Major League Baseball linked to this article from its Twitter feed today. It’s an impassioned case for Fernando Valenzuela to make the Hall of Fame.
What a joke, right? No rational fan who looks at the stats could possibly think that, right?
Luckily, the author talks more about Fernandomania, and what he meant to the LA Dodgers of the 1980s. ”I won’t write about all of his statistics, says Sarah Morris, “because they don’t tell the story.”
A few weeks ago, Major League Baseball announced a null class for 2013 induction. Jack Morris and his splitter sat on the outside. Advanced stats show that Morris didn’t have the best statistical career of any pitcher, and others in his era outperformed him over the long haul. Morris’s candidacy comes down to pitching his team to a couple of titles and a 10-inning, 1-0 shutout in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series.
What is the Hall of Fame, though?
If it’s just about stats, there’s no need for voting. A computer could crunch the numbers and, five years after a player’s career is over, either place him in or out based on statistics measured against his peers and those already in the Hall. Heck, if it was all about stats, you wouldn’t even have to play the games, would you? You could have a computer pick the champion. Hey, it works for college football.
Halls of Fame are supposed to be museums to their respective sports, and baseball’s hall is the most revered. All-time players are shut out if they carry the stench of cheating or gambling. Players enshrined in a Hall of Fame should be excellent, but even more importantly they should be significant.
Bernie Williams was, by most statistical measures, a more prolific player than Don Mattingly, but was named on fewer ballots. Most likely, the voters recognized Mattingly for being the face of the New York Yankees through a lean decade. Williams, always a class act, was tempermentally similar to Mattingly in many ways, played a tougher position, and exceeded his production – but was never the rock the franchise was built around. That counts for something, and it should.
As former Yankees broadcaster Jim Kaat said, “It’s a Hall of Fame, not a Hall of Achievement.” Reggie Jackson hit 563 home runs, but there are only three that fans think of instantly when they see his spot on the wall. Three thousand hits is nice and everything, but the hushed reverence you hear around Roberto Clemente’s plaque recalls his selfless end.
There are simply no sabermetrics for fame; the Hall is subjective, as it should be. Remember, this isn’t anything serious. It’s literally just a game.
Should Mattingly be a Hall of Famer? That answer probably depends on how old you were when he was in his prime, and what team you rooted for – and its the same way with Morris’s take on Fernando Valenzuela.
Except Morris is completely wrong because the Dodgers suck.
It’s not the main one, though, just the comically costumed mascots who run around Nats Park once per game. The nightly race among Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson, and Theodore Roosevelt is getting a fifth contestant, to be announced tomorrow.
Any addition has to be the perfect President.
Naturally, DC-centric media outlets have been running polls since the hint was dropped last fall. So who do you pick to join the Rushmores? George, Abe, Tom, and Teddy represent historically significant figures who are also outside of mainstream controversy, so you have to balance fame and significance.
We can eliminate most Presidents for being too boring. Sure, people like Benjamin Harrison and William McKinley had the same office as Washington and Linclon – just like Bubba Crosby had the same job as Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio. (Martin Van Buren goes in this group, too – even if it means a harsh visit from the Van Buren Boys.) James Madison, James Monroe, Ulysses Grant, and Harry Truman were more significant historically, but in a history class kind of way. They’re on the Dwight Evans/Dale Murphy level of Presidents – if you watched them play they were pretty good, but today’s ten-year-old baseball fans probably don’t know them yet. There are the incompetent one-termers, like Carter and Hoover, and corrupt cesspool dwellers like Nixon and Harding (who suffers from guilt by association here).
For historically significant, household-name Presidents, there’s Reagan, JFK, FDR, and Jackson. Given the pro-government-expansion zeitgeist of modern Washington, Reagan would be an out-of-place choice; in a few years when Republicans control everything that may resonate more. FDR’s confinement to a wheelchair would make for an interesting cameo but probably disqualify him long-term.
JFK has made a previous appearance, so he is probably the favorite. It’s a good pick: there are elements of the JFK presidency that appeal to both conservatives and liberals, and he was a larger-than-life celebrity President. The main strike against him is that a giant, foam rubber caricature might diminish the grimness of his Presidency’s end, but it hasn’t seemed to be the case for Lincoln.
Now that we’ve selected the next President to join the race, here’s an even better idea: How about a rotating “Guest President”? FDR could win a race in his wheelchair one night against the Phillies; the next night the Diamondbacks might see a rotund Taft bouncing past the finish line ahead of Teddy. Nixon could unfurl the “finish line” from a reel off an old-style tape recorder. Ford could fall down. Grant could fall down drunk. James Buchanan could hit on a guy in the front row. These jokes practically write themselves.
On the other hand, since the Nats are actually good now, maybe all this is an exercise in overthink – after all, in Milwaukee, they just have sausages.
Has anyone noticed that Washington, D.C. and St. Louis have some eerily similar discussions going on?
The last decade or more has demonstrated that bloated budgets are inefficient at best and simply untenable at worst. While it would be nice to allocate large amounts of resources on the things we want for the next few years, those decision will come back to haunt us in the future. We must establish a plan and maintain discipline.
That could be the mantra of the budget hawks freshly minted from the tea parties of 2009-2010, or it could be the rationale behind the Cardinals telling Albert Pujols to go find himself a better deal than the reported offer that was on the table.
Just as the Republicans wear the black eye of the Bush-era spending increases, the Cardinals must answer to Pujols – and their fans – how they signed Coors Field product Matt Holliday to a contract which paid him $16 million per year, but would be willing to let the far superior Pujols walk because he’s too expensive.
Republicans are likely fearful of the Democrats accusing them of ripping Social Security checks from the arthritic hands of World War II veterans. The Cardinals can’t be looking forward to the sports page headlines and the talk radio chatter in St. Louis the day Pujols signs with the Seattle Mariners.
But in each case, the powers that be must recognize two realities. First, bad decisions in the past do not justify bad decisions in the present. Second, voters and fans are smarter than most people give them credit for.
And since the baseball problem is easier, here’s something to consider: teams lose superstars all the time and go on to have success. Seattle lost three franchise cornerstones – Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey Jr., and Alex Rodriguez – in consecutive years, and actually got better each year. Johan Santana left the Twins, and they still find their way into the playoffs with regularity. The Marlins won the World Series in 1997, dumped almost their entire roster, and rebuilt another championship team within six years.
On the other hand, teams just as frequently make signings that seem like great ideas at the time, but turn into albatrosses as players age. The Mets surely wish they could trade Carlos Beltran, and might try to murder Luis Castillo to get him off the roster. Vladimir Guerrero was a great pickup for the Angels in 2003, by 2009 they couldn’t get him out the door fast enough. And don’t you think the Cubs wish they could take a mulligan on the eight-year pact they signed with Alfonso Soriano in 2006?
Just as voters want a responsive, healthy economy, baseball fans want a winner. The Cardinals have to know that they more likely to successfully recover within a few years after Pujols walks away than to sign him to a deal that truly works out for the team.
The budget battle in St. Louis, just as the budget battle in Washington, is best viewed through the lens of recent history.
Sen. John Kerry emailed his campaign supporters yesterday imploring them to get to the polls… and cast their vote for Kevin Youkilis in MLB’s All Star Game Final Vote. The senior Senator from Massachusetts used the occasion to take a swipe at the Yankees:
Youk deserves to be in the All-Star Game — while the team has grinded [sic] it out in spite of injury after injury, he’s been a rock. But now he needs to win a fan vote to make it to Anaheim next week.
“The stakes are also just a little personal: in the fan voting, currently Nick Swisher of the Yankees is in first place. Swisher’s having a fine year, but Youk is better in just about every category, batting average, slugging, home runs, everything, and he plays Gold Glove defense to boot. Please don’t let anyone say that Swisher beat Youkilis because Sox fans have gone a little soft after ’04 and ’07. Let’s show we’re still the most ravenous fans in baseball.
Give Kerry points for acknowledging Swisher’s year so far. That’s the closest thing to real bipartisanship we’ve heard from Washington this year. However, he may be a little insensitive – that “ravenous” fan base has caused problems in the past.
The fan voting has drawn some attention to MLB’s strides in advanced media (they wisely don’t call it “new media”). Swisher has been active on Twitter for a while, and his 1.2 million followers offer a ready-made network for an online vote. The voting by text message feature is available only to Sprint customers, making cell phone coverage maps an issue – which looks like a drawback for Texas’s Michael Young and Minnesota’s Delmon Young.
However, anyone handicapping the race must acknowledge that the excitable Red Sox Nation Kerry references is a study in how offline enthusiasm can turn into online action. The tech-savvy city of Boston has done well in online All-Star balloting since Nomar Garciaparra edged out Derek Jeter in the fan vote to start the 1999 game.
But of course, like so many of the other pressing issues that face our nation, John Kerry is wrong (if only because Swish’s endorsement deals are more wholesome than Youk’s). You can answer by casting your vote for Swisher – and like some Boston elections of yore, you can vote as many times as you like.
Merry Strasmas! With California, Arkansas, South Carolina, and other states taking a turn as centers of the political universe, Washington, D.C. is free to be the center of the baseball universe today thanks to Stephen Strasburg.
Strasburg, has little professional baseball experience, yet is already the standard-bearer for his team. In that way, he’s a little like the 2008 versions of both Barack Obama and Sarah Palin.
DC likes to claim to be a secular town, but it’s a town that looks for saviors almost constantly. Whichever political party is out of power and seeking a way back in looks for the Chosen One who can at once articulate his or her side’s philosophy while appealing to wide demographics of the electorate. The list of would-be saviors is truly bipartisan: Howard Dean, Newt Gingrich, Fred Thompson, Wesley Clark, Hillary Clinton, Al Gore, Bill Bradley, and John McCain have all been set up at various times in the last decade and a half to ride in on the white horse and save their party from ruin. Stephen Strasburg’s role as the savior of a franchise coming off consecutive 100-loss seasons and mired in last place is appropriate for the dialect of his new home town.
Having been mostly dominant in a quick ascendancy through the minors, Strasburg certainly looks like he belongs on the next level – just like both Obama and Palin looked like they were ready for the big stage of national politics in easily winning a Senate seat and a governorship, respectively. Both stumbled a bit out of the gate – allowing interviewers or non-scandals to take them off message. But Obama was prepared and came back from early hiccups to win his primary and, eventually, establish the perception of polished confidence. Palin never really got on track, and her debut on the national stage seemed rushed. Accounts of John McCain’s Vice Presidential selection process seem to confirm that she was rushed through the minors.
When Strasburg, who has been pitching professionally for less than a year, toes the rubber tonight, the Nationals will hope he is a player whose time has come, albeit earlier than most expected, and who will trust his stuff through the inevitable early struggles. They will hope they haven’t given the ball to a pitcher who isn’t quite ready for the big leagues.
They will hope for the pitching equivalent of Barack Obama. They will not, however, want Barack Obama actually pitching.
Major League Baseball is honoring Jackie Robinson today by having all players wear his number, 42. I honor Jackie Robinson differently: I hate him.
And yes, it has everything to do with color: blue.
Jackie Robinson was a Dodger. As a Yankee fan, mentioning Robinson conjures thoughts of the 1955 World Series – including the blown call on his steal of home and his team beating the Yankees in seven games. Was I alive for it? Not even close. But as a fan, it stings, and so Duke Snider, Pee Wee Reese, Gil Hodges, Johnny Podres, and especially Sandy [expletive] Amoros are forever enemies.
One could argue either way whether being the first black major league baseball player was enough to make someone a Hall of Famer; Robinson’s on-field achievements made the point moot. He didn’t ask for grudging respect from fans or peers, his play demanded it.
Robinson was a ballplayer first and foremost.
So yeah, I hate Jackie Robinson. I hate him the way I hate David Ortiz, Curt Schilling, Edgar Martinez, Luis Gonzalez, Sandy Alomar, Alex Gonzales, Bob Gibson, the 1976 Reds, the 1993 Blue Jays, and of course Pedro Martinez. It’s not a personal hatred – I wouldn’t throw a D-cell at him – but on the baseball field I’d sure love for him to strike out four or five times.
Would Jackie Robinson have wanted it any other way?
The San Francisco Giants’ AA ballclub is moving to Richmond. Since they used to be in Norwich, Conn., this move actually brings them closer to the big club. And CNBC is working with the team to adopt a new name.
The team is leaving Norwich even though their home, Thomas J. Dodd Memorial Stadium, has had $1 million in renovation work done over the past five years. Which means they will love The Diamond in Richmond.