Jan 24

Missing Ernie Banks

This one hurts. Ernie Banks, “Mr. Cub,’’ passed away last night at 83.

Unquestionably, one of the highlights about covering baseball was meeting the game’s greats from when I first started following the sport. Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, Hank Aaron, Pete Rose, Al Kaline, Tom Seaver and, of course, Banks.

Mets’ fans, of course, should remember Banks from the 1969 season when he was one of the few likable members of the Cubs. Some might actually have felt sympathy for Banks as he missed the playoffs for yet, another year.

Banks was the longtime face and persona of the Cubs. He was a Wrigley Field fixture who was a pleasant and kind visitor to opposing dugouts. Players loved to shake his hand and listen to his stories.

And, Banks loved to hold court, whether for a group or an individual. If you had a question, or just wanted to say hello, he would greet you and make one feel welcomed.

We’re in an age where too many of today’s athletes prefer to distance themselves from the public that adores them. That was never Banks. People liked him because he genuinely liked people.

The baseball world is a little poorer today without him.

Jan 21

Cheating Isn’t Trying, It Is Cheating

They say if you’re not cheating, you’re not trying. That’s garbage.

The New England Patriots are in the news for cheating and it stinks. It reminds me of how the balls were stored at Coors Field. My thinking is the balls had little to do with it and was mostly the altitude and Rockies’ lousy pitching.

But, it created doubt.

The intrinsic beauty of sports is for the fan, the paying customer, to watch the game with the knowledge what they are seeing is true. That’s why I am against PED use, and why, although I was a big Pete Rose fan growing up, I understand his banishment from baseball for gambling.

The common argument from Patriots’ fans, who have the same entitlement as Yankees’ fans, is for them to point to the scoreboard and say the deflated balls had no bearing on the outcome of the game. But, that’s wrong. By definition, it is cheating. It is bending the rules and that violates the essence of sports.

As far as PED’s are concerned, yes, you still have to hit the ball and you still have to pitch it, but that’s an overly simplistic approach.

I keep hearing of Barry Bonds’ work ethic and Roger Clemens’ work ethic. I saw Clemens work out and I watched Alex Rodriguez train at 8 in the morning during spring training. I was taken in by their effort. I was fooled.

What steroids do for a hitter is it enables him to work and train harder in August when he’d normally wilt in the heat and be tired. That ability to work gives him more strength and energy, and consequently lets him generate more bat speed, which is the key to power. That comes into play not with the 450-foot homer, but when the ball just clears the fence.

That’s why I don’t use the words “home run” with Bonds. I call him “balls hit over the fence,” because they aren’t legitimate home runs. That’s just me.

Aaron Rodgers likes the ball firm and perhaps over inflated. Apparently, Tom Brady likes the ball when it is easier to grip. Obviously, this had to be conveyed to whoever pumps up the balls where the Patriots play. Stands to reason, doesn’t it? And, how can a control freak like Bill Belichick not know what’s going on? Just like with SpyGate he had to know.

Because he cheated, how can we be sure he didn’t cheat other times? How can we be sure everything the Patriots achieved was on the level? The argument Bonds and Clemens had Hall of Fame numbers before they cheated must also be discounted, because we don’t know exactly when they cheated.

We can’t and this puts everything they’ve done into question. It goes beyond gamesmanship. It’s cheating, and it’s wrong. Who is to say the Patriots didn’t film illegally before they were caught? And, the NFL destroying the tape is reprehensible. You realize they haven’t won a Super Bowl since.

The NFL suspended Sean Payton for a year because BountyGate damaged the integrity of the sport. Considering this is the second cheating charge against Belichick, a year suspension wouldn’t be out of line.

Just like what Bonds and Clemens did was wrong and will likely keep them out of the Hall of Fame forever. But, what about Brady and Belichick? I wonder if the football voters will hold this against them.

If you don’t agree with me, that’s fine. But before you dismiss me, ask yourself this question: How would you feel if your doctor cheated his way through med school?


Jan 20

Baseball Screwing Around With Game Times Again

I love baseball. I just don’t like the people running the sport, simply because their motivation isn’t in the best interest of the game.

Major League Baseball, in its indefinite lack of wisdom, continues in its running-in-the-mud desire to shorten the time of games. Yes, the sport with no clock wants to speed things up.

Baseball now wants to require pitchers to finish their warm-up tosses and be ready to make their first pitch 30 seconds before the end of all between-innings commercial breaks. Also, hitters have to be in the batter’s box 20 seconds before the end of each commercial break.

If these rules are implemented, baseball officials think they can trim games by 10 to 15 minutes. What will happen in those 10 to 15 minutes, they couldn’t say.

What these geniuses also wouldn’t say are the penalties for breaking these rules.

What has long been romanticized about baseball is the leisurely pace of the game allowing fans to talk with each other between pitches and innings to share memories and thoughts on strategy.

It is how the game is passed on from one generation to the next.

Unfortunately, those running the sport ignore one thing that made the game so precious to many of us –the leisurely pace.

Just for once, I want the keepers of the game to care about it as much as we do.


Jan 07

What Goes Through The Mind Of A Hall Of Fame Voter?

What goes through the mind of a Hall of Fame voter? I was upfront with my selections and a good number of my colleagues did the same. That’s not to say I understand the reasoning behind their votes or comprehend the logic behind their agendas, and, let’s face it, there are some with a plan or ax to grind.

I was glad my colleagues hung strong and didn’t vote for those clearly linked to steroids, and we’re talking Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire.

I did not vote for a player directly linked to steroids, either by a failed test; testimony from other players on the record; or mentioned in the Mitchell Report. I don’t put much stock in a player accusing another off the record. That’s gutless.

I don’t buy the argument some had Hall of Fame careers before they were linked to steroids. They still cheated, but how do you determine when the cheating began? I agree these players are part of baseball history and should be recognized. However, don’t acknowledge them in the Hall of Fame unless there is a notation on the plaque and Major League Baseball puts an asterisk by their names and numbers. Given that, I would include Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson, but with the notation being their connection to gambling.

Not only did those players tarnish their names and era in which they played, but continue to do damage to the game. Yes, there are writers with agendas, and one is to eschew voting because they believe the influx of those linked to steroids provided too many qualified players. Granted, if Bonds and Clemens were already in somebody else would get those votes.

It’s a privilege to vote and I can’t understand not voting because you can’t come up with ten under the thinking there are so many candidates. What garbage! After covering baseball for at least ten years any voter should know enough to pick ten players from the list. If he or she can’t, then maybe they aren’t qualified to vote in the first place.

All of a sudden, there are grumblings about increasing the number to more than ten.

This isn’t the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame where everybody seems to get in, even the groupies. If you want to vote for a cheater, by all means that’s your right. But, what I can’t grasp is one writer who voted for Bonds and Clemens – the poster children of the steroid era – but not Mike Piazza, who didn’t make it largely because of circumstantial evidence. We’re talking about the greatest hitting catcher in history.

There are other puzzling ballots.

Some writers refuse to vote for an obvious candidate, say Randy Johnson, who appeared on 97.3 percent of the ballots. How do you not vote for a 300-game winner? Then again, there were some who didn’t vote for Craig Biggio and his 3,000 hits last year.

I’ve heard several explanations, neither of them any good. Their belief is no player is worthy of being a unanimous selection and want to make sure there isn’t. What a crock. Your job as a voter is to vote for a worthy candidate and not ignore him because they don’t believe in a unanimous selection.

Yes, there are players that good. Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ty Cobb, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Cal Ripken Jr., Hank Aaron and Sandy Koufax to name a few. And, I’d like to ask what those handful of writers were thinking when they ignored Tom Seaver.

Another explanation I heard for the non-unanimous vote was the writer figured others would vote for that player and he or she wanted to save a vote for a personal favorite.

That’s not right, either.

However, to me the worst thing a voter can do is throw away their ballot by refusing to vote because he or she wants to make a statement about the process.

If you want to make a statement don’t forfeit your vote one time, but give it up permanently.

Jan 06

Hall Of Fame Reaction

Better, but not good enough.

The results have been announced and John Smoltz, Pedro Martinez, Craig Biggio and Randy Johnson were voted into the Hall of Fame by the Baseball Writers Association of America. All four were on my ballot, but I voted for six others who didn’t make the cut.

Here’s my ballot and reaction:

Craig Biggio: He should have been voted in last year. I don’t understand people downplaying his over 3,000 hits by calling him a “compiler.’’ You have to be pretty damn good for a long time to get that many hits.

Mike Piazza: I hear the steroid rumors, but a few back pimples shouldn’t be enough to disqualify him. He’s the best hitting catcher the game ever saw. The PED accusations aren’t founded and circumstantial.

Jeff Bagwell: Like Piazza, he’s done in by innuendo and it’s a shame.

Tim Raines: Isn’t he one of the three best leadoff hitters in history along with Hall of Famers Rickey Henderson and Lou Brock? He is, and that should be his ticket.

Lee Smith: No love for him, but he’s third on the career list with over 400 saves.

Edgar Martinez: I don’t think he’ll get in and that’s too bad. Designated hitter is an official position and he did it as well as anybody.

Mike Mussina: If he hung around for another two years he would have won 300 games and this probably would have been a moot point. There were others more dominant, but Mussina was consistently good for a long time with 17 straight seasons with double-digit victories, and 11 overall with fifteen or more victories.

Randy Johnson: He was dominating and a no-brainer with over 300 victories and 4,875 strikeouts. Even so, some didn’t vote for him. Now, that’s a joke.

Pedro Martinez: I knew he’d make it with an average season of 17-8 with a 2.93 ERA and 217 innings pitched. Don’t forget three Cy Young Awards.

John Smoltz: I am really glad he got in. He was a joy to watch. He would have won over 300 games if he weren’t busy saving 154.