of years of first round picks which didn’t pan out. High round draft picks must live up to the expectations of the team which chose them. The pressure must be unbearable at times.

Brandon Wood may be an example of a player who was unable to perform as an elite major leaguer who could not handle this pressure. Perhaps, players such as Wood have been highly over valued by scouts and whose career would have been perfectly acceptable as an average or slightly below average performer had he not been so highly drafted. Any player who makes the major leagues is certainly an elite one in terms of baseball ability. Some are merely more elite than others but the performance of a high draft pick is put under a microscope and any failure is magnified much more so than a player thought to have the potential to be average at best.

The Angels stuck with Wood longer than they might have a player not so highly recommended by scouts. Wood has proven at best to be a very good 4 A player but nothing more. Perhaps, Wood, and others like him, are really the best they can be despite all the hype. Scouting is a difficult task and difficult tasks performed by human beings aren’t always successful.

Cancel Jackie Robinson Day, Part II

I’m picking up where I left off on my last blog. Jackie Robinson Day, originally a fine idea, has outlived its usefulness and should be cancelled. Everybody knows that Robinson was the first African-American to cross Major League Baseball’s color line. Few know more than that.

I’ve come up with a better idea than repeating Robinson Day year after year, a policy that leads to silliness. For example, as part of the ten day long festivities, Washington Nationals’ catcher Wilson Ramos wore Robinson’s number 42. Ramos was born in Venezuela in 1987, long after Robinson retired and probably grew up idolizing Chico Carrasquel. The current Nationals came into existence in 2005, 33 years after Robinson’s 1972 death. If you ask me, none of that adds up.

As CC Sabathia observed about every baseball player in the major leagues wearing 42: “It kind of waters it down. I could see the Dodgers since that was his team, but not everyone else.”

I realize that we’re talking about preserving and, hopefully, furthering Robinson’s memory. But why limit our history lesson to Robinson when there are so many other worthy players.

How about establishing Robinson’s April 15th anniversary as the date that, each year, outstanding players from different decades would be recognized.

My first choice would be Honus Wagner to represent the decade from 1900-1910. An eight-time batting champion who is generally considered by baseball historians as the all-time greatest shortstop is a great choice.

Or we could go with Christy Mathewson who in his career, few could tell you, led the league in wins four times, won five strikeout titles, won 30 or more games four times, pitched four shutouts and ten complete games in World Series competition and won 373 games. Each decade through 1960 would have a different superstar Hall of Famer honored. When we reach 2020, we’ll extend the selection period through 1970.

Once the cycle is completed, baseball could return to 1900 to start all over.

My system would raise awareness about baseball’s rich and diverse history that dates back over a century. Fans could learn about or reacquaint themselves with some of the truly outstanding players whose names, unlike Robinson’s, have faded from memory.

If the federal government can consolidate Washington and Lincoln’s birthdays into President’s Day, then Major League Baseball can rotate its annual honorees.

The Great Friday Link Out: April 22

  • Joe Posnanski offers a great look on players who may have put together solid cases for Cooperstown but were Not Famous Enough. I like the idea in general of alternate Hall of Fames, be it the Baseball Reliquary, Hall of Merit or a Hall of limited Fame that I proposed last year.
  • Lots of people, fans or not, probably know the story of the 1919 World Series, how eight members of the Chicago White Sox lost on purpose in exchange for gambling money. Less known may be the fact that it possibly wasn’t the only Series thrown, and that gambling influence was rife in baseball between 1900 and 1920. Now, grand jury testimony has been found from 1920, given by one of Black Sox, pitcher Eddie Cicottte that suggests they got the idea from the losing team in the 1918 World Series, Chicago Cubs.
  • Rory Paap, who has contributed articles here and is a man about the baseball blogosphere has an April 17 piece for the Hardball Times about Tim Lincecum’s evolving repertoire, particularly a new slider grip Matt Cain taught him.
  • Behind the Beard: A Hair Raising Look at Baseball’s Changing Face. Title pretty much says it all, with the post featuring pictures dating back to the 1880s and a YouTube video of Roy Campanella in a 1950 shaving commercial. On a side note, this blog is generally fantastic, with lots of well-written content. I have no idea how this guy does it.
  • Fangraphs post on the lack of women employed by Major League Baseball. The author notes that a post done on this subject a month ago was, “I think, the most-commented on post in the history of Fangraphs,” with the majority of the comments being shallow and sexist. This new post has already gotten, as of this writing, 285 comments in a day.

Any player/Any era: Rogers Hornsby

What he did: I’ve picked up some freelance writing work in recent weeks, and on Tuesday, I was in San Francisco at one of the firms I write for, and we got to talking about the Hall of Fame. I mentioned I’d written a column on Barry Bonds’ future candidacy, which led to us talking about the chances his teammate Jeff Kent will be enshrined. I say yes, and one of my clients agreed, calling Kent the best power-hitting second baseman in baseball history. Close, but not quite. I rank Kent second to arguably the best right-handed batter ever, Rogers Hornsby.

A .358 lifetime hitter, second only to Ty Cobb, Hornsby hit 301 home runs despite playing his first few seasons in the Deadball Era and badly declining after age 35. Kent has more home runs at 377, since he played regularly until retiring at 40, though Hornsby trounces him in slugging percentage at .577 to .500, and he led the league in it nine times while Kent never did it. It makes me wonder what Hornsby might have accomplished playing in Kent’s place in San Francisco in recent years. I’m guessing a lot.

Era he might have thrived in: Kent played in San Francisco from 1997 until 2002, so we’ll plug Hornsby in there. In his time, Hornsby was the only man to hit .400 and 40 home runs in the same season, when he won the Triple Crown in 1922. As a modern Giant, Hornsby might do greater still and forge a longer career.

Why: If ever a player could have used an environment like San Francisco, it’s Hornsby, a temperamental superstar who wore out his welcome with five teams. It’s saying something when a guy is shown the door in successive years after hitting .361 for one club and .387 for his next. Milton Bradley has nothing on Hornsby. Rajah was baseball’s original pariah.

Enter San Francisco, where a star as narcissistic and abrasive as Barry Bonds played 15 years. Bonds and Kent clashed and even brawled once in the dugout, though their feuding wasn’t so great to keep Kent from making three All Star teams and winning the 2000 NL MVP award. If Kent makes the Hall of Fame, it will be due to the shift in his career after the Giants traded for him in 1996. In San Francisco, Kent went from being a talented young player to a star. The thought here is Hornsby could co-exist, at least for a time with Bonds. If the circumstances were ideal for one aloof star, why not two? The stat converter on Baseball-Reference.com has the Hornsby of 1922 hitting .398 with 43 home runs and 159 RBI on the 1999 Giants.

There’s another reason I think Hornsby would thrive in San Francisco. A book I have on the 25 greatest players of all-time talks about Hornsby struggling as a 19-year-old rookie and then adding 25 pounds of muscle working at his uncle’s farm and blossoming into a .300 hitter the following season. I’ll be frank. Hornsby is one of those latter day players I assume would use steroids if he’d played in the late ’90s and early ’00s. I’m assuming too that they’d take him to greater heights and allow him a better coda to his career than riding the bench his final six seasons, hitting just six home runs.

One other thing I’ll note: Hornsby was a single-minded player who didn’t watch television or read books because he figured it would hurt his eyesight. In the modern era, this zeal would make him millions. Seeing as he struggled with gambling losses near the end of his big league career and had to take a series of player-manager jobs in the minors in his 40s to make ends meet, I’d like to think he’d have an easier go of it today. Then again, he might be the next Pete Rose.

Any player/Any era is a Thursday feature here that looks at how a player might have done in an era besides his own.

Others in this series: Albert Pujols, Babe Ruth, Bad News Rockies, Barry Bonds, Bob Caruthers, Bob Feller, Bob Watson, Denny McLain, Dom DiMaggio, Eddie Lopat, Frank Howard, Fritz MaiselGeorge CaseHarmon Killebrew, Harry Walker, Home Run Baker, Honus Wagner, Ichiro Suzuki, Jack Clark, Jackie Robinson, Jimmy Wynn, Joe DiMaggio, Johnny FrederickJosh HamiltonKen Griffey Jr., Lefty O’Doul, Matty Alou, Michael Jordan, Monte Irvin, Nate Colbert, Paul Derringer, Pete Rose, Prince Fielder, Ralph Kiner, Rickey Henderson, Roberto Clemente, Sam Thompson, Sandy KoufaxShoeless Joe Jackson, Stan Musial, Ted Williams, The Meusel BrothersTy Cobb, Wally Bunker, Willie Mays

Cancel Jackie Robinson Day, An Insult to A Great American

Jackie Robinson Day, which started in 2004 as a well intended tribute to a great American, has become a meaningless event that should but will not be cancelled.

Many fans celebrated Robinson’s day on April 15th, the actual calendar date in 1947 that he first took the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Since the Pirates have been out of town for a week, Pittsburgh and other teams that were on the road will honor Robinson on April 22nd, preposterous though that is.

What we have is every player wearing #42, officially retired from use in 1997, even though they can’t tell you much more about Robinson than that he was Major League Baseball’s first African-American and that he suffered many indignities throughout his career. My educated guess is that if the nearly 1,000 major league players, coaches and managers were asked to write an intelligent 200-word essay about Robinson, the majority couldn’t do it. Neither could the fans. If the MLB’s original intention was to illuminate fans about Robinson’s contributions to the civil rights movement and American eventual integration, then it’s failed. The average person doesn’t know much more about Robinson today than he did seven—or even 20— years ago.

The irony is that since Robinson Day was launched, the percentage of baseball’s African-Americans has declined while Hispanic players have increased. Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen has long lobbied that Roberto Clemente’s number 21 should also be retired and that the Puerto Rican should like Robinson have a day of his own.

What about other pioneer players from foreign countries? Should there be days for the first Dominican, Venezuelan and Japanese players? In our politically correct society, wouldn’t that be the right thing to do? After all, they’ve assumed an increasingly prominent role in baseball. (For the record they are Ozzie Virgil, Chico Carrasquel and Masanori Murakami.)

I’m not really suggesting that the former San Francisco Giants’ Murakami, an above average pitcher, would in any way be the equal to Robinson. But I’m sure that Asian advocacy groups could make a case on his behalf. Some one could argue that Murakami paved the way for one of the greatest hitters of our era, Ichiro Suzuki. Furthermore, Murakami a non-English speaker, must have faced many uncomfortable barriers that included racial slurs during his 1964-1965 career.

Once organized professional sports goes down the tributary road, it never ends. Over the weekend, I noticed that the Los Angeles Dodgers are wearing #4 (Snider) while both the Tigers and the Reds have “Sparky” emblazoned on their sleeves. The Pirates trumped the Dodgers and Reds with a two-fer. Inside a Willie Stargell star, which the slugger gave out to teammates who made the largest contribution in winning efforts, is #7, former manager Chuck Tanner’s number. Stargell has been dead for a decade; Tanner, for a month.

Happily, I’m not alone in my skepticism. When he was still with the Minnesota Twins, Torii Hunter said in reference to Robinson Day: “This is supposed to be an honor and just a handful of guys wearing the number. Now you’ve got entire teams doing it. I think we’re killing the meaning. It should be special wearing Jackie’s number, not just because it looks cool.”

CC Sabathia, who decries the diminishing numbers of African Americans in the game, agrees with Hunter: “It kind of waters it down. I could see the Dodgers since that was his team, but not everyone else.”

We live in the era of overkill. If something is good, then multiplied by ten, it becomes ten times better especially if it might help sell tickets or merchandise.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Barry Bonds

Claim to fame: 762 home runs, seven MVP awards, and a recent steroid-related felony conviction.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Having last played in 2007, Bonds will first appear on the Baseball Writers Association of America ballot for Cooperstown in about a year and a half, with his first opportunity for induction in the summer of 2013. Right now, that seems a long way off.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? I was tempted to file a one-line column reading, “Yes, of course” and then move on to other things. With Bonds’ conviction on obstruction of justice charges a week old, the debate on his Cooperstown worthiness already seems repetitive and tiresome. I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like as his first appearance on the Hall of Fame ballot draws nearer.

It’s not to say this isn’t a worthwhile debate for people to be having. At some point, the first acknowledged or strongly-rumored steroid user will be enshrined, whether it’s Bonds, Roger Clemens, or Alex Rodriguez, and I think it’s good for writers, fans, and other baseball folk to be sorting out now how this is going to work. After all, Cooperstown’s never faced this issue before, and this isn’t the players’ game any more than it’s for the writers or fans or whoever. In my view, baseball belongs to everyone who loves it and makes it something more than a bunch of men playing alone somewhere. We all deserve a say in what goes on.

So does Barry belong in Cooperstown? I say yes. I’ll repeat an argument I’ve heard voters may employ: Bonds was a great player before he touched steroids. He was certainly my favorite for many years when I was a San Francisco Giants fan growing up in Sacramento. The Bonds of early years hit for average and power, stole bases by the dozen, and locked down left field. Interestingly, he averaged about the same WAR his first 13 seasons as he did after he may have started using steroids in 1999, posting 103.4 of his 171.8 WAR from 1986 to 1998. That’s more WAR than many Hall of Famers did their entire careers.

I admit that in his final seasons, Bonds was as dominant a player as I’ve ever seen. I went to a Giants game in 2003 or ’04 that went into extra innings, and when Bonds came up in the twelfth, I knew that if the bottom of the barrel reliever on the mound pitched to him, he’d hit a game-winning home run. He did. Bonds’ seemingly weightless shot that he jacked to the corner of left center was something to watch, and my dad and I exchanged high fives. Still, something about that all seems artificial and not worth lionizing, even if it was awe-inspiring at the time and even if those final years saw Bonds set the single season and career marks for home runs.

For the record, Bonds never failed a test for steroids after baseball banned their use, and he wouldn’t be the first player in Cooperstown with a criminal conviction, as Duke Snider and Willie McCovey each plead guilty to tax evasion in the mid-1990s and Orlando Cepeda went to prison on drug charges in the 1970s. But I don’t think Bonds’ enshrinement need be about amnesty. I like the Bonds of early years, and if I were to enshrine any version of him, that’s the one I’ll choose to remember. Is there anything wrong with that?

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? is a Tuesday feature here.

Others in this series: Adrian Beltre, Al Oliver, Alan Trammell, Albert Belle, Allie Reynolds, Barry Larkin, Bert Blyleven, Billy Martin, Cecil Travis, Chipper Jones, Closers, Dan Quisenberry, Darrell Evans, Dave Parker, Dick Allen, Don Mattingly, Don Newcombe, George Steinbrenner, George Van Haltren, Harold Baines, Jack Morris, Jim Edmonds, Joe Carter, Joe Posnanski, John Smoltz, Juan Gonzalez, Keith Hernandez, Ken Caminiti, Larry Walker, Manny Ramirez, Maury Wills, Mel Harder, Moises Alou, Pete Browning, Phil Cavarretta, Rafael Palmeiro, Roberto Alomar, Rocky Colavito, Ron Guidry, Ron Santo, Smoky Joe Wood, Steve Garvey, Ted Simmons, Thurman Munson, Tim Raines, Will Clark

A starting lineup of ex-presidents

A couple weeks ago, I made a batting order of my favorite writers. Inspired by a post from Joe Posnanski which compared Manny Ramirez and Lyndon Johnson, I’ve decided to go one step further and offer a starting lineup of former US presidents. These aren’t my favorite presidents, necessarily, and this isn’t meant to correspond closely to playing ability, which is why I didn’t include former amateur players Dwight Eisenhower and George H.W. Bush. But I believe my players would bring other strengths to this team and make it a memorable one.

The team is as follows:

P- Thomas Jefferson: A good pitcher is creative, visionary, and smart, and Jefferson was all of these things and more between writing the Declaration of Independence, designing his country estate, Monticello and the University of Virginia. As a plus, he was tall for the 18th century at just under 6’3″ which is like 6’8″ in today’s terms. For height, Jefferson was the Randy Johnson of presidents. The fact that Jefferson could write with either hand might not hurt him on this team, either.

C- Teddy Roosevelt: Who better for catcher than a future president who insisted on fighting in the Spanish American War, a man with an oak barrel in place of an upper body, a fellow whose face on Mount Rushmore seems to say, Go ahead and try to beat that tag, this isn’t going to end well. Even Pete Rose would shy from the confrontation.

1B- George Washington: First base is a good place for mythical stoics and leaders, which suggests America’s first president. There was talk of making him king in his time, though Washington declined it for fear of being a monarch. Nonetheless, his presence on this team would be regal.

2B- Lyndon Johnson: As Posnanski wrote, LBJ was famous in his many years in Congress for the influence he wielded over other lawmakers, often able to push successfully for their votes. He’d thrive at a position where he’d get a high number of opportunities in the field and a chance to matter in a good chunk of the plays.

SS- John F. Kennedy: JFK would be one of the stars of this team with his good looks and natural athletic ability, even if he demonstrates an ill-advised though effective penchant for performing Ozzie Smith-esque back flips at short. He’d form an interesting double play combo with his former vice president Johnson who may or may not have factored into his assassination.

3B- Abraham Lincoln: At 6’4″ Lincoln is this team’s tallest member, which allows for a looping pull swing. One of history’s greatest if homeliest presidents, Lincoln also pre-qualifies for baseball’s All Ugly Team.

RF- Warren Harding: Fred Lieb noted in his memoir that Babe Ruth was a Democrat but almost endorsed Harding in the 1920 Presidential Election in exchange for $4,000. Thus, we’ll give Ruth’s position to Harding, whose presidency was marked by the Tea Pot Dome Scandal and his death two years in.

CF- Richard Nixon: I’m guessing Tricky Dick could play a deceptively shallow center field, Tris Speaker in the field with Albert Belle’s abrasiveness. His third person, post-game interviews would be classic, with quips like, “Dick Nixon knew that if Tim Wakefield threw him the knuckler again, this game was over.”

LF- Ulysses Grant: Rounding out the all-controversial outfield is Grant who succeeded greatly as a Civil War general and then struggled as president in the following decade. He was at least better than the man who came before him, Andrew Johnson (who gave his vice presidential confirmation speech before Senate drunk in 1864) and his successor, Rutherford B. Hayes (who essentially ended Reconstruction.) I’m willing to give Grant a shot.

Lies My Father Never told Me

I don’t know why the recent revelations concerning Manny Ramirez have struck such a chord with me. Maybe it was the final straw that broke the camel’s back after all these years of what has turned out to be many false hero worships. After all, the now seemingly endless procession of star baseball players who have been found guilty or are at least under suspicion of cheating should have numbed me by this point. This has happened to many baseball fans that have made their collective “enough already” feelings well known over the past few months. My anger, while ebbing and flowing, had continued to resurface on occasion.

When announcers recite the lofty statistics of an Alex Rodriguez or a Barry Bonds or a Roger Clemens or a Sammy Sosa and compare them to those players they are passing or have passed it’s as if those untainted numbers from the past mean nothing. How dare they compare.

There has been little, if any, accountability thrust upon these players.  Their numbers still count and their bank accounts are still safe. Certainly, viable proof of deeds done before the decision to ban those various substances which inflated those numbers is all but impossible to obtain.  Besides, say many, those substances were not illegal then and everyone was doing them anyway, thus leveling the playing field.

There are also the Andy Pettittes who vehemently deny, then admit it’s possible they may have, then after much questioning, crocodile tears at the ready, admit that, yes, they did use these performance enhancing drugs and are very sorry.  Perhaps sorry that they got caught but that is all. Resplendent with finger waving and pointing and with a suddenly authoritative voice, they defend themselves to any who will still listen and assure us that they may have been guilty once but never since and never again

Worst of all are those players who profess innocence based on ignorance.  I was fortunate enough to have covered the Triple A Ottawa Lynx during the 2006/2007 seasons, conducting clubhouse interviews after each home game,  and can state unequivocally that no player ingests or is injected with anything the nature of which he is not completely aware. Major league players making millions more dollars would be even more cautious. Their bodies are their livelihood and are considered sacred.

Which brings me back to Manny. Manny seemed like a great player, certainly a hitter as few has ever been. He was capable of carrying his entire team on his back when needed and in the clutch he was unstoppable. Even the mighty Yankees feared him like they feared no one else for he was a Yankee killer, a player who rose to the occasion no matter how high or difficult. After being traded (given) to the Los Angeles Dodgers, he worked his magic there, if only for one season. He made the lackluster and under achieving Dodgers worth watching, at least for one season.  His antics were fun if not cause for head shaking. He made you stay in your seat or your chair until his at bat was done. Manny was pure baseball fun no matter how you looked at it or which team you cheered for. He seemed to find a joy in the game like few others.

I get no joy from watching an Alex Rodriguez. He doesn’t seem to get any joy out of playing either as he continues his tainted rise up into the heights achieved by Babe Ruth and Henry Aaron and Willie Mays. His statistics are meaningless, as if he had never played the game. His career, when finally over, should be quickly forgotten.  An asterisk isn’t enough.

Listening to the denials of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens reminds one only of our politicians, who can deny, justify and then excuse any action with the egotistical expectation of continuing to be loved and respected. The during and/or post trial silences of Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmiero have been deafening. Their ilk should also be quickly forgotten.

Manny already is forgotten. It could have and should have been a career to celebrate. Instead, the joy, the antics the wonder of it were all one big lie. You can tell me that the real world is like that and that I’m being naïve. Maybe you’re right and the righteous values our parents taught us really do mean nothing and that they were wrong. I couldn’t live that way, wouldn’t want to even if I could. Not for all the mansions and Mercedes and movie starlets in the world.

Fritz Peterson, Mike Kekich, and the film their wife swap has inspired

One of the most memorable baseball events that I recall from my years living in Manhattan took place off the field. In 1973, two New York Yankee pitchers, Fritz Peterson and Mike Kekich traded families.

Peterson traded his wife, Marilyn, his two kids and a poodle for Susan Kekich, the two Kekich children and a Bedlington terrier. “We didn’t trade wives; we traded lives,” said Kekich at the time.

As strange as this may sound nearly 40 years later, the incident didn’t make that much of a splash. The ten years between 1965 and 1975 were characterized by liberal, uninhibited sexual attitudes. Wife swapping, although normally limited to an evening or weekend, was not unheard of. And the 1970’s were the days before the 24-hour news cycle. Tabloids covered Peterson-Kekich but mostly through the daily newspapers. After a month, the story gave way to traditional journalism.

The revised marital arrangement worked out much better for Peterson than Kekich. Peterson remains married to Susan and had four children. Kekich and Marilyn split after a couple of months. Eventually, Kekich remarried and had a daughter.

Now suddenly, with the leading protagonists in their mid-60s, Peterson-Kekich is in the headlines again.

A new movie starring Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, The Trade, is in its second rewrite. Producers hope to release it next year. Kekich, who thinks hanging out his dirty laundry again after all these years is “unfair,” is working hard to block the film. According to an inside source: “Kekich is panic-stricken. He has moved away and has a new identity. He is freaked out that those working on the movie found out where he is. He isn’t too keen on having the scandal dredged up again after all this time.

Peterson, it should be remembered, was an outstanding lefty for the Yankees in the years leading up to the scandal. His 2.52 ERA is the best ever posted at Yankee Stadium. Hall of Famer Whitey Ford is second with a 2.55 ERA. During his 9 seasons with the then-mediocre Yankees, Peterson posted a 133-131 record with a 3.30 ERA and one 20 game season. Notoriously stingy with bases on balls, Peterson issued an average of only 1.7 during his eleven year career.

Peterson’s career fell off after the swap but not as dramatically as Kekich’s who said that his life became “a black hole” after the ill-fated affair. Kekich’s lifetime stats: 39-51, 4.59 ERA

On this one, I’m with Kekich. I doubt if Affleck, Damon or anyone else associated with the movie would like a full length account of their most ill-conceived personal decisions turned into a fictionalized, full-length movie.

The Great Friday Link Out: Bail [Barry] Bonds

  • I saw a link to this article– Barry Bonds Is An Asshole. But His Conviction Is Pointless.– and thought it was some random blogger going for shock. It’s actually a Village Voice piece with an interesting question: Why should the federal government try a baseball player for allegedly lying about using steroids which weren’t illegal or banned by baseball at the time? Moreover, why is it perjury for someone to lie about something that wasn’t a crime? I don’t know if I agree, since Bonds’ alleged perjury came in testimony before a grand jury investigating BALCO and any lies he told could have hindered that, but it’s an interesting question nonetheless.
  • Speaking of Barry, Rob Neyer thinks it’s “likely” he’ll get in the Hall of Fame– through the writers, too, not just the Veterans Committee route which has seemed like the only one for any player accused of using steroids.
  • World War II baseball blogger Gary Bedingfield has undertaken a cool project. Acknowledging that most of the minor league ballplayers who died in that war never appeared on a baseball card, Gary has created an Ultimate Sacrifice Baseball Card Set for his site.
  • Another great post from Josh Wilker, this one on the underrated Amos Otis, who was ranked by Bill James as the 22nd greatest center fielder of all time and apparently used a bat with “enough cork and superballs in there to blow away anything.”
  • Joe Posnanski writes a post relating Manny Ramirez, the Hall of Fame, and former president Lyndon Johnson which, he writes, “gives you a pretty good idea about how my ridiculous mind works and why I didn’t get many dates as a young man.” Yes, but I say a little esoteric knowledge in history never hurt anyone, speaking as someone who spent part of Thursday evening reading an excerpt of The Selling of the President while in the bathroom. I’ll find a way to tie Richard Nixon into an upcoming post.
  • I grew up in Sacramento, have long been a Kings fan (in bad times and good and bad again), and have resigned myself to the strong possibility my team could be moving to Anaheim next year. Team ownership has until Monday to file relocation papers, and if it goes through, the Kings have already played their last game in Sacramento, and I’ll have to contemplate the bleak prospect of becoming a Warriors fan. It’s nice to see my hometown get some words of support from, of all places, a Yankees blog.

Any player/Any era: Monte Irvin

What he did: Irvin came up Sunday night during Baseball by the Bay, a podcast I do for Seamheads.com with fellow Society for American Baseball Research member Paul Hirsch. Early in the show, Paul spoke of attending a San Francisco Giants game last weekend and watching the team be presented with rings for winning the 2010 World Series. Paul said four of the six living Hall of Famers who did their best work as Giants– Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda, and Gaylord Perry– were honored at the event, with only Juan Marichal and Irvin not present. It got me thinking more about Irvin, one of the better What Ifs? in baseball history.

Irvin was among the first Negro League greats elected to Cooperstown and shined in a short big league career, debuting in 1949 at 30, two years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. Playing until 1956, Irvin spent all but his final season with the Giants and peaked in 1951 when he led New York to the World Series, finished third in MVP voting, and mentored a rookie Mays. One can only wonder how much segregation limited Irvin’s lifetime stats. Other factors held him back, too, like a broken ankle in 1952 that limited his season and left him injury prone the rest of his career. In addition, the Giants’ vast home park, the Polo Grounds favored pitchers.

In a more recent era with better medical care off the field and more favorable conditions for hitters on it and of course no racial restrictions to play a full career, there’s no telling what Irvin might have done.

Era he might have thrived in: We’ll transport Irvin to the 1990s and the Texas Rangers, to a team that played in a veritable bandbox during one of the great ages in baseball history for hitters. The thought here is that Irvin would easily top 3,000 hits lifetime, provided he stayed healthy and that he’d rival Tony Gwynn as the best contact hitter of the ’90s.

Why: It may not be possible to accurately project stats from a 15 or 20-year big league career for Irvin, though a number of things hint at the success he might have achieved.

There’s Irvin’s 1951 season, where he hit .312 with 24 homers, 121 RBI, and an OPS+ of 147. Bobby Thomson hit eight more homers and had an OPS+ of 150, though the team was nothing special offensively, hitting .260. How the Giants scored 781 runs, won 98 regular season games, and lost in the World Series seems illogical, though players have admitted in recent years that the club stole hitting signals from opponents during its fabled pennant drive. It’s still noteworthy Irvin had a great year in a park where center field practically had its own time zone.

Interestingly, Irvin had almost identical batting average at home and on the road, though his slugging percentage was nearly 100 points higher outside the Polo Grounds. If we move him to Texas in 1996, his stats convert to 29 home runs, 158 RBI, and a .345 batting average. He’d get another shot at the postseason as well, as the Rangers won 90 games and the American League West and lost in the AL Division Series to the Yankees. Irvin would be another weapon for a Rangers club that featured MVP Juan Gonzalez and five other players with at least 80 RBI.

Irvin would have more going for him in this baseball generation than good teammates and a cushy ballpark, though. I must say that I admire anyone who could make a late go of it in the majors after starring for years in the harsh conditions of the Negro Leagues, where players endured poverty and very strenuous travel conditions. Perhaps there’s a certain nobility and sense of purpose that comes in suffering, though I’d like to think that playing in a time where his financial and health needs would be vastly more secured, Irvin would do ever greater.

Irvin turned 92 in February and reportedly didn’t travel to the Giants’ ceremony for health reasons. I’m pleased the team retired his number and honored him at its 50th anniversary of moving to San Francisco two years ago. One can wonder what might have been with Irvin, but that being said, there’s plenty to celebrate about the man.

Any player/Any era is a Thursday feature here that looks at how a player might have done in an era besides his own.

Others in this series: Albert Pujols, Babe Ruth, Bad News Rockies, Barry Bonds, Bob Caruthers, Bob Feller, Bob Watson, Denny McLain, Dom DiMaggio, Eddie Lopat, Frank Howard, Fritz MaiselGeorge CaseHarmon Killebrew, Harry Walker, Home Run Baker, Honus Wagner, Ichiro Suzuki, Jack Clark, Jackie Robinson, Jimmy Wynn, Joe DiMaggio, Johnny FrederickJosh HamiltonKen Griffey Jr., Lefty O’Doul, Matty Alou, Michael Jordan, Nate Colbert, Paul Derringer, Pete Rose, Prince Fielder, Ralph Kiner, Rickey Henderson, Roberto Clemente, Sam Thompson, Sandy KoufaxShoeless Joe Jackson, Stan Musial, Ted Williams, The Meusel BrothersTy Cobb, Wally Bunker, Willie Mays

Red Sox Fans: Don’t Despair! Seek Comfort in History

I’m dedicating this post to all my good friends who are devoted Boston Red Sox fans. As of Wednesday morning, their team stands at 2-9. Many have edged dangerously close to the ledge. If only they had heeded my spring training observation: before printing the World Series tickets, there’s that small formality of playing the games.

To lift my friends’ spirits, I’ll transport them back to a time when the Red Sox had bats booming and pitchers dominating. If fact, so lively were the Sox bats that they scored a record 17 runs in a single inning.

The Sox scoring extravaganza lasted two days. On June 17, 1953, the Red Sox destroyed Detroit Tiger pitching by racking up 20 hits against four hurlers in a 17-1 rout.

Watching from the bull pen, Steve Gromek who had just joined the Tigers via a trade with the Cleveland Indians sympathized with his new teammates.

What Gromek didn’t know at the time was that on the very next day in his Tigers’ debut, he would be mauled much worse. With Ned Garver starting for the Tigers, the game remained competitive into the sixth inning, a 3-3 tie. But when Garver walked the leadoff man, had an error committed behind him and gave up back to back singles that allowed two runs to score, manager Fred Hutchinson summoned Gromek who got the final two outs.

Unfortunately for Gromek, Hutchinson left him in for the seventh. Gromek retired only one batter, gave up seven hits including a home run, three walks and nine earned runs. After Hutchinson mercifully lifted Gromek, Dick Weik took over and, unbelievably, did worse. Weik’s line: IP, .1;  H, 3; BB, 1; ER, 4,   Hutchinson gave Weik the hook in favor of Earl Harrist whose pitching line was the best of the three “firemen”:  IP 1.1; H, 7; ER 5; BB, 3; SO, 1. By the time the Boston half of the 48-minute seventh ended, the Red Sox had scored 17 runs on 14 hits (three by Gene Stephens and two each by Sammy White and Tom Umphlett) en route to 23-3 win.

For the afternoon, Billy Goodman had five hits and White, four. In all, the Red Sox broke or tied 16 American League offensive records. For the two days, the Red Sox scored 40 runs on 47 hits.

Interviewed after the game, Gromek said: “I never saw anything like it. They got some clean hits but most of them were flukes. The ball kept bouncing out of reach of our infielders or just in of our outfielders.”

But as proof that you never know in baseball, five days later to Gromek’s amazement and without any forewarning, Hutchinson handed him the ball and said: “You pitch today.” Gromek shut out the Philadelphia A’s 5-0 on only four hits. No Philadelphia batter reached third base.

Recalled Gromek years later: “I was flabbergasted. I thought I would never pitch again at least not for Detroit.”

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Manny Ramirez

Claim to fame: In short, Ramirez was a regular All Star, he was one of the greatest hitters of his generation, and he was Manny. Next to Alex Rodriguez and Barry Bonds, Ramirez also was perhaps the most prominent confirmed steroid user, and were it not for his abrupt retirement last Friday at 38, he may have been the first elite ballplayer with multiple suspensions for the issue. He served a 50-game suspension for the issue in 2009 and was facing a 100-game ban when he walked away.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Having quit baseball after playing a handful of games this season, Ramirez will not be eligible for consideration by the Baseball Writers Association of America until the 2017 induction.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? I suppose this is going to be a fairly polarizing debate among fans and baseball researchers, with one large group condemning Ramirez’s steroid use, another saying his 555 home runs cannot be denied and steroids have no proven ability to help a player hit a ball farther (which I think is revisionist nonsense), and a small subset disregarding the issue and attempting to make the bizarre case that the real reason Ramirez won’t belong in Cooperstown is his lack of defense.

Whatever the case, I doubt any of this will matter to the writers, who’ve already shown a strong aversion to honoring any admitted or suspected steroid user. Rafael Palmeiro retired with 3,000 hits, 500 home runs, and an inglorious positive test for stanozolol at the end of his career, and for this, he received just 11 percent of the Hall of Fame vote in January. Juan Gonzalez was very nearly a one-and-done candidate in the same election, Jose Canseco suffered that fate in 2007. Mark McGwire has done best, hanging consistent with about 20 percent of the vote, and since Ramirez has about the same number of home runs for his career, I’m guessing he’ll fall somewhere in the same range.

The wild card in all this is that a lot of suspected or confirmed steroid users who would normally have ironclad credentials for the Hall of Fame will be arriving on the ballot in the next few years, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens being the two most prominent examples I can think of, though I would not be at all surprised if other prospective candidates are unmasked or accused in the next few years. It’s the great witch hunt in baseball of the 21st century with everyone a suspect. And when one of these players finally gets in, even if it takes all the way until Rodriguez, it will make it easier for the Mannys and McGwires.

All this being said, the question remains, does Manny Ramirez belong in the Hall of Fame? Some months ago, I wrote here that I’d wretch if Palmeiro were honored. For some reason, though, I’m less averse to having Ramirez in Cooperstown. For better and worse, he was one of the players who defined his era. As time passes, I think he’ll be one of the guys who’s remembered from this time, for better and for worse. If he doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame, a lot of his contemporaries don’t.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? is a Tuesday feature here.

Others in this series: Adrian Beltre, Al Oliver, Alan Trammell, Albert Belle, Allie Reynolds, Barry Larkin, Bert Blyleven, Billy Martin, Cecil Travis, Chipper Jones, Closers, Dan Quisenberry, Darrell Evans, Dave Parker, Dick Allen, Don Mattingly, Don Newcombe, George Steinbrenner, George Van Haltren, Harold Baines, Jack Morris, Jim Edmonds, Joe Carter, Joe Posnanski, John Smoltz, Juan Gonzalez, Keith Hernandez, Ken Caminiti, Larry Walker, Maury Wills, Mel Harder, Moises Alou, Pete Browning, Phil Cavarretta, Rafael Palmeiro, Roberto Alomar, Rocky Colavito, Ron Guidry, Ron Santo, Smoky Joe Wood, Steve Garvey, Ted Simmons, Thurman Munson, Tim Raines, Will Clark

So your dad’s a famous baseball player, or maybe your brother?

Baseball is an elite profession. For every player who makes it to “the show,” countless aspiring players fall short. A recent post here raised the question of whether growing up as the son of a famous player makes for an even more difficult path to the big leagues. As Graham Womack stated in his March 28 post, “children of top ball players have tough standards to live up to.”

Searching Baseball-Reference.com and retrosheet.org, I can find only ten sons of Hall of Fame players who have ever made it to the major leagues. If not for their famous fathers, we would have little reason to discuss these players, most of whom played at or near the replacement level. Interestingly, two sons of George Sisler, Dick and Dave, account for more than half of the collective WAR of the group. Please note that Earle Mack is not on this list, although he would fit right in with his -0.2 WAR. His father Connie is enshrined as a manager, not a player.

Player Years WAR HoF Father Years WAR
Dick Sisler 1946-1953 5.8 George Sisler 1915-1930 50.4
Earl Averill, Jr 1956-1963 4.1 Earl Averill 1929-1941 45.0
Dale Berra 1977-1987 3.7 Yogi Berra 1946-1965 61.9
Dave Sisler 1956-1963 3.2 George Sisler 1915-1930 50.4
Tony Gwynn, Jr 2006-Present 1.0 Tony Gwynn 1982-2001 68.4
Eduardo Perez 1993-2006 0.2 Tony Perez 1964-1986 50.5
Charlie Lindstrom 1958 0.1 Freddie Lindstrom 1924-1936 29.2
Queenie O’Rourke 1908 -0.4 Jim O’Rourke 1872-1904 53.9
Eddie Collins, Jr 1939-1942 -1.0 Eddie Collins 1906-1930 126.7
Ed Walsh, Jr 1928-1932 -1.1 Ed Walsh 1904-1917 54.8
Total 15.6

In all fairness, Tony Gwynn, Jr, is young and still an active player. Currently with the LA Dodgers, he could rise to the top of this list with one or two solid seasons.

In contrast to the above group, brothers of Hall of Famers are much more accomplished. Lloyd and Paul Waner are both in Cooperstown, making them both brothers of Hall of Famers. Wes Ferrell and Dom DiMaggio are not enshrined, but each has a camp of fans advocating for his candidacy. Jim Perry and Joe Niekro were each superb pitchers in their own right, even if they were overshadowed by their more famous brothers.

Player Years WAR HoF Brother Years WAR
Paul Waner 1926-1945 73.8 Lloyd Waner 1927-1945 24.3
Wes Ferrell 1927-1941 41.3 Rick Ferrell 1929-1943 22.9
Jim Perry 1959-1975 33.3 Gaylord Perry 1962-1983 96.3
Dom DiMaggio 1940-1953 31.9 Joe DiMaggio 1936-1951 83.6
Joe Niekro 1967-1988 30.2 Phil Niekro 1964-1987 96.8
Lloyd Waner 1927-1945 24.3 Paul Waner 1926-1945 73.8
Vince DiMaggio 1937-1946 17.2 Joe DiMaggio 1936-1951 83.6
Jim Delahanty 1901-1915 15.8 Ed Delahanty 1888-1903 74.7
Sandy Alomar, Jr 1988-2007 13.2 Roberto Alomar 1988-2004 63.5
Harry Coveleski 1907-1918 12.8 Stan Coveleski 1912-1928 54.0
Ken Brett 1967-1981 11.3 George Brett 1973-1993 85.0
Paul Dean 1934-1943 11.0 Dizzy Dean 1930-1947 39.6
John Ewing 1883-1891 10.8 Buck Ewing 1880-1897 51.8
26 others 0.8
Total 327.7

The list of brothers has some lesser lights, too. Larry Yount and Joe Evers epitomize the expression “cup of coffee.” Billy Ripken played above the replacement level (2.1 WAR), but Tommie Aaron, Chris Gwynn, and three more Delahanty brothers didn’t. Also included is Hall of Fame manager Harry Wright, who played briefly in the 1870s and whose brother George is in the Hall as a player. In all, 39 brothers of Hall of Famers have made it to the big leagues, and they have accumulated more than 300 WAR.

In short, Major League Baseball has employed nearly four times as many brothers as sons of Hall of Famers, and the brothers’ accomplishments, as encapsulated by WAR, are approximately 20-fold greater. Even if you have objections to distilling a player’s performance to a single number, you cannot quarrel with the notion that the Waners, Vince and Dom DiMaggio, Jim Perry, and Ken Brett are a cut above the likes of Dale Berra and Eduardo Perez. Are the sons underachievers, or have the brothers performed above expectations? Or perhaps is it some of each?

I do not know whether there are simply many more brothers of HoF players than sons. If true, this could account for the difference in numbers of major leaguers that have emerged from each group. However, this idea seems remote to me. As a group, men have about the same number of brothers as sons, perhaps somewhat fewer sons as family sizes have steadily shrunk over the past hundred years. If there is a difference in the case of Hall of Famers, though, I’ll wager it is nowhere near 4-fold.

What’s striking to me is not so much the absence of Hall of Famers among the sons, but the absence of even solid, steady, double-digit WAR players. Why there are no equivalents of Harry Coveleski and Sandy Alomar, Jr among HoF sons, I can only speculate.

While a host of social and family factors might play into the disparity between the brothers and sons, the way that I can best reconcile the different accomplishments of the two groups is by drawing a parallel to coaching. It is often said that star players typically do not make good coaches or managers. There are exceptions of course, such as Joe Torre, Frank Robinson, and perhaps Tony Gwynn, who has had success coaching at the college level. However, the accepted wisdom is that the game comes easily for star players and, as a result, they do not relate well to the struggles of the majority of players for whom the game brings its usual challenges. Bobby Cox, Tony LaRussa, and Tommy Lasorda, for example, are all great managers, and they all have enormous personal insight into the struggles of the marginal player.

A good coach teaches, nurtures, offers encouragement, and does an array of other things to maximize the abilities that his players bring to the sport. It might be that Hall of Famers in general are at a disadvantage in fulfilling this role. And when it comes to baseball, often a son’s first and most influential coach is his father.

Time to Break up the Red Sox? And Other News From Week 1

Well, none of us saw that one coming did we?  As of today, the Boston Red Sox are 1-7.  That’s one win this 2011 season. That’s last place in the American League East.  Boston is looking up at the Baltimore Orioles and worse than the Kansas City Royals.

I’ve read a couple of columns this week wondering if it’s time to fire manager Terry Francona, and those articles weren’t even in the Boston papers. The general consensus seemed to be the following: Carl Crawford can’t hit so far and probably never will, and Josh Beckett is finished. Kevin Youkilis hasn’t been able to and won’t be able to make the adjustment to playing third base, and old veteran Jason Varitek will have to do most of the catching. Could non-scalpers tickets become available for an upcoming game at Fenway? Don’t worry Sox fans: Bad teams that start 1-7 finish last, but good teams with good managers who start 1-7 will be right up there at the end.

The Tampa Bay Rays are also 1-7, batting .145 with only B.J. Upton and reserve player Sam Fuld doing much offensively. Johnny Damon says something has to start clicking and soon. But the Rays haven’t put up eye-popping offensive numbers during the last two seasons, and while they’ve managed to win a lot of games, there could be more challenges in store. The retirement of offseason pickup Manny Ramirez is just the latest blow to a team that lost several players from last year and has star Evan Longoria on the disabled list. About the only thing going for the Rays is that their series with the Red Sox starts Monday.

The Baltimore Orioles are winning baseball games. Manager Buck Showalter is getting lots of press for his turnaround of the team last season and its good start in 2011 and deservedly so. However, I think the remake of the starting eight has much more to do with it. Baltimore for the past few seasons has had to use utility players and bench players as regulars, or rookies with a high ceiling but with little experience. These players were thrust into roles they were unfamiliar with and burdened with responsibilities they had difficulty handling.

There was no way for the Orioles to deal with the inevitable injuries every team suffers because those players who should be injury fill ins were being used as starters and were the players being injured. Baltimore  now has legitimate major league starters at every position making the everyday lineup much stronger and providing a deep bench.

It sure has been fun watching Tim Lincecum pitch in 2011.  His first start, which was  against the Los Angeles Dodgers and Clayton Kershaw on Opening Day  was a pitching duel that I was hoping would never end. Lincecum was very good but Kershaw was lights out and the Dodgers won that game.  It was good old fashioned hardball at its very best.

Lincecum’s second start was a real gem, typical of what he has done the last three seasons.  He struck out five of the first six San Diego Padres and had all four pitches working to perfection.  Lincecum gets the ball back from his catcher, and with little to no time wasted, throws it again.  When a Tim Lincecum is on his game, there is nothing better to watch.

It’s been great to see Alex Gordon finally making some progress at the major league level. It must have been very tempting for the Kansas City Royals to give up on this potential face of the franchise but I must admit, I admire the Royals, who really had nothing to lose by keeping him, for giving him another shot. He seems relaxed and might finally have realized that he’s only one player, and one player cannot win every game. Actually it’s been fun to watch the Royals, like Baltimore, being competitive, at least while it lasts. Maybe all those scouts weren’t wrong about Gordon. Time will tell.