Time for baseball to call an amnesty on Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe

This site has been in existence for a little under a year now, and my most popular post by far remains a list I published last May, The 10 best baseball players not in the Hall of Fame. It gets the most visitors, the most comments, and the one time so far that I’ve received any money from this site, it was because an online casino wanted to advertise on that page. The irony, I suppose, is that the ad was a text link to a betting site in the paragraph I wrote about Pete Rose, who’s No. 1 on my list.

The Hall of Fame, I’ve learned, gets people talking, and one of the things that’s stirred some controversy among my readers is that I included banned players Rose, Joe Jackson and Hal Chase unlike other people who’ve written on this topic, such as Tom Verducci. My take is: If we’re talking about making a list of all the best players not in the Hall of Fame, the list should be just that. Cooperstown’s rules for admission shouldn’t apply, at least in my view, if all we’re doing is debating the 10 best players not enshrined. It’s not like I’m offering a list of the 10 best people not in the Hall of Fame.

With that said, I think the standards for Cooperstown eligibility should change. I think it’s time baseball call an amnesty and elect Rose and Jackson and strongly consider the merits of Chase, a great defensive first baseman from the Deadball Era. Let bygones be bygones. On talent alone, Rose and Jackson are both immortals and earned their plaques long ago. Jackson has the third highest batting average all-time, .356, and Babe Ruth is said to have modeled his swing after him. Rose meanwhile has the all-time hits mark and probably also rates as one of the 10 most competitive players in baseball history. Without either player, the Hall of Fame doesn’t seem complete, at least to me.

Granted, what either man did to qualify for banishment is morally reprehensible, with Jackson helping gamblers fix the 1919 World Series and Rose betting on games his teams played in (though he has since said he played to win.) But baseball has long been a sport of questionable characters and unabashed degenerates. Cooperstown has honored cheats like Mike “King” Kelly who used to cut from first to third on the base paths when the umpire wasn’t looking and given plaques to Rogers Hornsby, Gabby Hartnett and Tris Speaker who were in the Ku Klux Klan. Regardless of if Jackson or Rose ever gets forgiven, baseball will still be the same sport that didn’t let black players in the majors until 1947, didn’t feature a black manager until 1975 and let the Dodgers leave Brooklyn in the interim.

I understand KKK membership was once considered socially acceptable and that gambling is a huge no-no, the ultimate sin in baseball. I think the game has long since made its point with the draconian bans meted out to Jackson and Rose. After the decades-long waking nightmare that both players received for betting on the game, I’d be astonished if any player wanted to risk a similar fate. It’s been like the baseball equivalent of Scared Straight!

Baseball could do well to forgive, but definitely not forget. Imagine what an occasion such an induction ceremony would be, what Rose’s speech might sound like. I think honoring Rose and Jackson would be amazing publicity for the game. I think baseball has suffered a lot in the last 20 years, between the Steroid Era and the still-lingering effects of the 1994 strike, and that’s just the obvious stuff. Baseball has gone a long way from being America’s Pastime to a sport of petty gripes and selfishness. Forgiving a couple of sick men who were also incredible players would be a show of the sort of altruism the game should welcome.

Jackson died in 1951, and Rose turns 69 in a couple of weeks. This opportunity isn’t going to exist forever.

Eddie Gaedel: One baseball record that might never be broken

I have been meaning to write something about those baseball records that I think might never be broken. It’s an always-interesting question because I think most records are ultimately breakable in baseball. There are perhaps a select few, like Cy Young’s 511 wins, Ty Cobb’s .367 career batting average and Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak in 1941 which are well beyond reach and should stand eternally. Other than that, from Babe Ruth’s home run records to Cobb’s career hits total, most every mark that seemed insurmountable in baseball has toppled. But if there’s one feat that could stand as long as any, it’s this one, set by a midget named Eddie Gaedel: Shortest man to ever come to bat in a big league game.

This story has been widely reprinted elsewhere, though I’ll briefly summarize it here for anyone who hasn’t heard it.  In 1951, Bill Veeck, owner of the last place St. Louis Browns, secretly signed the 3’7″ Gaedel and, as a publicity stunt, sent him to bat wearing the uniform number 1/8 in a doubleheader with the Detroit Tigers. With orders not to swing, due to his impossibly small strike zone, Gaedel walked on four straight pitches; in fact, Veeck told him there would be a man in the stands with a rifle, in case he got bold at the plate. The Browns went on to lose 102 games that year, and Gaedel never played again in the majors, of course, dying in 1961 at age 36 as the result of a bar fight.

So why do I think the mark Gaedel set with his appearance will stand as long as any other? First and foremost, there was only one Veeck, a one-of-a-kind showman who constantly came up with ways to promote his small market teams, from signing 42-year-old Satchel Paige in 1948 to introducing the exploding scoreboard in Chicago (he was also owner at the time of the ill-fated Disco Demolition Night in 1979, though his son Mike masterminded that promotion, which caused a riot.) Beyond the absence of a Veeck among today’s sedate breed of owners, I believe we also have a more vociferous sports media, who would not let the signing of a Gaedel go unnoticed. And I also think most current teams would worry about embarrassing themselves.

That’s all a shame, because I think a team like the Nationals could do worse than to have a pinch hitter like Gaedel, a sure bet to get on-base pretty much every time up. A Gaedel could also help any team in playoff contention some September, when rosters expand from 25 men to 40. Signing a midget would seem akin to hiring an Olympic sprinter as a designated runner (which Charlie Finley did with the A’s in the ’70s) but I’ll be surprised if either of those things happens again.

What ever happened to the two-sport athlete?

I miss the early Nineties.

I miss the Sundays and the breathless SportsCenter reports when Deion Sanders would play in an Atlanta Falcons game, get on a plane and make it to Pittsburgh in time for a Braves playoff game that evening. I still wonder how he did it. I miss Bo Jackson and the “Bo Knows” Nike commercials about how the Kansas City Royals and Los Angeles Raiders star could seemingly do everything. I even miss the images of Michael Jordan struggling at Double-A baseball, and with all this in mind, I have to ask:

Whatever happened to the two-sport athlete?

Fifteen or twenty years ago, this kind of thing seemed fairly common, particularly in baseball, but somewhere in the interim, the idea of playing more than one sport at a time professionally has all but vanished. While we occasionally hear stories of star athletes excelling at different sports as amateurs, whether it’s LeBron James tearing it up in high school football or Kobe Bryant playing soccer in Italy as a boy or Donovan McNabb coming off the bench for Syracuse in the 1996 Final Four, multimillionaire dual threats like Deion and Bo seem to be a thing of the past. And that’s unfortunate.

I don’t know what happened. I don’t know if other athletes got scared watching Bo break his hip in a 1991 Raiders playoff game, which ended his football career and crippled his baseball abilities. Less than a year after Bo’s injury, Sanders’ backfield mate with the Falcons, Brian Jordan, walked away from football promise to focus on baseball. “I think about football,” Jordan told Ebony magazine in 1999, in the midst of what became a 15-year baseball career, “And then I think about the pain you feel on Mondays and thoughts about [playing] football quickly go away.”

I wonder if there was something written discretely into one of the recent Collective Bargaining Agreements that I missed, or some tacit understanding in the sports world that went unpublicized. Or maybe athletes started thinking differently after watching Michael Jordan leave basketball at the top of his game, hit .202 in place of a deserving prospect in Double-A baseball, and inspire a Sports Illustrated cover, “Bag it Michael.” Nobody wants to be that guy, even if Michael got the last laugh by returning to basketball, winning a few more championships and refusing to talk to SI for years thereafter

Whatever the case, there don’t seem to be many success stories about two-sport athletes anymore, just cautionary tales, such as Drew Henson: excellent as a quarterback at Michigan, not so good playing third base for the Yankees thereafter and then, surprisingly, no longer good at football either.

Didn’t anybody read Vindicated?

It’s all over the Internet that Jose Canseco got subpoenaed on Tuesday to testify before a grand jury on April 8 about Roger Clemens. Canseco played on three different teams with the embattled former pitcher, currently under federal investigation for lying to Congress in 2008 when he said he never used performance enhancing drugs. For all the news stories on what went down this week, there’s been scant mention of excerpts from Canseco’s book, Vindicated, that lend perspective.

I’ll backtrack for a moment.  Sometime in the last few months, I wanted some quick, easy reading, so I picked up what had heretofore been occasional bathroom fare. Surprisingly, Vindicated hasn’t been too bad. Just as Canseco’s previous book, Juiced might be this generation’s equivalent of Ball Four for revealing unflattering secrets about baseball and actually helping the game in the process, Vindicated reads a little like the follow-up to that bestseller, I’m Glad You Didn’t Take it Seriously: self-congratulatory and a little redundant, but also entertaining and occasionally thought-provoking.

Much of the early going in Vindicated centers around Clemens. Canseco writes that Clemens was “effectively excised from my book” but that when they played together, “Roger might say, ‘I think I need a B-twelve shot right about now,'” code for steroids.  Canseco adds that though he gave his opinions on Clemens to Pedro Gomez of ESPN and Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes, they weren’t aired, and he even speculates that George W. Bush or his father, both friends of Clemens, “made some calls and took care of things for good ole Roger.” That sounds a little ego-manic and hair-brained.

Later on, we get to something more sober and compelling that could be a preview of what’s to come on April 8.  I am bookmarked at page 108, but I scanned the remainder of the book this evening and came across a passage about Canseco’s trip to Houston in 2008 to sign an affidavit that stated he had “no reason to believe” Clemens ever used performance enhancing drugs. Canseco signed, but not before some diffidence, recounting on pages 154-155:

Technically, I didn’t have a single specific reason to believe that Roger had used steroids, but based on his behavior, and based especially on his performance, I had always felt he was using. But now, Jesus– I was very confused. I was sitting there with Roger and a bunch of lawyers, and I didn’t know what to think. I kept asking myself, Do I have one compelling reason to believe he used steroids? One single specific reason that convinces me, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that Roger was juicing? The answer was no. No, I did not.  And the more time I spent in that room, with the lawyers and with Roger, the more I came to believe that I’d been wrong about him.
So I signed the affidavit.
If it sounds confusing, that’s because it was confusing. I had an abrupt change of heart, yes, and I wish I could explain it better. I felt bad for Roger, sure, and I let myself get sucked into his drama. And maybe that’s exactly what Roger and his lawyers wanted. I honestly can’t say. All I can say is that suddenly Roger had me believing he had never juiced.
The sad part is that on February 13 (of 2008) I watched him go head to head with Brian McNamee, during the congressional hearings, and old Roger didn’t come off too good. Maybe I’d been right the first time. Maybe he had been juicing. And maybe I’d been wrong to change my mind. But in my heart, during my visit to Houston, I came to believe the guy. If I hadn’t believed him, I never would have signed that affidavit. And if I’m wrong about Roger, and he was juicing, I’m pretty sure we’ll know before this book even hits the stands.

I played around with Google, performing searches on some of the most sensational snippets of that excerpt.  Short of a book review on Vindicated from two years ago and some promotional material, nothing comes up. Amongst all the news stories I’ve read so far, only a couple outlets even reference Canseco’s conclusion in Vindicated about Clemens not using.

Thoughts on George Brett and the glove he inspired

I don’t know how old I was the first time I got a baseball mitt, though I suppose it would have been when I began playing Tee Ball in kindergarten. If my memory serves correct, I first used a light tan Ozzie Smith model glove, and if I wore it today, it would probably be scarcely bigger than the palm of my hand, like one of those old-time, miniature gloves seen in pictures of players from the 1920s. Even as a child, that glove felt small.

I grew out of my first glove pretty fast, probably no later than the third grade, and when the time came to purchase a new mitt, my parents and I set out to find the biggest thing possible, something that would never need to be replaced. We found just the glove. The George Brett Signature Model by Wilson that I got looked like the head of a snow shovel on my nine-year-old hand and quickly earned the nickname, “The Black Hole.”  Balls could disappear into that laundry trap of a glove, which made it ideal for outfield duty, even if it was sometimes as unwieldy as a Buick.  I remember catching five or six flies to right field one time in a game when I was maybe ten and feeling like former San Francisco Giants center fielder Darren Lewis.

I always liked playing with a glove named for George Brett.  I think at the time, I felt this way largely because Brett was one of my dad’s favorite players.  In retrospect, though, I think it maybe goes deeper than this.  Brett offered All Star caliber play without seeming top-conditioned, something that would be unheard of in baseball today.  At least to me, there was always something fairly human in Brett’s appearance, an everyman, underdog quality that made him look slightly out of place in uniform.  My dad played high school baseball and never went beyond it, though I’d like to think that if he’d ever made it to the majors, he’d have looked something like Brett.  To this day, it puts a smile on my face to use a glove named for Brett.

I last played Little League when I was eleven, but I still have the glove, which feels normal-sized now and remains in great shape.  I use it occasionally, and it struck me yesterday, after taking the glove to softball practice that all things considered, it’s probably among my oldest possessions.  Maybe I’ll give it to my son someday.

Thoughts from another lifetime

I read on the Sacramento Bee Web site that their former Kings beat writer, Sam Amick, recently left the paper to take a job with AOL Fanhouse and that another Bee reporter assumed his duties. In what seems like a different lifetime, I clerked for the Bee sports section and occasionally talked to Amick, who never had a mean thing to say to me. If things had played out differently in my tenure, which was brief and ended poorly, I wonder if I would be the new Kings writer.

I grew up in Sacramento and started reading the Bee sports section when I was seven or eight. Around sixth grade, I started phoning in responses to reader polls and getting my name in the paper, which would typically be printed beside the name of my elementary school. I have a clipping with a 19-year-old Tiger Woods answering a question I phoned in for a Q&A for kids. At the time, Tiger had just played in his first Masters, and I asked how he felt being the only amateur to finish. He responded he had the time of his life but didn’t accomplish one of his goals, to win the tournament (he’s since won it four times.) Reading his response reminds me how different we are. When I was 19, one of my goals was to get off academic probation.

I began writing term papers on baseball in eighth grade, served as sports editor of my high school newspaper, and studied journalism at Cal Poly, where I wrote prolifically for the campus newspaper. After graduating in June 2005, I worked part-time at an elementary school in Sacramento and freelanced for the sports section of the Davis Enterprise. I backpacked through Europe with my two best friends at the end of summer, and a month after I returned home, I landed the gig at The Bee. One of our family friends is an editor there, and I left her a message one day to check in. She called back to tell me of the open position, which wasn’t being advertised. I submitted a resume and clips, interviewed and was hired.

Problems started soon after. I was hired as a part-time administrative assistant, to answer phones and take down statistics from local games. I wanted to write, though, and while I received a few assignments initially to cover prep sports, this was halted after I stumbled in my admin duties. Looking back on it, the mature thing to do at the first sign of trouble would have been to knuckle down and do the job I was hired for 100 percent. Instead, I think I blamed other staff for my struggles, didn’t apply myself, and was generally defiant. I could say part of the problem was that I was also still working at the elementary school and spreading myself thin, but really, I think I was just immature.

All this being said, I remained blissfully unaware there were dire problems until our family friend called one afternoon near the end of December in 2005 to say the editors were not happy and were preparing to let me go. The family friend and I met for coffee shortly after she called, and I hastily drafted an apology letter before my shift that evening. My printer was running low on toner and it was pouring rain that day, so I showed up wet, with a faintly legible letter and had a terse meeting with my editors. A week later, I was let go.

In the four years since, my life has undergone a series of transformations, and I now live in the Bay Area and work as a copy writer for an Internet marketing company. I actually have a great life today, one I didn’t envision when I left The Bee. I’m in a more secure profession than newspaper reporting, and I get more opportunities to write sports with this site than I ever did at The Bee. More important, I’m in a better place personally now. I’ve had to grow up a lot, and while these past few years haven’t always been easy, the ride has absolutely been worth it. My life is better now than what it was four years ago.

I wonder sometimes what might have been. Long before he covered the Kings, Amick had the same job I failed at, and from reading his stories, I believe I write comparably well. I emailed my old editor last month, before I got my new job, to see if he’d be interested in using me as a baseball writer. I haven’t heard back. I know better than to regret the past or let my ego get the best of me. Every experience I’ve had, good or bad, has helped me reach the point I’m at now, and it’s a good point. Still, sometimes I can’t help but wonder.

Ron Washington rode the white horse. So what?

Most people will probably screw up in one way or another at some point in their lives. It’s only human to wreck a car or a marriage, to fail a class, to get fired from a job, maybe even to have problems with drugs, alcohol or the law.  When most folks fall short, they do so quietly, hopefully learning from their mistakes and moving on.  If they suffer setbacks, it isn’t plastered across the news, unless it’s something particularly egregious or bizarre.  This is all to their benefit, as anonymity is generally thought to be indispensable to recovery.

Celebrities rarely get this consideration. For all the privileges famous people receive, they don’t enjoy the essential right most people might take for granted of getting to deal privately with personal issues. Every day, there’s some unfortunate (and yes, entertaining) gossip in the news about an entertainer or athlete.  The more lurid the tale, the farther it spreads.  I admit I read every last story sometimes, but when I stop and think about it, I must say it’s a little amazing the standards celebrities and other well-known figures are often held to.

ESPN and other outlets trumpeted news Wednesday that the manager of the Texas Rangers, Ron Washington, tested positive for cocaine last year, and after some reflection, I have to say: So what?  Granted, I don’t condone the use of cocaine or other illegal drugs, but assuming Washington truthfully claimed he used only once, it seems he could have committed far worse transgressions.  His use didn’t keep him from fulfilling the duties of his job, as the Rangers finished 87-75.  Far as I know, Washington didn’t become addicted or get behind the wheel of a car or commit any crimes when he used cocaine, short of breaking some drug laws.

I admit I have fairly radical views regarding America’s policies on drugs.  Basically, I’m against drug use for me and anyone I care about.  I think if somebody has a problem with drugs or alcohol, they should stop.  That being said, I think we as a country waste tremendous amounts of time, money and resources that could be better put to use elsewhere when we condemn and prosecute recreational drug use.  I don’t really buy into the idea that purchasing drugs supports things like terrorism, but I do believe that criminalizing use drives up prices exponentially, thus increasing drug-related thefts and violence.  Were it up to me, all drugs would be legal, and we’d quit pointing fingers about who was using and who wasn’t, unless the use started affecting other lives.

By all accounts it sounds like Washington will emerge relatively unscathed from all this. He entered a drug program, kept his job and received support Wednesday from his players. Now, he can hopefully put this weird, little story behind him and focus on what looks to be a competitive race in the American League West.  This of course doesn’t resolve questions of how a 57-year-old man even gets offered cocaine, and I imagine this will probably be the wildest story we hear about a manager for some time.  All the same, Washington faces an easier road ahead than any player who really has a problem with drugs or alcohol.  How any of them has a chance of staying sober in this current media environment, I don’t know.

John Smoltz signs with… TBS? Very funny.

I remember when the Fab Four pitching staff of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Steve Avery and John Smoltz ruled baseball in 1993.  Spearheaded by a Cy Young season from Maddux, the four went a combined 75-33, making the Atlanta Braves the first team in the 20th Century with four 15-game winners and wrecking an otherwise stellar season for my Giants.  San Francisco couldn’t have picked a worse year to go 103-59, which put them one game behind the first-place Braves in the NL West and thus kept them out of the postseason under the old format.  In a sense, the Fab Four was partially responsible for the subsequent advent of the divisional playoffs.

Avery came down injured that year at 23, a victim perhaps of overuse his first few seasons, and he was never the same thereafter.  However, Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz forged careers that will likely lead them all to the Hall of Fame, and for a time it seemed they might stay in the majors forever.  The three continued to thrive into their forties, Maddux and Glavine reaching 300 wins and Smoltz possibly only being kept from that plateau by a career-threatening injury some years before that relegated him to the bullpen for a few seasons and cost him at least 60 wins.  Age eventually caught up with each man, of course, and Maddux retired at the end of the 2008 season, while Glavine also last pitched that year before finally making his retirement official a month ago.  Now, it looks like Smoltz, the final link to a bygone era in Atlanta could be calling it quits, too.

ESPN is reporting that while the 42-year-old Smoltz has yet to file retirement papers, he is joining TBS as an announcer for the upcoming baseball season.  He sounded diffident about whether he wants to play again, telling the Associated Press today, “I know the question comes up: Does that mean you retired? Officially no. But in my life when I make a decision about something and I say something, my whole character is to live by it. At this point I’m not officially prepared to say I’m done. But that may not mean anything to the degree that makes me play either.”

That sounds like: I wanted a job, but no one would give it to me, and I don’t know if I really care all that much, all things considered.

Judging by Smoltz’s numbers with the St. Louis Cardinals the second half of last season, including 40 strikeouts in 38 innings, I think he could probably still come out of the bullpen for a contender, reprising that brief interlude in his career when he was a lights-out closer for the Braves.  He wasn’t happy in the role and eventually returned to being a starter, before flaming out with the Boston Red Sox at the beginning of last season.  I don’t know if he was insisting on another starting role for 2010 and this made teams skittish, but whatever the case may be, I’m interested to see if Smoltz is for sure done.

This hardly seems like a Fab end for him.

Five baseball people I wish had Twitter

I recently signed up for Twitter (@grahamdude) to promote this site. Anyone who reads regularly knows I follow Jose Canseco, and sometimes, he apparently reads what I write, too.  Canseco is actually fairly entertaining and unhinged on Twitter as is Ozzie Guillen.  The famously flippant White Sox manager had several Tweets last Friday slamming actor Sean Penn for supporting Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, including a post in Spanish that translated roughly to, “That clown the gringuito that lives chevre in the United States well.”  Whatever that means.

Yes, baseball was a simpler game before online media and Guillen’s native country both went socialized.

All things considered, I find Twitter pretty vapid, one of those things that wouldn’t be missed were it to disappear tomorrow from the cultural landscape, like US Magazine or Ke$ha.  That being said, Twitter continues to overtake more and more of my time, and I’ve found myself wondering of late who else in baseball history would have made good use of the site. Here are five past baseball figures I would have clicked “Follow” on for sure:

(1) Casey Stengel: The longtime manager was also probably the all-time most quotable baseball personality, known for giving nonsensical interviews to sportswriters — who dubbed his language Stengelese — and Congress alike.  In 1958, as noted in Ken Burns’ Baseball, a 67-year-old Stengel testified before a Senate subcommittee hearing and helped kill a bill to formalize baseball’s exemption from anti-trust laws by rambling incoherently for 45 minutes.  I have to think Stengelese leads to Twitter at its absolute best.  Or worst.

(2) Satchel Paige: Another eminently quotable personality, whose many aphorisms, such as his list on “How to Stay Young,” would make excellent, concise Tweets.

(3) Lou Gehrig: Imagine the heartfelt remarks the fallen Yankee star would have for Lou Gehrig Day on Twitter.

Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about a bad break I got.  Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the

And that’s 140 characters, exactly, which is all Twitter allows for each posting.  If that’s not irony, I don’t know what is, perhaps besides saying you’re the luckiest man on the face of the earth when in reality, as Norm MacDonald once said during a parody sketch of Gehrig’s speech on “Saturday Night Live,” you have a disease so rare they named it after you.

If Gehrig had a Twitter account, it probably would have malfunctioned on him.

(4) Dummy Taylor: A deaf pitcher for the New York Giants in the early part of the 20th Century, Taylor would get a new voice through social media, much like @ebertchicago.  The film critic lost his ability to speak following cancer surgery a few years ago but Tweets and blogs regularly now.

(5) Babe Ruth: Knowing the Babe, this would probably have no less than three ghostwriters.  Still, I have to think it would be pretty entertaining.  And I imagine Ruth, the first heavily-marketed athlete would allow the level of scrutiny needed for a Twitter account to take off, seeing as he had a syndicated newspaper box during his career entitled, WHAT BABE RUTH DID TODAY.

Albert Pujols for Ryan Howard: Seriously?

Currently on “This Week in Stupid Trade Rumors,” I saw a story this evening on ESPN that the Phillies discussed offering the Cardinals their slugger Ryan Howard for three-time National League Most Valuable Player (and St. Louis institution) Albert Pujols.  Not sure if the story is legit, since it quoted unnamed sources and featured a flat denial from Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro.  Either way, the proposed trade is, for lack of a better word, retarded.  If it did get discussed by Phillies’ brass, I’m going to assume it happened during some kind of drinking game or “Truth or Dare” contest.

The only thing more ridiculous than the Phillies soliciting the Cardinals for this sort of deal would be if St. Louis actually went for it.  If I’m St. Louis and I get this call, I assume it’s some kids pulling a prank.  You do not trade Albert Pujols, not under any circumstances.  Not for Joe Mauer, not for Tim Lincecum (if the Giants could do that deal, I’d tell them to sign off on it tonight, maybe throw in Pablo Sandoval if that’s what it took) and certainly not for Ryan Howard.

I could probably list ten players I’d want on my team before Howard, a rather ordinary, one-dimensional player who just happens to hit the ball a mile.  That’s really all he does, kind of like a left-handed version of Frank Thomas without the good batting average or career longevity. Howard didn’t get going until he was 25, is now 30 and with his large frame, I’d be surprised if he’s still going strong in five years.  And players like him are fairly replaceable, even if he does have the same name as one of the characters on The Office, which seems like it should be good for some kind of promotional tie-in.

The ESPN story discussed proposed trades of players at the top of their games, like a Ted Williams-for-Joe DiMaggio swap that was once actually discussed between New York and Boston.  Howard and Pujols are far less even, though.

I doubt Howard makes the Hall of Fame.  On the other hand, Pujols is almost certainly a first ballot selection.  He rates superior to Howard in pretty much every offensive category, notably career batting average (.334 to .279), on-base percentage (.427 to .360) and slugging percentage (.628 to .586, not that Howard suffers in this category, Pujols just happens to have the best slugging percentage of any active player, fourth best all-time, in fact.)  In addition, Pujols is two months younger than Howard and essentially a once-in-a-generation talent.  Unless a positive steroid test surfaces, count on Pujols eventually being classed with Hank Aaron, Ted Williams and Willie Mays.