The Week That Was in Baseball: January 6-12, 2014
Your Move, Alex Rodriguez • The Highs and Lows of the HOF Vote
Chief Wahoo Gets Demoted • Jerry Coleman, R.I.P.
This past Saturday, independent arbitrator Fredric Horowitz announced that baseball’s suspension of Alex Rodriguez should be amended to 162 games—effectively banning the controversial New York Yankees megastar for the entire 2014 season, including the postseason.
It’s not the 211-game suspension Major League Baseball sought, but they’ll take 162. Rodriguez will not; he had pledged not to serve even “one inning” of any penalty and will move forward with his lawsuit against baseball with the hopes of delaying the suspension and having it overturned. Legal experts claim that Rodriguez’s chances of getting a judge to reverse the arbitrator’s ruling will be slim at best—but as if we’ve written, that may not be the point; if Rodriguez can keep his full court press active and push out trial dates, he’ll be allowed to participate on the field until such a day arrives when a judge finally tells him, “no.” Until then, he’ll be paid by the Yankees; he’s owed $28 million this year and, if he stays eligible long enough to hit seven home runs and surpass Willie Mays on the all-time list, he’ll earn an additional $6 million per the bonus clause of his contract.
Mere moments after Horowitz’s decision was handed down, Rodriguez—as if he saw it all coming—released a lengthy statement reiterating his innocence while sounding a warning to fellow players he hopes to bring to his side: “This injustice is MLB’s first step toward abolishing guaranteed contracts in the 2016 bargaining round, instituting lifetime bans for single violations of drug policy, and further insulating its corrupt investigative program from any variety defense by accused players, or any variety of objective review.”
Among the many rebuttals to Rodriguez’s own was a 60 Minutes segment a day later in which disgraced Biogenesis founder Anthony Bosch, in his first interview since this whole mess began, clearly confirmed Rodriguez’s insatiable hunger for steroids and his obsession to become baseball’s first 800-home run man. Bosch claimed that his doping relationship began with Rodriguez at the end of July 2010, five days before he smacked his 600th career home run—and a little more than a year after confessing to earlier steroid use when such evidence came to light via Selena Roberts’ book.
Bosch said he was paid $12,000 a month by Rodriguez, a figure he joked sometimes wasn’t enough given some of the hoops he had to go through to keep Rodriguez on schedule with the multiple PEDs he took—once having to draw his blood in the bathroom stall of a Miami nightclub. When the Biogenesis story exploded in the public last year, a nervous Bosch said he was highly encouraged by associates of Rodriguez to be paid $25,000 a month to get lost in Colombia until “everything blew over”—and when he refused, he received death threats. Such allegations were collaborated by MLB second-in-command Rob Manfred, who told 60 Minutes that they paid for Bosch’s security once he began singing like a canary to MLB.
Still, Bosch said that if he had to do it all over again, he would. Why? Because he suggested that everyone else in baseball is doing PEDs.
Cooperstown: The Facts
The besieged Baseball Writers’ Association of America admitted three players—all on the first ballot—into the Hall of Fame this past week: Pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, and slugger Frank Thomas.
Look for a lot of Braves fans to fly from Atlanta to New York, connecting to Albany and taking the car rental to Cooperstown for the induction of the Class of 2014 on July 27. Besides Maddux and Glavine, Bobby Cox—the manager for both aces during their heydays in Atlanta—will also be introduced to the Hall after he and two other managers (Tony La Russa and Joe Torre) were inducted via the Veterans Committee a few months back.
The inclusion of Maddux and Glavine makes them the third set of teammates to be brought into Cooperstown in the same year. In 1946, the Hall welcomed Chicago Cubs infielders Johnny Evers, Joe Tinker and Frank Chance; in 1974, former Yankee greats Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford went into the Hall together.
The total of six players inducted will make this the largest class since 1999. Craig Biggio almost made it a seventh; he missed by a mere two votes, earning checkmarks on 74.8% of the ballots. Two other players, to quote Maxwell Smart, “missed by just that much”: Pie Traynor in 1947, and Nellie Fox in 1985. Traynor made it in the next year; Fox, who had his close call in his 15th and final try, later got voted in by the Veterans Committee in 1997.
Cooperstown: The Controversy
In the wake of the vote, the firestorm over the voting process—and how those casting the ballots take into account the impact of the Steroid Era—only grew more intense. Some say the system is broken; others say that sportswriters shouldn’t be the ones casting the votes; and others believe something should be done to address those who played during the time of PEDs (which, apparently, continues today—thank you, Alex Rodriguez).
It didn’t help that several BBWAA members essentially cast protest ballots. Several refused to cast votes for anyone from the Steroid Era, which very possibly cost Biggio’s entry (for now) and kept Maddux from breaking Tom Seaver’s record for the highest approval rate among a Hall-of-Fame nominee (Maddux generated 97.2% compared to Seaver’s 98.8% in 1992).
The most audacious tact taken by any HOF voter came courtesy of the Miami Herald’s Dan Le Batard, who revealed himself as the BBWAA member who gave his vote to snarky sports news site Deadspin, which in turn gave the power of the vote to the readers. Their choices were more generous yet still fairly sane, with 75%-plus going to Maddux, Thomas, Glavine, Biggio, Edgar Martinez, Jeff Bagwell, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds and Curt Schilling. As for Le Batard, he’s been banned from the BBWAA for a year and deprived of any future HOF votes for his action.
We chimed on the HOF voting process last week and opined that the process isn’t broken; it’s a democratic function that pleases few because everyone has a different opinion than the other. To wit: Some folks decided not to pick Maddux, while one voter actually felt Jacque Jones was worthy of a Cooperstown plaque.
Giving the vote to ex-players or the fans or a historical panel would be no different. Their opinions would be no more valid, sane or insane. (And any vote by players, ex or otherwise, would probably be even harsher on the Steroid Era generation.) And as for the idea that the whole Steroid Era mess is the fault of commissioner Bud Selig, think: The players chose to shoot up and the union chose to stiff-arm MLB on the idea of penalizing PED users as far back as 1994, when management tried to introduce it as part of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Of course at that time, steroid enforcement was a low priority for both sides given that MLB was trying to shove a salary cap down the union’s throat, with disastrous consequences. (But that’s another story.)
Breaking Down the Vote
Among the other interesting developments that came out of this year’s Cooperstown vote:
Jack Morris failed in his 15th and final try in the general vote, earning checks on 61% of the ballot. Yes, Morris was the winningest pitcher of the 1980s and rose to the occasion when it mattered most, but his 3.90 career ERA would have been the highest of any pitcher in Cooperstown. He’ll get another chance down the road with the Veterans Committee.
Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens saw their vote totals slip downward in their second year of eligibility—down into the mid-30s—which came as a surprise to many who thought the two would move upward with fewer folks casting protest votes against them for their steroid-tainted pasts. This is not the momentum toward induction either player was expecting.
When Mike Mussina and Jeff Kent retired, there was enormous Cooperstown buzz attached to them. That didn’t seem to carry to their first ballot, where both wound up in the 15-20% range.
Sammy Sosa, who three times hit 60 or more homers, is barely hanging on. In his second year of eligibility, he carried only 7.2% of the ballots.
Rafael Palmeiro, with 3,000 hits and 500 home runs, will have to wait for the Veterans Committee or that special Steroids Apology Committee which could be created some 30 years from now when all these guys are old and gray and looking for their canes.
It was a little surprising to see Luis Gonzalez go one-and-done with only five votes cast. Granted, we don’t think he’s HOF material, but we did expect him to get a respectable low percentage—certainly enough to carry him forward to at least a few more ballots.
Next Stop, 2015
Among the first-time eligibles for next year’s HOF ballot: Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Gary Sheffield, John Smoltz, Carlos Delgado, Nomar Garciaparra and Brian Giles.
Just Don’t Hire Canseco as Your Limo Driver
It was bad enough that Yasiel Puig recently got nailed for excessive speeding for the second time in a less than a year a few weeks back when he was clocked at 110 MPH on Florida’s Everglades Parkway; maybe he has a fear of alligators and really wanted to get through that stretch of highway. But here’s where people grimace; while going at NASCAR speed, he had three passengers with him—including his cousin and his mother. A tearful Puig tried to talk the police out of it, to no avail.
The Los Angeles Dodgers announced after this latest incident that Puig has agreed to give up the wheel and let his cousin drive him around from now on. Here’s hoping the cousin hasn’t taken Puig’s daredevilish driving skills to heart.
Chief Wahoo isn’t being put out to pasture, yet. But he’s slowly headed for the shadows. The Cleveland Indians polled their fans after last season to find out, among other things, what they felt about the 70-year-old mascot that has, in more politically correct times, become a lightning rod of controversy. Gauging from the announcement the team made this past week, the fans seemed to suggest that maybe a little less of Wahoo was a good idea—but they apparently still love him enough not to retire him.
The Indians are demoting Wahoo to be worn only at home (on caps and jerseys) but otherwise the team will be largely represented by the far more sublime, block-like red “C”. That won’t be good enough for the many critics who view Wahoo as a racist Native American caricature and will continue to pound the Indians on it. And trust us, the Indians realize that they’re striking a delicate balance between controversy and tradition; that’s why President Bill Clinton once threw out a first pitch in Cleveland wearing a more sublime Indians cap with the “C”, and why the Indians never use Wahoo on their uniforms during spring training in Arizona—just down the road from Native American lands.
Goodbye, Jerry Coleman
Jerry Coleman, who first made his name as a gifted second baseman for the New York Yankees at the height of their championship powers and later with a prolonged broadcasting career with the San Diego Padres, passed away at the age of 89. Born in San Jose, Coleman ultimately became the only major leaguer to see combat in two wars, fighting in both World War II and the Korean War. (Ted Williams also served both wars, but only saw battle in Korea.) The latter conflict took away two years of Coleman’s baseball prime in New York, where he ultimately ended up playing full-time from 1949-51; after his return in 1954, he was a part-timer at best.
Shortly after his retirement in 1957, Coleman began his broadcasting career—first with CBS followed by short stints with the Yankees and California Angels. In 1972, he took over as the lead broadcaster for the Padres, where he remained through last season in a part-time capacity. He was thought highly enough by Padres owner Ray Kroc in 1980 that he left the booth and became the team’s manager; that experiment lasted one season with a last-place finish in the NL West and a return to the booth. Coleman is enshrined in the broadcasters’ wing of the Hall of Fame, and he is one of only two people—Tony Gwynn being the other—to be immortalized in bronze at Petco Park.
So, you want a year-long sabbatical and earn $21 million all at the same time? Then step into Vernon Wells’ shoes. This past week, the Yankees let go of the veteran outfielder, still drawing major bucks from a massive contract he signed with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2007. Before you think that the Yankees will have to eat all that money, they won’t. Instead, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim will. They’re the ones who assumed the contract in 2011 when they grabbed Wells from the Blue Jays, and they’re the ones who agreed to be on the hook for $18.6 million of the wages owed to him this season per the deal they made with New York. If Wells decides to take a year—or the rest of his life—off, don’t feel so bad for him.
After Loria, This is Nothing
A report out of Miami says that Miami Marlins president David Samson will be one of the contestants in this upcoming season of the TV “reality” show Survivor. Given the many years he has toiled under Jeffrey Loria in Miami, he’ll be well prepared for the role. (He is also not the first baseball-related subject on the show, last year, former star second baseman Jeff Kent participated.)
Hedging Their Sanity
The early odds on the 2014 season peg the Houston Astros (51-111 last season) as 200-1 longshots to win the World Series. Our question: It’s only 200-1?
Wounded of the Week
Spring training is still a month away and, yet, the week was full of major leaguers who couldn’t help but get themselves hurt.
While doing an offseason training regimen, Detroit ace pitcher Justin Verlander injured an unidentified “core muscle” and had it operated on this past week; the Tigers say he’ll be ready for Opening Day.
From Colorado, the Rockies announced that star outfielder Carlos Gonzalez had to undergo an emergency appendectomy. He’ll be ready for camp.
But the most critical and strangest injury that took place came in the home of Texas starting pitcher Derek Holland, who says that his dog caused him to trip and fall on a staircase. He underwent arthroscopic surgery on his knee and is not expected to pitch until July.
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