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.
Joel Sherman of the New York Post (America’s Newspaper of Record) published an exclusive (and extensive) interview with Alex Rodriguez’s doctors yesterday. On a day where an empty Hall of Fame induction press conference underscored the sport’s reliance on media perceptions, Sherman’s article is a great PR move from a player that could use it. If you can spell ESPN, you know that Rodriguez was MIA in the playoffs coming off two injury-riddled seasons, and what effect that had on his relationship with the forgiving and always-adoring New York sports fans.
This Sherman exclusive – which shares intricate details of the nature of his current injury – is a great public relations move. If you were using baseball metaphors, you’d call it a solid 2-run double.
Given the level of detail the medical staff shares about the status, it’s clear that Rodriguez had to give his blessing for the revelations, and that was smart. Without a single clichéd, Bull Durham-esque quote from the third baseman on being “more disappointed than anyone” or “not getting it done” during his horrendous postseason, two doctors went back and forth practically amazed that he could even walk during September and October. They also debunk the whispers that past steroid use caused Rodriguez’s injury. Best of all, Rodriguez and the Yankees stay out of the story. The medical information alone speaks for itself and doesn’t need framing. Heck, it makes you wonder if Rodriguez will play another game again at all.
And there’s why this is a great story. Demanding fans and the 24-hour sports news machine feed each other, and the meal is often re-digested. In this case, we all know the story: ARod, the richest player in baseball history, doesn’t live up to expectations and the fans hate him for it. More coverage begets more boos raining down from the upper deck, and boos in turn beget more negative coverage. Sherman’s story probably won’t stop that, but it does frame the last three years of Rodriguez’s career in a badly needed new – and much more flattering – light.
The New York Post may be Our Nation’s Newspaper of Record, but they are a New York City-based newspaper first and foremost. So it’s no wonder they would chronicle Khadafy’s demise with a front page like this:
Here’s the story, which notes – buried on the second page – that a fellow in a Boston Bruins sweater was also a part of the party that found and killed the dictator.
The sports world lost an icon this morning when George Steinbrenner passed away. A few months back, when talking about the sports situation in DC, I reflected on Steinbrenner’s ownership style:
Having been a Yankee fan for 31 years and nine months tomorrow, I’ve been spoiled in many ways by George Steinbrenner. The once-mercurial owner has taken on a gradually lessened role in the pure baseball decisions and has relinquished much of the control of the team to his sons, but has never wavered in the Yankees’ larger organizational goal of winning championships. That means that at baseball’s trade deadline, if the Yankees need a player, they’re going to be buyers and not sellers.
For all the controversy that Steinbrenner caused, the one big idea he kept following was the idea of victory.
He was the fan’s owner. He recognized that Yankee tickets were and are expensive (and that New York is a pricey town). He recognized that Yankee fans lived, breathed, ate, and slept the Yankees. So he did the same. Sometimes that meant acting impetuously and making bad baseball decisions. But there was never a season in the Steinbrenner Era where the goal was anything less than a World Championship; from 1973 until 2010, Steinbrenner insisted that he owed the fans nothing less. And even when players, executives, coaches and managers drew Steinbrenner’s ire, the fans were consistently recognized as the reason for the franchise’s existence.
To see Steinbrenner’s impact, look at the fate of other great franchises since he took the helm of the Yankees in 1973. The Boston Celtics have been eclipsed as the NBA’s signature franchise by the LA Lakers. Green Bay was “Titletown” after the Packers dominated football in the 1960s; the Super Bowl era has seen the Cowboys, 49ers, and Patriots each take a turn as the top team. The Yankees could have suffered the same fate thanks to the losing teams that closed out the 1960′s and a the championship drought from 1978-1996. The late-1970s “Bronx Zoo” Yankees and the dominant 1996-2001 dynasty (you could argue that the 2003 team should be included) re-established the franchise’s mark – and extended what has become a 90-year winning streak with a couple of hiccups.
The Yankees do have more resources than any other baseball team – thanks in large part to their success over the past 15 years. They are currently worth $1.6 billion; Steinbrenner and his partners bought the Yankees for $10 million in 1973. In 2002, unsatisfied with what local cable networks were offering for the rights to televise games, Steinbrenner’s Yankees launched their own network. At it’s launch, the YES Network was valued at $850 million – or, to put it another way, about what the Mets are worth now.
This is not solely the product of a rich market or luck. This is the result of a man – and, by extension, an organization – that pursued excellence as best he knew how. The money, the new stadium, the cable network, and all the resources came because of that pursuit.
A politician chasing votes may say certain things to get elected; a company may say certain things to sell an inferior product. Successes earned in such ways are short lived. George Steinbrenner pursued a mission and let everything else take care of itself. In 1980 it may not have seemed like it, but today Yankee fans can appreciate how lucky they are to have had a team owner who thought with such single-minded resolve – an owner who thought like they did.
Bob Sheppard’s passing last weekend received some deserved attention in the sports world. His greatness was not limited to the genetics that gave him a deep, resonant voice.
Sheppard was great because he announced players, their numbers, and their position without embellishment. He never tried to excite the crowd, and never had to. With the same, even tone Sheppard announced, “Now batting… number five… Joe DiMaggio… number five” in 1951 and “Now batting… number nineteen… Bubba Crosby… number nineteen” in 2006. Sheppard was like a good journalist – he presented facts and allowed those facts to speak for themselves. The Yankee Stadium crowd knew when the starts were coming to the plate, and Sheppard didn’t insult the crowd by embellishing names to prompt wild cheers.
The strategy of simplicity may seem boring. For his choice of simplicity, Sheppard wound up with a plaque on the outfield wall of Yankee Stadium, memorializing his voice along with the players who were announced by it.
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.
S.E. Cupp’s column in today’s New York Daily asks a question that I happened to be thinking of the other night: why is Keith Olbermann, a left-wing political opinion entertainer, a fixture on sports programming while Rush Limbaugh, a right-wing political opinion entertainer, radioactive? Olbermann and tag team partner Dan Patrick contribute to NBC’s Sunday Night Football, and he writes a baseball blog (baseblog?) for MLB.com. Limbaugh can’t even buy his way into national sports.
Cupp is right to ask the question, but the situation is not a double standard – and media watchdogs would be wise to let this one pass lest they look foolish. Many folks know that Olbermann made his national bones on ESPN. Few know that he was a particularly intelligent and funny sportscaster, even if his encyclopedic knowledge of the 1899 Cleveland Spiders Base Ball Club gave an early glimpse into the pomposity with which he now doles out his nightly “Worst Person in the World” award.
Limbaugh is much more widely known, but his entire public persona is based on creating controversy. And when he had a chance to be a “sports guy,” he injected politics, famously pointing out that Donovan McNabb’s perception had as much to do with desired media narratives as it did with actual on-the-field performance. Sure, there was media bias in the coverage of what he said, but a seat at an ESPN desk is not the place to talk about sports media bias if you want a long career in sports journalism. Then again, ESPN was probably looking for a sideshow by hiring Limbaugh in the first place.
This isn’t to say that Limbaugh should be more like Olbermann, but the fact is that there are plenty of people – large numbers, actually – who don’t watch MSNBC. To them, Olbermann’s image hasn’t been “tainted” by his politics. Olbermann still does sports because he always has done sports – and because, on some level, he’s good at it.
While Limbaugh will always be the “Republican talk radio guy,” Olbermann can still be the guy who pioneered the practice of using catch phrases to narrate sports highlights. That may or not be something to be proud of, but it’s kept him working.
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?