Welcome to the Hall, Rickey and Mr. Rice
For Jim Rice, the challenge was a bit different; unlike Henderson, his status as a potential Hall of Famer seemed to be a question mark, a puzzling fact to us given that we would have voted him in years before. But more than not, over a ten-year period that predated the steroid era, Rice was arguably the most frightening sight for opposing pitchers; his election into Cooperstown, in his 15th and final year of eligibility, was long overdue.
The challenge for Rickey Henderson was not whether he was good enough to be in the Hall of Fameto the vast majority of us, there was no question of thatbut, instead, whether he would ever make himself eligible. Henderson played, played and kept on playing, performing 25 seasons at the major league level for nine different teams (he switched uniforms 12 times, including four different stays with the Oakland A’s); he continued to make an effort to play after the majors gave up on him, playing as late as 2005 in the minors at the age of 46. Despite his astonishing credentialsa stratospheric 1,406 stolen bases, an all-time high 2,295 runs scored, 3,055 hits, 2,190 walks and 297 home runs28 Hall of Fame voters found some reason not to vote him (Read the story of one them, below). Another 511 had the good sense to overlook Henderson’s tendency to be a self-important mercenary and gave him a ticket to Cooperstown in his first year of eligibility. Now comes the fun part, the intriguing moment this summer when Henderson steps to the microphone at the induction ceremony and becomes the odds-on favorite to be the first-ever person in Cooperstown to utter the phrase, “Bing-bing, where he at.”
Not Saving Grace
Of all the Hall of Fame eligibles who were on the ballot for the first timeand also the last time, because they didn’t get the required 5% of the vote to make it to next year’s ballotthe one dismissal that surprised us the most was that of Mark Grace. Not that we ever expect him to be enshrined in Cooperstown, but we thought that the popular first baseman so beloved in Chicago (where he spent the majority of his career with the Cubs) with a .303 batting average over 16 years would have received more than a handful of nods from the Hall of Fame electorate. Fear not, Mark, for we’re sure they’ll reserve a spot for you at the Cubs’ Hall of Famethat is, when they get around to building one.
Might Want to Start Talking About That Past, Big Mac
We sensed that Mark McGwire might get something close to a spike in this year’s voting, given the number of voters who came out publicly and declared in advance of the results that they’d come around on the disgraced ex-power slugger and would vote for him for the first time. Didn’t happen; McGwire’s 21.9% total was down from last year’s 23.6%.
Another Barometer of the Steroids Era
Greg Vaughn became the first player to hit 50 home runs (in 1998) and not receive a single Hall of Fame vote.
Next Year's Probables
The rookie Hall of Fame class in 2010 serves up a number of players who, at the very least, will accrue serious chunks of votes: Roberto Alomar, Barry Larkin, Fred McGriff, Andres Galarraga and Edgar Martinez. We’re guessing that Alomar and Larkin have the best shots among the group, but whether they actually get 75% of the vote or better remains to be seen. And if you’re looking ahead to 2011, that’s when it’s Rafael Palmeiro’s time to sweat; he’ll be on the ballot for the first time.
Not 100% Rickey
Before the announcement of Monday’s Hall of Fame voting results, it had already been revealed that one voter, Corky Simpson of the Tucson Citizen, would not vote for Rickey Henderson because he “wasn’t a Rickey fan”but he would “vote for him next time.” Apparently, Simpson was a fan enough of eight other players to select them from the ballot. Since Simpson first made his statement public in a December 9 column, there has been a firestorm of criticism, fueled nationwide after ESPN’s Rob Neyer commented on it. Now Simpson says he “simply goofed” on his omission of Henderson and, had he gotten his ballot back, would have changed his mind. It’s hard to agree with Simpson’s choice of not choosing Henderson, but it’s even harder to agree with his about face simply because everyone else feels differently. Advice to Simpson: Let the pied piper go his own way.
It Doesn't ADD Up
Anti-doping crusader Gary Wadler criticized the uptick in ADD cases, saying there needs to be a re-examination of the process allowing players to be exemptedor, simply, that maybe there is “an epidemic of ADD in baseball.” MLB exec/punching bag Rob Manfred defended the game’s high rate of ADD by suggesting that because players have much better and access to medical care, they’re more likely to be diagnosed with a condition like ADD than Joe the Plumber.
Warning: Playing major league baseball can lead to a highly increased risk of anxiety, depression, disorganization and/or hyperactivity, all symptoms of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). According to a report released from MLB this past week, eight per cent of major league players claim to have ADD and, with the help of doctor notes, had themselves exempted from punishment for taking amphetamine-related stimulants that are banned throughout baseballbut are also critical ingredients in drugs treating ADD. If the high percentage of ADD claimants is curious enough, here’s something else: The 8% figure, which is similar to the 2007 tally, is a 400% increase from 2006the year before MLB banned amphetamines.
When Will We be Loved?
The Spurning of the Atlanta Braves continues. They couldn’t trade for Jake Peavy, couldn’t sign A.J. Burnett, and thought they’d signed Rafael Furcal only to be told otherwise by his agent. Now they’ve lost a big chunk of their glory days from within: Pitcher John Smoltz. Although the Braves offered a one-year, $2 million deal with an extra $6 million in incentive bonuses, the 41-year old Smoltzwhose status for 2009 is iffy because of recovery from major shoulder surgeryinked instead with the Boston Red Sox because they offered more guaranteed money at $5.5 million (with $5 million more in incentives). With the departure of Smoltz, the Braves lose their last active player who’s seen it all in Atlanta over the last 20 years: A youngster exposed to the bad ol’ days of the 1980s when the Braves were knocked around last place in front of four-figure crowds and four-figure TBS audiences; a part of the brilliant triumvirate of ace pitchers (along with Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine) during the Braves’ staggering run of 14 straight divisional titles (but only one world championship); and the franchise’s recent downturn, the low point being last year’s 72-90 recordthe worst in Atlanta since 1990.
As much as the Braves feel pained by the lost efforts to gain star players from the outside, the loss of Smoltz hurts moreeven if he has little left to givebecause he was family to the franchise. Manager Bobby Cox was emotionally floored by Smoltz’s exit, and outspoken veteran third baseman Chipper Jones criticized the Braves’ front office for not doing more to retain Smoltz. (Jones is now the team’s longest-tenured player, having been in Atlanta every year since 1995.)
Could It Have Made a Difference?
In 2005, baseball suspended Rafael Palmeiro for steroid use but only after MLB sat on the positive results for three monthsallowing Palmeiro to collect his 3,000th career hit. This week came news of a suspension to a lesser-known player with more suspicious timing that had a potentially far greater impact on the season. Philadelphia reliever J.C. Romero was told on September 23 that he had tested positive for a banned substance he claimed he purchased over the counter at a nutrition store. MLB, which usually slaps a 50-game price on players for performance enhancement infractions, offered to cut Romero’s suspension in half on the eve of the postseason if he “admitted guilt,” but Romero declined. An ensuing arbitration decision on October 22, the day the World Series began, was ruled against him, but yet he played on at the Fall Classic, pitching 4.2 innings of shutout baseballwith two wins, both one-run victories in Game Three and the Game Five clincher. Now, nearly three months later, we’re finally hearing the news of what happened. Romero will serve a full 50-game suspension to start the 2009 regular season.
The questions are: Why wasn’t his suspension immediately activated upon the arbitration ruling, when common sense dictatesespecially given that the union appeals had been exhausted? And would Romero’s absence have made a difference in the Series? The Phillies won in a relatively easy-sounding five games, but had no one else been able to come to the rescue like Romero for the Phillies, the Series surely could have moved on to Game Sixback on the Tampa Bay Rays’ home turf in St. Petersburg. Advantage, Rays?
Maybe It's Not the Agent Who's Wearing the Pants
The New York Yankees’ signing of Mark Teixeira exposes a new angle for any team who’s craving a big-time free agent: Seduce the wife just as hard as the player.
Perk in Reverse
Under pressure, the New York City’s mayor office has junked the idea of having luxury boxes of their own in the City’s two new ballparks: The new Yankee Stadium and the Mets’ Citi Field. There are two reasons for the switch: One, NYC is swimming in red ink during a time of deep recession, and the idea of local politicians living the suite life at major league ballgames hasn’t been sitting well with the public; two, Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s office has been roundly criticized, as we reported last week, for lobbying to get extra public funds approved for the two new ballparks, even though the teams’ pleading for those dollars hasn’t kept them from exuberantly spending money on free agents (the Yankees, especially).
Thanks For the Mixed Memories
But Pohlad should be equally remembered for the good things he accomplished; he did, after all, save the Twins from a move to Florida when he acquired the team from the Griffith family in 1984, brought the Twins their only two world championships to date (in 1987 and 1991), forged four postseason appearances in the mid-2000s with those low payrolls, and battled hard to finally land the franchise a ballpark of its own, one that’s a year away from openingand one that Pohlad, who put up $130 million to build it, will never see.
At the risk of sounding callous, you got to wonder if Minnesota baseball fans were alternately mourning and (privately) rejoicing over the loss of long-time Twin owner Carl Pohlad, who died this past week at the age of 93. Pohlad’s tenure as Lord of the Twins was riddled with uneasy moments; he always clung to relative low-budget player payrolls despite his status as the state’s second richest person, nearly moved the team to North Carolina in 1997 when voters continued to say no to a new ballpark (the move didn’t happen when Carolinians themselves said no to their own ballpark) and, at the nadir, was ready to accept a $150 million buyout from fellow baseball owners to shut the whole franchise down before MLB’s grand contraction scheme hit legal snags.
It's Not Ping Pong, Comrade
There’s plenty of growth industries in China, but baseball apparently isn’t one of them. Last week, the nation of a billion-plus people but only a handful of baseball fans decided to raze the ballpark used for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing less than a year after its completion. The 15,000-seat facility, which was also the setting for an exhibition between the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres last spring, will be replaced by a shopping mall. Beyond that contest and the Olympics, the ballpark was not used and with the sport hardly taking off in China, the decision was made to put the site to more active use.
Expensive Toys in the Attic
A 72-year old woman named Bernice Gallegono relation to former Oakland infielder Mike Gallego, we thinkfound somewhere in her archives an 1869 baseball card of the Cincinnati Red Stockings, the game’s first great professional team, and put it on eBay for a mere $10. Those who checked it out must have thought the price was either erroneously listed or that it was a cheap reprint cut out of a baseball card magazine. (Startlingly, in the day or so the card was on eBay, not one bid was made.) A friend quickly told Gallego, who owns an antique store in Fresno, California, that the card was no throwaway relic, and she quickly pulled it off the online auction block. A consultation with a local card shop dealer confirmed something Gallego couldn’t have imagined: The card may be worth over $100,000. In light of this story, we can see many, many folks charging up the stairs to Grandma and Grandpa’s attic to see what baseball-related gold might be hiding out.
The Bum Reality
John Patterson officially entered the roll call of former major leaguers who could relate to Terry Malloy, the unfulfilled boxer as played by Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront. For one year, back in 2005, Patterson was a contender, a somebody who had class, producing a 9-7 record (a mark terribly muted by a lack of support) with a stellar 3.13 ERA for the Washington Nationals. But the success was far too fleeting; after an equally fine start in 2006, Patterson was sidelined with an injury to his throwing arm, and he never recovered. Though he was pain-free last spring, it didn’t result in a return to form, as he was shelled in numerous exhibition games to the point that the Nationals released him. Unconvinced he could make a comeback, the 30-year old Patterson announced his retirement this past week. So while he may not be a bum, he’s not the somebody he could’ve been.
Now Playing at TGG
Check out the latest installment of They Were There with Ed Attanasio’s interview with Nate Oliver, who witnessed first-hand the infamous 1965 fight between Juan Marichal and Johnny Roseboro. Oliver also discusses his love for Chicago Cub fans and his dissatisfaction over Ron Santo’s continued absence from the Hall of Fame.
The Comebacker’s Greatest Hits
Click here to look at the TGG Comebacker archive going back to the start of the 2007 season.