A gift from a friend

One of my favorite stories from The Onion, a satirical newspaper I like to read, tells of a White House slam dunk competition that results in no slam dunks. “I tell you, this is some sorry stuff I’m seeing,” celebrity judge and former San Antonio Spur George “Iceman” Gervin is quoted as saying in the story. “The three-point contest was bad enough, but this is just depressing.”

Well, I now have something comparable that’s real.

One of my best friends lives in Washington D.C. and works on Capitol Hill, running the mail room for a senator. My friend just came into town to visit over the holidays, and he presented me with the official program from the 48th Annual Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game this past June. I have a lot of baseball programs from over the years. This is probably the only one that includes ads for the National Archives, the Congressional Federal Credit Union and something called the German Chancellor Fellowship Program.

The program includes a recap of the 2008 game (the Republicans won, for the eighth straight year) and a roster of both teams. Former NFL quarterback Heath Shuler, a representative from North Carolina, was part of the Democratic team; Florida representative Connie Mack IV, meanwhile, is listed with the Republicans, as is Tom Rooney, part of the family that owns the Pittsburgh Steelers. There’s even a Congressional Baseball Hall of Fame, denoted on pages 16 and 17 of the magazine, which shows pictures of all the members, including NFL Hall of Fame wide receiver Steve Largent.

There seems to be a Hall of Fame for everything these days.

I showed the program to my mom, a conservative Republican who is generally enthusiastic about politics. I thought she might think the program was nifty, but she just shook her head. “They have entirely too much money,” she told me.

I may have to agree with her. Then again, as the game is played at the home park for the Washington Nationals, it should at least give the locals a nice break from typically bleak baseball.

The “What If” Dream Team

I’ve been kicking around the idea lately of creating a dream lineup for the players I feel were held back from immortality by one misfortune or another.  These are the players who generally suffered some kind of catastrophic injury, left the game in shame, or died young.  Barring these fates, many if not most of the following men would have been Hall of Fame members.

They are as follows:

P- J.R. Richard: From 1975 to 1979, he averaged roughly 17 wins and 240 strikeouts per season.  Had his career not been cut short in 1980 by a stroke at age 30, he would probably have accumulated 250-300 career wins and earned a Hall of Fame plaque.

C- Ray Fosse: A poster child for the dark side of the All Star game, Fosse was just 23 and a bright young catcher for the Cleveland Indians when Pete Rose barreled into him to score the winning run in the 1970 contest.  Fosse was never the same thereafter.

1B- Nick Esasky: He really only had one good season, hitting 30 home runs for the Boston Red Sox in 1989, which earned him a large free agent contract.  Esasky played just nine games thereafter, however, having to retire in 1990 because of vertigo.  Alfred Hitchcock later made a film about this.  I think.

2B- Ken Hubbs: He was Rookie of the Year and a Gold Glove winner in 1962 at age 20, but died before the start of the 1964 season in a plane crash.

3B-Heinie Zimmerman: One of many players who was barred from baseball due to gambling in the early part of the twentieth century, Zimmerman is largely a forgotten name today.  However, had he not been thrown out of the game in 1919 at 32, the .295 lifetime hitter would have likely rounded out his career with something over 2,000 hits, perhaps enough for a Hall of Fame bid.

SS- Dickie Thon: He was never the same after missing most of the 1984 season after taking a beanball to the face.  The sponsor ad on his Baseball Reference page probably says it best: Just a Mike Torrez fastball away from the Hall of Fame, Dickie was a forgotten Astros great, and an inspiration to us all.

RF- Tony Conigliaro: Pretty much the same story as Thon, except it happened on the Red Sox in 1967.

CF- Lyman Bostock: A sweet hitting outfielder for the California Angels, Bostock got murdered in a drive-by shooting at the end of the 1978 season. Riding in a car with a woman he had met 20 minutes before, Bostock was shot by her jealous, estranged husband.

LF- Joe Jackson: He got banned for being apart of the Black Sox scandal that threw the 1919 World Series and aside from Pete Rose, is perhaps the best player not in the Hall of Fame. Funny how baseball works sometimes.  Babe Ruth was a preferred name at whorehouses across the country, Ty Cobb admitted late in life to killing a man in the street in 1912, and Barry Bonds will probably get into the Hall of Fame before federal prison, if he ever even gets convicted, but Jackson, a lifetime .356 hitter, has little to no shot at Cooperstown.

The Defensive Dream Team

In the spirit of this site, I now offer another “Best of” list, this time a lineup of players I would want, were I assembling a defensive dream team.  The number of Gold Gloves won by each player is listed next to their name in parentheses.

P- Greg Maddux (18) – Far and away the best defensive pitcher in the history of the game.  After Jim Kaat, who earned 16 Gold Gloves, the next best-pitcher has half as many Gold Gloves as Maddux.

C- Johnny Bench (10) – Ivan Rodriguez has more Gold Gloves, but Bench handled better pitching staffs.

1B- Keith Hernandez (11) – He has the most Gold Gloves of any first baseman and also had 2182 hits and a .296 lifetime batting average.  Hernandez never got more than about 11% of the vote for the Hall of Fame and dropped off the ballot after 2004, but could be a good candidate eventually for the Veterans Committee.

2B- Ryne Sandberg (9) – This was a toss up between Sandberg, Bill Mazeroski and Roberto Alomar.  I initially wanted to go with Mazeroski who was elected to the Hall of Fame a few years ago largely on the strength of his defense (that and hitting the winning home run in Game Seven of the 1960 World Series.)  I re-evaluated after seeing that Sandberg and Alomar had better, almost identical numbers.  I’m going with Sandberg, I guess, because I like him more than Alomar who seemed like something of a jerk.

SS- Ozzie Smith (13) – This, on the other hand, was no contest.  Smith did backflips along with all sorts of other acrobatics, has the most Gold Gloves of any shortstop and redefined the position.  He wasn’t called The Wizard for nothing.

3B- Brooks Robinson (16) – Another simple pick.  Who else was I going to choose, Mike Schmidt?  Highlight films were invented for guys like Robinson (and Smith.)

OF- Willie Mays (12), Roberto Clemente (12), Larry Walker (7) – Mays and Clemente were easy choices.  Mays probably has two or three of the all-time best catches in baseball history from his perch in center field, and Clemente won an equal number of Gold Gloves, with a cannon arm in right field.  I struggled to pick a leftfielder, though, and ultimately went with a second rightfielder, Walker.  My rationale?  I once saw Walker throw out a slow-footed Tim Wakefield at first from right.  In my opinion, right field is the toughest position in the outfield– anyone who plays there needs a great arm.  Any good rightfielder can do just fine in left, where defensive liabilities often wind up.  This was the case with Bonds late in his career, though as a young player, he was lights out in left.

Bench: Pre-steroids Bonds (8), Pre-injured Ken Griffey Jr. (10), Omar Vizquel (11), Rodriguez (13)

Interview with Dale Tafoya

I got an email last Saturday from Dale Tafoya, the author of Bash Brothers, which I reviewed here on December 23. I got a little nervous when I first saw Tafoya’s name in my email inbox, as my review of his work was, at times, less than flattering.  Tafoya was cool, though, saying that he thought I was objective.  He also said some of the writing and editing of his book got compromised because his publisher, Potomac Books rushed it out after the Mitchell Report.  This struck my interest, and I offered to append his email to my review.  He said that wasn’t necessary but offered instead to do an email interview.

I got some questions off to Tafoya on Sunday evening, and he emailed me back today.  The interview is as follows:

Baseball Past and Present: You’ve mentioned about pouring your heart and soul into this book.  A year and a half past your book’s publication, have you fully detoxed off of all things Bash Brothers?

Dale Tafoya: Yes. When you invest almost four years on a project and finish promoting it, you kind of want to take a breather from it.  When I completed my book, it felt good to return to my daily routine. But when you’re in the thick of writing a book and immersed in your subject, it sucks you in. You’re having an affair with it. People always ask me for advice on starting a book, and I tell them they must have an unwavering passion for their subject; a romance that’s going to push them through the many obstacles of finding a literary agent, a publisher and staying focused enough to finish a book. The challenges are worth it.  What made this journey so worth it for me was that so many of my interviews––former teammates, coaches, broadcasters, and executives––loved talking about Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire. They rambled on and on. Even so, the book still had obstacles. I first pitched the book back in 2004, and many book agents said a story on the Bash Brothers was only an article-–not book worthy. One, in fact, said a publisher would only acquire it if Canseco and McGwire participated. But I pressed on and googled my ass off to locate people who knew them. After interviewing about 50 of them, the book began taking shape. I ended up interviewing over 100. On my desk are hundreds of cassette tapes of my interviews that remind me of my hard work. But to answer your question, Graham, I’m not writing a Bash Brothers II; I’ve had enough with everything Canseco and McGwire.

BPAP: You interviewed a lot of people for your book, but not Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, Jason Giambi, Tony LaRussa or Reggie Jackson.  Did you attempt to contact them?

DT: Of course. I contacted reps for everyone you mentioned and they all declined. Well, actually, Canseco wanted to be paid, but we weren’t going pay him because the book would lose its objectivity. And we didn’t want the book to be a spin-off of his first book, Juiced. Predictably, McGwire didn’t bother to respond. But surprisingly, Dave Mckay, one of La Russa’s guys and the A’s former weightlifting coach, cooperated and was very helpful. He gave me the direct number to the St. Louis Cardinals clubhouse and really showed interest in the book. Even though he was clearly biased toward McGwire, I was shocked he participated.

BPAP: Who was your favorite interview?

DT: This has to be Eck, Dennis Eckersley. This guy is daring, bold, funny, and isn’t afraid to speak the truth. I was surprised how much he opened up to me about Tony La Russa, Reggie Jackson, Rickey Henderson, Canseco and McGwire. He wasn’t afraid to make some less than flattering comments about either of my subjects. He was real.

BPAP: Are you proud of your work?

DT: Definitely. I mean, as a first-time author, I’m proud of how it generated a buzz and garnered some media coverage across the country.
I didn’t hit a home run sales-wise, but it was a labor of love. I’m also pleased with how it drew participants. Hell, I interviewed Sandy Alderson for over an hour. He was a hard interview to land. On a side note, I did feel sort of rushed with the project. At the time, the Mitchell Report had just come out and my publisher, Potomac Books, wanted to capitalize on the buzz and rush it to stores, which, of course, will compromise some things (not accuracy, though). That’s just the politics of the publishing business. Overall, though, I’m excited for the lingering impact that Bash Brothers will have decades down the line because when fans reflect on the history of baseball, they’ll always point toward Canseco and McGwire as two sluggers who helped trigger Baseball’s Steroid Era. So I have a long-term vision for the book, too. I’m also proud of how none of my interviews emailed or phoned me to cuss me out for misquoting or misrepresented them. It proves my book wasn’t a witch hunt, but an honest glimpse inside the Bash Brothers. Having former MLB commissioner Fay Vincent write the foreword for the book was also a boost for me.

BPAP: What’s one thing you wish could be different about it?

DT: Personally, I wish I would’ve been more prepared for the critics.  As an author, you could have ten reviewers praise your work, but also have ten reviewers bash it. It’s just the nature of the business. When you write a book, you really put yourself out there and expose yourself to criticism. That’s why you need thick skin in this business. Not many, after all, have your best interest in mind.

BPAP: Do you feel you’ve written the definitive book on the Bash Brothers?

DT: I think so. With all of my research and interviews, It’s hard to imagine another author would chase everyone down again. I also doubt they would get the same cooperation. The only other idea is for Canseco and McGwire to join forces on a book, but that won’t happen.

BPAP: Overall, do you feel the publication of the Mitchell Report helped or hurt your book?

DT: If anything, it hurt it. When the Mitchell Report came out, I believe fans started growing tired of the steroid issue. If my book would have been released around 2005, there would have definitely been more interest, but so many top-tier players were being exposed, it lost its shock value.
By 2008, fans accepted that steroids were a part of the game.

BPAP: Got any new projects?

DT: Yes, and it’s not even about sports. I’m collaborating with Hip-Hop legend Too Short for his upcoming memoir. Since my first book was about baseball, many consider me a sportswriter, but I’m free and write about whatever the hell I want to write about.

BPAP: For the record, do you personally think Canseco or McGwire used steroids?

DT: Absolutely. No doubt. Lots of them. But so did everyone else.

Christmas sighting: Nick Johnson

Life can be oddly serendipitous sometimes.

I’ve been kicking around the idea recently of writing an entry here about Nick Johnson. The 31-year-old signed a $5.75 million one-year contract on Wednesday to rejoin the team that drafted him, the New York Yankees and be their designated hitter. Moreover, we graduated from the same high school, C.K. McClatchy in Sacramento, as did his uncle, Larry Bowa. Last I heard, Johnson is even married to the sister of a girl I grew up with. Come to think of it, Johnson’s wife once babysat my sister and me years and years ago. She put us to bed early on a Saturday night and proceeded to sit in my parents’ kitchen with one of her friends and make phone calls. She wasn’t asked back.

I wouldn’t call myself a Johnson expert. I’ve never met the guy, as he graduated before I hit high school. I talked to some people, years ago, who watched him hit towering shots in practice at McClatchy, and I remember seeing a news story about him taped up in the locker room my freshman or sophomore year when he was tearing up the minors for the Yankees. All things considered, I probably don’t know that much more than the average good Yankee fan.

It’s worth noting, though, that Johnson’s mother-in-law is close friends with the mother of one of my best friends. Knowing I was a huge baseball fan, my friend’s mom used to feed me tidbits about Johnson: He was depressed about being traded from the Yankees to the Montreal Expos; a few years ago, he was thinking about signing with the San Diego Padres to be closer to home; he had a big new house in Sacramento and a kid on the way with his wife. I think I tried to request an interview with Johnson through my friend’s mom some years back, but nothing ever came of it.

One of my goals for 2010 is to get a press pass, with my site, for an Oakland Athletics or San Francisco Giants game. On this note, I got to thinking today, while over at my grandmother’s house in Sacramento for Christmas, that I should attempt to interview Johnson the next time the Yankees plays the A’s. I even mentioned something about this to my mom.

Well, about an hour later, my parents and I were at a stoplight on our way home, and I spotted Johnson. He was getting out of a cream Cadillac Escalade at a gas station not far from my parents’ home. I started to get out of the car to go approach him about an interview for here, but my parents stopped me. I’ll have to mention it if I ever do interview him.

Book Review: Bash Brothers

As faithful readers of this space will know, I interviewed Jose Canseco in April 2008 on his promotional tour for his book, Vindicated. While researching Canseco in the days leading up to our meeting, I came across a notice for a forthcoming book on the former Oakland Athletics slugger and his teammate, Mark McGwire. The book was titled Bash Brothers, with the subhead, A Legacy Subpoenaed.

After contacting the publisher, Potomac Books, I interviewed the author, Dale Tafoya. However, my story wound up focusing on the signing, and I felt like Tafoya’s quotes would take away from the narrative, so I decided not to mention him. Tafoya accused me of using him for information, which would have been more ludicrous if he’d known me; in a sense, I’ve been researching Canseco since I was six. Most of what we discussed was stuff I already knew.

I subsequently received a review copy of Bash Brothers and was unsure what to do with it. My editor at the East Bay Express declined a review, since he’d just published my Canseco story. I contacted an acquaintance at the San Francisco Chronicle, they passed as well and the book thus sat unread. Eventually, it fell behind my bookcase, along with my unread review copy of Vindicated.

I always felt guilty about this and at times wanted to read the book but since that would have necessitated moving my bookcase, which would have necessitated getting all my books off of it first, I did not. However, I moved apartments this summer and finally recovered Bash Brothers. After finishing reading The Boys of Summer this fall, it was time to review Tafoya’s work.

I read Bash Brothers and all in all, it wasn’t bad. In fact, I rather liked certain parts, including the chapter that talked about an old Reggie Jackson spending a final season in Oakland to tutor Canseco and McGwire. Tafoya also commendably did four years of research putting together the book. He takes two pages at the end to list 112 people he interviewed, including former A’s players Dave Parker, Bob Welch, Dave Henderson and Dennis Eckersley and one-time baseball commissioner Fay Vincent, who wrote the foreword for the book.

Missing from this group, though, are McGwire and Canseco. In fact, the book gives no mention to whether they were even contacted (Canseco was happy to talk with me; he arrived at his signing an hour early for our interview.) The book never produces a smoking gun, either, for McGwire or Canseco having used steroids, only quoting excerpts from Canseco’s bestseller, Juiced, offering vague quotes from McGwire’s former strength coach, Curt Wenzlaff, and saying McGwire had a younger brother who got into bodybuilding and probably did steroids.

Sports Illustrated writer Selena Roberts got Alex Rodriguez to admit to using steroids by alleging this in a book; two San Francisco Chronicle reporters obtained grand jury testimony that confirmed Barry Bonds juiced as well. Somehow, it doesn’t feel that Tafoya went deep enough in his research, though he has a great bit from former outfielder Ben Grieve, retired and angry at all the juicers who prospered while he stayed clean and struggled.

Tafoya himself came in something of an unknown, with the book flap saying he studied journalism at a community college. The front of the book lists a slew of other titles from the publisher that I’ve never heard of. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I would love to have a baseball book with my name on it, even if few read it.

Tafoya’s writing itself is nothing special. “The game of baseball was out of its element, it seemed,” Tafoya writes of the Congressional hearings Canseco and McGwire appeared at in March 2005. “As compelling as each opening statement appeared, more riveting moments seemed ahead. Feeling like scattered chunks of bread surrounded by a swarm of starving seagulls, Canseco and McGwire threatened to evoke the Fifth Amendment when cornered with a self-incriminating inquiry.” The book is filled with writing of this sort that always seems just a little off, stilted, reaching.

Even the title is awkward. How exactly does one subpoena a legacy? Then again, I may have been a bit biased coming off The Boys of Summer. Very few sports books are that poetic or well-written. I’m not any worse for having read Bash Brothers. I found it interesting enough, though I probably wouldn’t recommend it to a non-sports fan. I say this as someone who insisted my mom read The Boys of Summer.

Now all I need to do is read Vindicated.

The 10 Most Overrated Hall of Famers

Several months ago, when this site was in its infancy, I wrote a post, “The 10 best players not in the Hall of Fame.” It remains my most popular post, by far, and has lead to other entries. When in doubt, I learned, the Hall of Fame makes for thought-provoking writing.

Today, I offer a new list. Let me preface this. Bill James used mathematical formulas, years ago, to make his own determinations in his book, Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame? I submit no such claim and, in fact, am deliberately not including his choices. There’s no sense in trying to compete with James, and I don’t know his methodology, sabermetrics.  It is one of those things I’ve meant to pick up but haven’t, like Spanish, HTML coding and guitar.  I also am putting a few players on in the hopes of stirring debate. I considered including Joe DiMaggio, but thought better of it.

Also, the following players aren’t necessarily the worst in Cooperstown. Some are, but most are simply guys who I feel got in unjustly, for one reason or another. Consider:

Jim Rice: He got in for what others did or, moreover, what he didn’t do. Probably. If it ever comes out that Rice used steroids, Cooperstown will have problems.

Bruce Sutter: After the floodgates opened on letting relievers in, Sutter was inducted. When I think of great relievers, I think Rollie Fingers, Goose Gossage, and from this generation, Mariano Rivera and maybe Trevor Hoffman. That’s it. I tend to be hard on relievers, just as I am on defensive stars and designated hitters. True Hall of Famers, in my book, are multi-faceted, game-changing players, the kid I’d pick first on the playground, no question.

Rube Waddell: I love reading about Waddell in Ken Burns Baseball, hearing how the child-like star pitcher could be distracted with puppies and lured from the mound by the sound of firetrucks. If there were a Hall of Fame for storied characters in baseball history, Waddell would be a first-ballot inductee. But the facts are that he won 197 games and drank himself out of the big leagues while he was still young. This wasn’t as funny when it happened with Dwight Gooden.

Dizzy Dean: Ditto.

Lou Boudreau: As noted here before, Boudreau was an extremely similar hitter to Orlando Cabrera. Cabrera belongs in no Hall of Fame, not even the Montreal Expos team Hall of Fame (which is probably in an airport restroom somewhere.)

Gaylord Perry: So, yeah, this choice might be controversial. After all, Perry won 314 games and reinvented himself many times. Among his generation, he was one of the very few best pitchers in the game. But he did it in part by cheating, throwing a ball that had more grease on it than an engine. Had Perry played a generation later, he’d have no shot at the Hall of Fame. Just look what’s happening to Roger Clemens.

Rabbit Maranville: When in doubt, Maranville is a name for angry supporters of a player who can’t get in the Hall of Fame, as in: “Why can’t Dale Murphy get in the Hall of Fame, if Rabbit Maranville can?” For good reason, as Maranville hit .258 lifetime. Granted, he was a solid defensive shortstop, but I’m generally against recognizing these sorts of players unless they’re Brooks Robinson, Ozzie Smith or Omar Vizquel.  Aside from all that, perhaps the biggest injustice is that the year writers voted Maranville in, 1954, they declined to induct DiMaggio.

Phil Rizzuto: As noted before, Rizzuto falls into a class of players I like to call, “If they played for the Washington Senators…” As in, if they had played for the Senators, they’d have no shot at the Hall of Fame. They can mostly be noted for holding down jobs for long stretches on hallowed clubs. Others in this class include Earle Combs, Pee Wee Reese, Tony Lazzeri, Lefty Gomez and Bill Dickey. If Gil Hodges gets in Cooperstown, he can be grouped here too. Rizzuto made his name playing shortstop for great Yankee teams in the 1940s and ’50s, in the same lineup as DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle. Rizzuto did an able job, seemed like a nice guy, and had a long career as a broadcaster after he retired. But he also hit .273 lifetime.

Dave Bancroft: Bancroft is in an opposite school to Rizzuto, one of those players who can mostly be noted for being the best member on really terrible teams. I don’t like this kind of recognition, just as I don’t think it’s right to have a token All Star from the Pittsburgh Pirates each year.

Tinker to Evers to Chance: I’ll group together these three– Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers and Frank Chance– because they were a famed double play combination for the Chicago Cubs in the early twentieth century. Defensively adept though they may have been, none had more than 1,700 hits or hit .300 lifetime. Without each other, none would have made the Hall of Fame.

Special Christmas sale: Cheap free agents

A staggering 266 baseball players recently hit the free agent market, and between the sputtering economy and abundance of quality players for teams to choose from, their prospects for landing decent contracts don’t look good.  There hasn’t been a worse time in years to be a free agent coming off a marginal or injury-riddled season. Bobby Crosby recently took $1,000,000 from the Pittsburgh Pirates, Andruw Jones got $500,000 (and presumably some Denny’s coupons) from the Chicago White Sox and we should be seeing more of the same on a larger scale over the next few months.

The good news for baseball’s small market teams, like the Oakland Athletics and Florida Marlins is that they’ll be able to restock on the cheap.  Here are some of the good players who should be available well below their typical market value:

Vladimir Guerrero: News out of Anaheim is that the Angels are looking to sign Hideki Matsui, leaving their former franchise player Guerrero to look for new work.  The 2004 Most Valuable Player made $15 million last season but struggled with injuries, only managing 383 at bats and hitting 100 points below his career slugging average.  My guess is that he signs an incentive-laden one-year deal somewhere with a base in the $3-5 million range.  Billy Beane loves these sort of signings: Frank Thomas, Matt Stairs, David Justice, Mike Piazza, Nomar Garciaparra, and Jason Giambi have been down this road before.

Garrett Atkins: I hope the Giants sign this guy.  He slumped to .226 in 399 at bats last season, lost his third base job with the Colorado Rockies to Ian Stewart, and was not brought back after the season ended.  From 2005 to 2008, though, Atkins looked like a cornerstone for Colorado, hitting in the range each year of .300, with 20 home runs and 100 runs batted in.  He’s only 30, so he has plenty of time to bounce back.

Chien-Ming Wang: He may be a bit of a gamble, since he hasn’t been the same since getting injured running the bases in the middle of the 2008 season.  However, prior to that, he twice won 19 games for the New York Yankees.  Some team with a gloried tradition of garbage pitching (like perhaps the Kansas City Royals) could do worse than Wang as a fourth or fifth starter.

Rocco Baldelli: Healthy, this guy was touted by Sports Illustrated as the second-coming of Joe DiMaggio, but therein lies the rub.  Baldelli is a lock to come down injured almost every year and has had just one full season, his first in 2003 where he finished third in Rookie of the Year voting.  He’s also still young, 28 to start next season, and if he ever gets a clean bill of health, he could be something special.  It couldn’t hurt to have him on the A’s bench, at the very least.

Miguel Tejada: Quietly, he’s been one of the biggest losers in the whole steroid mess.  Jose Canseco named Tejada as a user in Juiced, he was subsequently convicted of lying to Congress, and he’s out of a job, even though the shortstop hit .313 with 199 hits and a league-leading 46 doubles for the Houston Astros last season.  At 35, he’s not going to command the near $15 million salary he earned in 2009, but he’s probably got a few more good years in him, if someone gives him a chance.  He’d be a good fit for the Detroit Tigers, where he could split time between shortstop, third base and designated hitter, depending on what happens with Magglio Ordonez.  A return to the A’s for Tejada isn’t out of the realm of possibility, either, particularly with the departure of Crosby.

Jermaine Dye: He hit .250 for the White Sox last season, which is like hitting .300 for the Yankees.  Dye has been a master at reinventing himself over the course of his long career.  He’ll bounce back somewhere next year– I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if he returns to the Atlanta Braves, who chose not to resign Garret Anderson.  Dye will be 36 to start next season and probably has a few more years of outfield in him.  He’s the Moises Alou of this crop of free agents.

My favorite baseball player, 2009

As a child, my favorite baseball player was Will Clark.  No question.  In fact, if asked who my favorite player is these days, I might still say Clark (Rickey Henderson and Pete Rose also merit consideration, with their similar, throwback style.)  There aren’t a whole lot of players in the current baseball landscape that stroke my imagination, not as Clark did anyhow.  I don’t know if it was his sweet swing, the eye black smeared on his face, or simply the fact that I was in Little League and Clark played for my favorite team, the San Francisco Giants.  Whatever the reason, the first baseman nicknamed Will the Thrill was it for me from ages six to nine.

Following the 1993 season, the Giants chose not to resign a declining Clark and he left to join the Texas Rangers.  By this point, I had already shifted my loyalties to the superstar outfielder the Giants signed the year before, Barry Bonds.  When it comes time to determine whether Bonds gets into the Hall of Fame, I wonder if it will be considered that there are multiple versions of Bonds, just as there are for someone like Michael Jackson. When I think of Jackson, I want to remember the hip, young guy who recorded Thriller, moonwalked and made Pepsi commercials, not the sad, frightened creature shown in the mug shot from his 2003 arrest (look up deer in headlights in the dictionary and that photo of Jackson is there.)  The same holds true for Bonds.  I fondly remember the five-tool athlete who played like the second-coming of his Godfather, Willie Mays.  I liked the Bonds who looked like Arsenio Hall, not the one who in later years resembled the Michelin Man.

If I had to choose a favorite current player, it’s probably Tim Lincecum, though it’s a lukewarm choice.   Sure, Lincecum has won back-to-back Cy Young awards, is the best player, hands down, on my favorite baseball team, and I’ll probably pay to see him pitch at some point.  It’s an experience that probably should be had for anyone who claims to be a baseball fan.  Still, I don’t feel as strongly about Lincecum as I did about Clark or Bonds.

Then again, to echo a theme I bring up commonly here, maybe I’m just getting older.

Former Sacramento Solons owner, Fred David, dead at 100

A pioneering member in Sacramento sports history, Fred David died on October 17, at the age of 100.

David once owned a Pacific Coast League baseball team from my hometown, the Sacramento Solons, and I did my senior project in high school on it. I interviewed a number of former players and people associated with the club, including David who was 91 at the time. David first worked in the concession stand for the Solons at the age of 15 and became a stockholder in the team in 1944. He bought it ten years later at a time of uncertainty for the club, starting with $1,000, as he told me, “to keep baseball in Sacramento.” David owned the Solons from 1954 to 1960, when they moved to Honolulu. Their ballpark Edmonds Field was torn down in 1964, and a Target sits today on the site, with a plaque in the parking lot marking home plate.

A number of relics from Edmonds Field wound up in a warehouse David owned in downtown Sacramento at 10th and R Street for his primary business, The David Candy Company. David let me go inside the warehouse at the time of our interview and even gave me a score book from 1957 that I later got autographed by another interview subject, former Solon and Chicago Cubs catcher Cuno Barragan. Inside David’s warehouse was old seating, PA and scoreboard equipment. I gave David a list of written questions, asking among them why he still had so much of the memorabilia. “After we sold the stadium, I salvaged what I could,” David wrote. “It was a great memory.”

I learned recently from David’s niece, Diana Thomas of Santa Barbara, that he died 16 days after turning 100. He had wanted to make 100, Thomas explained, and after achieving this, his body went downhill rapidly. He was lucid up until the end. She said the warehouse is still in the family, which calls it The Building, and it hasn’t been gone through yet. An estate sale is pending.

Retired baseball scout Ronnie King, 82, knew David as a kid, before either man got into baseball. King last spoke with David about 15 years ago and learned of his passing through a mutual friend.

Asked if David made a meaningful contribution to Sacramento sports, King told Baseball Past and Present, “Oh, sure, sure. In fact if he didn’t buy it (in 1954), they probably would have left then, because there was a couple other cities that wanted the Solons.”

Another Sacramento franchise, the Monarchs of the Women’s National Basketball Association folded on November 20, seven weeks after David died. King didn’t hold back when asked what David would have made of the decision.

“I think he would have been a little shook up about it, because I think he always thought that sports did something for the city,” King said.

When I interviewed David in 2001, I asked him how the candy industry, which he worked in for much of his life differed from baseball. “Business is business– work,” he wrote. “But I loved baseball. I guess I was a good fan.”