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 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 and, 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.